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Date posted: June 08, 2005
By Susan Lourenco
New Page 1

An overriding sense of fear, meaninglessness and atrocity were evoked by a recent visit to Hebron that I undertook with fellow activists from Machsom Watch. We were left with a numbing sensation of the horror of war, epitomized by the occupation's devastating effect on a generation of young Israelis and Palestinians.

One feels the physical threat as an unceasing attack on the nerves, forcing soldiers, settlers and the locals to cope with primal, instinctive fear. Additionally, the pocketful of Palestinians who still reside in the Jewish neighborhood of Hebron appear to live in appalling conditions - the overall effect of which left us with an overload of despair for the future.

Together, the Israeli settlers and the mass of soldiers and border police in Hebron must all surely disconnect themselves from their feelings, suppressing their emotions and mindlessly accepting the ghastliness of their daily lives.

If this is true of the Israelis, how much worse is it for the Palestinians?

Here is a diary of our visit: 9:10-13:20 - We carry on along Road 35, which takes us from Kiryat Gat onto a smaller road reserved for Palestinian traffic heading for Halhoul (on the outskirts of Hebron). Our crossing the Green Line is at the Tarkumiya checkpoint.

It's empty at this Wild West-looking checkpoint manned by the Border Police. Arab workers crossed long ago; a few mangy dogs are to be seen in the gully between two hills.

Then it is on to Route 60 - an apartheid road reserved for Israelis - and Hebron. I notice that near Idna the hillsides are carefully terraced with stones; but more stones and rocks are on either side of the roadway to prevent the locals from using anything but a donkey. The road is nearly empty; we pass settlements and army bases and finally spy Hebron on the hill.

On the outskirts of the city, the gentle pale green of early summer vines dots the hillsides.

At ground level, roads are barricaded on both sides with mounds of earth and rocks, making passage nearly impassable for Palestinian youngsters who must cross the apartheid road to get to and from school.

Life is different in the gated Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, which is growing apace, filled with flowers, sporting a huge new municipal building amid all the usual settlement comforts.

A private security guard checks our IDs going in and going out. Israelis citizens must reach Hebron proper via Kiryat Arba.

At the far end of the settlement we see a huge security base with antennae built into the hillside, as well as numerous army outposts, many atop private houses. There is fencing with razor wire atop it; the oppressive presence of the occupation is now upon us. It's our first opportunity to witness a patrol of soldiers, walking single file, guns at the ready, along the roadway leading into Hebron, passing Palestinian youngsters out for the start of their summer vacation.

Kiryat Arba soon gives way to the ancient city of Hebron. Closed shops, ruins, deserted old stone houses, a torn-up road - this is our pathway toward the site which is holy to both Judaism and Islam. Everywhere, there are soldiers in jeeps or border police behind barricades. No civilians around, except us.

The relationship between the two religions is immediately highlighted. On the right side of the road stands the Gutnick Center and a Jewish gift shop selling prayer shawls, embroidery, prayer books and handicrafts. Across the streets is the Oriental Hand Made Pottery workshop, where Palestinian artisans are turning a potter's wheel or decorating teapots.

No other shops are open. Everything is deserted.

Each metal door is firmly bolted but each bears a large, black Star of David across which are written appalling graffiti. Our innards recoil. The associations are too awful to contemplate. How few years ago were such mirror images witnessed in Nazi Europe? At many corners, there's a concrete military position, allowing for one lone soldier to stand on guard, protected by summertime army netting - and his gun. Sometimes, a soldier moves about, carrying a drawn pistol. There are a few Palestinians who seem to slink by in this in never-never world of gloom and sadness.

We reach the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. A large shrine dedicated to the baby, Shalhevet Pas, killed by a Palestinian sniper, stands beside a newly renovated stone house which sports herbs on window sills and a gently shaded playground for children. Their long-skirted settler mothers sit on the side, their homes protected by a massive concrete wall and the ever-watchful eyes of a border policeman.

Nobody takes any notice of us. We move on silently.

We're in a war zone. There are sandbags, concrete pill boxes, rooftop lookouts, but also a brand new building - a synagogue atop which is written, "Beit Midrash, Kiryat Arba, that's Hebron." Obliviousness and insensitivity seem to reign supreme here.

Next we are at the casba, or old Arab market.

A soldier is nervous about letting us pass his pillbox. He calls to a superior, but gets no response. There are a very few shops open, but there are a few locals sitting around, glad to see us, glad to greet us and offer what they have. And a couple of young, overseas peace activists are angry, not saddened, by what they see, but not understanding what they're experiencing, clueless about what "to bear witness" means.

Then it is on to the new Jewish neighborhood of Tel Rumeida, about 10 minutes on foot from Avraham Avinu.

Another nervous soldier refuses to let us pass as far as the familiar red sign, written for the benefit of Jewish Israelis, that they can't pass into the Palestinian zone that is the center of Hebron. A few Palestinians pass us and wander into the world beyond the red sign. We finally see some movement of people, of yellow taxis, but those are the only real signs of any normal life we've seen.

Tel Rumeida is up another hill, another enclave of Jewish settlers, a long-skirted, bescarfed mother walking a small child past yet another pillbox with soldiers. But for an IDF base and a brand new stone building atop the hill, you would hardly know if she's a Jew or a Muslim.

12:45 - The hills south of Hebron: The wide-open apartheid road greets us, the hell of Hebron is left behind.

But here there's another kind of misery. All the dirt roads are closed, often with huge boulders or a pile of smaller rocks; at other times with metal fences on the sides of the roadway. And, as always, there is no way for farm tractors to cross these man-made earth mounds, which a resting bulldozer indicates were created not so long ago.

Here, as in the hills of Samaria, makeshift pill boxes are giving way to brand new block towers for the army. The usually closed gate/barricade is open at Iata, the settlement at Karmel sports new housing, the one at Maon Farm shelters its dairy cows - all in stark contrast to the numerous poor Beduin encampments on this unforgiving, unfertile soil.

There is a paucity of traffic all the way back to the Green Line; the beginning of the separation barrier's construction is striking. Equally amazing is that, as far as the eye can see, on all sides of the horizon are Jewish settlements, or the makings of new ones (thus far without caravans). And, seemingly everywhere, a lone Palestinian or two working or walking across sun-parched fields, a long road home.

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Source: Jerusalem Post, Jun. 7, 2005
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