What to say about Hebron? If you’ve been there, you know, if you haven’t been there, you can’t imagine.
Amy had gone on to Hebron last night but Cormac, Eric & I waited to go until this morning. It was a long, uncomfortable, stressful bus ride and with every kilometer I became more anxious, remembering how awful my last visit had been.
We were dropped at the bus station at H1 and proceeded to make our way to H2 where the ISM house was located. Eric had arranged for us to spend the night there for a small donation. We went through two checkpoints to get to the house. One, at the border between H1 and H2 and the other one conveniently located right outside our front door. At any given time, there are no more than five people living in that apartment but because of their association with the International Solidarity Movement, they are watched like a hawk.
I’m terrible with names but it doesn’t really matter because no one uses their real one. There was a Swiss couple there who left shortly for Nablus, Ahmed from Britian, Mikah from Germany, Amy, Eric, Cormac, me and one other American that wouldn’t speak to any of us. I’ve no idea why he was even there. A tour of Hebron was arranged for the new visitors but I went along anyway. A local activist, Katie, was our guide. I thought it odd at first that she wore her scarf like a settler. I think she was just doing her best to keep trouble away from us. It didn’t work. About half an hour in, and after passing at least a dozen soldiers, we were finally stopped and she was made to remove her scarf and retie it as a Muslim woman would. They knew who she was.
We walked Shuhada Street and everyone marveled at what must have once been a bustling avenue of shops. Those shops that are still open are not above begging for you to buy something, especially if you are obviously a Westerner. It’s a shitty thing to do, I know, but I just don’t make eye contact with any of the shopkeepers. I can’t afford to buy something from everyone so I buy nothing from anyone.
Just as I did on my first visit, the newcomers snapped dozens of photos of the wire mesh over our heads. Palestinians put this in place to protect themselves from rocks, bottles, trash and even human waste that is thrown down into the markets from the Israeli settlers living above.
After a long, exhausting, hot and depressing tour, we went back to the ISM house to relax on the roof. I posted a status on Facebook that I was napping on the roof of the ISM house only to have an immediate comment from another member I’d met in Nabi Saleh that there was a camera on the building to my right, watching the roof. Sure enough, there was. So not only does the International Solidarity Movement have a guard station right outside their front door, they also have spy cameras trained on them at all times. It’s almost funny it’s so ridiculous.
Soon, our friend Eric had to take his turn guarding another rooftop about half a block away from the house. At night, settlers use that vantage point to take shots at Palestinians so the ISM team takes two hour shifts, starting before sunset and ending at sunrise, sitting on the roof to shoo them away like flies. Even though it was Yom Kippur, and many expected violence after the fast was broken at sundown, it stayed relatively quiet. Around 10 pm or so, a few groups of settlers walked past the house on their way to a graveyard down the street. I’m sure they could see us on the roof watching them but they said and did nothing.
One of the ISM members told us that one week prior, three young Palestinian boys had been handcuffed, blindfolded and made to walk to the cemetery under armed guard. One of the residents near the cemetery saw them and called the ISM house to report it. A couple of the ISM volunteers ran to the cemetery and demanded to know what was happening. The soldiers made as if it was a joke and let them all go but what if it wasn’t a joke? It was after all, nighttime and the only reason they were interrupted was because someone called the ISM. Ahmed, who was among those that went to the cemetery) just shook his head and asked us what we thought would have happened if they hadn’t shown up when they did. We had no answer. We sat in silence for a while after that and then Ahmed said, “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen them do” and he got up and left.
It was too hot to sleep inside that night so I slept outside on the roof with Mikah and the Swiss couple. It was hard to sleep knowing armed soldiers were just outside the house and that others were watching us via camera feed. I hope it was infrared because I flipped it off several times during the night when gunshots or noises from the guard station below woke me up.
Cormac woke me early to say he was going on the school run with Amy and Eric. I’d had my fourth bad night’s sleep in a row so I stayed behind. They were back in a couple of hours. It had been a typical morning. Some children have a parent or guardian escort them through the checkpoints but others as young as 7 or 8 walk by themselves or in small groups. The ISM and volunteers from CPT (Christian Peacemakers Team) position themselves between the children and the soldiers (or settlers in some cases) and make their presence known hoping to keep the level of harassment down. Their school bags are searched every day. Cormac said the kids chant at them though he had no idea what they were saying. Some of the boys set off firecrackers, trying to irritate the settlers. A small group of soldiers armed with tear gas broke off from the larger group and went for higher ground; presumably to shoot at the kids so Eric and Cormac followed them with their cameras going. The soldiers never took a single shot because it would have all been on film. They eventually stopped, turned around and started filming my friends filming them, it’s just so stupid. What is that about????
We left on a bus back to Ramallah around noon. We both asked Eric to be careful and not get himself arrested or killed. He managed to comply for two days and was then arrested, along with every other member of the Hebron ISM team when riots broke out after two IDF soldiers were killed. They were all eventually released and luckily, it never came up that Eric had signed that document at Ben Gurion and he was NOT deported.
This link should be public. This is Katie from the ISM. This is what they deal with nearly every day. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=672186042791408&set=vb.100000000564771&type=2&theater