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Breaching Hevron’s Confrontation Lines

Avi Friedman

Seven years after Rachel Corrie, an Olympia, Washington, native, was crushed by an IDF bulldozer while serving as a human shield for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, thousands of foreign nationals have followed her example and have deployed around Judea and Samaria to “protect” Palestinian residents against IDF soldiers and Jewish residents and to document Israel’s “occupation” of the Land of Israel. Mishpacha’s correspondent Avi Friedman “infiltrated” this peace movement to learn how they operate.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

HEVRON – The casbah is peaceful at 6:30 a.m. as the first rays of sun gleam over the buildings and early risers set out their wares for the day. Roosters crow loudly and walk the ancient streets freely, blissfully unaware of the fate that is likely to befall them before the end of the day, and merchants set up display tables with clothing, fruit, vegetables, and more. Like Jerusalem, twenty miles to the north, Hevron’s Old City is magical, especially at this time of day, a place where rough stones speak volumes about the history of a scarred city.

Israeli civilians are a rare breed here, an area of Judea where the Palestinian Authority controls civilian and security matters but where the viewpoint of Hamas is the ideology of choice for many residents. That combustible combination has led the IDF to declare the area off-limits to Jews, and even Israeli journalists have to deal with a vigorous bureaucracy to obtain the necessary permits to cross over. As a result, locals clearly view the presence of two Jewish stragglers first thing in the morning with a mix of suspicion and curiosity. But people are friendly enough, and answer our English-language request for directions to the Bab el-Baladiyyeh square, in the heart of the marketplace, in reasonable Hebrew. The answer quickly jolts me out of my fantasy that speaking English will disguise my identity as an Israeli.

In a second-floor apartment off the main drag, members of the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT), a group of foreign nationals that monitor human rights and serve native populations in a variety of hot spots around the world, including South America, Africa, Iraq, and the United States border with Mexico, sip coffee and tea and speak easily about their experiences here in the eye of the storm. They say the Palestinians need protection on a day-to-day basis from settler violence, checkpoints, and IDF incursions to their homes. A stone’s throw away, Hevron’s Jews say their assertion is nonsense, and that they are the ones who require protection following a decade in which there have been numerous murders of Jews in and around Hevron and more Arab shooting attacks than can be counted.

The CPT is one of at least ninety NGO’s – nongovernmental organizations operating in Israel. The European Union provides approximately 70 percent of their budgets, according to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor. Some of these NGO’s are benign and promote soccer matches between Israeli and Palestinian youths, but perhaps as many as two-thirds were established to promote the views of the political left, often complicating Israel’s efforts to defend itself, both on the ground and on the airwaves of the media.

These groups include Israeli organizations as well as international ones. Yesh Din – a human rights organization led by the left-wing, anti-religious former Meretz Knesset member Shulamit Aloni; Machsom Watch, which focuses international pressure on Israel to remove West Bank checkpoints vital to keeping terrorists out of Israeli cities; and Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which aims to stop the IDF from razing houses of terrorists, even though this has proven to be an effective deterrent to terror.

On the day of our tour, members of Machsom Watch arrived, ostensibly to monitor a checkpoint between Jewish and Arab sections of Hevron. In this case, their visit lasted less than five minutes, in which they managed to purchase freshly-baked pita bread from the cart of a local Arab peddler, but barely glanced at the checkpoint itself. But not all such visits are so benign.


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