by Stefanie, Summer team
Stefanie worked as an EA in Hebron from April until June 2014. This story was first published on her blog www.philnemo.com/en on May 5th, 2014.
Like any other day in Hebron, I spend this sunny Tuesday afternoon observing the kids in Shuhada street on their way back from school. I am standing at checkpoint 55, on the foot of Cordoba school. There is no physical barrier, yet a soldier makes sure that none of the kids continue walking on Shuhada street – because that part of the street is closed for Palestinians – but they all turn right to walk up the stairs. Next to the stairs there is a small square, which is used as a parking lot by Israeli settlers.
I am talking to the soldier. He tells me that he joined the army 6 months ago and that he came to Hebron three weeks ago. There is also a German tourist group asking me about my work in Hebron. While we talk, two 10 year old boys come down the stairs and stop to talk to the soldier. One of the youngsters points at an old bicycle that is lying in the square that he is not allowed to enter. He explains to the soldier that it is his bike. One of the German tourists speaks Arabic and translates the conversation for us.The soldier looks at me and says: “You can pick it up.” Without thinking about it, I walk towards the bicycle and pick it up. In the same moment Anat C. – a famous Israeli settler, who lives next to checkpoint 55 – shows up.
All of a sudden I remember: The bike is on the “Israeli side”, so maybe it’s not the Palestinian boy’s bike? I put the bike aside and walk back to the group. A couple of minutes later the police shows up. In the H2 area of Hebron there are two different law systems: Palestinians are ruled by military law, the Israeli police takes care of the settlers. The situation is chaotic, with the soldier trying to explain the situation to the policeman and Anat interrupting the conversation, pointing her finger at me. The policeman comes up to me and asks, why I had picked up the bike and if it was mine. “No,” is my answer, “I just wanted to pick it up for the boy.” The policeman asks: “Do you know that the bike is placed on the side Palestinians are not allowed to enter?” Yes, I know, but in that moment I didn’t think about it. I sometimes forget about all the invisible borders….
The policeman asks for my passport. To my relief my colleagues show up and observe the scene. Then the policeman tells me to get into the police car. I am nervous. He acts with authority but friendly and agrees on letting one of my colleagues come with me. The policeman tells me not to worry, we’re just going to the downtown police station. If I was in real trouble, they would bring me to Kiryat Arba, the settlement on the outskirts of Hebron. All right, even though I am sitting in a police car with bullet-proof windows, I am not in big trouble. I am not sure, if that makes me feel any better…
Anat C. is already at the police station. She accuses me of having tried to steal the bike. The police officer takes her evidence, I sit two meters away from them. While telling her side of the story, she looks at me for a brief moment with an empty gaze.
Then it’s my turn. I am nervous but calm, explaining the situation again. I also mention, that I cannot sign a document written in Hebrew, because I cannot read or understand it. With a friendly voice he offers that I write the testimony myself, since he doesn’t speak English very well. “I am allowed to write the testimony myself? That’s strange.” He gets my concern and explains to me, that he has to follow up on these cases, even if it seems weird to me. “You are in Hebron. Things are different here. You have to be careful,” he says. I sign my testimony and he hands me my passport. I’ve never been happier to be able to hold my passport in my hands. On my way out, my colleague takes a photo of me and the police man. I am so relieved, I even give the policeman a hug. Outside, my colleagues are welcoming me with a warm smile.
The same evening I think back on the event. There is a boy who wants his bike – I still don’t know who the bike really belongs to – but can’t get it, because it’s on the “wrong side.” I pick the bike up and end up being detained for attempted bike theft. The policeman is doing his job and follows up on every case, even the smallest one. In Anat’s view, I was intentionally committing a crime against the settlers. I can’t stop thinking about her empty gaze – what a sad look. Yes, life in Hebron is really different…