Appreciate this article? +972 depends on your support -- click here to help us keep going

Analysis News

Waiting for Obama: Hebron youth take cue from U.S. civil rights movement

If it had happened anywhere other than Hebron, one would have been justified in assuming that the scene unfolding was coordinated for a not-too-sophisticated film about “the conflict”. Surely somewhere out of sight there is an entire movie crew ready for the director to yell “cut!”, so that all actors on this bizarre and horrific set can trade the severity on their faces for laughter and ease during their coffee break.

Still life with horse, boy and soldiers (Haggai Matar)

Still life with horse, boy and soldiers (Haggai Matar)

But this is Hebron, and the dramatic horror is very much real. In front of us is a small landing at the top of a hill overlooking the old city, with the Cave of the Patriarchs in plain view. On the landing, a Palestinian youth guide is taking children on two-minute horse rides, one at a time. Watching the horse and its successive little riders are the kids whose turn is coming up, a group of settler girls in the same age group, and five soldiers in full combat gear.

The group of girls, encouraged by the recent arrival of the soldiers, is starting to heckle the horse riding group. “You’re ugly,” shouts one girl at another child looking her way. “You’re all heathens and I want you all to die,” laughs another 7-year-old, meaning every word. “Why are we afraid? Let’s tell the soldiers to kick them and their horse so that we can play,” calls out a third as a challenge to her friends while holding a football in her hand. No one moves. Two older women pass by and one girl spits in their general direction and half-whispers “fat whores!” Nothing happens. The soldiers stand on the side, talking to each other, and the other kids keep going on and off the horse, looking timidly at the girls. They know that they cannot possibly talk back without the soldiers intervening. In the background, loudspeakers are blasting a song into the air. “We shall overcome…” No. Seriously? Yes. This is Hebron.

Two groups watching a horse. West Bank Story (Haggai Matar)

Two groups watching a horse. West Bank Story (Haggai Matar)

I came here after being invited by Youth against Settlements (YAS) – a local group dedicated to work with Palestinian youth and promote popular nonviolent protests against the occupation – in the one city which, more than anywhere else in the West Bank, has “apartheid” written all over it. The city where 500 Jewish settlers get to rule the H2 quarter, making the lives of more than 10,000 Palestinians miserable; where entire roads are closed for any Palestinian, including for those living on them, and who are forced to enter and leave their own homes through the rooftops. The city where even joint roads are segregated by walls so as to keep Palestinians out of the settlers’ way. The city where racist graffiti was previously sprayed all over Palestinian shops that have been closed down, until the Israeli Ministry of Education started sending schoolchildren there on tours and made sure the graffiti would be wiped clean. The city that countless soldiers have left after serving the settlers in ways that scarred their souls (and where a friend of mine, served as a soldier after having planned to refuse, committed suicide).

Anti-occupation chanting workshop (Haggai Matar)

Anti-occupation chanting workshop (Haggai Matar)

Here, in this city, YAS decided to plan a special welcome for American President Obama. Dozens of children gathered today to learn about the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., and to write the first black President personal letters. The younger kids enjoyed games and learned demonstration chants in English (“1, 2, 3, 4 – occupation no more!”), while the older ones heard a short lecture about the history of racism and segregation in the U.S. South, watched a film about Martin Luther King and his nonviolent outlook, and wrote Obama messages under the titles “we have a dream” and “yes we can make a change.” At the end of the day, while some were riding a horse outside, others stayed in to learn the words of “We Shall Overcome.”

Letter to Obama. Probably won't get there (Haggai Matar)

Letter to Obama. Probably won’t get there (Haggai Matar)

The workshop was taking place in the “Sumud” house in Tel Rumeida, home of the YAS movement. Opposite, less than ten meters away, is the house of settler leader and former Kach activist Baruch Marzel. Throughout the hours of the different Palestinians workshops settler kids from the neighboring house, heavily guarded by armed soldiers, came out to see what the fuss was about. Every now and then they’d shout out a curse, but for the vast majority of the time they were talking between themselves or trying to figure out what was going on. Several times kids from both sides would just stand there, staring at each other for long minutes in complete silence.

Palestinian children writing the US president. Settler children watching (Haggai Matar)

Palestinian children writing the US president. Settler children watching (Haggai Matar)

One could only try to imagine what was going through their heads. On the one hand, they see a child just like themselves – the same age, laughing just the same at the funny gestures of the bunny-clothed clown. On the other hand, they all see the other as the enemy. The Arab heathens. The Jewish settlers. The dissonance that all people have to find ways to live with in a country of apartheid was three times intensified in the experience of these young people – neighbors, not entirely aware of the greater politics in which they all are pawns. And already, at these young ages, they all knew their place. The knew not to talk to each other. They knew that the settler kids can fling curses freely and ask the soldiers to accompany them wherever they go, while the Palestinian kids only have a bunch of YAS activists, Israeli and international journalists with cameras around. The settlers still have the upper hand.

No communication. Settlers on left, Palestinians on right (Haggai Matar)

No communication. Settlers on left, Palestinians on right (Haggai Matar)

Both groups couldn’t quite figure us lot out. The Palestinians found it strange to have Israelis standing with them, and some whispered to others that we were settlers. The settlers, meanwhile, could not possibly accept us as Israeli, and regarded us as foreigners. In a city where divisions are so clear cut and extreme, and of such vital importance, there’s little room for anything outside the strictest of definitions. Feels like the West Bank version of West Side Story.

Holy City of our Fathers (Haggai Matar)

Holy City of our Fathers (Haggai Matar)

At the end of the day the guide promised the kids that their letters would be given to President Obama, the purpose of whose visit was described as “coming to help us get the settlers out of here”. But Obama will never receive these letters. Nor will he ever come to Hebron, or care much about the youth’s plans for nonviolent civil rights marches. Nor does he intend to do anything about the settlements. Speeches and declarations aside, the current U.S. administration, like all those before it and like its European counterparts, will go on supporting Israeli governments and apartheid policies with military aid, financial support, trade etc. Settlements in Hebron and the entire West Bank will continue to expand with those very funds, channeled through the supportive government, pushing Palestinians into smaller and smaller enclaves under military rule. The children of Hebron will demonstrate nonviolently and sing “we shall overcome,” but after being attacked one too many times by the neighbors and the IDF, with its U.S.-manufactured weapons, some will inevitably turn to violence. And on we go.

Related:
WATCH: A ‘Jews only’ street and a Palestinian dirt path in Hebron
WATCH: Demonstration to open Shuhada Street in Hebron

Join the discussion:

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • COMMENTS

    1. The Trespasser

      5678 – Palestine is terror state.

      Reply to Comment
      • Zephon

        Again with the obnoxious brain dead logic.

        Palestine isn’t a state yet for it to be a any kind of state – much less a terror state. But when has actual intelligence much less common sense ever stopped you from sharing your monkey logic?

        Keep proving me right.

        You will NEVER have an argument for Israeli violence – never. But I will have plenty of arguments condemning what you condone. You see because even when Palestinians are non-violent such as right here – you can’t grow up and accept that they are human beings.

        It’s simply not in a chimps nature.

        Children swearing at other children with such level of profanity and sadistic in their execution; makes any good parent much less mature adult question their upbringing. What Israelis are teaching their children?

        Not how to live in peace and equality that’s for sure.

        Shameful.

        Reply to Comment
      • berl

        I thought that it was israel that was occupying the land of that very same people that 100 years ago represented the 9/10th of the local population.
        but thank you, trespasser, for sharing your interesting insights.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >I thought that it was israel that was occupying the land of that very same people that 100 years ago represented the 9/10th of the local population.

          “land” can’t be occupied by the letter of law – only state could be. Palestinian Arabs never had anything even remotely resembling any kind of state, therefore they can’t be “occupied”

          Reply to Comment
          • berl

            trespasser@
            ‘State’ was a Western concept, imposed and then adopted by the the locals. You, with a settler mind, continue to apply your settler approach to an indigenous reality.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >‘State’ was a Western concept

            “occupation” and “human rights” are Western concepts as well.

            >You, with a settler mind, continue to apply your settler approach to an indigenous reality.

            Thank you for pointing out that “state”, “occupation” and “human rights” are alien to indigenous population.

            Reply to Comment
          • berl

            ‘human rights’ is not a western concept. only a sick and ignorant mind can conceive something like that.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            I am truly sorry, but “human rights” is modern Western concept. You are welcome to try and prove me wrong, of course.

            p.s. “Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you” and “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” does not fall under this category.

            Reply to Comment
          • berl

            self-determination, freedom, dignity, integrity of the person, economical and social rights…ect are all inherently pan-human values.
            you are ignorant and I have no time for educating people like you. adieu

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            If these values are “inherent” and “pan-human” than why the only society which tries to implement them is the western society?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Oriol2

      Dear Trespasser, once you told me that I could not prove that Spain is not inferior to Germany. Not bad for a Zionist to be preaching about German superiority, but just tell me, could you prove to me that Jewish settlers in Hebron are not a bunch of psychos? I have been in Hebron, I have met some of them, I have seen how they live, and inevitably I had to think that they live there, in that way, BECAUSE THEY WANT. For me, the settlers in Tel Rumeida are somewhat the proof that something is wrong with Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Yes, they insist on living as Jews in Hebron as Jews have done for thousands of years. Absent the soldiers and the matrix of control in place they would be killed by their friendly Arab neighbors like they were massacred in 1929 and like the event in 2001 when a Palestinian sniper shot a 10 month old infant.

        Reply to Comment
        • meron

          kolumn,
          ‘hebron 1929′ can only be understood in the context of the racist attitude of the slobodoka yeshiva’s students. can you tell us why in the previous centuries jews and arabs-pals lived in peace in that very same HEBRON?
          In the previous 500 years Hebron faced 1 single case of major violence. Ask yourselves why.

          Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Prove that Palestinians do not wish to massacre all Israelis, and by doing this you’ll prove that all Israeli settlers and psychos.

        Reply to Comment
        • ruth

          trapasser
          it is you that have to prove that israel is not acting as an herrenvolk-style state, not the other way around

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            It is a bit problematic, considering the amount of Arab’s donation to world science and culture.

            Reply to Comment
    3. A great piece. Perhaps a series on apartheid?

      “(and where a friend of mine, served as a soldier after having planned to refuse, committed suicide)” : The violence is structural–and race neutral. Don’t know how you have endured it.

      If this is God, perhaps indeed we never evolved.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Dvir Yaakov

      This is Never Never Land and you are buying into it.
      I spent many weeks in Hevron and there is not one ounce of truth to this fable.
      Let’s not forget the Muslims murdered over 60 Jews in Hebron back ion 1929… not just Jews but there doctors, their nurses, the ones who delivered their children the people who helped make the well again. They were BUTCHERED!
      I have witnessed the Muslim on the rooftop who gives tours to UN personnel and I have memorized his BS and indoctrination into the same kool aid all are drinking here.
      USE COMMON SENSE! How do 1000 Jews confined to a very small portion of Hevron, inflict ANYTHING on the large city that they are forbidden to enter beyond their defined borders? When they have tried to build the government tears down their buildings preventing the Jews from growing yet there are no restrictions placed on the Muslims.
      Stop simply accepting the mass media Muslim myths and DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK, PLEASE.
      http://youtu.be/JlVgMzca4NU

      Reply to Comment
      • Haggai Matar

        Dvir – I didn’t say they control the entire city (which is home to more than 120,000 Palestinians), but they do control H2 – where 10,000 Palestinians are living under extreme conditions, like not being allowed to walk in their own streets, as I mentioned, and as you probably know if you served there.
        And to justify all this with the massacre of 1929, ignoring the people who saved Jews’ lives at the time, ignoring the time that had passed, ignoring the massacre a Jew committed against Palestinians, ignoring the Apartheid system that is enforced through the army and that creates two separate legal systems according to people’s nationality or religion – is ignoring the most important parts of the reality there.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Yo only haven’t mentioned the Arabs’ desire to get rid of Jews, which hasn’t changed much…

          Reply to Comment
          • Haggai Matar

            I think “the Arabs” mainly want to get rid of the occupation and the Apartheid system. In the case of Hebron that would most surely mean to take the violent and racist settlers living there out. If you have any other ideas on how to go about it – let me know.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            You do of course mean remove Jews from Hebron. You wish to paint them as pure evil to cover up the fact that you wish Israel to ethnically cleanse Hebron of Jews like the Arabs did in the massacre of 1929.

            As for “the Arabs” and “the occupation”. A Jew living in Hebron is “the occupation”. A Jew legally buying and living in an apartment in Jerusalem is “the occupation”. So stop hiding behind codewords and say what you mean. The Arabs wish to be rid of the Jews.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            “The occupation” is the IDF, to be precise.

            Reply to Comment
          • Do you think this article has painted the settlers as ‘pure evil’? Its focus on the children and how they were interacting with one another encourages readers to look at the events from a child’s perspective. One thing that comes across quite clearly from Haggai’s description of how the settlement kids behaved is not so much the insults that were shouted, but the fact that those kids were attracted to the spot by the music and especially the horse. The picture of them that emerges here seems quite gentle and sensitive.

            Although the number of Jews who were hidden safely by their neghbours during the 1929 massacre is about five times higher than the number of murder victims, people who publicise the death toll will rarely talk about the rescuers – because their support for army/state policy in Hebron hinges on the idea that not only do Palestinians in Hebron carry collective guilt for that massacre, but they are just waiting for an opportunity to go out and commit murder personally. (Employing this reasoning, Palestinians could use any number of atrocities committed against them to justify imposing harsh military law on Israeli Jewish communities today.) Wanting a Jewish presence in H2 and insisting on wielding absolute power over its non-Jewish residents in order to maintain privileged status there are not the same thing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Palestinians in Hebron do not carry collective guilt for 1929 nor did I anywhere state that. What I did state was that absent the security forces the Palestinians in Hebron are very likely to massacre the Jews again. The two are quite different. Given that there is Palestinian support hovering at 40-50% for the wanton murder of Israeli women and children how precisely are you going to argue to the contrary except in calling me a racist in pointing to poll numbers?

            So, the Jews can’t stay without the protection of the IDF because the Palestinians will massacre them. So, the options are either to ethnically cleanse the Jews or to have the IDF stay (or.. gasp.. to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians). These are really the only two options available. Clearly you prefer to ethnically cleanse the Jews from Hebron.. again..

            Reply to Comment
          • Invoking the killing of 1929 to justify the treatment of Palestinians in Hebron today does suggest that you believe in collective guilt. It also obfuscates the fact that many of the harsher measures imposed by the army (the closure of Shuhadeh Street, for example) was not undertaken in response to Palestinian violence at all. Those houses and shops were sealed shut in response to Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Palestinians in Ibrahimi Mosque. The policies enacted in Hebron on a day to day basis aren’t about maintaining Jewish security – in fact, as Haggai has noted, this treatment is more likely to sow the seeds of future violence rather than to eliminate it.

            I’m not going to call you racist for suggesting that support for ending the occupation equals tacit support for ethnic cleansing, but I will say that the suggestion is facile. Over the past few years in Northern Ireland, there has been discussion about removing the separation walls that bisect certain cities, dividing Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods from one another. These areas have seen massive bloodshed, army/paramilitary oppression, and civilian murders on a far worse scale than anything that ever happened in Hebron – and in historical terms the conflict is far longer-lived. Looking at the process of integration and reconciliation that is unfolding in these towns offers some useful insights into how similar things might be achieved in Palestine/Israel. It is a multi-stage slow process and it will not be easy, but it is definitely possible.

            However, it cannot be achieved so long as people are unequal under the law. It also requires recognition of something that you haven’t touched on in your comments. Just as the words ‘Falls Road’ and ‘Shankill’ are synonymous in Belfast with certain political stances, the settlements in Hebron are distinguished by an ideological undercurrent of their own. This is why even people who value their ability to pray at the Machpela and theoretically give their whole-hearted support to Jewish presence in Hebron (other religious Zionists, who may or may not be West Bank settlers themselves) might hesitate before signing up to move into Beit Romano. These settlements are not simply a revitalisation of pre-29 Jewish presence; they have a specific (and often violent) ideological foundation that is shored up by the occupation. If there is to be justice in Hebron, this needs to be addressed.

            Reply to Comment
          • This from the man who has said on this site that all settlers could be removed by the State if it so decided, for a peace agreement. I suppose then the State would be accused of the 1929 massacre.

            Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            Grant Palestinians citizenship in Israel, and the Jews can stay. Give Palestinians a state, and the Jews can stay as Palestinian citizens if they want. Right now, this is occupied territory under military authority and there shouldn’t be Israeli citizens living there.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Grant Palestinians citizenship in Israel, and the Jews can stay.

            Did you hurt your head when fallen off the tree?

            Palestinian Arabs has repeatedly denied Israeli citizenship – or mere coexistence with Jews.

            >Give Palestinians a state, and the Jews can stay as Palestinian citizens if they want.

            The only problem is that hardly anyone would want to be a citizen of yet another failed state.

            >Right now, this is occupied territory

            Nope. Territory can’t be occupied – only state could be.

            >and there shouldn’t be Israeli citizens living there.

            Which is written in what law exactly?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Yes. Arabs want to get rid of occupation of ENTIRE Palestine.

            The solution is very simple – ALL Jews must live the country or die. Did you know not?

            Reply to Comment
          • john

            Victims: Trespasser, that’s always an important card to play.
            For your knowledge, they are Palestinians, not Arabs. They are locals.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >For your knowledge, they are Palestinians, not Arabs.

            Yeah, that’s one of greatest Palestinian Arab lies.

            Strangely, the “Palestinian Charter” states otherwise.
            “We, the Palestinian Arab people…”
            http://www.un.int/wcm/content/site/palestine/pid/12363

            Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            I personally know an Israeli Jew who is currently renting an apartment in Ramallah. If I had a bit more money, I would love to rent a pool house in Jericho. Neither of us are dhimmis. We coexist because that’s what normal people do.

            Reply to Comment
          • carl

            Haggai – You go and see the reality with your own eyes: they hate you for this.
            While kolumn and his little friends remain in their beautiful bubbles in tel aviv, or they go in the occupied territories with their uniforms, your take the risk to question the ideologic bubble in which these people were born.
            I strongly suggest you not to lose time with these little human beings.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Haggai – You go and see the reality with your own eyes: they hate you for this.

            Who the f**k you think you are, you useless piece of s**t on my cat’s arse, to tell who we hate and who we don’t.

            Reply to Comment
          • carl

            Trespasser, Thank you for confirming it.
            -
            Haggai stay away from these dangerous ‘trespasser-like’ people. You can, Pals cannot.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Not at all, although I did not realize that your feline scatological origin needs confirmation.

            Reply to Comment
          • tod

            the only ‘arse’ here it is you, traspasser, as many wrote you on this site (and probably on your daily life)

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            You pathetic attempts to insult me are just that – pathetic, while the lack of coherent argument proves that it’s better to be an arse, than an idiot,

            Reply to Comment
      • carl

        Dvir. it is you that have to do your homework and ask yourselves why before 1929 jews and arabs/pals lived in that very same city without problems. You have to question your ideologic approach.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Because until 1929 Hebron Jews lived as dhimmis.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Bill Inaz

      “wrote Obama messages under the titles “we have a dream” and “yes we can make a change.”

      Linkage of MLK to the civil rights movement in the US is certainly appropriate but Obama has proven to be a craven race baiter and more concerned with fomenting and class warfare the maintenance of these stresses.

      Reply to Comment
    6. aristeides

      Why lie to the kids about Obama? Why raise false hopes?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Because lying to children is simple and would allow to put the blame on someone else yet again.

        Reply to Comment
        • tod

          children live and suffer the occupation as – or even more than – adults do.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Which is a perfect excuse to deny statehood (in 1919, 1947, 2000 and on other occasions)

            Reply to Comment
    7. Telche

      Thank you for your honest article and for your courage as Israelis to speak out. You represent an Israeli people of conscience who have the critical awareness to see through the lies and propaganda of the Israeli state — you represent an all too often censored minority — speak louder, speak more so we can hear you!

      Reply to Comment
      • Zephon

        Would the KKK, skin heads and Neo Nazis be the “True colors” of Americans to your special mind then? How about when Christians in France decorate Jewish grave yards with SS symbols and Hitler slogans – are those people the “true colors” of France ? Or a Fascist party in Italy attacking tourists and immigrants with their own Nazi symbols – are they all of Italy too?

        In any case we’ve had Orthodox spray the very same things on the holocaust memorial/museum just two years ago in Israel – hardly think those guys are all Israel.

        Silly monkey logic. Welcome to humanity chimp – it’s nothing if not complex.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Click here to load previous comments

    LEAVE A COMMENT

    Name (Required)
    Mail (Required)
    Website
    Free text

© 2010 - 2014 +972 Magazine
Follow Us
Credits

+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

Website empowered by RSVP

Illustrations: Eran Mendel