Shiri Blumberg, a OneVoice Israel youth leader, took part in a tour to the West Bank town of Hebron on June 28 with OVI’s Tel Aviv University Chapter. Breaking the Silence, an organization that seeks to "expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories," guided the tour.
Below is Shiri’s account of her experience.
While I was walking up toward Tel Rumeida, the location of an Israeli settlement in Hebron, fellow activist Elad Laor joined me and together we puffed heavily up the steep road. He pointed at a small house gate we were passing by.
"One day, I saw this little settler kid hitting a Palestinian girl; she was older than him. He was just kicking her, over and over again, and she kept standing there. I yelled, 'kid what are you doing, enough!' And then I noticed his mother, standing behind me, watching the whole thing, doing nothing, and she tells me: 'don't yell at him.'"
I was appalled that this kind of violence is not only
tolerated, but encouraged. It makes our work as peace activists all the harder.
And unfortunately, this is just one of many stories I heard during the Breaking
the Silence tour.
Later in the day, we heard from Issa, a local Palestinian activist. He explained to us how he "doesn't hate settlers, doesn't hate soldiers: they're just a screw in the system. Someone is allowing them to do all this. Somebody doesn't prevent them from being what they are. A Palestinian peace activist is probably something you don't see or hear about every day," he said. "A nonviolent Palestinian is kind of an oxymoron, isn't it?"
It’s not an oxymoron to me. I know that we have partners for peace, our counterparts in OVP, working in parallel in Palestine for the two-state solution, the same as we are doing in Israel.
Throughout the tour, Avner, our tour guide, gave us all sorts of data and bits of information. He told us that there is a 72% unemployment rate among the 162,000 Palestinian residents in Hebron, with hungry kids roaming abandoned streets, selling bracelets instead of playing ball games, people locked inside their own homes, shut down stores; two separate law systems govern Hebron, with thousands of soldiers protecting less than 700 settlers, who ignore the fallout their presence generates. But hey, if you ask the settlers (which we did), Hebron is an exemplary model for co-existence.
On the way back home, I asked myself, how do I feel about what I saw today? I was trying to find words, and none of them fit. Interesting? That doesn't even begin to explain what's going on inside my head right now. Harsh? Not enough. Horrifying? Also not accurate. Complex? What is that, anyway? After a long search, the only word that came close to the essence of what I saw that day was detachment. I felt like I went into a situation that is detached from everything I knew until that moment. The bad are good, the good are bad, the city is empty, the soldiers are watching over the wrong guys, and who is watching all this unfold?
I saw what I should have seen a long time ago – an embodiment of the fact that we need to end the conflict. I knew there was a reason behind my feelings and beliefs, but all the time I felt something was missing. This previously undefinable feeling put me at an inferior position when debating people about the conflict and Israel’s part in perpetuating it, and made me question my beliefs from time to time. There is a lack of serious talk from people who live inside the bubble, not witnessing the impact the conflict has on those who live it daily.
From now on, I won’t feel weaker than my detractors – I saw at least a small part of some of the worst there is to see, and I intend on seeing more and telling others what’s really going on. And now I'm sure that I am not wrong, and sure that our work with OneVoice is even more necessary, and even more urgent.