What exactly impartiality means?.. Just to recap – nor Palestinians or Israelis are blameless

After 2 months spent in Hebron / Al Khalil, while observing the every day life, speaking with both – Israelis and Palestinians, reading the news (from different sources..) and learning more and more about the „SITUATION„, one will have head full of thoughts and ideas, wildly swirling, and interwoven with each other, forming a strange mosaic which parts often don’t fit together It’s important do not lose common sense and objectivity, and always stand somewhere in the middle, truthfully trying to understand parts of the conflict.

israelpalestine-flagsAs EA’s – volunteers from EAPPI programme, we agreed do the impartiality principle, which means, as states EAPPI Code of Conduct, that: „We do not take sides in this conflict and we do not discriminate against anyone but we are not neutral in terms of principles of human rights and international humanitarian law. We stand faithfully with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. We want to serve all parties in this conflict in a fair and unbiased manner in word and action.”

That is how we are suppose to be – neutral, open, full of understanding. Are we?..

When walking on famous Shuhada Street in Hebron – partially closed for Palestinians, centre of the former old city (now called „Ghost City„, because of the abandoned houses and empty surroundings..), emotions are bustling inside me… Trying to realize, what really happened to this place, what provoced current situation, how people were dealing with that for ages, what’s the final effect. There’s no single answer, as well as there is not a one truth on history of Al Khalil.

City existed already thousands of years ago, and a lot of different peoples, cultures and religions were melting here together – Arabs, Christians and Jews marked their presence… There are proves on existance buildings and structures belonging to all those groups, with no doubt that the place was (and still is…) of great significance for them. With respect to the old city, it was built mainly in Mamluk and Ottoman times, during the muslim rule. However, small christian and jewish communities were also present and people lived together in rather harmless way.

I didn’t meant to start a historic discurse, but when talking about this conflict, sooner or later, these threads will suggest themselves… Both sides are seeking for justification in the past events, equally convinced that the right is on their side.

With the beginning of XX century, constantly bigger and more frequent waves of jewish immigrants from Europe were wh_arab_israeli_conflictcoming to the British Mandate on Palestine, provoking growing tension and clashes with the arab people. The land was only one, while it was more and more visible, that there are two compiting parties… No one could feel safely any more, and former neighbours would becoming enemies at any time.

That’s when the Hebron Massacre took place, on 1929, in which 67 Jews were killed and about 100 were injured by the Arabs, alerted by the gossips from Jerusalem, claiming the Al Aqsa mosque takeover by their jewish enemies… Nobody can (or tends to..) justify this tragedy and even at that time many muslim families were against it, hiding Jews in their houses and helping them to escape from the city. Those events and victims will be never forgotten, and this part of palestinian history should be unanimously condemned, as other such a events in the cruel history of mankind.

Actually, we don’t have to search for too long… Israelistook revenge” in 1994, when a settler from Kiryat Arba (Hebron) killed 29 and wounded more than 120 Palestinians, while they were praying in Ibrahimi Mosque – holy place for both, Jews and Muslims. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…

israel-palestineAfter the attack, the mosque was devided and Shuhada Street was closed for Palestinians, which got eviction orders and were pressed to leave their houses, shops and businesses, partly because of the military orders, partly due to unbearable situation…

Now the street hosts 3 israeli settlements, a jeshiva – jewish religious school, few check-points, a military base, many watch towers, countless cameras and omnipresents israeli flags… Also information boards and suggestive paintings can be found all around, explaining the story of the 1929 massacre, as well as few other attacks, mounted by Palestinians on israeli settlers living in the city.

In it biggest part, the street is frequented only by the israeli soldiers, police, settlers, and both, international and israeli tourists and activists. In general, there are divided in two parts – pro-israeli and pro-palestinians… Nobody can really escape this distinction. On one side – Israelis, on other side – international activists and  tourists interested in conflict, aware of the current situation. How to talk about the impartiality principle, then?.. Relations between those two hostile groups are tense – distrustful glances, unpleasant, hateful words, sometimes swears, insults, and even fisticuffs... Of course, it’s understandable. Occupation.

israel-palestine-flag-handshake1Each of above mentioned groups looks at the reality from it’s own perspective, using different lences, we could say. Is there anyone holding the key to the only truth?..

Palestinians claim to be the only real owners of the territory, exactly as do the israeli settlers… Those first have been there for ages, the latter –  have lived alongside their arab neighbours, and also, apparently received the land from God, as Tora says. Then, the soldiers and the police are there to protect israeli citizens, even if those are settlers on palestinian territories, illegal under the international law. So, representatives of international community, such as NGO’s, politicians, volunteers and visitors, are coming to blame the occupation. Finally, worldwide jewish Diaspora faithfully supporst their brothers in „Homeland, by sponsoring settlements from overseas (particularly from US, UK and Canada) and visiting their estates. Obviously, this kind of description is too simplified and maybe unjust for many, but, in the end, so close to the reality…

Let’s take a deep breath now, let’s do step back, let’s try to catch the point of this paradox from a side.

1) Palestinians are on their land, they lived there for centuries (even if without proper „palestinian identity”, which emerged only in XX c.);

2) Israelis lived on this territory in the past, after they were evicted by Palestinians and now came back, founded the settlements, and are trying to take over the whole city;

3) Israelis and Palestinians in Hebron (as in the whole occupied territory) don’t have the same rights and living conditions, situation in which obviously jewish settlers are the dominating part, as a citizens of State of Israel;

4) israeli police and soldiers are in incredibly difficult position, put somewhere in the middle of this paranoia, with their minds already prepared for a war with the arab / palestinian / muslim enemy, with a whole burden of Holocaust, with memories of suffering of their nation, with large military preparation, awaiting the lurking everywhere danger…;

5) international activists and visitors are a large, varied group, mainly seeking for peace, using differents methods, fighting for the attention of the rest of the world, trying to do some good work, whatever it means, for the both sides;

Israel vs PalestineFirst of all is important not to forget – mainly, what should be blamed, is the situation, and not the people. Of course they are good and bad, on every side of the conflict. There are Israelis who are taking adventage on the Arabs, which is so easy under the cruel occupation rules. There are Palestinians, who would never accept the very existance of the israeli State. There are soldiers who overuse their power, making life of many innocent people a nightmare. There are internationals, who lose their common sense and objectivity, becoming unfair and partial, which will never helps the peace process.

But, happily, after some time spent in Israel / Palestine I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are Israelis, image1354786614-11502-PlaceID-0_s660x390who believe that the peace is possible (thanks to both sides..) and many of them, who are fighting for it. There are Palestinians, who longingly remember good old times when Jews lived with Muslims in harmony, and wish to make it possible again. There are soldiers, who even if this extremely confusing conditions keep their human face and intercede for the oppressed, in defense of their rights. There are internationals, who tend to built the bridges, and not to burn them down.

International community can not tolerate the development of israeli settlements in West Bank / Palestine, that’s sure. The efforts should be done to guarantee to the Palestinians both – political and economical sovereignty. No more human rights violations can be accepted. The dignity of palestinian people and a respect for their property should be an issue of a major concern.

israel_palestine

In the same time, an impartial, deeply tolerant for both parts approach should be peeled. Isrealis must be safe on their territory and fully accepted by Palestinians. No longer Jaffa or Acco can be claimed… Any attempts of terrorist attacks aiming in Israel and its citizens should be derooted.

There’s a lot of people of good will on both sides. They believe that all current oppressions are unnecessary and prejudicial, causing a troubles to everybody and building a paralysing tension. Hopefully, those people can become influent enough, to change the current situation and truely encourage the peace process.

images

Me, I do believe in peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and, in spite of (or maybe thanks to..) all I’ve experienced during my stay in Hebron, living „under occupation”, I’ve never lost the faith in any of those people, considering both of them exceptional (each in their own way..) and keeping for them my full respect.

It’s just sad, that such a wonderful people haven’t yet managed to cooperate, which would be profitable for both sides. There’s a lot of things and thoughts that could be fruitfully exchanged between those two, so rich cultures. Maybe except the genes, since those are pretty the same…

2509LD2

Walking around the city – Hebron stories…

While having a walk through Hebron, it’s difficult to remain indifferent to the stories connected with it’s inhabitants and places.

Israeli flag on Shuhada Street, Hebron

Israeli flag on Shuhada Street, Hebron

Today I’m starting my stroll just after our „school run”, on Shuhada Street. The street is closed for the palestinian vehicules in one section, when in another, any mouvement of Palestinians is forbidden. Means of control are formed by few check-points, watchtowers, cameras installed almost everywhere and frequent police and military patrols. Most of the houses are empty, since their locators were forced to leave them in 1994. Paradoxically it was due to a massacre, in which a Jewish settler from Kiryat Arba killed 29 Muslims in the Ibrahimi Mosque. Subsequently, the Yitzhak Rabin-led Government closed the Palestinian shops and prohibited Palestinian vehicular traffic in the nearby Shuhada Street, to protect the settlers (sic!). The army closed down 304 shops and warehouses along Shuhada Street, as well as Palestinian municipal and governmental offices. The central bus station was turned into an army base. The Ibrahimi Mosque was divided into separate sections for Jewish and Muslim worshippers. Only in few houses still live their inhabitants, sometimes forced to use the rooftops of neighboring buildings, to get to their homes. They live under constant surveillance, monitored both by soldiers and police, as well as Israeli settlers.

Shuhada Street - closed shops and empty houses... Hard to believe, that it's the former city centre of Hebron

Shuhada Street – closed shops and empty houses… Hard to believe, that it’s the former city centre of Hebron

Historically, the street was teeming with life, and the ground floors of the building housed shops, cafes, restaurants and service establishments. All those were closed in the blink of an eye, not even giving their owners a chance to move goods and equipment. Street extincted, the buzz was replaced by the sullen silence and the doors of the shops were slammed shut. Ghost city.

Olive trees and the "Abraham Spring" on Tel Rumeida hill

Olive trees and the „Abraham Spring” on Tel Rumeida hill

Above the Shuhada Streer, there’s a hill towering over the city – Tel Rumeida. It is believed that this is the oldest inhabited

part of Hebron. As a result of conducted there excavations, were found the fragments of city walls of approx. 2-3 millennium BC. This area is one of the most attractive in Hebron, considering the splendid panorama of the Old City, the beautiful view of the Ibrahimi Mosque and impressive olive trees dating back to ancient times. But it’s also one of the most controversial places in Hebron.

View of Tel Rumeida

View of Tel Rumeida

The apple of discord in Tel Rumeida is the aforementioned area of archaeological research carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinians, as well as the alleged burial place of some jewish patriarchs (which in fact is a muslim tomb!) , located at the very top of the hill, next to the old mosque. Access to the mosque is closed to non-Jews, and Jewish legacy of presence discussed was the basis for the project „Biblical Park”, which is to be created on the hill Tel Rumeida. Implementation of this plan will lead to the further confiscation of Palestinian land, significant restrictions on the mobility of inhabitants of the hill and to the difficulties in their daily lives, under the guise of concern for „security reasons” …

Palestianian man picking up olives near the Abraham Spring, Tel Rumeida

Palestianian man picking up olives near the Abraham Spring, Tel Rumeida

Tel Rumeida is a dangerous place for walking, according to the locals. Settlers living by Shuhada Street are coming to visit the tomb of (…), to take a bath in so-called „Abraham Spring”, where patriarch was supposed to take a bath some thousands of years ago, or just to have a walk around and to manifest their presence. How do they manifest? Sometimes, through insults, threats, violations of private property (eg, removal of fences, breaking the branches of olive trees, stealing grapes, etc.), less often by violence, pushing, throwing stones, to the use of firearms. What Palestinians can do about it? .. In the best case nothing, more likely (and very common) they can get detained or arrested, when the police / soldiers finally come. Wherever the settlers appear, right and justice is on their side. Jewish words seem to weigh ten times more than their palestinians equivalents. And if the soldier would be eager to believe, that the truth is on palestinian side, he would never admit it. Why should he put in risk his reputation, position, or his own security?! But even when assuming that this soldier is a kamikaze and agrees with the Palestinian, the legal system will not allow to fell a hair of the head of Israelite, while it severely punish the other. Why so? Because in Palestine, or in the Palestinian Authonomy, or rather in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, there are two legal systems: civil (for jewish settlers) and military (for the Arab population). As a result of this situation, Palestinians and Israelis ARE NOT THE EQUAL BEFORE THE LAW. It’s hard to refrain of associations with apartheid in South Africa.

EAPPI team and observing them settler next to a map showing the plan of Biblical Park on Tel Rumeida.

EAPPI team and observing them settler next to a map showing the plan of Biblical Park on Tel Rumeida.

That’s why you have to be careful not to be attacked by the settlers on the hill Tel Rumeida … First, you can be beaten, and then might be arrested and sent to prison.

Now the excavations on the hill top continue, since there’s still a lot to do to unable creation of the Biblical Garden, where

the proud representatives of the Chosen People, will make they strolls. They will walk in the shadow of the millennial olive trees, whose owners won’t be allowed to even set foot on this land. There won’t be any more olive oil from Tel Rumeida… Through the Biblical Garden will be happily running jewish children, smiling and neatly dressed. The question is, where then  will play little Palestinians? .. In Syria, Iraq or Egypt will answer the Israelis there are so many Arab countries! Indeed?.. But why would they leave their hill, houses, olives..?

"Sauron's Eye" and jewish menorah, as a symbol of israeli rule

„Sauron’s Eye” and jewish menorah, as a symbol of israeli rule

The walk continue, I’m leaving behind me Tel Rumeida hill and climbing up another one – higher and offering a wonderful view of almost the entire city. Israeli soldiers also appreciate it, and they built there an impressive watchtower and military base. It allows them to control a huge area, like a Sauron’s Eye.

Little path going along the cliff leads me to the ruins of the house. The building doesn’t look old, but evidence of damage can be clearly seen. Suddenly a group of boys appears between jagged walls and comes towards me. Aged between 10 and 16, in their eyes curiosity is mixed with uncertainty. What kind of intruder might they encounter?.. In my mind, I’m searching for some arabic words that can help me explain my presence there, some way of communication. „International observer”, soldiers„, „settlers„, „peace”, end of occupation” They seem understand it, are becoming more friendly.

One of thousands of houses demolished by israeli governance

One of thousands of houses demolished by israeli governance

The demolished house used by them for a shelter, is an effect of actions of Israel, just as a trace of a rubber bullet on the

leg of one of the boys. After this short „conversation”, I’m asking them for showing me the best way to the Old City. They make me company till the Check-Point 29. It’s better for them not to come any closer… Too many bad memories, a lot of clashes right there, the soldiers might even recognize them.

The Old City is an another whole story, so instead of approaching the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is as the axis of the city, I decide to continue the walk in direction to Kiryat Arba, the oldest, and one of the biggest settlements in Palestine. According to different sources, 6 – 8 thousands of Israelis live there. Founded in 1968, shortly after the Six Day War,

Settlement Kiryat Arba

Settlement Kiryat Arba

the settlement grew over the years and now is a large, independent resort, with its own shops, service providing units and infrastructure. Fenced on all sides, partly by a wall, partly by a wired fence with barbed wire, it’s not available for non-Israelis. Guarded by watchtowers, police, military and private security companies, it’s as like an impregnable stronghold. People who live there are convinced they are on the right side of the conflict, since they’re all Jews, back in the Promised Land, given them by God, thousands of years before.

Riding a donkey - no PALESTINIAN'S cars allowed on the street near the Kiryat Arba

Riding a donkey – no PALESTINIAN’S cars allowed on the street near the Kiryat Arba

They don’t realize that they’re illegaly occupying Palestine, forcing it’s citizens to emdure severe persecutions. In general, settlers seem not to see all the suffering around them, can’t see the human face of the Arab people and treat them as an inferior subspecie. Kiryat Arba is not the only settlement in Hebron – actually, they are seven, scattered in different parts of the city. In long-term perspective, the master plan envisages the permanent link them together and gradual annexation of key localizations. These settlements are like octopus tentacles that slowly entwine the heart of Al Khalil and strive to get rid of its Palestinian inhabitants.

Symbolic crossroads: going left - a path to palestinian's neighbourhood, going right - an alley to the settlement Kiryat Arba

Symbolic crossroads: going left – a path to palestinian’s neighbourhood (the vulnerable houses on the previous picture), going right – an alley to the settlement Kiryat Arba