kamila

Can’t live without travels! Wherever she goes she always looks for alternative spots or street art. A huge fan of Central Europe and off the beaten path places and a living proof that you can balance full time job and extensive travel!

Two sides of Hebron

I visited many divided cities during my travels: Berlin, Sarajevo, Cieszyn, Nicosia just to name few. And each of them was a fascinating one, each left a huge impression on me and each has stayed in my mind ever since. For some reason places with difficult past, these that had and still have to struggle so much, are the ones that interest me the most. I can’t even explain that to myself, especially that I usually have a really hard time visiting them and the image and memory of them keep haunting me for a long time. But so far each place was fairly easy to deal with in comparison with Hebron…

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I guess the name sounds familiar to everyone who is at least slightly interested in the current events. Hebron used to be pretty often on the front pages as that’s where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was escalated to the maximum. But the day I spent in that divided city taught me that nothing is black or white, nothing is like the media show us and while all we hear about is the tension and the conflict there’re people trying to live the normal life in that difficult reality. And each side has their own story to tell.

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Hebron is a home to around 250,000 Palestinians and 800 Jewish settlers. It is the second biggest city of Palestinian territories and the biggest city of the West Bank. Hebron is divided into two sectors: H1 that is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and H2 – ruled by Israel – that is around 20% of the city. The Jewish inhabitants that stay mostly in the old town are looked after by some 1500 soldiers of the Israeli Army – you can see them all over the city. Here you can read more about the conflict in Hebron

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I visited Hebron with a tour organized by Abraham Tours and I can easily say it was the best tour I’ve ever been at. I met people who visited Hebron on their own but their experience was so much different from mine. While they could see the closed Shuhada Street, cross the checkpoint or visit the Cave of the Patriarchs I had a feeling they didn’t go deeper into the city, didn’t have a chance to fully understand it. That wasn’t the case with the Dual Narrative Tour where you spent half of the day on the Palestinian side with the Palestinian guide and another half on the Israeli side with the Israeli guide.

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We were supposed to take the local bus to/from Hebron but on the day I went for the tour there were so many people that we had our own bus hired instead. After arriving into the heart of the Old Town we split into two and my part of the group started a day in the H1 – the Palestinian side, accompanied by the young local guy, Mohammad. But before we got there each person had to show the passport to the soldier standing alone on the abandoned Shuhada Street and then we proceeded to the check point to go through the metal detector…

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What we saw just after the check point was a completely different world. While Israeli side felt like deserted, ghost town the Palestinian was a busy, bustling, chaotic neighbourhood. Next three hours were spent learning about the history, the conflict, the life going on in the divided Hebron. We’ve heard some heart breaking, sad and unbelievable stories that showed us the devastated city and the community that has to struggle so much. One day they had to leave their houses, they were banned from visiting the areas of the city where settlers live, their lives changed drastically almost overnight. Now Hebron is under constant surveillance, with numerous cameras observing every step. Yet people try to live the normal life in these difficult circumstances, they take the time to sit down for a coffee, stop to chat with their friends, bargain while shopping.

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Big part of Palestinian community moved out from the Old Town after the constant harassment from the settlers. To give you one example: the main shopping street, right on the border with the Israeli part, is covered in a roof of wire mesh to protect people from stones, bottles etc thrown by the settlers. The biggest problem is Israeli soldiers are there to protect the settlers hence they can’t really do much in such situations… They are torn, between water and wind and even if some of them overuse their power it’s still not a fun situation to be in.

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The very center of the conflict is the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It’s the only one building like that in the entire world – half of it (with the tombs of Isaac and Rebekah) is a mosque and the other half (with the tombs of Jacob and Leah) is a synagogue. The tombs of Abraham and Sarah stand in the middle. The whole structure used to be open to both Jewish and Muslims but then in 1994 one of the settler stormed in and opened the fire to the praying people resulting in 29 fatalities (plus 25 more in the riots afterwards) and 125 wounded people. That event changed the life of Hebron forever. Not only the holy building was divided (however each year during holidays both Muslims and Jews “rent” the whole structure to each other) but the conflict, the tension and the separation was put into the new level.

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After the very sad and depressing visit on the Palestinian side and the lunch with the Palestinian family it was time to face the reality of the Israeli side and listen to their stories. That’s actually what’s the best about this tour – while most of the people come to Hebron already with the opinion about the conflict (based on media relations), over the day they can hear opinions of both sides and realize that things aren’t as easy as they seem and the whole problem is so much more complex…

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Our Israeli guide Eliyahu told us all about the settlers and their reasons to return to Hebron, about the life in the divided city, about the terrorist attacks and how they resulted in the ghost feel of the center. What used to be the commercial heart of the city, with shops and other small businesses open to everyone, either Jewish or Palestinian inhabitants, turned into the empty space. And all of that for security reason. Every few steps we could see the boards commemorating those who died in the tragic events, the youngest one being a 11-month old infant. There were lots of empty, half demolished buildings that were haunting on every corner – most of them were an arguable possession hence the state they are in.

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One of the last things in the agenda for the day was a visit in the Jewish Museum that focus mostly on the (almost) constant Jewish presence in the city and on the1929 Hebron massacre. During these events 67 Jewish inhabitants were slaughtered and most of the Jewish property (houses, synagogues etc) were demolished. When I read and listened about this whole unfortunate accident I’ve realized I’d heard the story before. The whole genesis of the Hebron massacre was exactly the same as the one of Armenian Genocide, the Balkans War or Holocaust – it all came from the insecurity of the group of people that eventually lead to such a tragic events. It’s just terrifying that people don’t learn from these mistakes and such things still happen in the world. What the Museum didn’t mention and what is often forgotten (yet what Eliyahu mentioned) is that there was a big group of Palestinians that risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbours

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During the visit in the Jewish Museum we were lucky to meet David Wilder – the spokesman of the Jewish Community of Hebron. He told us his (and settlers) story of the conflict and refereed to this small group as “we, Israel”. All he had to say and the opinions he tried to force on us left me (and most of the people in the group) disgusted in a way… Neither Mohammad nor Eliyahu tried to talk us into their point of view or to prove which side is right. They both did a really good job with showing us the reality of Hebron and the complex situation there and all of that could have been easily destroyed by this one person who represents settlers out there in the world. All the Israeli people that I’ve met and talk to showed me a completely different face of Israel, the one where both sides of the conflict work hard together to establish a peaceful and understanding life for everyone. Yet this one person (and I assume many settlers are similar in that case) is driven by radical and nationalist emotions that eventually can lead to the tension…

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I tried to encounter Hebron with the open mind, not to judge, not to take sides but just learn and try to understand. I’m still far from that as these few hours were enough just to briefly cover the issue. But the biggest lesson for me was that always we have to listen to both sides, there’s never only one to blame and nothing is just black or white. What we see is just the surface: the settlers living in the heart of Hebron and harassing Palestinians, the Palestinian terrorist attacks aiming at settlers (hence the big part of the center is closed), the constant checkpoints and passport controls, the fences built from everything (from plastic to wires and concrete). But everything is so much more complicated than just that…Noone is happy about the situation they found themselves living in yet they have to deal with it, somehow. I just can’t fully understand how.

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After the day spent in Hebron my head was buzzing with thoughts and emotions. It was one of the hardest days in my travel life and I still can’t get over it but I’m more than glad that I had a chance to experience it. Hebron is one of the places that you just have to visit to understand it, even if just a little bit, so you can tell the world around how the reality there is. The stories I’ve heard proved me that the problem is with the small nationalist group (on both sides) and the politics is way too involved. The normal people just want to live their life peacefully, without worrying which unfortunate event may happen today. Fortunately there are people like Mohammad, Eliyahu or the crew behind the Abraham Tours that work very hard to make this dream of the safe, united world happen.

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Have you visited any divided, conflicted cities?

Hebron Dual Narrative Tour leaves from Jerusalem every Wednesday and Sunday. It costs 290NIS.


During my visit to Israel for most of the time I had my base in Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem and I can say it was the best hostel I’ve been to! It’ll be hard to beat that! Here you can book you a place to stay in Abraham Hostel. If hostels are not your thing take a look at other accommodation options in Jerusalem.


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Note: My trip to Israel was in partnership with Tourist IsraelAbraham Tours and Abraham Hostel. As always I’m keeping it real and all opinions are 100% mine.

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29 Sty '14

There are 6 Comments.

  1. Jahan
    09:52 23/11/2016

    Very interesting, yet sad. I believe Israel is repeating the Holocaust in another way, only to justify the continuation of its existence as a state. Bad luck for Palestinians started when the UK took the administration of the land from the defeated Ottoman Empire and unwilling to engage itself in the problem of Jewish migrants, left it to the UN. The UN resolution to establish Israel was passed by disregarding the fact that such a decision would displace original people, as it did. Now on one side there are Israelis who have been living there for generations and have established organizations and infrastructures and modernized the land, so they see no reason to leave their homeland. On the other side there are Palestinians who have for generations up to now been displaced, humiliated, deprived of their most basic rights and tortured or murdered, so they, too, see no reason to withdraw from their claims, and seeing no law to protect them, resort to terrorism, thus alleviating the situation.

    • kami
      20:53 03/12/2016

      yes, the situation in Hebron is really sad and not easy at all to resolve…

    • Alan
      14:55 15/12/2016

      When observations are made about a very complex subject, it’s very easy to to arrive at simplistic conclusions and one’s opinions will then be formed based upon those. I’ll admit from the start that I am decisively on Israel’s “side” in the dispute between the Israelis and the Arabs, so my comments will argue in Israel’s favor. BUT…facts are facts and they don’t belong to one side or to the other. That having been said, the comment that Israel is “repeating the Holocaust…” is simply, factually, honestly…utter nonsense. It’s dangerous nonsense because the Holocaust was the planned, intentional, demonic enterprise to literally destroy an entire People and culture that was directed at solely an innocent, thoroughly civilian population. Whatever inconveniences and “humiliations” the Arabs in Hebron are “suffering” is the result…the direct result…of the barbaric assaults and terrorism directed at the Jews that lived in their midst. It is essential to remember that the Jews have lived in Hebron for literally thousands of years. Sure, their numbers had dwindled there, not because they chose to leave but because they were subjected to murder and demonization by successive conquerers who robbed them of their land and property and made them into a minority in their own land and dhimmis (second-class citizens) under Muslim rulers from afar. One thing a visit to Hebron doesn’t give, no matter how fair and comprehensive it might be, is something that ironically CAN be observed by visiting a synagogue in any city in the world outside of Israel or the Palestinian territories. Such a visit in Dallas, Texas, or Brussels or Paris or Buenos Aires, will show that for thousands of years while Jews were forced out of their homeland, they prayed each and every single day for its return. They never forgot it. The never abandoned it. The difference between the Jews and so many of their conquerors, from the Greeks to the Romans to the Ottomans…is that the Jews outlived them all. The Jews didn’t disappear. They lived to regain their Homeland and make it thrive once again. They did this against ALL odds including pogroms against them in both Christian and Muslim lands to which they had been relegated to live and despite a REAL Holocaust aimed at murdering (not inconveniencing) every single Jew on earth. And, despite that tragic historical experience, when they recovered their Homeland and created the modern State of Israel…that little sliver of land in a sea of hostile, backward Arab dictatorships and monarchied…they permitted millions of Arabs to be full citizens in their recovered State to the tune of Arabs in Israel amounting to just about 20% of its population. Israel didn’t demean or humiliate them. It is not Israel’s intention to ever do that to anyone. But the Palestinian Arabs (as opposed to the Israeli Arabs) did all they could to make it clear that they would murder and maim any Jew they could get their hands on and so Israel had to initiate security measures that would inevitably inconvenience and even humiliate some Arabs. Hebron is land the belonged to the Jews as far back as the time of Abraham. It is very literally the heartland of the Jewish People. So, when the subject of Hebron is discussed, it is important to remember that the Jews that live there are doing so because they have a palpable, emotional connection to it that motivates them to live there. To the extent that they are “nationalistic” that is something that is more complex that seeing it as only that. These are people that want to live in Hebron because of its meaning to the Jews. They wold live there under an Israeli rule…or…if need be, some other governmental rule openly as Jews. But the Arabs will not let them do that. The Arabs chose to make it clear that Jews can’t live among them and so the Israeli government has chosen to protect them and allow them to live (under very unpleasant circumstances, I might add) so that they can dwell in the historical Heartland of the Jewish People in some degree of safety. So, tossing the word “Holocaust” around doesn’t serve anyone well. Seeing the Palestinian Arabs as “victims” and the Jews as ogres is very sloppy history that amounts to silly nonsense.

      On a lighter side…Kami, you have a wonderful website here and I enjoyed every single one of your entries about your travels.

      • kami
        21:34 25/12/2016

        Thank you! And thank you for this long explanation, I really appreciate it.

  2. Filip
    09:01 13/09/2017

    Hi Kami,

    Very nice article.

    We’ve been to Hebron recently as well but without the tour and visited the city on our own.
    We had no political opinion before that particular day and after the first few days in Israel we still thought that the peace is still generally possible.

    This has changed once we’ve visited Hebron.

    Yes, we have talked only to Palestinians, as Jewish people were generally hiding in their houses/courtyards guarded by armed soldiers. It seemed awkward for us to enter these compounds. However, I see no reason for these settlements different than the religion fanaticism. Of course settlers suffer, need to be protected, but first of all they have no reason to be there (should I reclaim my pre-WW2 property?). They’ve constructed Kiryat Arba and overrun several houses in Hebron exclusively to show that they are there and that Hebron is theirs. Settlers in Hebron are representing the pure evil side of the human nature (see the link below) and do not differ from Nazi Germany politics from 30s. Looking at Hebron and other predatory settlements in the West Bank you can easily understand that the two state solution (usually considered the option) is not possible. Palestinians would have their state, yes, but only in scatter cities of Jenin, Nablus, Bethleem, Jericho and half of Hebron (the other one occupied by 500 colonists and 3000 soldiers guarding them). The contemporary fragile ‘peace’ is there because of checkpoints, walls and armed soldiers everywhere while Israel is permanently building and promoting life in settlements all around the West Bank. They entire world simply condemns it and does not do anything. Palestinians have no rights. They have lost everything.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1s3Qt-Tm5I

    • kami
      15:23 05/10/2017

      Thank you for your comments. And well, I agree with most of what you wrote..

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