This is one of the places where the Israeli – Arab violent clashes happen.
Hebron or Al Khalil is the largest city in the West Bank and the second largest city after Gaza in the Palestinian Territories.
Separated into two areas called H1 and H2 – H1 is controlled by the Palestinian Authority while H2 is 20% controlled by Israel. Even though Hebron is largely under Palestinian Authority, there is a large presence of Israeli settlements.
I toured H2, both the Palestinian and the Israeli quarters, to hear stories from both sides.
THIS was the highlight of my trip, apart from Al Aqsa.
I was so nervous and excited!
Nervous because I didn’t think I’d be welcomed in the Israeli side, it might even be dangerous, and excited because I’ll go “undercover”!
The tour operator told me via email that I wouldn’t be allowed into the Israeli side of the Ibrahimi Mosque aka Cave of the Patriachs if I were to be openly muslim (I guess it would be considered as a provocation to the Jews or they might mistake me as a Palestinian), so they suggested that I remove the hijab before entering or stay outside while the group goes in.
No way ever I was going to stay outside or remove my hijab. So I wore my hijab as a turban to defuse some attention and for my safety.
At the hostel lobby
We met our tour guide at the hostel lobby. It was a small tour group, maybe around ten of us. I liked this group immediately.
We introduced ourselves and when the tour guide found out I was from Singapore, he said, “you can eat and drink in our buses”. LOL!
We got our stuff checked upon entering the mall, just like in airports. There were soldiers EVERYWHERE. I was so nervous.
What did I get myself into?
After going through security, we went through the mall to get to the bus station. We got into the queue and the tour guide started telling us some background of Hebron.
In the bus, I heard someone said that the bus was bullet-proof. I panicked and then thought, “ok, at least I’m safe because I’m inside”. The bus made some stops and suddenly many soldiers boarded, I thought, “oh shit”. They all had rifles strapped to their bodies. I’ve never been so close to a rifle before!
The bus ride was nerve-wrecking. I tried talking to ease my nervousness but after some time I gave up. It was tiring. I was hoping no one would think I was a muslim.
The journey was probably more than an hour long.
It was a VERY cold morning when we started in Jerusalem. Temperature was about 6 degree Celsius, wind was strong. I was freezing!
A very kind lady lent me her jacket throughout the trip, couldn’t thank her enough.
If I had brought a more suitable jacket and walking shoes, it would be a comfortable experience throughout the day.
We had local tour guides – a Palestinian and an Israeli settler. They brought us through the respective sides of the tour on foot. We saw locals but never interacted with them.
Both guides told us that even though there’s high friction between the Palestinians and Israeli settlers, they were friends and could work together.
Jewish Settler Guide
However, towards the end of the tour, the Israeli guide told us that he wouldn’t trust the Palestinian guide 100% because he don’t know if the Palestinian guide would suddenly do something to harm him. Personally I think this is a breach of trust but maybe living in high tension area changes things.
There was once he said something like, “I don’t know if there’s any muslim in this group – I don’t want to know.” I suspected he knew I was a muslim.
The Palestinian guide have my respect as a muslim. In Ramadhan or the fasting month, Hebron would be very HOT and daylight hours are long but he managed to keep his fast throughout. Plus, he lives under occupation, which is never easy for any human being.
Another thing, he openly admitted that he is married and off the market. BRAVO!
We had a traditional meal with our Palestinian tour guide – rice, yogurt and salad.
I think we were brought to the Palestinian guide’s home because this is where we met his toddler son.
We were picked up by our Jewish settler guide from our hostel in Jerusalem.
He passed us to our Palestinian guide upon reaching, took us back after our Palestinian tour ended and started his tour in the Israeli quarter. After that he accompanied us back to Jerusalem.
Old City – Palestinian Quarter
The main story by the Palestinian guide: status and treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government and settlers.
In summary, Palestinians are subjected under military law while Israelis are under civilian law. Under military law, you’re treated like criminals – high control even when you’re innocent.
This means Palestinians are guilty of anything an Israeli accuses them of, regardless if it’s true or not, unless there’s a clear video footage showing the former’s innocence.
Notice the wire mesh above the shops? The ground level is where the shops are and the upper level were Palestinian houses. When Israeli settlers came, they took away the houses and lived in them. The metal mesh above the shops were put up by the Palestinians to filter out rubbish thrown by the Israeli settlers. They even threw bleach and other liquids, which easily passes through the mesh.
The houses (or even land) were taken away by the Israeli settlers by producing documents that states their ownership of the property, usually from centuries ago and it is regarded as legal tender by the Israeli government. Conversely, legal documents that the Palestinians had were not legal tender and they were driven out.
This quote was said by an old shopkeeper. I was surprised he spoke perfect English. It shows that Palestinians are educated people.
There were two watchtowers from where we were standing. Soldiers would man the watchtowers to monitor the movement of the Palestinians below.
- No freedom of travel – to enter Israel is a definite no, to other parts of Palestine would be very difficult with the many checkpoints even within their own neighbourhood and to exit Palestine, they’d have to go via Jordan.
- Blacklisted by the Israeli government for 96 years and if they were to live that long, the blacklist will be renewed. No reason for the blacklist given.
- Water sources diverted to the Israeli settlers.
Ibrahimi Mosque – Palestinian Quarter
Palestinians call this the Ibrahimi Mosque while the Israelis call it Me’arat ha-Makhpela. In English, it is known as Cave of the Patriachs.
The cave is located beneath a mosque, which had been converted from a large rectangular Judean structure. This cave is believed to be where Prophet Ibrahim AS and his wife, Prophet Ishaq AS and his wife, and Prophet Ya’kub AS and his wife were buried.
It is also believed that Prophet Adam AS and his wife, Hawa, were buried here as well. Allahu a’lam.
Modest clothing must be observed here and those who are not properly dressed will be given long robes to cover up. Even though I was fully covered, I was wearing loose pants and that wasn’t allowed as well.
In 1994, during the overlapping jewish and muslim celebrations of Purim and Ramadhan, Baruch Goldstein slipped into the mosque during Fajr congregation prayer of 800 muslims, waited for the congregration to go into sujud position before opening fire.
The entrance was facing the same direction as the qibla, so they were shot from behind, killing 29 and wounding 125. The gunman was stopped only when one of the survivors threw a fire extinguisher to his head and then the others beat him to death.
Only 1 out of the 9 soldiers supposedly to be on duty that day was actually guarding the mosque and Goldstein went in with soldier gear so no one stopped him from entering.
Exiting Palestinian territory
There were many checkpoints in H2. This is one of them.
For tourists, no issue but for the Palestinians, there were certain timings to be observed and full body screenings are done on a daily basis.
Small boys were playing here, which was fine but what disturbed me was the soldiers on patrol further down the street.
On the other side of this picture were hundreds of soldiers doing an educational tour. It is part of their training.
Cave of the Patriachs – Israeli Quarter
This is the second most holiest site for the Jews, first is the Temple Mount aka Al Aqsa.
I have never seen that many soldiers (apart from Singapore’s National Day parade). Both boys and girls were doing the educational training around Hebron, we saw them everywhere in the Israeli side.
H2, Israeli side
The main story of the Israeli settler guide: the need for a Jewish state to gain respect from the world (because Jews are the most discriminated race for centuries) and no one can ‘bully’ them anymore, how the land belongs to the Jews due to the evidences of Jewish settlements since thousands of years ago, that God has promised them the land and they are taking what is rightfully theirs.
I was nervous throughout the tour but I was even more nervous going through the checkpoints because I had 3 pins stuck to my turban. There were metal detectors here and we all had to go through it.
I was imagining myself being thoroughly checked, requiring me to remove all the pins before being allowed inside and that would slow down the tour and affect everyone’s time. But nothing happened. Alhamdulillah.
Shalhevet Pass Memorial
On March 26, 2001, Shalhevet Pass, a jewish 10-month old infant was shot in her stroller by a Palestinian sniper. One of the sniper’s bullets penetrated the baby’s head, passing through her skull, killing her instantly.
Her father, who was pushing the stroller, was hit by the bullets as well, causing serious wounds.
In December 2004 a military court convicted the killer and sentenced him to three life terms.
The child’s father, later joined the Bat Ayin Underground terrorist group which planned to blow up a Palestinian girls’ school in East Jerusalem. He was later arrested and convicted for possession of 10 pounds of explosives. He served a two-year prison sentence.
Avraham Avinu Synagogue
1540: built in Jewish Quarter of Hebron
1929: unused since 1929 riots
1948: destroyed and turned into a goat and donkey pen during Arab-Israeli war
The rabbi, who gave us a summarised history of Hebron, was one of the people who volunteered to clean up the synagogue for restoration.
Al Shuhada Street
Al Shuhada Street aka Martyrs Street in Arabic or King David Street for the Jews is in the Palestinian territories, the main road leading to the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Brief history: 1990s
1994: Israel closed the street for Palestinians, all 304 Palestinian shops, municipal and governmental offices, and turned the central bus station into an Israeli army base.
1997: street was reopened for traffic for a year; shops remained closed
1998: vehicles where prohibited again, street was alternately opened and closed, finally closed for all Palestinians upon the Second Intifada, all entrances to the houses in al-Shuhada Street were sealed, house owners enter their home by climbing the roofs or through holes in the wall
Brief history: 2000s
2006: IDF declared Palestinian pedestrians had been refused entry for six years “by mistake”, some Palestinians and activists were permitted access for 3 days, stones were thrown by Jewish settler children and not stopped by policemen and soldiers, a 75-year-old volunteer was arrested for trying to prevent soldier from kicking colleague, street was declared “closed military area”, entirely closed as ″there had been disturbances at that spot in the last few days″
2007: night before the Supreme Court would hear the case, Civil Administration issued temporary permits to some Palestinian occupants to re-use their main entrance on the street
2008: permits were no longer renewed
Today: Palestinian shops and vehicles still prohibited, Palestinian pedestrians subject to frequent rigorous control, sometimes banned from entering
Beit Haddassah Museum
Here we were told about the history of the Jews living in Hebron before the 1929 riots.
Brief history: 1800s
1893: first floor constructed, contributions by North African jews
Brief history: 1900s
1911: another storey added, contributions by Indian and Baghdadi jews, Hadassah Organisation opened free clinic for all – jews and arabs
1929: Arabs attacked the building and inhabitants, Hadassah clinic destroyed, British authorities evacuated jews
1931: Jews returned
1936: Arabs attacked again, Jews evacuated by British authorities again, Jewish homes were taken over by Arabs and Arab school was opened at Beit Hadassah
1967: Jews returned
1971: Kiryat Arba settlement established
1979: group of 10 women and 40 children secretly moved from Kiryat Arba to Hebron and stayed in Beit Hadassah, causing Israeli government to put the building under siege until the Yom Kippur war with Egypt, Israeli government subsequently allowed permanent Jewish re-establishment
1980: Arabs attacked Yeshiva students, 6 men killed and many wounded, Israeli government allowed Jews to return to Hebron
Brief history: 2000s
Today: 25 families live in Beit Hadassah and surrounding buildings
There were some Palestinians who looked up at us from below and started shouting angrily. The kind lady who lent me her jacket looked at me and whispered, “Are they shouting at us?” I nodded, “just ignore them”. She nodded quietly and thankfully it was time for us to go.
I was sad that I had to say that.
Tel Rumeida is the oldest site in the city of Hebron. Latest violence occurred here in March 2016.
We had to show our passports to a couple of soldiers at the start of our tour but they were friendlier than these guys at Tel Rumeida. Apparently, this is a high tension area.
- Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin authorized archaeological digs on Jewish lots to preempt the expansion of settlements there
- excavation 2014: above Admot Yishai and between the Palestinian homes to create archaeological parkland, a settler initiative
- Archaeologist Yonathan Mizrachi: settler pressure to create an archaeological park is a technique to take over the terrain
- Dr. Ahmed Rjoub, Palestinian Authority’s director of the Department of Site Management: excavations have removed artifacts attesting to Roman and Islamic heritage
At the observatory
We climbed some flights of very cramped stairs to get to the top. There were groups of teens doing their educational tour as part of their military training.
Tomb of Ruth and Jesse
End of tour
The war in the Middle East got me affected a few years ago and I have been following the news since then. I wanted to go on this tour so badly because I wanted to see how people live under oppression and the atrocities subjected upon them.
And I did.
Too many takeaways from this trip alone.
10/5 stars. Yup!
Should you wander to Hebron? Duh!
- It’s scary due to the military presence.
- It might be a risk for muslims – I’m not sure how the Israeli settlers would react if muslims enter their quarters but I do expect them not to be happy about it. It might be upsetting for them and your presence may seem like a provocation. Even though a lot of us are not Arabs ethnically, by the world’s perspective, muslims seem to be a collective group of people following an Arabic cult and culture.
- Just be a tourist and remove yourself from any political opinions.
- Tour price: $105, 12hrs duration including travel time
- Lunch: $11, not included in the tour price
*All prices are in SGD (estimate).