I arrived in Hebron on Saturday. Today is Tuesday. The following gives a picture of what "calm" days look like here.
Saturday was the unsettlingly quiet day. Eerie with so few people out, so few shops open, a palpable heaviness in the air.
On Sunday two of us, both new on team, tried walking through the Israeli checkpoint by the Ibrahimi Mosque, where our colleagues have been denied lately. In the morning, without CPT vests, we walked through with no problems. Getting through gave us the chance to see some friends; the Israeli military had forced them to keep their shop closed for weeks. Their doors were open that day, a welcome sight. Seeing them was even more welcome.
Later in the day, wearing our CPT vests, we were stopped, stuck between two sets of turnstiles and told to turn around. As we tried to get an answer for why we weren’t allowed to pass, the border police officers made a big show for us, moving suddenly towards the checkpoint exit, a young male border police officer standing, a young female officer with a long reddish-brown ponytail down on one knee, pointing their guns at some unknown threat. We stood unmoving watching them. We were not impressed. After the show, the female border police officer told us that only a particular monitoring organization was allowed in the mosque area. We turned around, just as calmly as when we had entered.
Besides that little encounter, the day was again too quiet until we received a 10 PM call about two 13- and 14-year-old boys who’d been arrested (not the kind of noise we’d like to hear). We put on our street clothes and vests and went to get more information. A number of people, including the mothers of the boys, were gathered outside the metal gate where the boys had been taken. By the time we arrived, the boys had been moved. I approached the gate and asked where the boys were. “At the police station,” an Israeli soldier barked after I repeated the question a few times. “Which one?” "I don’t know!" Surely he did. In response to someone from another human rights organization, the soldier said the boys would be released soon. “When is soon?” she asked. “It could be ten minutes; it could be ten hours.” His back was turned from us as he talked to us from behind the tall metal gate. We asked him to turn around so we could hear him better. He did not. Other soldiers watched us from two roofs above.
The mother of one of the boys was crying, panicking at the thought of her son being abused by soldiers. A video of an interrogation of young boy has been going around on social media. Knowing about this, I understood her fear. All I could do was put my hand on her shoulder, my arm around her when she would let me, so that maybe she’d know she wasn’t alone. My own sense of helplessness only made me more aware of how helpless she must have felt.
Thankfully the boys were released later that night.
Monday: A sound bomb and two canisters of teargas lobbed at school children.
A visit to a Palestinian school where Israeli soldiers have entered and harassed students and teachers repeatedly.
Watching two Palestinian women, who were doing no more than standing with their friends talking, get their purses taken and searched by Israeli soldiers.
Tuesday: The Israeli border police yelling “Peace and love” and making peace signs and heart symbols with their hands shortly before teargassing the school boys they were yelling to.
News of massive night invasions by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian homes – one family with three children under the age of 10 reported three invasions in a single night.
Witnessing the arrest of 10- and 11-year-old brothers and being threatened by Israeli soldiers for documenting it.
News that an Israeli checkpoint is being moved, which will result in the annexation of a part of Hebron that is supposed to be under Palestinian control.
Another checkpoint was moved nearer to a kindergarten, thus making the “simple” task of going to school that much scarier and more difficult for young children - kindergarteners.
An Israeli settler issuing death threats to colleagues; he had an American accent, they said. Many of the settlers in Hebron are from the U.S.
These are the things we know about. Certainly there is more going on than we’ve heard.
While some of the above is not common (specifically the movement of the checkpoint), much of it is typical; they are everyday occurrences or, if not every day, they at least make frequent appearances in the cycles of violence that spiral their way through here.
I haven’t even been here four days. Though I have much to learn (always), I know this place well enough to know that there will be many similar stories to tell, and some that will surprise. Each stint is marked with its significant highs and lows.
I look forward to the highs, the moments of levity, that come sometimes from the recognition that this pain in which we are immersed is not the whole picture, that come sometimes when we catch sparks of hope, that come sometimes as what-may-seem-to-others inappropriate humor, that come sometimes in other ways.
I dread the lows, but know that I can take myself away from them, unlike people who live here.
My hope is to share both faithfully, so that your heart may know a small piece of the blessing and burden of this place through glimpses of our days.