Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Settling into Hebron

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent planting of trees to mark the foundation of two new settlements near Jerusalem brought back vivid memories of my visit to Hebron earlier this month.

Jan. 2
The bus into town took us through a surprisingly affluent area with retailers offering racy underwear and brand-name stores such as Nike. It stopped at the edge of the market near the old city. It the type of bustling scene you would find any where in the Middle East, with vendors calling out "Ni Hao" at my Japanese friends as they tried to shift fruit, veg, spices, scarves and cheap Chinese toys.

After feeding up on a thick broth of Kofte and piles of bread and humus, we ventured further into the winding souk street. A man, his mouth crammed with walnuts, beckons us over. At first we suspected he was trying to get us into his store, and we try to move on, but he stops us again and says, "Look up."

A net is strung above the market street. It is filled with rubbish, old bicycles, and generally anything the settlers living above toss down on the Arabs below they consider to be less than human. The man, who we find out is called Abed Seder, invites us up to the roof of his home. As we climb up the stairs, he points out water tanks that the settlers (or possibly the army in target practice) have shot, and homes devastated by settler Molotov cocktail attacks.

Rubbish thrown by settlers onto the market street below
                              Abed stands by water tanks that have been shot by the settlers.
 The homes in the background are part of the settlement.

We look over to the modern settler homes from the roof. Below are a group of settler girls playing netball. They were not oblivious, however, to the consequence of their presence, because as soon as we pointed our cameras towards them, they yelled, "No pictures! No pictures!"

Abeb took us into his home for tea, and told us how he is collecting donations to send a local boy to Jordan for a simple operation to save the sight he lost after he was struck by object thrown by the settlers.

Abeb works as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team (a group that monitors atrocities by both Palestinians and settlers). This grants him access into the settlement itself.

Abeb led us up past the guard post to a school, at which the caretaker who had lived in Germany told us had been firebombed by the settlers. He walked us through the graveyard to a well of holy water imported from Mecca for cleansing at the mosque, and told us that settlers would sometimes piss in it.

After taking us back through a barren shopping street - shuttered at the Israelis' request for a dozen or so years - Abeb asked us for a wee baksheesh for his services, and left us in the settlement.

Thus began perhaps the most disturbing part of my whole sojourn in Palestine. I had felt relatively safe (apart from the tear gassing in Bel'in) in all areas of the West Bank, but the settlement made me shudder.

A group of scowling teens dressed in identikit white shirts and black trousers, and sporting Jewish orthodox hats, blumfluff beards and wispy locks of hair, aggressively bruised past us. Graffiti read "Gas the Arabs." Posters proclaimed Jonathon Pollard, an American Jew who slaughtered several dozen Palestinians in the name of "guarding the state of Israel" as a martyr.
No explanation required

A martyr?

But perhaps most disturbing of all was a man out for a Sabbath stroll with his two young children holding a large powerful-looking rifle. This filled me with sense of foreboding that this violence will never end.

His kids will grow up thinking it normal to carry a weapon. What an example to set your children.
Until the U.S. comes down strongly on the Israelis over the settlement issue - possibly through a withdrawal of aid or even sanctions - the likes of Netanyahu and prime ministers to follow will continue to build on territory they claim as land bestowed upon them by God, and the misery will never end.


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  2. Hi Andy,
    Catching up on your blog; good read, but just as a point of correction: Pollard didn't slaughter Palestinians; he was convicted by the U.S. of spying for Israel in the mid-1980s and is serving a life sentence in U.S. federal prison. The wall poster basically is attempting to lionize Pollard for his actions and is painting him as the victim in the case.

  3. Thanks Steve - I should have researched that part more!