I have visited al-Khalil (Hebron) many time over the years, but this was the first time I traveled there from Jerusalem the, um, “non-Palestinian way.”
Egged Bus #160 goes direct to Hebron the via the settlements stretching south from Jerusalem and costs only 9 sheqels (about $2.50). The comfortable air-conditioned bus is filled with Jewish commuters and shoppers. There are few tourists and no Palestinians. In theory anyone can take the bus, including Arab residents of Jerusalem, but in actuality few of them have any business in the Jewish settlements and they would have to walk a considerable distance from the bus terminus in Hebron and pass through a military checkpoint to reach the main commercial area of the city not under settler control.
Then it proceeds along Route 60, tunneling under the Palestinian town of Tantur and passing Bethlehem, hidden behind high walls lining the highway. Signposts indicate the side roads to a succession of Israeli settlements in this part of the West Bank: Beitar Ilit, Beit Sharon, Efrat.
Along here the Arabic language names on the road signs are mostly scratched out, painted over or covered by settler stickers. The turnoffs to the Palestinian villages along the way -- El ‘Arub, Beit ‘Ummar, Halul -- are mostly marked by looming guard towers and security gates.
|Guard tower outside Palestinian village|
|Palestinian village of Beit Ummar|
|Jewish Settlement of Karmiel Tzur|
|Israeli army base near Hebron/Khalil|
But first I dropped in at the municipal offices of the town, where I met the soft-spoken “Development Director” of the settlement, Shai Solomon. He was kind enough to show me the archaeological museum housed in the same building and he also gave me a glossy map of Kiryat Arba and vicinity. Solomon seemed a little chagrined when I asked him for directions to the grave/monument of Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of a1994 massacre of 29 worshipers at the Mosque. He warned me emphatically not to walk the half-mile from Kiryat Arba down to the Jewish settlement around the Machpela because “there were Arabs there.”
|Kiryat Arba street|
|Grave of Baruch Goldstein; Khalil City beyond|
|Edge of Kiryat Arba overlooking Hebron/Khalil, "Danger, Arabs!"|
|The "Machpela" / Ibrahimi Mosque|
|Street scene near Machpela|
Nor did the 400-850 (estimates vary) Jewish settlers constitute much of a real urban community of their own, with any commercial or community life to speak of. The principle activity of the half who were Yeshiva students was to pray and study Torah; the rest were apparently most engaged in occupying a piece of a city sacred to them, having babies and waiting for the day when the Arabs would somehow disappear.
|Beit Hadassah settlement apartments and museum|
The lives of the Palestinian residents stubbornly clinging to their homes among the Jewish settlers of Hebron is not easy.
I met some kids on the street who took me to
the home of Hashem ‘Azzeh on the hill of Tell Rumeida. His neighbors, just above, were a group of extremist
Orthodox Jews led by the American-born Baruch Marzel, who frequently attacked
his house. Hisham’s front door, which faced
the settlers, was ordered sealed by the Israel authorities, so the only way to
his house was a steep, winding and rocky footpath up the hill, and through the properties
of his Palestinian neighbors.
|Israeli army guard tower over Palestinian house|
After visiting the Jewish-controlled shrine of Abraham in the Mosque/Synagogue, I asked the soldiers at the security checkpoint in front if it was possible to enter the part of the building housing the Ibrahimi Mosque, whose entrance was just beyond, not 50 feet away. They said no, “you can’t get there from here.”
I would have to return to
the Palestinian-administered part of the city, about a kilometer in the
opposite direction and then circle back through the old marketplace and past
another Israeli security checkpoint – where I have witnessed Palestinians
brutally humiliated by the Israeli border police.
|"You can't get there from here."|
I decided to skip this exercise, having seen the Mosque on another visit and anxious to return back to Jerusalem – this time “the Palestinian way.” Walking back and crossing the Israeli checkpoint into the commercial center of Khalil was like a trip through the looking glass. The Arab city was vibrant, noisy and alive compared to the desiccated empty streets around the Machpela.
If you are Palestinian, you can’t travel directly from Khalil to Jerusalem. first you have to take a “servis” van or bus to Bethlehem, then change to another bus or van for the rest of the trip – but on the way you have to stop at an Israeli security checkpoint where exit the bus and show your papers. If you don’t have Israeli citizenship, Jerusalem ID or special permission you can’t go to Jerusalem at all, even if you grew up within sight of the city.
Traveling while Palestinian, of course, takes much longer, and costs more too. The combined fare to Bethlehem and then Jerusalem is 14 sheqels, compared to the 9 sheqels paid by Jewish settlers on the direct bus.
* * * *
“Transportation Apartheid” is a phenomenon you meet all over the Occupied West Bank – but within 1948 Israel as well.
When traveling from Jerusalem to see friends in the Israeli-Palestinian town of Qalansuwe (not far from Tulkarem in the West Bank) I discovered that the main Israeli bus company barely services the segregated Arab communities scattered over central and northern Israel. (Most of the Bedouin communities in the Negev are not officially “recognized” by the government and have no public services, water or electricity altogether, and the population is being threatened with forcible removal.)
When I attempted to reach Qalansuwe on a previous occasion I took the bus to nearby Kfar Sava, but couldn’t find public transportation to any of the nearby Palestinian towns. However, there were buses readily available to the Israeli settlements across the Green Line in the Occupied West Bank. This time I got a little closer with a bus to Netanya, but again there were no options to connect with any public transportation to Qalansuwe or any of the Palestinian towns nearby.
These separate and unequal services – and not just in transportation – have real economic consequence for the Palestinians living as citizens within Israel. For example, the relative lack of labor-force participation by Arab women is often cited as an illustration of “cultural backwardness” in Palestinian society. But the real cause of Palestinian women staying at home is more likely connected with the unavailability of state-subsidized childcare services, usually readily accessible in Jewish communities, and the serious inadequacy of public transportation. Jewish working mothers, of course, are more likely to have their own cars than women in much poorer Arab communities.