Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Hebron (with a little help from the CPT Field Manual)

I wanted to give everyone some idea of where I’m now residing.  I live in an old three-story house on an abandoned street in the old city of Hebron.  CPT’s been here for nine years and it’s got a homey, activist-oriented feel about it.  The walls are filled with inspiring quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and instructions on how to conserve water (none goes down the drain that hasn’t already been used twice).  In the extensive library I found books on peace and nonviolence, the history of Israel/Palestine and Christianity, Judism and Islam (the latter includes a book I’m reading by Ira Zepp, a professor of religious studies at the college where my father worked).  I sleep up on the 3rd floor, the women’s floor, with four other women on the team, Christy, Dianne, Donna and Diane.  The two men on the team, Jim and Lorin, sleep on the 2nd floor where the office is.
From our roof we can look down into a small Israeli army post where we can watch the soldiers stroll about.  At the end of our short street, which is blocked by a tall metal fence, barbed wire and garbage, is Shuhada Street, which runs through the center of the city of Hebron.  It was built with a grant from USAID as a meeting place for the city’s Arab and Israeli populations.  However, since its completion, this projected shopping area has been closed to Palestinians by the Israelis, who do not allow them to walk on, drive on or even cross the street.
This city has long been the center of a conflict between both Arabs and Jews as it is the burial place of Abraham and other key figures that are central to both Muslims and Jews.  It is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world.  The surrounding lands of rolling Judean hills located about 20 miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank are also the setting of a longstanding conflict between Arab farmers and landowners and the settlers.  All claim an exclusive right to the land.  In 1929 there was a massacre in the Jewish quarter in which 67 men, women, and children were hacked to death by an Arab mob.  Almost 400 residents of the Jewish quarter, however, were saved by their Arab neighbors.
Historically it appears that the two communities lived in peace with one another.  In the 1500’s many Jews and Muslims fleeing from Europe to escape the Inquisitions came to Hebron.  Ironically, at the time of the massacre, the Jewish community in Hebron was largely anti-zionist, believing that the kingdom of Israel would be re-established when the Messiah came.  The agnostic European Zionists coming into the country, they believed, were trying to force the Messiah’s hand.
In April of 1968, Rabbi Moshe Levinger and some armed friends, posing as Swiss tourists, took over the only hotel in Hebron and stated that they did not intend to leave.  To appease them, the army gave them an abandoned military camp on the outskirts of Hebron.  This site became the settlement of Kiryat Arba.
In 1979, Miriam Levinger, his wife, moved into Beit Hadassah, built as a medical clinic by the Jewish community in 1893, along with several other women and children.  The Israeli military immediately moved in to protect them.  More Israelis began to occupy the buildings near the central marketplace.  In response to the growing settlements, initially regarded as illegal, but now protected by the authorities, a group of Fatah guerillas attacked on May 2, 1980, killing six yeshiva students in front of Beit Hadassah.
The military authorities responded by permitting two more settlements to be established in the city center and by installing checkpoints in the center of the city, bringing Hebron’s commercial district under military control.
Relations continued to deteriorate, culminating in the February 1994 massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque.  Dr. Baruch Goldstein began firing upon Muslim men and boys on the last Friday in Ramadan as they prayed.  Twenty-nine died in the mosque and Israeli Defense Force (IDF) shot as many more in the demonstrations that followed.
Palestinians in Hebron were then put under curfew for two months, though settlers continued to walk freely.  The Christian Peacemaker Team arrived in the city a year later.  A large monument to Baruch Goldstein, “the martyr,” lies near the entrance of Kiryat Arba, the first Israeli settlement in Hebron (Goldstein was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher by two men in the mosque who were later shot by the IDF).  Some right-wing Israelis come there to pray.
CPT has had a continuous presence in Hebron since June of 1995, a period that has seen the signing of Oslo II, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the first Palestinian elections run by Palestinians, several bus bombings, the elections of Netanyahu and Sharon, and the Palestinian uprisings.
It’s into this place that I’ve made my way. 


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