Eight Days in Palestine – Day 4

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A new feature with excerpts from a Diary by “Ted from Liverpool”.

Day 4 – Hebron to Azzoun

Wednesday 4th November 2009

We went to Hebron in the morning, the second largest city after Jerusalem, there we walked from the city centre into the old city. Some 2 or 3 years ago BBC TV showed how militant Jewish settlers were taking over Palestinian homes whenever they were left unoccupied and were refusing to leave and were constantly intimidating their Arab neighbours.

This they seemed to do with impunity, being given the protection of IDF soldiers. Now this movement has resulted in virtually the whole of the old city being vacated by its original inhabitants (reduced from some 40,000 to 3 or 4,000) and 400 settlers moving in. Result – swathes of empty houses and the stalls lining the passageways vacant and shuttered, giving refuge to drug dealers and other criminals – Palestinian police are not allowed into the old city.

The 400 settlers are protected by Israeli Governmentt. and are guarded by some 4000 IDF soldiers who even accompany individual children to the shops – we understand that the soldiers regard themselves as Govt. appointed slaves.

The old city contains the Ibrahami Mosque/Cave of Machpela, dedicated to Abraham, the patriarch of both Arabs and Jews. In 1994 it was the scene of a massacre by a Brooklyn-born settler of 27 Muslims – the assassin is regarded as a hero, a tower has been built to his memory – he was killed by one of the faithful who had been at prayer. It is a major religious centre for both Jews and Arabs as well as Christians but it seems as if the Zionists want it for themselves. Abraham is believed to have bought his first piece of land in the Promised Land, here; it is revered by Muslims as the Ibrahami (Abraham) sanctuary.

Hebron is itself a busy and economically important city – we visited a glass blowing factory, very old established, where we bought a good deal of lovely glass and ceramic ware.

We left Hebron for Azzoun and met its civic leaders in their recently built municipal building which had been funded by the Japanese government. The deputy mayor welcomed us; in his speech he explained how 4 Israeli settlements had been built on the hills which surround the town; where previously the village stood on 24,000 dunams (5,000 acres), it was now reduced to 8K dunams, a third of the size. This has created mass unemployment in what had previously been an agricultural community and had also split the town into 2 villages with no access one to the other.

We then heard the horrific story, told by his brother, of a 14 year old boy. With 2 others, the three were confronted by settlers who bashed in his brother’s head with a stone, he was then kicked to death and the settlers took the body into their settlement. Three weeks later the boy was returned – his body had been cut open and then stitched up – all his organs had been removed. These ghastly crimes are committed with impunity, under the protection of the IDF – a microcosm of what Israel is doing in the occupied territories is done by the settlers from within their stolen land.

Following this meeting, we were taken to see the valley land between the town and the security fence of a settlement, on higher ground above the valley. It was a lovely warm and sunny day and under other circumstances idyllic – the fields were intensively cultivated, some with polytunnels and large pvc greenhouses We walked through this area to rougher higher ground as we approached the fence – here we came across the farmer who owned this land. He showed us a stream running down the hillside to the valley floor between his olive trees. The water looked clear and bright but it was the sewage run-off from the settlement and had not been fully purified. It had run into his well and polluted it to the extent that the Health Inspectorate had instructed that it had to be chlorine treated; 2 of the olive trees were dying and a large and very old tree was also in the danger area. The farmer told us how he believed this tree to have been planted by the Romans and although quite hollow was prolific in bearing fruit. He told us that his large olive grove, which his grandfather had planted some 60 years previously, now lay behind the settlement fence.

We then went to the other village, Dark Azzoum, against which a settlement has been built. This has meant that the village is itself surrounded by a fence and all who enter or leave have to pass through a rigorous check -point. We went in but had to get out of our bus and pass, 5 or 6 at a time, through a turnstile into the guardhouse. Here our passports were slowly examined and after scrutiny we were allowed through and the next 6 or so were let through. Eventually the bus and its driver came through (the Palestinians had to surrender their passes for the duration of the visit) and we drove to the other end of the village and then out by the way we came in, without alighting this time. This system applies to all the villagers – whilst the settlers drive through on their own road, without let or hindrance. It is a repressive, morale destroying world.

We had supper in Beit Leid in Sameer’s house. Lovely food, a mixture of onion and spices with chicken pieces (all cooked in olive oil) laid on 30 or so huge 80cm round platters of wonderful bread. His wife told us she had been up since 6am and had peeled 20kg of onions as well as making the bread for about 30 people. At 2pm she had completed her cooking. She is also chair of the local women’s association which makes the traditional needle/beadwork and she had then demonstrated to most of the women of our group the making of bead work and chaired a discussion of the local women’s day to day to day lives. The men (4 of us and our 3 guides) slept in Sameer’s brother’s house (he is away working in Saudi); Sameer also slept with us as his house was entirely given over to women. A quite exceptional couple.

Ted from Liverpool – A visit to the West Bank
1st November to 8th November 2009

Arranged by Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association

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