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Visit to Hebron (or How can I explain this living hell to a nice liberal Jew in Brookline?)

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This photograph, purportedly of Israeli soldiers holding a Palestinian child during a house raid in Hebron, was posted on a Facebook page by Ben Marmara

Rothchild has been sending posts back to friends from her visit to Palestine. This is the latest email. –Ed.

We leave for the tortured city of Hebron later than expected (tear gas, food, and embroidery) and H. tries to explain to me the intricacies of her permitting process.  She has a West Bank ID. She can only apply for a new permit to enter Israel if her old one has already expired (it generally lasts three months). Fortunately she does not own a car or a donkey; that would also require a permit.  And she cannot apply until it actually physically runs out.  Are you following this? So, her permit ran out Thursday evening, the earliest she could apply is Friday, but Friday and Saturday are holidays and you cannot get any permit unless it is an emergency. If you have paid 140 shekels a year for a magnetic strip card that indicates you do not have any security issues, it will take one day to get the permit, otherwise it takes two, but of course the permit is never guaranteed. So the earliest she can apply is Monday, but she needs a permit to come with us into Israel to Nazareth on Saturday which in this crazy world is now impossible.

Now let me remind you that she has just graduated from a prestigious US university, has no criminal record, has a great sense of humor, comes from a respectable family and poses no security risks except perhaps the risk of speaking her mind which the last time I checked was still legal in most modern democratic societies.  If she decides to take her chances and sneaks in (happens a lot) and the driver gets caught, he is fined, which is really not fair to him.  Under these circumstances, she would not carry any IDs, so the Israelis would not be able to punish her since they cannot prove she is who she is and you can bet I am not going to help them either on that one.  So does this sound sensible? Related to security? Keeping the folks in Netanya secure in their beach chairs sipping their pomegranate mojitos? Valium anyone?

At Kalandia we spot two soldiers crouching in a rotary hiding behind an olive tree, their weapons are loaded, hands on the trigger, not sure if it is tear gas or bullets.  I learn that a 13 year old Palestinian child was killed yesterday. Ma’ale Adumim sprawls across distant hilltops like a giant snake slithering across the territories, there is an IDF jeep on the road, we come to a checkpoint with three IDF soldiers.  On the radio the woman reports a loud explosion in a town near Hebron. The IDF stole 15,000 shekels during one home invasion and the Palestinian Authority is completely invisible except for traffic cops who are not doing much. When the Israelis are planning a major incursion, they send their colleagues (that is too nice a word) home. The city feel eerie and tense, young men cluster on sidewalks, looking thin, hungry and ready for trouble; large dumpsters have been placed across the roads, some already brooding smoke. Despite this, people are out on the streets, shopping, biking, driving, smoking.

I have never seen our guide, Hisham Sharabati, so tense; yes we are late, and yes he has a flat tire, but the city feels like it is about to explode and he has a lot to teach us and wants us all to leave in one piece. (good plan) He reviews the outrageous history of the ancient city of Hebron and its colonization and militarization by a small number of fanatical Jews from Kiryat Arba who then decided to take over the center of the Old City and destroy the lives of the Palestinian families living there. Nonetheless, everything is worse since my last descent into this living hell: with the kidnapping of the three Yeshiva students, no one with an ID less than 50 years old can leave the country (like the lovely man who sat next to me in the service and has been accepted to a US AID program on leadership development in DC and has a formal letter from the Consulate; he is now on his fourth try to get by the ever so conscientious Israeli security at the border with Jordan).

The Palestinian markets are not only covered with sheets and chicken wire to protect them from the garbage thrown down on them by Jewish settlers living above, but they have started putting up a metal roof over the market. The shuttered shops, doors welded shut, racist graffiti, trashed jewelry district, blocked streets and passages, windows covered with metal mesh to protect against stones in the Old City all persist. The lower levels of the market flood in the winter with up to four feet of water and garbage. A soldier was videotaped throwing rocks at Palestinians and received a minor punishment.  The Yeshiva is expanding and invading into the lives and lands of its Palestinian neighbors, guard towers and cameras are everywhere, and I really mean everywhere. But life goes on. We pass a Palestinian man busily washing his car.  There is loud honking and a wedding party, car decorated with flowers, passes by. A computer store is filled with young men glued to their screens.

Hisham takes us through turn styles and checkpoints to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Ibrahimi Mosque and reminds us that Abraham is reported in the Old Testament to have bought the spot for his burial site and the family burial site, but he must have bought it from somebody! This glorious and tortured site has been claimed, rebuilt, invaded, and divided up by all the folks who passed through over the many centuries from Herod, the Romans, the Ottomans, the Crusaders, Saladin, and most recently the Jews.  (I am sure I have left somebody out, but you get the point). And then of course in 1994 Baruch Goldstein massacred some 25 Muslims and injured 100, the place got divided up between two of the three Abrahamic religions, and the fight continues. We see many more IDF soldiers and a long parade of ultra-orthodox Jews (of the fanatic, fascistic, brown shirt variety) with large families of lovely innocent looking children, climbing up the long stairs for Shabbat services. This is when I realize that a committed pacifist like me can harbor outrageously murderous thoughts, but since I have had a lot of therapy, I am clear about the difference between thought and action.

Hisham shows us the checkpoint and metal detector where hundreds of school children have to hustle through every day to get to their classes, the square where three Palestinians were shot to death at different times for the crime of being there.  We stare at a man on a donkey loaded with large bundles of straw, yelling and herding a flock of sheep up the winding road to get to his side of the street (there are Jewish only streets and sidewalks around here, I am assuming the sheep are of the Arab persuasion given the sneer I see pass across the IDF soldier’s face). We hear of the 15 Palestinian families that are so isolated by the maze of walls and barriers that they cannot have visitors and of the incredible challenges families face with the concrete barriers, the front doors they cannot use, the ladders and roof-to-roof alternatives that people take to leave their homes. (did you get that, roof-to-roof?)  But what if you are disabled? Or elderly? Or just bought a bed for your new wife? People die from this kind of life.

It is getting dark and dangerous.  I can see the tension in the faces of the young men hanging on the sidewalks, the tone in Hisham’s voice; the streets are littered with rocks, the night raids will soon begin, the burning tires, the children dragged out of their beds, the self-righteous cheers and prayers of fanatical Jews with Brooklyn accents and delusions that fill me with shame.

How can I explain this reality to the nice liberal Jews in Brookline or Long Island or Los Angeles who have never really grappled with the long term implications of Zionism, the privileging of Jews over everyone else whatever the cost and the belief in our perpetual victimhood? This is it, taken to its most extreme, disturbed, and destructive form, and it is heart breaking, immoral, and outrageous. If we do not speak up, if we do not say, not in my name and really mean it, I fear it make take us all, Jew and Palestinian, down together.

Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997. She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. Follow her at @alicerothchild

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27 Responses

  1. just on July 4, 2014, 10:44 am

    Alice– thank you from the bottom of my truly breaking heart.

    “How can I explain this reality to the nice liberal Jews in Brookline or Long Island or Los Angeles who have never really grappled with the long term implications of Zionism, the privileging of Jews over everyone else whatever the cost and the belief in our perpetual victimhood?”

    Just hand them your correspondence.

  2. Citizen on July 4, 2014, 11:02 am

    It’s not relevant. The only relevant thing is AIPAC.

  3. seafoid on July 4, 2014, 11:08 am

    There are 613 mitzvot. Is there not one ubermitzvah that says “if it is wrong, don’t do it”? . Hebron could have had such a different history with a bit of Jewish discipline.

    How important can the the dairy stuff in the age of the fridge be , honestly? And can it be more important than basic decency ?

  4. Bob Feldman on July 4, 2014, 11:33 am

    Why not try focusing also on raising consciousness of people of all religious backgrounds in Brookline about role that AIPAC/Lobby, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the U.S. government play in perpetuating human rights violations and apartheid within Palestine/Israel (i.e. attempt a more assimilationist/less separatist approach/strategy in building an internationalist Palestinian solidarity movement in Brookline and elsewhere in massachusetts/usa)?

  5. Pamela Olson on July 4, 2014, 12:20 pm

    I tried to give a good overview of the totally insane situation in Hebron in my book, but it was cut by my publisher for reasons of length. I posted it here instead:

    • just on July 4, 2014, 12:46 pm

      Thanks for that, Pamela.
      (I wish your publisher hadn’t cut it– it’s very revealing)

  6. Djinn on July 4, 2014, 12:27 pm

    I’ve been to a lot of really hard core horrible places. War zones & disaster zones and have seen violence and death of more than one kind. The ONLY time I have ever gone back to wherever I’m sleeping, called my Ma and cried for hours, is after visiting Hebron for the first time.

    A living hell is a perfectly apt description for what the very worst of the settler criminals have done to Palestinians.

    I’m not sure it can be properly explained to the folks back home. I’m generally considered fairly eloquent but I haven’t found a way to do it yet.

    • just on July 4, 2014, 12:45 pm


    • Kay24 on July 4, 2014, 2:24 pm

      So sad that the international community has been watching these atrocities, and ill treatment of these poor Palestinians, and not doing a damn thing about it. Children are being killed, there is excessive violence against them, and a brutality that people are now equating more to nazis. From the top to the thugs in uniform, who follow their orders brutally, knowing whatever war crimes they commit, they will be protected by their zionist government. Zionist leaders like Bibi and Bennet pound their chests and shout about revenge, drawing blood, and call the other side human animals, yet it seems the US congress, are selectively deaf to it, all they are made to see is how deadly the other side (made up of most unarmed civilians) is, and that poor Israel must always defend itself from these unarmed people.

      These are the headlines of a Haaretz article:
      “VIDEO: Israeli police beating Palestinian during Jerusalem protest
      Video shows police officers beating youth and dragging his unconscious body away; Palestinians report several incidents of police brutality during riots in Shoafat.
      Israeli security forces are using excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem, Palestinian sources claimed as violence escalated in the wake of a Palestinian teenager’s death.”

      I had no access to the video. However, it clearly shows anyone with half a brain, the pattern of abuse these poor people have to endure.
      Excessive force and the brutal IDF go together.
      US leaders and congress who keep kissing up to Israel are enablers, and also guilty of human rights violations. All in our name.

  7. Whizdom on July 4, 2014, 12:28 pm

    Am guessing Hebron isn’t on the Taglit tour itinerary

    • Kris on July 4, 2014, 3:20 pm

      Here are excerpts from a news story about a 15-year-old Palestinian-American boy who was just beaten up by Israeli police. If the boy had been Israeli-American, the photo of his poor, battered face would be all over our media, non-stop, at this very moment. After seeing this photo, I can’t stop thinking about Emmett Till. Different time, different place, but same racism.

      How do nice, liberal Jews from Brookline or anywhere else justify what is happening in their name? If the nice, liberal Jews in the U.S. would just stand up, this would stop.

      15-year-old Cousin of Murdered Teen Beaten by Police in Shu’fat

      A Palestinian teenager identified by local sources as the cousin of the 16-year-old who was murdered on Wednesday was beaten and abducted by Israeli police on Thursday, and was refused medical treatment for his broken nose and other injuries while in custody.

      The attack on the 15-year-old appears to be the latest affront to a family that is mourning the brutal death of a child. Tariq is a Palestinian-American who was staying with family in Jerusalem when he was beaten and abducted by Israeli police. He full extent of his injuries is still unknown.

  8. just on July 4, 2014, 5:37 pm

    Tell them this:

    “BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli settlers set up outposts early Friday in northern Hebron, an official said.

    The secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative in the town of Surif in northern Hebron told Ma’an that locals found settlers, protected by Israeli soldiers, setting up an outpost on the al-Jreinat mountain between Surif and Jabaa Friday morning.

    Shihada Hmeidat said that at 2 a.m. he heard the sounds of Israeli bulldozers and vehicles that were digging until morning.

    Settlers set up six caravans on the top of the mountain.

    Hmeidat said that this outpost is an extension of the Gush Etzion settlement near Surif, after the Israeli minister of defense ordered building more settlements.

    The lands on which the outposts were set up belong to the al-Ghneimat and al-Hur families. ”

    and this:

    “JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli settlers attempted to kidnap a seven-year-old Palestinian child in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina overnight Thursday, locals said.

    Witnesses told Ma’an that four settlers from Pisgat Zeev tried to kidnap Muhammad Ali al-Kiswani while he was playing in the neighborhood late Thursday after breaking the Ramadan fast.

    Children in the area alerted family members, who thwarted the attack, according to witnesses.

    The settlers fled on foot, locals said.

    An Israeli police spokesman could not be reached for comment.”

    • a blah chick on July 4, 2014, 6:24 pm

      Rumor has it that the killers of Abu Khdeir were from this same settlement.

      Why aren’t the police questioning people there?

      • MahaneYehude1 on July 5, 2014, 7:37 am

        @Blah chick:

        Rumor has it that the killers of Abu Khdeir were from this same settlement.

        Why aren’t the police questioning people there?

        Because it’s a rumor.

      • Woody Tanaka on July 5, 2014, 8:37 am

        “Because it’s a rumor.”

        Didn’t stop them from launching a pogrom on the rumor that Hamas had something to do with the three Jewish males’ deaths…

      • Djinn on July 5, 2014, 9:35 am

        Why aren’t they questioning the owners of the car he was kidnapped in, given that the family provided a plate number? Why did they spend the first several hours of their “investigation” harassing the family?

      • eljay on July 5, 2014, 10:06 am

        >> MY1: Because it’s a rumor.

        Shouldn’t the police “do all efforts” to resolve the crime, so that you can be proud once again?

        By the way, please honour your promise to reply to my two questions. For your convenience, I have included below. Thank you.
        1. How many Palestinians would your government and Occupation Forces have to murder and how much Palestinian property would your government and Occupation Forces have to destroy before you would not be proud of them for using acts of injustice and immorality to resolve a crime?

        2. When Israelis commit similar crimes against Palestinians, are Palestinians entitled to murder an equal number of Israelis and destroy an equal amount of Israeli property to resolve the crime? If not, why not?

    • Feathers on July 5, 2014, 11:39 am

      Meanwhile back at the ranch —

      How are things between the Presbyterians (PCUSA) and Rabbis for Human Rights?

  9. DICKERSON3870 on July 5, 2014, 3:44 am

    RE: “Keeping the folks in Netanya secure in their beach chairs sipping their pomegranate mojitos? Valium anyone? ~ Alice Rothchild

    MY RESPONSE: Yes, thank heavens! A double dose, if you can spare it.
    And, I wouldn’t mind one of those a pomegranate mojitos (preferably a very tall one) as a chaser.
    I find the sound/report of July 4th fireworks going off quite unsettling, and the Valium/mojito combination might help steel/fortify my nerves.
    Bless you; you’re a godsend!

    P.S. Please keep this just between the two of us. You know how people like to gossip!

  10. DICKERSON3870 on July 5, 2014, 4:38 am

    RE: “This photograph, purportedly of Israeli soldiers holding a Palestinian child during a house raid in Hebron, was posted on a Facebook page by Ben Marmara”

    MY COMMENT: I guess the photograph purportedly of Israeli soldiers holding a Palestinian child during a house raid in Hebron is one of those “trophy” photos the IDF is so fond of. It also reminds me a bit of the photo of Josh Block (of ‘The Israel Project’) posing with a tuna in Cabo San Lucas.

  11. notatall on July 5, 2014, 6:22 am

    I “feel Alice Rothschild’s pain” (I really do), but perhaps she should target an audience other than “liberal Jews,” since their liberalism so often conflicts with their sense of themselves as Jews. See

  12. Dan Crowther on July 5, 2014, 7:14 am

    Its Al Khalil

  13. Djinn on July 5, 2014, 8:25 am

    And Jerusalem is Al Quds but many people don’t know that so people use the common terms so as to be understood by a wider audience.

  14. Mooser on July 5, 2014, 1:05 pm

    “How can I explain this reality to the nice liberal Jews in Brookline or Long Island or Los Angeles who have never really grappled with the long term implications of Zionism, “

    Gosh, it’s not like anybody saw this coming. Oh, I’ve heard a lot of Jews were worried about it. But who listens to them?

    One long 60 year kvetch of ‘I didn’t know the gun was loaded’.

  15. MHughes976 on July 5, 2014, 2:05 pm

    ‘They never really grappled with the problem’ means that they looked the other way when it came anywhere near them. And not only Jewish people, God knows. How I thought so calmly and neutrally about such a shocking thing for so many years puzzles and shocks me now.

  16. SQ Debris on July 5, 2014, 2:38 pm

    Alice, it would be good if you could clue-up a touch. Do not put the full names of Palestinians who are living at the business end of Israeli rifles on the web, unless they are already dead. Got it? Just speaking to journalists can get a person thrown into administrative detention indefinitely. It’s great that you are getting an education, but have a care for your instructors.

  17. eGuard on July 5, 2014, 9:57 pm

    How can I explain this […] to a nice liberal Jew […]?

    Answer: Stop using “liberal” in combination with “Zionist/Jew”. End of trouble, guaranteed.

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