Hebron - A Huge Balagan

Trip Start Aug 20, 2013
Trip End Jun 19, 2014

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Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Thursday, January 23, 2014

I realize I have not written a blog in a long time, but this is one that I was waiting to write. Today on Wednesday January 22, 2014 we visited the city of Hebron. 

I will give you a brief description of Hebron before I write about my feelings after visiting this city for the second time.  The city is holy to both Jews and Muslims because Abraham is supposedly buried there.  The Tomb of the Patriarchs is regarded as the second holiest site in Judaism.  For centuries there was a small but vibrant Jewish community until the Hebron Massacre of 1929. 67 Jews were brutally butchered by Arabs; sometimes it was their own neighbors doing the killing.  In 1967when Hebron was conquered or liberated:  it matters how you think politically, Jews began once again praying at the Tomb of Patriarchs.  It was not until 1980 that the Israeli government allowed a Jewish community to resettle in the old City Center of Hebron.  Many of the settlers who began re-populating the Jewish community of Hebron were extremist right-wingers.  One of the settlers ,Baruch Goldstein, from the nearby community of Kiryat Arba, walked into the Mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs and murdered 29 men and boys at prayer in February 1994. 

Our tour started with an ex-Israeli soldier named Nadav who is part of an Israeli NGO called Breaking the Silence. This group is made up of ex-soldiers who want to educate Israelis and others about what they are witnessing in the Occupied Territories.   Our first stop was the Grave of "The Doctor Healer" Baruch Goldstein.  He is buried in the middle of Meir Kahane Park in Kiryat Arba and his grave is revered by many of the locals.  It was horrifying to me to see a grave of a mass murder revered as a site of pilgrimage.  Now to those who say that Goldstein is not regarded as a hero, I heard the Rabbi of Kiryat Arba call him “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.” 

 Next we saw the Jewish neighborhoods of Hebron and Nadav explained how he as a soldier was forced to deny access to Shuhada Street, which used to be the major thoroughfare and business center and now looks completely deserted. The road is closed for Palestinians.  Nadav told us about the small things that he did to show his presence to the locals. He threw glow sticks into homes and ran on people's roofs to show who was in charge.  Nadav’s stories were very hard to hear, because I could tell that he was a bit ashamed of the things that he did while serving in Hebron.   Nadav also had us speak to a Palestinian man from Youth against Settlements.  He spoke about his non-violent battle to stop Jewish settlers from taking over more homes in his area known as Tel Rumeida  I thought he was very honest, when he said if the soldiers were removed that the Palestinians would react with violence to the settlers.  I thought that the spokesperson did his job well, but I’m not sure if I believe him when he says that he believes Jews and Muslims can co-existence in Hebron. 

The next part of the tour involved hearing from a spokesman, Noam Arnon, from the Hebron Jewish community. He spent a few hours with us and  spoke about the importance of Hebron to Jews. He gave us a very good tour of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is supposedly the burial spot of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Leah.  I remember watching Jews at prayer: hearing the Muslim call to prayer and thinking wow this is interesting.  Our final stop was the Beit Haddash Museum which dealt with the Hebron Jewish community.  The museum was powerful, especially with its images of the 1929 Massacre. 

Now, I’m going to express my beliefs about Hebron.  It is very difficult as a convert to Judaism who feels a strong connection to the State of Israel to see the realities of the occupation up close.  The total control over the Palestinians can be seen in Hebron, as their community is divided.  The Palestinians are limited in what they can do, because they are under occupation and because they have fought that occupation with violence.  Hebron brings out painful emotions inside me, because I feel that the Jews there speak about 1929 if it happened yesterday; while the Palestinians speak about the 1994 massacre as if it also happened yesterday.  Both sides are stuck in the aura of suffering and each try to claim that they are more victimized.  The question that remains is what should be done with and for this t city.  The Jewish community of Hebron was a right to be there since it is one of the holiest sites of Judaism. For centuries they co-existed peacefully with the Arabs.  They are now a community that does not try to separate itself from those who act in terrible ways in their name. 

The Palestinians in Hebron are also not innocent of committing violent acts against the people of Hebron. One instance includes a sniper who deliberately targeted a 10 month old baby for death.  The Palestinians have reacted to the occupation with violence and violence begets more violence.  I think that the actions of some of the inhabitants are making it impossible for any type of co-existence to be possible in the future

Hebron is a city that I thought I would never visit again, because it affects me in so many ways.  I’m proud to be Jewish and I love my faith.  However, being in Hebron makes me ashamed that some people who share it are using as an excuse to abuse and displace Palestinians.  In the end, I agree with Lezley Hazelton when she said, “We’ve allowed Judaism to be claimed by violently messianic West Bank settlers, Christianity by homophobic hypocrites and misogynistic bigots, Islam by suicide bombers. … This isn’t faith. This is fanaticism.”  Today, I saw the fanaticism that my chosen religion has inspired. Yet after looking into the abyss I still firmly believe in peace and co-existence. Much like the youngsters with whom I work  I will fight for peace as hard as the fanatics fight against it.   
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