Reflections on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
By Elise Springuel
I stood on a rooftop, in the middle of Hebron, in a daze. The Middle Eastern sun above me was hot and harsh like always; the city below was surprisingly quiet. A few feet away, my friend was subtly shooting pictures of the Israeli Defense Force soldier milling around a nearby roof. Next to me, my friend was tracing the bullet holes in the side of a water tank. The Palestinian who was showing us around was explaining that settlers had shot the tanks a few months prior.
I was reeling—I felt bombarded with information and emotions. Suddenly, many of the accounts that I had thought embellished were seeming mild. There was no hiding behind bias, religion or political affiliation. There was no denying the human reality.
I looked over the rooftops. Many were decorated with Israeli flags and the Star of David stenciled onto their water tanks. If you had told me a few weeks before that the Star of David would be unnerving, I would have never believed you. It is a symbol of a religion I respect and worn by many people I care about, but here it meant something completely different. Spray-painted on the doors of closed shops and houses, it was a “do not enter” sign for the majority of the population.
Hebron, or Al-khalil, is one of the largest cities in the West Bank. It is a holy city in Judaism, Islam and Christianity because it is the burial place of Abraham. It is also home to the largest settler population in the West Bank and a hot spot of violent confrontation.
The history of Hebron is complicated, with injustices and horrific violent actions from the settlers and the Palestinians. Both sides have ancestral and religious claims to the land and a feeling of entitlement. Massacres have occurred from both parties in retaliation for feeling threatened.
In 1929, Palestinian rioters killed 67 Jews. However, this massacre did not involve the whole Palestinian community or even most of it: Palestinians sheltered and helped hide 435 of their Jewish neighbors. After this event, the Jewish population left Hebron.
In 1968, politically right-wing, extremist Jews began to return to Hebron attempting to reclaim formerly Jewish-owned buildings. The buildings became highly guarded settlements where the newcomers live, isolating themselves from the existing community. The Israeli government has put a building freeze on the expansion of settlements, yet they continue to expand. One settlement I saw had recently expanded their facilities with a horse stable.
For settlers to claim a building, it must be abandoned; thus the Palestinians who have been living in them for generations must be coerced to leave. This is often done through violence and harassment. Examples of this pressure are settler women yelling “whore” at Palestinian women and their daughters, and children being attacked and stoned on their way to school.
The market runs through narrow streets below settler houses. It has been caged in to prevent the trash and stones that settlers were throwing on the heads of Palestinian shoppers.
There was also the 1994 killing of 29 Muslims during prayer time in the mosque by the extremist settler Baruch Goldstein. After this bloody episode, many of the main streets in Hebron have been closed to Palestinians, and curfews were imposed. The Palestinian-owned shops were forced to close.
Palestinians live on these streets as well. The front doors of their homes are no longer accessible. Many doors have been caged and barred to prevent being broken into and keep out stones that are thrown at them. Many Palestinians must enter by climbing over rooftops.
These closings are supposed to decrease the violence; however, their main functions have been the segregation of the Palestinians and the restriction of their movement within their own city. This is a direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The city is crawling with soldiers at checkpoints, guarding houses and wandering the streets. They are very young and often get caught up in the violence. As reported by Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers, members of the military often force families from their homes and discharge weapons into the air and water tanks as a “preventive action.”
Even as an American, it was stressful to go through the checkpoints and to see the guards with their M16s. It is haunting to walk the empty streets. The smell of rotting trash on top of the caging permeates the air along with the tension and hatred that hang there.
The scarf that has become the symbol of the Palestinian resistance is white and embroidered with black thread. The Palestinian and Israeli conflict is not so clear-cut—it is not black and white. Both sides have committed atrocities; both have now existed for generations in the city. Politically, it is all gray, but the human rights violations are not. The violence and restrictions of movement are perpetuating the retaliation. It is a humanitarian issue we must acknowledge and address, not a matter of religious or political affiliation. There must be a way to fulfill the greeting that both groups say within themselves: Salam, Shalom, Peace.
Elise Springuel is a junior culture and communication major who likes challah bread as much as kunafa. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.