Holy Land Diary (ii) Hebron - tombs of the Patriarchs

Pax Christi group in Holy Land last Christmas

Pax Christi group in Holy Land last Christmas

For our morning prayer today we used the Pax Christi Christian, Muslim, Jewish prayer for peace.  Very appropriate for our programme which today was in the ancient city of Hebron - and the tombs of the Patriarchs, Abraham and his wife Sarah and Issac and Rebecca.

Kareem, an Arab Israeli who works for the Israeli Human Rights group B'Tselem accompanied us to help us to 'read the various signs and symbols of the countryside between Bethlehem and Hebron.  By this I mean he was able to show us the expansion of illegal settlements and bypass roads that are gradually taking more and more Palestinian land out of agricultural use. This is a very rich and fertile area... in places it was beautiful to see olive groves and vinyards well tended and thriving.  In other areas these were turning to scrub land as the Palestinian farmers no longer have access, the land has been taken away to act as a buffer between new settlement development and Palestinian communities.

We arrived in Hebron through  an  H2 Israeli Controled checkpoint. Because our driver was Palestinian and our guide Arab Israeli we were held for a while as the young soldier on duty checked that they could pass in to this area.

Our first stop was the Mosque at Hebron which is now divided - one half a Mosque the other a Synagogue.  Our visit here was short as there were many Jewish visitors today - some coming to study, others to visit the tombs and pray.  It felt strange though, entering such a holy site that is heavily guarded by soldiers with rifles.  We were not sure if this made us feel less rather than more secure.

Kareem then took us on a walk through the old deserted part of the city.  Deserted as the traditional Palestinian community have been forced to move out to make way for a very small settler community.  Hebron is I think the only Palestinian town that has settlers in its midst.  Called a ghost town, shops and homes are empty.  The wind blows through torn metal roof sheeting.  Signs and graffiti are drawn on doors which have been welded shut under military order.  Small settler communities are almost completely boarded into their homes and guarded by soldiers.  It is estimated that there are around 500 settlers here, guarded by about 2,000 soldiers.

Moving on into the Palestinian side of the city we were met by Clark and Viking,  American and Finish Ecumenical Accompaniers.  they are here for three months as volunteers in this important programme.  One of their tasks is to give protectin to the children of the Cordoba School , which is in a settler area.  Every day they meet the children at the checkpoint and take them through to school and then reverse this at the end of the school day.  On occasion children have been attacked, stones thrown at them, by settlers who want the school removed.

What a mixture of experiences in only two days!  Our group have a lot to interpret on this journey - new information, new experiences that trigger many emotions.  Trying to find the truth of what is happening here is not easy and again the personal stories of those who are on the receiving end of the occupation is sometimes hard to hear... but this is part of our pilgrim experience.

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