“I feel safe with the Palestinians. I don’t feel safe with the Israeli soldiers,” Isabella says to me as we stand on a street in Hebron a few feet away from the synagogue. We have spent the day walking through the gates and metal detectors that make up the 20 checkpoints in the old city of Hebron. Soldiers and Israeli settlers walk around with machine slung across their bodies. After the soldiers stop us and ask for our passports, recognizing that we are Jewish, their faces soften. They become friendly and ask where we are from in America. I try to reassure Isabella that she is safe by engaging in friendly tourist style chatting with the soldiers, asking if I can take a picture of them with my children?” “Yes, yes,” they say happily. One, tells me that his dream is to live in New York. Isabella still does not feel safe with the Israeli soldiers.
We are walking with Issa Amro who runs the organization, Youth Against Settlements. He has been detained over 25 times this past year alone for non-violently working against the occupation. I see on the top of a hill a menorah and point it out to my children, trying to lighten the mood for them and remind them of the joy of Hanukkah. Issa tells me that the land where the menorah is standing used to belong to his family until the military confiscated it and put a military watchtower there. The menorah is next to the military watchtower. Issa points out the apartment where he was born. He tells us how the street in front of it used to be filled with children riding their bicycles and playing games. Now, all of the shops have been closed by military order and most of the Palestinians have been forced out of their homes. The street next to it is closed to Palestinians (though not to Jews) and soldiers stand guard at the entrance to make sure only Jews enter the street. There are still a few Palestinians who live on that street. They have to get special permits to go to their houses. The storefronts on that street were once a lively source of life for the Palestinians of Hebron. Now the storefronts have been boarded up. Palestinians are not allowed to makes their lives and livings there anymore. On the streets where there are Palestinian markets, fencing is above to catch the garbage that Israeli settlers living in the apartment above throw on the vendors. The nets catch the garbage, but do not help when the settlers throw urine. Issa tells me about when he was detained along with around fifty children from a school in Hebron. Hoping for release they frantically try to admit or deny throwing stones, hoping one or the other answer will allow them to return to the families. Around twelve children remain detained fro longer. Under Israeli law, once they reach the station, the soldiers are supposed to have to remove the children’s blindfolds and handcuffs. However, Issa tells me ,this doesn’t happen. For hours and hours they remain handcuffed and blindfolded. Issa tells me that the children were not allowed to use the bathroom or drink water. Issa tells me how painful and infuriating this was for him to witness.
I ask a soldier where he is from and how he feels about his military posting in the contested city of Hebron. He tells me that his parents are from Canada. He tells me this land belongs to the Jewish people. I ask him if he believes it is ok to take houses and land from Palestinians, like Issa, who have been living here for generations. He tells me that God gave this land to the Jewish people. I give up on talking to him and we proceed onward past a large yeshiva school that had been a Palestinian grammar school before it was confiscated by the Israeli military for security reasons. Isabella wants to go back to Bil’in where we are staying with the Burnat family. Isabella still feels scarred of the Israeli soldiers. Issa reassures her that he will keep her safe. The warmth of his hospitality towards her (hospitality is a classic characteristic of Palestinian people) gives her comfort in the presence of the soldiers.