We exited the car and once again climbed the hill to the settler’s area. These once bustling streets, now have only a handful of people walking them.
If you look very carefully to the bottom right of the picture you will see an Israeli soldier. We turned left and entered the Jewish area. The differences here are not immediate. Women are dressed very similarly to Muslim women, with long dresses and headscarves on. For me the similarity was striking.
Instead of walking the main road we cut off down behind the houses in the Admot Yishai neighbourhood. This led us past a terrace of old scruffy houses and out into an Olive grove with the most spectacular view over Hebron.
Behind us was a barbed wire fencing. Enclosed within that fencing were some men Arabic looking men sitting on the verandah of a large house. Manal greeted them with “Salaam alaykum”. Luckily the greeting was returned. I breathed a sigh of relief, I dread to think what would have happened if she had greeted a settler this way.
Whilst Manal was chatting to the Palestinian men, I noticed a soldier approaching. Out of the corner of my mouth, I uttered to Manal that we had company. The men fled inside their house as we were approached by not one but 4 Israeli soldiers. The four of us acted all nonchalant about the situation, but I can tell you I was bricking it!
We greeted them with a “hello” and I asked what the ‘walled’ building was that we could see in the distance. A very ‘western’ looking soldier told me that that was the tomb of Abraham. Immediately I thought back to Mohammed who we had met not an hour or two previously and it was in this building that he almost met his maker. We were asked why we were up in the area as it was for Jews only. I commented (not being able to keep my big gob shut) ” So no Christians are allowed, or Buddhists then?” (I did draw the line about mentioning Muslims…that might have been a bold step too far)
I asked the white soldier where he was from, his English was very good with only the hint of an accent. “Israel” he proudly said. The other 2 were from Ethiopia. The fourth soldier was a little more stern and didn’t want to join in any conversation with us, he spent his time in radio contact with his commander about us. He refused to have his picture taken, but the other 3 were happy to.
We had a little bit of banter going on with the soldiers, playing stupid tourists who found the city too noisy and busy and wanted to get away from it all at the top of the hill. The white guy told us to continue down the hill where there were some nice springs. As an after thought he asked us if we were peace activists. Quick as a flash Jo responded, “No, I’m a bloody hairdresser.” We all laughed. The soldiers took that response as a ‘they are just stupid tourists,’ and bid us goodbye, pointing us in the right direction towards the springs. (Which was of course in the opposite direction to where we were wanting to head.) We went a little way down the hill then I spotted a lovely huge Olive tree which I wanted to hug amongst the grove we were walking through.
We wandered aimlessly through the trees until we thought we were alone. Each of us relived that we had managed to throw off the soldiers. However, our senses were on high alert. At this point we had been walking for a while and all needed the loo. Sat solitary among the trees was a lone house, windows shuttered. Manal decided she would knock the door and ask if we could use the toilet. Us three Westerners were appalled! What if this was a settler’s house? Manal knocked. nothing. Then she knocked again. We stood at the bottom of the step which led to the front door telling Manal to leave it. She was convinced it was a Palestinian’s house. by the way Manal hammered the door we all imagined the inhabitant to be cowering inside. After what seemed like an age, a small window opened slightly. Words were exchanged and the front door was opened. Manal beckoned us over. We entered with trepidation, me looking over my shoulder to make sure that the soldiers had not followed us and seen us enter this house. I think it was at this point I started to feel very nervous. And unsafe!
Manal popped to the toilet and the lady of the house went into the kitchen to get us some fruit. All the curtains were drawn and the house was in darkness. Outside we could hear male voices getting louder and louder. I noticed the front door was still slightly ajar and had visions of the soldiers bursting in rifles erect, ready to shoot. My heart was in my throat. I didn’t want to stay there.
Our hostess returned with some apples for us and a pair of pants to cover her son up. He was quite happily running around naked until we arrived. This little boy could not play outside his own house, it was too dangerous, so he had to play indoors the entire time.
His mum then explained that her father died when she was young, so he mother bought her and her sisters up. He mother wanted the best for her girls and wanted them educated. She was studying English and Islamic studies when she met her husband. She said it was a love match they married and then he became possessive. She now only leaves her house once a week with her husband to go shopping. This bright, young, pretty woman was living in the middle of the occupation, which suppresses your life and is also in a marriage which is suppressing her further. At the age of 27 this young woman has no hopes, no dreams and no aspirations they have all been quashed from her. She was desperate to talk more to us but we all felt so uneasy there we really wanted to leave. Not just for our safety but the safety of this woman and her gorgeous child who has no idea what it feels like to run with the wind in his hair and get dirt between his toes. We all left, scanning the vista for soldiers and settlers, making sure our next path was unhindered. Tbc……