Text and Photos by Tom Shea
For the past three weeks, I've been living in an occupied city, of an occupied country. I came here with five other Michigan Peace Team members to join with three permanent members of the Mennonite Christian Peace Team.
Living here I'm reminded of what I read about the French experience during the Second World War under the Nazi occupation. The occupation of France lasted four years. Our Palestinian neighbors here in Hebron have been living like this for nearly thirty years.
What does military occupation look like? Fifteen military checkpoints punctu ate the daily travel of Palestinians through their own city. 1200 Israeli soldiers are garrisoned in the city to protect the 450 Israeli settlers who have confiscated a half-dozen Palestine neighborhoods. Thousands of other Israeli settlers occupy huge settlements outside the city.
Where we're staying off Deboyya Street, the soldiers guard both ends and the half way point of the street. Their iron-spiked collapsible tire-puncturing mechanisms stretch across the road prohibiting any automobile traffic. Check-point soldiers kick the mechanism open for the yellow tagged Israeli cars. Blue tagged Palestinian cars and trucks are stopped. Only Palestinian delivery wagons get through. Other Palestinian drivers must weave their way through very crowded back streets. We cross the check points whenever we leave our apartment.
Economic Impact of Occupation
Deboyya Street formerly served as the main commercial artery for the people of Hebron. At one end were small shops, along the way were the leading stores and crafts workers, all leading to the Mosque or Cave of Abraham at the east end of town. Before the Israeli settlers came, thirty tour buses a day would empty visitors into Deboyya street. These tourists were a major part of the economy. Now there are none. Only the Israeli settlers that arrive on the Sabbath eve to support Israeli settlers in Hebron by marching up and down Deboyya Street on the Sabbath, some toting uzzi's, others accompanied by armed military. This ritual connects the Israeli settlements along Deboyya Street one day a week staking a claim to the city.
The checkpoints were set up after the American-born Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein and assistants killed 30 Palestinian worshipers in the Mosque in February, l994. The Israeli army added 50 more Palestinian victims outside the Mosque in the subsequent riot. Hebron became an Israeli armed city. The 120 thousand Palestinians appear to be unarmed. We have yet to see a gun in any of the half-dozen Palestinian homes we visit weekly. At the Israeli settlement of Kyriat Arba on the outskirts of Hebron there is a monument to Baruch Goldstein. He is venerated by many settlers as a hero.
Aftermath of Rabin Assassination
Since the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, four days before we arrived in Hebron, the military presence has increased. Many of the alleged co-conspirators and supporters are connected with a couple of the Israeli settlements right in the city of Hebron. The first week after the assassination was unusually quiet on the Sabbath. Last week, Israeli settlers from other towns poured into Hebron in large numbers and chanted through the night. A few minor incidents occurred.
My first four nights in Hebron were spent at the home of Omar, Nassim, and their children Samer and Maran, age 5 and 3 respectfully. With the other three men on our Peace Team, we experienced the traditional hospitality of the Palestinian family. Welcoming bowls of fruit, bakery, tea, and eventually a demitasse of Turkish coffee each evening. In the morning a complete Middle East break fast. Omar's family lives on the edge of the city, adjacent to a very large encamp ment of Israeli settlers. The settlement is surrounded by a high fence, barbed wire, and military garrison.
Before the Intifada which began in l987, Omar, an auto mechanic, worked on Israeli cars and was visited by some of his Israeli neighbors. Since then, one day while working under an automobile, a settler pulled out the jack, crushing Omar's collar bone and fracturing ribs. One night he woke to the odor of benzine and found his home circled in gas. He chased two settlers to the military entrance where the soldiers denied seeing anybody. Nassim told us that during last August's curfew soldiers knocked on the door, entered her home, and searched through everything in the house.
The Power of Non-Violence
"We are not afraid.! They will not scare us. That is just what they are trying to do, frighten us to leave our property. We will not leave. This is our land. It was built up by Omar's father, long before the settlers came."
Nassim talked to us over the delicious breakfast she had just served. She told how their neighbor's property was either sold to or confiscated by the settlers. Now an Israeli flag flies over their former neighbor's home that borders on the Ashourab fence line. Recently a settler cut down an Ashourab tree. "They offered to pay us for the tree, but I refused. To pay would be to acknowledge their ownership. They don't frighten us."
While we stayed with Omar and Nassim, a settler surveyed a portion of Omar's olive and grape arbor, for part of a road the Israeli government is building to connect the settlements with each other. These connecting roads will cut in half hundreds of Palestinian farm properties like Omar's.
Omar showed us snapshots of himself at age five. We saw this small farm of his father's without any encroachments. Now he looks at what we would call a development harboring perhaps two thousand people and an Israeli flag flies right next to his fence over what was once his neighbor's home.
Closer to town, we visit families adjacent to settlements where settlers lob stones, sometimes nightly on to the concrete roofs of the neighboring Palestinian family. One family has erected light poles and a fence on its roof to protect their nine children from hearing these nightly bombardments on the roof. Another family lives at the top of a steep hill on a street which is bordered by one of the most radical anti-Palestinian settlements. Each day we walk their Hummel-like five-year-old granddaughter up the hill to protect her from any more stonings by the Israeli settler kids through whom she must hike home each day.
Yesterday, as four of us started out on Deboyya Street, a vender of kabobs rushed toward us from behind the rake of kabobs on his flaming brazier. He sputtered out in choppy English a story of how his little two-year-old was nearly abducted by a passing Israeli settler yesterday. He acted out the scene. How he grabbed his little son from the settler's clutches. He listed a litany of terrible endings for his little boy if the settler had gotten away. Nearby soldiers did nothing, but apparently the Israeli police took his report. Wendy, our long-term Hebron Peaceteam member, recognized the name of the settler as one who has instigated previous attacks, threats, and disruptions.
This morning as team-member Ann Montgomery and I sat in the square in front of the Mosque, a presence some of us make each day, we saw another harassment unfold. An Israeli settler with a repeating rifle chased two small Palestinian boys who were playing with a rope near the edge of the Mosque. The settler claimed it was a snake. He chased the boys at gun point right into the home of one of them near the Mosque. The boys' irate mother and some other Palestinians marched right over to the Police mobile unit in front of the Mosque to confront them. A half-hour argument took place before the issue was finally settled by the police apparently separating the two groups peacefully.
Fr. Peter Dougherty and children on Deboyya Street
The settlers in Hebron do not have the support of all Israeli citizens. There are a number of Israeli groups working for peace. Peace Now is the largest. We were visited by a smaller group called Israeli's and Palestinians for Non Violence. They had come to address the problems at one of the homes that is regularly stoned.
Some of the Palestinians we visit, tell us that since the assassination the Israeli police are responding to Palestinian requests for help for the first time. This may be due to the attention of the Israeli press and others to the right wing settlers from whom came the climate and some assistance to the assassin.
Our role as a Peace Team is to provide international presence to the day to day life of people in an occupied country, observing and sometimes advocating on their behalf. We get regular feedback from the people we visit, the municipal officials that invited the peace team, merchants on the street, the students at the university, that they appreciate our being here. We are privileged to meet people alive with hope and hospitality amid the guns of an occuping army.
c.3000 B.C.: Hebron, a city on a hill founded by Canaanites
1700: Abraham buys Cave of Machpelah from Hittite for 400 sheckels
25: Herod the Great erects a monument over Cave
AD. 67 to 1918: Occupation by Romans, Byzantium, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottoman Empire, British Mandate, first Zionists welcomed by Britain, Arabic speaking peoples total 92% of population
1948: Weakened Britain turns Palestine over to U.N.
1967: Israel occupies West Bank in War with Jordan & Other Arab nations
l970: Israeli Government supports Settlement of Kiryat Arba, bringing 6000 settlers to border of Hebron
l974: First Israeli Settlers take possession of Debboya Elementary School on Hebron's main street
l987: Intifada effort by Palestinians to 'shake off Israeli occupation'
l994, February 24: American Israeli Settler, Baruck Goldstein kills 27 Muslim Worshipers and wounds many others in Ibrahimi Mosque (Machpelah)
l993-95: Oslo I& II Agreements will divide Hebron into two cities: Israeli run center city (35,000 Palestinians, 1500 Israeli's) Palestinian run outer city, 90,000 Palestinians, surrounded on outskirts by 22 Israeli settlements housing thousands of Israelis.
Tom Shea lives in Traverse City with his wife Darylene Shea and traveled to Hebron as a member of the Michigan Faith and Resistance Peace Team.
Michigan Faith and Resistance Peace Team is dedicated to giving individuals training and experience to reduce violence in conflict areas, whether urban settings in our country or war zones overseas. These training workshops develop alternatives to violence skills for peace team projects and help individuals improve conflict resloution in their own lives. Contact:
1516 Jerome St.
Lansing, MI 48912
Return to the Index of Synapse 34, Winter Solstice 1995