One of my various exploratory trips saw me joining a dual-narrative tour to Hebron, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, known for being a controversial land for Jewish settlers to move into because of its strong significance in both the Quran and the Bible. We only explored the H2 sector (roughly 20% of the city) due to the fact that it exists under Israeli administration – as opposed to the H1 sector, which is controlled by the Palestinian authorities. The main purpose of the tour was to give both the Jews and Arabs a platform to share their stories in depth, since many say they are either misrepresented or misunderstood.
As such, the guide for the first half of the tour brought us around Palestinian neighbourhoods and to the mosque standing in the same compound as the Tombs of the Patriarchs. We were subsequently brought to the synagogue on the same compound, but this time by a Jewish tour guide, before gathering in the backyard of a museum to hear the story of a particular Jewish settler.
Our Palestinian tour guide shared with us his harsh experiences with the IDF, recounting an incident where he was arrested in the Israeli-controlled areas for no rhyme or reason, held against his will for a few hours, and then eventually let out. There were also shopkeepers who shared that their businesses in the neighbourhood are currently dipping slowly but surely because of the Jewish settlers who are apparently known for throwing garbage from their windows above to the streets below, effectively chasing away customers and even the shopkeepers themselves. As much as I empathised and conversed with them, it was disappointing, however, that the interactions with the Palestinians did not reflect upon them and their stories well; in fact it was treated more like a “joke” than an issue they were deeply concerned about.
When our Jewish tour guide took over for the second half, we were granted very interesting insights into the Jewish side of things. I have been following various news channels on social media, and it is here that Israeli Jews are most often seen in a bad light; I would hear of their unjust treatment of the Arabs and how they are constantly looking to occupy more and more land. While there may be some truth behind this, I’d never before considered their backgrounds and what they, as a collective people, have gone through.
The Jewish settler, whose family had legitimate certificates to prove that they owned land in Hebron, shared her story of how her father, a rabbi, was killed in his room when she was still a child. A Palestinian man had sneaked in and stabbed him to death because he did not want them, the Jews, to be there. She shared the presence of an internal dilemma, struggling between whether she should succumb to the threats of the Palestinians by moving out of Hebron or stand her ground by simply living with what was originally, rightfully hers.
She then shared the history of when the Jews and Arabs were living in peace together under the rule of the British – they were colleagues, neighbours, and most importantly, friends. However, things took a turn for the worse during the Buraq uprising and the Hebron Massacre in 1929 that had deeply scarred the Jewish community living in Palestine – the Arabs attacked Jews, killing and raping men, women and children, and looted their property. Imagine seeing the very people you once invited into your house for dinner standing on your doorstep with knives in their hands, all ready to attack you with no holds barred. I’d never understood why the Israeli people were so defensive and aggressive, but when I look at this violent history of theirs, truly, who can they trust but themselves?
Although the leaders of both sides are pushing for either a two-state or one-state solution, where both of which sound like viable options, it is definitely not as simple once one takes into account the emotions the people on the ground are experiencing. Both groups are filled with an innate hatred, unforgiveness and immense hostility towards each other, and both groups do deserve to feel this way based on the trauma they have suffered through.
Isabel shot all the images above with the OOWA 15 mm lenses.