Horror in Hebron : frontline report from Palestine
We are about 30 people, from the global music industry, in Palestine to attend the second edition of Palestine Music Expo. Here, artists such as Brian Eno and experienced business people such as Martin Goldschmit of Cooking Vinyl, collaborate with Palestinian musicians, helping them showcase their talents as well as offering priceless advice and guidance through panels and workshops.
In the daytime, some of us are able to head out on organised trips to see some of the fascinating and ancient sights this region has to offer. Two days ago, we went to Hebron. A trip that has now burned its way into our memories, for reasons we’d rather forget but are now incapable of.
Entering Hebron is surreal. It’s a beautiful old town, but your first view is a checkpoint – turnstiles. The queue was too big, so we wait for around 45 minutes before trying again. You are corralled through the double turnstile, guarded with CCTV cameras. Eventually, we make it through. A kid has kicked their football onto a roof. We try to help him bring it down, it turns into a fun challenge for everyone, people on each other’s shoulders, trying to rescue the ball. We could be anywhere. But then the armed soldiers come out of a guard cabin. They look on angrily, some shout at the kids.
We move through the old town. Our ageing Palestinian guide talks us through the horror of living in this place. It’s an old Palestinian town with a settlement built on top of it. It’s hard to picture and it’s complicated when you are there – it’s a compact geographical space of two places and for two peoples, divided absolutely so the twain rarely meet and certainly never mix. The Palestinian houses have wire gates on the windows to stop them being broken as settlers throw rocks; we see streets divided with rudimentary walls made of barrels filled with cement to keep the Palestinians away and to cut off their shortcuts, blocking the entries to family homes.
Routes home become impossible by some streets, so the only way home is to jump across the roofs of houses; some streets are literally caged off with a door for entry, that beeps when people enter to inform the Israeli forces, who can, of course, lock it at any time, sealing off entry to and from the area. Armed Israeli soldiers guard each street corner. Behind this cage a Palestinian man who seems drunk screams from his house as we pass by. Our guide talks calmly back at him, but the man is apoplectic with rage as he gestures over at the Israeli soldiers, who just look on blankly. There was a time when his old house would have looked over a not unpretty street and he may have sat there watching the slow traffic and the shops, now empty, across the road. Now he sees a cage, soldiers and a beeping gate that lights up every single time someone passes through it. One that can be locked at anytime, without warning.
While we are listening to the explanation from our guide, next to a street, where Palestinians are banned from walking, a car drives directly towards our group of 30, at a high speed. Two Israeli flags attached to the roof. I run and jump out of the way to avoid being hit. The driver looks intensely angry. It was frightening. And we aren’t even Palestinian. We move through the town, the Palestinian economy in tatters – closed shops, where there once was a vibrant shopping district. Many of the locked metal doors of previously family-owned businesses have a star of David scratched onto them. Perversely, what springs immediately to mind are the vandalised Jewish shops I have seen so many times in black and white photos of Nazi-controlled Germany.
An open topped Humvee type vehicle rolls past with soldiers with Ski masks and balaclavas inside. It looks intimidating. We are told of the spraying of ‘skunk’ spray into people’s homes, leaving a smell that doesn’t disappear. Israeli flags are everywhere. The car that had tried to drive into us appears again, this time stopping and re-angling the car, clipping one of our group. It becomes clear that the settlers are actually more dangerous than the soldiers. Israeli soldiers watching on ask us why we are there, whilst simultaneously filming us. All of these things collectively give us the feeling of unreality, almost like this is all being staged for us. But it isn’t. It’s real. The air fizzes with paranoia and the possibility of imminent violence. Time seems to slow down on these claustrophobic streets.
We go to the mosque, with 8 CCTV cameras on entry and, again, passport checks by Israeli soldiers. In 1994, an Israeli settler stormed the mosque dressed in military uniform and killed twenty-nine people, injuring 100. Walking around Hebron, this attack doesn’t seem hard to imagine. Next to the mosque now, in a side alley, is a tiny medical centre. It’s as if violence around these old religious sites is always expected, always a possibility. Finally we walk through the old town back to our vehicle. Palestinian market traders have placed a mesh ceiling over the street, to stop settlers throwing stones onto the stalls below and worse, sometimes rubbish, sometimes excrement. It’s medieval and it’s real. Stones already thrown litter the mesh overhead where Israeli settlers flags flutter.
It’s like a laboratory, a prison and often reminiscent of a zoo. People kept in cages and living in complete and constant fear. The Palestinians don’t have weapons. They don’t have jobs. They can’t move. They are humiliated and live in fear. They have nothing. It’s clearly a breach of every human right. This was our day in Hebron. Heading back to the music expo seemed almost like bad taste afterwards, but the hope and positivity of these young musicians lifted us back up again. And yet still, as each act finished their set and applause rang out, our minds turned back to Hebron.
Ruth Daniel and Daniel Coonan
It’s hard to imagine how powerful a seatbelt could be as a form of resistance.
Palestine and Israel are split into three areas, separated by walls and checkpoints. Area A is exclusively administered by the Palestinian Authority; Area B is administered by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel; and Area C, which contains the Israeli settlements, is administered by Israel.
Moving around is complex. Israel imposes restrictions on the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank, and travel between it and the Gaza Strip, into East Jerusalem, Israel, and abroad.
When travel permits are required by Israel, they are given through a lengthy, non-transparent and arbitrary bureaucratic process. This is one of the many challenges faced by Palestinians in their own land.
Separated by a wall of 440 miles that separates Israelis from Palestinians, but also Palestinians from each other.
When I’ve been in a taxi here and you enter an Israeli area, the taxi driver asks us to put on the seatbelt. When we exit and Israeli area, the taxi driver rips off his seatbelt in a flourish, as if it was not just an action, but a gesture. It’s defiant. It’s the smallest thing in the world, but he controls that moment, which makes it the biggest thing in the world. No one can stop him from doing that. He owns that.
For that to be so important signifies the depth of the problem here. The level of control, the restriction of movement and the occupation of space, culture and mind is mind-blowing. When all you have as resistance is your seatbelt, you get an idea of the level of oppression that people here feel.