Palestine: Entombed in Hebron

by Bob Holmes

Hebron is a sacred place because of the cave/tomb of Abraham and Sarah, Rebecca and Isaac, Jacob and Leah.  Today Hebron feels entombed by the Israeli military occupation and colonization.  It is a Holy Saturday that has lasted over forty-five years.  No resurrection in sight.

But somehow the winter of all hopes and dreams bears the seeds of a maybe far-off spring of justice and freedom.  I offer two stories of occupation: one of oppression, one of hope. 

At the end of March 2012, dozens of Israeli settlers seized and occupied a three-story house in a Palestinian neighbourhood 100 meters from the tomb of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs.  Israeli soldiers and police immediately declared the street a closed military zone, forcing Palestinians to detour, even the children attending the school next door.

The settlers claimed to have gained legal title to the building.  However, the Israeli military, which controls all civil administration in the occupied area of Hebron, declared it “a provocation” and ordered an evacuation.  The situation became very political with Prime Minister Netanyahu and several Knesset members supporting the occupying settlers.

The occupation lasted seven days before the Israeli military evacuated the settlers.  Some angry settlers reacted to the eviction by walking through a Palestinian neighbourhood breaking windows in cars and homes.  Others remained encamped in front of the house, but the street was opened to Palestinians.

On Palm Sunday, during the settler occupation, a group of about 25 Palestinians and five internationals re-occupied a building from which the Israeli military had forcibly evicted Palestinians several years earlier for “security reasons,” meaning security for settlers living in a nearby settlement.

The Israeli military response to this Palestinian action was much different from its reaction to the settlers’ occupation four days earlier.  Within an hour, the Israeli military cleared the plaza in front of the building, forcing all Palestinians out of the immediate area and barricading the four streets feeding into the plaza.  They then physically pulled, pushed, or carried out all the “occupiers” arresting three, including one international.  Then the soldiers dispersed the crowds gathered at the barricades with sound bombs and a water cannon spraying foul “skunk” water – a chemical fluid with an overpowering stench that smells like garbage and sewage and clings to the body for weeks. 

Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are going away.  Like in South Africa, the occupation, colonization and apartheid here cannot last.  It must give way eventually to freedom and equality for all who live in this (un)Holy Land.  I believe it will require international political and economic pressure to bring about change.  The change of hearts will take much longer.

Fr. Bob Holmes has served with CPT since 1999, currently with the Palestine Team.  He lives in Ontario, Canada.