Well, not exactly Hebron. Just north of Hebron in a small Palestinian village called Beit Ommar. I set out fairly early from Jerusalem with a friend from Sabeel to visit Jamal and Saddiey Moqbel and their family. Colleagues in Chicago told me of the courageous work Jamal is doing with an organization dedicated to peacemaking by creating opportunities for Israelis and Palestinians to talk with one another
The #121 bus left from the Damascus gate station and dropped us at the junction of Bethlehem and Beit Jalla. From there we took the Hebron mini bus south. Shortly after we boarded, I gave my seat to an elderly Palestinian woman. After standing in the aisle for awhile she signaled for me to come take her seat as she went to the rear of the bus where fellow travelers were smiling and crunching up to make room for the older woman. Palestinians could teach us all something about courtesy.
As we approached the check point at Beit Ommar, traffic slowed before an incident taking place about 10 cars ahead of us. IDF trucks and soldiers were everywhere, people were running and tear gas cannisters were exploding. I immediately began shooting pictures through the front of the bus and was ushered to a front seat by the other passengers who were clearly pleased someone was recording the incident. As this was our destination, we left the bus and followed about 15 of the press to the embankment just above the clash which, by then, was somewhat quieter. We got most of the story from English-speaking journalists and internationals. ISM (International Solidarity Movement) had staged a similar demonstration the preceding Friday, protesting the unjust treatment of Palestinians in Hebron and the IDF were apparently not well prepared. This week they were.
As we stood on the embankment, the soldiers basically ignored our presence and our photography as well as our questions about what was going on. Suddenly, they were no longer ignoring us. There was a lot of loud shouting (in Hebrew) and we were being pushed up the hill; most of the press were running. When I looked back my Sabeel friend had just stepped aside from someone being pushed in front of her and the next thing I saw a soldier was dragging her by the arm down the embankment to the street and the army vehicles. When I got there an Israeli policewoman was explaining that she had been arrested, would be questioned and later released. My friend’s broad smile told me she was having something of a good time, so I quit worrying about her and asked why she had been arrested and where she would be taken. Suddenly, a soldier grabbed my arm, asked if I had been arrested (I had not - yet) and began shoving me up the hill. My continued resistance was clearly going to lead to my arrest so I followed the journalists/photographers to higher ground and a road which led past the scene of the clash.
Things continued to calm down, so I walked back toward the soldiers, found a friendly one and explained that I wanted to find out about my friend. He said he would walk me up there ... at which point I saw her walking freely toward us. As she explained, the policewoman (soldiers apparently cannot arrest) was quite kind, gave her some water to ease the sting of tear gas and warned her not to put her hands near her eyes. For whatever reason, they decided not to keep her. We were both aware that had she been Palestinian the result might have been very different. But she got a good sample of how Palestinians are frequently treated.
Jamal kindly met us a little later and drove us to his home and family. His wife, Saddiye, and four children came out from their lovely home to meet us, all smiling and politely introducing themselves. Amr is three, Yara is 9, Zain a bit older, and Yazan 15. A very handsome bunch. As the day unfolded we learned a great deal about the Moqbels. They are refugees from 1948 and 1967. Jamal was 16 when the first Intifada broke out. Soldiers suspected him of throwing stones (he was), came in the middle of the night, blindfolded and handcuffed him and held him for 20 days. He was imprisoned three more times, the last time at an infamous prison near Hebron for 1 1/2 years. He was shot once and was beaten severely during his last imprisonment. He and Saddiye were married in 1995 after a seven year engagement. With a wife and children, Jamal realized he had to take a different course in resisting the occupation. So he decided to build a house in Beit Ommar where his family lived and open a barber shop. Although it is in Area C (Palestinian-controlled), Israeli authorities repeatedly denied him a building permit. When he began to build, they repeatedly brought demolition orders. But the house stands and Jamal and Saddiye have raised four wonderful children. “First in Class” awards hang on the walls.
In spite of or perhaps because of all he has been through, Jamal began the organization sponsoring dialogue between Jews and Palestinians. Jamal proudly told us that their son,Yazan, had talked their Jewish Israeli friend into realizing it would be safe for him to come visit the Moqdels in Beit Ommar. And he has.
As with all my visits to Palestinian families, the hospitality is abundant and kindly given. Saddiye prepared a wonderful lunch for us. But before we ate, Jamal and his son spread a prayer rug and offered silent prayers to Allah ... as we respectfully watched and offered our own prayers of gratitude for Jamal and his family.
Jamal and Saddiye have precious little worldly wealth (he turns off his car’s engine to coast down hills), but they are obviously rich in what counts. After all they have received at the hands of Israel, they refuse to hate, continue to seek justice, and work for a world in which all can live peacefully. A Lenten inspiration for us all.