By Hauke Ziessler
I had the privilege of visiting Hebron in order to interview local Palestinians and experience the conflict that is so real in the area. After an almost 2 hour bus ride I arrived and was greeted cheerfully by a young Palestinian man who has been interning with an interreligious organisation based in Jerusalem via skype during the past month since he has not yet been granted a permit by the Israeli army to leave the area.
Over a local falafel he proceeded to tell me his complicated personal story. During recent months, he has been living in isolation due to threats he had received by people in his society due to his open-minded stance of engaging Israelis during the ongoing conflict. Due to his involvement in dialogue programs with Israelis on “the other side”, he had been accused of being a “normalizer” and a traitor.
He also told me that if the books, which he carried around with him, were found they would be thrown away as they are books from Israel. Furthermore, he explained to me that it would be very difficult to find other Palestinians to interview who were promoting the idea of finding a non-violent solution to peace. Through this conversation, I realized how fragile is the existence of Palestinians in the West Bank who are still interested in finding a peaceful solution with Israel.
This experience created a stark contrast to the very real divide I witnessed in the heart of Hebron’s old city. With only 400 Jewish settlers living in a city of 800 000 Palestinian people, I was surprised by the militaristic presence. In order to reach the cave of the patriarchs I went through 3 checkpoints to enter a building that in any other country would be a heart-warming symbol of interreligious coexistence. Alas, here it was the epitome of the conflict.
The mosque built around the graves of prophets Abraham “Ibrahim”, Isaac “Is’haq”, Jacob (pbut), –and their wives– is also a synagogue. For major Jewish holidays, the mosque is closed and the Jewish population enters their prayer rooms through the inner part of the mosque. The only thing dividing these two areas was bulletproof glass.
After seeing these sites, we were invited into the home of a Palestinian family whose next door neighbours were Jewish settlers. They proceeded to show me punctured water tanks, burn marks where the settlers had set fire to their home, trash which the settlers threw off their roof onto the homes of their Palestinian neighbours; and told me of how in one of the fires a baby was killed. Below this house I had my first and only interview with a local shopkeeper who had not sold a single thing in 2 weeks, as the usual throngs of tourists had dried up due to the conflict in Gaza.
I was overwhelmed by the stories and by the sights I had seen. Not only did the malicious acts of the settlers shock me but the social pressure that existed here was felt while talking to the locals.
The day was not over and continued with a visit to the so called “other side” where I had the privilege of visiting a settlement in “Gush Etzion”, a block of settlements between Hebron and Bethlehem. Here I heard stories of a policeman who had experienced multiple bus bombings by Palestinians, had picked up his own children a half an hour before the 3 boys were kidnapped from the same crossing and had helped apprehend a potential suicide bomber. He mentioned that he was there to uphold the law in his area. As far as he was concerned, Jews or Palestinians should all be equal under the law.
We had a lengthy discussing all the while sitting a stone’s throw away from the Tent of Nations”, a Palestinian organisation on the Nasser farm. The owners of this land have been arguing their case in the Supreme Court of Israel for over 20 years in order to try to prove that this land belongs to their family since the Ottoman Empire. He has proof of violations against him as a person under Israeli law yet the pressure on him continues.
Standing in this settlement, watching the most amazing sunset distorted by the black smoke clouds over Gaza and the continuous sound of explosions over Gaza and Ashkelon, I saw the Tent of Nations below me, I remembered everything I had experienced during the day, heard the explosions intertwined with sheer beauty and I was overwhelmed. The frustration, fear and despair was high on both sides of the conflict.
The injustices were real and yet the solution was being kept under lock on both sides. I have no answer, I have no solution, but I still believe that the answers and the solutions lie in us and so I would like to end with a poem, which I wrote in order to process my experiences of the day:
We need hearts
We need hearts that are so ferociously consumed by hope that the joy bubbles over, froths out of the mouth and splatters on others like a rabid rabies infested animal.
We need hearts that will stand up and take this elixir of hope created trust and eat people up with it.
We need hearts of stone that will be softened into a sponge that is leaking and dripping care and unity onto others.
We need hearts that willingly break off pieces of themselves for peace.
We need hearts that stand together holding hands so that the veins run through us in one continuous flow.
We need hearts that create and not destroy
We need hearts that are cracked open to allow the hurt to be repaired
We need hearts that are exposed to new and revolutionary ideas
We need hearts that pump this hope into the mind opening it to new ways
We need hearts that encourage the tired muscles of fighting to do the opposite and begin work on uniting
We need hearts not guns
We need hearts not hate
We need Hearts not spades that bury the dead
We need hearts not clubs to kill
We need hearts not diamonds of destruction
We need Kings of Hearts and not Kings of revenge
We need a heart and then we can bring together the apart
Hauke Ziessler, a student at the Jacobs University Bremen, interned with ICCI this summer.
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