September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins

Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian Territories through a month of trial. And today: getting in trouble, here’s how to start working on it.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins

With your kind permission, I would like to start today’s post with two photos that were not taken on today’s trip. The first (which I didn’t even take myself) is a photo of a television newscaster. The second is a photo of nobody.

A few of you may recall the very ending of part 8 in this series. It was Thursday night and I was sitting at Iliya’s bar and sauna in Ashdod, bemoaning the death of Israel’s media. I told Iliya about a report broadcast months ago by channel 10, one that criticized Sheldon Adelson, Netanyahu’s friend and financial patron. I told him also that Adelson demanded an apology and that his friend, billionaire Ron Lauder, who owns a share of channel 10, said he would cut funds if such an apology isn’t made.

Well, the apology was indeed made Friday night and went far beyond being an apology. It lasted a full 90 seconds, following a report on the breaking of Egyptian protesters into Israel’s embassy in Cairo, which lasted only 20. The Channel withdrew from any criticism it has made of Adelson, calling all its claims “completely false.”

I heard about this on my way to the theatre and grew sour with this world. What was left of Israel’s media if it had to bow down and lick the shoe sole of Adelson, the gambling tycoon who crowned our Prime-Minister? What credibility does anything we read or hear have any more?

Then as I was leaving the theatre. someone texted a photo into my phone. It was Or Heller, military correspondent for Channel 10 news and the guitar player of inimitable rock band Naj Hamadi. the photo shows his colleagues Guy Zohar and Ruth Yuval at a critical moment in their lives.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
A moment of rebellion.

It turns out that Zohar, the anchorman of Channel 10’s super-popular Friday news edition resigned on live air at the end of the show. Following his resignation, the camera panned and zoomed in on the channel’s entire news staff, who were clapping enthusiastically in the control room. As my colleague Dimi Reider reported that same night, the production credits at the end of the show rolled blank, without any names. No one wanted to take credit for that night’s show.

In the photo, Zohar is seen with the show’s editor, who also quit. They are addressing the channel’s entire news staff members who left their shabbos dinner tables, to come and cheer the act. This is my chance to cheer for Zohar and Yuval too. Would such bravery be known before the J14 tent protests? Maybe not, and I have some feeling that pressure on the channel to provide the false narrative on the protests (that they “turned violent”) had also something to do with the surprise catharsis.

The second photo was produced by my camera, or rather phone camera, two weeks ago. I took it when showing a guest from abroad around the center of Hebron.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Shuhada Street, Hebron. This was a bustling market as late as 2003.

Denial of information in this country isn’t only the work of the media. Our entire system is designed to prevent us from visiting Hebron. When I fist came there the main street’s shops were closed already for five years by order of the Israeli army Palestinians living in the neighborhood were not allowed to walk on these streets and forced to leave through the rooftops, climbing down to streets where they can walk.

This is still the case four years later. A settler population of 600 souls makes the lives of thousands in the city’s old center-turned-ghost-town into a continuing nightmare.

I first came to Hebron with an activist friend, and later made a point of taking everyone I know there, trying to spread the story. Still, my own education about the city is highly incomplete. Since I so far visited only H2 – the sector designated to Israeli controll by to the 1996 Wye plantation accords.

H1, into which all of central Hebron’s commerce was moved for lack of any other choice, remains a mystery. It is considered “Area A” and my presence there is deemed illegal by a decree of the army. So far on this trip I visited to Area A cities: Ramallah and Tulkarem, (I explained the concept of Area A on part 6 of the journey, before describing my visit to Tulkarem). Hidden behind a military checkpoint in the heart of the city. It is illegal for me to cross this checkpoint as an Israeli. When showing Hebron’s deadened heart to non-Israelis, I would wait on depressing H2 side for visitors to peek at the living city and return.

Today I’m going there. Driven by the need to see the other side of things quickly, before going there becomes utterly impossible. So far, visiting town is Area A was fine. Hebron should be also easy to access and leave without being caught, and its best to take advantage of that before September’s drama changes the rules.

So first I take the “Sherut” minivan to Jerusalem, where I find myself walking down a very similar street of closed shops, with the same little white cloud hanging over it. The shops, unlike the ones in Hebron, will open tomorrow. They are stalls in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market that were closed for the Shabbos.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Mahne Yehuda Street, Jerusalem. This is still a bustling market.

But enough with photos of nobody, time for a photo of somebody. This is Tine, or Christine, who will be joining me on my adventure today. Tine is a German artist residing temporarily in Jerusalem, in fact, she’s one of the most brilliant illustrators and photographers I’ve ever heard of and it’s an honor to have her come along.

Tine waits for me at Damascus gate.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Tine and a local lady.

From here we head south. Since Hebron vehicles are not allowed into Jerusalem, we must take the bus past a major checkpoint on route 60, near Bethlehem. There we are dropped next to a gravel lot in which “service” vans are waiting.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Public transportation is a drag.

Then it’s south to Hebron, through the beautiful, barren countryside studded with military watchtowers…

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
"Sometimes a light comes shining on me / Other times I can barely see..."

…to Hebron, which is much bigger than I thought it would be. When you’re in H2, walking along the perfectly silent Shuhada street or one of its adjoining closed-down streets, living Hebron is a mere honked car-horn in the distance. When in downtown H1, you realize it’s an enormous place. Hebron municipality oversees nearly 600,000 people. This city is practically as large as Jerusalem to its north.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Yellow does add a lot to a city, though something has to be said for Bangkok's pink cabs.

The first building we enter is a swanky-looking shopping mall, much finer than ones I’ve seen in other parts of the West Bank. Bethlehem’s shopping mall, by comparison, is a Pepsi vending machine.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
I should be coming to these places with a bigger backpack.

We reach the roof, on which an enormous glass dome is erect. I climb up to catch view.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
If you think that's steep, just wait for what's coming in the next post.

Soon, the Cave of the Patriarchs, traditionally believed to be the burial place of Biblical Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Leah, appears over the billboard advertising the Palestinian football league. It is marked by the large structure bearing a square minaret.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Football is a religion too.

I am thrilled, slowly getting my bearings. The ability to look into H2 and see the places where I walked for so many years, to compare and contrast wounded Hebron with breathing Hebron, is priceless for me. I have never held a more powerful tool for understanding the meaning of the occupation and the actual extent of the damage is causes.

Here, in Hebron, sitting in the midst of a control group numbering in the hundreds of thousands, I’m looking directly into the heart of the Israeli controlled old city and the Tel Roumeida settlement, remembering what life, or what goes for life, is like over there.

Right now, since the checkpoint is manned by Israeli soldiers, and I am in Area A, crossing over and experiencing the through the looking glass affect is impossible to me. I wait by the checkpoint while Tine, a foreign national, goes over. She comes back depressed. She’s been here before, but this city is never easy on the heart.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Palestinian pedestrians may still walk through the metal detector in this checkpoint, but are banned from walking past the next one.

Fortunately for my research, there’s no need to even go into the forbidden zone to see the extent of the abuse. Walking through the old casbah, we can see the net placed where settlers from the Beit Hadassah settlement would through bricks and human feces on shoppers. They obviously kept throwing the same objects even once the nets were up. At least feces sifts through.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Palestinians living below the hilltop Tel Roumeida settlement enjoy no such net.

As we walk on Tine wonders aloud how the Israeli public tolerates the continuing of such a violent, discriminative status quo. I explain to her than most of the Israeli public isn’t aware of the Hebron situation in full.

“Not aware? how can they not be aware?”

“We’re not encouraged to come here, and when we do, we are most often given tours by the settlers. They emphasize the massacre of Jewish Hebronites by Palestinians in 1929, while downplaying the massacre of Palestinian Hebronites by an American Jewish doctor in 1993. They present themselves as the resurrection of the city’s ancient community, and the closing down of the area as procaution necessary for that community’s revival.

“Then, for those who never come here, there’s the media. Remember I told you about last night’s televised apology? If it weren’t for one person who stood up and left the studio, the public would have still been convinced that the accusations against Adelson were false. It isn’t always simple to dissent, especially when the mater involved not lies but skewed emphases. Everybody knows that Hebron is occupied and has zealot settlers living in its midst, we simply aren’t told all the details.”

This is when I decide to pull the historical cat out of the bag, “and besides,” I conclude. “People know what they want to know. You know this. You’re German.

Tine does not disagree. We walk through the beautiful alleyways of old Hebron,

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins
Ahh, the charms of Merakkech... Hebron

Until they are blocked with a welded iron board, telling us it’s time to return to H1.

September journey part 9: Day of arrest begins

Note to readers: This post is only the first panel in a triptych describing a very troubled day.

Click here for the second part of the day’s adventure,

Click here for the third part of the day’s adventure.

Click here for more of the September journey

Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This trip would have been impossible if not for you.