Monday, 23 July 2007

Hebron: apartheid town

There's so much to say about the town of Hebron. Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of the history and current situation. The important thing to know is that it's a hotspot, thanks to the proximity of the Jewish settlers living within a Palestinian community. It's divided into 2 zones - H1 (under control of the PA) and H2 (home to around 700 settlers & 30,000 Palestinians under the control of Israel).

Because it's such a hotspot, it's home to the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) base in the OPT. It's also a location where Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAPPI) operate. I think it says a lot about the situation that both organsiations came with us on our tour of the city. It was led by a Palestinian but once we had passed through the first turnstile checkpoint (one of several that worshippers would have to pass through to access the Ibrahami Mosque) into the old city, it became advisable for the red baseball capped CPT member to lead the group. He also suggested that the Palestinians didn't speak Arabic - I witnessed visable anger on their faces at not being able to speak their own language in their own country, purely because of the way in which it might antagonise Jewish settlers.

The atmosphere of Shuhara street is almost beyond description. Shops that used to be bustling, owned by Arabs, are now shut - row upon row of them. Tattered Israeli bunting flys between buildings. Then there's the people, a man walking down the street with a gun - a settler feeling in need of protection. Or the woman, who took such a violent exception to us being there that she followed us in her car, took photos and then spoke to a soldier. This led to all the Palestinians having their ID checked and one being arrested. This was the point at which everything suddenly became very real, and very threatening. All I could feel was shock and anger.

A compromise was made - our team member would be released providing we left the area immediately. So we did, we made our way back to the checkpoint. The same checkpoint where just half an hour earlier other members of the team witnessed a young boy (no more than 10) being beaten up by soldiers. In the space of one morning we no longer had to use other people's stories or experiences - we had our own.

But, in the midst of all this anger, grief, unfairness...there were signs of hope. Our tour of the town had been led by the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) and through their work, the old city is gradually being restored both architecturally and socially. It's a struggle to encourage people to live there, but they seem to be succeeding. We met a lot of children and surely they are the best hope? I suppose only if they have the example of people like the HRC to follow, so that they're not adversely affected by the sight of their neighbours, the settlers, walking around armed; or by the fact that some of their streets have to be covered in mesh to protect them from objects being hurled over walls; or by the soldiers who patrol their streets...

We have to believe that there is hope, to not do so means that the situation is hope-less and that can't be the case.

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