Talking to soldiers 

Hebron shopkeeper Laila asks Israeli occupation soldiers to think about why they are serving and what they are accomplishing
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Ameera stands with Laila in Hebron's Old City, interviewing her about talking to soldiers

Laila is the only shopkeeper in the Old City who is a woman. She has opened her shop doors every day since 2007, preserving Palestinian heritage by selling Palestinian embroidery pieces to everyone—except the Israeli settlers, who stole her land and tried to steal merchandise from her shop on Sukkot Day.

Laila learned English on her own, not only because it’s good for business but because she wants to tell her story to people from all over the world about the actual circumstances of Palestinian life in al Khalil/Hebron.

One day, while she opened her shop, as usual, the Israeli occupation soldiers were spread throughout the Old City and had closed the entrance for Palestinians. Two soldiers stationed themselves every two meters, standing next to Palestinian shops and checking everyone who wanted to enter the area.

Then, hundreds of settlers invaded the Old City with extensive protection from the soldiers.

Watching these big groups of settlers coming from around the world, taking a tour of a Palestinian city as if its part of Israeli history, and buying Palestinian products under Israel’s name and with full military protection is like a terrible nightmare from which one just wants to wake up.

After opening her shop, Laila had a conversation with two soldiers nearby. She asked them about their stories, why they were present that day in the Old City, and what makes them carry out these atrocities against Palestinians.

One of the soldiers was very aggressive and racist; he believes this land belongs to his grandparents, so his goal is to kick out or kill Palestinians. The other soldier was more open to talking in a less intense tone, telling Laila, “I’m here because the other option is prison!”

The racist soldier continued speaking, telling Laila that he hates Muslims because they don’t like the Jews. “We’ve never had any problem with any Jew,” Laila replied. Our struggle is not to remove Jews from Palestine; our issue is with how the Israeli people treat us and the ethnic cleansing of all the Palestinians from their lands for people from outside to take our place.” There is a neighborhood in the Old City where Jews, Christians, and Muslims used to live together without religious conflict.

This isn’t the first time Laila has spoken with Israeli soldiers. One time, after al-Naksa (the “setback” of the 1967 Six-Day War), she took her son to the beach in Haifa. As they found a place in the sand, Laila noticed two Israeli men nearby, and one was speaking Arabic. She approached him and asked if she could ask him some questions. 

“I’m originally from Egypt, a Jewish Egyptian, and I owned a textile factory back home. They came and told me that there is a land without people and that over there even the stones are gold,” he recalled. “We were told we could invest and buy a lot of land there and that it’s just for Jews. So I sold everything I had in Egypt and came here. That’s when they told us we must serve in the army.”

Laila then asked if there were people here when he arrived.

“Yes, we had a big war, and it was impossible to kill everyone to empty the land,” he said. “Our strategy then was to kill everyone in one village, and when the other villages hear about what happened, they will leave on their own.”

“Are you satisfied with what you’ve done?” Laila asked.

“I’m going to start fishing now since I’ve retired,” he responded.

Laila reminded him of his privilege to access the sea, a right she and her family do not have, without asking for a permit. 

So why does Laila engage in these conversations? “I really don’t want to talk with our killers, but I have to resist somehow,” she said. “I want to tell these young soldiers in Hebron about the reality for Palestinians. We didn’t steal anything from anyone.” 

During the invasions in Hebron, the soldiers will force many shopkeepers to sell to the settlers, but Laila refuses, telling them that nothing could compel her to do that. When a white man comes to her shop to buy things, she immediately asks him if he is a settler to know if she should refuse the sale. “I am sure that one day I will be free in my land and visit every city without any weapons!” she declared.

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