Alright, so this post is a little bit tricky. Officially I never travelled to the West Bank, as it’s an issue of some sensitivity for the Lebanese. And the issue of Jewish settlers and Palestinian entitlements in the West Bank is always contentious and there’s always a risk that someone could get to this page from Google and take offence at a perceived imbalance (I think what I’ve written here is pretty neutral and based on briefings by TIPH, but you never know).
Hence I’ve password protected access to this post, just in case.
So… A few days back I got to have a short visit (shorter than originally planned) to the West Bank. Unfortunately I missed much of the planned visit so didn’t get to see Bethlehem, Ramallah or the Dome of the Rock in east Jerusalem (also known as Al Quds to the Palestinians).
But I did at least get to have a tour of Hebron with some observers from the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). That in itself was an eye-opener. Although I’d often heard about Hebron in the news, I’d never really paid much attention to what was going on there. Turns out I’d missed one of the key issues plaguing attempts to return the West Bank to Palestinian rule.
Hebron is arguably the second most significant religious city in Israel/Palestine, after the Temple Mount. Abraham is said to have lived in Hebron 1800 years ago, and his grave and that of his wife Sarah are believed to be located under the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpela. This site is highly significant for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Anyway, without delving too much into the complicated and controversial history of the place, Jews and Muslims had co-existed quite happily there for 500 years. But in 1929 Arab rioters protesting the influx of zionist settlers from Europe killed 67 Jews in the Hebron massacre. It’s worth noting here that over 400 other Jews were saved by their Arab neighbours, at some risk to the Arabs involved, as a demonstration of the previous religious harmony that existed. Following this incident, the Jewish families in Hebron were relocated to Jerusalem.
After the West Bank was occupied by Israeli forces in the 1967 six-day war, Jewish settlers flooded into Hebron, often illegally. Many of these settlers have turned out to be extremely fanatical, often attacking not only the Arabs in Hebron but also the Israeli military (usually in retalliation for the forced closure of a settlement) and neutral international observers. In 1994 a Jewish settler killed 29 Muslims praying in the Ibrahimi Mosque. In 1997, in response to growing tensions, the city was divided into a Palestinian sector and a Jewish sector.
As a result of this history, tension levels remain high between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in Hebron. For example, and as you’ll see in the photos, there’s a few spots where the market alleyways pass underneath one of the main Jewish settlements. In these spots they’ve had to erect wire security fences to protect the people passing beneath from bricks, bottles filled with urine and other objects that get thrown down at them from the settlement. (An Australian colleague of mine was recounting how he previously had a bucket of water thrown over him in this street. It was summer, so he didn’t mind. He then overheard an Arab shopkeeper saying “Ahh, he is lucky. It was clean water” (ie not urine). )