Dr Khalil & Mr Hevron

Travel diary, day 4 of 14

Hebron: second largest and most contested city in Palestine, called Al Khalil in Arabic and Hevron in Hebrew; home to around 200,000 Muslim Palestinians, one Christian Palestinian family, and some 700 Jews; and made fulchrum of West Bank conflict mostly because of its much fought over Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs, sacred site to both Muslims and Jews.

I don’t even know if I can write about it. Probably not- you have to SEE IT. There’s the checkpoints everywhere, the sentinels stationed on vantage points above the busy market, the turrets all over the city, the soldiers in the streets with their huge scary weapons; they are all superyoung Israelis carrying out their compulsory military service and their presence and constant proximity makes us feel more scared than anything else. There’s the metal nets some two metres above our heads, running throughout the majority of the most crowded streets, because it too often happens that passers-by get thrown garbage at. There’s the ghost town created by the Israeli government in 2001, with its tall gates, barbed wire and eery atmosphere, where no Palestinians are allowed anymore unless they can prove that they live there, and from where many have had to move because their shops were forcefully shut and because of daily conflict and humiliation from their new neighbours- Jewish families who’d do anything in order to live as close as possible to the sacred site of their religious father, Abraham. And there is the cemetery, now only conjunction between the two parts of the city separated by the ghost town, where we, too, find ourselves casually stepping on tombs to make our way to the other side.

All this we learn while walking with Talal, a Ukraine-graduated mechanical engineer turned tour guide for fairly obvious reasons. Thanks to his old address and to the restaurant his family used to own in what is now the ghost town, he isn’t denied access like so many others, but this doesn’t mean his life is easy as pie. The whole city is a sort of open prison just like Bethlehem, with the exception that the situation is visibly worse. We are lucky though: today it is a holiday for the Muslim population, in commemoration of Prophet Muhammed’s birthday, which means that despite it being a Sunday everybody is out in the streets and at the mosque (forbidden to the Jews for the day), free cookies are distributed, curious kids ask me to take their picture and show them how I write in English… It is beautiful. The people are awesome. We feel welcome.

And yet it is impossible for me and Hannah not to think about the freedom we enjoy pretty much all the time in every place and that these people might never get. It is impossible -I know it- for me to even really write about this: I know I’m not finding the right words and probably never will, because the disrespect of human rights that takes place here, the awareness that things will either stay the same or get worse (and potentially a lot worse), the lack of viable options if not through spontaneous exile for-maybe-ever, all under the world’s open eyes, are a psychological trauma in progress for every single Palestinian Hebronite day in and day out. And the way I was brought up, all I’ve seen and done and experienced so far does not prepare me to even start to understand the possibility of such a life.

So I’m sorry- I can’t write about Hebron’s two faces. But I’ll repeat it: YOU HAVE TO SEE IT. Everybody has to see it. And if you’re not up for doing it in person, at least spare a moment to look at my pictures (click here), which I specifically took to honour Talal and everybody else’s desire to get out of AlKhalil, of Hevron, of Hebron and talk to the world that is so indifferent to them.

No selfie today, no “food of the day”. Just apologies for this horribly written post and one question: why do people pretend they do stuff for religious reasons when that just can’t be the case? 

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