A further report from our ICAHD member currently in Hebron with the Christian Peacemakers Team...
Hebron - July 18th - Prayer and Protest
After dark, the evenings are punctuated by ﬁreworks and bin collections. The ﬁreworks end around midnight but the bins may clank away into the early hours depending on the day. The earliest call to prayer begins around 4am followed by the day break call an hour or so later. The nearest muezzin is the local barber just down the street, so his call is hard to miss! The cat population, which goes about its business furtively and silently during the day, comes to life at night
with many noisy altercations over territory and mates. Instructions are issued through the night over a megaphone from the military barracks next door and in between times, two cockerels call to each other from neighbouring sheds, outdoing one another in their enthusiasm to greet another day even if the day is still a while away! There are sometimes patches of quiet around 3am and 6am, when life becomes peaceful and there is a little sleep to be had!
There are no Christians in Hebron - at least that is what one is led to believe, but I met one on a street corner the other day. There are certainly no churches here, other than the very beautiful Monastery of the Holy Trinity, a Russian Orthodox foundation where a few monks still live. It is situated at Mamre, the place where Abraham and Sarah lived near the sacred oaks and where, one day, they entertained three strangers, who told Sarah that she would give birth to a son. (Sura 11 and 51, in the Holy Qu’ran; Genesis chapter 18, in the Holy Bible). Younger oaks have sprouted on the site.
Friday is the day of the week that most completely expresses life in Hebron or at least in this part of Hebron. Men still attend the service at the Mosque and this means that, in the Old City, although all the shops are shut, there is much coming and going. People line up to pass through the checkpoint near the Ibrahimi Mosque and the soldiers and border police are on full alert. Extra soldiers are often drafted into the Old City on Fridays - sometimes, rather oddly from the airforce - taking their places alongside the paratroopers. Friday evening is also the beginning of Shabat and as the Muslim holy day draws to a close, the Jewish one begins.
Each Friday morning, CPT joins with the other monitoring groups outside the Ibrahimi Mosque to observe the way in which the soldiers and border police carry out identity checks and body searches. We keep a record of the numbers and the manner in which checks and searches are carried out. We look for some shade and often a kind resident or shopkeeper brings out a chair for the hour or more that we stay. Last Friday was quiet and even the disabled men in wheelchairs that are sometimes kept waiting at the side gate, even they pass through quickly and without incident. Hard to know what makes a difference but perhaps the behaviour of one platoon differs from the next, some being more aggressive in their approach than others.
This day of prayer, which begins with the early daybreak call, followed by the insistent midday summons to worship, often ends in protest. Its not a bad juxtaposition - prayer should always lead to protest! Half way through the afternoon, we hear gunﬁre and the movement of soldiers from the barracks next door. Then a phone call, and as we were being summoned to respond, we heard the sound bombs coming from Checkpoint 56. We quickly got ready with masks, alcohol pads and camera and started to walk towards the checkpoint. Nothing unusual. Friday routinely seems to elicit a need to protest against the oppressive abnormality of this occupied land. But for the ﬁrst time since I have been here, I have to admit I was scared. I envied the eager stride of my 24 year old team mate! All I could think was that I didn’t at all want to be going towards these terrifying bangs! Unless it lands right on you, a sound bomb doesn’t hurt but the depth of the explosion is hard to describe - it seems to pass right through one’s body to the core of one’s being. Other monitoring groups were already there and we watched and counted as the kids threw stones and the soldiers retaliated with sound bombs and tear gas canisters. Suddenly it became obvious that a young woman who had been trying to pass through the check point had been overcome by tear gas. Members of our group ran forward to help her. She half collapsed and a car was ﬂagged down who quickly took her to hospital. Tear gas inhalation can be damaging if not treated soon. It felt good that we had been there - but mostly of course, no one is. As we walked away, soldiers in the barracks above greeted us with a shower of broken glass which we just managed to avoid!
The day ended with prayer - the Jewish prayers of Shabat which the Settlers will have said when they reached the Synagogue, located the other side of the Mosque. The proximity of Synagogue and Mosque; the juxtaposition of protest and prayer only underline the complexity of this place and its many unfathomable problems.
Our neighbour Zelder and I are plotting a plant gathering outing! I have found a plant shop, so on Saturday we shall buy petunias, perhaps, to put in the area that joins our two houses and where one can sit after supper as though in a little garden and admire the evening sky.