We wait for the soldiers to open the gate at the Ibrahimi mosque checkpoint, where crowds of people want to cross to reach the mosque for prayer and tourists trying to return to their homes. This area of H2 is surrounded by several checkpoints, security cameras, and a large number of soldiers and border police.
In front of us are a group of tourists, and some local people waiting along the fortified fencing that leads to the turnstile. The tourists make it through the gate safely, without any issues. When it is our turn to pass the checkpoint along with some other locals, the soldiers stop us and ask for our identification, also asking us to take off our shirts to make sure we’re not hiding anything. I feel frustrated and wonder why we don’t have the right to move freely in our land, but others can move freely anywhere.
We cross the checkpoint and stand near a souvenir shop. A tourist comes and asks me if I speak English. He wants to know what is going on, why there are so many barriers that divide, and if it is possible to go through Shuhada Street to reach downtown Hebron. I explain the divisions and the massive presence of soldiers and give him directions to get to Shuhada Street. He is shocked when he learns that Palestinians cannot walk there as he can and how the occupation has separated the roads for settlers and Palestinians. He feels sorry and regrets how he unknowingly used his privilege to walk freely in the area when I, a Palestinian, cannot.
Near the Abed checkpoint, Israeli occupation soldiers have installed more barriers, dividing the road into one side for settlers and the other Palestinians, constantly separating the settlers for their safety. They often keep the Palestinians waiting at the checkpoint until the settlers pass freely—and with military accompaniment—to their destination. No one could imagine or understand this reality until they come and see how apartheid is enacted here in the old city of Al-Khalil/Hebron.
The old city of Hebron should be a thriving city center where many people visit. But people feel unsafe here because of the settlers’ presence in the city and the closures and militarized checkpoints around the area. Advanced surveillance cameras can recognize people’s faces from a distance. The city has been emptied of people, and what makes it worse, the settlers carry out incursions into the old city every Saturday, where the military closes the area and only allows settlers to pass on a tour of the old city. The soldiers force people who live in the area to wait in corners until the settlers finish. It is absurd to imagine that someone who just wants to go home must wait until the settlers, living as occupiers on illegal settlements, finish enjoying their tour.
The specific restrictions on freedom of movement that the Israeli occupation imposes on Palestinians in Hebron can change from time to time, but the “principle of separation,” the apartheid system between the settlers who are protected by the army and the Palestinian majority, remains the same. This policy has led to the economic collapse of the center of Hebron and the old city, forcing many Palestinian residents to leave. The well-oiled machine of the occupation makes life impossible for Palestinians so that settlers can continue to overtake the area.
Even outside the city, there are restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, from limiting entry and exit points to flying checkpoints to extra travel via long detours and broken roads.
If Palestinians in the West Bank want to go to Jerusalem, they must apply for a permit from the Israeli authorities, and not all Palestinians will be awarded permits. Jerusalem is only 18km from Hebron, yet most residents will never travel there. Imagine needing a permit to travel to visit a friend or family member within your country. Even to travel abroad, Palestinians are not allowed to use the airports here; we must travel through to Jordan to fly out of the Amman airport. To cross the land borders, we must cross three borders (Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian).
It’s hard to understand until you come to witness the absurdity. This is Palestine: we, as Palestinians, do not have the right to move freely in our country, but a stranger can travel wherever they want in my country.