Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Greetings from Hebron

Yesterday I was in Hebron. We walked down Shuhada Street, the main thoroughfare of the city having left our Palestinian colleague from The Holy Land Trust behind. As he is Palestinian he is not allowed to walk down this street in the main centre of Hebron. He had to go through the back alleys to meet us later at the Ibrahimi Mosque. We arrive at the Ibrahimi Mosque (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) a site that is holy to both Muslims and Jews.  In 1994 a Jewish settler shot 29 Palestinians dead while they prayed. Following that act, Israeli authorities turned one third of the Mosque into a synagogue. As we pass Hebrew music is blaring from a PA system and a young Jewish settler is dancing in the now empty street in the shadow of the mosque.

We continue around a corner and up a hill. There are Palestinian homes either side but here the rules are different. The residents are permitted to walk on the road but not to drive. Only Jews are permitted to drive. Many barriers, restrictions on travel and house demolitions are imposed across the West Bank in the name of security. Like this road on which you can walk but not drive, these measures do not make sense. The purpose is to make life so difficult for the residents that they choose to sell their homes and move away.

Deacon Eunice Attwood, Revd David Tomlin,
Mr Abdul Karim Al Jaabari, Revd Alison Tomlin
We arrive at a square section of grass covered land, about 4 acres in size. It is all Palestinian territory but to the east and west of this land are Jewish settlements, illegal under international law.
We met Abdul Karim Al Jaabari, the owner of this square plot of land.  He and his family have suffered from numerous attacks by settlers. Over the years his two wells have been destroyed, olive trees cut, windows smashed, children beaten and he is prevented from walking on his own land. The purpose of this violence is to force the family to leave, as the land has a strategic value. If taken by the settlers it would provide a route between the two settlements and create another bloc of land within Palestinian territory, further restricting Palestinian access and movement. The settlers, protected by the army, erected a tent on this land and established it as a synagogue.

The Israeli Supreme Court found the land to be legitimately owned by Abdul Karim, and the synagogue tent to be illegal. Yet despite this, the Israeli Army still prevent Abdul Karim from accessing his land and although the tent was once removed by police, it was erected by the settlers the following day.  It saddens many Jews to see what should be a holy place of worship used in a grubby attempt to capture someone else’s land.

I am visiting Israel and Palestine with the President of the Methodist Conference, Revd Alison Tomlin and the Vice-President, Deacon Eunice Attwood. For more information on our visit see their own blog. We have had significant conversations with several religious leaders and with the British Consul General. We have all visited the region in the past but on this occasion we are deeply saddened and alarmed by the intensification of the occupation and the lack of hope expressed by both Israelis and Palestinians. If there is any light to be seen it could be in the greater number of initiatives to enable the Palestinian suffering to be heard around the world.

The Jewish narrative for justice is strong and one which is a source of pride for many in the Jewish community. Maybe eventually Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere will consider the cost of the occupation of the West Bank, in terms of its blatant injustice, to be too high a price to pay. Might they then persuade the Government of Israel to bring it to an end?

Meanwhile we walk back down the hill and past the mosque where the Jewish settler is still dancing in the otherwise empty street.