Today we took a tour of Hebron and Bethlehem.
There is quite a bit of history of these two places and they each have their own specific history with Israel. We set out to meet different folks that could share their stories with us.
The first thing we saw was the Cave of the Patriarchs. Currently there is a synagogue and a mosque that is in the same building, both with different entrances (even people working there have to walk all the way down the steps and around the entire building to get to the other side). They both have views of the tombs, but only from their side.
Israeli soldiers are everywhere, walking around with their machine guns. Israeli soldiers are just kids. Three years mandatory service for boys and two years for girls starting when you are eighteen. There is checkpoints to go in and out of this site and the Palestinian man that we went with was only allowed in certain areas. He could go into the mosque part of the building but not he synagogue.
Every where we go, there is site-specific history that dictates where Palestinians can go or not go. Checkpoints are everywhere. We had to take a cab into West Bank so we could then meet our Palestinian friend on the other side of a checkpoint. He can get a permit twice a year for him and his family to go elsewhere (Easter and Christmas), like to the beach or to go shopping. He cannot use Israeli airports either, so any Palestinian that wants to leave needs to go to Jordan. Unless you have a lot of money, which then you can buy more privledged access.
When we first were heading into West Bank, areas that were being lived in by Palestinians, we would come across these big signs. We thought they were there from the Palestinian authority to not allow Israeli’s into their land. Turns out, they are placed there by the Israeli government, furthering the stigma and narrative that Palestinians are unsafe people. There is different areas, Area A is Palestinian controlled.
Back to Hebron, we walked through a market and had a quick snack. There was six Israeli soldiers with machine guns that just felt like roaming around in and out of the Palestinians that were on the street. Apparently they do this a few times a day to remind everyone they are there. They left once we arrived. The market has these large metal barriers built by Palestinians over top of the roadways. They do this because there is a settlement directly above this market that overlooks it. Settlers would consistently throw their garbage out their windows and onto the people and markets below them. The garbage just rests on them now.
We were told that there are two kinds of settlers. Economic settlers and ideological ones. Economic settlers move into settlements because Israeli government subsidizes and advertises to Israeli citizens who couldn’t otherwise afford homes. Ideological ones move into settlements motivated by a belief and entitlement that their lineage comes with particular responsibilities to take on more land for Israel. The ideological ones are more aggressive and treat Palestinians quite poorly. There were lots of ideological settlers near Hebron because of it’s religious significance.
We then went and met Mohammed and his father. Their story was inspiring.
During the Second Intifada, many Palestinians fled this massive market in Hebron where we were. This was the area that we walked where Palestinians were no longer allowed. After they fled, Israel stepped in and made it off limits for “security reasons.” They call it a ghost town. Three stores remain open of hundreds. The owner of this store, who lives behind his store, and his family have stayed put and refused to leave. They have been offered millions of dollars. He has been beaten by mobs of settlers. His store has been ransacked many times. Even political candidates of the nearby settlement show up with video cameras to video tape themselves threatening and telling them to leave as a political platform to try and earn votes. These stores are right at the entrance to synagogue/mosque so one can see why Israel doesn’t like them around too much.
The owner of this store has raised his family there as well. His 25-year old son, Mohammed, is also raising his family there. Mohammed is determined to carry on resisting Israeli pressure of moving. This is their home and they are one of the few stubborn people who stay and refuse to be intimidated by the Israeli pressure to give up more of their territory and livelihood despite the risks to their lives and livelihood.
What has become more obvious to me on this trip has been how history and stories are used to fabricate and perpetuate agenda’s that have nothing to do with the original stories. This has complicated almost every situation that I have read about or seen. It goes something like this
A: Something horrible happens (ie. Palestinian suicide bomber kills civilians)
B: Story is told bluntly and one-sided by Israel (see photo below)
C: Aggressive settlement and occupation agendas get pushed further under the guise of defense from scenario A
There is such a massive leap from A to C; it is maddening to see happen so repetitively. All of the Palestinian people we met mourned and resisted the violence. There are stories of Palestinians hiding Jews even. There is so many stories of relative peace across religions. But Israeli propaganda and occupation continues to hi-jack these stories, criticize entire people groups (“Arabs”) to further a political agenda of taking more and more land. In conversations leading up to this trip, this same sentiment is rampant. Whenever the occupation is questioned, everyone cries that Israel has a right to defend themselves. It’s classic red herring fallacy, which is very common with political propaganda. (This is an excellent article pointing to Israel’s deflection tactics in other situations.)
What became apparent on this trip is the simplistic understandings and conversations surrounding Palestine/Israel. Some speak about “Arabs” or “terrorists” or “murderers” and then act in a manner as if all Palestinians are those identities. This was very clear in Israeli news, signage or from the mouths of politicians. However, what was fascinating was to listen to Palestinians speak about their own people. They expressed disappointment in their own leaders, policies and corruption and recognized how problematic it was. They didn’t even demonize the settlers. They were sad and expressed frustration consistently at Israeli policy and leadership, but had no problem expressing equal frustration and sadness towards their own (or lack thereof). They had the capacity for nuance in their oppression towards their oppressors.
There was little hope or desire for a ‘two state solution’ from the Palestinians we met. They had no faith in their leadership to constructively lead or represent them. Rather they wished for a one-state solution like Pappe says in Gaza in Crisis, “that the two-state solution is no solution at all because it doesn’t address the problem: Zionism as a colonialist movement and Israel as a “racist, apartheid state.” The solution starts, he writes, “within a framework where all [including Palestinian refugees] enjoy full rights, equality and partnership.”
I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet with these folks and hear their stories. They all have said the best way to help is to keep sharing and telling their stories. I also think the BDS movement is a great to get behind and continue to show non-violent solidarity with the Palestinian people.