It is a frustrating start to our morning. We have plans for a full day of visiting the communities in South Hebron Hills with our UN contact and friend, Hamed. I had arrived in Hebron the night before to stay with my friend Jan, who is volunteering with HIRN, a local NGO, in order that we could get on the road early. Our first attempt to leave the city by the southern exit fails. We are stuck in a long line of cars and trucks that has come to a standstill. Turning around, we cross the city to another exit road that intersects the main highway, only to find that it too is blocked. Our second attempt ends in failure. We decide to try the exit in the far north, even though our destination is south. An hour after we leave home we finally succeed in accessing the main north-south route 60, turning right and doubling back so we are now heading in the right direction.
Hamed tells us that this has been the scenario for several days ~ Israel’s response to an alleged series of stabbing attacks in the area. And radio station FM 92.7 HR.PS on which locals rely for news of such closures has itself been raided and silenced (see post). Out of the six entrances to Hebron city, four have been routinely closed ~ but not the same four! They are always changing. Two seem to remain open so that Israel cannot be accused of closing off the city. But not the same two! This uncertainty is part of the psychological oppression of the occupation. One never knows… What exits will be open tomorrow? How much time and energy will be dissipated? How much frustration will build? What is the breaking point? For us, it was only one morning. But for the majority of Hebron’s 210,000 Palestinian residents, these tools of the occupation are a daily reality.
And these restrictions are not limited to Hebron. Access has been cut off to many towns and villages across the West Bank over the past month. Restrictions on movement both to and within Jerusalem have been increased. Access to Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers is heavily restricted. In some cases, entire communities in the East Jerusalem periphery have been closed off with only one entrance/exit which is controlled by a checkpoint. Lines are long and frustration is high. People are late for work, late for school, late for appointments. Nothing is normal. Innocent people just trying to go about their daily lives are literally blocked at every turn. Most call it collective punishment. You be the judge.