We were officially in Palestine now. Although "officially" might not be the right word, since officially Palestine is not recognized as a sovereign state by the UN. It has its own flag, its own license plates, but it doesn't have its own currency (anymore). The Israeli controlled checkpoints everywhere make it clear however that we crossed into Palestinian territory.
Our first stop was Jan and Monica's school in Hebron: the Center of Excellence. Here Palestinians are being taught English from both volunteers and Palestinian teachers.
There we had our first encounter with the Arab hospitality. We were welcomed by the biggest smile and were offered tea and breakfast. The teachers were very friendly and interested. People here were extra hospitable because of the fact that there are basically no tourists in Palestine.
H2: Hebron under Israeli control
Jan and Monica then introduced us to Hebron or El-Khalil as it is called in Arabic. It is a holy city in both Islam and Judaism and is still one of the most important cities in the West Bank but it is suffering a lot under Israeli occupation.
We walked straight to the central part of Hebron, called H2. This part is separated from H1 by Israeli checkpoints and is thus completely under Israeli control although there are only about 500 Israelis but more than 10.000 Palestinians.
An Israeli building overlooking the entrance to Hebron's old town
To get there we walked through the old city of Hebron until we bumped into the checkpoint. For us tourists it was easy to pass through, but many Palestinians can't pass. Some of the have been separated from friends and family for years.
Meat for sale
A small street in the old town
The checkpoints are a regular target during the protests each Friday. On this day the Palestinians demonstrate and protest after their midday prayer. Next to checkpoints many stones and other objects can be found. As well as smoke, stun and tear gas grenades from the Israeli soldiers.
One of the Israeli checkpoints separating H1 and H2
Once inside H2 the busy town gave way to an eerie ghost town. There were basically no people in the street except for the odd IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldier.
Ibrahimi Mosque in H2
The streets and squares, which were once crowded, are now completely empty. The Palestinians are not allowed to do business anymore. They are not allowed to open their windows or use the front door. And the can not drive a car in H2, contrary to the Israelis. Every now and then a car passes by, which is either from an Israeli or TIPH, the only NGO allowed there.
Al-Shuhada Street, once the busiest street in Palestine is now silent...
Barrels filled with cement to block streets
As everywhere in Palestine, Israeli buildings are placed on strategic places, such as here in Hebron: an outpost on top of the hill with a huge Hanukkah menorah next to it.
The Israelis have put up signs everywhere in H2 which explain why this part should belong to them (example below). And it is true that not all Palestinians are angels. But this is in my opinion not the way to solve this conflict.
"This land was stolen by Arabs following the murder of 67 Hebron Jews"
A view over Hebron from Tel Rumeida