A TIME FOR HEROES
The schoolgirls poured from their schoolhouse door in their crisp uniforms onto the broken and dusty streets of Hebron. Such a contrast! The streets have been long broken since the attacks by Israeli settlers and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).
While the other delegates were watching the IDF teenagers with automatic weapons, I was enchanted by the children. I was at the back of the group and was watching them when they saw Issa Amro. As soon as they spotted him they began to chant in unison, “Issa Amro! Issa Amro! Issa Amro!” As they neared us shyness overcame them and they merely grinned ear to ear.
Hebron used to be a Palestinian city. Now it is divided by walls and fences into H1 and H2. H1 is the Palestinian side and H2 is the Israeli settler side. Issa Amro was guiding our tour through H1. Soon after we began walking he got a phone call. His friends were warning him that the IDF was on its way.
While we waited for the IDF to arrive he told us about his nonviolent resistance to the Israeli Occupation. I am sure he knows about Gandhi. He pointed out a building that had been confiscated by Israeli settlers. Remember we are in H1. As we stood next to what used to be a community park, a gathering place, and Issa Amro waited quietly for us to cluster around him I spotted an armed IDF teen atop the wall behind him. Such a contrast!
The former Palestinian gathering place is in H1, but the Israeli settlers wanted it for celebrating their holidays. So now on every Jewish holiday the park is closed to Palestinians. Further, the Palestinians who chanced to have a home on the H2 side of the dividing line are locked in their homes (i.e. house arrest) for the duration of the holiday so that the settlers can “feel safe”.
The IDF youngsters arrived armed to the teeth to escort Issa Amro away from us. He spoke with them briefly and respectfully. Israel has held him in ‘administrative detention’ 17 or 18 times for speaking truth. He is not charged with any crime because there is none. But ‘administrative detention’ means that a person can be held indefinitely with no charges filed. Reasons for the detention could be as simple as Facebook posts, attendance at a rally or demonstration, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Only about 15 minutes had elapsed since we arrived.
We were not abandoned, though. One of Issa’s very capable colleagues continued the tour with us. Palestinian shops in H1 are shuttered. Permits are needed for any repairs or new building but few if any are ever granted to Palestinians, while Israeli settlers get subsidies for repairs and new construction from the Israeli government.
Our new guide was a well-educated young man who spoke flawless English. He told us of the separation walls that separate not only H1 from H2 but also cut through other areas. One evening after work he needed to pass through one of these to get home. When he got to the gate they told him that his number was not on the ‘list’. Everyone has a number and must be on an approved list to pass through. Our guide was able to get home that night. It just took more time.
Did the Israelis forget the experience of being known by a number instead of a name?
The purpose of many activities by the IDF is to intimidate and to humiliate. I have to marvel at the patience and creativity of the Palestinians. Issa Amro rejoined the group while we were in the market. He explained why there was chain link fencing across the top of the street here. Debris and some garbage are piled on top of the chain link roof.
An occasional piece of corrugated sheet metal guides liquids such as urine away. Israeli settlers live in the upper stories. Such a contrast!
The shopkeepers are clearly in awe of Issa Amro for his courageous leadership. His joy in living is contagious despite the cruel apartheid. With my own ears, I heard him say “I love life, but would not hesitate to offer mine for Palestinian freedom from oppression.” I am in awe of this man.
Note: Dec. 26, 2017 is the new court date for the Israeli High Court to adjudicate the trumped up charges Israel has levied against Issa Amro.