The last week was incredibly busy and so full of unforgettable impressions that I struggle with structuring all the thoughts in my head and write them down. One of the many places we visited, was the city of Hebron. It is one of Palestine’s biggest cities, located in the south of the West Bank. It is a city with a beautiful old city center, a once busy market and it is home to the tombs of Abraham, Sara and Isaac, which makes it a holy place for all of three religions in this country. It is also a city of division and conflict. Since 1979 religious jews have settled in and around the city and today the old town is home to around 30.000 Palestinians and 800 settlers. The city is divided in the areas H1, under Palestinian control, and H2, under full control of Israeli authorities.
We entered the city with our guide Usama, from the Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center Wi’Am(which is Arabic for cordial relationships), who had a few heartbreaking stories to tell about his family and the ramifications of the ongoing conflict. He led us to the main street where at the first glimpse you would think it is a normal busy oriental city, but when you look up you notice something is different. The whole market area has an overhead fence which is bending down from the weight of litter. It has been set up by TIPH, an international observer mission that first came to Hebron following a massacre at the local mosque that left 29 male worshippers dead and 125 wounded. The fence protects the market from settlers who live on the second floor and through things at people and goods on display.
After that impression we visited the house of a friend of Usama. He lives almost wall on wall with settlers in Beit Hadassah. From his roof you can see Shuhada-Street, once a vibrant street where jewelers sold their goods. Today, the street is under full control of the settlers and Palestinians are not allowed to set foot in it anymore. Parts of it are completely shut down, in the rest, access is limited to Israelis. Shopkeepers that had their businesses here for generations had to abandon their shops and houses which led to an increase of unemployment and poverty. According to the UN, 75% of Palestinian residents of the old Souk area live under the poverty line. Usama’s friend told us stories and showed us videos of settlers climbing onto his roof to take down the Palestinian flag while soldiers stand by and watch. Standing on this roof, we could feel the tension that is all time present in this city and I was somewhat relieved once when we climbed down.
Our next stop, after crossing two more security checkpoints, was the beautiful Ibrahimi Mosque that has its own history. Following the events of 1994, the mosque was, as the city, divided. 40% remained a mosque, while 60% became a synagogue. Access to the mosque is completely controlled by the Israeli army, and completely restricted on jewish holidays. Inside we found stunning mosaics, paintings and the memorials of Abraham and Sara.
After that, we left the city the way we came, under the protection of the fence above.