Heart of Palestine

2010/05/25, Day 01
2010/05/26, Day 02
2010/05/27, Day 03
2010/05/28, Day 04
2010/05/29, Day 05
2010/05/30, Day 06
2010/05/31, Day 07
2010/06/01, Day 08
2010/06/02, Day 09
2010/06/03, Day 10
2010/06/04, Day 11

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3 June 2010, Thursday

8:00 A.M.

There are 3 Zoned classifications in the occupied Palestinian Territories:

• Zone A: Technically off limits to Israelis. Israelis that are found in Zone A risk arrest by the IDF.

• Zone B: Technically also off limits to Israelis. IDF may freely enter Zone B to arrest any Palestinians. Palestinian homes are often classified as Zone B.

• Zone C: Israelis may travel freely in Zone C, which comprises 78% of the West Bank. IDF may freely enter Zone C to arrest any Palestinians. IDF may also freely seize property that fall inside Zone C. Palestinian farmland are often classified as Zone C.

Our destination today was Hebron city, which falls under Zone A classification in the occupied Palestinian Territories, but as we soon found out, there are a few added wrinkles.

9:00 A.M.

We met David Wilder, spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron. How does the old adage go? “If there’s nothing nice to say [about someone], don’t say anything.” I therefore claim the right to not say anything except that he is a crazy conspiracy theorist. It’s also a personal embarrassment that he originally hailed from New Jersey.

10:50 A.M.

Issa Amro of Youth Against Settlements gave us the tour of Tel Rumeida. In about 1997, a decision was made by the Israeli government to subdivide the Tel Rumeida neighborhood into Zones H1 and H2:

• Zone H1: Palestinians are allowed to move freely in his area.

• Zone H2: Palestinians cannot operate motor vehicles in this area, but Hebron settlers can. IDF may freely arrest any Palestinians in this area.

The IDF entered Tel Rumedia to enforce the new subdivision by seizing Palestinian homes, announcing roads off limits to Palestinian vehicular traffic (ambulances are not exempt), and ordering businesses to shutter. Technically, Palestinians foot traffic is still permitted on the roads, but considering the risk of violence and intimidations from either settlers or IDF, most walk to the narrower side of the concrete barrier divide, aka Zone H1.

Left: Tel Rumeida is divided into H1 & H2. Palestinians are prohibited from driving in the area designated as H2. Right: Businesses shuttered by IDF order.

Settler intimidations occurred frequently against Palestinians; those who defend against settler intimidations were invariably arrested. Most arrests didn’t even require proof of provocation: Issa described an instance in which a child was arrested for provoking a soldier with rocks, so he demanded to see camera footage from the date and time of the alleged rock throwing incident. When confronted with the absence of rock projectiles and child in the video, the soldier claimed that the camera failed to record them. “I think the soldier’s lying,” said the lawyer, “but there isn’t much we can do if the soldier says the camera didn’t record the incident.”

Issa exchanged pleasantries with the principal of a Tel Rumeida school, which served as segue into the IDF practice of arresting teachers in front of pupils on school grounds. These IDF arrests have the insidious effect of undermining teachers as moral authority figures and protectors in the eyes of pupils.

A container checkpoint in Hebron

We were stopped by 2 IDF soldiers and told to go no further. Issa pointed to a building down the street and said, “I was born in that house, but now I am prohibited from visiting.” H.B.III struck up a conversation with the Ethiopian Jewish soldier while a handful of people and I talked a bit with the other. Where were you from? “Florida.” Why did you want to serve in the IDF? “Israel is my country; I want to defend it.” I wondered again if I hadn’t taken a wrong turn somewhere and stepped into the Twilight Zone; no one could possibly believe that conducting arbitrary arrests, turning a blind eye to settler violence, robbing people of their livelihoods, expelling families from their homes, and other innumerable human rights abuses constitute “defending Israel.” I was a little thrown off-guard when the IDF soldier said that the 800 Hebron settlers also treated them [IDF soldiers] with contempt. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE THEN?”

It struck me that each Palestinian city, town, or village we visited in the past 9 days were so full of life in spite of the occupation apparatus. Even in the Deheisheh Refugee Camp, where the IDF conducts regular raids, you couldn’t keep a lid on tight enough to suppress Palestinians’ indomitable spirits. Here in Tel Rumeida, the combination of property seizures, severe movement restrictions, strangling of economic activities, and intimidation from both IDF and settlers seemed to have all but extinguished the flames of life. I hesitate to compare Tel Rumeida to images I’d seen of Iraqi neighborhoods, but the ubiquitous checkpoints and soldiers conveyed similar unsettling feelings.

Settlers discard trash down to the arcade below; Palestinians are only permitted nets to guard against dangerous debris

Issa pointed out another form of movement restriction as we left the Tel Rumeida neighborhood towards Shuhada Street: traffic towards the Ibrahimi Mosque is enforced by 2 full-height turnstiles, but traffic away is enforced by only 1. “Why have 2 full-height turnstiles unless it is to reduce the number of Palestinians going to the Mosque?”

“This used to be the gold street,” Issa pointed to a street closed off by steel-wired fences. Walking further towards our rendezvous point, Issa brought our attention to the nets protecting the arcade from dangerous debris discarded by settlers. “Can you [Palestinians] use other sturdier material to guard the arcade against dangerous discarded debris,” I asked, but as soon as the final word escaped my lips, I knew the answer was going to be “We are not allowed.”

We took a short break to buy some embroidery from the Hebron Women’s Cooperative. I bought myself a light pink Palestinian Keffiyeh tablecloth.

Issa shared his experience in Israeli jail during lunch in the Old City of Tel Rumeida. He told us about having both hands and legs handcuffed, forced to assume a bowing posture, and organizing detained youths to conduct hunger strikes for better food and treatment. This was quite possibly the most rousing storytime I had ever heard during a meal.

4:30 P.M.

Hebron Glass Factory was the last leg of our Hebron tour before heading back to East Jerusalem. It was a real treat to watch a veteran glass craftsman make a glass vase at every step of its creation. I bought a similar vase with added ornamentation as souvenir.

Day 9 | Main | Day 11