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Ghost city: Hebron

Rights & dissent

Hebron

We were 14 foreigners, our bags piled up and teetering all around us. The soldiers didn’t search anything. At the heart of Hebron’s old town — a ghost town, its streets deserted — they at most glanced our way.

There, no serenity remains buried in the walls. The light and life of days gone by have left abandoned houses in their wake. The sun can no longer reach the city’s doorsteps; screens, nets, and bars protect the street and the ground floor from the garbage thrown from the second and third floors, just overhead.

Abraham — whatever your will, and whether we are able to believe in you or not — look what they have done to the place they call your sacred tomb. Before the eyes of atheists and believers, whatever the justification, there is bulletproof glass around your grave. When half is accessible from the mosque, and the other part only from the synagogue, there is a need to prevent any risk of killing; there is a need to prevent seeing, encountering, understanding. There is bulletproof glass around your grave.

They are many. They are young. They carry weapons. They are so fragile. How can they not be ashamed to condemn these faces, so impressionable, to years of service spent frightening half of their neighbours? Here, these neighbours are seven times as numerous as the city’s settlers, those who are to be protected—protected from anger; protected from the rage of those who do not have the choice to say yes, to say no, to say welcome, to say “take my home”. They protect hatred; they protect from dialogue, from words, gestures, from glances and murmurs.

There is a total absence of communication, from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem, from Haifa to Ramallah from Eilat to Hebron. How to desire; how to hope; how to give birth and raise children in a place so hostile, so dim, so tense? How to accept that the other, that these human beings are defined by nothing beyond a religion, a country, an identity card? How to agree to maintain the impossibility for them to live, to grow, to breathe, to think, to love, to move, to walk, to sleep, to pray? But to whom, then, does this land belong, when all the conquerers have passed through these cities? And what of the Christians, if they are to decide that today this land is theirs — for it was here, after all, that Jesus was persecuted? And what if the atheists were to decide that today this land belongs to them — for after all, the believers have spilt too much blood on this soil?

From a distance, two groups of children throw stones at one another. They are Jews, Muslims. They “play” at war games for real. A van teeters, taking the turn too fast. One, then two, then three soldiers, trigger fingers at the ready, jump to the ground and hurl themselves in pursuit of these dangerous offenders. The good people must be protected.

It has got to be filmed. This unbelievable pursuit must be caught on tape.

With the children returning home, the three warriors retake their stride. They didn’t catch the wicked aggressors.

“If you film again, I will hit you.”

“What?”

I hope I have not quite understood what I am being told. He’s playing games, intimidating. He’s lying. He cannot shoot at Europe.

He is a boy of twenty, his helmet too big for his head. His eyes are too sad, too tired, too full of anger and fatigue. They should be ashamed, all of them, to condemn these faces, so young and impressionable, to years of service spent frightening half of their neighbours.

There were three veiled women, three small bags beside them. The soldiers searched everything. At the heart of Hebron’s old town — a ghost town, its streets deserted — they made absolutely sure.

This is the second part in a series of chronicles from Palestine. Check the first part here. Erin O’Halloran translated.

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