2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry
Somewhere in Hebron
by Benjamin Donato-Woodger, USA
by Benjamin Donato-Woodger, USA
Since this summer, it has become clear to me that where we live becomes a part of who we are. I saw this when I visited Hebron this summer and saw the Ibrahimi Mosque, ate lunch with a Muslim family, and toured Israel's infamous settlements before returning to Jerusalem.
This tour taught me that history is a living force. I felt it when visiting the Ibrahimi Mosque where beside Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, Sarah, and Leah's tombs reside raw memories of the contemporary conflict. For it is here that the radical Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 Muslims on February 25, 1994. Now, beside the cenotaphs—symbolic tombs—honouring these enormous religious figures, are small numbered pieces of paper an NGO has put up to mark where bullets struck the building during Goldstein's assault. Thus, recent violence and the sacred mingle today as the building is shared by Muslims and Jews as a synagogue and mosque. This balance is broken, though, when Hebron's Israeli settlers take over the entire building on specific religious holidays, including the anniversary of Goldstein's massacre.
After seeing this, we ate lunch in a Palestinian family's shop within 500 meters of the mosque. To get there we had to declare we were all Christians as Israeli soldiers make Muslims walk on one side of a barrier dividing the street. Beyond the storefront of ceramic plates, coffee mugs, and bells the Palestinian family told us about how they have resisted many expensive offers to buy it by Hebron's Israeli Settlers. They served us a delicious chicken and rice dish the family's mother prepared while we talked to her son, Ahmed, about his life. Getting this chance to talk to someone from Hebron put our recent experiences into welcome human relief. American movies had taught him English well, and as we ate he told us about how his pregnant wife had asked him yesterday if she could fast for Ramadam. He had answered that she could only fast if the child in her womb did not have to fast with her. Though only 22, and anticipating what he predicted would be his first son's birth, we saw his face fall when we asked what he thought the future held. Undoubtedly thinking something involving the thousands of soldiers preserving 'peace' through their threat of death outside, he answered, "I don't want to think about it".
After lunch, we saw army patrols while walking through streets of boarded up or occupied houses. Right outside one formerly Palestinian home we even saw a family being denied permission to visit their Uncle in the basement by the soldier outside. We were unsure how their Uncle remained there with Israeli settlers living above him. This was our visit to Hebron in a nutshell—a
combination of conflict and coexistence we tourists could never imagine living in.
In the next part of Hebron we saw a Palestinian school that was next to a war of graffiti that had been waged on the neighbourhood's walls. The graffiti showed everything from stencils saying 'Free Palestine' to Zionist works calling for all Palestinians to be forcibly deported from the land.
As we looked on we noticed a young settler in a pristine white clothes angrily muttering something at our tour guide. Our guide had finished explaining the many ways Israeli soldiers regulate who is allowed to be on the street we stood. We asked what he said and learned the young boy, who could not have been more than seven years old, had sworn at our tour guide and told
him to be quiet.
Fortunately for us, one moment mocked the conflicted surroundings when a young Palestinian girl, who could not have been older than seven too, went out to look at us from the roof of a building to say hello and revel at our group's touristy diversity. Other peoples' labels did not matter. While we greeted her we indirectly mocked the ways people divided this land. She was a friendly child. We were well-intentioned travelers. And whether any of us were Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim felt irrelevant.