Meretz Symposium Day 4: Political TourismPosted: 24/10/2012
Today was all about touring. Hagit Ofran, the director of the Settlement Watch program of Peace Now, took us into Hebron. We took the tunnels road, through each of the checkpoints. Hagit pointed out all the settlements and road blockages on the way there. Hagit was careful not to let the soldiers at the outpost of each settlement see her, because although it is illegal to prevent her from getting inside, they could make it difficult for her to enter, since they know her beautiful activist face well by now.
Once inside Hebron, I was saddened to see the lack of change since the last time I had visited the city. Some people told me that something like five or six years ago, there was some really nasty graffiti covering the Arab stores. Things like, “Arabs to Auschwitz.” Now, they have painted over the graffiti and made the place at least look somewhat presentable, because they know that they cannot prevent people from going inside.
We were first greeted by some TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) personell. These men (mostly) come from about seven European nations in order to document illegal activity by Israel. They seem incredibly invested in truly helping, but they admit that their reports are only seen by the eyes of their own governments and the Israeli governments, and not by civillians. Therefore, not much happens as a result. Still, they do what they can.
Then, a little further in, a handful of young Palestinian residents asked us for some money. I recognized a man from the last time I visited Hebron, actually. I remember because he asked me to marry him last time. I rejected the proposal, and I’m sure his feelings weren’t hurt, since he didn’t recognize me this time. I don’t blame him, I’ve put on a couple of pounds since then. It was difficult to see the new wrinkles on his face and tears in his clothes. And it’s a difficulty I plan to sit with, and act upon.
Later on in the day, we took a tour of the settlement construction and Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem. We started out in Har Homa, which is now home to thousands Jewish Israelis. Largely, these settlers are not motivated by nationalist or religious fervor (yet they do tend to adopt such fervor after moving in). For the most part, they move to Har Homa in search of affordable housing, since the neighborhood is cheap compared to the rest of Jerusalem, and the Israeli government provides many incentives for doing so.
Many settlers in general receive stipends from the Israeli government for moving into the settlements, however our tour guide said that is not the case in Har Homa. Although there are many added benefits to living in Har Homa, such as a luxurious public transportation system. In one year from today, the settlement will have tripled in size since last year. And while it is technically legal for a Palestinian with residency status in East Jerusalem to move into the neighborhood, it is quite impossible from almost any angle to do so.