Friday, 19 August 2011


The question of how to write about my experience in Hebron is an incredibly difficult one to answer. For this is the city that has led to the most psychological upset throughout my time in Israel and the Occupied Territories. It is deeply hard to express how much I want people to fully understand what is happening there, whilst at the same time I cannot pin down precisely why Hebron has been as traumatic a place to me as it has over the last few weeks. Needless to say it was not only me, Arthur felt similarly confused and upset and it is for this reason that we are writing this jointly. We are both Jewish and we both felt a profound alienation from the country that is supposed to represent that part of our identity.

 I went to Hebron twice, the first time with a tour, the second time with Arthur (on our own from Ramallah). In order to understand the situation there it is really necessary to give a brief history  Settlers came here after Israel occupied the West Bank and were drawn to the second holiest site in the Jewish religion: the tomb of the patriarchs and matriarchs, supposedly the place within which Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Sarah and other founders of Judaism (as well as Islam and Christianity) are buried. It is also supposedly the point where Adam and Eve lived when they left the Garden of Eden (according to the qu'ran). The settlers there refuse to leave, and despite the vast majority of the countries outrage (including modern orthodox outrage) at their presence, the government refuses to evict them, probably fearing the inevitable 'price tag' (as extremist settlers call revenge attacks on Palestinians).

Ignore whatever religious attachment you may have to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and read the strange situation that the settlers refusal to leave has led to. Due to the fact that the area is under Israeli occupation, the Palestinian population are under martial law (effectively the law of the gun) and Israeli citizens are under the law of the land. Due to this, the Israeli state requires itself to protect the lives of its own citizens rather than of those who it is occupying. Approximately 4000 soldiers actively protect approximately 500 settlers (or 86 families) in the city. Everything about the way the city is occupied is designed to protect those settlers. After Baruch Goldstein (an extremist religious settler) massacred 29 Muslims in the mosque there, the city was partitioned in two. Israelis are allowed only on side and Palestinians on the other. Despite this there is one road where the two meet and this is a segregated road. Palestinians walk on one, tiny, section of the road and Israelis walk on the other large section of the road. The entire city has now been designed so that Israelis and Palestinians only meet at that one point, and when they do they are guarded by soldiers.

The first time I went to Hebron I went with Yachad, a "pro-israel, pro-peace" British Jewish organisation that takes you to the city and to East Jerusalem. When there we learn of the strange legal systems that allow soldiers to protect settlers when they committed atrocities, but not to protect Palestinians from the soldiers themselves.  The Jewish side is a ghost town. Palestinians have mainly been forced out and the only people who really remain are the settlers, apart from a few Palestinians who decided to stay. These palestinians are terrorised on a daily basis by the settler population, and graffiti such as "gas the arabs" can  be seen all over town, in English and in Hebrew. As we make our way through the Jewish quarter we learn of the suicide bombings and murders committed by Palestinians against the settler population and the atrocities committed against Palestinians by the settlers. As we walk further into town, we see settlers building illegally (under international law) new houses in the area:

Walking post them, the leader of our group, a religious man, takes pictures in order to take back to his office. The settlers on the other side of the road shout "traitor" in Hebrew and throw stones which are more like small boulders as well as eggs at us. At first we think it is a joke, but eventually we run in realization and one of our group was hit by an egg.


One week later, Artur

3 weeks later

So I stopped blogging after gay pride. Things got a bit crazy in that I was travelling backwards and forwards between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a new found love who I met at a queer palestinian party and who distracted me from actually updating this. In the mean time I have been to East Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. I wish I had written about each of these at the time (Ive now been to Hebron and Ramallah twice respectively) but that's easier said in hindsight.

The first time I entered the occupied territories was with Yachad to Hebron. The situation there was quite clearly more complex than I had ever imagined and also more oppressive in a basic sense: Israelis and Palestinians are under completely different legal systems.

East Jerusalem was also shocking in the sense that the residents there are just that: residents, NOT citizens, as commonly believed. They are entitled to less (including basic resources such as water and electricity) and they pay more taxes.

Ramallah was a complete mind fuck. So close and yet so far is the only way it can be described. A beautiful city with kind and hospitable residents. A city that is quite clearly more secular than I ever imagined and pumping with considerable nightlife in the evening.

We were 2 of the only white people in Nablus, and this was incredibly strange. The city is very very conservative but bustling with people, and martyr posters adorn the walls. We eat in the toilet as it is Ramadan. Despite this Conservatism even Nablus is not living in a time warp. Coca Cola is sold, a large shopping mall sells the latest palestinian fashions and children constantly ask you: "Do you support Real Madrid or Barcelona?!" Life goes on in a city that is largely seen to be synonymous with "intifada"

In Bethlehem we meet Salim, a Palestinian whose parents converted from Christianity to Islam. He tells us about the importance of Mathematics in his society, his (slightly cheesy) love for all religions and peoples, but, perhaps inevitably, his hatred for Zionism. He was imprisoned for 2 months by the Israeli authorities for singing nationalist anthems near a checkpoint and shows us his scars from being beaten at a recent journey through a nearby checkpoint.

This brings me to the checkpoint experience. Everything that I experienced at the checkpoints in the occupied territories (note that in total I only went through 3, you don't go through any on the way there, only on the way back) could be described as cliche. I saw everything I expected to see: unnecessary intimidation towards Palestinians  (particularly the elderly and the young) by the Israeli authorities and racial profiling in its most extreme sense. Qalandiya is an example.

Palestinian society is fractured like Israeli society. It is at the same time secular and religious, rich and poor, left wing and right wing. In general however, I only encountered the kindest of people and all my stereotypes have been turned to dust.

The most surprising thing about this whole experience? How easy it is to get there. All you need to do is get on a bus from Jerusalem to Ramallah. It takes 45 minutes. No check points, no security checks, just 7 shekels, and you are there. Unfortunately however, it feels just like crossing the Berlin wall to so many people. It isn't. Just take your passport, and get on a bus.

Palestinian radio:"Rachel Weisz"