Getting off the bus in Hebron, we are immediately confronted by a dark green cement center divider that segregates the street. On one side are two Palestinian shops selling brightly colored keffiyehs and drinks from a cooler. On the other is a Jewish community center flooded by religious tourists wearing wide brimmed black hats and medium length auburn wigs. All of the roads are designated as either Palestinian or Jewish. Soldiers with guns slung loosely on their hips guard the corners where the two intersect.
Hebron is divided into the sectors of H1, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and H2 controlled by the Israeli Defense Forces. Area H2 is mixed and home to 30,000 Palestinians and 500 settlers. Despite these numbers, the place has come to resemble a ghost town. All the streets are empty and the shops closed. Part of the reason why Hebron is a hot spot in the news is because of its biblical significance. Looming above the city is the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the recognized resting place of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and even Adam.
Our guide leads us past barred windows and boarded up shops with Starsof David spray painted across the slats. Suddenly, we turn into a hidden alley. A deaf Palestinian woman and her son have been apparently waiting for us to arrive. Her large body is swaddled in a cobalt patterned dress and hijab. The woman begins to gesticulate in Arabic sign language while our guide relays her story. Her husband lives in H1 with his other wives. He visits her at least once a month and always brings a chicken for her to cook. Her son has a club foot. Grinning, she kisses the boy on top of the head. The apartment she lives in is bordered by Jewish streets on either side so she must use a special tunnel to access the Palestinian route. She points to a dark corridor and a large metal door painted with a medieval looking sword.
We continue our tour through the silence. Suddenly, it hits me. The streets are empty because people are on curfew. They cannot leave their houses and in fact must walk on the rooftops to get anywhere. I begin to understand what occupation means a little bit better. It means no mobility. An idea is just an idea until you experience the reality of a situation.
We route back to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and split in half. A group of us eat at one of the Palestinian shops where the owner has specially ordered falafel from H1. After finishing my meal, I walk into the Jewish community center. My friends are sitting around a big plastic table munching on potato chips. One of them laughs,
“Look at the wireless network.”
We all gather around the small screen:
I begin to back away from the table, weaving through throngs of smiling children and devout couples. I cross into the middle of the street. A Palestinian boy comes up to me selling wrist bands with “Free Palestine” printed across the plastic. He dangles them in front of my face.
That night I talk to my Tel Avivian friend about what I’ve seen.
“You should know most Israelis hate that place. It shouldn’t exist.”
“Have you ever been?”
He shakes his head sharply, dark eyes squinting behind glasses.
“There’s a part of your brain that doesn’t think it’s real -” I begin. He cuts me off.
“I hate reality.”