It was the middle of August and we found ourselves in the old city of Jerusalem. The historic importance of this place just blew my mind. The four quarters, the mixture of traditions, stories, lives… It is a cradle of our civilization and the axe of the world!
A trip to this Palestinian city was not in our initial itinerary but the description of the Hebron Dual Narrative Tour sounded too good to be missed! The tour offered a day trip to Hebron, the biggest city in the West Bank and Palestine’s largest commercial hub. However, it is not the shoe industry that is making this city a hot topic in world news, but rather the stabbing incidents and expanding Jewish settlements (which are internationally viewed as illegally based.) The tour offered an opportunity to spend half a day with a Palestinian guide to hear more about what is like to live in this Palestinian city heavily controlled by Israeli military forces. Then, the other half of the day is spent with a Jewish guide listening to the other side of the story, meeting the spokeswoman of the settlers community and seeing first hand the life from the settlers’ point of view.
You see, Hebron is split into two sectors: H1 is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and H2 is controlled by Israel. Around 120,000 Palestinians live in H1, while around 30,000 Palestinians along with around 700 Israelis remain under Israeli military control in H2 (numbers according to Wikipedia). The Palestinian population in H2 has been gradually declining.
The story of the occupied Hebron
Shortly after arriving to Hebron (which is rather easy by using public transportation and without any passport control), our Palestinian guide Mohammed met us on the steps of the most important city monument: Sanctuary of Abraham or the Ibrahimi Mosque (known as Cave of the Patriarchs to the Jewish counterparts). It is a place where (citing fellow blogger Rick Steve) Muslims and Jews are sharing Abraham. Mohammed took us inside to tell us more about the site’s historical and religious importance to both parties. He spoke about the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre of 1994 and how these events changed Hebron affecting the lives of all Palestinians living there.
After the visit, we sat down with Mohammed for an open conversation about the future of Palestine and what it is like for Palestinians to live in Hebron. The main message Mohammed wanted to convey was a call to end the discriminatory restrictions posed on Palestinians living in Hebron. He spoke about the political aspects of the conflict over Palestine and how both the Israeli government and Palestinian National Authority are failing the Palestinians. The solution he saw for the conflict was a one, secular state with equality for all – Israelis and Palestinians.
Also, Mohammed walked us through what is left from Hebron’s Old Market, once a cultural city center, now it is a single street of vendors with hardly any customers. Walking through it, it really felt like our group of 15 were the only people passing by. As far as the rest of the area previously part of the Old Market is now called ‘the Ghost Town’. It is completely inaccessible to Palestinians, we were able to visit it together with the Israeli tour guide.
After the tour of the market and quick shopping from the locals, we were invited to taste the local cuisine prepared by Mohammed’s family.
Here we said our goodbyes to Mohammed and joined Eliyahu McLean for a tour of …
Liberated Judea and Samaria
Now Eliyahu had his chance to tell the story of Jews living in Hebron for his plea in what he called ‘to show who is the bigger victim’ in this conflict. We visited the Jewish side of the Cave of the Patriarchs. He told us about the local settlers interpretation of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre.
He took us deep into the ghost town, the area only opened to Israelis, tourists, international Observers from TIPH – basically everyone, except Arabs. He spoke about the everyday challenges that local Jews face while living in Hebron – the land, as they believe, that has been promised to them by God. Then, he took us to the Jewish Heritage Museum in Hebron and explained the history of Jews and Muslims living in this city peacefully together, the sad consequences of the 1929 Hebron massacre, and the story as to how the first settlement started in Hebron (again, settlements are illegal according to international law.)
As we sat down with the spokeswoman of the Hebron’s Jewish community, she spoke about what is like to live in Hebron and how her family was affected by the local violence. She shared her vision for Hebron as the city where everybody lives peacefully together while obeying to Israeli law. After experiencing a lot of personal pain, she was not ready to look for compromises with the Arabs. She had her trust in God to find the solution…
Next, Eliyahu took us for a walking tour around H2 giving us more details on the life of the settlers. He made sure to mention all incidents (stabbings) that happened in the area justifying the huge presence of IDF in the area.
This visit has no conclusions. There are no winners in the city of Hebron. Religion is a curious thing and very dangerous when it’s fundamental.
One thing I suggest – visit Palestine! It is easy and very accessible, people are friendly and they want their story to be heard.