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The Daily Ordeal of Getting to School in Hebron

copied from my Electronic Intifada article here

 

Palestinian children in Hebron are forced to pass through Israeli military checkpoints in order to get to school.

(Osama Qawasmi/APA images)

The Qurduba School in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron is once again a target for harassment by Israeli occupation forces, as new restrictions on freedom of movement bring a wave of settler attacks and soldier violence.

Established in 1984, the Qurduba School sits surrounded by five Israeli settlements on a hilltop in central Hebron. To get to school every morning, pupils between the ages of 6 and 13 — and their women teachers — must navigate a maze of checkpoints and dangerous settler-inhabited streets.

Curfews, checkpoints, land confiscation, home demolitions, army and settler harassment, and other aspects of occupation within Palestinian life in Hebron intensified after February 1994 when extremist Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, gunned down 24 Muslim worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the center of Hebron.

In the years following the massacre, the mosque was split into two parts, becoming half-mosque, half-synagogue. In 1997, the settler-populated area around the religious compound was cordoned off by Israel as H2, designating full Israeli military control, while the rest of Hebron was designated as H1, and remains under administration of thePalestinian Authority.

Since 2005, teachers with the Qudruba school coming into the Israeli-controlled H2 district from the H1 area of the Old City had secured the right, through demonstrations, to bypass the daily metal detector scans and bag inspections at the checkpoint. Instead, they were able to pass through a side gate to reach their school.

On Tuesday, 11 October, the army revoked this right for no apparent reason. “Through this special teachers-only gate,” school principal Ibtesam al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada, “we were able to reach our school easily. It took only five minutes from the checkpoint to the school. Then suddenly, we were stopped for nothing. So all the teachers refused this order, because it’s our right [to pass through].”

In response to this injustice, teachers refused to submit to inspection, and held a demonstration with more than one hundred of their students, who left their empty classrooms to join their teachers at the checkpoint. In a shocking display of brutality, Israeli soldiers sent nine children to the hospital with injuries.

Eleven-year-old Yazan Sharbati, who was injured that Tuesday, told the International Solidarity Movement that “the army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school … I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. The soldier pushed me very hard” (“Hebron school demonstrates for third day: “Without teachers there is no school,” 13 October 2011).

Protest struck a chord

The brutal repression of the 11 October checkpoint protest struck a chord in the Hebron community, and inspired an outburst of support in a city all too accustomed to violations of the right to freedom of movement. Over the next two days, community members and representatives from the Hebron governor’s office, along with the director of education in Hebron, stood in solidarity outside of the checkpoint with the students and teachers of the Qurduba School, who held the school day’s lessons outside of the checkpoint. On the third day of demonstrations, soldiers projected the high-LRAD sound cannon, nicknamed “the scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. One teacher was arrested, and five students and demonstrators were injured.

Students, teachers and demonstrators returned to the checkpoint — Checkpoint 56 — every morning for two weeks. “During this period,” said al-Jondy, “many establishments tried to help us, but we got only promises, without solutions to our problem.” Though settlers had little to do with the events, the protests also inspired many settler attacks, as Palestinian news agency WAFA reported (“Settlers, soldiers continue attacks on Hebron schools,” 20 October 2011).

Inside the Israeli settlement of Tel Rumeida, said al-Jondy, “the settlers began to warn us … that they will settle in the empty school, and keep us away.” To save the school, coveted by settlers for its strategic hilltop location, the few teachers who lived inside H2, and did not encounter the checkpoint during their commute, reopened the school, while the other 13 Qurduba School teachers kept up a daily vigil outside the checkpoint.

Eventually, when all attempts to reason with the authorities failed, the teachers began using a much longer alternate route to bypass the checkpoint every morning. “Except for the Israeli soldiers,” lamented al-Jondy, “nobody has any power. The Ministry of Education spoke with the commander, but there is no solution. The Israeli army claimed they closed the checkpoint because of security. But every day for five years the same teachers come to the checkpoint. They have their names and identity numbers. They are on a list. They are not a security threat.”

Constant physical and psychological assaults

The students and teachers of Qurduba School are no strangers to the travails of occupation. The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs!JDL [Jewish Defense League].”

The building and its inhabitants are constantly physically and psychologically assaulted by settlers and soldiers. “There were about 450 pupils in the 1980s,” said al-Jondy. “Because of the occupation, because of the settlers and the bad situation here, this number began to decrease. This year we have only 149 pupils.”

Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS) stated in a 2008 report about the situation in Hebron that the area around the school and the settlements “is often the scene of violent confrontations” between Israeli settlers and Palestinian schoolchildren. “Settler schoolchildren … routinely verbally harass, chase, hit and throw stones at Palestinian schoolchildren under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers. Their parents and other adults engage in similar behavior, blocking the school steps with their cars to make it difficult for students to pass or setting their dogs loose to chase and terrorize young children” (“Under Attack: Settler Violence Against Palestinian Children in the Occupied Territory,” November 2008 [PDF]).

Hebron has been under occupation since 1969, when the first religious settlers, who had barricaded themselves in a downtown hotel room and refused to leave, were coaxed out by the Israeli military and given the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. Ten years later, the act was repeated in an abandoned hospital, and this time Israel allowed the squatters to settle in downtown Hebron.

Restrictions on Palestinian life in Hebron accelerated after the 1994 massacre, and the expulsion of Palestinians and their livelihoods from the heart of Hebron’s Old City became an institutionalized process after the area became Israeli-controlled H2 in 1997.

Now, at least 500 settlers and at least 2,000 soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire southern West Bank. The gradual takeover of Shuhada Street, beginning in the 1980s and culminating after the second intifada, has turned the once-bustling marketplace into a ghost town, and has caused the (often forced) abandonment of over 1,000 housing units and over 1,800 shops and storefronts — which now, in a cruel and ironic twist of history, are graffitied with the same Stars of David that once marred Jewish storefronts in 1930s Germany.

“Sometimes many students come to the school very late,” said al-Jondy. “When I ask them, ‘Why are you late?’ they tell me, ‘Last night I didn’t sleep, because the settlers threw empty bottles and stones at my house.’ So they come here drowsy and sleepy, and they can’t concentrate on any subjects during the day because of what happened during the night. Most of the students’ houses are close to the houses of the settlers, so they are very vulnerable .. sometimes as head teacher I come early to the school, and the settlers chase me with dogs, and I have to run from their dogs.”

The DCI-PS report cites the testimony of Raghad Hashim Younis al-Azza, a ten-year-old student of the Qurtuba School:

“About a year ago, I was going to school with my classmate Ruwand who lives on Shuhada Street. I was with my cousin Ahmad and our neighbour’s daughter, Abrar. On the road, we came across a group of settlers, about 10 of them. They were about the same age as me except two girls who were around 18 years old. The two (older) girls attacked me and hit me. They asked the boys to make a circle around me and beat me. My cousin and the neighbor’s daughter ran to the checkpoint to inform the [Israeli] soldier. When the soldier approached us, the settlers ran away. He asked me what happened. I told him everything, but he did not respond to me.”

Settlers also frequently attack the school itself. To cite one of myriad examples, Ma’an News Agency reported in November 2007 that “right wing Israeli settlers broke into the courtyard of the Qurduba school … attempted to set fire to the building … attempted to rip the doors off the building and succeeded in knocking over walls, trampling flower beds and blocking the path to the school with rocks … a group of children, armed with axes, attempted to break the water pipes that supply the school. They were urged on by their teacher” (“Israeli settlers attack girls’ school in Hebron,” 26 November 2007).

In 2008, a previous director of the Qurduba School, Reem al-Shareef, moved the school’s start time from 8:00 to 7:30am, so the students would not be harassed by the settler children as the latter headed to daily study at their yeshiva. Today, because teachers and administrators must take a long route to avoid Checkpoint 56, “it takes about 45 minutes to reach the school,” said al-Jondy, “so most of the teachers come here late. Three of the teachers have injured themselves because of the new route. One of them hurt her leg, one hurt her back.” Because teachers are late, it is harder to enforce the 7:30 start time, leaving teachers and students once again vulnerable to early morning settler attacks.

Various challenges to education

“It’s very hard to have education in H2,” explained Mohammed Abuthereim, Hebron Municipality Director of Education, referring to the Israeli settlement district of Hebron. “The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers … we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

Now that school has reopened, students and teachers are greeted with almost daily settler attacks. “In October, I filed a complaint with the Israeli police at the [nearby settlement of] Kiryat Arba, and they promised that in the future they would stop the settlers, because they don’t have the right to do these things,” al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada. “But so far, the police have done nothing for us … [On 7 November,] the school’s guard phoned me at nine in the morning and told me there were settlers around the school, throwing empty bottles and big stones on the school and on the garden. So I quickly phoned the police, and they eventually came, but they did nothing.”

For now, the Qurduba School is pushing the Hebron municipality, as well as organizations like the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, to demand that the Israeli military ease its draconian restrictions of freedom of movement, not only for teachers but for all residents of Hebron.

In the meantime, resilience, steadfastness and hope remain the driving forces, in spite of the occupation, that keep the Qurduba School open day after day.

Badia Dwaik, a Hebron resident and the deputy coordinator of the local activism groupYouth Against Settlements, told The Electronic Intifada that the students and teachers of the Qurduba School have begun peaceful protests against the new closure policy.

“Over the years they have struggled for freedom of education and for the right to education enjoyed by all other children in the world, and this continues today,” she said. “They will not give up.”

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Settlers & Supporters Descend on Hebron to Assert Jewish Sovereignty

from my MondoWeiss article here

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Settlers and supporters celebrate in front of shuttered Palestinian stores in Hebron’s Old City (with protection from the Israeli military). (Photo: Alistair George)

“So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.” – Genesis 23:17-20

Over 1000 American and International Zionists joined 700 extremist settlers in Hebron this weekend to celebrate the reading of this Torah portion detailing Abraham’s biblical purchase of Hebron land, as a means to assert sovereignty over the Palestinian residents of Hebron.

On Friday, many Zionist visitors camped in tents on Israeli-controlled Shuhada Street. Inebriated from the Shabbat festivities, the visitors harassed local Palestinians throughout the night. On Saturday, soldiers stationed themselves through the streets of Hebron’s Old City, forcing the shutdown of Palestinian shops, while swarms of visitors were treated to an extensive settler-guided tour championing the Jewish roots of Old Hebron. In what was advertised by the Hebron Committee as “the most unforgettable Jewish experience of a lifetime”,  throngs of young, mostly American males clapped and chanted ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ (‘life to the people of Israel’) and other nationalistic chants, while  Palestinian residents were forced to the sidelines of their own streets and kept there by soldiers. Throughout the day, 7 international activists and 2 Palestinians were arrested.

The Zionist visitors paraded down the market streets of an Old City that is no stranger to hardship. Since the now-500 (at least) Israeli settlers and now-2000 (at least) Israeli soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire Southern West Bank- a process, beginning in the 1980s and culminating after the Second Intifada, which has turned the once-bustling marketplace into a ghost town, and has caused the abandonment of over 1000 abandoned housing units and over 1800 shops and storefronts- Hebron’s Old City, whose narrow and crowded market streets surround and interpenetrate the now-inaccessible Shuhada Street, has fallen under the oppressive control of the Israeli military, and is frequently harassed by soldiers and attacked by settlers. Every day, the soldiers survey the marketplace from rooftop watchtowers, sweep through its streets in unannounced middle-of-the-day raids, and close down its passageways with razor-wire roadblocks for no announced reason; the settlers spit at the heads of its shoppers and salesmen from the heavily-protected windows and openings of their adjacent apartments and schools, and drop blunt objects, from stones, to chairs, to water bottles filled with heavy sand, to knives, onto the market streets, hoping they will hit the goods and the people below.

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Settlers march in Hebron’s Old City (Photo: Alistair George)

While a few of this weekend’s visitors were respectful to Palestinian shop owners and residents, many were outright hostile. Mohammed Awawdeah owns a small shop in the old city, selling glass bottles filled with intricate colored sand patterns. Some of his bottles were smashed by a passing settler. “He came and broke my stuff,” Awawdeah says. “I told the police but they are not here for us, they are here for the settlers…I am not even angry for my stuff, I’m angry at the soldiers who let them do this”. The Israeli police have taken the details of the incident and said that they intend to carry out an investigation.

Hamday Dwaik decided to close his bakery in the old city, since his shop was targeted by settlers during the event last year. “The settlers don’t want me to open. If I open they will throw my products on the ground, no one will buy it”.

Laila Slemiah, who works in Women In Hebron, a woman’s collective in the old city selling kiffiyehs and embroidery, was determined not to close her shop. “I know I won’t have any business today,” she said, “but I have to stay open. I’m not scared of them.”

The shopkeepers of Hebron’s Old City struggle under this occupation with a spirit of steadfastness and resilience. “If I see the occupation,” says Nawal Slemiah, Laila’s sister and founder of Women in Hebron, “if I see the soldier pass, I don’t care so much about their guns. l I feel angry when I see them with their guns, but also they are nothing, it is as if I didn’t see them. In my eyes they are silly people. They are strong because of their weapons, but we are strong in our mind.”

 

As this event is touted by the Zionist community as a Biblically-ordained ‘return to the homeland’, an organization called Project Hayei Sarah has been founded in the U.S. and Israel, offering alternative interpretations of Abraham’s Biblical relationship to Hebron that challenge the attempted Zionist appropriation of this legend to legitimize territorial conquest.

Here is one impassioned plea for justice, from Rabbi Jill Jacobs-

A group of Jews stands in a small park. Across from us two Palestinian children are playing soccer in the street. The ball rolls into the park. A member of our group kicks it back. ‘That’s lucky fur the children, the park is off limit to Palestinians…’ A row of closed storefronts stands where the lively Palestinian market used to be. The graffiti on the metal doors proclaims ‘death to Arabs’, and warns Palestinians that ‘the death chamber awaits’. Bizarrely, one mural shows a smiling Haredi man saying ‘keep smiling’…what a contrast to the Hebron of the torah. There, the city is  a place of compassion, a place where people of different families, tribes and backgrounds come together…it is a place where Abraham introduces himself as a  stranger, a resident alien, and who is welcomed by the residents of the city…a place where Abraham’s estranged sons, Isaac and Ishmael, come together to bury and to mourn for their father….Today, Hebron is just one extreme symptom of the broad systemic violations of human rights that are required to maintain Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is also a city that to both Jewish and Muslim traditions was once a shining example of human coexistence.  This week, as we read Parsha Havei Sarah, the story of Sarah’s burial in the city of Hebron, I hope and pray that we can all do our part to make Hebron once again a city of compassion, friendship, and coexistence.

Today, the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael, recognized by all monotheisms as the Jews and the Muslims, respectively, still come together to mourn their father in Hebron. Housed within a half-mosque, half-synagogue compound, Abraham’s Tomb sits in a circular vault, surrounded by a synagogue window on one side and a mosque window on the other. Gazing through each of their windows at the tomb of their father, the two faiths awkwardly look at each other out of the corner of their eye, through a narrow, slanted, indirect, sidelong, askew line of sight. “How sweet and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) A plastic screen separates the two windows, to prevent the two brothers from throwing shit at each other over their father’s grave.

 

 

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Women in Hebron: Resisting The Occupation and Working Towards Independence

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

Women In Hebron resists the Israeli occupation, not only by remaining in the battered and bruised Hebron market as a vital and invigorating presence, and not only by serving as a beacon for the feminist struggle, but also by championing, promoting and celebrating a distinctive tradition of Palestinian embroidery…

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Nawal Slemiah, founder of Women in Hebron, remarks, “I remind my daughter all the time, and the same with the other women, that you should follow the culture, you should keep the culture. That is a kind of resistance.” (Photo: Audrey Vera)

“Men can do something; Women can do anything.” Where, in the West Bank, would one expect to find a handmade purse for sale, embroidered with these words of feminist empowerment? Maybe in the progressive, cosmopolitan city of Ramallah? Actually, one will find such a purse for sale in Hebron, one of the most socially and religiously conservative places in the Palestinian heartland.

Women In Hebron is a female-run cooperative in Hebron’s Old City that helps the women of Hebron and surrounding communities sell their homemade goods in the marketplace, and empowers women to become financially, socially and personally independent.Women In Hebron, reads the calligraphic mural that adorns the inside of their shop, is a collective of “over 120 women, of various ages, from eight different villages and communities in the Hebron area”. The women of the cooperative “use the age-old tradition of embroidery to produce handbags, purses, bracelets, clothing, cushion covers, wall hangings and other articles.” The mural continues- “we pride ourselves on being the only independent, female run and managed shop in the Old City of Hebron.”

And indeed, one need only leave Women In Hebron and take a casual stroll in either direction of the bustling market, to see that every other shop, even if it sells women’s clothing and accessories, is run and staffed exclusively by men. This was the oppressive social norm that founder Nawal Slemiah, who lives in the nearby village of Idna, faced six years ago, when she arrived at the Old City to try to sell her goods in the market.

‘In Hebron, women can be teachers… but they cannot own a shop…’“You can see that in Bethlehem and Ramallah, its normal for women to have a shop. But in Hebron it’s not normal. In Hebron women can be teachers, nurses and doctors outside of the old city, but [they cannot] own a shop, especially in the old city. Even outside of the old city, women don’t own the shops. They work inside the shops, they get 300 or 400 shekels a day, they work 10 or 12 hours, not a lot of money…This is the problem, this is what I am telling you. Also many women do not work in shops because they have to work with men, this makes them uncomfortable. Its not easy to work with men in the same place.”

Today, Women in Hebron has established a female presence in the Hebron market, through which it facilitates the financial and spiritual self-sufficiency of women by promoting the work of their own hands. But when Slemiah first came to the market in 2006, it was not to start a feminist cooperative, but simply to sell her own goods: “I did [embroidery] myself first, in my home, in my free time. I collected many things, many designs, then I came here to the old city to find people to sell [to]. I got the shop very easy because [much of] the old city was closed [after the Second Intifada] and there was nobody in the shops, so I took it very easy.”

Slemiah became an entrepreneur as a way to overcome the economic difficulties that define the lives of countless Palestinian women. “I needed the money, and I always wanted my mother to give me the money to buy me something because my husband had no money, so I would go to my mother to take money from her. Then I started this project but nobody agreed to give me the money to help me to continue, so I started with 700 shekels and day after day I sold, and over time I got 10,000 shekels. Then I accepted more women to work.”

Hers is a success story highly atypical for the women of Hebron. In Hebron, as in many other conservative communities, women are financially dependent for all of their lives–first on their family, then on their husbands.

“That’s the problem,” Slemiah says. “[Society says that] she should listen to her husband, if he gives her money she can go somewhere, if not she can’t go anywhere. This is the problem with the women, they are very poor. Even sometimes they have money but they cant own this money, their husband holds it, they cant touch this money. I want women to be independent, I don’t want them to depend on their family or their husband anymore.”

In addition, women are often discouraged from leaving the home for extended periods of time, both because of social norms and by practical constraints such as lack of funds, lack of transportation, and the pressing need to take care of children and the household. Slemiah, and her sister Leihla, who co-runs the shop, travel to the homes of women in the community to collect purses, handbags, pillows, kafiyas and other homemade goods. They then sell these goods in the shop, and give the proceeds to the producers.

“When I give the money to the women,” Slemiah says, “they are very happy because they can buy their own things, they don’t need their husbands or their family to give them money. Some of them don’t even have family to give them money, so they were very happy when we give them money, they feel very strong because they can buy things for themselves.”

Seeking independence inside of traditionThe goal of Women In Hebron is not to radically change the Palestinian social structure, to overturn all social and religious custom. This is neither possible in a conservative area like Hebron, nor desirable for many of the women, who take pride in centuries-old customs, like the wearing of the hijab, that many in the West perceive as sexist.And the cooperative does not strive for restructured gender relations, but, rather, for a balancing act, whereby women seek greater economic and personal autonomy within the contours of existing tradition.

“Every women should know her rights, what to do, and also she should not forget her duties to society and her family and her husband. If I am working I should not forget my family also. This is what we tell them- ‘you should work and be independent, but do not forget that you have family, because then you make problems for yourself.'” Slemiah says.

However, she is firm that the women of Hebron and all of Palestine must rise up against institutionalized male oppression.

“I think its very important, all the women they should follow us. They should not listen to the culture, this culture, it’s bad for us. I know how it’s important to follow the culture, but sometimes it’s not culture, its just people who say [that] something [is] from a long time ago, so we have to follow them. We are not doing anything bad here, we feel that we are very ok. Not all the people understand, but many people do understand what we are doing here.”

Unfortunately, this message of economic and social empowerment for women often clashes with the conservatism of the Palestinian community in Hebron. In the five years of its existence, Women In Hebron has faced harassment on many levels. “Many times we faced hostility, me and Leihla, we are suffering a lot. Every day, especially from  men and from women also. From Palestinians, I’m sorry to say but this is always the case, because we are the only women here. First, the young shebab, and men especially if they see internationals with us…”

Many women, Slemiah and her sister included, feel pressure from their husbands and families to stay away from the cooperative. “The women in my husband’s family”, with whom Slemiah lives in Idna, “they don’t like my work, they think I should stay with my kids because I leave my kids [at home, with family members]. They don’t like that, they say I should stay with my kids in the home, the money my husband makes is enough. But I was independent all the time before I get married, and then suddenly I was dependent on my husband after I get married, because I left my work. It wasn’t my style, for my life, to wait for somebody to give me money.”

Women’s rights go hand-in-hand with the struggle against occupationThe pressure of the Israeli occupation, which weighs heavily on all shops in the Old City Market, plagues Women In Hebron as well. Since approximately 500 Jewish settlers and some 2000 Israeli soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire Southern West Bank, the once-bustling marketplace has turned into a ghost town. Because Shuhada Street is inaccessible to Palestinians, over 1800 shops and storefronts been forced to close and 1000 Palestinian homes sit empty.

The Palestinians who remain in the neighboring Old City are often harassed by soldiers and attacked by settlers. Soldiers survey the marketplace from rooftop watchtowers, sweep through its streets in midday raids, and close down its passageways with razor-wire roadblocks; settlers spit at the heads of its shoppers and salesmen from the heavily-protected windows and openings of their apartments and schools. Some settlers also drop dangerous objects–from knives to stones, to chairs, to water bottles filled with sand–onto the streets below, aiming for the Palestinian passersby.

Because of the dangerous environment, says Slemiah, “women and their families are afraid to join me here. Their family doesn’t like them to stay for a long time. If they come they come to take their money and give us the work and then leave. Because they always hear there are problems here [in the old city] so they are scared….settlers harass the people and the soldiers, so the people are afraid to come here….the settlers stop near my shop many times and harass me. It was very hard for me the first two years when I started, it’s still hard every day. But for us this is not problems, this is occupation. We don’t call these problems, we call it normal here. [And] even with all these problems, we will not close, we will not close. We have to have the shop here. Because if we close ourselves, many shops will close after us. Its very important for us to keep our city open.”

In addition to keeping a shop open in the Old City even though it is under a brutal occupation, Slemiah and the other women in the cooperative believe that their struggle for women’s empowerment goes hand in hand with the larger struggle against the Israeli occupation.

“If we don’t give women power,” Slemiah says, “they will not help to end the occupation. Women in Palestine are half the society, so they should share this act to end the occupation. The occupation will not be over in one click. You need a long time because we don’t have any power. The only power we have is inside ourselves, and women are part of the society.”

In contrast to those who believe that the struggle for women’s liberation within Palestinian society should wait until after, or should remain subservient to, the more important and overarching struggle to liberate Palestinian society as a whole from Israeli oppression, Slemiah remarks, “I believe that women should be strong first.”

Keeping Palestine in internationals’ hearts and mindsWomen In Hebron resists the Israeli occupation, not only by remaining in the battered and bruised Hebron market as a vital and invigorating presence, and not only by serving as a beacon for the feminist struggle, but also by championing, promoting and celebrating a distinctive tradition of Palestinian embroidery that stretches as far back as Palestinian culture itself.

“I can get the designs easy from my home, from my mother, from my grandmother, from my sisters,” Slemiah says. “We had a lot of things in our homes, so I took the old things and I used them new, and from my mind I can design [new patterns]. It’s the same as all the women in our village, we know how to do the embroidery. Its easy for us. It is traditional thing in Palestine, women in the villages have this tradition. We take it from our mothers.”

Upholding and fostering this culture strengthens not only the women, but the entire community in the face of the occupation. “I remind my daughter all the time, and the same with the other women, that you should follow the culture, you should keep the culture. That is a kind of resistance.”

In addition, selling homemade goods to internationals helps spread the image of a vibrant Palestinian culture that persists, survives and grows stronger in, through and beyond the Israeli occupation. Both in the Old City and through its website- http://www.womeninhebron.com- Women In Hebron is geared towards selling to internationals, because, in Nawal’s words, “…when we sell something to internationals we know that he is going to take it back to his country and tell his family, his neighbors, his friends that this is from Palestine, from Women In Hebron and he will tell the story…”

Women In Hebron stands, in the midst of one of the West Bank cities hardest hit by the occupation, as a testament to the resilience, courage and strength of the Palestinian people. “If I see the occupation,” says Slemiah with an air of confidence, “if I see the soldier pass, I don’t care so much about their guns. I feel angry when I see them with their guns, but also they are nothing, it is as if I didn’t see them. In my eyes they are silly people. They are strong because of their weapons, but we are strong in our mind.”

Website- http://www.womeninhebron.com
Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/pages/Women-in-Hebron/127546997276604
Full text of interview- http://freedpaly.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/interview-with-nawal-slemiah-founder-of-feminist-cooperative-women-in-hebron/

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Interview with Nawal Slemiah, founder of feminist cooperative Women In Hebron

Last week, myself and Skylar, another ISMer, went to the Old City of Hebron to interview Nawal Slemiah, the founder of Women In Hebron, a feminist cooperative that, in the words of their website, is a collective of “over 120 women, of various ages, from eight different villages and communities in the Hebron area” who “use the age-old tradition of embroidery to produce handbags, purses, bracelets, clothing, cushion covers, wall hangings and other articles…we pride ourselves on being the only independent, female run and managed shop in the Old City of Hebron.” You should buy beautiful handmade things from them and support this awesome cooperative! Not only do they resist the occupation, but they are also a beacon of feminist struggle in one of the more conservative parts of the West Bank.

How did Women In Hebron begin?How I started the co-op is I did it myself first, in my home, in my free time, I collected many things, many designs, then I came here by chance to the old city to find people to sell, then I got the shop very easy because the old city was closed and there was nobody in the shops, so  i took it very easy. Then later I had women from other other villages with me, they asked me to help them share their work. Then my sister Leighla came to work with me in the shop. Now she is the boss of the shop in the old city and I work with the women. I can get the designs easy from my home, from my mother, from my grandmother, from my sisters, we had a lot of things in our homes, so I took the old things and I used them new, and from my mind i can design, the same as all the women in our village, we know how to do the embroidery. Its easy for us. It is traditional thing in Palestine, women in the villages have this tradition. We take it from our mothers. Before, it is red color [on the outside] and different colors on the inside, this is traditional. But later we use green, brown, blue, all the colors, for the internationals. Because we sell for internationals mainly, because the Palestinians don’t need it. The main thing for Palestinians is to have food and something to wear, its not important for them to buy. And also many of the women in the villages can make it, they don’t need to buy.

Is it important to sell to internationals?

When we sell something to internationals we know that he is going to take it back to his country and tell his family, his neighbors, his friends that this is from Palestine, from Women in Hebron and he will tell the story of women in hebron, and we always give the card so we will tell other people about us and about our website.

What was it like, beginning the cooperative in this market?

I was the only woman in the market, and it was strange for the media to see women in the old city, in a shop, so [people from the] TV came and filmed me many times. So the women saw me on TV many times talking about how the old city was closed and encouraging people to come back to their shops, so the women came to me and asked me for help.

Do you ever face hostility or criticism from other Palestinians?

Many times we faced hostility, me and Leighla, we are suffering a lot. Every day, especially from  men and from women also. From Palestinians, I’m sorry to say but this is always the case, because we are the only women here. First, the young shebab, and men especially if they see internationals with us, and sometimes I don’t blame them because there is no women here, and this is danger for Palestinians because this area is not controlled by the PA, it’s controlled by the Israelis and its not in our ability to stop any murderers or thieves, so people are free to do what they want, so it is very dangerous for us.
It’s not normal for women to have a shop here, usually it’s men, so we are the only women here.
I think its very important, all the women they should follow us. They should not listen to the culture, this culture, its bad for us. I know how its important to follow the culture, but sometimes it’s not culture, its just people who say something [is] from a long time ago so we have to follow them. We are not doing anything bad here, we feel that we are very ok. Not all the people understand, but many people do understand what we are doing here.
You can see this in Bethlehem and Ramallah, its normal for women to have a shop, but in Hebron it’s not normal. In Hebron women can be teachers, nurses and doctors outside of the old city, but not to own a shop, especially in the old city.
[Even outside of the old city], women don’t own the shops, they work inside the shops., they get 300 or 400 shekels a day, they work 10 or 12 hours, not a lot of money.

I have noticed that men sell even women’s clothing to women! Isn’t this strange?

Yes, it makes us feel uncomfortable. Many time I stop to buy these things and I change my mind.

Are women afraid to join you or to come to the shop?

Yes, women and their families are afraid to join me here. Their family doesn’t like them to stay for a long time. If they come they come to take their money and give us the work and then leave. Because they always hear there are problems here [in the old city] so they are scared….settlers harass the people and the soldiers, so the people are afraid to come here.
The situation is very hard, there are a lot of women who have very hard situations, and we are only one shop. There is too much work, and not enough tourists to buy.
I think there are a lot of women who want to be independent, but their family will not let them. There is one woman with us but her husband is very bad with her. She wants to work in the city here, she worked for 5 years but she stopped after 5 years because her husband did npot want her to go outside, and her family also thought t is not important for her to go and work in the old city, so she has to stay with them.

When you began, did you expect the difficulties, the harassment by the IDF and the community, the fear?

I didn’t know anything about the situation. It was very hard for me the first two years when I started, its still hard every day, especially for Leighla.

Does this work empower you as women?

Me and Leighla and other women for sure, we get more strong and we feel more free. When I give the money to other women they are very happy because they can buy their own things, they don’t need their husbands or their family to give them money. Some of them don’t even have family to give them money, so they were very happy when we give them money, they feel very strong because they can buy things for themselves.That’s the problem, [society says that] she should listen to her husband, if he gives her money she can go somewhere, if not she cant go anywhere. This is the problem with the women, they are very poor. Even sometimes they have money but they cant own this money, their husband holds it, they cant touch this money. I want women to be independent, I don’t want them to depend on their family or their husband anymore.

Usually when people think of feminism in the Middle East they want women to take off their hijabs…

We don’t mention any of these things because especially in Hebron its very important for the people, so if you come at people with this idea they will leave us, especially in Hebron. It is cultural and religious, so we don’t touch this.

How did you start this cooperative?

Myself I needed the money, and I always wanted my mother to give me the money to buy me something because my husband had no money, so I would go to my mother to take money from her. Then I started this project but nobody agreed to give me the money to help me to continue, so I started with 700 shekels and day after day I sold, and then I got 10,000 shekels. Then I accepted more women to work.

What motivates you to continue?

I know its very hard, I like the idea very much but I pay for it every day with my life, with my time. Nothing is easy about it. And I am in a good situation, I am not rich, but my husband is working, we have a house, my husband has a car and I can use his car all the time if I need something. If I need to go to the factory I call him, if I want to go visit any of the women. So this is the idea, I have the help but other women they don’t have the help, so with my situation I can help other women. My village especially, the women they live far away near the wall, they are poor and if they want to come to the organization they need to pay 20 shekels every time. They don’t have the money to pay that, so I ask my husband in the early morning or the evening if I can take the car and get the work from them. So we do that.

What does your family think of your work?

Where I live now, is not my real family, it’s my husbands family. The women in my husbands family they don’t like my work, they think I should stay with my kids because I leave my kids with the family. They don’t like that, they say I should stay with my kids in the home, the money my husband makes is enough. But I was independent all the time before I get married, and then suddenly I was dependent on my husband after I get married, because I left my work. It wasn’t my style, for my life, to wait for somebody to give me money. So that’s why I started something from my home, the same ideas- the women they can go outside their homes, from their family and their culture,

What do you hope to teach to women here, what new things do you want to expose them to?

English lessons, computer lessons because I am the only one who speaks English and works on the computer. I cant do it all on my own. I cant go anywhere, I cant visit my family in the evenings, I spend all the evenings working. Other women need to do my job sometimes so I can take some time to rest. All this work is volunteer for me.
I think every woman should have internet and computer in her home, because with the internet she can see everything. People here know the bad things about internet, but they dont know the good things about the internet. All my friends on facebook are internationals, I dont have any Palestinian friends on facebook.
English in the village is very weak, especially for the small kids. We want all the children to learn English, it’s very important because English is the main language between all the world.
They have school all the time, but not all the women go to school. They have to stay at home, and [when they were young] their family didn’t know that school is very important. Now all the women know that it’s very important for their kids to go to school, but before now they didn’t know this.
Every women should know her rights, what to do, and also she should not forget her duties to society and her family and her husband. If I am working I should not forget my family also. This is what we tell them- ‘you should work and be independent, but do not forget that you have family, because then you make problems for yourself.’

What difficulties do you face under occupation here?

Like all the owners of the shops, the settlers stop near my shop many times and harass me. But for is this is not problems, this is occupation. We don’t call these problems, we call it normal here.
Even with all these problems, we will not close, we will not close. We have to have the shop here. Because if we close ourselves, many shops will close after us. Its very important for us to keep our city open.

In general, do women suffer under occupation differently than men?

If you stop me at a checkpoint, they will stop the women and the men. It depends on the commander, and all the soldiers, if they are nice or not. When the Second Intifada started, women had to raise up their dress, especially if they are pregnant. Every time they have women soldiers, they give them to the women to check them.
It is harder for the women but it makes the women stronger. If I see the occupation, if I see the soldier pass I don’t care so much about their guns. I feel angry when I see them with their guns, but also they are nothing, it is as if I didn’t see them. In my eyes they are silly people. They are strong because of their weapons, but we are strong in our mind.

Promoting culture itself is a form of resistance, right?

I remind my daughter all the time, and the same with the other women, that you should follow the culture, you should keep the culture. That is a kind of resistance.

Some people say that the Palestinian people should work to end the occupation first, and then should work on other struggles within their own society. Do you agree with people who say that the feminist struggle should wait until after the struggle to end the occupation?

If we don’t give women power, they will not help to end the occupation. Women in Palestine they are half the society, so they should share this act to end the occupation. The occupation will not be over in one click. You need a long time because we don’t have any power. The only power we have is inside ourselves, and women are part of the society. So I believe that women should be strong first.

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Rally Renames Hebron’s Shuhada Street as ‘Apartheid Street’

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

 

On Wednesday 14 September, a rally was held in Hebron to officially rename downtown Shuhada Street ‘Apartheid Street’, in protest against the Israeli  occupation that for nearly 20 years has shut down the once-thriving town center,

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Israeli soldiers gather around demonstrators, who explain to them that the ceremony is a non-violent action (Photo: Heather Stroud)

 

severely curtailed freedom of movement and caused for the Palestinians of Hebron humiliation, harassment and persecution at the hands of settlers and Israeli soldiers.

 

The rally and renaming ceremony were organized by Youth against Settlements, a committee that since 2009 has organized non-violent demonstrations and actions to raise awareness of the occupation that plagues the over 165,000 Palestinian residents of Hebron.  A crowd of Palestinians, internationals and journalists gathered at the heavily guarded checkpoint entrance to Apartheid Street at 1 p.m.,waving signs and placards and emblazoning, with stencils and spray paint, the walls of the area with the proclamation ‘Welcome to Apartheid Street’. Despite the explicitly peaceful nature of the protest, a crowd of 20-30 Israeli soldiers immediately assembled across from the protesters and on the rooftops surrounding the site. Rifles loaded with tear gas canisters and stun grenades, they quickly strung up razor wire to block the path of the protestors, though the latter incessantly repeated their peaceful intentions.

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Israeli soldiers placed barbed wire to prevent the demonstrators from moving forward (Photo: Heather Stroud) 


At a press conference, Youth against Settlements member Issa Anmo told a gathering crowd of Palestinians and journalists that “on behalf of all the Palestinian residents of Hebron we have one simple demand- open Shuhada Street and end the occupation. We are changing the name of this street to Apartheid Street for many reasons. The reasons are- only Israelis and foreign tourists are allowed to access Shuhada Street. It becomes as a ghost town. The street is closed to the Palestinian residents of Hebron…Palestinian residents who live on the street are prevented from going on the street, and to enter and exit their homes, and to get to their businesses. Some families are using back roads, and some other families are using the roofs to get to their homes. Shops have been closed by many military orders, [and] it’s forbidden for many Palestinians to drive on the road. Imagine that you are living on a street and it’s illegal for you to drive on the street!”

 

At the beginning of the 1990s, Apartheid Street was still the booming downtown marketplace of Hebron, and the commercial center of the entire southern West Bank, as it had been for centuries. Center of a vibrant community economy where Palestinian residents and farmers maintained small shops to sell fruits, vegetables and other goods, it was also the home street for thousands of Palestinian families who lived in apartments overlooking the bustling town centre. The May 2007 B’Tselem report ‘Ghost Town: Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron’ paints a bleak picture of the desolation inflicted upon Shuhada Street by the occupation in just two decades: “at least 1,014 Palestinian housing units in the center of Hebron have been vacated by their occupants. This number represents 41.9 percent of the housing units in the relevant area. Sixty-five percent (659) of the empty apartments became vacant during the course of the second intifada. Regarding Palestinian commercial establishments, 1,829 are no longer open for business. This number represents 76.6 percent of all the commercial establishments in the surveyed area. Of the closed businesses, 62.4 percent (1,141) were closed during the second intifada. At least 440 of them closed pursuant to military orders.”

Hebron_1990_fruit_market

Hebron’s bustling fruit and vegetable market in 1990


Israel’s occupation in Hebron has a turbulent history and over the past 40 years, one can discern familiar pattern: The one-sided domination of fundamentalist Zionism and its colonialist impetus, with the military backing of Israel trailing in its wake. In 1968, religious Jewish settlers rented a hotel in Hebron for Passover and barricaded themselves inside, refusing to leave; eventually, the Israeli army coaxed them out and established for them the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba to appease their desire to reclaim ‘Judea and Samaria’. In 1979, 40 women and children from Kiryat Arba repeated this brazen gesture, sneaking into an abandoned building on Apartheid Street in the middle of the night and, despite a lack of electricity, food and water, refusing to leave the next morning. This time, the Israeli army eventually allowed these squatters permanent residence in downtown Hebron, with full military support.

 

The fundamentalist settlers of Hebron are guided by the religious conviction that they are reviving a Jewish presence in Hebron that dates back 4000 years ago to the days of Abraham, who, along with most of the oldest patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament, is buried at the nearby Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, which today is a half-synagogue, half-mosque structure, heavily guarded by the Israeli army. They are also determined to maintain their community in memory of the 1929 Hebron massacre which 82 years ago, in the midst of a tense political climate and rising animosity in Palestine, resulted in the deaths of 67 Hebron Jews and the evacuation of the entire Jewish community from the city.  This massacre is contrary to the history of the two communities in the city, as Jews and Arabs had coexisted peacefully in Hebron for centuries, a peace attested to by the fact that several hundred Jewish lives were saved during the massacre by Palestinians, who hid Jewish families in their homes at considerable personal risk.

 

Since downtown Hebron was settled by Israelis in 1980, Apartheid Street and a small surrounding area have gradually become occupied by approximately 500 Jewish settlers (the term ‘Israeli settlers’ would be misleading in this case, as many of the settlers are recent arrivals from the east coast of America), guarded by at least four times as many Israeli soldiers. The process of apartheid over the last 20 years has been complex and gradual, but unmistakable in its intentions. After a massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in February 1994, in which 29 Palestinians were killed and over 100 wounded by an Israeli settler from Kiryat Arba, the Israeli military began to pursue an official separation policy that closed the shops of Apartheid Street, blocked off the Jewish area, already heavily guarded and controlled, from the rest of Hebron, and sought to remove most Palestinian presence from the settler enclave.

HHebron_2007_fruit_market

Hebron’s fruit and vegetable market in 2007, closed by the Israeli army 


In 1997, Hebron was officially split into two areas- H1, 18 square kilometers, under Palestinian control and containing most of Hebron’s Palestinian population; and H2, 4 square kilometers in the absolute center of the city, encompassing Apartheid Street and much of Hebron’s Old City, under Israeli control and enclosing the settler population alongside a handful of Palestinian families who could not be coaxed or forced to leave. The Second Intifada in the early 2000’s brought, according to B’tselem, “unprecedented restrictions on Palestinian movement in the city, primarily a continuous curfew and closure of main streets to Palestinian residents…during the first three years of the Intifada, the army imposed a curfew on H-2 for a total of more than 377 days, including a curfew that ran non-stop for 182 days, with short breaks to obtain provisions. On more than 500 days, the army imposed a curfew that lasted for a few hours up to an entire day.”

 

In response to the military crackdown, which began in the 1990s and reached a feverish pitch in the 2000s, the vast majority of Palestinian apartments and storefronts in Apartheid Street have either been voluntarily abandoned or forcibly emptied out. Today, what was once a booming marketplace is now, indeed, a ghost town, traversed only by settlers, Israeli soldiers, and the occasional Palestinian who holds the proper permit.

 

“I was born just 50 meters from here”, says Issa Anmo, sitting in the office of the Christian Peacemaker’s Team on the border of H-1, “and I am not allowed to visit the house where I was born, I am not allowed to go back to my neighborhood to smell my flowers. At the same time, the settlers can do what they want inside my house!…why are they allowed and I am not allowed? They are civilians and I am a civilian! Why am I not allowed? Is their blood blue and my blood is dark, is black?…This is apartheid. Nobody can argue [with] me if it is apartheid or not.”

 

The 14 September rally, like many others held over the years, was meant to highlight this unjust and oppressive state of affairs and indeed, the disproportionate Israeli army presence at the explicitly peaceful rally itself highlighted the reality of everyday life for the Palestinian population of Hebron. “It was just a rally to explain what is happening in Hebron. At the beginning we were afraid we could not send out the message to explain what we were suffering from, but then the army and the Israeli police came and they put up the barbed wire and detained us, and prevented us from doing a civil right. They showed exactly what it means, that we are suffering from the apartheid and inequality in Hebron…I’m not happy the police came, but they showed the real face of the occupation, this is a reality.”

 

The rally also intended to highlight the resolve of the Palestinian people, and the fear of the Israelis, toward the upcoming September initiative at the UN. Says Issa, “it’s very connected to September…the Palestinians are suffering from occupation, from settlements, and from apartheid. And this activity was concentrating on apartheid, to tell the world look, there is a problem here! We do not want you to stand against Israel, we want you to stand against apartheid, against occupation, against the settlements. We are not asking people to stand against Israel or say anything bad about Israel, we are just asking them to stand with us against the occupation, against apartheid and against the settlements which are destroying our own lives and violating all our human lives.”

 

Not all Palestinians at the rally, however, were pleased that Apartheid Street was officially receiving a new name. Said resident Azmi Ah- Shouki, “I don’t want to change the name of Shuhada Street, because this name has a relationship with the history and suffering of the Palestinian people. We want the occupation to end and we are here always. The cccupation makes apartheid, but we are Shuhada Street.” Shuhada Street means ‘The Martyr’s Street’ in Arabic, and recalls the memory of those murdered at the Ibrahimi mosque during the massacre of 1994. A small faction of Palestinians showed up at the rally to oppose the decision, and later in the day the group partially covered many of the ‘Welcome to Apartheid Street’ wall stencils with black spray paint.

 

Issa, however, along with other members of Youth against Settlements, remains steadfast. “[These people don’t] know what apartheid means, that is the point. We need to educate the people more about apartheid. We are not changing the name really, we are just explaining, giving a description for the street, that it is an apartheid street. [The name is] officially changed, but it’s not a big change. Finish the apartheid, then it will be the same name [Shuhada Street] again”.

 

Walking away from the entrance to Apartheid Street as the rally dissipated, passing the endless storefronts of the Palestinian people of Hebron as he made his way through the crowded, narrow corridors of the Old City, Badia Dwaik, Deputy Coordinator of Youth against Settlements, expressed perfectly the prevailing feeling of the day- “We did many protests and demonstrations before, but it is important to get attention from the world media. I am happy because we announced this to raise awareness that it is now Apartheid Street. The message is rich, so I am happy.”

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Jogging in A War Zone

“Hey!”

I stop in my tracks, panting and sweating, and turn around. I knew this was going to happen as I jogged past the soldier standing limp and bored on the side of the road. The soldier beckons me toward his little box with a slight twitch of the huge assault rifle draped across his chest. With a rough look on his 18-year-old face, he addresses me inquisitively in Hebrew, and I, in between gasps of air, say “Lo Ivrit (no Hebrew). English?”

“Where you from?”

“America.”

“Can I see your passport?” His tone becomes the slightest bit nicer when he hears the holy name of Israel’s daddy-with-the-checkbook. I know I’m not required by law to give this kid-with-an-army-jacket-and-a-huge-gun my passport, he is only a soldier; but if I say ‘no, I don’t have to show you anything’, he would say ‘Yes you do, I am soldier, I make the rules here’, and if I persisted, he might radio in reinforcements, or police. So I give him the passport. He looks it over. “What are you doing?”

“I’m jogging, for exercise.”

“Why here?”

“Why not?” Of course I know why he is surprised to see a sweaty Jewish-looking boy without a kipa jogging here with a shirt that has Arabic letters on it. I am not jogging down any old street, and I know it; I am jogging in Tel Rumeida, or Tel Hebron as the settlers call it.

The city of Hebron has a long and complex history that mirrors in many ways the travails of Palestine as a whole; suffice it to say that the Hebrew name for the city, Hebron, and the Arabic name for the city, al-Khalil, both mean ‘friend’. Jews lived here in ancient times; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Ruth and Jesse are buried in the city (patriarchs and matriarchs worshipped by Jews and Muslims alike); in recent history of the last 1000, Hebron was mostly populated by Muslims, except for a small Jewish community that maintained peaceful ties with its Arab neighbors. In 1929, as mounting anti-Zionist sentiment began to stir up the Arab world (understandable, as Zionists were settling Palestine in droves and had clear, British-backed intentions to create a predominantly Jewish state on land previously promised to the Palestinians), 67 Jews in the Jewish community of Hebron were violently murdered by Arab mobs (many more were saved by Muslims who hid terrified Jewish families in their homes, at considerable personal risk). After this, Jews left Hebron- until 1968, when Rabbi Moshe Levinger and a group of fanatical Israelis rented a hotel in Hebron for Passover, and barricaded themselves in, refusing to leave. Eventually, the Israeli government compromised with them and relocated them to a nearby settlement, which they called Kiryat Arba.

The rapidly expanding settlement still had eyes for Hebron, however, and in 1979 Moshe Levinger’s wife Miriam led a group of 40 women and children to occupy the abandoned Beit Hadassah hospital in central downtown Hebron overnight. When patrolling soldiers heard a chorus of Jewish folk song coming from the abandoned building the next morning, they knew they had a situation on their hands. The women and children refused to leave, though the building had no electricity or running water. When several of the children were becoming very sick because of the sub-human living conditions, the Israeli government installed running water and electricity; eventually, when it was clear the women and children were not going to leave, the israeli government allowed their husbands to visit them on Shabbat.

For about a year, a crowd of young yeshiva boys from Kiryat Arba would come to the Beit Hadassah building from the Cave of the Patriarchs (where all the above-mentioned founding myth-figures are buried save Jesse and Ruth) chanting and singing every Shabbat night, and set up vigil ooutside the building. One night, a year after the initial occupation, 6 of them were murdered by Arabs. Immediately following that tragedy, the Israeli government in the early 80s granted, and built, permanent housing for several families in downtown Hebron. Between 1980 and 1984, the other downtown settlements in Hebron were established- Avraham Avinu, Tel Rumeida, Beit Romano and Admot Yishai. The latter settlement, Admot Yishai, was originally a group of 8 families who one day showed up on top of a hill living in portable caravans; when one man inside one of the caravans was killed by an Arab man standing outside his flimsy window, the Israeli government rushed in to build permanent housing. A similar pattern, then, to Beit Hadassah- first, belligerent and unapologetically racist right-wing religious fanatics move in of their own accord, driven by the zealous belief that they are restoring a direct link to the Jewish past (as always, the truth or falsity of this claim does not matter in the face of the reality of the occupation); the Israeli government gripes and moans, but can do nothing to stop them, and so must in the meantime at least try to contain the situation; when one of the settlers is killed, he is turned into a martyr by the settler community, who demand help from a government that, if it refused, would be denounced by the larger Jewish community for failing to care for its citizens or respect the very ethnic legacy it uses to prop up its otherwise largely secular rule.

These Jewish settlers in the middle of the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank form a compact knot in Hebron’s exact cultural center; their separate settlements can be covered on foot in their entirety in 20 minutes. Surrounding this little pocket of Jewish settlement, dubbed H2 (and all else dubbed H1) after the Oslo Accords in 1993, are soldiers, checkpoints, watch towers, concrete walls, barbed wire, electric fences, and many other signs of occupation. Wikipedia-

Israeli organization B’Tselem states that there have been “grave violations” of Palestinian human rights in Hebron because of the “presence of the settlers within the city.” The organization cites regular incidents of “almost daily physical violence and property damage by settlers in the city”, curfews and restrictions of movement that are “among the harshest in the Occupied Territories”, and violence and by Israeli border policemen and the IDF against Palestinians who live in the city’s H2 sector.[149][150][151] According to Human Rights Watch, Palestinian areas of Hebron are frequently subject to indiscriminate firing by the IDF, leading to many casualties.[152] Hebron mayor Mustafa Abdel Nabi invited the Christian Peacemaker Teams to assist the local Palestinian community in opposition to what they describe as Israeli military occupation, collective punishment, settler harassment, home demolitions and land confiscation.[153]

The presence of settlers in the city means the presence of an enormous military occupying force in the city, which makes life horrible for its residents. I have seen 15 heavily armed soldiers raid a home in the middle of the afternoon with guns pointed wildly in all directions, in full military coordination, to look for and apprehend an eight-year-old boy who they claim threw a stone at them while they were making their rounds. I have seen a gang of 8 year old settler boys, on a raised platform behind a barbed wire fence, spitting at a gang of Palestinian boys down below, who try to spit back, but cannot because of the difference in elevation and the fence (a fitting metaphor, if there ever was one). The Zionists respond ‘well life is tough for the settlers there too, they live surrounded by Arabs who would murder them, and many of them have been murdered!’ They attribute this Arab hatred to anti-Semitism, coupled with the intrinsically violent nature of Arab blood. They forget that they are hated here because they bring an occupation that chokes the life of the city, and they are a symbol of a larger occupation that has choked the life of all Palestine.

Littering the H1 side of the checkpoints one reads graffiti saying ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Zionism is Racism’; inside, ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Free Israel’ fight for wall space. There are about 500 settlers and 5000 soldiers to guard them in Hebron. The tragic absurdity and tense surreality of the situation is all the more concentrated by the fact that what used to be the cultural and economic lifeline of Hebron, downtown Shuhada Street, is now completely boarded up, a ghost street, because of the close proximity of Jewish settlers. Long stretches of silence on the once bustling street are punctuated by the occasional Palestinian family walking side by side carrying bags of groceries (which were freshly prodded through by the hands of soldiers at the checkpoint 50 metres away), the occasional group of fresh-faced Israeli soldiers or stern-faced older Israeli cops, the occasional steps of settler boys with a glint of macho, self righteous evil in their eyes (and this isn’t anti-Semitism, I love meeting the eyes of old rebbes wandering down the streets of Jerusalem, or exchanging a quick glance with religious yeshiva boys muttering to themselves as they pace down the windy roads- but these Hebron boys are something else, they look like dogs born and bred to hate, to fiercely, zealously, arrogantly and violently defend their Judaism. Shame on any interpretation of any faith that values such macho, ignorant defense of the tribe and hatred of the other over the universal virtue of humility).

Except on Shabbat, most settlers drive their cars up and down the street, honking angrily at the Arabs who get in their way (they drive like New Yorkers because many of them are, in fact, American). The electric tension in the air is amplified by the fact that not only the settlers, but also the vast majority of Palestinians in Hebron are religiously conservative and politically right-wing (70% Hamas), and, like much of the West Bank, have been driven to this belief in recent years thanks to the intensity of the occupation.

So there is a reason I go jogging down Tel Rumeida- because it is one of the most fucking absurd and terrifying places I have ever seen, terrifying because of its normality, unsettling because of the peace and quiet that lingers in the air as soldier boys walk by with guns or drive by in jeeps, as stern-faced looking settlers grow even sterner faces as they see me without a kipa and with Arabic writing and the word ‘Morocco’ on my T-shirt, as six-year old Jewish children play happily in the sunshine as policemen stand quietly on the street corner, as arabic men eye me with the confused look of ‘what the hell are you doing jogging in this war zone?’ And indeed, I feel disgusted at the image of myself sometimes, a boy coming from halfway around the world to spy on this conflict that concretely strangles the lives of those embroiled in it, a boy who has the privilege to jog by soldiers, and ironically scoff at the fact that he is waved through because of his american passport, while others live in constant fear that a wrong glance given at a soldier could send them to jail for two years.

Then you get to what is half- Cave of the Patriarchs, and half- al Ibrahimi mosque. Muslims enter from one side to worship Abraham, and Jews enter from the other side to worship the very same guy. Though the building is controlled by an Islamic waqf, it is surrounded on all sides by a thick layer of 18-year-old-Jewish-boys-with-guns. Before 1967, for 1400 years it was completely a mosque, and Jews could only ascend up to the seventh step on the outside staircase. In all honesty, speaking as a Jew and as a cosmopolitan secular citizen, I am glad that today part of the structure is a synagogue, and Jews can worship there freely; I am not glad, however, that this has been achieved through such a barbaric and racist occupation! And yes, it was wrong for Muslims to forbid Jews from visiting the tomb of their patriarch, but shame on those who use the memory of this past oppression to justify their present oppression!

The creepiest part is the room that houses the Tomb of Abraham. It lies in the middle of a circular vault; on one wall there are two windows, through which Jews in the synagogue can look into the room of the Tomb; on the wall next to it there are two windows, through which Muslims in the mosque can look into the room. Both Muslim windows are connected through a direct line of visibility with one of the Jewish windows; the 2nd Jewish window is actually a door, the only door that leads into the room of the Tomb, and it is blocked from Muslim view by the Tomb itself. Thus Muslim and Jewish worshippers, as they go to pay respects to the first patriarch of both of their religions, the mutual father of Isaac (who spawned the Jews) and Ishmael (who spawned the Muslims), awkwardly look at each other through this narrow, slanted, indirect, sidelong, askew line of sight. Each side can see, out of the corner of its eye, members of the other faith approach the tomb with eyes widened in awe, and lips moving in prayer. How sweet and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! How awkward, unsettling and sad it is for these two cultures, with so much water under the bridge, and so much in common, to approach the same holy site from two different vantage points, with a plastic screen standing up in the room next to the Tomb, to block either brother from throwing something through the bars of the window at the other, over the father’s grave! And, as befits an occupying power, the Jews have the privilege of an undisturbed, solitary vantage point, that also doubles as the only door through which the Tomb can be physically accessed. The blanket that is draped over the Tomb, however, is adorned with beautiful cursive Arabic script. I went back and forth from the mosque side to the synagogue side, looking through each window, making sure the tragicomedy before my eyes was real.

On the way back to the ISM apartment, I am stopped again by another soldier. This happens at least twice every time I jog. This kid asks me my religion. “You are Jewish? Ah. Be careful, there are Arabs here, they have knives. Come back here and let me know if there is any problem.” I grab my passport out of his hand, turn around and walk away. I should’ve known, jogging in a war zone!

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