The Israeli soldiers in Hebron have been making a concerted effort to convince CPT that we do not belong in Hebron. Starting a few weeks ago the soldiers did not allow CPTers through the checkpoints wearing full ‘uniforms’. Our uniforms include a gray vest, and most importantly a red cap. There had been at least seven incidents between May 10 and my arrival on June 7 where soldiers did not allow CPTers to do our job, or even pass through a checkpoint, while wearing our vests and hats. There was even once when a CPTer, after removing his hat and vest to appease the soldiers, was still forced to move out of view of the checkpoint.
On Sunday, when I walked through a checkpoint the soldiers did not unlock the turnstile until I had taken my hat off. After allowing a Palestinian who was waiting behind me through, I asked the soldiers what the reason was. He said something to the effect of, “You do not count as an organization, you cannot wear anything that designates you.” Another common reason given is “You are tourists. You must act as tourists.” The message the soldiers are trying to send is clear, we, as an organization, are illegitimate and have no real right to be here.
This was not the warmest welcome to return to after a couple months away. But interestingly enough it contrasted how I felt returning. This time, more then before, coming into Hebron, I felt like I belonged.
Before coming to Hebron I picked up a CPTer whom I had trained with, but who had not yet been on team. As we approached the city the conversation shifted from our reminiscing, to my tour guiding. When we walked through the streets I pointed out building, telling stories and giving directions. We passed shop keepers and neighbors who recognized me and welcomed me back with smiles and hugs, questions about my time off and how my family is doing.
I got back to the office and immediately started getting updates. I found out that I had been delegated work before the plane had even hit the ground. And the next day, except for a slight case of jet-lag, I was back to the old grind stone.
This reintroduction reminded me how much I belong here. Not to overstate things, I wouldn’t call myself a Hebronite or anything, culturally I still stick out like a sore thumb. I have had conversations with Palestinians about how they get frustrated with internationals who think they know everything there is to know, have experienced everything Hebronites have experienced. I clearly don’t know everything, and I haven’t experienced the terrible things they have experienced, that’s not how I belong. But I’m really excited to be back and participate and to learn more. And in that I have a place here. I have a part to play. I (as well as CPT) am not illegitimate.
Technically, legally speaking it is the Israeli Army who is illegitimate here, a fact reiterated to me at a recent International Humanitarian Law (IHL) training I attended Monday. They participate both in the forced displacement of Palestinians and the transfer of Israelis into the occupied territories. These are two of the clearest prohibitions IHL sets out on occupied areas.
But I’m not worrying about the soldiers. CPT is finding different ways of addressing their demands, and the soldiers resolve already seems to be waning. (I’ll keep you updated on the developments) And besides regardless of what they say, or what stupid rules they try to implement, I know I belong.
I don’t feel I belong because I do so legally, or even socially. It goes much deeper. It’s the belonging of being where one should be, doing what one should be doing. In that way, more than any other I belong here.
(If this was a different kind of blog I would tell you to ask yourself where you belong and what you should be doing, or how you belong in Palestine. This isn’t that kind of blog, but feel free to ask yourself those questions anyway)
Pray for a blessed 3rd stint
Pray CPT is able to continue to perform the work we are committed to
Pray for peace