June 20, 2014 Hebron
We leave for the tortured city of Hebron later than expected (tear gas, food, and embroidery) and H. tries to explain to me the intricacies of her permitting process. She has a West Bank ID. She can only apply for a new permit to enter Israel if her old one has already expired (it generally lasts three months). Fortunately she does not own a car or a donkey; that would also require a permit. And she cannot apply until it actually physically runs out. Are you following this? So, her permit ran out Thursday evening, the earliest she could apply is Friday, but Friday and Saturday are holidays and you cannot get any permit unless it is an emergency. If you have paid 140 shekels a year for a magnetic strip card that indicates you do not have any security issues, it will take one day to get the permit, otherwise it takes two, but of course the permit is never guaranteed. So the earliest she can apply is Monday, but she needs a permit to come with us into Israel to Nazareth on Saturday which in this crazy world is now impossible. Now let me remind you that she has just graduated from a prestigious US university, has no criminal record, has a great sense of humor, comes from a respectable family and poses no security risks except perhaps the risk of speaking her mind which the last time I checked was still legal in most modern democratic societies. If she decides to take her chances and sneaks in (happens a lot) and the driver gets caught, he is fined, which is really not fair to him. Under these circumstances, she would not carry any IDs, so the Israelis would not be able to punish her since they cannot prove she is who she is and you can bet I am not going to help them either on that one. So does this sound sensible? Related to security? Keeping the folks in Netanya secure in their beach chairs sipping their pomegranate mojitos? Valium anyone?
At Kalandia we spot two soldiers crouching in a rotary hiding behind an olive tree, their weapons are loaded, hands on the trigger, not sure if it is tear gas or bullets. I learn that a 13-year-old Palestinian child was killed yesterday. Ma’ale Dumim sprawls across distant hilltops like a giant snake slithering across the territories, there is an IDF jeep on the road, we come to a checkpoint with three IDF soldiers. On the radio the woman reports a loud explosion in a town near Hebron. The IDF stole 15,000 shekels during one home invasion and the Palestinian Authority is completely invisible except for traffic cops who are not doing much. When the Israelis are planning a major incursion, they send their colleagues (that is too nice a word) home. The city feel eerie and tense, young men cluster on sidewalks, looking thin, hungry and ready for trouble; large dumpsters have been placed across the roads, some already brooding smoke. Despite this, people are out on the streets, shopping, biking, driving, smoking.
I have never seen our guide, Hisham Sharabati, so tense; yes we are late, and yes he has a flat tire, but the city feels like it is about to explode and he has a lot to teach us and wants us all to leave in one piece. (Good plan.) He reviews the outrageous history of the ancient city of Hebron and its colonization and militarization by a small number of fanatical Jews from Kiryat Arba who then decided to take over the center of the Old City and destroy the lives of the Palestinian families living there. (see my previous blogs for details). Nonetheless, everything is worse since my last descent into this living hell: with the kidnapping of the three Yeshiva students, no one with an ID less than 50 years old can leave the country (like the lovely man who sat next to me in the service and has been accepted to a US AID program on leadership development in DC and has a formal letter from the Consulate; he is now on his fourth try to get by the ever so conscientious Israeli security at the border with Jordan).
The Palestinian markets are not only covered with sheets and chicken wire to protect them from the garbage thrown down on them by Jewish settlers living above, but they have started putting up a metal roof over the market. The shuttered shops, doors welded shut, racist graffiti, trashed jewelry district, blocked streets and passages, windows covered with metal mesh to protect against stones in the Old City all persist. The lower levels of the market flood in the winter with up to four feet of water and garbage. A soldier was videotaped throwing rocks at Palestinians and received a minor punishment. The Yeshiva is expanding and invading into the lives and lands of its Palestinian neighbors, guard towers and cameras are everywhere, and I really mean everywhere. But life goes on. We pass a Palestinian man busily washing his car. There is loud honking and a wedding party, car decorated with flowers, passes by. A computer store is filled with young men glued to their screens.
Hisham takes us through turn styles and checkpoints to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Ibrahimi Mosque and reminds us that Abraham is reported in the Old Testament to have bought the spot for his burial site and the family burial site, but he must have bought it from somebody! This glorious and tortured site has been claimed, rebuilt, invaded, and divided up by all the folks who passed through over the many centuries from Herod, the Romans, the Ottomans, the Crusaders, Saladin, and most recently the Jews. (I am sure I have left somebody out, but you get the point). And then of course in 1994 Baruch Goldstein massacred some 25 Muslims and injured 100, the place got divided up between two of the three Abrahamic religions, and the fight continues. We see many more IDF soldiers and a long parade of ultra-orthodox Jews (of the fanatic, fascistic, brown shirt variety) with large families of lovely innocent looking children, climbing up the long stairs for Shabbat services. This is when I realize that a committed pacifist like me can harbor outrageously murderous thoughts, but since I have had a lot of therapy, I am clear about the difference between thought and action.
Hisham shows us the checkpoint and metal detector where hundreds of school children have to hustle through every day to get to their classes, the square where three Palestinians were shot to death at different times for the crime of being there. We stare at a man on a donkey loaded with large bundles of straw, yelling and herding a flock of sheep up the winding road to get to his side of the street (there are Jewish only streets and sidewalks around here, I am assuming the sheep are of the Arab persuasion given the sneer I see pass across the IDF soldier’s face). We hear of the 15 Palestinian families that are so isolated by the maze of walls and barriers that they cannot have visitors and of the incredible challenges families face with the concrete barriers, the front doors they cannot use, the ladders and roof-to-roof alternatives that people take to leave their homes. (did you get that, roof-to-roof?) But what if you are disabled? Or elderly? Or just bought a bed for your new wife? People die from this kind of life.
It is getting dark and dangerous. I can see the tension in the faces of the young men hanging on the sidewalks, the tone in Hisham’s voice; the streets are littered with rocks, the night raids will soon begin, the burning tires, the children dragged out of their beds, the self-righteous cheers and prayers of fanatical Jews with Brooklyn accents and delusions that fill me with shame.
How can I explain this reality to the nice liberal Jews in Brookline or Long Island or Los Angeles who have never really grappled with the long term implications of Zionism, the privileging of Jews over everyone else whatever the cost and the belief in our perpetual victimhood. This is it, taken to its most extreme, disturbed, and destructive form, and it is heart breaking, immoral, and outrageous. If we do not speak up, if we do not say, not in my name and really mean it, I fear it may take us all, Jew and Palestinian, down together.
Alice Rothchild MD, is Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. She serves on the steering committee for American Jews for a Just Peace- Boston, and has worked with medical delegations to Israel and the Occupied Territories with the AJJP Health and Human Rights Project. She is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience (Pluto, 2007; 2010) and director of the 2013 documentary Voices Across the Divide.