Sophia's Peace Work

Thursday, July 22, 2004

At the Ramano Checkpoint, Hebron Old City

I squatted with Jim against a wall, two young Palestinian men to the right of us and four to the left.  The Israeli soldiers from the Romano Checkpoint at the entrance to the maze-like Old City of Hebron had spaced the young men out, for the most part ignoring Jim and I.  When they told the men to squat, we hunkered down as well.  When a soldier stopped a Palestinian woman and her young children traveling to Al Quds (Jerusalem) to search her big suitcase, Jim encouraged me to approach her and help dust off the suitcase, which had lain in the dirt, once the soldier was through with her.
“As a man, I can’t really approach and help her,” he said.  I went up to the woman and after banging out the dust from her suitcase she shook my hand and went on her way.  I went back to Jim and the Palestinian men and continued the wait.  What we were waiting for was not clear as we spoke neither Hebrew or Arabic.  The soldiers had the men’s IDs, which no Palestinian man can ever be without.
“They are really being more aggressive today,” Jim told me. “Maybe something has happened.” And when a soldier approached, Jim asked him this question.
The soldier indicated that something had happened but he wouldn’t give any details.  We waited until all the men had been released from the checkpoint and then went up to a Pharmacy to get some medication that Jim needed.  The man in the Pharmacy wasn’t sure if anything out of the ordinary had happened that day.  He thought that maybe someone had attacked some soldiers somewhere.  Upon our return, we found more men lined up in the hot afternoon sun.  We stopped with them and passed a bottle of water around.
Across from us, the Ramano checkpoint consisted of a pillbox and flimsy gate that blocked a side street that led to the Settlers Yeshiva (a school dedicated to the intensive study of the Torah) and a small Israeli military post. Jim pointed out a man sitting about 10 yards beyond the checkpoint wearing shorts, a helmet, flackjacket and toting a machine gun.  “Settler security,” he told me.  There was a tall, thin young man standing next to him with blond hair and the side curls of an orthodox Yeshiva student.  Above the checkpoint, looking down from a roof-top military lookout drapped in drap-green netting, a female Israeli soldier called down now and then.  Occasionally we heard her say “CPT” and knew that she was saying something about us.  Later she came down to the checkpoint, a diminutive woman literally swimming in her olive uniform and looking weighted down by her gun and equipment.  She spoke jokingly to a group of three Palestinian boys that wandered through the checkpoint … too young to draw the attention of the soldier checking ID’s.
At one point, tired or curious of our silent and watchful attention, the soldier approached us to check our ID’s.  Jim again asked why they were stopping so many Palestinians.  “Looking for terrorists,” the soldier said. 
“Did a Israeli soldier get hurt today?” I asked and was told flatly, “No.”  At this point, most of the men had been released, their ID cards returned, but one man was still being held.  He’d been there for at least 30 minutes.
“Let’s call TIPH,” Jim said, “They shouldn’t hold people longer than 30 minutes.” TIPH or the Temporary International Presence in Hebron … A six-nation effort established by provisions of the Hebron Protocols in the Oslo Peace Agreement, has official standing with the Israeli government and monitors the activities of Israeli Military, Settlers and Palestinians in Hebron.  Jim made the call and at this point, Lorin another CPT Team member from California showed up at the checkpoint.  Since Jim wasn’t feeling well, he returned to the house and Lorin and I stayed to monitor the checkpoint.  Some municipal workers showed up to work on a sewer line construction project that was underway to the right of the checkpoint.  After the workers started hammering, the soldiers came over, told them to stop work and took their ID’s.  Ten minutes past and they eventually allowed the Palestinian man who had now waited about 40 minutes to finally leave.  Aside from holding the ID’s of the now idle workers, the soldiers no longer appeared interested in stopping anyone who passed through the checkpoint.
Lorin and I continued to wait until the young Yeshiva student sauntered down to stand at the checkpoint.  He kept looking at Lorin and I and it seemed like he wanted to talk.  Mindful of the warnings I had received that the Settlers did not like CPT and were known to spit at us and throw rocks at our window, I approached him wearily.
“Hello,” I said, “Shalom.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked, looking honestly baffled by my presence there.
“I’m just here to watch, listen and learn,” I said.
“Why do you want to help the Palestinians,” he said, “They are all terrorists.”
“I doubt that can be true.”
“They all have the potential to be terrorists,” he said, “Do you know what they teach them in school?”
“I don’t know what they are taught in school,” I said, “But what are you taught in school?”
At this point his understanding of English seemed to escape him and I couldn’t pursue the discussion in Hebrew, so we both withdrew to our respective zones.  Eventually TIPH showed up.  We briefed them on what happened, told them that the municipal workers were still waiting for their ID’s and permission to resume work and left them to negotiate with the soldiers.
Upon our return, the other team members expressed some amazement that I had actually had a civil conversation with a Settler.  I was told that they had tried many times to set up meetings with the Settlers of Hebron, considered by many to be the most fundamentalist, most anti-Palestinian in the Occupied Territories, but had been unsuccessful.
It’s interesting but the next day I had the chance to talk to a Palestinian headmaster for schools in Yatta, a Palestinian town in the southern Hebron district.  I told him about my interaction with the Yeshiva student and he shook his head and said, “It is only bad people, both Israeli and Palestinian, that wish to spread such lies about one another.  But you know, the children, both Israeli and Palestinian are all the same … all innocent.”


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