Hospitals, homes and places of worship… and bloody politics, obviously
April 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
Apologies for the long absence… it has been a busy 6 weeks! Friends came to visit at the beginning of March and it was interesting to see Palestine through their fresh eyes, so to speak. I love showing people around, even when I have no clue where I’m going! We visited Hebron – my first time in this very complex city – and saw how the Israeli settlements within the city have crushed trade in the Palestinian markets. Hebron used to be a bustling centre of trade It’s famous for it’s pottery, glass objects – and grapes. Everything that’s to be exported is now bought by Israel and sold on as “Israeli” products – after the EU labelling rules, fresh produce from Hebron will probably be labelled as settlement produce. The city is unique in that it’s the only place where there is a settlement right inside a Palestinian city – usually they are built on the outskirts. There are 400 Israeli settlers living in Hebron in settlements built above the old market… and 2000 Israeli soldiers to “protect” them. The market streets, where Palestinian traders work, are covered with sheets of wire netting, put up to protect traders and shoppers from the generic rubbish which is thrown down by those living in the settlement. We saw empty cans, pieces of glass and more organic rubbish balancing precariously on the netting while we walked cautiously through. On Saturdays, the Sabbath, settlers and Orthodox Jews visiting the city often come down into the market and smash things up, presumably for entertainment.
Why is Hebron special? The Ibrahimi Mosque – also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs – is believed to house the tombs of Abraham and his wives and is therefore a holy place for Judaism and Islam. In Islam, Abraham is known as “Khalilullah” – the friend of God – and Hebron’s Arabic name is “Al-Khalil”. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American immigrant to Israel (and, ironically, a medical doctor, trained to save lives), entered the mosque during the dawn prayer and murdered 29 people while they were praying. When you visit the mosque today, you can see the bullet holes in the walls, plastered over with white and numbered from 1 – 199, according to our guide. Following the massacre, the mosque was shut by Israel. When it was reopened, it was split with bulletproof doors – one side is now for Jews, and the other for Muslims. For 10 days a year, the whole mosque is opened to Muslims, and for another 10 days it is fully opened up for Jews. On both sides, we were asked the same question – “Are you Muslim?”. On the mosque side, it’s to establish whether you’re there to pray or just as a tourist. On the Jewish side – it’s because Muslims are not allowed to enter (but sometimes we do anyway… shh).
I went back to Hebron last week with a group of Britons who had come to Palestine to run in the Right to Movement Marathon, fundraising for the Amos Trust and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). We visited the Al-Alia hospital, where MAP are funding a new burns unit, and heard from MAP staff about the issues facing healthcare in the West – Bank and particularly Gaza. To summarise healthcare in Gaza, a quote from one of MAP’s staff – “I didn’t see a single bar of soap in any hospital in Gaza”. Imagine what the situation is with actual drugs and consumables. Gaza at the moment has 4 hours of electricity a day, and generators are not able to cover the shortages. The Gaza power plant has been inactive since the war last summer, so they are dependent on Egypt and Israel to provide electricity. Obviously effective medical care is impossible without electricity – and to get care outside Gaza, citizens need a permit from Israel to leave. People die waiting for permits. We were told that when a child gets a permit for medical care inside Israel, their parents are not allowed to accompany them – they have to be accompanied by a “secondary” relative – an aunt or uncle, for example. This relative, being Gazan, is not allowed to leave the hospital premises for any reason, whether to buy food, get fresh air, whatever. I cannot work out what the security reason for this bizarre rule might be. Anyway, selfish shout-out here – I am still collecting donations for the 10k I ran as part of the Right to Movement Marathon. All money will be divided equally between MAP and the Amos Trust, so if you can spare a fiver, please do – https://www.justgiving.com/boo-bethlehem10k. Massive thanks!
While in Hebron, we also visited the only shop on the famous “Shuhada Street” that is still open (the rest have been forced to close by Israeli forces for “security” purposes), and were fed a fantastic Palestinian meal by the family who owns the store. We also heard how the shop – and it’s owner, Abu Mohammed – were attacked in the run up to the recent Israeli elections by a local settler who was running as an MP and wanted to boost support. While the soldiers manning the nearby checkpoint which you go through to get from the “Muslim” side of the Ibrahimi Mosque were apparently supportive AFTER the attack (they have no jurisdiction to do anything to stop settlers), the police couldn’t care less. Justice here depends very much on two things: the person you’re dealing with and your racial identity… as I and all the other brown/Arab people who have been detained at the airport can attest to!
Staying on the subject of Hebron – there was an incident this week which may have made international news. 2 nights ago, we heard that an Israeli lad, 22, was “missing” after entering a Palestinian village near Hebron, and was presumed kidnapped. His friend call the emergency services, claiming he had gone missing after going to look for help for a flat tyre. The Israeli army launched a massive operation – here in Ramallah, people were tense and afraid of what might happen next. The next day, we discovered that the whole thing was a prank – there was no flat tyre, the friend hadn’t gone missing – apparently he was just trying to impress a girl! The whole of Hebron was closed by the army because of this idiot.
Something else happened this week that probably didn’t make the news, but should have. A 5.30am on Tuesday morning, the Israeli army woke up a Palestinian family asleep in their home in the Wadi El-Joz area of East Jerusalem. 2 blind brothers, their wives and children, and their 79 year old mother. They proceeded to demolish the house while the family were forced to stay in one room. Nureddine Amro, one of the 2 brothers, is the director of Siraj Al Quds, a school for the visually impaired in East Jerusalem and one of our programme partners. He’s an incredible, dedicated man, passionate about improving the situation of young people with visual and other disabilities in Palestine. Full story here. Home demolitions in East Jerusalem and forcible evictions are part of an Israeli policy to change the demographic “facts on the ground” to justify keeping the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. According to international law, however, East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory, and (theoretically) the capital of a future Palestinian state. Whatever Google maps might tell you, the capital of Israel is in fact Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. While we’re on the subject of evictions, there is an Avaaz petition going around to garner support to stop the eviction of Nora Sub Laban and her family from their home in Jerusalem’s Old City. They have been subject to several eviction orders, despite holding the deeds to their house, and the only reason they are still there is because of the physical international presence of journalists and activists (shout out to EAPPI!) who gather at the house to prevent them being forced out. Please do sign: Help Save My Home.
I didn’t intend this blog to be quite so full-on – or quite so focused on Hebron, but that’s what’s slipped out. I’d like to end on a cheerful note though, because, politics and endless human rights violations aside, there is so much to love here. One of my best experiences in Palestine so far has been attending a show by the Palestinian dance troupe “El Funoun el sha’biye el falastiniye” – here’s a video from the show, because I can’t explain how incredible they were: https://youtu.be/28qVTrmXtgA. In fact, I was roped into a dabke lesson last week and the only reason I joined was because I secretly want to be able to dance like El-Funoun… pigs may learn to fly first! I will update on my progress when I get to the end of my 8 weeks of lessons…
From the holy land – a happy Friday, happy Easter and happy Passover to you all, whatever you’re celebrating.