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Hebron: Building Bridges, Not Walls

Hebron: Building Bridges, Not Walls
Art Gish
January 12, 2004

Instead of building walls that separate, one of the tasks of peacemakers is to build bridges. This past weekend I had an opportunity to help build some bridges by hosting a delegation of seven Jewish people from New York who came to Hebron for two days to connect with Palestinian people here.

As soon as I met them in the middle of Hebron, they told me they wanted to be identified as Jews so that "they could tell Palestinians that some Jews care about them, that not all Jews are bad." Within minutes as we walked through the Palestinian market, a Muslim shop owner stopped us and invited us to his home for coffee. The Jewish delegation accepted his invitation.

As soon as our Muslim host learned that these people were Jews, he expressed delight at having Jews in his home. He told them that during the massacre of Jews in Hebron in 1929, his family, like many other Muslim families in Hebron, hid Jews in their home to save their lives. He then went on to tell how horrible the Israeli settlers are who live beside his home. His family has experienced continual harassment from the settlers. In March, 2002, settlers threw rocks through the windows of his home, one of which hit his 13 year old daughter who is now blind in one eye. It seemed important for him to share his suffering from settlers to these Jews.

Israeli soldiers stopped the group as they attempted to walk on a street that is now only for Jews. When the soldiers learned that these were Jews, they said, "Then there is no problem".

From there we went to the Beqa'a Valley just east of Hebron and the Kiryat Arba settlement to spend the night in Palestinian Muslim homes. On the way we saw "The Wall" being built near the Kiryat Arba settlement, and saw land which just ten days before had been confiscated from the families with whom we would spend the night. We saw where a beautiful Palestinian vineyard had been bulldozed just days before and was now being covered with rock.

In addition to eating scrumptious Palestinian food, the Jews listened to the painful stories of the loss of these families' land, physical attacks on them by both settlers and soldiers, , and their fears for the future. There, near "the wall of hate", Jews and Muslims shared their hopes and fears. There, where the wall that is meant to separate Jews and Arabs, Jews and Arabs came together.

After leaving the Beqa'a Valley, these Jews expressed amazement that these Palestinian Muslims, who had suffered so much from Jews, showed no sign of bitterness or hatred toward Jews. One of the hosts told the group, "If I hate, then my heart will turn cold."

Ironically, Israeli soldiers stopped them as the group tried to enter the old city and told them that Jews are prohibited from entering the old city. The group's arguments that they needed to get their things at the Christian Peacemaker Team apartment and get to their bus to Jerusalem did not convince the soldiers. They then walked down the street and entered the old city from the next entrance, again defying the wall that separates people.

I just witnessed a miracle. People who are supposed to be enemies hugged and kissed each other right in the midst of horrible fear and suffering endured by both sides. What is of more significance than to reach out to one's "enemy", to build bridges instead of walls?

Meanwhile, the bulldozers are busy in Hebron bulldozing Palestinian land to build more walls. How I wish every fearful person in the world could experience what we experienced this weekend.

- Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical initiative to support violence reduction efforts around the world. To learn more about CPT's peacemaking work, please visit our website at: http://www.cpt.org. Photos of our projects may be viewed at: http://www.cpt.org/gallery

ENDS

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