“We Have a Dream”: The West Bank and Hebron (day seven)
By Mil Dranoff, Washington University in St. Louis ’14 and Adina Cooper, Barnard ’15
After a week of getting to know Jerusalem and one another, today was our first day crossing into the West Bank. The day was filled with various narratives and perspectives, not to mention a few surprises. We started off venturing out of Jerusalem, where we had spent the past six nights. Our first stop was was Hebron, a hot topic in the conflict.
To give a little bit of background on Hebron, it is considered to be one of the most important cities in religious Judaism. The first Jewish real estate transaction occurred there, when Abraham bought a burial site for his wife, Sarah. Today, it is said to be the burial site of many of our matriarchs and patriarchs. In modern history, there was a great deal of coexistence between the local Jewish and Arab populations until 1929, when sixty-seven Jews were massacred, and the rest expelled. Jews did not live in Hebron again until after conquering the land in 1967. Once the West Bank was under Israeli control, a group of religious Jews received permission to celebrate Passover at a hotel in Hebron, and decided that it would be a permanent visit. Today, Hebron is divided into two distinct sections, known as H1 and H2. H2 is controlled by Israeli civil law for Israelis and marshall law for Palestinians, and H1 is theoretically controlled completely by the Palestinian Authority.
Our first experience in Hebron was with David Wilder, the spokesperson for the small Jewish community of Hebron. He filled us in on the history of Jewish life in Hebron by way of a small museum. After that, Avner Gvaryahu, who works for the NGO Breaking the Silence, led us around areas of H2, exploring the ghost-town remnants of the once-vibrant city. Hebron is a microcosm of the larger conflict in the West Bank, where a large Palestinian population (approximately 30,000) is juxtaposed with a small Israeli population of a few hundred. Walking around H2 was a difficult experience for many of us. There are many restrictions on Palestinians who live there. For example, certain streets are closed only to these residents, and a great number of their shops have been shut down. The graffiti on the walls was perhaps the most disturbing: “Death to the Arabs” sprawled in Hebrew across the welded shop doors; “God is King” written on the bus station; Jewish stars claiming homes. There was a palpable tension between the symbols we all feel proud of as Jews, and the unjust and painful ways in which these symbols are being used.
As the first part of the day was coming to a close, we got through the checkpoint into Palestinian controlled H1 to have lunch with Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist of Youth Against Settlements. Over falafel and hummus, we discussed the problems that Palestinian community in Hebron feel towards the settler population that resides there. Issa made it clear that he is in no way against a Jewish state or the Jewish people. However, unfortunately, he and many other Palestinians mainly come into contact with Jewish settlers who incite great acts of violence against Issa and his people. We were shocked to look up in the marketplace and see nets with broken bottles and garbage, thrown at the shopkeepers and consumers, from the settlements above. During the conversation, Issa spoke honestly and told us that he feels inferior to us for no other reason than the fact that we are Jews. He elaborated on the rights that he is denied, which we as Jews enjoy. It was frightening to hear that Issa is fearful of violence during every Jewish holiday, a feeling with which we empathize as a result of our Jewish past, and something we must change.
As Jews, we have an obligation to ensure equality for everyone, as we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Throughout this trip we have all expressed our passion in working towards such equality, advocating for a two-state solution. Today, that passion moved to an emotional realm in addition to the intellectual one, as we got a compelling glimpse at the Palestinian perspective. At one point, Issa imitated Dr. Martin Luther King, but instead of expressing, “I have a dream,”, he said, “We have a dream.” Our experiences today have proven to us that we must take steps towards realizing our shared dream for our two national homelands.