Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Christmas in Hebron

On Christmas Day, we decided to go to Hebron. We were all eyeing the weather cautiously – none of us wanted another experience like the day before – but we decided to risk it. I had already visited Khalil (Hebron) once before, but I wanted to try and replace some of my pictures from that area (lost them when my computer got stolen). We took a service from Beit Sahour to Khadar and from there we picked up a second service to Khalil. This was my first time in Khadar, although I had heard of it before. It is the equivalent of a service bus station in the West Bank. By the time we reached Khadar it was pouring down rain again, and we trudged through the mud and between dripped vegetable stands to find our service to Khalil.

Now, I’ve been to Khalil before, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to get to the old city. As one does in these situations, I asked. The man who answered insisted that we visit his home, have tea with him and his family, and then he would show us how to get to the Hiram Ibrahimi. He also paid for our service ride (for all 5 of us). In order to get into his neighborhood the service had to drive on the sidewalk, just barely squeezing between a wall and the cement blocks that the Israeli Army out put in the street to stop cars. His house looked like it was falling apart from the outside, but was actually very nice on the inside (although cold). We had tea with him, his mother, and his five month old daughter named Noor (light). From his sitting room window we could seem the mosque and a big part of the old city of Hebron. Inside the sitting room, he showed us where stray? bullets had come through the window and chipped the marble stonework, the walls, and furniture. I guess that is the price you pay for a view of the old city in Khalil. He insisted that we have tea, then coffee before we left. While he was out of the room, I spoke with his mother about life in Khalil . . . she said it was hard to stay, partially because there weren’t any jobs. Her son, the man who paid for our service fare, has been out of work for months.

After thanking the family profusely, we left, heading for the Hiram Ibrahimi. We went the wrong way, and ended up walking towards a checkpoint with very unfriendly soldiers. As soon as they saw us walking from the Arab neighborhood they had their guns cocked and aimed us, and were screaming at us to stop. Sadly, after 4 months in the West Bank, having a gun pointed at me didn’t really faze me. After a few minutes of yelling that we were Americans the soldiers let us approach. They examined our passports and wanted to know how we had gotten into the Arab neighborhood. We lied and said that we had gotten lost. The soldier replied that we were lucky we didn’t get killed in there. The Arabs gave us tea and coffee, the soldiers pointed guns and screamed at us – yet we should be afraid of the Arabs?

They let us through without too much trouble and we walked towards the mosque. Unfortunately, we arrived at the mosque during prayer time and we weren’t allowed to enter. The guys went over to the Jewish side of the mosque, but I didn’t. I had been once before, and the last time I had to lie and say I wasn’t Muslim to get in. While I’m certainly not a practicing Muslim, I don’t like being forced to lie about my religious heritage either . . . So I went to an Arab gift shop (the only one still open) next to the mosque and waited for them. The men in the shop were very hospitable. They insisted I sit by the heater and gave me a cup of tea. I talked with them about the situation in Khalil while they were painting new pieces of pottery to be sold. I decided to buy a gift for my father from them. The least I could do is spend a little money for their kindness, plus my father can’t visit the Hiram because of his citizenship, so I thought he might like a present from there.

After I met up with the guys we went into the Muslim side of the mosque, and then walked through the old city. Everything was closed because of the weather, but at least they got to see the fencing above the souq to keep the trash from the settlers from hitting the Palestinian storekeepers. Some Palestinian kids took us up a treacherous stairway to their rooftops. From there we could see the settlements, soldiers in a stand less that 50 ft away (also on a roof), and the mosque. It would have been a fantastic spot for pictures if it hadn’t been pouring down rain. And, to be honest, I was a little nervous about taking pictures of soldiers in their little hut on a rooftop in Khalil. They probably wouldn’t do anything, but I didn’t want to find out . . .

I’m still amazed that I managed to climb down that slick staircase without falling and breaking something, but everything went well. We left the old city and caught a taxi back to Beit Sahour.

Later that night, I met up with some of the staff from Nonviolence International who had arrived in Bethlehem the day before in preparation for our conference: Celebrating Nonviolent Resistance. I’ve been working with Holy Land Trust for the last couple months, but I worked with Nonviolence International before I came to Palestine, so I’ve been working on this conference for a while. I was particularly excited because my friend Sean who is in my MA program was also in town. So, I had a chicken sandwich for Christmas dinner and caught with the NI folks for a while.

Christmas this year was certainly different from any previous year. It was the first time I’ve spend the holidays away from my family. It was also the first time that I didn’t spend December 25 opening presents, giving presents, cooking, eating and laying on the couch after eating too much food. This Christmas I was cold and wet and I spend the holiday showing other foreigners some of the realities of Israeli Occupation in Palestine. I feel good about that.


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