Today we got up early and took the bus over to Hebron. We had to use different Arab tour guides because our Israeli tour guides refused to go. On the drive over, the tour guides explained a lot of the landscape, notable buildings, and infrastructure. We drove past many settlements, which stood out against the hilly landscape. You could even see where the Israelis wanted to build more settlements, which were marked by planting pine trees. This is a way of claiming land and covering up demolished Arab neighborhoods. Arabs claim land by planting olive trees. Sometimes you would see both types of trees next to each other, but often there were many more plots of pine trees than olive trees. We drove past part of the Separation Wall and went through a checkpoint, but were not stopped. Perhaps this is because the Israelis do not care who enters the Palestinian territories, but is concerned about who is leaving. Shortly after, my cell phone service also faded away (I have T-mobile and can use Israeli service providers at no extra charge). Next, we drove past Solomon’s Pools, which have a variety of biblical significances. Our tour guide said they used to be full of clean drinking water until Israelis rerouted the irrigation system. Now, they are almost empty, and do not have nearly enough water to provide for the people who live there. This is a way for Israelis to control the clean water the Arabs can access. The sides of the roads were also covered with garbage because the Israelis do not provide reliable trash pick-up services in Palestine, even though the Palestinians pay taxes for the service.
We drove some more and entered the central part of Hebron in H1. Immediately, you could see the difference between Israel and Palestine. The streets were extremely busy; there was lots of traffic because there were no streetlights and the roads were poorly designed. Every woman I saw had her head covered with a scarf, and many of the men were wearing keffiyehs. People weaved in and out of the traffic, as there weren’t many sidewalks, and the few sidewalks they had were very narrow and covered with street vendors. Speaking of which, there were street vendors everywhere, selling all different kinds of items. I even saw a man carrying a cart with a large silver kettle stop in the middle of the street to pour himself a cup of tea. When we got off the bus, we walked over the main market area on the pedestrian streets. The roads were lined with items. People were obviously trying to sell us things, but they weren’t as forceful as I was expecting. Many of the vendors were children, perhaps because people feel more sympathy towards them and their parents are aware. Many of the people said hello or “Welcome to Hebron!” which was very nice. I’m sure they don’t have many visitors, and it’s nice for them to see that someone cares. By the border between H1 and H2, the sky between the buildings was blocked by barbed wire and fencing. This is a safety measure because the Israelis are allowed on the roofs (even those of Palestinians), and often throw things, like rocks, at the Arabs. We met one family who had hospitalized two of their children due to Israeli harassment. One of them even underwent surgery after Israelis threw acid into his eyes from the top of the roof. The boy himself was no more than 10 years old. Around the corner, we met another man who wasn’t even allowed in his own house (even though it is in the Arab section) because it is on the second floor by the border, and the Israeli army sees this as a threat as they are allowed on the roofs.
After this, we went to a presentation by Christian Peacemakers Team in Palestine in a building along the border. The woman who presented gave us some background into the organization and the everyday conflict in Hebron. Many of the actions undertaken by the Israeli soldiers are illegal, and they try very hard to prevent nonprofits and NGOs from helping the Arabs. For example, they recently confiscated the Jeep that the organization used to transport children to and from school further south in the West Bank. After the presentation, we went on to the roof which gave us a great overview of the city and the conflict. The whole time we were up there, you could here tear gas being fired at a nearby checkpoint. I even found a bullet on the roof, which I decided to take home as a souvenir. Across from us were Israeli soldiers on top of a roof along with surveillance cameras. We were not allowed to point our cameras in that direction as it would anger the soldiers. From the roof, you could tell apart the settlements and the Arab sections. On one side was Shuhada Street, which was renovated thanks to US tax dollars. The street is supposed to be open to both Arabs and Israelis, but in reality, only one half is open to either group. We were next to the Jewish side, which was completely deserted (even with cars), which was a complete difference to the bustling, crowded Arab markets.
Next, we went to the Al Ibrahimi Mosque, which is where Abraham and Sarah are supposedly buried. To enter, we had to pass through Israeli security and we (the women) were given certain cloaks that covered our shoulders, knees, and hair. Inside, there were many Arabs praying, but no other religions were apparent. The tour guide explained that it was because the Mosque is split in half, with a wall down the middle, to separate the Muslims from the Jews. This is a way of preventing conflict.
Afterwards, we entered the Israeli settlement within the town along Shuhada Street. Before entering, we had to allow a soldier to check our passports. He let all of us in, but refused to let in one of the tour guides because he is an Arab. Helga tried to convince the Australian soldier, but he replied with, “I do not make the rules. I only follow them.” The other Arab street vendors, including the children, that were following us were also prevented from crossing over. The most noticeable thing about this area of town was that it was deserted, there was no people and very few cars. This could be because there are so few Israelis in such a large area of the town. Walking along the streets, we noticed these posters that could be considered propaganda. They explained how Israelis were murdered by Arab terrorists and that the land of Hebron was stolen by the Arabs from the Jews. The other end of the street is open to Arabs, and is much busier and exciting. The strange thing is that Americans funded this street, despite the strict Israeli security. Clinton agreed to give away some US taxes as long as the street remained open to everyone regardless of religion, but unfortunately, this did not last.
Afterwards, we grabbed lunch (more salads, dips, and pita) and drove over to a ceramics and glassblowing factory to watch the artists make items. We were then allowed to purchase things, so I bought a tea cup for myself and an olive dish for my parents. Even though I have seen glassblowing and done ceramics myself, it was still interesting to watch them, as they make it look so easy. We then headed back to Tel Aviv to go out for one last day of nightlife. We went to a bar/club to go dancing. Everyone could tell that we were American from the way we danced. I thought this was funny, and an unexpected distinction between cultures. But tomorrow I have to get up early because we’re leaving early for Jerusalem, so I’m going to go to bed and get some sleep. Goodnight!