I went to Palestine about three years ago (2009), and one of the cities I had a pleasure of visiting there was Hebron. I don’t know why I am writing about this now out of all these times, but here it is:
It was a Friday, the equivalent of a Sunday in the 80s back in Britain, it was dead. I and a couple of friends who were locals were showing me around. The centre and hub of the city was eerie, with all the shop shutters drawn over, some with bullet holes in them that dated back from the second Intifada of 2000, at another door, I saw a crudely drawn star of David. It’s intention was not to profess the artists faith, but to show “the other” that they were there to stay. The settlers have been here, and they could come at any time.
The old cobblestoned road I and my companions walked through was the line itself. To our right were the settlers, who had taken over the top half of many of the dwellings there, and to our left were the remnant of the Palestinian population. As we got closer to the settler’s area, I noticed that above me, there was a cage roof in the open with litter strewn all across it. Before that was put up, the settlers would throw down their waste, whatever it was, at the Palestinians to drive them out, and they were succesful. It took a moment to realize that I was walking under their rubbish bin; literally:
Elsewhere, I saw a soldier standing right above me on a roof top, holding his big gun and squinting in the sunlight. A wild though crossed my mind. If a settler was to gun me down, or start stoning me like an animal, will he actually do anything?
To be frank, it was upsetting and enraging, but we carried on to our destination; the mosque of Abraham (or Ibrahimi mosque), and to the Jewish people, cave of the patriarchs. We couldn’t just walk in of course, there were Israeli military checkpoints:
I didn’t know what to expect, but to my luck the soldier at the first checkpoint was laid back and not much of a problem. At the time I presented my British passport since my Palestinian ID had not been made yet, and I remember him looking confused then asking me
‘What brought to this country?’
To which I smiled innocent and clueless, saying with an air of being a foreign touris
The guards at the second checkpoint, just buy the door, where not as communicative and more silent. I stood with my hands against the wall, they frisked and searched me with a metal detector then slightly tapped my backside
‘Yalla’ meaning go.
Inside, I noticed security cameras all around the prayer room, and then I remembered. Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli military doctor and a radical, stormed into these rooms and gunned down as many Arab Muslims who were praying as he could. He even through some grenades while he was at it. I had a feeling that they wanted to keep an eye in case a revenge attack is planned instead of for the protection of the Palestinian Arabs there. And in a room just next door, was the Jewish section of the building; glancing through a heavy glass window and metal bars, I saw a Rabbi give a lecture to students. People who would probably want to pick a fight or kill me.
The feeling of powerlessness is overwhelming, not just in Hebron but all of Palestine. When I and my companions where about to go round a roundabout, a settlers car went zooming past, almost crashing with little guard (we recognized it because number plates are colour coded). The driver, ‘Alaa, was of course angry, but his friend, Yousef, said that we can’t actually do anything.
‘He is a settler!’ he said, ‘he can do what he want’.
The thing was, Yousef was part Slovakian. His golden goatee and bright blue eyes are not very Arabian characteristics. But he is a resident. He too has an ID, he too gets searched at checkpoints. He talks perfect Arabic, walks like a Palestinian, he is a local, he lived here all his life.
And the feeling of powerlessness seeped back into mind, and it is seeping back in now.