An Outsider in Hebron

 /  July 7, 2014, 7 p.m.

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The Gate’s managing editor is currently in Hebron, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. Hebron is at the center of a violent standoff between Palestine and Israel after the bodies of three missing Israeli teenagers were found in an open field north of Hebron. The city is considered a stronghold of Hamas, which Israel accused of carrying out the killings. In response to the murders, Israel tripled the number of troops in the West Bank, and soldiers stationed in Hebron conduct nightly searches of houses in the city. After a seventeen-year-old Palestinian boy was kidnapped and burned alive in Jerusalem, clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protestors spread across the region. What follows is an account by the Gate’s managing editor of daily life in a city at the center of the conflict.   

Hebron, Palestine

June 30, 2014

My new friend in Hebron doesn’t know how to translate “tear gas” from Arabic to English, but translation becomes irrelevant after he hands me a small piece of onion—a household remedy against the gas—because I can feel my eyes and throat start to burn as we walk through Ras Al-Jourah, the main roundabout near my host family’s house. The traffic circle is quiet now, but residual tear gas indicates that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was there not too long ago.

The IDF is everywhere in the city tonight, including in front of my house. The IDF has raided Palestinian homes every night since the news broke of the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers, but this is the first time they have been on my street, a quiet residential road in the part of the city dominated by Palestinians. Multiple vehicles pull up in front of my neighbor’s house, and by the time I throw on a sweater and grab my passport, the soldiers have unloaded. I watch some of the soldiers mill around the olive-green military Jeep while four others jog up the street holding their guns. One soldier notices me taking pictures in my jeans and sweatshirt and yells at me in Hebrew. Out of habit, I almost reply with “I don’t understand” in Arabic, but catch myself and reply in English. If I reply in Arabic, the soldier might assume I am an activist, or a very odd-looking Palestinian—not how I want to identify myself to the IDF. He steps toward me, his weapon raised, saying, “If you take pictures, we will take camera.”

After the soldiers leave, I log onto Facebook and message my friends in the region, who are already sharing information from their respective neighborhoods. I continuously refresh Twitter, which in Hebron is the most reliable source of information. Checking my social media feeds while listening to the explosions of tear gas canisters and concussion grenades is more than a little surreal.

Hebron itself is more isolated than it ever has been—no Palestinians are allowed in or out of the city, and travel within the city is difficult because clashes are spontaneous and unpredictable. Yet I’m more connected with people outside of the West Bank via Internet than I have been in a while.

I head back home so I can upload photos before my camera gets confiscated. The soldiers are still on the street in front of my house.I watch from my window as the IDF loads my neighbor into the back of an army Jeep. As soon as the convoy disappears, I run back down the three flights of stairs to find out why she was arrested. Her name is Abrar, and she is twenty-four years old and pregnant. They arrested her because her husband is a suspect in the killing of the three Israeli teens, whose bodies were found just a few hours previously, in a field near the village of Halhul, only a ten-minute drive from Hebron.

There have been similar arrests in the two weeks since the start of Operation Brother’s Keeper—the IDF’s name for the crackdown in Hebron. Over 500 Palestinians have been arrested and the numbers continue to grow: every night, reports of more arrests filter in. Eight Palestinians are dead. Of the eight, six were killed by the IDF, ranging in age from fifteen to twenty-two. The other two, both elderly, died of heart attacks when soldiers entered their homes.

[caption id="attachment_1321" align="alignleft" width="2000"]An Israeli soldier throws tear gas on a street corner near the entrance to Hebron's Old City, which Palestinians are not allowed to enter. The tear gas was in response to some Palestinian teenagers who were throwing chunks of concrete at the soldiers. An Israeli soldier throws tear gas on a street corner near the entrance to Hebron's Old City, which Palestinians are not allowed to enter. The tear gas was in response to some Palestinian teenagers who were throwing chunks of concrete at the soldiers.[/caption]

The strangest thing about living in the city during the operation has been processing the extent to which Palestinians take it in stride. Israeli forces guard most entry and exit points to and from the city, creating road blocks that force drivers to take long, convoluted routes. Males under fifty who possess a Hebron ID card are prohibited from leaving at all, and visitors to Hebron who possess a Hebron ID and are unlucky enough to be visiting friends or family right now have not been allowed to leave either. Two of my friends live in an apartment in the southwestern part of the city. For at least a week, we all thought that their neighbors had seven children. As it turns out, only five of the children actually live there; the other two are visiting from Jerusalem and haven’t been able to return home.

Violence in the city can feel intense as an outsider, but it is actually swift and fleeting. Skirmishes between Palestinians and the IDF are not widespread and don’t last long. Perhaps it is the nature of the conflict: the Palestinians must challenge the IDF’s tear gas and concussion grenades with stones and pieces of concrete. Clashes occur when tensions momentarily boil over, before simmering back down. The result is an atmosphere of near-constant stress. The threat of violence is worse than the actual violence; it’s much more psychologically difficult to live in Hebron than it is physically dangerous, at least so far.  But life must go on. And it does. The possibility of violence doesn’t go away—it is a daily threat and the people of Hebron must continue with their lives in spite of it. I can’t even begin to imagine how people deal with it for an entire lifetime—I’ve only been here three weeks and there are concussion grenades in my dreams.

As I write this, my host family and I are watching America’s Got Talent on the roof of our house. As we watch, explosions echo across the city and the distinctive popping noise of gunfire resonates on both sides of the rooftop.

It is nighttime again—the most telling time for the city of Hebron. I’ll spend the next several hours refreshing Facebook and Twitter and reading what the world has to say about the city I am in, and the conflict that defines it.

A particularly loud explosion reverberates in the distance and I startle. My host family, meanwhile, does not react. Soon we will all fall asleep to the similar sounds of gunfire and firecrackers. We will wake up and go to work or school, and follow our daily routines. This is life in Hebron.

This report was written on June 30, 2014. Since then, violence has continued and there have been more victims on both sides. Facts and statistics stated here are only accurate to this date.

The images featured in this article were taken by the author.

Emma Herman


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