When I was living in Amman, I took the opportunity to visit Palestine. The border crossing at the King Hussein Bridge was a lot of hassle. Apparently I was considered suspicious, and that is why we had to wait half an eternity, while they had our passports, until a very grumpy woman called me in. Waiting in the daunting corridor while doors were being slammed by passing security guards in a horrible neon light was pretty forbidding.
After a while the grumpy woman called me into her interrogation room, asked me all sorts of weird questions about what I was doing in Amman, whether I was part of a Human Rights group and what I thought of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She screened my bag thoroughly, taking out EVERY item of clothing I had and going through each of my photos on my camera. She even went through my diary, luckily I write it in German! It was pure persecution.
When I look at how we, as European or American citizens, were treated, I cannot imagine how difficult the crossing can be for the Palestinians who try to go to Palestine every month or every week, to see their families or to continue to do business. A lot of stories exist on the sick procedures the Israelis come up with, whether it is to make you sit in one of their cells, waiting for 4 or 5 hours or to alternatively strip you down to your underwear and make you wait. They would not dare do that to a Westerner. Indeed, if a Palestinian spoke up, they would just never let him or her in again.
When in Israel, I had to think of a book I came across some years back. It is a cartoon novel, about the Holocaust, it is called Maus. It is a very good reading. Its specificity lies in the fact that it depicts the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice. Now I can’t help but having flashbacks of Europe between 1933 and 1945. Have the mice become cats? In Hebron, there is a graffiti left by Israelis saying “Gas the Arabs“. When I saw this, I felt like throwing up. What kind of person wants such history to repeat itself? How can ANYONE who has probably lost family members in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, want this to happen to another human being? How? I cannot see how you can be human and say such a thing. When I went to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp, there were many Israelis. Isn’t one of the teachings of such a visit: “Never Again”?
When I visited Hebron, we first arrived on a busy street that looked a bit like Madaba in Jordan. Nothing special; a few shops, cars, people, life… A few hundred meters down the street however, things started to look different. We reached the old city of Hebron. The streets were very picturesque, some shops were closed. It being a Friday, we didn’t suspect anything. Above the street, there were nets, metal grids and tarpaulins. On top of these, there were bricks, plastic bags, old vegetables and all sort of rubbish. Turns out the Israeli settlers living upstairs were throwing these things onto the shopping streets.
A Palestinian tour guide picked us up as we were walking through the old city. We didn’t see any other foreigners apart from the settlers in Hebron. The news that two Westerners were in town had probably spread very quickly. Our guide was Izlam, a very skinny man, not older than 30. He makes a living showing the few tourists that come to Hebron around the city. However, he has another job: As he lives in the occupied part of the city, the H2 part, he is able to cross the check-points. In the morning and in the afternoon, he accompanies the children from the H1 part to the school and back, as it lies in the H2 part. In the past, settlers were throwing rotten and old vegetables as well as eggs at the children who were going to school. Now, the community makes sure that there is always someone protecting the children.
We crossed the check points and as Westerners, we were allowed to enter the synagogue and see the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. These tombs are the ‘reason’ why the Israelis decided to occupy this part of Palestine. Even in the synagogue there are soldiers with big guns. I have never entered a church, where anyone was holding a weapon. If soldiers are necessary inside a holy place, then you probably did something wrong! In the H2 part, there are a few settlements, which hold in total about 400 settlers in the town itself. Outside the town, there are 200 more settlers. To ensure their security, 2000 – yes, two thousand- soldiers are stationed in Hebron. There is no sane way of understanding this.
In the H2 part, the streets are empty. Not because it is so hot in July, but because only the settlers, the soldiers, the other foreigners and the few Palestinians, who live in the H2 part, are allowed to walk there. The Palestinians were forced to leave during the Second Intifada (2000-2005) and the shops were forced to close. The welded doors do not lie.
But the question that bugged me most and that you might ask yourself as well: Who are these settlers?
Do they work? No. Do they get paid by the Israeli government? Yes. Where are they from? According to our guide mainly from New York and Washington. Why do they come? They get paid a lot of money, they have near to no expenses and all they do is pray and throw things at Palestinians. The more they hassle the Arabs, the happier the Israeli government it seems. What kind of people they are? I have no idea. I cannot fathom their minds… Of the few settlers we saw, most were young parents. Most settlers stay for a few years and save money.
Izlam said at the end of our visit: “I don’t have a problem with the Israelis or the Jews, I just don’t like settlers.” That honours him.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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