I don’t have the political will nor an deep enough grasp of the H1/H2 zones, the checkpoints, the demographics, the religious significance, and everything else that makes Hebron - Hevron and/or al-Khalil justice. So instead, I’ll simply just state some things bluntly to which I know an eloquent argument exists to support. That is, tell you what I think rather than write a dissertation. Because lord knows there’s plenty of time for that later. So to start, Hebron is nuts. In my mind it’s the most stark example of what this conflict has created both in visible on the ground effects (here resulting in apartheid-esque daily living conditions) as well as on a more meta level (that I liked to think of in this case as warped extreme idealism.)
The city of Hebron is a good chunk into the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In this case, the West Bank. Under international occupation law it’s a solid no-go for the occupying power to transfer their population onto the occupied land. Because you know, as an international community we’ve at least decided that imperialist and colonialist nations have to at least be a little more subtle. Unless your Putin and you feel like taking over a little chunk of Ukraine every now and again of course. But, quite like Putin, the international communities distaste has done little to slow settlement of Israelis into Palestine. In fact it seems to be one of Netanyahu’s number one go-tos whenever he’s feeling jaded. Or not jaded. Or if it’s a day that ends in y. And as it turns out there’s a lot of days like that, which is how you get a good 600,000 or so Israelis living illegally in settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Most are economic settlers drawn in by subsidies and low rent. Some of them don’t even that they live across the green line as they never run up against checkpoint or the separation wall in full force. But some settlers are ideological. They know exactly where they are. And they are there with a mission whatever it be; the reclaim the holy land of their ancestors, to fulfill prophecy, to push out the Arabs. And so here’s where Hebron comes in. As I see it in a general (and widely accepted) caricature, Hebron is where the most um, passionate? crazy? radical? ideologically violent and violently racist? (I’ll let you pick you adjective) of Zionist settlers dig themselves in to wage the holy battle of pioneering all of Judea and Sumeria in order to prime it for the second coming. Anyone’s basic rights that stand in the way are but casualties to the greater cause.
If you’ve heard of Hebron you might have heard of children getting routinely arrested, or maybe the history of massacres on both sides, or something else terribly violent. Basically, thats pretty right for what it is. That is, it happened, and happens. And that’s what so often makes the news, builds the narrative.
However I might argue even more than physical battle ground of civilian weaponry, bleach, rocks, rubber bullets, tear gas, spit, fists and whatever-else-have-you that comes in and around your typical Friday protests… the often lost story that lays the contemporary foundation beneath the rest is that of Hebron as an administrative battle ground of land grabs.
this side of Hebron isn’t as easy to take provocative pictures of or catch on video, but as you’ll see sometimes you can do just that. It’s not the Hebron you’ll get to know, see, understand and feel quickly like you do the segregated streets and thick army presence and constant sound of fireworks, maybe tear gas, maybe bullets in the distance. This part of Hebron vibrates at a frequency much more under the radar.
This Hebron lives in the zoning laws that change quickly to a suit a certain kind of need and deeply deprive those of others . It’s trickery with the fine prints of ancient deeds and pitting neighbors against each other with access or lack thereof to sewage, to roads, to entrances to their very homes. It’s confiscating land for military bases that go on to support outposts-turned-nationally-recognized-but-still-internationally-illegal-settlements. And all of it is inching, or rather meter-ing more and more land away from Palestinians. It’s not a thing unique to Hebron. You see these games all over the OPT. But here the tensions manifest themselves the thickest. This Hebron operates by leveraging class and culture and law and history and whatever else to take that land and dignity away from a long local population and secure it for radical ideological fringe (and largely condemned by the general population) Israeli settlers.
Let’s take a case study to see what this really means. And lucky for me I stumbled so literally into one up in the hills this weekend. All these tactics are in one way or the other is tied up somewhere in the story of the Abu Haikel family and the land of Tel Rumeida. To the good grace and built up genuine relationships that my friend and our guide Cody has impressively cultivated around town I had the privilege of getting to spend a morning with them hearing their story.
This family’s particular brand of battle for their land is being fought versus a state sponsored and almost hilariously overtly conquest-y zionist archeological project run by the Israeli antiquities authority. (See: https://m.facebook.com/groups/549213671837027?view=permalink&id=611785998913127) Witht he help of 7 million shekels of funding the antiquities authority has begun to dig into the land that has held up the homes of these people for generations. Already the struggle has dwindled the number of families that remain. What once was around 70 lives being lived out here has more than halved to around 30, Its amazing what kinds of apparatuses like the art of uncovering history can be turned so terribly political. But you know if that sounds like its treading contestable and the video doesn’t do it for you, an Israeli organization of archeologists has come out strongly against the project for its disregard for ethical and rational practice. And, rest assured that plenty of the goings on are illegal on multiple levels. Levels that the Israeli courts and police themselves have pointed out, ruled against, and helped-ish to stop.
From here this becomes yet another story that I lack the eloquence to tell in full so I’ll over some photos. They show a family’s land. Partly owned, partly rented, but all paid for years up into the future. They show the fences being build around it, the thousand year old olive trees being threatened with razing, and the old stone walls being crumbled to the ground. They show the signs that tell a family everyday that entering their own land is dangerous. A warning that is unfortunately confirmed consistently through confrontations with soldiers, with antiquities officials, with bulldozers. But, as the two matriarchs of the house learned last weekend, when the law isn’t quick enough to act rightly on your side sometimes there’s nothing left to do in the battle to stay steadfast but sit down in front of your olive trees and refuse to let your history, your heritage, and your rights be demolished.
(The video above and the last picture here come from the Save Tel Rumeida Facebook page which does a way better job of explaining the story than I do here, and also has links like this https://m.facebook.com/groups/549213671837027?view=permalink&id=622423931182667 to write a letter to the Israeli antiquities authority if one feels so inclined.)
Take or don’t take that as far as you will, by all means. But wherever you take it, it seems hard to ignore as a goal that has been manifesting itself for years in Hebron and beyond. And not just up in the hills, but down in the heart of the medina as well every Saturday with another quaint tradition that makes this place what it is; the settler tour that with it brings a weekly near shut down of the Palestinian old city.
Every shabat around 4:30 a tour of maybe 30 current and perspective settlers saunters through the Palestinian souq with the guides shouting loudly in English and Hebrew the prime importance of the Jewish history here in an attempt to convince folks to join the struggle. There’s no pretext about it. Except I guess you could count the run through of the old city that the IDF take on as a precautionary measure a half hour or so before the tour passes through as some kind of oretext. This entourage of a couple dozen soldiers has taken to doing some silly silly (read: unnecessarily forceful and probably illegal) things. And this Saturday was no different. Fifteen minutes before the tour group walked by the soldiers decided to break into a Neshat al-Batshe’s family’s home without any kind of warning. like literally broke the door, and continued to ran up past the unsuspecting family in full military style so that 6 or so of them can get on the roof to set security. Because apparently they couldn’t do that from the military base they already have that is literally one roof over… As you can see quite poetically here. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=788796531152215&substory_index=0&id=100000656272146 breaking doors, taking names, taxpayer dollars and young impressionable lives all being out to good use. Riiight.
(The above video and the last photo here courtesy of my friend from house building days Cody and current CPT team member stationed in Hebron)
Basic property and/or human rights are the kind of things you can pick when you feel like respecting around here it seems. Because, Israel. It’s like minorities being stopped and frisked on the streets of NYC, or the racial breakdown of the prison system back where I call home. Because, America.
To me is the kind of place where I stand and look out from a rooftop and see the speckled buildings dawned with their Israeli flags pushing in and out making islands with the rest and truly it looks like a place under conquest. The kind of picture you see in a text book of a hundred years ago and think “jeez how did people let that happen?” I thought I’ve had too many times around these holy lands.
So that’s Hebron In a nutshell. Crudely. My analysis without much nuance. Again, its tumblr, so you know… When I run for office (lolz) don’t be an asshole and quote this on Rush Limbaugh. or do. That would satisfyingly ironic.
Because really when it comes to a lot of these things, there isn’t enough nuance in the world to excuse the blatant human rights abuses and fundamental disregard for humanity. And just overall, nuance can’t overshadow what this place seems to me: a tangible manifestation of a time that a really unfortunate combination of all we are and what we’ve come up with on this earth (and as an American I fully recognize my large role in the all) by way of ideologies and economies and laws and priorities and values and definitions of success and conceptions of the ‘other’ combines with our capacity to create broken systems, allow ourselves and others to continue living in them that just really freaking demonstrate how much we can screw up what beautiful things, places, people, and capacities the universes has gifted us with.
Right, so in traditional form this is where you end with the hope. Because that last part kind of sucked. And maybe here this is the place for nuance. Because no doubt there is beauty in Hebron. Layla’s laugh as she chases shabab away with a stick, the kids handing out nuts and running around with chickens, the little giggly boy holding on to his kippa atop what looks like his older brother shoulder running him around just for fun, the buildings turning purple every night reflecting another typically stunning sunset. People organizing, bulldozers being stopped, community being built around resistance. There is certainly good here, there is love, because life is beautiful. But on a macro scale the reality cant be erased by these little acts of poetry alone. Maybe inspired to action, maybe made more clear, memorialized to a current of change. But for now, today Hebron as a whole remains today at least to me as it is: a fucking place man.