Sunday, July 8, 2007

"Here in the penal colony, I have been appointed judge. In spite of my youth."

June 29

Left: Don't hold me to it, but I'm pretty sure the building made of new white cement is the Tel Rumeida "settlement" (Tel Rumeida is actually the name of the section of Hebron the "settlement" is in, I'm not sure if it has another name). Watch the video mentioned below, it's only five minutes long, to see what these people do to the Palestinians who live across from them and to their own children. "Love thy neighbor" is the technical term.

Neetha and Matt came to visit, they’ve both been working in Sudan. They met me at the baladi and I took them to the old city. I had a vague idea of how to get there on foot but I didn’t want to get lost, so we asked someone where the old city is (and in this way I discovered that Matt is conversational in Arabic); it was only a ten minute walk but the guy insisted on driving us. When we got to the closest barricade we got out and walked to the mosque. It was prayer time so going inside didn't seem right.

We went to the synagogue instead; I gave a tour as if I knew what I was talking about. I wish I could remember the Hebrew letters so I could have told them which tomb was which, but I couldn't remember any of them. Then we went up the road to Kiryat Arba. I'd never been in that place before, so we decided to try going in. We were stopped by a security guard, some old Russian man with an Uzi. He didn’t speak any English so he called a border policeman who did; the border policeman asked us over the phone to wait for him, so we did. When he arrived he asked for our passports, asked us what we were doing there, etc., he was very professional. He looked through Neetha’s and Matt’s passports first. Since they’d just been to Syria, Sudan and Jordan he was a bit confused, but I told him they were working in Sudan with the refugees and then decided to travel around the region. He asked me what I was doing in Hebron, and I told him. He said “okay, wait just one minute”, and went to his jeep. He got a police report, filled my name and passport number into it (not Neetha’s or Matt’s), and then took me aside and said “you can go, it’s okay. But don’t tell anyone that you work with the Arabs. They will be *pauses for a word* angry.” I found it amusing that even the border policeman guarding the colony recognizes that the people living in it are lunatics.

We walked around Kiryat Arba, an old man gave us water, and then we left. It could be a small town in Upstate New York. I’ve said it before: the banality of evil is on full display in Palestine.

We left and walked back down to the old city. Matt was nervous because we had water in a Coke bottle with Hebrew writing on it. I tried to explain that half of the commercial products in the West Bank are from Israel and that nobody would be anything but curious even if we told them we'd just been in Kiryat Arba, but he was still nervous so we tossed it.

In the old city we found the same store keeper whom I’d bought a keffiyeh from a week ago. We spoke to him for quite a while. His English is excellent; when I asked why he said he had lived in England and worked as an engineer for years. He then looked at us and said “You can’t believe it, it’s Friday, but we have been here all day and I haven’t sold even one shekel [meaning one shekel’s worth of merchandise]. But we are determined to stay here.” It was a guilt trip of course, but the fact that he hadn’t sold a thing was probably true (Friday there is the equivalent of Saturday in terms of shopping) and the sentiment was genuine. Neetha and I each bought a small change purse, they’re beautiful and handmade in a village nearby. Cost: 10 shekels. The same thing would fetch 100 shekels in Israel.

When we got to the store I saw Tariq again, the Christian Peacemakers Team member from Sugar Land whom I’d met about a week before when I was with Musa. I asked him if he was heading to the CPT office and he said yes, then invited us to come see the place. The store owner was nervous that we’d use this as an excuse to leave, so he said he’d send his son with us to the office (it would have been difficult to find on our own).

At the CPT office we met Tariq and an older white man from California, both of whom work with CPT. The man’s life story was quite interesting, unfortunately I don’t remember it in detail so I won’t relate it. I also don’t remember his name, and I'm not actually sure I asked.

This man was very knowledgeable about the history of Hebron and the current circumstances, even his dates were correct. He took us up to the roof of the CPT office and showed us the different “settlements” (the reason for the quotation marks is below) that are in Hebron itself. He also told us about Jewish children throwing bricks at him, which was interesting. It's the kind of thing that everybody who comes here knows goes on, but it's different reading about it and having someone tell you "I had bricks thrown at my head."

The information he gave us was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but he pointed out something I’d never realized, despite the obviousness and the fact that I’d seen it plainly with my own eyes. Some of the “settlements” in Hebron (meaning the ones that house the 400 Jews who live in the old city, not Kiryat Arba) are actually built on top of Palestinian buildings. I think it was the Tel Rumeida settlement that he pointed out, which is actually built directly on top of the store that we bought the purses from. The settlers just laid down cement and bricks on top of the existing structure. It’s a wonder the Palestinians don’t just march into those buildings and strangle those damn people. For a short video of what the Palestinians living in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood have to deal with, you can see a short video B’tselem made at, or course you can read their various reports on Hebron.