Last year when we visited Hebron my head was messed up for a long time after I had left the place. I couldn’t help think of the people we had met there and their stories. I wondered how long they would be living there still….I say living, they aren’t living, they are existing from day to day, never knowing what the next minute or hour will bring. So it was with some trepidation that I had decided to return…and today was that day.
We set off on the local bus from Bethlehem where we are currently ‘couchsurfing’ (I will write about this on another blog) and we arrived at the bus station in Hebron, trying to work out which way to head. Eventually we got out bearings and started to notice familiar landmarks from the previous year. We entered the souk which was much quieter than when we came last year. We are into the last day of Eid and for many it is still a holiday here.
Eventually we made it into the ‘old’ souk, where hand made wares are sold along side the usual tat.
We continued through until we came to the huge, floor to ceiling turnstyles with soldiers at the end controlling who goes in and out, as this route brings you out at the side of the Tomb of Abraham…The Ibrahimi Mosque (according to the Muslims) or the Tomb of the Patriarchs (according to the Jews)
We entered the mosque and were handed cloaks to wear (as we were wearing trousers) and went to view the many tombs that are there. The tombs of Abraham, Jacob and Issac are there with their wives. At the end room there is a room with grated windows and behind this is the place Abraham chose as the final resting place for his family. Through the grates opposite you could see the Jews who had also come to pray to their Patriarch. Both religions so close, yet so far away.
Down from the mosque was the road that was segregated last year….jews on the main road, non jews on the little bit of pavement they allowed. This has now been opened up for all to walk down. I was amazed, and a positive step forward where both religions now have to walk along side the other.
We walked along and then bumped right into the bloke who had invited us onto his roof last year to see the view and where Elaine’s camera was stolen. He remembered me instantly, but had managed to forget about the camera until I reminded him. He had the decency to look embarrassed and we walked away, to find our way up Shehuda street. We walked with three Jewish girls as we asked them the way to Ruth and Jessie’s tomb. They were really obliging and friendly, then they asked us where we were staying and then going on to. I told them the truth that we were staying in Bethlehem, and that we were moving onto Yaffa. With that they sped up. I thought it was because of the Bethlehem reference , but Jo reminded me that i gave Jaffa its original Palestinian name….oops! We passed settlers with guns casually slung over their shoulder like we could carry a bag, probably on their way to worship.
We walked up the huge hill, retracing footsteps that we took last year, and instead of turning off down the back of settler’s houses to go on special op’s with Manal, we stuck this time to the main road and before we knew it we were at the tombs, but beyond that was a house. I approached the gate, the soldier that we passed completely ignored us. I stood at the gate and memories came flooding back of the time last year we had stood the other side of that gate and looked at the bullet holes peppering this families home. This year the gate was open. I choked up, this could only be positive, the soldier didn’t stop us approaching the house and the gate was open. The vines looked tended to. I so wanted to go in, but still didn’t know how safe it would have been for us or the family, so we didn’t.
As we left the area I was filled with hope, something that had left me last year. As we walked back down the hill we noticed to women still sat in the same spot as they had been when we climbed the hill about an hour before. They were part of a Humanitarian team placed there to stop the settlers trying to take over a private house. And so it still continues. We mentioned the divided street and apparently this had only been put back to normal 2 days before as it was ‘bad for tourism’ (obviously settlers walking round with guns is ok!!) The girls had been here for 2 months and said that slowly it is getting better but the olive grove behind Ruth’s tomb had been set fire to by the army less that 2 weeks before. The IDF blocked the road stopping the PA’s fire engines in to put it out. I walked down that hill with a sad heart and lost it when further along the road I saw a Palestinian lady hanging her washing on the roof, I waved, she waved back and blew kisses at me. Tear filled my eyes and when I saw a group of soldiers approaching, the tears freely fell.
This visit was a lot less emotional that last time, things still aren’t right there, far from it, but they are a hell of a lot better than they were last year. Last year I left Hebron with me heart and head in tatters…..this year I leave with a spark of hope.