Sunday, April 23, 2006

 

Damn tourists, but only when they are with the Palestinians.

Passover, a time of family meals, of bad public transport in Israel and a time when thousands of Jews converge on Hebron. One of the soldiers informed us an estimated 10,000 people were coming to visit the extremist settlers in Hebron. ISM and Tel Rumeida activists as usual patrolled the streets to help provide a sense of security for the Palestinian population and to assist them during the frequent events of settler violence. Four Israeli activists came to help out as well but were stopped by the police who decided they weren't allowed to be in Hebron because they were Israelis but weren't with the settlers. They got escorted out of Hebron in a military jeep.

There were so many tourists walking all around H2 but it appeared that most of them were totally oblivious to the problems occurring in Hebron. There were some Israelis amongst the blowins but a lot were Jews from places like the United States. When I first got to Hebron I took pictures of Shuhada street, where the Palestinian shops were all closed (because the army thought they might 'provoke' the settlers. For me it was important to take pictures of what was clearly a once thriving street to reflect on the impact of the occupation. For the tourists it felt like they were taking photo's of just another interesting street. I am so used to Settlers running around and beating up Palestinians it threw me back a bit having Americans walking up the hill complaining in a joking manner about having to walk so far. It felt more like Seinfeld then settlers.

I have the feeling that so many of the tourists there were just observing the wacko extremists in the same way that many less religious Christians may visit orthodox churches for 'the experience.' In some ways their presence actually made things safer because I don't think the settlers wanted to alienate their friends by having them witness the stoning of a 5 year old.

After most the tourists had left the streets, a group of us internationals on tourist visa's went out to get food. The savory food in Hebron is the best in the West Bank (that I have experienced so far) and I recommend people eat out in Hebron. We walked through the checkpoint to H1 as normal but some of the internationals at the back of the group were told that H2 was now a closed military zone for 'tourists' and that none of us would be let back in till Passover was over in 3 days time.

We tried to dispute our being kicked out of H2 pointing basic things out like the fact that we have an apartment in H2 and that they were kicking us out on the street. We also asked why the closed military zone order was only being enforced on our 'tourists' but the 'tourists' who were staying with the settlers were not being hassled. Many of the settlers aren't even Israeli coming from several other countries and never even going through the process of obtaining citizenship.

So faced with this 'closed military zone' that only applied to about 8 people, we decided to sneak into H2 through a back way. We hoped given the arbitrary and stupid nature of the closed military zone order that maybe when we got up the next day things would be sorted. Some of the others volunteered to do the morning school run whilst some of us volunteered to sleep in (slacker I know). At about 7am the activists came into the apartment agitated telling us that their passports had been confiscated by the army who told them they had 10 minutes to collect their stuff before they had to leave H2. We quickly got dressed in case the army was going to raid the apartment and those who had their passports confiscated decided to go down, collect their passports and leave.

The whole military order thing seemed dodgy to me. So I decided to go onto the street, knowing that they were likely to insist I leave. I was to refuse to leave and be arrested. The army would have to have me face a court within 24 hours and the judge could rule (hopefully in my favor). Rather then calling the police to arrest me (soldiers can arrest Palestinians but only detain Internationals or Israelis), six soldiers decided it was just easier to try and strangle me, beat me and throw me out through the checkpoint. I wasn't too badly beaten but a bit shaken.

One of the other internationals in the apartment who actually wanted to leave H2 and was to bring down my bags was stopped and told she couldn't leave H2. She asked why that was and the soldier basically said the rules had changed from 20 minutes prior because he said so. She argued with him for a while before he finally agreed to let her go if she was 'escorted' inside a military jeep all the way to the checkpoint.

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