Today we got up early to go to the West Bank city of Hebron. After taking a circuitous route out of Bethlehem through the desert and back to the shared road near Ephrata, we were back on the old road between Jerusalem and Hebron. Unfortunately, the more direct route is now an Israeli only road that forces Palestinians to go three times farther to get back on the same road a few miles from Bethlehem. It was picturesque, going past Herodius (the palace King Herod build on top of a small hill). But it was also consistent with the Israeli plans at making life and travel as difficult for Palestinians as possible.
Entering the Old City, with its narrow streets, was quite the task for our bus driver. Getting out was even harder. We were led through the narrow walk ways and tunnels of the Old City to the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee meeting space. Here we saw pictures of the history of Hebron, from the violence between Palestinians and Jews in the 1920s and 30s to the expulsion of Jews in 1948, and the reintroduction of Jewish families in 1967 with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank from Jordan. Of note, there are approximately 400-450 settlers in four settlements in the old city, as well as the thousands in Kyrat Arba to the northeast. The population of settlers can balloon to 750 or 1000 on a given day. 1500-2000 Israeli Defense Forces are on duty at any given day.
The historic residents of Hebron have been barred from their market (which is now a settlement) and their busiest street (where 512 shops were closed to make it an Israeli only street). Since 1994, when a Jewish settler killed 29 Muslims in prayer, the historic Ibrahimi Mosque has been separated into a Synagogue side and Mosque side, where one can still see the bullet holes. Hebron has attracted the most violent settlers in the region, and though there are many soldiers around, there is pictorial and video evidence that they do not keep the settlers from physical violence against everyday Palestinians. Since 2002, the city has been separated into H1 (under Palestinian control) and H2 (under Israeli control), but because there continues to be Palestinians who live within H2 – a significant number of Palestinians are not being treated equally within H2. While things are a bit better than 4 years ago when half of our group toured the area, they are still not equal for all citizens of Hebron.
The HRC has been rebuilding homes in the Old City, and renovated the new shopping area which is now almost full of merchants, but settlers still throw garbage down on the street from their home windows above. But the many checkpoints throughout the Old City forces local Palestinians to go 20 kilometers to get 3 kilometers away from their home or business. Like our bus ride around the Bethlehem district, Palestinian walkers in Hebron are forced to go around the Jewish only roads to visit their school, cemetery or home.
Before lunch, we toured the Synagogue side of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. We had lunch at the home of a local shopkeeper. His home serves meals for tour groups. Then toured the Mosque side of the Tomb. We heard a story that an Australian Jewish business man had offered $1,000,000 for the shopkeeper’s home and storefront. When the shopkeeper declined, the Jewish businessman offered $100,000,000 for the home! But the man responded by bringing the agent into the home and said, you see those stones? Every one is worth $100,000,000. Where else could he live, but Palestine?
Both sides of the ancient palace that make up the Ibrahimi Mosque built by Herod include windows to view the memorials to Abraham and Sarah, while the memorials to Isaac and Rachel are inside the Mosque side of the building. A bullet proof glass has been placed between where the windows can see each other. Once, Pastor Will saw someone looking through and waved, and the Jewish man waved back.
To end the day, we took a ride to one of the local Hebron Glass companies, where pottery and the strong historic colored glass is made. The line was long for a while, and everyone had a good time looking at the local ware.