First Encounters

A wall that separates "us" from "them"

I was introduced to Zleikha. She is undoubtedly the most defiant and strongest woman I have met in my life. The view from her rooftop was breathtaking – as was the view from the Israeli soldiers perched on the rooftops of the adjacent buildings to her house.

Indeed, the highest vantage points were taken by Israelis. Standing from the center of the roof, I was surrounded by Israeli watchtowers on four sides. Zleikha pointed out settlements to me: “One here, another one there, and look, another one over there.”

Zleikha told me that many times, the soldiers would tell her to “Go back home” whenever she is on her own rooftop – an obvious denial of her right to stay in her own home. This is a habit of the Israelis – to repeat untruths in order to erase others’ memories of the injustices. They would normalize injustice so that they could resolve their own cognitive dissonance.

The privilege of using space is exclusively reserved for Israeli settlers. Zulaikha described how a 30-sec walk to the cemetery (one which we have a lovely view of from her balcony) now takes 30 minutes by car.

This latter injustice is particularly disturbing: I saw groups of internationals and Israeli tourists take pictures of the wall, all the while laughing and smiling.  It was sickening, the oblivion of those who are privileged to walk on Shuhada Street.

But perhaps that is why the wall is there: to shield Israelis from the Palestinians’ narratives, lest the suffering of the other side pull at their heartstrings.

Looking around the houses, I noticed many balconies had wire mesh to protect the occupants from stone throwers.  What breaks Zleikha’s heart is that many of these stone throwers are children – many no more than 8 years old. How could parents perpetuate such hatred?

There was a hopscotch set up beside the wall – symbolic of how the conflict is going to be perpetuated by the next generation.

And then there is Mahmoud’s store – broken into by Israeli soldiers.  An Israeli soldier now perches on top of his store.

I did not have much time to reflect upon the multiple sights, because a Jewish settler on Shuhada street soon pointed us out to a patrolling soldier. The soldier gave us a piercing stare. I stared back, defiant of my position on the roof. I am a guest of Zulaikha, and this is Zulaikha’s house – do we not have a right to be in our own house?

In retrospect, it was probably a very irrational action for me to stare down at the Israeli soldier. He has a gun. I don’t. At the moment, I need to tell him – not through words, but through a simple gesture – that he has no right to restrict Palestinians’ movement. But more importantly, I needed to tell him that he is implicated in oppression – an injustice that my eyes have borne witness to.

Fourth day in Hebron, and already it is hard to erase the memory of an Israeli soldier from my mind.

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