A visit to Hebron – seen it with my own eyes

Peace & Security11 Oct 2009Thea Hilhorst

I was in Hebron, Palestine, this week. Despite everything that I have read and heard about the country, I was little prepared to experience for myself how direct and multiple the confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians are. The notion of a Wall evokes an image of two people neatly separated by a straight barrier. Not so. Going to Hebron means traversing several check-points that separate small areas under the control of the Palestinian Authorities from the numerous settlements that have infringed into the area. In Hebron the separation is layered. We walked over a market, where the ground floor is Palestinian. The houses above the market stalls are part of an Israeli settlement. Only few Palestinian families are allowed to live above the market, but never more than one storey high. On top of the roofs, military posts are situated to keep a constant eye on the interactions between the two groups. Jewish fundamentalists want to chase all Palestinians from the city centre of Hebron and engage in a non-stop harassment campaign. They throw stones, urine and garbage onto the market streets, destroy water tanks from the few remaining Palestinian families, and so on. The military are watching and never intervene, except when a Palestinian talks back. While standing in the market we were actually shot at! A small boy, hanging from a window above us, shot with his play gun loaded with little stones, probably encouraged by his parents to take part in the harrassments. Hatred here is not a latent feeling but a 24/7 active engagement! Our Palestinian guides are highly aware of the sad reality that we only really want to acknowledge what happens when we experience it ourselves. They patiently show little groups of visitors around, as often as ten times a day if necessary, hoping that one by one they will muster a more substantive support base in the world.