If you are going to have a 24 hour stomach bug, I’d advise against having it in Hebron. I’d done a lot of reading on this place, but nothing prepared me for the intensity and beneath-the-surface-anxiety that was in the air. Hebron is home to a mixed community, 80% Arab, 20% Jewish settlers, i.e. Israelis who, in the recent past haven’t lived here, but decided it might be a nice spot to settle. This isn’t an easy process though, they need to uproot Palestinians from their shops and homes in order to camp here themselves. Palestinians, being the intruders and inferiors they are, are required to accept this and obediently find somewhere else. That’s only fair. There are roughly 500 settlers in total. The soldier population protecting the settlers in Hebron, however, is 4000. What did you say? 4000. Many of the settlers are extreme orthodox and unagreeable to say the least. I wondered what exactly they were angry about? You are the ones who gate crashed this place, you are in the West Bank, in an Arab neighbourhood. Yet you are angry with the Palestinians, for… Existing? Oh right, yeah, gotta hate those people that exist. How dare they exist, the audacity! But I exist though, does that make me bad? The answer, as I found, was yes, if you exist parallel to a Palestinian. Israel and its tourist groups do what they can to discourage travellers from going to the West Bank, because apparently Palestinians are dangerous, but really it’s to stifle their economy, ensure travellers don’t see the reality and to perpetuate a myth. The Australian government does its part too, by advising against travel to the West Bank. The British Government, to its credit, doesn’t scaremonger in this way, it only advises against travel to Gaza, which right now is fair enough.
Anyway, back to the settlers and Hebron. These settlers have swathes of land in which to settle comfortably in Israel, but they choose here, out of political provocation rather than necessity, and are somehow angry about it. And angry at me for having an interest in it. The Israelis/Jews I spoke to about Hebron either, a) loved the fact a small portion of settlers had based themselves here, as some sort of perverse act of defiance, or b) as with the Israeli soldier with whom I shared a room one night, lamented the fact that so many Arabs were here, making it dangerous for the settlers. Lamenting the fact that so many Arabs are in an Arab neighbourhood, is like lamenting the fact that so many Australians are in Australia.
Walking through the souk one day, a lady invited me up to her home and the terrace above. From here you get a bit of perspective. In each direction there is a military station with armed soldiers, flood lights and barbed wire, all surrounding her home. At all times, from this residential terrace, a soldier with a machine gun is watching. Below is Israeli settler territory, formerly made up of Palestinian shops, above is Palestinian territory. As her kids showed me some horrible things, like their water tank having bullet holes in it from the Israeli machine guns stationed opposite, a group of settlers congregated below, looking up in disgust at this westerner conversing with scum. The soldiers were quite interested too. One of them was within earshot, listening and watching everything we did. How dare I. To say i was anxious is an understatement, but I can leave at any time, this is their life.
The underlying anxiety was everywhere, another example of which arose when I was having tea with a merchant, and pointed to the mish-mash of buildings above and asked, ‘So is an Israeli soldier stationed up there?’ The guy jumped up out of his chair, ‘Soldier, where?!’ We needed a translator to calm things down. And another example, I spent a couple of nights with another family while I was sick. One day, needing some space from the mayhem I climbed the steps in their yard and sought a bit of time to myself, reaching the top, and surprise surprise, who was nearby? A soldier. ‘Oh for fucks sake, can I not just have a moments peace?!’ I sat for a while, thinking, ‘Bugger him, I’m allowed to sit here’. We had a staring contest for a little while before I conceded that I wasn’t relaxed and retreated downstairs. Again, for me, this is temporary, for them, it’s their life.
But for all anxiety and overbearing military presence, the city refused to be saddled by depression, somehow managing to be one of the most energetic and friendly places I’ve ever been. Walking the streets, I was a celebrity. Everywhere I went people approached me to shake my hand, ask my name and where I was from, and say ‘Welcome to Hebron’.
Arabs, well, those in Hebron anyway, tend to yell a lot. At any given time I’d hear what was either a massive argument or merely a very, very intense conversation. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference. With my desire to fit in and assimilate, I thought, when in Rome… And randomly started yelling at people in Arabic as I walked down the streets, flailing hands with dramatic facial expressions. I don’t know Arabic though, so it didn’t quite work out.
The kid pictured below, was many things to me: my wake up call, my company, and my helper. He and I somehow broke the language barrier to strike an historic deal, it involved him carrying my large backpack around for me everywhere in Hebron, because it was really heavy. I, being part of the superior race, was entitled to preserve my strength. His help came with the promise of a single Shekel as reward (less than one cent). All day he would carry my backpack for me, in the sweltering sun, occasionally looking up at me with his hand out for the promised shekel. ‘Uh ah, the day isn’t over yet, don’t be greedy’. Unfortunately for him, when pay day finally came, I didn’t have any change, so I couldn’t give him his shekel. Life can be cruel sometimes.
As said, the kid was many things, including my wake up call. When sick, I’d dread when the time came in the morning for him to surround my room with his entourage, screaming my name (which was Shouz, apparently), banging on the door, climbing through the window for me to come out (at least I think that’s what he was saying, I didn’t know what the hell he was saying), before eventually making it into the room. Luckily, I worked out the score one morning, and locked the door, window and all points of entry from the inside, before he and his goons arrived. As he banged on the door, I laughed, loudly, insanely, so everyone could hear, staring at him through the window, taunting him that he will never make it through. Eventually he gave up and left, and I could get some rest.
I spoke to a Lebanese girl who was held at the airport for 7 hours because she was, um.. Lebanese. Which means quite obviously, she could be a terrorist. By that logic, the average American citizen entering a middle eastern country should also be held for 7 hours to ensure they do not have plans to invade the country they are entering.
As said in a previous post, I was unprepared for how walking the wall for a few hours would make me feel. Seeing this gigantic, intruding structure made me wonder how it could possibly have been allowed to have been be built. Obviously, it’s to block the terrorists that are the Palestinians from entering Israel. Security. It’s an interesting approach and got me thinking that if it’s ok for them, why not everyone else? If the north of England feels threatened by the Tory scum from the south, why don’t they just build a wall to block them? Likewise throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia? For that matter, why doesn’t every country start building walls to keep certain people out? Why don’t we all build a wall? Everyone! If you don’t like the person you sit next to at work, build a wall. If you don’t like the way your neighbours’ house looks, build a wall around it. Everyone, hear me now! Walls! It’s the only way! Walls!! Then you realise that such talk is utter insanity from a psychotic person, and then, the Israeli Defence Forces begins to make sense.
It wasn’t until I travelled through the West Bank that I realised how naive I was. Here’s me, looking at the map, looking at the West Bank, and thinking it’s Palestinian territory. Not so. My first insight to this came during my visit to Ein Gedi beach on the Dead Sea. According to the map, it’s in the West Bank. So I caught the bus, the further we travelled, the more I wondered why I was still seeing Israeli flags everywhere, as well as Israeli people, but no Arabs. Aren’t we in the West Bank I thought? It turns out that Israel has built Israeli highways through the West Bank, for Israelis and non-Palestinians only. It’s a good way to mark territory. Further inspection reveals the amount of land in the West Bank that is actually Palestinian, is tiny, otherwise known as Area A, 3% to be exact. Almost everywhere you go, you see an Israeli settlement. And it all becomes clear, there is absolutely no desire for a 2 state solution. The desire is for expansion. Over time, the Israeli land will slowly encroach further and further onto Palestinian land until it is irrevocable. I read that Benjamin Netanyahu simply considers this to be part of the natural growth of the Israeli population. Interesting take. By that logic, Germanys population growth and expansion means they can naturally start building German towns in Poland and Holland. How do you think such countries would react if German military set up camp beyond their borders and said, ‘Sorry, our population is growing, we need this neighbourhood now’. But Poland and Holland can defend themselves, so it’s a tad difficult. And, Germany is not immune to international law, and not given unlimited funding by a rich uncle, so they’d struggle to get away with it.
The more time I spent here, the more I came to the conclusion that the thing that fuels this conflict more than anything, is hatred of Arabs*. Pure hatred. Time and time again. Sounds obvious, but there’s a difference between belief in an ideology or messianic dream, and simply hating a certain race of people because they exist. A French girl told me she overheard 2 French Israelis lamenting Francois Hollande’s election victory in France. Why? Because he is pro-Arab, not anti-Semitic, but pro Arab, i.e. he’s against discriminating against a group of French citizens on the grounds of ethnicity, unlike his rightwing opponents. Which was bad in their eyes. It was a recurring theme, the Israeli soldier with whom I shared a room was disgusted that I planned to enter Arab territory, because they were, um, Arabs. Not because of any suspected links to terrorism, but simply because non-Arabs shouldn’t mix with Arabs. The Australian Jew in the hostel spoke of his delight in seeing an Arab being hit by an IDF soldier. Personal stories, first hand evidence, of deep seated hatred. It’s what fuels the actions of this rightwing government, more than the messianic theology. I don’t know the stats for exactly how many Israelis are pro peace with Palestine versus pro expansion, I’m just commenting on what I saw and what I heard. *Of course, Arabs are ok if their docile to Western/Israeli Governments, or part of a Monarch (see Saudi Arabia, Jordan etc)
I could write forever on the experiences I’ve had, but that’d mean I’d need to stay in my room. It’s been an enlightening and memorable few weeks, I came for enlightenment, and that’s what i got. I don’t want to paint all Israelis as xenophobic Zionists, many were friendly to me and went out of their way to help. But, I honestly came with an open mind, expecting to have any preconception about this conflict smashed to pieces by a different reality. Not so. Seeing people who have absolutely no rights/no dignity/no longer being humiliated by humiliation/generational refugees, is a little disheartening. A shrinking land. Unreported atrocities that are just an everyday occurrence. All funded by the rich uncle, over $100 billion since 1948. Republicans consider spending government money on Americans as some unacceptable form of Socialism, but pumping unlimited weapons and military aid to one of the most oppressive machines on earth? That’s ok.
It’s been a great trip so far, and it’s only just begun, ROLL ON RUSSIAAAH!