Friday, December 7, 2007

Hebron and the Al Ibrahimi Mosque

On Thursday 6 December 2007 we took a bus south from Jerusalem, past Bethlehem to Hebron. One of the many interesting features of life in Israel is that there are different buses for Israelis and Palestinians. Sounds like South Africa under apartheid? Well, no, because there is no law to prevent ethnic mixing on the buses. But I'm told that Israelis simply don't use the (more inferior and smaller) Palestinian buses, and if a Palestinian boarded an Israeli bus the passengers would panic, thinking he or she was a suicide bomber.

A more overt segregation strategy is the colour coding of vehicle number plates, with corresponding licences, and a network of superb "Settler only" roads in the West Bank on which Palestinians are forbidden to venture. Israelis, for their part, are not allowed to drive on designated "Palestinian" roads. Not that they would want to anyway, and if they did it would be in presumed fear of their lives. Israel is a wonderful place.

But back to our visit to Hebron. En route we passed through an Israeli checkpoint, but did not need to stop as we had Israeli plates. On arrival, we passed through a pedestrian checkpoint similar to the metal detectors at airports, under the relaxed eyes of several young border security troops. The World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) program accompanied us here, and took us to visit a Palestinian school near an Israeli settlement in downtown Hebron.

Each morning a group of between four and eight EAs escort Palestinian children from home to school so that they are not harrassed and frightened by Israeli settlers. Each morning a settler car is parked against the concrete steps leading to the school (pictured above, with members of the Australian delegation and EA volunteers), and removed by 8.00 am. On the day we were there, there was evidence of large stones having been placed on the path to the school to frustrate pedestrians, and we saw the school garden (in an internal courtyard) planted with new shrubs replacing those torn out at night, allegedly by settlers. The students themselves appeared happy and healthy.

The ultraorthodox settlers' aim is ultimately to encourage all Palestinians to leave the area. Admittedly the history of Hebron is tragic, despite its status as the home of Abraham. For example, in 1929, some 67 Jews were massacred by Muslims (while other Muslims gave refuge to hundreds more Jews - a fact suppressed by official history); and in 1994 Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish man, walked into the Al Ibrahimi Mosque and killed 29 worshippers (we saw the bullet marks in the walls).

Certainly the Israeli occupation of Hebron and the resulting economic decline, as well as earlier history, have greatly shaped today's Hebron, as our images below demonstrate.

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