Our group of CNI “political pilgrims” is in Jerusalem now. Yesterday we drove down to Hebron, where we received a warm welcome from Dr. Nabil Ali Jaabari, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Hebron University, and many other leading members of the university’s faculty. We had good discussions with them– and also with some of the very articulate English-language and English-lit students at the university. Then, some folks from the university helped organize a trip to downtown Hebron for us.
We wandered through the maze of small, stone-paved streets of the historic center of this important Palestinian city. Many of the stores there were shuttered tight shut in the middle of the day: they have been abandoned by their owners, on a longer- or shorter-term basis, because of the harassment they’ve faced from the hundreds of Israeli settlers who have moved into the heart of the town. In some streets, only one or two stores were still open, doing a very lack-luster amount of business, while around them tens of stores stood closed, a few with some hate-graffiti on them in Hebrew.
There’s one section of the souk where the settlers have moved into apartments directly overlooking the market-lanes and for some years now have periodically tossed trash and various other noxious substances down into the market. There, the store-owners long ago rigged up netting above the market-lanes to protect their customers from the trash. Today, the nets sag down, heavy with garbage items including old clothes, rags, bottles, stones, and so one.
While in Hebron, we went into the two separate portions of the historic old stone worship space, long used as a mosque, but now with a portion of it reserved for Jewish worship. At the entrances to both sides, there is a very heavy Israeli military presence, with young, machine-gun-toting soldiers presiding over multiple security checks. In the Muslim worship space, you can still see the bullet holes from where the (deranged?) American-Jewish settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein ran amok with his army-issued machine-gun in 1994, killing more than two dozen Muslims who were praying there.
Oh, what a pity that PM Rabin didn’t take advantage of that incident to evacuate all the settlers who had started to move into the heart of downtown Hebron. Their numbers have grown greatly in the 15 years since then, and their provocations against the city’s Palestinians have continued. And then, of course, it has taken a non-trivial part of the Israeli military to be there to protect them.
As we drove the 25 miles to Hebron and back (along a mainly “settler” road), the speed and extent of the land-grabbing the Israelis have been involved in, in recent years, throughout the southern West Bank were only too obvious. Har Homa is now a massive urban area– and nearly all of it has been built since 2000. Efrata, Kiryat Arba, and various other very large settlements were all too evident from the road.
Those extensive land grabs have clawed great chunks of West Bank land out of the Palestinians’ hands and have led to the dicing up of the Palestinian areas by means of the road networks and wall/barrier systems constructed for the benefit of the settlers. These circumstances of loss of resources and progressive loss of the possibility of self-governance have led to a dull but deep anger among many of the Palestinians we’ve met so far. But the activities of the settlers who have thrust their outposts into the heart of heavily populated Palestinian cities seem to me to be the ones that continually threaten to explode the whole situation here.
In that respect, the actions of the two very ideological settler organizations Ateret Cohanim and Elad that are at work in Jerusalem seem particularly dangerous.
This afternoon, we took a tour of many of the southern and eastern parts of the present “Jerusalem” with Sarah Kreimer, deputy director of the Israeli NGO Ir Amim. She did a great job showing us where the settlers have been building numerous, extremely provocative outposts right inside historically Palestinian neighborhoods over the past ten or so years– in Ras al-Amoud, Silwan, Nof Zion, etc.
In many of the places Sarah took us, you could see the wall/fence system snaking around the hills and valleys. In some places, as she noted, it divides Jewish Israeli “communities” (i.e., settlements) from Palestinian communities. But in a large portion of east Jerusalem, it divides Palestinians from Palestinians.
We’ve also had some other really informative experiences and discussions since we got into Jerusalem 48 hours ago. But I am way too tired to write anything more about them.