I am an intern with Community Peacemaker Teams Palestine and arrived in Hebron just a week ago. It has been difficult to make sense of everything I have seen in the past week. As I sit in the team’s office, I am drawn to a sticker on the door that says: “No one is free when others are oppressed.” This slogan speaks to me today, on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year. People around the world welcome this day as a time of not only celebration but also a time of reflection and repentance. For Palestinians living in the old city of Al Khalil/Hebron—a zone heavily militarized by the Israeli army—Rosh Hashanah does not feel like a celebration.
We start the day with school patrol, where we monitor Israeli checkpoints in school zones. As children pass through on the way to school, they are routinely subjected to dehumanizing treatment, searches, detainments and arrests. But today, certain checkpoints around the Israeli settlements are closed due to Rosh Hashanah, which means some children cannot get to school unless they take a 15-minute taxi detour. Attendance goes down; just another disruption in the life of Palestinians living under occupation.
We make an inconvenient detour to some other checkpoints via taxi, as our normal walk is closed to make way for settlers celebrating the Jewish New Year. Our taxi cab is stopped by armed soldiers, who give monosyllabic commands to our driver: “Off!” “Keys!” “Trunk!” as their inspection offers yet another daily disruption. When we finally get to the checkpoints to monitor Israeli occupation forces’ treatment of Palestinian children on their way to school, things are calm. Fewer students made it out today, as many parents are fearful of repeats of past violence by settlers on Rosh Hashanah. One 12-year-old boy is turned away at the checkpoint. He has a bicycle and is told he cannot pass with a bicycle on the Jewish New Year. He relays this information to myself and my Palestinian colleague, easily holding back the tears (this is certainly not his worst experience under the occupation) but his face betrays his sadness, as he will simply go back home and therefore miss another day at school. Happy new year!
We meet a teacher who passes through the checkpoint. He lost two of his teenage cousins a few years ago. They were shot by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint during a similar holiday. They were escaping a crowd of attacking Jewish settlers and the fact that they were running—fleeing actually—made them suspicious. Soldiers opened fire; they both died on the spot.
We complete the checkpoint monitoring after about an hour—school is now in session—and take a taxi back to the office. The driver navigates the chaotic traffic while watching a video clip on his phone that shows Israeli settlers harassing Palestinians at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. He also shares with my Palestinian colleague a story of friends who recently were arrested. An explanation for their arrest is never given because there never seems to be one.
When we get back to the office, I feel a need to re-read the sticker: “No one is free when others are oppressed.” The slogan is a poignant reminder of how far we are from such an ideal, here in the centre of Al Khalil/Hebron. But my despair propels me to a vision—to a time and place where religious holidays celebrate freedom and peace for ALL people. We must work every day for that reality. That is why I am here.