Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Palestine: Hebron (Al Khalil)

My wife and mother both said I was crazy for crossing over to the West Bank of Palestine, which in not as unstable as Hamas' Gaza, but still has a history of violence and unrest. My first stop was Hebron (Al Khalil) and even in this dreary wet weather, the city and the surrounding countryside were beautiful in springtime.

One does not just walk around Hebron un-escorted. There are dozens of Israeli checkpoints and road blocks in the city center, and Israeli and Palestinian military police roam the streets everywhere. Accidentally wandering into the wrong neighborhood or military watch-post could get one in serious trouble with the police or the locals. Fortunately, I was able to find and hire this taxi driver who spoke excellent English to guide me through the old city.

There is so much tension in this ancient city because of the Israeli settlements which dominate the heart of downtown. These settlements were built decades ago, and they are infamous for being the only Israeli compounds built in the center of a major Palestinian city (see one below).

Two of the Israeli settlements actually straddle the traditional market, which is underground. The Palestinians have strung wire nets across the open areas to catch stones and trash which have been thrown down onto the market streets by angry Israelis. The rage goes both ways though... there were several barbed-wire fences in the old town through which my guide said militants from both sides would shoot at each other from time to time.
Hebron city is a mess. The Israelis have blocked off most of the major roads downtown and closed the Abraham Mosque to worshipers on Friday. The checkpoints and road blocks do not make it impossible to travel from one side of the city to the other, only very difficult. Traffic pours through tiny Palestinian neighborhood streets which were never designed for cars because the main roads are off-limits. All of these inconveniences, coupled with occasional gang raids and bombings on both sides, only make the tensions worse and worse. I didn't talk to a single Palestinian who hadn't lost a brother or cousin to one of these senseless acts of violence, and most carried the picture. Some of these people have exchanged Islamic faith for a religion of revenge, and that is what is most troubling.

Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory are not peaceful, they only exacerbate an already bad situation. After visiting Hebron, I can see why establishing Israeli "apartments" in East Jerusalem is such a bad idea. If the Israeli government is seriously considering such a move, then they are definitely not serious about peace.

The bright point of the day was meeting my host's family - his wife, children, mother and father welcomed me into their home for some coffee and conversation for a couple of hours late in the afternoon. In stark contrast with uniform distaste that Palestinians have for the Israeli government is their zeal for welcoming guests and making travelers feel comfortable in their restless country. I never felt unsafe in the West Bank, only welcomed by the limitless care and generosity of people like these.


  1. Absolutely loved this! I'm so glad you got a chance to go to the West Bank and share about your time there!

  2. such an incredibly beautiful adventure...what an enriching experience!

  3. One of my dreams is to visit Palestine, even though it’s too hard from politically aspect to us,but who knows what the future holds. I'll keep my dream!

    I liked the last picture, look at the sweet boy behind you. :)