Tomorrow morning I leave for one last look at Jerusalem; my luggage and I will be transferred, as they say, from the guest house here in Beit Sahour, and from Jerusalem I will take the sherut to the airport. I hope to have time to visit the Educational Bookshop on Saladin Street, which is highly recommended. I’m sure I will at least manage one last cup of Turkish coffee. My flight leaves Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in the late afternoon; I will join Whit and Gerrit in Geneva for a few days of decompression.
Right now we are having a late-night snack of sliced cucumbers and glasses of Arak, an anise-flavored liquor from Bethlehem (Milada has brought out her private stash).
Earlier we had a lovely dinner with George and Michel, from the Siraj Center, at The Grotto — a classic meal of salads and mezze, with a local red wine. We talked politics, politics, and more politics. Some notes will follow in the coming days.
We spent the day in Hebron with our excellent guide, Mr. Mohammed Baraket. On the outskirts of Hebron, we met with a settler in the Efrat area of Gush Etzyon. The settlement is green and lush — a “leafy suburb,” you might say. The settler, who rejected the term “settlement” as being too political, drew his entitlement to the land from the Bible. “I didn’t write it,” he said, as if he were only following a higher command by seizing this land. He insisted that the American media is pro-Palestinian. My travel mates paid him the courtesy of listening for over an hour; I walked out after twenty minutes.
Hebron is one of the flashpoints in the occupied territories. The old city has been occupied by Israeli settlers who have built homes on top of the stalls of the old souk (marketplace); nearly all the Palestinian shopkeepers have been forced out by Israeli military orders. There are 420 Israeli settlers currently in Hebron; they are supported by 1,500 Israeli soldiers. The settlers themselves walk down the street with M-16’s on their shoulders. They are not a friendly bunch.
There are streets that only settlers may walk upon, and no Palestinians may drive vehicles into the old city. We met a shopkeeper who has been petitioning for months for a permit to have tiles brought to his shop so that he can install a new floor before the winter rains come; he has heard nothing from the Israeli authorities.
We met with members of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, who are trying to revitalize the old city center and restore the ancient homes above the marketplace. They are forced to bring construction materials in on horses and donkeys; at least three apartments they have prepared for rehabitation by Palestinian families have been destroyed by the Israelis. This is not easy work.
As I leave Palestine, there is still much to write about: the demonstration at Bi’lin, where we caught a bit of tear gas and met with the leader of the local non-violent resistance; our dinner with Ra’fat and his family; our meeting with the Al Rowwad cultural group at the Dheheish refugee camp; the settlers we saw at the junction of Newe Daniel and Patriarchs Way who were claiming a new outpost, just beside a Palestinian family who were tending their grape vines (we were photographed by a settler as we photographed them); the kindness and hospitality we have experienced for the past ten days from ordinary Palestinians; the many cups of Turkish coffee and sweet mint tea and the wonderful meals we have been offered.
I will continue this journal in the coming weeks, trying to make sense of it all. There are so many stories left to tell, and so many pictures to post.
Please keep reading.