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Eldad Kisch: Notes From The Peace Camp

Eyewitness account from occupied Palestine territory

Notes From The Peace Camp


'A day in the life of an innocent visitor to Tel-Rumeida, Palestine'.
By Eldad Kisch

It sounded innocent enough; we would pay a solidarity visit to the Palestinian inhabitants of Tel-Rumeida. In high spirits we set out for Jerusalem to our usual meeting place in the Bell-park, with our sun-hats, water bottles and good walking-shoes. There we were, forty well-meaning citizens, being loaded into four transit vans to get to our destination. Tel-Rumeida is a suburb of Hebron, the city of the Fathers, located on a hill overlooking the city. With their inborn zeal to reclaim the land our indefatigable settlers founded an encampment of caravans on the top of this hill, in the middle of a purely Arab quarter. The settlers go around praying and are heavily armed. The streets surrounding their camp are declared closed to Palestinians. Keep this important fact handy for future reference, because the results are catastrophic for their Palestinian neighbors.

As you all may know, these outings by the peace-camp are advertised freely on the internet. Faithful readers of these communications are the police and the secret service. It should therefore not amaze you that even before we left the outskirts of Jerusalem, we had company of two police jeeps and an unmarked limousine with four gorillas inside. It is quite legitimate to have an outing in the surroundings of Jerusalem with four transit vans, but Hebron is another matter: that is zone A, under Palestinian administration, and strictly forbidden territory for Israeli citizens. So the police accompanies us until it becomes clear that an offence is in the offing, and then pounces.

Our organizers, who know the ropes, left the main road at Halhul (on the road to Hebron). There we quickly left our vans, climbed an earthen wall, and presto, we were in zone A. Clever, not? There we chartered several Palestinian taxis, and collected some members of the mediating organization, CPT (Christian Peacemakers Team) and entered Hebron in a festive mood.

Now you did not honestly think for one moment that Israel's secret service is so dumb, I hope. At our arrival in Hebron, a welcoming committee was ready for us, and 24 demonstrators were arrested on the spot (transported back to Israel in police vans, interrogated, fingerprinted, body searched, indicted and held until nightfall, and after a lot of doings released on their own cognizance - not without the intervention of a lawyer).

Our taxi - and one other- completely by chance unnoticed by the military, dropped us off in the middle of the Suk in order to cover the last 500 meters uphill to Tel-Rumeida on foot. We could not travel further by taxi, since the roadblock on the road to Tel-Rumeida is closed on Shabat at the request of the settlers, who don't drive cars anyway on that day, and that assures a day of rest for the Muslim and Christian residents of Tel-Rumeida as well, because they don't count anyway.

Now you can imagine that Israelis in the Suk of Hebron stand out like sore finger, and in no time two members of our group were arrested by an Israeli military patrol. We understood that it was time to make ourselves scarce. The remnants of our group ran up the alleys in the direction of Tel-Rumeida. After a few words of explanation in Arabic, we were immediately allowed to enter the courtyards and the houses of the Palestinians, in order to make us invisible to the patrols.

We had to reassemble our small group with the help of our mobile phones. That was not so simple since there is no reception in these areas, except for one mobile phone company. But in the end we managed to get together and we were led by helpful people through courtyards, heaps of refuse, walls, by back ways to a 'safe house'. This house, which falls just under Israeli jurisdiction, turned out to belong to a Palestinian physician, who received us cordially with tea and lemonade, until the coast was deemed clear. He used this occasion to unburden his heart about the sufferings heaped upon him and his family. His house is located on the 'Jewish approach road' to the enclave of the settlers. That road is very often declared out of bounds for Palestinians in order that the settlers can move around safely, with the result that the inhabitants have frequent house-arrest; the children can't go to school, no shopping is possible. His front door has been kicked in, his windows were broken by stones. He has had several good beatings or been pelted with stones. Complaints to the police are left unanswered. The army is completely subservient to the settlers.

If any appliances in his house break down, no serviceman dares to come and repair them.

After all these cheerful reports, we could continue our journey; in groups of three we ran across the street which is patrolled frequently, and again via back alleys, sometimes through houses, in order to reach our intended Palestinian host in Tel-Rumeida. He lives exactly opposite the caravan-camp of the settlers. His front entrance is below street level, and this approach is completely blocked by refuse from the settlers. If he or his family members should dare to show themselves on that street, they would be stoned or shot at, and they are quick learners. The 'normal' approach to his home is exactly the route we followed. The settlers come without any hesitation into his garden and cut down all his trees. The house of the neighbor has been destroyed practically, with vandalized windows and bullet holes in the walls. His life had become so miserable that he left 'voluntarily'. That is the undisguised intention of the settlers.

Here again we got a long list of the misdeeds of the settlers, who are actively assisted by the army. His electricity has been cut innumerable times, his water tank on the roof is a target for potshots from above (always bulls-eye). His children are assaulted on their way to school by children of the settlers, under the approving eye of their parents and the authorities. The police does not want to have any doings with these trifles.

When the time came to start the return trip, it so turned out that two armed settlers were sunning themselves in the garden of the neighbor. Whether coincidence or in order to keep an eye on the activities in their back yard was not clear. Our host became very nervous: "You cannot pass through there". These gentlemen may shoot at the slightest provocation, and nobody will interfere. So we had to take an alternative route, again in small groups, climbing walls with a ladder, down the slope through back yards, heaps of refuse, private houses back to the Suk, where a minibus with darkened windows waited to smuggle us unseen out of Hebron.

We have seen a state within a state. And this was on a Sabbath, when the settlers stay mostly home. During the week they circulate freely and do as they please. Systematic harassment is the name of the game.

I won't be visiting Hebron again anytime soon.

© Eldad Kisch;2005.

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