by Sean O’Neill
Beit Romano, a desolate square located at the entrance to the Old City of Hebron, is another victim of the exodus of Palestinians from the area as the Israeli army and several hundred Israeli settlers have pushed their way in. A large settlement looms above the square. Its smooth new stone stands in stark contrast to the run down Palestinian buildings below. The Israeli army has turned the roof of the shuttered Palestinian shops on one side into an outpost.
Walking through this depressed place of dull grays and army greens, a flash of color caught my eye. Bright red, orange, and yellow juice bottles held down a tablecloth covering a small table with four chairs outside an open door. Inside a cooler contained more drinks, and a Palestinian man sat gazing out into the square. At the back stood another table with a stove for making hot drinks. I could hardly believe my eyes. This man had opened his shop.
It felt more like a garage than a coffee shop with its dusty tile floor and chipped cement walls, but two shekels got me a cup of tea and a decent conversation.
Mohamed, who runs the shop, was first imprisoned by the Israeli military in 1976 for being a fighter and a political activist. Later he ran a printing press, which brought him more trouble from both Israelis and the Palestinian Authority for daring to criticize the Oslo Accords, which have since proven to be a failure. He was imprisoned seven times altogether and the beatings he suffered in Israeli jails left him with a visible nervous tic and permanent headaches.
Now his coffee shop struggles to cover costs. But the point isn’t really to make money. When asked, “How’s business?” Mohamed replied, “Oh, not good. Not many people. But we resist.”
Mohamed has come a long way since his fighting days. He’s older now, physically worn. But he is still defiant and willing to speak his mind. He criticizes the corruption and impotence of the Palestinian Authority almost as much as the Israeli occupation. And he is still fighting – not with bullets, but with small cups of coffee.