Trip Start Sep 22, 2013
Trip End Oct 05, 2013

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What I did

Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Monday, September 30, 2013

We began the day at St. George's with a visit from Rabbi Daniel Roth, director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution.  His organization concentrates on educating Israelis on peacemaking and reconciliation.  He focuses especially on developing these skills in children.  He says that Israeli children learn a lot about how to relate to people in their own cultural sphere but very little about reaching out to "the other."  I found both his message and his presence quite inspiring.

After this, we boarded the bus for our trip to Hebron. Nothing I can write here can in any way improve on Kenn Allen's post on Hebron in http://holyladpilgrimage2013.wordpress.com.  It's the one headed "IMAGINE all the people."  I can only fill in a bit more information on what we did.  For responses to what we saw, see Kenn.

We stopped into the Beit Hadassah Center to see their small museum, which is devoted to a massacre in 1929 in which 67 Jews in Hebron died at the hands of Arabs.  (No mention is made of the hundreds who survived because they were sheltered by their Arab neighbors.)  To keep the peace, the British expelled the survivors of a Jewish community that had been in Hebron for centuries.   The memory of all this is part of the motivation for the tiny settler communities that have returned to Hebron, and it seems to be a motive for the constant harassment directed at the Palestinians of Hebron by the settlers.

As we walked through the street, we were joined by a man in a yarmulke who asked us who we were and why we were there.  We explained that we were on a pilgrimage to see the holy sites and to learn about the conflicts in the land.  He said that we should hear the other side.  Our guide handed him the mike, and he proceeded to tell us about the Jewish claim to the land and the massacre.  We assured him that we were aware of these things and that we had toured the Beit Hadassah exhibit.

After this, we had a lunch that had been arranged at the home of a local businessman.  While we ate a delicious turmeric scented rice dish, our host's son told us about his family, including his grandfather's four wives and 27 children.  He said that his father had been offered millions of dollars for their house, just to get him to move out so Israelis could move in, but his father refused.  We asked him how he had learned such excellent, fluent English, and he said it was from watching American movies.

After lunch, we visited the Ibrahimi Mosque.  There is also a synagogue on the site.  This is a very sacred place for both Muslims and Jews, for it is said by tradition to be atop the caves where are buried Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with their wives, except for Rachel.  In the mosque itself are cenotaphs of these figures.  Muslims and Jews have different times when they can use the mosque and synagogue, and they have entrances on opposite corners of the building.  The mosque was quite beautiful, with ornate decoration lit by soft golden light.

Following our visit to the mosque, we went across to the headquarters of the Christian Peacemaker Team.  Their mission is to try to shield the local Palestinian population from violence on the part of the settlers, of which there is considerable.  They meet school children as they come down the steps from school, and sometimes they accompany farmers to their fields.  Both are situations where people have run into harassment.

We then walked through the suq, the market of Hebron.  Only a block or so away from the boarded up part of town, the suq is lively and full of things to smell and eat and wear.  Until you look up, it is easy to forget that the people have had to string up chicken wire across the area to catch the debris thrown down on then by settlers who occupy the buildings on both sides of the street. Indeed we saw the piles of garbage overhead.  I don't know how or even if it gets carted away.

On our way back to Jerusalem, we visited the Tent of Nations. This is an environmental project on the property of a Palestinian family who have lived on the property and farmed it for generations.  We couldn't take the bus up to the headquarters because settlers had blocked the road for the past ten years.  However, the walk was beautiful, offering views of mountains covered with ancient terraces.  When we got there, we were warmly greeted by two of the brothers who have inherited the farm.  They have been offered a blank check to sell and get out, but they have no intention of doing so. The organization has activities for school groups and welcomes volunteers, mostly young Europeans, who work on the farm and help with the educational activities. 

We realize that the activities that resist the hostilities so prevalent in this area are limited and don't involve large numbers of local people.  But that they persist does give a person hope.

Back at St. George's, after dinner we met with Jeff Halper, the co-founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.  Halper was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, so add him to the list of really eminent folks who have met with us!  But he is a delightful, unassuming guy originally from Hibbing, Minnesota.  He did know Bob Dylan back in the day, but he thinks it is cooler that he knew Gus Hall, and I have to agree.

The Israeli government has permitted and unfortunately often encouraged the destruction of Palestinian homes in the name of security.  ICAHD people try to disrupt these demolitions, and when they don't succeed, they help people rebuild their homes--sometimes repeatedly.  Again, not a large group but one that does give one hope.

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