Here we are back again with a new travel post. This time we are sharing some impressions and pictures of Hebron!
We visited the city with the Alternative Tours, a small tour operator managed by a strong and charismatic Palestinian man from East Jerusalem. We taught long whether to go by ourselves or search for a guide. Hebron is a problematic city, and although it is not dangerous to go alone, we wanted not just to visit but to learn something about its history and its present situation.
On a Saturday morning we left Jerusalem heading to Hebron, approximately 45 minutes away. Along the route, travelling next to the Israeli Separation Wall and then entering the West Bank at the Bet Jalla Checkpoint, you see the contrast between the old Palestinian villages and the new Israeli settlements. The first have been separated from their own lands either from the wall or from the settlements, and most of the times from both.
This reality gets to its uttermost in Hebron, where Jewish settlements, mainly from Brooklyn New York, have occupied part of the city. The city is now divided in two main sections, H1 and H2, the first controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the second by Israel. In real life though, the city is completely under control of the Israeli army. The Israeli section is composed of new buildings that overlook the old city market. This has begun just recently to house again the original Palestinian shops, like the Women in Hebron, a cooperative for handmade embroidery and crafts.
The rest of the old city still bares the traces of its amazing past: beautiful palaces on wide streets that once were the city life centre. Shuhada Street is now completely abandoned and at its opposite ends the entrances to the two sections of the city face each other: the settlement protected by cameras and simple police placement, and the Palestinian quarter controlled and often blocked by an Israeli checkpoint.
The Ibrahimi mosque, the religious and tourist attraction of the city, is also divided, just like the rest of the city. In 1994, after the massacre perpetrated by the far-right Israeli Baruch Goldstein, in which he killed 29 and wounded 125 Muslim worshippers, the mosque was closed to the public. At its reopening, the division was revealed: the tombs of the patriarchs are now accessible by two different sides, a muslim and a jewish one, separated by a thin gate.
Luckily the modern part of Palestinian Hebron is fully alive and people try to live an ordinary life: shops, markets, cars. And of course the famous workshops and factories of ceramics and blown glass, that distribute their creations to all the souvenirs shops in Israel and Palestine.
Visiting the city was quite an experience: I felt a mix of feeling, all of them difficult to describe. It left me a bitter taste. But the joy of a kid eating a popsicle still gives some hope.