Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian Territories through a month of trial. Well, trying to, but being held in custody. Start here if you wish to see how the trouble began.
Sitting in the back of the Palestinian police’s pick up van as we rattled up hill on the gravel path, sandwiched between Tine and a huge, armed, officer, I think about this story by O Henry. You know it, the one with the petty thief who decides to leave the world of crime and then gets arrested for loitering. This is what happened to Tine and I. We got arrested for loitering.
The last photo I could take appeared at the end of the previous post. From here on the camera had to be hidden. If the policemen asked to see the pictures, they would find out that we have been to downtown Dura and to Hebron H1, which are distinctly Area A.
Since we were caught on the borderline between zones we agree in German to pretend that we have entered the area through a western checkpoint, intending to take an innocent walk in the countryside, and got lost in the hills. I am thankful for any opportunity to use the German word “Spazieren”. It’s just so pretty, but the thought of lying to the police and then getting caught lying does make me a tad shaky.
What makes me shakier is the notion that these policemen are now supposed to hand us over to the Israelis. If the Israelis prove that we have crossed the lines into Area A, we are in going to be Spazierening in serious Scheisse. Even Tine, who isn’t Israeli, would pay a price: she still needs to go through the infamous security check at Ben Gurion airport on the way out.
“Yuval,” an officer in the front seat is reading my name from my Israeli ID card. “You’ve heard of the September 20th UN vote?”.
“And are you for it or against it.”
“I’m for it.”
“Then you belong to the family of peace.”
“I do.” There’s a relaxing development for ya. I look around the car, the atmosphere actually isn’t bad at all.
We are taken to the Dura police sattion and served tea. The room is adored with photos of Arafat and Abbas and the windows graced with wonderful violet drapes. Tine comments on them, I translate her compliment to the officer in command. He seems to think that it was my compliment and that I’m one of those not perfectly manly westerners he’s heard of.
Perhaps partially in order to break this impression I ask whether I could text-message my girlfriend, who is in the US for work. This prompts questions about the nature of my relationship with Tine. The concept of male-female friendship is to a great extent unfamiliar in the Arab world. I do my best to familiarize them with it.
This, by the way, is what Tine produced later, from memory. In real time, while waiting at the station among the very idle-looking officers, having them pass her passport back and forth and take notes in an alphabet she can’t read, her doodles came out somewhat more jittery.
Ruthie texts back. She’s wonderfully cool about getting news of my arrest while being across an ocean, and asks whether she should call someone. I tell her there’s no need to at this point, but the next text message to arrive is from Yadin Elam, a lawyer who specializes in legal victims of the occupation. I tell him I’ll update.
We spend about 90 minutes at the station. The tea is followed by a terrible candy bar and then by black coffee with cardammon. The officers are consistently pleasant and I work my Arabic like never before to try and win their hearts, hoping they would simply drop us off by the road and let us be.
No such luck, once the report is filed we are ushered into the pickup truck and driven to Hebron. On the way we take the memory cards out of our cameras and hide them, to try and prevent the Israelis from looking through them.
The sun is setting as we entered the Hebron DCO: the Palestinian police’s facility for contact with the Israelis. It is a much grungier place than the Dura police station: a big old building that reeks of old-school bureaucracy.
Here, on the top floor, we wait some more. Outside the window was a city I may never see again. Depending on the implications of the event, going back into Area A may be extremely unwise for me.
Damn it. All major cities in the West Bank are Area A. What will be of my journey?
The people at the command are wearing soldier uniforms and armed with machine guns, but even they were very friendly. We are served more coffee. I feel sorry for drawing Tine into an adventure that involves both an arrest and caffeine poisoning, but she calms me and says she’s okay.
More time passes. Since no one took away my phone or seems to care that I use it, I post a status on Facebook, telling about the arrest, complimenting the Palestinian police for its hospitality and criticizing the terrible candy bar.
This status update spins into motion an interference. Or Heller, the same Channel 10 military correspondent who sent me the photo of Guy Zohar’s resignation which kicked off my record of the day, calls the IDF spokesman. The IDF spokesman lets the Hebron command know that the son of a previous IDF spokesman (my dad) is under arrest in Hebron. He asks for Tine and I to recieve a mild treatment once in Israeli hands, but also delivers a punch – texing my dad the entire story.
My mom and dad, Like Ruthie, are sojourning in New York. I get a second message from the big apple asking whether I’m okay. Darn it.
An hour or so later, we’re back on the road, traveling to the hilltop headquarter of the Israelis. The gates open and we move in, traveling in a Palestinian vehicle into an Israeli military base. Stepping out I first sense the coming of autumn. Rami, The officer who receives us, explains that we are 1019 meters above sea level, atop the country’s fourth highest mountain.
The fact that Rami talks about the weather and elevation puts us at ease. Indeed, he got orders to be good with us. He does give us a brief investigation and asks us to wait for the arrival of Israeli police from the settlement of Qiryat Arba. Meanwhile, we get the Israelis’ coffee. I expect it to fall below the Palestinian standard, but Rami is Druze, a native Arabic speaker with deep roots in the lands of cooked coffee. His stuff, served in paper cups, is excellent.
When the police fail to arrive, Rami drives us to meet them in by the junction at the entrance to Qiryat Arba, the policeman wants to take me into for review at the station, but Rami talks him out of it. We are released. Seconds later a settler stops his car for us and offers a lift to Jerusalem.
We finish the day over a beer and some tapas in Jerusalem’s Mahne Yehuda market.
“And we thought climbing the minaret in Dura would be the most exciting event of the day,” Tine says, amused.
“Yeah,” say I, “Jesus, I’m tired.”
It’s too early to be tired, because another challenge awaits me. My dad wrote me an email. I read it on the bus to TelvAviv:
My dear son,
Grandpa Shmulik, whom we both loved and whose wisdom we both respected, taught us that doing something dumb, even if it works a thousand times, remains doing something dumb.
What you did today was a horrible thing, the act of an irresponsible man who has no common sense. The area of Hebron is swarming with Hamas operatives, who constantly plot to kidnap Israelis and kill them, with no feelings or compassion.An Israeli who goes there despite that is someone who knows no responsibility and cares not whether he lives or dies. There’s no other way to say it.
Can you imagine a single American, even one with the best intentions, who would go to the Taliban’s headquarters in Afghanistan? There’s no humour in such matters. It ends badly.
Today you were lucky. We were very worried when we heard that you are there and that the army is trying to evacuate you, what an effort it was, how many high ranking officers are involved, and what for? For such a pointless, dangerous adventure. I shudder at the thought that this could have easily ended otherwise, and we never would have forgiven ourselves, for not having somehow prevented your hasty deed.
Son, you deserve every possible condemnation for what you have done.
Your father who loves you more than anything.
On stepping onto the humid Tel Aviv street I formulate a response and key it into my phone:
Dad, I understand your worry, but have one correction to make. The Hebron area isn’t swarming with anything. The people there are enormously sweet, from strangers we met to the Palestinian officers who arrested us (and no there was no need to evacuate us, they transferred us to the Israelis according to all the agreements.) This is in fact the reason I go there, to prove that it’s not swarming, just like Israel isn’t swarming, just like nowhere is swarming. If you will, tolerance was another bit of Grandpa Shmulik’s wisdom.
I’m sorry that Or Heller alerted the IDF Spokesman. We would have done perfectly well without that, plus-minus a few hours of waiting and coffee poisoning. Your son is not someone who leaps off the roof. Your son is someone who understands that this is in fact the first floor balcony, and tells others about it.
I wasted my favors today, So I can’t return to the Palestinian cities anytime soon, so you can relax. Enjoy New York and beware of all its perils.
With love, from the city of Tel Aviv, unscathed,
Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This trip would have been impossible if not for you.
Note added on September 26th: Tine made it through the airport no problem (Read on and you’ll find out I wasn’t as lucky), so I can give her full credit now, she’s the brilliant Tine Fetz.