Being the Tourist

Due to the shooting of a second girl the following day we were sure there would be more clashes. However, because most reports say she is still in a critical condition in hospital, Monday was a quiet day. A day for visiting the sites!

One of the biggest sites in Hebron is of course the Cave of the Patriarchs. Muslims know it 20160215_141144[1]as Ibrahimi Mosque and Jews know it as Cave of Machpelah. The building is split between Muslim mosque and Jewish synagogue with Abraham and his wife’s
grave in between. I have to admit I had never been in either a mosque or a synagogue before. 20160215_145444[1].jpgWe had to go through two check points just to get into the mosque. In the mosque Maya and I were given cloaks to wear and we asked to take off our shoes while in the mosque. It was absolutely beautiful! Plush carpets and delicate paintings along the walls with books kept in pristine condition. It is the oldest building in Hebron and the town was built around it.

Because we’re ‘internationals’ we were allowed to visit the Jewish side. Maya was nervous because settlers would recognise her and they have no issue being violent with anyone. One of the most infamous settlers in all of Palestine is Anat Cohen. All of the activists and Palestinians know her. I even knew about her before I arrived because she’s on that many videos attacking activists. We aren’t allowed defend ourselves from settlers, we can only try to get away. Thankfully there was no one we recognised. The outside of the synagogue is beautiful with pretty trees and flowers. To get into the building you have to go through a metal detector. Inside is vastly different from the mosque. We were met with five armed guards who to20160215_150636[1]ld us we didn’t have to wear the shawls that were in a bucket by the door. We were grateful for that because we weren’t shown how to wear them and were fumbling for ages. The synagogue resembles a community centre more so than a religious building. We could see people praying in different rooms or just reading. Women divided from men. We were underwhelmed leaving. Seeing the fence resembling a cage beside the synagogue made me understand why Palestinians feel as if they’re being treated like animals.

20160215_145137[1]
Irish and Palestinian hospitality is extremely similar! A twenty minute walk took us three hours! Every time we met a shop owner we knew or who supported YAS we had to stop for tea or coffee. Every shop has a kettle, coffee, tea bags and sugar. Milk is nowhere to be found. Both are drank as strong as possible with as much sugar as you can fit in the cup! Be careful not to finish your coffee fully or you’ll be greeted by a layer of mu20160215_135842[1]d at the bottom! They spoke to us about the effects of the occupation on their families and businesses. They pointed to abando
ned houses and told me about the day in which they were forced to leave. One elderly man, after I told him I was Irish could tell me almost everything about Bobby Sands. He was able to compare the Hunger Strikers in Ireland to those in Palestine. However, another shop owner, after hearing I was Irish recited the freedom speech done by William Wallace in the film Braveheart. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I wasn’t Scottish!

After meeting with a family who had been threatened with eviction by the army that night we went to the old YAS centre to meet other activists. We weren’t allowed in as the army and settlers had still occupied it and were having a party. We had a BBQ outside. It was the first time I had chicken since I had come and it was glorious! Where we sat I could se all of20160215_193618[1].jpg Hebron below. I was sitting among the oldest olive trees in Hebron and possibly the oldest in Palestine. I could see where settlers had burned some of the trees to the ground. Maya described watching the olive trees being burnt by the settlers as the greatest sadness she had ever felt. Our serenity was rudely interrupted by fighter jets flying overhead, on their way to bomb Syria. Goodnight West Bank.

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