Guest Post from Jacob Rosenblum
Between 1 and 2 am on Tuesday, April 29, I stood guard at an orphanage run by the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron. An order for closure was put on the orphanage, to go into effect yesterday; the military has visited the site three times already, and have said that anyone (Palestinian) still in the building starting April 28 could be arrested and held for five years in prison.
Standing guard consisted of sitting near the door with my laptop, playing a computer game, with music coming out of the the headphones around my neck; about four or five times, I paused what I was doing to mute the music, and listened more closely to the sounds of the Hebron night, which never amounted to anything much. There were plenty of night dangers to imagine in the wind which blew through the courtyard, islamic prayer flags flapping against the building.
Shortly after 6am I was awoken and surrounded by curious girls, mostly wearing hijab; residents of the orphanage, who were surprisingly immodest about being near me, while I slept shirtless. We were about eight men in in the corridor, sleeping on thin mattresses on the ground, having pulled one hour shifts each all night long. No military came.
We were from different backgrounds in many ways: mostly US-ers, although a Quebecois (also Jewish), and a couple of Germans were also among us. While the man in charge of the Sewing Workshop inside the orphanage showed us around, using the phrase “the Jewish” to refer to Israeli administration (as in, “we got a permit from the Jewish”), I jokingly wondered whether I was one of “the Jewish” who had invaded and threatened this orphanage in the past months. I considered correcting him, this professional who I was just meeting for the first time, and who was showing me around, but I let this language issue slide.
20 internationals in all ate breakfast together this morning, who had been organized by the CPT (Christian Peacemakers Team) to be able to be present, engage verbally with soldiers, and document what happens when the military comes in to close down the place. The back-story is something like this:
The Islamic Charitable Society runs a lot of ventures in and around Hebron; perhaps several dozen businesses, including bakeries, and a mall. I was inspired hearing about businesses they have set up to support their projects, so that it’s a mix of for-profit, and benefit organizations that are run by the society; it’s a model I would like to pursue further myself. In recent years, the military has started leaning on the ICS: confiscating computers, stealing files, in the last couple of years going so far as to destroy access to their offices, so that they can’t administer properly (welding shut the doors). More recently, it has stepped up to a point that the Israeli military are destroying, stealing and damaging machines and infrastructure (stealing sewing machines, setting bakery ovens on fire), making any part of any project connected to ICS completely non-viable.
Why? Sewing machines? Orphanages? The claim put forth by the military administration is that ICS has been taking money from, has connections to, perhaps is giving money to, Hamas. The man who showed me around presented matter-of-factly that, as a nonprofit, their finances were an open book, that you can see where their donations are coming from (mostly Europe and North America), and that they don’t receive or send any money from/to Hamas.
This is still kind of besides the point: an orphanage, even one partially funded by Hamas, is still an orphanage. A sewing machine is not a weapon. And it’s important to note, this orphanage is in H1*. And so they anticipate the military entering the building, having scoped it several times already, to destroy a good amount of the infrastructure, and welding the doors shut to prevent the use of the space. The CPT wants to make sure that the kids who are sleeping there stay safe, and that, whatever happens, it gets documented.
After breakfast, we split up, and I head with some folks to Bethlehem, and then along with the Germans back to Jerusalem, where I’m back around 9am. As far as anyone knows, the status of the Orphanage is no different now than it was yesterday: slated for closure. I could sleep there the next two weeks solid until I leave the country, and the military might still not have acted; then again, tonight might be the night. It’s a strange calculus that your brain unfolds in a situation like this. As I think about it now on a couch in Jerusalem, I’m thinking: “well, if we just took over a classroom there, and brought in some couches, some reading material, got an internet connection going there, I might stay there a week straight.” “Ah well,” my brain shrugs off the organizing challenge, and I figure I might stay there another night or two at some point. I was never much for commutes.
Before Shabbat On Thursday night, hanging out at Shai’s apartment, I asked him, “Hey what are you up to tomorrow?” “Going on a solidarity visit to Hebron,” he tells me. These tours are organized by Bnei Avraham, I wrote about one last year [http://www.redsolid.com/writings/ip/2007/u2.html]. I don’t have any plans, I think to myself, and make up my mind to go along with.
The next morning, I walk with Shai and his roommate to Gan HaPa’amon to catch the bus, leaving at 9:30am. We eventually load in and ship out, the bus about 2/3 full. I recognize a couple of people from the progressive Jerusalem Anglo community there, and introduce myself to a few people I don’t know. I sit in back with Shai, who is looking out the back window to make sure there are no undercover cops tailing us. He doesn’t think there are.
Bnei Avraham refers to a common ancestral heritage, with both Jews and Muslims claiming descendancy from Abraham. Jews follow the line of Isaac and Jacob, while the Muslim story tells of Abraham choosing Ishmael for his lineage. The battalion that serves in Hebron– fully 500 soldiers, nearly as many as the number of Jewish settlers in Hebron– gets swapped out every six months, because it is hard and dangerous to serve there, and also so that soldiers don’t get too cozy with any of the local residents. Bnei Avraham was started by soldiers who served in Hebron several years ago, members of a socialist youth group, who were moved by their witnessing injustice to create a relationship with Palestinians living under occupation in H2. Although we weren’t confident that we would be admitted into Hebron, we got in no problem, as a tour bus filled with Israelis and internationals. We parked near the Cave of the Patriarchs, (where Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah were buried– a holy place for Jews, Christians, and Muslims) and filed off the bus. We walked through the streets of H2– Jewish-controlled Hebron– and talked about the significance of certain places, many of them places where someone had been killed at some point in the last 80 years. The road, although designed for heavy use, is pretty much deserted; military orders prevent Palestinians from using this main road in H2, so we only need to scoot out of the way of a small number of settlers’ cars, who blare their horns at us as they pass. Eventually we make it past Beit Hadassah, one of the more prominent Jewish settlements inside H2, and to an area where Palestinians are once more allowed on the street. We follow our host and guide up the hill to Tel Rumeida, where we trudge off to visit a family and drink tea.
Like many Palestinian homes in Tel Rumeida, they need to use a back entrance to enter, due to the closure placed on the main road. In this case, it meant ducking below a 5-foot high thatched trellis for grapevines, and walking carefully through a yard. With frustration, the mother of a house tells us how, last week, when her son had an asthma attack, he needed to be carried along this route; the ambulance wasn’t allowed past the checkpoint up the main road. Our host points out to us that, in medical emergencies, delays like this can easily mean the loss of life.
They told us the stories of their day-to-day struggles; the soldiers and settlers throwing garbage down upon them, shouting curses at them, attacking and harassing their children on the way to school, property destruction. I know these stories. I still don’t know what it’s like, or how this can continue, but I’ve heard the stories. Whatever compassion I feel for these people, I wonder that they don’t just leave, move to H1. “And who could we sell our house to?” comes the response. Now I get it. It’s an economic thing. People here are living in a crappy situation for the same reason anyone anywhere would decide to: they don’t feel they can afford another option, quite literally.
Our particular visit was set up as a “solidarity visit,” as distinct from some other tours that Bnei Avraham offers, introducing people to the situation there. Our group was composed of people who would like to express solidarity with the Palestinians of Hebron, and so a fitting action was planned. Black t-shirts were distributed, on which was written in white block letters: “I have a dream.” Our visit, taking place over Passover, also marked 40 years after the original occupation of a Hebron hotel by Rabbi Levinger and a group of Jewish settlers in 1968. A few signs were distributed, reading in Arabic and English things like “Stop settler violence.” Highly controversial, I know. We walked down the street, chanting slogans intermittently, but mostly just walking down the street.
It was over in just a few minutes, and it went the same way as the last time I came here last year: the Palestinians walked with us on 200 feet of road that they are typically prevented from walking on, as a symbolic protest, and then they split off from the group behind the barriers and back to their neighborhood on the hill. A couple of settlers got in our faces… one man holding a video camera grabbed a sign out of an Israeli’s hands, and threw it on the ground. Meanwhile, the police and soldiers stood beside, and tried “talking him down.” This is the tactic of the law enforcement of the area: like the parent of an extremely angry child, just talk them down. It’s going to be okay, sweetheart.
We arrived at the first bus as planned, and as far as we could tell, the day was pretty much over. Some people filed into the bus, and I continued walking with others continued walking to get to the second bus, which had come from Tel Aviv. Then, in a predetermined fashion, several soldiers and border police surrounded Amos, a key organizer, and brought him into their police jeep.
A group of Anarchists Against the Wall, perhaps twelve Israelis in all, sat down in front of the jeep, and linked arms, typical nonviolent disobedience style. I sat down on the edge of the group. Soldiers started hauling the young men off to the side, and physically restrained them from re-entering the road. I stuck around to make sure my friends were okay. By this time, the bus we had come on arrived, and most of us piled on, but between the settlers confronting us, and people who just didn’t know what to do, the bus ended up unable to move for probably another 20 minutes, while settlers and Palestine support activists swapped insults. The bus finally headed out, and to the police station at Kiryat Arba (the settlement next-door to Hebron), to pick up Amos.
At this point the local authority decides to detain all of us, and demands to see identification documents before letting us go. It’s worth mentioning at this point that, besides for those who interfered with police action, we didn’t do anything illegal. It is perfectly legal for both Israelis and internationals to be in H2, the Israeli controlled side of Hebron. The basis for our detainment was basically that the settlers didn’t like us being there. And the settlers control the situation on the ground.
Perhaps an hour later, anyone who offered their ID information was allowed onto the first bus, which made its way through the gate of the Kiryat Arba police station, only to be met by a volley of things thrown at it– mostly eggs. With a clouded windshield, and an 8-year old standing in the road with his dog in order to block us, we backed up into the police station, and ended up waiting another couple of hours for police/soldier backup. This was one of the first times I got a sense of what it was like for people who went to register black voters in the south: the “people” are all against you, willing to use violence against you, and the authorities will protect them. It’s as if the schoolyard bully has been given tacit support and protection from the administration of the school.
They were obviously not going to detain, arrest, or indeed give any consequences to the settlers who were assaulting us, despite the fact that we were predominantly a group of Israelis that the army was ostensibly in charge of protecting. The soldiers did, however, fan out on the sides of the bus, and run alongside it, physically allowing it to pass through the settlement relatively unharmed, and back to the main roads, which took us back to Jerusalem barely in time for Shabbat.
I often don’t like the term Apartheid to be used when talking about Israel, or the Wall, or the situation here; the situation here is complex, and isn’t South Africa. I can’t say worse, or better, I can say different. But there is a great similarity in terms of the creation of different sets of rules for the people living in the same place. The US functions in some of the same ways for migrant workers that live there. I don’t want to point it out as unique: just a clear example of injustice.
And what do we do when we notice injustice anywhere? Well, we write about it.
Alright, I gotta head out for the day, stop haunting my friend’s apartment for awhile.
B’shalom wa salaam, Jacob in J-Town