Under the yoke of our mornings
the sun crumbles
and in the darkness of our steps
our panting breath is on fire
these incomplete homelands
in which we appear to be
nothing more than prisoners of war
Two days ago, two friends (of Palestinian origin but both grew up outside Palestine) and I went to Hebron for the day. I’ve been before, it’s in the southern West Bank and is the largest city in the West Bank, home to around 165,000 Palestinians and over 500 Jewish settlers concentrated in the old city quarter. Hebron contains the traditional burial site of the biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs and is a very holy city to all religions. This is the supposed site where Abraham buried his wife Sarah; Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah were later buried in the cave as well. This is now the Ibrahimi Mosque on one side, and a synagogue on the other side.
To get to the mosque from the old city, you have to pass through a checkpoint. Hebron is a very depressing place. Because of the presence of 500 settlers, there are a bazillion Israeli soldiers around, and Palestinian movement is severely restricted. The city is divided into two sections – H1 and H2. The H1 sector holds about 120,000 Palestinians is under Palestinian Authority control. H2, which was home to 30,000 Palestinians stayed under Israeli military control to protect the settlers; a huge drop in Palestinian population in H2 occurred, due to extended curfews, strict restrictions on movement – there are sixteen (16!) checkpoints in H2 alone. But mostly, Palestinians moved out because of settler harassment. Just like all settlements in the West Bank, the Jewish settlers in Hebron are there illegally under the UN Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel disputes that Hebron is “occupied territory” and claims that because the Fourth Geneva Convention provides for retention of territory for security purposes, its settlements are legal. Right.
Regardless, it’s one of the saddest sights to see Palestinian restriction of movement like it is in Hebron. Palestinians are not allowed to use Shuhada Street, the principal thoroughfare. They’re not allowed. At all. In fact, the street right by the Ibrahimi mosque that leads to Shuhada Street, is divided by a large concrete barrier and manned by Israeli soldiers in watchtowers – because Palestinians are only allowed to walk on one side of the concrete barrier, which fits maybe 2-3 people side by side, and the Israelis (and foreigners) are the only ones allowed to use the actual street.
The Israeli organization B’Tselem has a more detailed analysis of Shuhada Street and Palestinian hardship there, click here for more information.
So, we got to the Ibrahimi mosque right at prayer time (of course!). This very nice Palestinian guy told us we just had to wait another 45 minutes or so, and he invited us to walk with him to his apartment building, near Shuhada Street, as it had a rooftop panoramic view of Hebron. He was so helpful and informative and pointed out as many checkpoints as we could see from his rooftop, and which streets were off-limits to Palestinians.
This street is also closed off to Palestinians.
Then, we met up with some friends (from Hebron) of my friend, and we walked to the mosque. You had to go through two metal detectors – manned by Israelis – to get to the inside. But it was beautiful inside.
After the mosque, we grabbed lunch and then headed over to the keffiyeh factory – Herbawi Textile – the last keffiyeh factory in Palestine. The keffiyeh is the internationally recognized symbol of the Palestinian national resistance, the checkered headscarf. I’ve been before to this factory, but my friends hadn’t and I wanted to buy yet another one, but an original this time.
Then, we headed back to Ramallah, after quite a tiring and interesting day, like most days here.