My internship is coming to an end, as is the summer. The sky darkens much earlier now, and several internationals in the West Bank are packing their bags and, one by one, making their way back to their home countries. Soon I will be back in the United States, eating Mexican food and riding the subway. If I wanted, I could pretend that none of this ever happened.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians will continue to live under Occupation. Delays at checkpoints, racial profiling, tear gas in schoolyards, un-policed hate crimes committed by settlers, the closings of cities like Nablus and Jenin, house demolitions, military executions, the isolation of villages by the further construction of the Separation Wall. . . The list goes on.
Last weekend I visited Hebron and Tel Rumeida, and so far I have been unable to write anything about my experience. A visit to Palestine is incomplete without visiting this region, since the situation there is completely unique to that of anywhere else. But what I saw there tipped me into a very dark place.
What I saw in the Hebron region was unabashed hatred and xenophobia. The less than 500 settlers in the city of Hebron cannot pass off their hatred on desperation, economic hardship, or lack of education. A fair number of them are American Zionists with “good” educations and thick pocketbooks. They have left behind their American way of life to live miserable lives in Hebron, surrounded by military, armed at all times, unable to enjoy a restaurant or a movie, with bars on their windows and garbage on their streets. Yet they continue to live there, to move there.
Why Hebron? Because the Hebron settlers are so fanatically committed to reclaiming Hebron as a Jewish city (a goal rejected by the original Jewish families who once lived there side by side with the Palestinians and would rather Palestinian families move into their old homes than the fanatical settlers) that they would give up their lives, or anything that resembles a life, to devote themselves and their families to chasing the almost 150,000 Palestinian residents out of the city.
It makes sense, then, that the settlers in Hebron are all clinically insane. What sane person would choose to raise their children to throw stones at their neighbors’ children? They throw their garbage on Palestinian properties. They attack Palestinian adults and children, and even the international observers* trying to protect them. They have graffiti-ed the storefronts and almost completely shut down the economic activity in Hebron’s Old City.
I must write more details about the situation in Hebron, but first I have to finish processing my anger. Until then, I will write about that.
I have to admit, going to Tel Rumeida made me ashamed to be Jewish. Even though I know that those few settlers are completely crazy rather than true representatives of the Jewish community, the sheer hatred I saw in their eyes left me shaken. They represent everything that I thought Judaism was not about. I thought my Jewish education taught me to be critical, to always ask why?, to think for myself. I thought it taught me about tikkun olam, fixing the world, and about remembering the suffering of the Jewish people so that we commit ourselves to keeping such things from happening again, to any people, not just the Jews.
In Tel Rumeida, English and Hebrew graffiti covers the walls of the city: Gas the Arabs! Watch out Fatima—We will rape all Arab women! Exterminate the Muslims! Die Arab Sand-Niggers!
A simple walkway built by an aid agency to provide an alternative path for Palestinian children to walk to school (they are attacked if they take the main streets) lies in disrepair, pulled apart stone by stone by the settlers. Sections of an olive grove are charred black from arson, and vines growing in the gardens of Palestinian neighbors have been sliced at the roots by settler blades.**
I am not a religious person. At the young age of nine, I read in the news about the Troubles in Ireland and came to the conclusion that religion caused nothing but hatred and war. I decided God didn’t deserve my faith and that only people had the power to change the way we live. Since then, my faith has been in people, and in myself.
I have been to other troubled regions, where hatred and fear have been fueled by economic hardship, colonial meddling, or the like. In Tel Rumeida, however, the settlers have no excuse. They hate because they live to hate. They hate because they are so afraid of “the other” that they have lost track of “the self”.
I don’t know how to fight this kind of hatred. It does even more damage than it intends, which is already far too much. It has seeped inside of me and is slowly tearing apart the glue that holds me together. Now I fear I am losing my faith in people, my faith in myself, the only faith I have. Perhaps this is why people turn to higher powers, entities (or non-entities) that are too ethereal to let them down.
But I can’t let humans off so easily. I am not going to take away their accountability for their actions by shifting responsibility to some greater being I’ll never know really exists. So for now, I must find my faith, and I must trust that somewhere beneath the hatred, the racist discourse, the blind following of the masses, we humans still do have the power to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. Because, regardless of whether we choose to believe in God, if we lose that power within ourselves, what is the point of even going on?
*For more information about international observers in Hebron, please see the websites of the Tel Rumeida Project and Christian Peacemakers Teams.
**For AIC’s short film clip about Palestinian life in Tel Rumeida, click here.
Posted By Sarah Sachs (Palestine)
Posted Aug 18th, 2006