I went to Hebron on Monday, probably my last excursion in this region. It was like saving the worst for last. Hebron, specifically the area of the Old City under Israeli control (H-2), is a dreadful, depressing, hellish place that makes Qalandia look like a beach resort. I felt a moral responsibility to visit but I knew it would be a tough day.
For a summary of the situation in Hebron, Wikipedia is actually pretty good. My husband wrote about his experiences in Hebron back in the fall, as did another blogger who visited around the same time and took many illustrative photos.
In the fall, we considered bringing the girls to Hebron, but decided that I’d stay home with them because we had heard “it can be tense.” That is an understatement. All day on Monday I imagined how I would explain the situation to Hannah, whose nosy questions are now legion. Here are some things I saw:
– A concrete barrier down Shuhada Street (Palestinians on one side, Jews on the other)
– Shuttered Palestinian shops with Stars of David painted on them
– Numerous checkpoints controlling entry to the Old City, each staffed with a soldier with his gun pointed in combat position
– Chicken wire and tarps that have been hung over the market street to protect goods and shoppers from trash and excrement thrown down from settlers living upstairs.
– A group of Israeli school children, on a field trip, giggling and apparently oblivious to the economic and ethical destruction around them.
– A large group of IDF soldiers standing in a circle in the mosque section of the Cave of the Patriarchs, with their boots on.
Almost all the people on the streets are military or international observers. There isn’t any sign of “regular life” in these streets.
I know that one explanation for all these sights is: “this is necessary to protect Jewish visitors to the Cave of the Patriarchs.” But if I gave that explanation to Hannah, she would push and probe whether such drastic measures are really required. Another possible explanation would invoke the massacre in 1994, but Hannah would have the same question I do: why do security measures punish Palestinians when the gunman was a Jewish settler? As a six year old might say, no fair.
This part of Hebron feels surreal, but it is real. It represents the worst of an extreme in Israel, an extreme unchecked. The place crackles with tension and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It made me so sad — and sad for both sides, actually. As I witnessed the situation in Hebron area H2, I thanked my lucky stars that my children neither live nor will serve in the military there.