What an incredible day. We awoke in Tel Aviv in the home of a 75 year old American- Israeli woman, Marcy G., a childhood friend of Jane T, and ended in the Hebron home of a 49 year old Palestinian single woman, Zelaika , who faces the struggles of resisting the occupation on a day by day, minute by minute basis.
Marcy G, opened her apartment to us, in fact left her key under the doormat, as she was out teaching English to Israeli children until 7ish, and we arrived at 5ish from the airport after a long day of flying and Helaine being delayed by Israeli customs officers for a somewhat nervous ¬Ω hour, while they did whatever background checking they seem to do on a somewhat random basis. Marcy came to Israel in the early 1970s with her American Zionist husband, now divorced, and had 3 daughters, 2 of whom (twins) still live in Tel Aviv. She is part of the Israeli left, worked with Palestinians in Sheik Jarrer, and would be one us if she lived in the states. We had lots of time to talk, with conversations ranging from the hopelessness of the Israeli left, to her work, to her grandchildren. All in all, a very easy entry into our trip.
Friday morning we made our way to Hebron by taxi, service (shared taxi), and another taxi in an uneventful way, as no checkpoints needed to be crossed. We sat next to a young Polish couple and spent a pleasant hour travelling to Jerusalem trading info about their work and ours- both political and personal.
We arrived in Hebron, at the beginning of the old city, which looks much like the ancient Arab souks that I saw in Marrekesh. This part of Hebron was established in 1700 BC. The buildings, we were told, were probably only a thousand years old, having been torn down and rebuilt a number of times. We were met by Zelaika, a Palestinian woman, wearing a hijab, and speaking English as if it were her first language. We immediately were aware that we were in the presence of a person of first rate intelligence. She walked us to her home, only some 5-10 minutes into the old city, making small talk about food etc, where we faced the outpouring of a flood of males, who clogged the streets to such a degree that we couldn't pass for 10-15 minutes, as they left the mosques after the noon day prayers. We wound our way down unmarked streets until we made it to her apartment, up a flight of steps, at the end of street that ended in a fence. Once inside her apartment, she introduced us to her mother who spoke no English. She showed us around the apartment, which we would be sharing for two nights. The tour ended on her very narrow balcony, which was totally screened in, top to bottom, with metal, cage- like wire, that she used as protection from rocks and stones that are thrown by Israeli settlers as they walk on the Jews-only street that runs by her front door, that she is not permitted to use, and separates her from the cemetery where her grandparents are buried, just steps from her house. To visit the graves, she must take a circuitous route, leaving the old city, and wending her way for ¬Ω hour, until she can reach the back side of the cemetery. We stood there together, almost speechless, almost in tears, feeling as though we had been punched in the stomach by the reality of the occupation, in an up front and personal way, as we watched the Israeli children walk by, not noticing us, as though we were invisible, as they went from school in one part of the settlement to home in another part of the settlement, which houses maybe 200 Israelis, along a street that had been the main thoroughfare of Hebron. We stood there, overwhelmed by our feelings, for quite a while.
She then took us up to her roof, where we had a 360-degree view of her immediate neighborhood, and , where, not more than 20 yards across the street, on a neighbors roof, we were faced by an Israeli lookout tower, manned by an armed Israeli soldier, which was only one of an innumerable string of manned and camera-laden lookouts, that had control of her entire neighborhood. I attempted to take a photo, but was told by the soldier, in no uncertain terms, that photographs were illegal and that I should stop and desist. I asked why, but there was no explanation forthcoming. Zelaika pointed out various landmarks, some of which had been taken over by the settlers. Only a few blocks away was a Palestinian school that had been converted into a Yeshiva. There was also an area where the main bus station had been torn down and the area converted into an Israeli army barracks that was necessary to protect the 200 settlers that had forced their way into the old city that still has 4000 Palestinians living under the immediate control of the army. We had a view of the entire city that is built on a series of hills and is quite beautiful.
The city is comprised of two sectors, H1 and H2. While H1 is totally Palestinian, there are still manned lookout towers to control the population. H2 has the Israeli settlements, totaling no more than 500 settlers, and is more closely controlled, with the sting of lookout towers as well as with the streets being patrolled by armed soldiers and with check points that are opened or closed at the whim of the military and restrict the movement of Palestinians within their own streets. The entire city has 160,000 Palestinian inhabitants, who are controlled by the presence of 500 Israelis and the 4-5000 soldiers protecting them.
We had some lunch and then Zelaika walked us through part of the old city. There were very few people on the streets, as this was Friday, which is the first day of the weekend. Most people were in their homes or visiting with families. Zelaika seems to know everyone, as she has lived here her entire life, and runs a nursery school as well as is very active in community life in various organizations. She is a very powerful person who practices resistance to the occupation and encourages others to do so. While walking past a checkpoint, we saw children talking to and acting friendly to Israeli soldiers. She immediately called out to them in Arabic to stop that behavior and explained why, which the children did. I don‚Äôt know whether or not they will go back tomorrow and be friendly, but this is something she does in an ongoing way. ‚ÄúThey are the oppressors and we should not encourage them in any way that makes their life easier‚Äù. We walked through part of the old city and saw that the Palestinians had constructed the same metal wire covering the narrow streets to protect them from rocks and garbage thrown from the settlement rising above them. We stopped at a store where the vendor showed us beautiful scarves that had been ruined by the settlers throwing eggs from above. He kept the scarves on display to inform all of the reality of everyday violence visited on the city. He also told us stories of pre 1929 Hebron where Palestinians and Jews had lived in harmony and in fact were ‚Äùmilk brothers and sisters. This was before bottled milk and lactating mothers would feed their kids and neighbor‚Äôs kids, who might be Palestinians or Jews, from their breasts and these kids then kept up special close relationships during their lives. We also visited a number of homes and walked up to roofs to see more of the restricted areas now off limit to Palestinians, but formerly the major fruit market of Hebron or the central bus station, or the houses that were once the contiguous community and now are not allowed to be occupied because of proximity to the settlements. We then walked through a double sided check point manned by armed soldiers that led to the largest mosque in Hebron, which was the site of the massacre of Palestinians in 1994 by Baruch Goldstein that left 60 dead and 400 wounded. Today this mosque has been split in to two parts, half for the Muslims and half a synagogue for the Jews. The Palestinians must pass three checkpoints, again manned, before entering and, of course, the Jews freely entering their illegally appropriated half. These check points are all outfitted with metal detectors and one must empty their pockets or take off belts, etc etc before being allowed through. And, of course, the soldiers can deny entry with no basis at any time on any whim. This is only the smallest synecdoche of the entire occupation of the west bank.
Back at Zelaika's apartment for a late dinner and conversation about what we had experienced as well as a long explanation of the tribal nature of Palestinian life. She belongs to a clan/tribe of almost 5000 people, of which she probably only knows 1000. There are also clans with upwards of 15,000. Tribal law mainly rules, and supplants PA rule in many respects. Murders and disputes are mostly settled by a complex set of tribal customs that governs inter-tribal affairs, with the patriarchs of each tribe passing judgment and figuring restitutions etc. Tribes share physical as well as characterological similarities. She can always tell unknown members of her clan on sight. Her tribe, the Muhtaseb, is known for their intelligence, emphasis on education and generous nature. They donated some of their land for parks and a hospital.