On a blistering, sunny Thursday morning in Jerusalem, I meet a group of folks from Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence) for a tour of Hebron. In true Israel fashion, there’s someone I know taking the tour, S, a Phd student whose politics and life experience I am in deep admiration of. We sit together on the bus, and I admit to him that I’ve never been to the territories before. (What I don’t say is that I’m afraid that this significantly taints my political clout, in case I had any.) He’s surprised, and as we drive out of Jerusalem, he pushes the curtains away from the windows quickly, so that the landscape spills out before us. Be sure you look at everything.
The folks in the group, all English speakers, seem to be from everywhere, and I have no idea how many are Jews. Immediately, I know that what’s going to bother me here, and beyond today, is not just what I see, but the panic, the insane, habitual jerking of my knee. What are these people thinking about Jews? How can I make them stop thinking it?
At the Tapuz Gross checkpoint, we are able to cross into the Palestinian side of Hebron, loud and bustling. A woman in our group says, “This isn’t as bad as Nablus.” I wonder if she’s one of those people who’s condescending and self righteous about her work. What are her intentions? What are mine? I hate these thoughts, every single one of them. This is not who I am, this is not even someone I recognize.
We meet with Hani, a Palestinian man who lives near the military base in Tel Rumeida. He tells us about settlers who have burned his cars, how they come into a neighbourhood to have a barbecue, and never leave. “The Jews,” he says, “occupy, all they do is occupy.” This guy, he’s seen things I will never even be able to imagine, every Jew he meets is either a settler or a soldier-why should he think any differently? The way I find myself looking at these settlers, with disgust, with disbelief, is how the world is looking at Israel, at all Jews.
En route to Jerusalem again, I can’t hold my head up. It’s as though my brain is now covered with thick dust, and I’m too tired to wipe it away. “This isn’t activism,” A, our guide says over the microphone to the sweaty, barely conscious bus. “This is learning.” We have seen something most people never see, but we aren’t heroes, we’ve done what we should have, and this is only the beginning.
I go back to Katamon and proceed to become humbly and thoroughly ill. This always happens when I’m traveling intensely, but today I wonder if while something is clearly trying to get out, something else is also trying to get in.