Last week the Excellence Center organized a group visit to Shuhada Street. The street was closed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 1994 in the aftermath of the 1994 Abraham Mosque Massacre. Visits like this give international volunteers a firsthand opportunity to see and experience what the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict looks like from a Palestinian perspective. The highlight of this particular tour was a house visit to one of the only families still living on Shuhada Street.
Some international volunteers participated in the tour. As the group first approached the IDF checkpoint, Mayuki – a volunteer from Japan – highlighted the fact that, the IDF can question people and harass them if they are perceived to be either Muslim or of Arabic origin. . The IDF forbids Palestinians from entering the street, unless they still live in the occupied H2 area of Hebron. Luckily, these restrictions do not apply to international visitors.
“This place looks like a ghost town” noted Alessandro – an Italian volunteer – referencing the deserted streets and shops with their doors welded shut. The group continued to the house of an elderly Palestinian woman, who welcomed the group into her house offering them traditional Palestinian sweets and cold drinks. Inside the Ottoman built courtyard of the house, the atmosphere was relaxed and the elderly woman shared her stories about the IDF and illegal Israeli settlements.
“Once they released a pack of rabid dogs into the street. Another time they harassed a woman and took off her scarf” these were some of the stories the elderly woman shared. Afterwards, the volunteers had an opportunity to ask the elderly woman questions about her life. Was she ever scared? How long had she lived here?
These face-to-face interactions with locals help humanize the conflict. As Carys – a volunteer from Wales put it – “I’ve studied extensively about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict before, but seeing these places with my own eyes and speaking with these people in person makes this much more meaningful. This is no longer about a collection of facts, it is about real people with real stories, fears, and struggles”