Through the other side and for the first time we saw other tourists. They were taking a rest at the side of the road, some of our group began to chat to some of them. One of our group popped into the mosque so we sort of ‘hung’ around the area. Behind us were huge, locked, metal gateways at the end of streets. No-one but no-one can get through into this area without going through the checkpoints. Standing by the barred gates were 3 children. A couple of us went over to say hello. They looked at us with mistrust. I said to no-one inparticular,
“Are they Israeli or Palestinian?”
Jo responded that she didn’t know. We put our hands out to shake hands with them, hesitantly they took our hands and shook them. However, when Mays, who was the 16 year old daughter of our host family, put her hands through the bars, they immediately recoiled and put their hands behind their backs. At this I thought that they must be Jewish, not wanting to shake hands with a Palestinian. I called Manal over to ask her if this was a Jewish street. She told me it wasn’t, so she came over to speak to the children. They were still hesitant and Mays, God bless her, stuck her hand through those bars until all the children had shook it. Manal explained to me that they didn’t want to touch her as she was ‘different’. Mays has Cerebral Palsy.
This really upset me. I had prepared myself for the hatred between the Arabs and the Jews. I was prepared for the soldiers and their ‘hard-line’ attitude, I was prepared for the segregation….what I was not prepared for was children being so untrusting of anything different at such an early age. I had to walk away as I was in floods of tears. The actions of these children shocked me to the core especially when I realised that Mays had probably had to deal with this sort of treatment every day of her life.
We continued and came to a road. This road had a long concrete barrier along one side, sectioning off the road into a narrow passageway. This is the little bit of road that the Palestinians are allowed, yes allowed to walk along. There is a no entry sign for them on the main road where the Jews can drive and walk freely. As my camera battery had died, I have borrowed my friend Jo’s picture she took of this road.
As we had Mays and Riziq with us, we walked down the narrow section of the road, not that I think we actually had a choice as when we came to the road junction, the barrier was across it so the only way you could go was down the narrow bit.
As the road opened up there, lying slap bang in the middle of it was a rat. It looked as if he had just given up and died on the spot. To be honest being in that area who could blame him?
Photographs above and below courtesy of Flic Turner.
Another corner, another checkpoint, another soldier.
Then another checkpoint and x-ray machine box. This soldier was more menacing and none of us took a picture of him. He had apparently slapped an Italian tourist across the face that morning when she questioned him about his treatment of a Palestinian going through the checkpoint. She was part of the group we had seen outside the Ibrahimi Mosque earlier. We turned back, time was getting on and we had been invited to a house to see the view from their rooftop. Apparently the army often used it as a look out, taking over part of the roof with no say so from their ‘hosts’. From here it was evident which were Palestinian’s houses and which were Israeli ones.
Each Palestinian is given 20 litres of water a day to use for everything,drinking, cooking, cleaning, toilet, etc. Just as an example to flush a toilet it uses about 15-20 litres per flush. So if these houses have a flush loo, their water supply isn’t going to go very far. Hence why they collect as much rainwater or store bought water on their roofs. Often these tanks are shot at so they lose their extra water supply. The Israeli’s also can turn off the supply of water at any time. It never happened whilst we were there, but I know a girl who volunteered in a refugee camp where the water was regularly switched off, sometimes for up to 5 days!
The sun was beating down on us. Our host bought us hot, sweet tea. To get away from the strong sunlight, Elaine, Jo and I went to sit on the stairs. After we had finished the drink, Jo and I decided to investigate where we could go to the loo, so we headed downstairs. Elaine headed back onto the roof, leaving her camera on the top of the stair well.
Jo and I were invited in through an open door on the 3rd floor and were ushered forth to meet granny, a Buddha-like figure sat crossed legged on the bed, doing her prayers. Two chairs were placed at the side of the bed, facing the open front door. As such we could see anyone who went up and down the stairs. Soon granny finished her prayers and smothered Jo and I with kisses. I ran upstairs and fetched Jo’s son Archie down to meet granny. It was whilst we were there that we also met our host’s brother. He shook our hands then disappeared up the stairs.
We felt it rude to then ask for the toilet, so we decided to go back up to the roof and after about 10 minutes, the group decided it was time to go. Elaine headed towards the stairs first and turned around, ashen.
“Where is my camera?”
It had disappeared from the top of the stairwell. I tried to think if I had seen it when I popped back up to fetch Archie. Or if it had been there when Jo and I had returned, but I hadn’t looked, so didn’t know if it had been there or not.
We all had a good look around the roof area and stairs. We all checked our bags in case it had been picked up by mistake…not that any of us could mistake Elaine’s camera. She is a professional photographer. she had specifically bought a lens for this trip, and that lens cost about £1500, on top of the cost of the camera.
Manal said it would be best if she and Elaine stayed behind whilst the rest of us went off for food. I was one of the first down the stairs. Outside the door of Granny’s flat was the brother in a whispered argument with a similar, but older looking man. They stopped as we came down and walked away from each other. This I thought odd. Then thought back to the only person I had seen going up the stairs was the brother. It must have been him who had taken the camera….and that the camera must still be inside the building.
I told this piece of information to Manal and to our host who then tried to accuse me and Jo of stealing it as we were the only people to leave the roof! He would not believe that one of his own had done this!
We left the building to head back to town, when Amanda turned to me and told me she wasn’t leaving her mate to cope with this on her own. I decided to return with her. Amanda and I became Cagney and Lacey, trying to deduce where it could be. We searched anyone who left the building with a bag big enough to hide the camera in, but we uncovered nothing.
Some of the lads from the market were outside when they heard news of what had happened. One young lad inparticular was extremely upset.
“This is why tourists don’t come. They think it is unsafe because of the occupation, and they think it is unsafe because of this.”
He thumped the wall. Apparently the brother had just come out of prison. Nothing new there as many Palestinian men and boys are thrown into prison’s daily. But the brother was also a drug addict with a reputation…obviously a reputation the person from our group who led us to this building knew nothing about.
Amanda and I spoke to out host, trying to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation. We told him that Elaine was here to document the Occupation and as a journalist, could not do this without her camera. We told him that there was two options here…..one, she got her camera back, no questions asked, or two, we would have to contact the police or army to get a report for the insurance company so she could get the money back for the camera. Or host’s face turned ashen.
“The police or the army?”
“Yep, the police or the army!”
We knew exactly what that meant to probably each and every person in that house, but it was the first thing that made him sit up and listen. He disappeared back upstairs.
I went out onto the street to speak with the boys and told them what I had said. they told me I had no choice. then one of their friends came past and enquired as to what was occurring. With no hesitation, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed a number
One of the boys told me that he was calling the police.
“oh crap” I thought (or words to that effect)
I thought I had better go inside to let them know, to be met on the stairs by Manal, Elaine and Amanda…..who had also been in contact with the police. Manal wanted me and Amanda to disappear before the police came in-case they wanted to know who we were, where we were stopping and why we were there. It was as we were leaving the front door that we were greeted by two plain clothed policemen. We quickly said our goodbyes and the market lads said they would lead us the way back through to the unoccupied side of Hebron. It was just as we reached the turnstile by the mosque, that Amanda realized that she had Elaine’s passport, so we about turned. The market lads had already started through the turnstile…there was no way back for them, we were on our own.
We hadn’t got far before Elaine and Manal had caught up with us and behind them were the police either side of our host. We walked with his head down hands behind his back. A weary, resigned trundle towards a destination where he knew he would probably face a beating. He was bundled into a waiting car, as Elaine and Manal got into another. We got a taxi to take us to meet the rest of our waiting group in the Hebron Cafe.
Manal and Elaine arrived back at the village a couple of hours later with the promise the camera would be returned the following day.
The camera never arrived.