The Belly of the Beast: Hebron
On the 3rd of July, PSE went to Hebron. It is the epitome of the occupation, of the apartheid system, of the hate that can be regenerated and encouraged.
We started off in the South Hebron Hills, meeting with the Christian Peacemaker Team located in at-Tawani village. CPT, with the slogan "Getting in the Way", acts to confront injustice through direct nonviolence, observation, and accompaniment. They ask the pertinent question: "What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?" It's a theme that has been resurfacing throughout this month, and here on the ground is is more important than ever. The two CPT members that we met gave us an overview of the issues that they face in at-Tawani, why they are needed there, and how they "get in the way". Here's an overview of Christian Peacemaker Teams and their actions:
The team in at-Tawani regularly accompany students to school or summer camps, as well as shepherds with their flocks of sheep and farmers to their lands. If the CPT did not accompany these children and farmers, they are then exposed to harassment and attacks by Israeli settlers in their nearby Ma'on settlement and the outpost of Havat Ma’on. Since November 2004, the IDF have accompanied the students on a partial segment of the route to school because of ongoing settler violence. However, this is not an effective plaster over this wound:
"Despite the Israeli military escort, the children have been victims of violence 104 times between November 2004 and June 2010. The soldiers carrying out the escort have at times failed to protect the children and have frequently arrived late, causing the children to wait, sometimes for hours, before and after school." [CPT website]
CPT also meet families who have faced harassment, and "get in the way" during Israeli home invasions and in nonviolent demonstrations, including replanting uprooted olive trees with Palestinian, Israeli and international activists. Other work includes monitoring the treatment of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks.
We then went into the new city for lunch before heading into 'the heart of the beast' in the old city. There we met a local guide who took us through the old market, where shop owners were eager for our business in an otherwise forsaken area.
We worked through the market, and the security checks, to enter the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs. Here, in 1994, American-Israeli physician Baruch Goldstein opened fire during Friday prayers, killing 29 Palestinian men and injuring 200 others. The ladies in the group wore capes inside for modesty requirements, while everyone took off their shoes to explore the interior.
After this, we left to meet David, a spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron. He met us at Beit Hadasseh. We walked along Shuhada Street, a deserted road which was lined with some of the 2000 IDF soldiers in Hebron to protect the 500 extremist political Israeli settlers in the Tel Rumeida settlement and inside Beit Hadasseh or the Old City. The South African initiative Open Shuhada Street, is an organization worth checking out - their aim is to raise awareness of the restrictions on movement in Hebron and how this relates to the broader injustices in the occupation.
Settlers also walking along this road were armed with semi automatic weapons. The Palestinian from HLT with us on the day was unable to walk with us down this road - as it is restricted for Palestinians. The local Palestinians with houses along this street are not able to walk on the street, either. In 2000, the IDF sealed the front doors of these homes and shops in the name of security, requiring those in these homes to find alternative routes through other houses or via their rooftops in order to access the community.
Where we walked was also very close to the location of the now infamous confrontation between a settler and a local Palestinian woman:
Once we got to Beit Hadasseh, David oriented the group to the existence of the Jewish population in Hebron for hundreds of years, with the use of photographs from the late 1800s. David led the group to another room which commemorated the 67 Jews who were massacred in 1929 during the British Mandate Period. Following this, we sat in a room where we could ask questions.
David was asked how the settlers acquired the land, to which he responded that these were acquired in completely legal ways, and that one cannot simply take over something that is not his or hers to take. An interesting subject.
As the conversation continued, David centred his argument on the modern Zionist fear that the Jews could be attacked by their Arab neighbours (he never mentioned Palestinians, simply 'Arabs' - a common point to delegitimize the Palestinian people) at any moment, and that every day is a fight to survive - both personally and as a state. Among the questions that were asked of David was the relevance of the Geneva Conventions. David responded that essentially the Geneva Conventions (to which Israel is a signatory) are misinterpreted. A participant asked whether the International Court of Justice, in its advisory findings against Israel's construction of the wall, also misinterpreted the Geneva conventions? David said we'd have to ask them. He was clearly over his head.
I gave David extra time to answer a participant question on what his vision for the future was. He started off slowly, saying Islam is a religion of peace... then said most adherents subscribe to the radical elements...then went on a 'Islam will take over the world - just look at the UK, France, Switzerland, and Holland' rant, then saying that the plan was to take over the United States as a new caliphate, with DC as it's capital by 2050. A Muslim in the audience couldn't hold her tongue. The group was almost unable to sit patiently as David shrugged and offered, "Sorry, but it's true." Another participant asked if David, being a good neighbour would worry about the well being of his neigbours, the Arabs. In short he said he didn't quite care. The questions did get more confrontational, and were answered in the only way David was armed to tackle them: with a defensive, irrational attack. It was uncomfortable for many participants. The perspectives that David shared were candidly racist and xenophobic, a reaction to the questions that were asked of him. Did I mention that he, like many extremist ideological settlers, was carrying a firearm at his hip? And that he joked about using it?
David is the one person who was delegated as the spokesman of the community, someone who could best represent the people there and their interests. David may be able to describe the settler narrative, but he had noticeable difficulty in answering the questions on international humanitarian law, or domestic policies. He was able to communicate fear. It's between us and them. They could attack us - again - at any moment. Any concern about ongoing human rights is trumped by a concern about pre-emptive safety. The way to stop this is to stop supporting extremism. But how? As an American, I can approach my lawmakers about support for the state which supports dangerous extremism. As a consumer, I can refuse to buy products which could support extremism. As an activist, I can visit the people affected by the actions of settlers, and support those who continue the nonviolent struggle for justice. That is, of course, the only way this issue will be successfully confronted.