A Palestinian girl had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in Hebron the day I arrived here. Her funeral was the following day. We knew there would be clashes. I was advised by another volunteer to stay indoors and close all the windows to protect me from the noise and the teargas. I was joined by two other volunteers; Mya from Denmark and Maria from Croatia. They had just finished the school run that morning; making sure the children weren’t attacked by settlers or soldiers on their way to kindergarten.
I washed my hair using a pot of hot water and a cup, although we have wifi, electricity and running water, there is no hot water in the building. The Palestinian hospitality shone again when I was greeted by a neighboring shop owner who had come to the centre to welcome me to Hebron with a falafel.
Checkpoint 56 is right beside our centre. We could see the soldiers begin to ready themselves. I was given a camera, shown how to use it and told to take pictures of any activity from either side. This is how we build cases, by creating photographic evidence. I was nervous… very nervous. We then began to hear footsteps on the roof. Maria said “come with me but dont make a sound.” We cllimbed the stairs and through a little window to our left I saw five soldiers. Now I was really nervous. We went back downstairs, locked the heavy metal door and kept deadly silent. The last YAS centre was raided and we didn’t want the same thing to happen again. More and more teenage boys began to gather at the far end of the square. We thought at first that they were throwing stones at the checkpoint, but either had horrible aim or were too far away. Suddenly there was a massive boom, I screamed! We ran to the windows to start taking photos and videos. The boys weren’t throwing stones at the checkpoint, they were throwing stones at the soldiers on top of our roof! The soldiers had just thrown a noise grenade and I can honestly say it was the loudest, scariest noise I’ve ever heard. The soldiers then began to come out of the checkpoint, guns raised they took their formations. The stone throwing children ran, shouting.
At first it was just noise grenades versus stones. I never got used to the sound.
We began to wonder if we should leave but quickly realised the building was surrounded and we didn’t want to spook a soldier for fear they would shoot us. We did what we were supposed to do as observers and kept taking pictures/ videos and tweeting the event. Then the shooting started; rubber bullets. I was horrified but was informed I was lucky it wasn’t tear gas! There were many war journalists in the streets with cameras and a film crew. Even amongst all the chaos an elderly man or woman would now and again stroll through the square without a care in the world! As if nothing was happening and this was just another day in Hebron. The clashes went on for a couple of hours and we almost started to get bored.
Eventually it was safe enough for other volunteers and Issa to come back to our centre. He was filmed by a news channel and then we had a meeting about the day and showed our footage. Later in the evening he asked if I would like a proper tour of the city and I jumped at the chance! Issa was born and bred in Hebron. He explained why the Al Shuhada street was closed, it’s importance as the biggest market in the West Bank, the sealed shops, the effects it has had on the citizens of Hebron, and how the settlers forced their way into many houses, evicting the residents. He introduced me to a team of UN workers we passed in the street who were employed by their individual countries to document events in Hebron. He brought me to the centre of the Christian Peacemakers Teams and up on the roof showed me Al Shuhada street, where Palestinians could no longer go and now had over a hundred gates or walls that restricted their movements.
After speaking with their team leader we left to go through a checkpoint at the Ibrahim Mosque. Issa was stopped and searched. Mya and I weren’t. We met other teams of activists who informed us that another Palestinian girl had been shot by soldiers there today. They also showed us footage of her lying dying as the soldiers wouldn’t allow anyone to help her. One of the activists we met was Alex Dunne. Alex is from Galway and is an Observer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme. I had contacted Alex months ago to help me with my trip when I read one of his articles online. Never did I actually think I’d meet him as he is based mainly in Bethlehem.
On our way back to the checkpoint we were confronted by soldiers. They spoke in Hebrew but Issa asked them to speak in English. “Where are you from?” they said.
“I am from Palestine” Issa responded. On realising he was Palestinian they ordered him to stand, give them his bag and to show them his papers. They never spoke to me or to Mya or any of the other activists that walked back with us. We filmed the event in case something might happen. Issa co-operated but it was clear the whole event was to embarrass and intimidate as we had just been through the checkpoint so there was clearly nothing in his bag. He apologised to us and tried to make light of the situation.
We visited a couple who are currently making a film about Hebron. Paul from England, and his wife Esther from Holland have been coming to Palestine for years. Their previous film was with settlers perspectives. They are now telling the Palestinian version. Paul made me a cup of English tea…as close to Barrys as I was going to get! I was never happier to meet an Englishman. They told me about their experiences of filming both sides, that really there was no difference, that the things that matter to Muslims and Jews were extremely similar. They explained that not all settlers were bad, that some of them would mind their Muslim neighbors kids and vice versa. And when attacks happened on either side that they protected each other. After drinking all the tea, laughing, and eating what I can only describe as a yellow baked biscuit type treat that Paul didn’t know the name of, we then returned to our centre.
After the day’s events Mya, Maria and I were exhausted. The only thing that preoccupied our minds now was the wonderful suggestion by Mya that we would go to the market and treat ourselves to brunch of eggs and vegetables. Oh how simple our lives have become!
For videos of the clashes have a look here.