Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sarajevo Tunnel

From 1992 to 1996, Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital city, was under siege from the Army of the Republika Srpska, also known as the Bosnian Serb Army. When Bosnia declared its independence, Serbian forces surrounded the city in part of its effort to create a Bosnian Serb state, which would require Bosnian Territory. The siege, which lasted longer than both the siege of Stalingrad and Leningrad, claimed the lives of an estimated 11,000 people, 1,500 of whom where children.

In 1993, Bosnians began construction on a tunnel under the Sarajevo airport, which was under UN control, linking Sarajevo with Bosnian territory outside the siege lines. This tunnel, along with the city's underground water supply, are credited with helping the city to not fall to Serbian forces. Dug by hand with shovels and picks, those digging the tunnel were somehow able to join their two sides with little to no consulting or consulting.

Today, the house, where the entrance of the tunnel was built, has been turned into a museum, with visitors being able to walk down a small section of it. The following pictures are from my trip there my first day in country.

This gentleman was our tour guide. The map he is talking to us about depicts how Serb forces surrounded Sarajevo during the war.

Serbian troops knew something was going on, but never figured out quite where the tunnel was being built. The picture to the right is that of a motor that landed only a couple feet from the entrance to the tunnel. Thankfully it didn't detonate.

A section of the tunnel has been preserved for visitors to be able to walk through.  With an average hight of 5.2 feet, the walk from one side to the next was hardly what one might consider comfortable, especially as it was given to flooding from time to time.

                              The tunnel exit.

The house, on the Sarajevo side, where the tunnel was built has been turned into a museum that visitors can walk through and look at various memorabilia.


This wheelchair belonged to Bosnian President Alija Izebegovic and was used to transport him through the tunnel during the war.

The pictures below are murals of what the tunnel would have looked like. The picture on the right is of the Sarajevo side of the tunnel while  picture to the left is of the free Bosnian territory. Notice the difference in frames? The Sarajevo side is made out of metal because as a result of the siege the citizens of Sarajevo were burning everything they owned in order to keep warm, cook etc... The people living in the free Bosnian territory had no such problems and were free to use wood to make theirs.      


These are various stoves that people made during the war to cook their food. As you can see some are rather nice, but other were nothing more than old tin cans. 

Ammo fired at the tunnel.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This is the End

This is me in Palestine.
One of my students showed me how to wrap the kaffiyah like they often do.

Well readers, it is time to put this subject to rest for the semester. I have loved spending this semester sharing with all of you a subject that is very near and dear to my heart. I hope that if nothing else these posts have made you reconsider some of the ideas you already had about Palestine. Things are not always what they seem and the media does not always tell the whole story. I will be going back to my original format after this post, so thank you everyone who stuck with me this semester and read my stuff even though you probably didn't want to.


I am not sure what makes it on to the main stream media these days, but I'd wager that many, if not all of you are unfamiliar with Mustafa Tamimi. Tamimi was a 28 year old Palestinian who died recently due to be shot in the face by a tear gas canister at a protest he was participating in where he was throwing rocks at an armored military vehicle. This is what he was doing with the jeep opened its rear door and shot out the tear canister. Being only 10 meters away from the vehicle at the time, it is odd that they made such a deadly mistake. Many witnesses claim that is was not a mistake at all but an out and out murder. The Israeli government are said to be investigating it.

In reading articles about Tamini's slaying I came across this article written by one of the witness to the event. It is an incredibly moving and emotional piece that I wanted to share with all of you.

So far, there were three people who had suffocated from the tear gas, and three people injured by rubber bullets. I saw gas, and so assumed that it was another case of suffocation. But the cries got louder, urgent, desperate — quite unlike the previous calls. Along with those around me, we began running to where the injured person lay, 50 meters away.

The author (left) with Ola Tamimi (center) after Mustafa Tamimi was shot at close range by the Israeli military in Nabi Saleh village. ( Anne Paq / ActiveStills )
The author (left) with Ola Tamimi (center) after Mustafa Tamimi was shot at close range by the Israeli military in Nabi Saleh village. ( Anne Paq / ActiveStills )

Screams. “Mustafa! Mustafa!”

I ran faster. I stopped. The youth I was so used to, the same ones who were always teasing and joking and smoking, were crying. One turned to me and groaned, “His head. His head is split into two!”

My stomach plummeted and I forgot to breathe. Exaggeration, I thought. Impossible. Not here. More screams of “Mustafa!”

I saw the man lying on the ground. I saw the medic with one knee on the ground, his face a mask of shock. I saw his bloodied gloved hands.

Mustafa’s sister was screaming his name. I saw Mustafa. I saw the blood, the big pool of dark red blood. I saw the blood dripping from his head to the ground as they carried him and put him in a taxi, since the ambulance was nowhere to be found. I saw other the tear-streaked faces of other activists, and all I felt was numbness.

Mustafa’s sister Ola was still screaming, so I put my arms around her as she buried her head in my chest. I was babbling, “It’s ok, he’s gonna be fine, it’s ok” but she kept on screaming. Her screams and the disturbing reactions of those around me made my legs numb. Ola then left to go to the watchtower where the taxi with her brother was, and my state of shock crumbled as I gasped out my tears in the arms of my friend.
The first protester death in Nabi Saleh

Friday, 9 December marked the second year since the tiny village began its weekly demonstrations protesting the expropriation of their land for the neighboring illegal settlement of Halamish, and the confiscation of the village’s main water supply, the Kaws Spring. It also marked the 24th anniversary of the first intifada. Fittingly, it seemed only natural the Israeli army would react with more violence than usual. But never did we expect someone to be killed. It’s too awful to think about. Nabi Saleh has a population of around 500 people. Everyone knows everyone in this tight-knit community, so when one gets killed, a big part of us dies also.

Mustafa, 28 years old, was critically injured after Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister at his face, and died at a hospital after his treatment was delayed by the occupation forces who had invaded the village to repress the weekly demonstration.

One difference that distinguishes Nabi Saleh from other villages with popular resistance committees, like Nilin, Bilin, Biddu and Budrus is that no one has been killed, or martyred in the protests. Beaten up, yes. Arrested, ditto. But never a death. Until yesterday.
My humanity is only human

Just before Mustafa went into the operating room, some good news came through. He had not suffered any cognitive damages to his brain, although he suffered a brain hemorrhage. There was a chance his eye might be saved. Relief washed over us. We tweeted, “please #Pray4Mustafa.”

I had pictured myself going to Nabi Saleh the next day, not the following Friday. I had imagined sitting in a room with weeping women, after passing by the somber men sitting outside. I had envisioned a funeral and an inconsolable Ola with her mother. Thank God there was a reassuring chance he would be ok. We’d make fun of his bandaged face, just like we did to Abu Hussam when a rubber bullet hit him under the eye a few weeks ago.

Then I got the call that Mustafa had succumbed to his wounds.

My humanity is only human. I hate my enemy. A deep vigorous hatred that courses through my veins whenever I come into contact with them or any form of their system. My humanity is limited. I cannot write a book titled I Shall Not Hate especially if my three daughters and one niece were murdered by my enemy. My humanity is faulty. I dream of my enemy choking on tear gas fired through the windows of their houses, of having their fathers arrested on trumped-up charges, of them wounded by rubber-coated steel bullets, of them being woken up in the middle of the night and dragged away for interrogations that are spliced with bouts of torture.

The soldiers laughed. They smiled. They took pictures of us, zooming in on each of our faces, and they smirked. I screamed at them: “Nazis, terrorists, vermin, programmed killing machines.”

They laughed at us as we screamed at them to let us through to where he was, unconscious in a taxi near the watchtower. They threatened us if we didn’t go back. We waved the flag with his blood on it in front of them. One of them had the audacity to bat it away. We shouted, “His blood is on your hands!” They replied, “So?”

I thought of Mustafa’s younger brother, imprisoned all these eight months. I thought of that brother’s broken jaw and his subsequent stay in the prison hospital. I thought of Juju (Jihad Tamimi), he of the elfin face who arrested a few days ago with no rights to see a lawyer after being wanted by the army for more than a year. I shuddered to think of the reactions of these imprisoned men from the village — Uday, Bassem, Naji, Jihad, Saeed – once they received the news.

I got the call just after 11pm Friday night. I was sworn to secrecy, since his family didn’t want to make it public yet. Anger, bitterness and sorrow overwhelmed me. I cried at my kitchen table.

The author (left) with Ola Tamimi (center) after Mustafa Tamimi was shot at close range by the Israeli military in Nabi Saleh village.
Anne Paq

I hate my enemy. I can’t go to sleep. The images are tattooed forever inside my eyelids. They yells, the wailing, the groans, the sobbing all fill my ears like water gushing inside a submarine, dragging me further into a cold dark abyss.

I sought out religion as a source of comfort, yet it didn’t alleviate the anguish. His life was written in al-Lawh al-Mahfooz (The Preserved Tablet) since before he was born. His destiny was to become a martyr. How sweet that will be in the afterlife! But here on this earth, his sister is beside herself. His mother is hurting enormously. Her firstborn gone, no longer to drink the tea she makes or to make her laugh with his jokes.

The images are tattooed forever inside my eyelids. A bloody pulp on one side of his face. The pool of blood rapidly increasing. (Mama, there was so much blood.) His mouth slightly open, lying supine on the cold road. His sister screaming, her face twisted in grief. The young men weeping, looking like little boys again.
I hate them for making us suffer

I loathe my enemy. I will never forgive, I will never forget. People who say such hatred transforms a person into a bitter cruel shell know nothing of the Israeli army. This hatred will not cripple me. What does that mean anyway? Do I not continue to write? Do I not continue to protest? Do I not continue to resist? Hating them sustains me, as opposed to normalizing with them. Their hatred of me makes reinforces the truth of their being murderous machines. My hatred of them makes me human.

I can’t sleep. The shock flows in and then dissipates, before flooding back in again. I see no justification is implementing such violence on a civilian population, no sense in the point-blank murder of a man whose rights are compromised, and whose land is colonized and occupied.

Sure as hell, you will not be forgotten. You will become an icon, a symbol, and the added impetus for persisting and continuing your village’s struggle which reflects the plight of the average Palestinian for its basic rights, equality, and justice.

I hate them for making us suffer. Hating them will give me more strength to shatter their barbaric supremacist ideology, and to bring them under the heavy heel of justice. We’ve suffered so much. I hate them for not giving credit to our sumoud (steadfastness), and so continue to kill and dispossess and imprison and humiliate us.

They killed you, Mustafa. My insides crumple. You, in front of me. My tears are drawn from the depth of my wounded soul. You were engaged to be married. You were wanted by the army because of who you are: a Palestinian who resists the occupation he directly suffers from. I think of your father being denied a permit to be with you, of your mother who had to be granted permission by them to see you in the hospital. I think of your quiet, sardonic expression.

Your screaming sister. Your blood. Your murderers’ smiles.

This article came from the International Middle East Media center.

It's writer, Linah Alsaafin, has a blog that I think everyone should check out.

Life on Bir Zeit Campus

Hebron Revisited

After posting my essay about my own personal experience I thought add some news clips and documentary footage. When I said that Hebron was one of the most depressing places I had ever been, it wasn't hyperbole. The conditions that these people are forced to live in are unforgivable. It is probably the first time in my life I have been personally involved in something that has made me really question the human race and what we are capable of doing to each other.

Hebron: One city, Two Nations

March 1996
From Hebron, two women talk about the tensions of living in a divided city. Ruth Hizmi, one of 400 Jewish settlers, moved to the West Bank 9 years ago. She believes that just being in her kitchen in Hebron is an act of faith. But on her way to work she gets spat on by Arab neighbors. Afifeh, a young Palestinian woman, lives on the 'cease-fire line' between the Jews and 100,000 Palestinians. From her cobbled wall, she overlooks a brand new playground built for Jewish children. Conflict in Hebron begins with the ancient Tomb of the Patriarchs. As the burial Place of Abraham, it holds great religious significance for both Jews and Muslims. Two years ago, a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein fired 119 bullets into a crowd of praying Muslims. Ever since worship for both religions has been strictly regulated by tense Israeli soldiers. Noam Arnon, spokesperson for the Jewish community, denounces recent Palestinian elections. He takes politicians to the street where there have been attacks on Jewish settlers. Ruth wants peace but she is passionately opposed to moving out of Hebron. Afifeh is simply resigned to the hard fact that Jews and Muslims can never live together in peace.

Produced by ABC Australia
Distributed by Journeyman Pictures

The following is another documentary about Hebron, in this case the struggle Palestinian kids face in simply trying to go to school. This clip dates back to 2003, during the Second Intifada. Some would claim it is for this reason that the soldiers are being so harsh. If that's the case then leave the kids out if. They are innocents in all of this. When will people realize that by terrorizing the children of today they are creating the "terrorists" they so fear tomorrow.

Thank you to youtube for providing this footage and for the synopsis of Hebron: One City, Two Nations.

Palestine in the News

Palestine was once again in the news today as a result of UNESCO's raising of the Palestinian flag over their headquarters in Paris, France. It has been roughly a month since UNESCO's controversial vote that resulted in Palestine gaining recognition within that particular United Nations body. I thought to share with you some of the articles covering the event. Can you see a difference in tone between the various news agencies? How much of that, do you think, has to do with their country's view of the situation? Can news be reported unbiasedly or will government affiliations and stances skew things? I do not know for sure, but it is definitely things I thought about while reading these articles.

Palestinian Flag Raised over UNESCO HQ via Voice of America
Palestinians raise flag at UNESCO via The Canadian Press
Mahmoud Abbas raises Palestinian flag at Unesco via the BBC
Palestinian Flag Raised Over UNESCO via The Hindu
Palestinian flag to fly at UNESCO headquarters via Agence France-Presse
Palestinian flag to fly at UNESCO headquarters via Ma'an News Agency
Palestine flag raised at UNESCO headquarters via Al-Jazeera

Sunday, December 11, 2011



It is dreary outside the day Hilda, a fellow Project Hope volunteer, and I decide to go to Hebron. The clouds are dark and look as to threaten us with rain, but the temperature outside makes me think of snow instead. This is something of a revelation to me, who knew it gets cold enough to snow in the Middle East? I mean really, when is the last time you saw a picture of a camel in a snowstorm? Yet instead of staying inside the apartment next to our space heaters watching another episode of our bootleg version of Grey’s Anatomy, Hilda and I decide to venture out to the city of Hebron, known as al-Khalil in Arabic.

Following the Six-Day War, in 1967, which saw Israel fighting against, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, after which Israel gained control over the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, a group of Israelis, following the teachings of Rabbi Levinger, set out to “settle” this land that had been conquered. Hebron was chosen for their settlement due to what they believe it is its religious significance for Jews.

The central theme running through the Tanakh, the Jewish Holy Scripture, is the sacredness of the land and the convent that God made with Abraham for his chosen people, the Jews. It has not been lost on Rabbi Levinger or his followers that the Tanakh mentions Hebron 87 times, while Jerusalem is only mentioned once. More important, though, is their belief that because the holy covenant causes Abraham to leave his home and settle in Hebron, then it is necessary for Hebron to be settled again “in order to reaffirm God’s covenant with Abraham’s decedents”.

The trouble in Hebron comes not just from the settlers belief that they are entitled to the land, but in their idea of how to go about settling it. Adopted within their movement are the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Kook, a man who believes that the Messiah will only come when “great war grips the world.” These teachings have manifested themselves in such a way that settlers view any conflict, though the bigger the better, between themselves and Arabs as being a good thing.

This attitude has resulted in an unending tension and violence between the Palestinian and Israeli populations within Hebron. Stemming from this was the 1997 Hebron Agreement in which Hebron was divided into two sections, H1 and H2. H1, with a population of 115,000 Palestinians, was given over to Palestinians to control and govern. H2, with 35,000 Palestinians and between 500-800 settlers, was given to Israeli Security Forces to control. Although the bigger part of the city was given over to the Palestinians to control, a sizable section of the city center and commercial district are part of H2 and, thus, under Israeli control. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, all of Hebron has been under Israeli control (Roislien).

Hebron is no more than 40 miles from Nablus, where Hilda and I live, and should be no more than an hour’s drive, but it takes us far longer. Without hiring a private taxi, a taxi that is used only by one group or party of people, there are no direct taxi routes between Nablus and Hebron, despite the fact that the two cities are major financial centers in the West Bank. Instead we are forced to travel via Jerusalem, many miles out of our way, and change taxis there. Going through Jerusalem also means going through Qalandia checkpoint, a gray fortress of a building surrounded by miles of barbed wire and a 30-meter high wall, located between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Due to its proximity to Jerusalem, Qalandia checkpoint is rarely without someone waiting to gain entrance into either Israel or the West Bank.

Whether the checkpoint is open or closed is a matter that relies solely on the whim of the Israeli government and military. Both Hilda and I have been in situations where we have had to cancel plans due to our inability to get past a randomly closed checkpoint. It is a fact of life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We are both fully prepared, at this point, to have to go back home to Nablus should we find Qalandia closed. It is usually a matter of luck and listening to rumors as to whether one should attempt travel, but more often than not, it’s throw caution and time to the wind and give it a try.

Qalandia is designed much how I envision a cattle feed lot. Upon arrival, people, like cattle, are faced with a choice of four long, narrow, cage-like metal fencing lanes. At the end of each lane is a turnstile gate, where travelers must wait while an unseen soldier operates the lock, controlling the ebb and flow of the people, much like how a rancher would control the movements of his cattle. Hilda and I see our breath as we chat to pass our time in line behind an elderly woman and a young man. Unlike other checkpoints I have gone through, Qalandia is open air; those of us who hope to pass through, like Hilda and myself, are at the mercy of the elements.

Thankfully, everything appears to be running smoothly today. We are commanded by a mechanically-distorted voice to produce our passports and hand them through to the warped face we see sitting behind bulletproof glass. I am always nervous when asked to hand over my passport at checkpoints or road stops. By living in the West Bank, I am doing something wrong in the eyes of the government and military, so I am always fearful that evidence of my guilt and Palestinian sympathies are one day going to magically appear somewhere on its pages. Thankfully, no such evidence makes an appearance today and, after sending our bags through to be x-rayed, Hilda and I are lucky enough to be able to pass right through the checkpoint without any unforeseen delays. Once on the other side, we find a taxi and continue on our journey to Hebron.

It’s a shared taxi that Hilda and I take to Hebron. We have the option of hiring a private one for just the two of us if we want, it’s what tourists usually do, but it’s more expensive and both Hilda and I are on limited budgets. More importantly though, I think, the practice of taking private taxis is very limiting for travelers. Sharing a taxi with locals is a great way to see into a country’s culture. I remember when I lived in Africa, women were always placed in the back of the taxi; this practice showed me louder than anyone’s opinion where women were valued in that society. A shared taxi ride can also put a traveler in a position for great conversation and to learn new things about the place that they are visiting. Strangely enough, it is a quiet taxi ride for Hilda and me. Often the presence of someone who is obviously not Arab is enough to perk someone’s interest to ask us where we are from, and what we are doing there. Yet today, there were no such questions asked or stories told about family members who left Palestine for the United States.

The taxi drops us off on a busy street in Hebron on the edge of town. I am surprised not to see any signs of the violence and anger that I know exist and have come to associate with the city. Instead, before me is a bustling street that appears to be like any other I have seen while traveling in the Middle East. From the vantage point of the taxi window, I can see the street, bursting at the seams with store fronts, vendors pushing their wooden cart; I can see shoppers trying to pick up their daily groceries, all while moving in and around the cars who happen to be parked on the street or trying to make their way down the road. All of the movement appears to be part of a well-choreographed dance or play. Everyone knows his role and where to be and when. Locals know where to go to find fresh produce and in which spot they will find Muhammad selling his dates because he has been selling them there every day for the last 10 years. If one looks long enough, he will see that there is a continuity here that can easily be missed and thought of as chaos at first glance.

Though chilled and slightly damp, neither Hilda nor I are in any particular hurry to get off the busy street. We are content to amuse ourselves by meandering along, pausing from time to time to check out what the various vendors are selling or to enjoy some window shopping. Without even meaning to, Hilda and I find that we have left the busy street behind and are now winding our way through the streets of Hebron’s Old Market.

I knew the Old Market was at one time the commercial hub of Hebron but, due to restrictions the Israeli military had imposed on the Palestinians population, that it had all but collapsed. Yet confronting reality is very different than to simply know it exists. The layout of the market is reminiscent of those I use to shop in when I lived in Africa; stalls are little more than square boxes that line the streets with no stall being more than 10 feet from the next. Each shop has a heavy metal door that opens out into the street when it is open for business.

I am physically sickened at the sight of stall door after stall door shut tight, with some even having been welded shut. It is late morning, the time when the market should be filled with people laughing and chatting as they good-naturedly push past those around them in their attempt to make their way down the narrow streets as they go about their daily shopping. Instead, the streets are relatively quiet; there is no laughter, no people fighting to get through. The number of doors I see only serves to reinforce the knowledge that this market had one time been a successful cornerstone of the community, but now, with only one out of every ten shops or so open, it has been reduced to a shell of its former self.

With so few businesses open, only a few of the most intrepid of locals makes the journey to the market. I am saddened by this sight because, when there is no crowd, there is no business being done and, without business being done, no money is being made. I want to run over and hug the few that I see and offer apologies for what they are going through, as if I am personally responsible for all that they have had to endure. I want to ask them if all the stories about the constant violence and humiliations are true. And if they are, why do they continue to stay? I already know the answer, though. Hebron is their home, for better or for worse. I am neither as strong nor as foolish to make those kinds of choices.

Typical Palestinian generosity is everywhere for us to see as the few shopkeepers who have managed to make it to work today each ask us about our time in Palestine, all of them inquiring about what has brought us here. What is most humbling is the thanks that they give us for taking the time to understand their situation. Many invite us to sit down for tea with them and, though I know that these shopkeepers see our white skin and think of our western dollars, I also know it is not the motivating factor behind their generosity. Such kindness comes not from a hope that we will spend our money on their products, but a belief that we are guests in their country and, as such, should be treated with respect. Too bad for them, neither of us is ready to shop. Not wanting to give anyone false hopes about a possible sale, we try not to linger over long at any one stall.

Hilda and I are walking down street when I look up and see that what little sun there is today is being blotted out by garbage caught in a wire netting that runs not far above our heads. This netting appears to be attached to the buildings on either side of the street and runs along its entire length. My mind cannot wrap itself around what it’s seeing. What possible reason could there be for these nets? The only reason I can come up with is that they are meant to feed the birds in the area. It’s not a particularly attractive way to feed the local bird population, but who am I to judge? A shopkeeper must have seen the look of puzzlement on my face, for she approaches me to offer me an explanation

The nets that I see are for protection, she clarifies. Once the settlers took over the rooms above the shopkeepers’ stalls, they began emptying their garbage from their windows onto the street below them, directly onto the heads of anyone passing by. I must have misunderstood what she was saying. I cannot fathom someone purposefully emptying their dirty rubbish and leftover food bits on somebody.

“Was it on purpose,” I ask.

I am not sure why I ask the question; I already know the answer. The amount of garbage I see currently hanging in the net is already more than what one can rightfully consider an accident. Yet I want to be mistaken. I want to have misunderstood this woman with her broken English. I do not want to face the ugliness that people treat each other with; or to acknowledge that these Isareli settlers have so little regard for their Arab neighbors that they feel no guilt or remorse about purposefully dumping their waste on them.

Of course it was on purpose, she retorts, the nets had to be put up to deal with the rubbish as it became a daily occurrence, and the eaves she points to were put up when the settlers started to dump water and other liquids from their homes. She offers us the services of her nephew as a guide around Hebron. Not really sure what this entails or how to politely refuse, we accept.

Our tour consists of being brought to the Nazar family home. It is obvious that the reason we have been brought here is to see another example of the settler violence. Neither our guide nor the family speaks the greatest of English, but between their two explanations, Hilda and I are able to get the general picture of what has happened in this home. It appears that the Nazar family, over the past year, has had at least three altercations with settlers forcibly entering their home and destroying their property. This culminated in the final visit with the death of one of the Nazar children. We are led through the house where the family points out the markers of the violence they have had to endure. There is the door that will not latch closed due to the lock being shot out. There is a hole in the ground where a toilet once stood but again has been destroyed, either by being shot or simply knocked down, I cannot understand which. Evidence of gun fire is again seen in the bullet holes in the family’s water storage containers.

What disturbs me most about this situation is not that these settlers feel they have the right to barge into these people’s home and destroy it, or even that their actions resulted in the death of a young girl. What upsets me the most, what utterly breaks my heart, is that when I look around their home, I can see the normalcy of it all. Various family members are scattered through the house doing this or that, children chase each other around the house when they are not busy jumping around our feet. These people must live in constant fear that the settlers will return, that their house will once more be violated and maybe another family member taken away from them, yet there is no indication of this. What these children find normal, I find chilling.

With our tour of the house complete and our tour guide gone off with 10 more shekels in his pocket, Hilda and I are once again on our own. Not really sure where we are in relation to where we were dropped off, we begin to wander around. By accident, we happen upon s road that I had only heard rumors about. Palestinian vehicles are completely prohibited from driving on this road, and, if Palestinian pedestrians are even permitted to walk on the street, they are segregated to their own sidewalk.

This is repulsive. My mind boggles at the fact that Jews, a people who throughout history have been on the receiving end of some of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen, would now be the perpetrators of such injustices. Has their history taught them nothing? Or perhaps it did. Perhaps it taught them it is better to beat and demean others before being victimized again.

I am changed by what I see in Hebron. My spirit is damaged by the maliciousness I see in these settlers’ actions. But I am not without hope. On the busy street where Hilda and I first started our trip, we meet Muhammad, a twenty-something shopkeeper whose kindness and generosity astound me.

The reason why Hilda and I went to Hebron was to find a women’s co-operative that specialized in the production of hand-made, traditional Middle Eastern kaffiyas, the black and white scarves that Arabs are traditionally shown wearing, and other fabrics. Palestine, like rest of the world, is flooded with cheap Chinese products, so Hilda and I were eager to find something locally made. We were faced with a couple of obstacles, though. Neither of us knew where exactly in Hebron this co-op was located, nor did we know its full name.

Armed with little knowledge, Hilda, in her broken Arabic, attempted to ask the vendors and store owners if they were familiar with the shop. Whether they didn’t know or simply didn’t understand what she was saying, I wasn’t sure. Either way, they were unable to help us. All that I could tell was that we weren’t getting very far and, if our luck didn’t change soon, we’d have to go back home empty handed.

Feeling sorry, I’m sure, for the two foreigners who didn’t know what they were doing, one shop owner brings us to his friend’s shop, because his friend speaks English and will be able to help us. I feel my spirit begin to lift. We are deposited on this friend’s doorstep with a smile and wave. His friend, Muhammad, though not fluent, does in fact speak English far better than any of the shop keepers we have spoken with thus far. Unfortunately, like the rest of them, he was still confused by what we were looking for. Undaunted, Muhammad took out his cell phone and told us that he knows someone who can speak both English and Arabic who can help us out. I imagined that he was calling someone else in town to come and speak with us, but Muhammad quickly corrected my assumption, informing us that he person he was calling was not in Hebron at all, not even the West Bank; he was calling someone he knew in America! I was bemused thinking he must be joking. There was no way someone would call America simply to help out two strangers. How could he possibly afford it? It is hardly the same as making a local call. Yet call America he did.

He handed the phone to me and explained that I could tell his friend in English what Hilda and I were looking for and then hand the phone back to him, after which his friend would explain in Arabic what I had said. I was skeptical about whether this would work or not. I mean, if this guy spoke English on the same level as any of the other people we had met thus far today we wouldn’t get very far.

After explaining to the gentleman on the phone what we were looking for, I pass the phone back to Mohammed. Lo and behold, after a few minutes on the phone he knows exactly the place Hilda and I are after. Expecting him to give us directions, I am further surprised when he turns and closes his shop door, effectively closing his business, to personally take us to the shop where the women’s co-operative sells its products.

In light of all the cruelty I had seen being purposefully inflicted on the Palestinian population, I half expected to encounter a people made harsh and bitter by their daily reality. Yet I have been met with simple acts of kindness and generosity at every turn. Muhammad calling America just so that Hilda and I can find a store is something I would never have dreamed of happening. This random act of generosity does much to restore my spirits after spending the day in one of the most depressing places I had ever been.


Roislie, Hanne Eggen. “Living with Contradiction: Examining the Worldview of the Jewish

Settlers in Hebron.” International Journal of Conflict and Violence.1.2 (2007):169-184. Print

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hebron: My Heart Breaks

Watching this clip put out by B'Tselem brought tears to my eyes. I visited Hebron back in 2009 and it still to this day remains one of the most depressing and upsetting places I have ever seen. Death to Arabs is written quiet frequently on the doors and walls one passes. In one spot, I saw that someone wrote Gas all Arabs. There are streets completely cut off from Palestinian use and others where they are forced to use their own sidewalks. In the Old Market, Palestinian shopkeepers have been forced to hang mesh netting from one side of the street to the other to avoid the garbage that the settler, who have taken over the building overhead, routinely throw on them.

How can people be so cruel to each other.

Please take the time to watch this.

The Quiet Transfer