Well the first day of my trip certainly threw me in at the deep end when it came to learning about the tensions between Israel and Palestine.
I hadn’t arrived at my hostel until 2am the night before, after a surprisingly easy time going through passport control, after what I had heard. But despite only a few hours sleep, I was up early to go on the Hebron Dual Narrative tour, run by Abraham tours.
The dual narrative refers to the fact that the tour is led in part by a Jewish Israeli, and in part by a Muslim Palestinian, so travellers can learn from both perspectives and get a clearer understanding of the conflict.
We travelled into the West Bank on public transport – the 381 bus goes from Central Station to Hebron. Staring out of the window is fascinating, with the different buildings and the landscapes. Then you’re hit with the sight of the separation wall and a refugee camp, and you’re reminded of the horrific impact this conflict has on the lives of individuals.
After stringent passport checks, metal detectors and passing soldiers with machine guns, we were taken by a local Palestinian tour guide into her community.
She shared her side of the story, introducing us to local business owners who gave their perspective. It became apparent that life there is tough. Young children were selling bracelets for a few sheckels, there was netting overhead because Israeli settlers throw eggs and rubbish at houses, I saw a young woman getting harassed by a soldier as she passed his station. We heard about schools being closed and taken over by the Israeli army, and there was a constant feeling of being watched my the Israeli snipers on roofs and look-out towers. We heard about the fact that Israeli settlers are innocent until proven guilty, and Palestinians are guilty until proven innocent.
I found it deeply, deeply saddening.
It was lovely too though. The Palestinian people are amongst the most welcoming I have ever met. The market was a vibrant hub, touting some extraordinary perfect fruit and veg. We ate lunch in the home of a Palestinian family, enjoying rice and salads while we spoke to their young children.
In the afternoon, we learned more about the Jewish perspective on the situation. Our Israeli Jewish guide was immediately bombarded with questions from the group, demanding to know how anyone could treat human beings that way. He talked us through the history of Israel, going back thousands of years to where it all began. His explanation made things a lot clearer on why the land is so contested, having been Judea to start with and the name being changed to Palestinia in 135 CE. The land belonged to them first.
He explained how Jewish and Arab people had lived relatively harmoniously together until quite recently, when there had been too many attacks on Israelis by Palestinians and they had to put in security measures. He talked about the 10 month old baby, Shalhevet Pass, who was killed in her pram by a Palestinian sniper. He talked about the pregnant woman who was blown up by a suicide bomber.
We heard from a Jewish lady whose father had been murdered by a Palestinian in their family home. She was, quite understandably, angry. Hebron is her home, but it is illegal for her to enter 97% of the city.
Our Israeli guide confessed that everyone involved is playing a game of ‘victimology’ to try to get outsiders to take their side. But these things that happened are very real, and inform the way people behave on both sides.
The situation is just fraught with tension. The fact remained that our Israeli guide carried a handgun, there are armed soldiers everywhere, and Palestinians are unarmed. That must be hideously oppressive. The guide was questioned on this, and he said “A lot of Palestinian people want me dead. This keeps me safe.” It isn’t fair and it isn’t right. But I can understand.
To be honest, before the tour, I didn’t get the complexity of it. I saw the situation as Jews oppressing and terrorising Muslims, but this back and forth has been going on for centuries. I mean, I knew this, but I didn’t understand.
The tour took in fascinating sites – the cave of the patriarchs and a centuries old synagogue with the original Torah scrolls. But it was the politics, the history of the conflict, and most importantly the human stories that made this the most valuable tour I have been on.
It opened my mind and educated me on something I haven’t ever been able to get my head around.
I would urge anyone coming to Israel or the West Bank to take this tour. It didn’t so much change my opinion as make me realise there is no valid opinion or solution I can hold. I can say on a human level, there are atrocities being committed, but both a two-state solution and a one-state solution don’t seem viable.
It feels hopeless. But people just keep on.
If you have an opinion either way, or if you want to learn more, take the tour. Go with an open mind, learn, and explore. This is important, and the people of Israel and Palestine deserve solidarity in their struggle from the rest of the world.
The experience is with Abraham Tours – https://abrahamtours.com/tours/hebron-tour/