Hebron, and our guide is Edward Platt.
The City of Abraham is not an easy read, but I’m glad I opened those covers. Platt gives us a history of the city and its peoples, and takes us through to the present very difficut times. Let’s start with some numbers:
The population is around 185,000. By far the bulk, all but 20,000 are in the H1 sector of this divided city, under the control of the Palestine Authority. The remainder are in H2 and all but a few hundred are also Palestinians, but security is provided by the Israel Defence Force; provided for a few hundred illegal settlers.
It was Abraham’s city, a few thousand years ago, and today’s warring factions follow the teachings of his sons; the children of Isaac, of Ishmael and of David – different mothers of course, for barren wife one had to be supplanted by others until such time as divine intervention allowed her to give birth in her 90s. Tel Rumeida was originally settled around 3,000 BCE, a few hundred years after Adam & Eve started it all, and long before Abraham came along in 1812 BCE. As with all things related to scriptures we have to kid on that aboriginal cave art hadn’t been around for 50,000 years and that there had been evolution in the interim.
There was an appalling massacre in Hebron, of 67 Jews, in 1929 and the deportation of others by the British authorities; still in living memory and certainly fresh in the mind when the State of Israel was declared and through other pivotal events in the 60s and later. More recently we’ve had the Oslo Accord and a Two Nation State – twenty years on and no progress – and we’ve had the atrocities of Cast Lead.
Platt engages with the entire community. It is a community that once lived together as all communities should; shopping in each other’s markets, friendship and respect. It was a city where many daughters of Islam went by the name of Leah or Rachel, given their roots from Abraham. But today it is broken.
Platt takes us to a house at the top of the street. The owners have to leave their door open, so that the soldiers have easy access to the roof and a view over the city below. All rooftop views are impaired for the souks and alleys below are umbrellad with mesh, necessary to catch the stones and rocks being thrown about. But the bullets get through.
The archaelogists have been working hard at Tel Rumeida, unearthing the past. The Tomb of the Patriarchs is vital to all, like the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. So the settlers dump their caravans on the site and think it is the best place in the world to raise broods of a dozen or more children. It is a place where Brooklyn accents, and London ones too, go about brainwashing the next generation of bigots.
And it’s all done In The Name of God.
I know not what the solution may be. The Oslo Accord has not worked, yet. But, as was the case with Dervla in Gaza, I find myself thinking of Northern Ireland at times. I never thought I’d live to see the day when Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley shook hands, and looked forward. So there must be hope.
Aside from a lesson in history, of which I knew far too little, what I took from Platt’s extensive researches was more hope, through Breaking the Silence, the words of Israeli soldiers, and also despair through one of those Brooklyn settlers.
I look forward to more from Dervla, when her notes from the West Bank and Jersalem are published later in the year. But for now I think it’s time to throw a few more shekels in the direction of the Humanists.