A city divided by religion

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 10, 2011

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Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hebron is a city which has had it far share of troubles. It is believed to be the place in which Adam and Eve lived after being exiled from the Garden of Eden. The collective tomb of Abraham, Isaac and Jocob, (Tomb of the Patriarchs) along with their wives is located in Hebron which makes it sacred for Muslims, Jews and Christians alike (thanks Lonely Planet). It is a city that is very tense due to give different groups of Israeli settlers living amongst the Palestinian community. There is a strong Israeli military presence with approximately 4000 soldiers for the safety of the 500 Israeli settlers. The settlers are for the most part, religious fanatics who believe they (the Jewish) have ownership of the land that the Palestinians live on. This is due to the Tomb of the Patriarchs which we visited later on in the day. This has present day Hebron being divided into 80% Palestinian and 20% Israeli military control. As we were to find out it makes life very interesting to say the least. Unfortunately security has been heightened even further after the Massacre in 1994 where Baruch Goldstein entered the mosque during Ramadan, killing 29 men and boys and further injuring another 200 people

We were walked through the local souq which was full of people shopping and going about their daily lives. As we got further along, the crowds dwindled, the shops were sealed shut and the area above the stalls was covered with chicken mesh. We were told this was because the settlers who live in and around the area throw missiles at the stalls. It has gotten that bad that most of the Palestinians have ceased to open their stalls in the area. This may be due to the owners themselves not wanting to open up. For the most part though, the Israeli soldiers soldering the stall doors shut. We were taken up to one of the local houses and shown a video of a protest that ended with him and his family being dragged away and jailed for 10 days. The footage also showed the Israeli soldiers welding the stalls shut. He took us up onto his roof to show us the heavy military presence around the souq. We were not there for that long but I would have at least counted 5 strong points that were heavily manned with soldiers observing the area. This family has had particular difficulties as they used to own 10 shops but now they are all bolted shut, some of which were fire bombed. Apparently the Israeli settlers who live next door and above them, are trying to force them out using scare tactics because they want their house (even offering $2 million for their house apparently). As we peeped over his rooftop into the neighbouring terrace, we saw some Israeli settler kids playing. As soon as they saw us, they started shouting out to the soldiers to come and get rid of us as they did not appear to like us looking at them.

We continued our walk through the souq and while we were speaking to one of the stall keepers on what had happened, a group of about six Israeli soldiers came running past and our guide told us they do this to keep the Palestinians on their toes. After this we headed to the synagogue which is heavily guarded by Israeli soldiers. Just to get in we had to show passports and proceed through two different metal detectors. Our guides were not able to come with us, as it is strictly forbidden for any Muslim to enter these areas. This is where the tomb of the Patriarchs can be seen which is shared between the mosque and the synagogue. After this we had a quick visit to the Ibrahimi Mosque which also had heavy security. Inside we were shown the bullet holes that still remain from the 1994 massacre. This was pretty much the end of our sightseeing as we boarded the bus and headed for home. We stopped for a quick stop to see the continued building of the wall which separates Israel from the Palestinian Territories. I must admit it was a very full on day and I would say the most I have felt uneasy in all the places we have been over the last 10 months. I am not sure if it was due to such a high military presence or just after hearing over the years of all the difficulties in the region. It was a very interesting day which was given to us purely on a Palestinian point of view. I went into the tour with a very open mind and managed to keep it throughout the day due to as I stated early in the piece there are always two sides to every story. I hope to hear more on the Israeli point of view over the next couple of days in Tel Aviv. This will definitely go down as of one of the highlights of the trip. 
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