I have fallen way behind on this lately. In my defence, some of that time I’ve spent out of the house on other wee road trips, and most of the rest on Hebrew study. But still. I have to fill you in on my run down to Eilat soon, but first we should catch up with the Hebron post I never got ’round to! I mean, hell, the following story comes from 18 July!
Right, so the day started at Jamil’s house, where I had stayed the previous night. We got ready and headed out to Hebron to get him to hospital for his injured leg. (Incidentally, Hebron is the English; it’s Hevron in Hebrew and al-Khalil in Arabic.) We rode a service taxi (what Israelis call a sherut and Palestinians a servees) down to the city, then stopped at an intersection and transferred to a regular taxi. At this point I had the bright idea to take off on my own into the city while Jamil went on to hospital. I wasn’t going to do him any good in a waiting room, and it seemed a shame to waste the day that way. I got back out of the taxi, went back to the main road, and caught another service taxi to the old city.
End of the line.
The taxi stopped at the end of the line, just as you enter the old city. I got out and headed down the street, taking pictures, looking in shops, etc. I was pretty conspicuous, and I got plenty of awkward glances, but also some smiles and nods. Several people stopped to talk to me briefly, and one made a determined effort to ingratiate himself — a fellow name Jad. I ended up spending the next few hours walking around the city with him, talking about life and such. He’s a management student and talking to me was good practice for his pretty broken English I’m sure. He’s in his last year at the local university and is hoping to get into an MBA programme somewhere. Anyway, we talked a bit about ourselves, sure, but also about the city and stories of people in it.
A shot from the old city.
Jad wonders why I take so many photos.
Another shop-lined old-city street
Jad and I wandered through the old streets as I snapped photos, and slowly made our way towards the Ibrahimi Mosque. Now, I am aware that just using that designation is a political statement, but I do so because of who I was walking with. The Ibrahimi Mosque (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) is also the Me’arat HaMakhpela, and in English the Cave of the Patriarchs.
The Cave and the structure above it has been divided in various ways for close to two millennia, since the Byzantine era, when it was both a synagogue and a church. With the initial Arab conquest the church was replaced by a mosque, and with the exception of the Crusader period it has stayed that way since. When the Mamluks came to replace the Ayyubids in the 13th century Jews were barred from the Cave, being allowed only up to the fifth, or later seventh, step. It remained a mosque, with the Jewish sites outside but nearby, until the 1967 War. After that it was divided, with about 20% turned over for a synagogue. Until 1994 it was at least open between the two sides; now, access to the cenotaphs and holy places on either side are restricted to one religious group and there is an ugly separation barrier run down the middle. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Stairs up to the Mosque/Cave complex.
By the time we had reached the mosque I really wanted to use a toilet. There are, of course, no public toilets in the old city, though there is one just outside the mosque for visitors. This was by far the worst restroom experience I have had. The toilets were the squatting kind, basically holes in the floor. There is no toilet paper and no way to flush, just a spigot nearby and a small bucket. You’re meant to squat, shit, then use the water to clean yourself — with your hands. No fucking way. Luckily, I am a clever traveller and I had a roll of t.p. in my backpack. *grin* The process was still awful, as was the stench; I have a massive natural gag reflex, and I was heaving. *sigh* Anyway, let this be a lesson to anyone travelling in the area — be smart and also bring your t.p., and use the toilet before you leave any place that actually has a real toilet!
holy shit! no way!
Heading up to the mosque itself, we had to pass the ubiquitous security check. I had to remove all my junk, hand over the bag, and take questions about whether I was Jewish (since I was headed to the Muslim side and was not obviously Muslim). I lied. *grin* The inside was impressive, and hard to describe so I’m going to put up a few photos. I’ve gotten lazy since the first time I used photos, so no compositing.
Coming onto the main floor of the Mosque.
You can see here the minbar, courtesy of Salah ad-Din.
We wandered around, talked a bit; I got to see the cenotaphs built in the Mamluk period, and place my hand on a stone where Adam’s footprint was left. *cough* A Jewish tradition has the cave as the burial place of Adam & Eve and the gateway to ‘heaven’. An older tradition has this as the burial place of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and their wives (Sarah, Rebecca, Leah), which is the basis of its holiness. So that’s kinda nifty to see, eh? The minbar in the mosque was built at the order of Salah ad-Din. Ah, and there’s a covered hole into the deep cave below the mosque, where the tombs would be found, I imagine. There’s a metal cover over the opening with small holes in it, and if you look through them you’ll see a candelabra hanging from a rope in order to add some light to the space.
Peering into the Cave.
One of the cenotaphs and its enclosure.
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit was to see the site of the 1994 Goldstein killings. It was an emotional moment for me, standing in the space where 29 people were gunned down and over a hundred others shot. I paused for some time thinking about the scene and what it must have been like to go through something like that. The ancient sites hold a historical interest for me, but no religious draw. A visit to the site of a massacre, perpetuated in the name of twisted religious faith, is a pilgrimage that makes much more sense to a secularist like me.
I had wanted to see the Jewish side as well, but with Jad along with me it would not have been possible. I may do that the next time I’m in Hebron. Just outside the mosque we picked up another party, a short Arab fella whose name I have forgotten. The three of us walked and talked through along some of the spaces adjacent to the Jewish section of Hebron, AKA “H-2”. This section of the city houses some of the most radical of settlers — a group of people who are drawn by a sincere religious connexion to the ancient sites, but who are also animated by an extraordinary level of racism. I won’t go into any of that here, though.
Settler compound right outside the Mosque/Cave.
A street divided and once-busy shops abandoned.
The long road leading up to the mosque is lined with shuttered shops. This was once a thriving Muslim neighbourhood and market, but nearly everyone has moved out of it because of conflict with the settlers. There is a dividing line in the road and Arabs can only walk on one side of it or risk being shot. There are no cars in this area save those driven in by settlers. We passed two schools that have been closed down, and the large empty square that used to be a bus station.
Neighbourhoods deserted on account of settler threats.
An ethnic-cleansing graffito, the Jewish settler counterpoint to maximalist 'Free Palestine' calls.
An Israeli car on a Jews-only road passing the shuttered Arab girls' school.
Finally we stopped into a ceramics factory and shop, the only remaining business in the area, and the workers there offered us tea. Interestingly, they make a large number of Jewish-themed items like seder plates and little ‘shalom’ signs for your wall. These items are sold to tourists in Jerusalem, not to the settlers, but it still says something that — even a stone’s throw from a radical settler compound — these men make their living catering to the Jewish economy. Twenty years after the “peace process” began, this remains a fully colonial relationship.
Painting ceramics for Jewish tourists.
Jad asked for a photo -with- me and folks back home ask for photos -of- me, so here we are -- the second photo taken of me this trip. I've since trimmed the beard considerably; it was getting very warm...
We parted ways with our companion at this point and Jad & I made our way back through the old city. I stopped to buy a water, which Jad said would be expensive here but I was parched by this point. The vendor actually refused my money, though! It was a unique surprise. We passed a little further along and suddenly I saw something I needed to stop for. I’ve always wanted to pick up a keffiyeh, in large part because of the modern-historical association (Arafat, etc.) but had never gotten ’round to it. I stopped because this hawker had great deals on some in the right colouration, but they were of pretty thin material with bad stitching. I ended up getting one that was still very reasonable but was in the better of three piles. Not having a local political reason to, and not being an Arab meself, I can’t imagine actually wearing it — I would feel utterly foolish or pretentious — but it will be nice to hang up somewhere. Cheesy, no? Shut up, you! It’s better than collecting thimbles. *grin*
Jad and I stopped into a café he knew to rest and refuel. I had a couple of large mint teas while he puffed away on a nargileh. I have many times been offered a drag on one of these and it always seems subtly rude to refuse, but I’ve never smoked a thing in my life and I’m not about to start now. The teas here are amazing, with long strands of mint running the length of the glass and providing an incredibly rich taste. Jamil offered me tea like this at his place, too, though in a more traditional setting — on a silver tray, with tiny glasses — but the taste is what matters, right?
I sipped tea and we chatted about girls and music. He asked to see pictures of Amanda (my ex) and told me how beautiful she was — he kept trying to get me to show him more. *lol* We talked about how different things are in our respective love-lives, as in his culture men and women will not sleep together until married, period. He was unbelievably jealous, and didn’t want to stop talking about girls or sex — it was really funny. *grin* So I indulged his curiosity as best I could given our language gaps, and we moved on to music.
Having my iPod with me I tried to explain how common it was now to collect diverse forms of music. He found it odd that I have several Arabic artists on there when I understand so little. (Truth be told, -I- find it odd that I can pick up as much as I do from conversations, given how little time and effort has gone into it.) I noted that people around the world listen to and appreciate music from English-speaking nations without understanding the words, and said that listening to music in languages I am studying or wish to study helps to train the ear; you begin to pick out automatically those words you do know and it starts to build a context for them.
New friend at an old café.
When it came time to leave, Jad refused to let me pay for anything. He went in to talk to the proprietor, and then we headed out. He walked with me a little while longer, until we reached the main road. We had exchanged Facebook information at the café and he made me promise to look him up when I was next in town. (He had asked me to stay the night at his place then, but I was worried about Jamil and decided to go back and make new plans.) I then hopped into a service taxi and headed north.
Ah, that reminds me — I forgot to mention that I had spoken with Jamil about an hour earlier. He had found out that his leg was in much worse shape than he thought and he was supposed to stay off of it. He had gone back home to al-Aroub without me, so I had to get back on me own. This was, of course, great fun.
When I got back we discussed what to do. I did not want him to exert himself on my account, and was prepared to leave for Bethlehem immediately and return in August after he’d had time to recover. I wanted to do a lot of walking still, both in the camps and the villages surrounding, and at the nearby settlements, and he said that he would walk with me around the places he could (the Arab parts). Obviously this would not happen now, and I did not want to risk his feeling obligated to show hospitality and take me anywhere in his condition. Besides, he had a couple from Germany coming over that night and it would have been even harder for him to entertain us both, though he protested and thought I should be able to stay. He did convince me to stay a little longer and go with him to the neighbouring village of Beit Jala to meet with some friends of his. I am very glad I did.
He had his car this afternoon, so we drove to Beit Jala. There we stopped into Mousa and Becca’s house. Mousa is a Palestinian man and Becca is an American Reform Jew who moved to Israel originally as a committed Zionist. Obviously, things changed for her, and she later married Mousa; they have an adorable little girl. Both work for an organisation called The Center for Freedom and Justice, which works with rural Palestinian communities and helps them to resist the settlement enterprise through non-violent means. They plant trees (and have added 3,500 trees in the Saffa region of Beit Omar), operate a free library and youth centre, organise a women’s embroidery collective to raise money to support extended families, run summer camps and a preschool, and are trying to raise money for a greenhouse.
The group relies on a rotating cadre of international volunteers, many of them American; I met a few of these as they came back from an ‘action’ somewhere (I could not understand what it was they were doing that day). They teach strategies of non-violent direct action to youth from the Hebron and Bethlehem areas. I would love to chat at length about what they do, given how interested I once was in anarchist direct-action politics, but we’ll see if I have time. I’m intending to return to the area in a couple of weeks to explore the settlements down there, so perhaps it will work out. Either way, Becca’s story was fascinating — her odyssey from Jewish nationalism to resisting Israeli policies and marriage to a Palestinian — and I was happy to have met them.
Okay, that’s about all you get of that story. I made my way back to Bethlehem, hopped the bus to Jerusalem, passed the security check-point, had a long conversation on the bus with a young British archaeologist who had a day off and ran down to see Herodion, and made my way from Jerusalem central station to Rekhovot. I have a few other stories to put up, so that’s the end of this one. Time to go and find something more substantive to do than wonder what I’m doing! *lol* Have fun!