My first day of this trip was a day I will never forget. I spent the morning and afternoon doing what only a good granddaughter would do for her religious grandmothers… I went to all the Christian sites in Jerusalem, I fought through the crowds of people, said thanks but no thanks to the street vendors and ate falafel. I was in heaven. Jerusalem appears to be more religiously diverse than I expected with Jews, Christians and Muslims each having their own quarters of the old city, however, there is a strong Orthodox Jewish presence, possibly because I was visiting on their Sabbath. I went to the Wailing Wall and watched as Jews thronged to it to pray; men on the left side of the barrier, women on the right.
With only the Al Asqa mosque left to do, I consulted my map; automatically labeling myself as a tourist and becoming a magnet for a particularly aggressive, slightly creepy man who insisted on giving me a tour of the city. To my rescue came a middle aged Muslim man who shooed him away in Arabic, my hero! He gentle asked me where I had wanted to go and I told him the mosque. To my dismay he told me I wouldn’t be able to go until morning. “But I can’t go in the morning, I’m going to Hebron this evening!” His face lit up! “Why are you going to Hebron?” he asked.
“I’m volunteering with Youth Against Settlement (YAS) there.”
Again very gentle he asked me to follow him. He brought me to his shop and said “I am from Hebron. My family fled there when I was young. I want to thank you for helping my people, please, pick any stone and I will make you earrings and a pendant.” One thing I’ve learnt already in my short time here is that Mrs Doyle has nothing on the Palestinians! Generosity has no bounds and it is a massive insult not to accept! We spoke for over an hour about his life, his family, the conflict here and my life back home. We spoke as if we knew each other for years. He was insightful and gave me advice I will probably keep with me forever. He offered for me to stay with his family but I knew I had to be going. I have a friend for life.
On arriving to Hebron and meeting the other YAS volunteers, I got straight to work. Mohaned, a Palastinian has presentations in Denmark and Germany next week on the situation in Hebron. Issa, the founder and leader of YAS was handing over the responsibility to him to give someone younger a chance to represent the organisation. I am now the proof-reader of any press-statement, Facebook post or presentation.
Settlers in Hebron like to give tours of Palestinian districts to settlers from other areas and to tourists, this happens usually at night when the streets are quiet and with a heavy armed guard. These tours can often come with violence both from settlers and from Palestinians so we split into groups and went to the division gates. Thankfully they didn’t do a tour and I didn’t get to face any settlers or soldiers. What I did get was a small tour of the city, the gates, the checkpoints, the wire mesh overhead to protect us from settlers throwing rubbish or stones on
us, the shops which have been permanently shut by the soldiers, crumbling buildings and the most harrowing image of all; three young Palestinian children, barefoot, playing next to free flowing sewage in the street. I was prepared for aggression, I was prepared for clashes, I was prepared for stories of brutality and murder…but I was not prepared for poverty, and barefooted children playing in the street while i wore a coat, gloves and a hat.