Thursday, February 03, 2005

News from Hebron

First some bad news. The Old City used to be the heart of Hebron, a souk full of noise, colour and bustle. The neighbourhood where the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) lives was once the chicken market, but nowadays it is deserted. Every few hours a wary 6-man Israeli patrol passes through the souk, with automatic weapons pointing into each doorway and alley along the way. Often they force their way into Palestinian homes “in search of weapons”. A small Israeli settlement overlooks the main passageway. Wire netting is fastened overhead to catch garbage emptied by settlers into the old market. Entrances to the souk are continuously guarded by Israeli army checkpoints where Palestinians (and sometimes CPTers) can be stopped and searched.

Few Palestinians venture in, so most of the shops have had to close, perpetuating the cycle of hopelessness. The local Palestinian administration has responded by offering 2-year-rent-free dwellings inside the Old City. So as our old neighbours give up their homes they are being partly replaced by desperate families, unemployed and without roots in this age-old community.

In the CPT team we notice the difference. Nowadays if we go out alone we can expect to be harassed if not physically assaulted. During the past week all the lock barrels on our apartment doors were knocked out in an attempted break-in. Our steel doors held fast, but we were locked out in the cold and dark for several hours that evening. A day or two earlier I was deliberately knocked down by a Palestinian who had been prevented from snatching a bag from one of my companions. Don’t worry. I’m OK. Small bruises and cuts are almosthealed. I was without glasses for several days, but a Palestinian optician has repaired them free-of-charge. Frustrating, though, as a grazed knee stopped me from returning to At-Tuwani where accompanying shepherds involves rock-hopping. I intend to be back in a day or two.

Now for some good news. Local Palestinians have been very concerned and supportive; we have to discourage them from threatening retribution. Everyone seems quietly optimistic about the peace process: keep praying for this. Last week I took part in a sit-down near Khallet Eddar, just south of Hebron. The sit-down sounded just right for my grazed knee. Some hope! It was on the summit of a hill on land claimed by an Israeli settlement. Getting there meant scaling a succession of hills and valleys. I finished up in the rear with the hajs. No Israelis in sight. A peaceful but exhausting day.

On a lighter note, we have combined birthdays in the team with birthday parties for local children in threatened homes. Israeli soldiers at checkpoints have twice had to confront CPTers, joined by Ecumenical Accompaniers and ISMers, with balloons, party hats and birthday cakes.


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