Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Detained in Hebron

Written by Josh:

In planning our trip to the historic city of Hebron, we were not expecting detainment and questioning by Palestinian police; but things don't always go as planned.

We took an early bus from Bethlehem city to the Palestinian section of Hebron. On the thirty minute drive, we conversed with a Hebron-born Palestinian man who presented himself as a bit crazy, after explaining that his reason for being in Bethlehem was to attend a courtdate for physically assaulting a police officer who had given him a speeding ticket. The man went on to tell us about life in Hebron: life made impossible by, "the Jews." He prepped us for he told us we were to experience in Hebron- checkpoints, settler violence, occupation. And driving along the twisting roads surrounded by Israeli watch towers and settlements, we sure believed we would witness some of this intensity. But alas, our taxi took us to mainstreet Hebron city, fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

We came to Hebron wanting to see conflict; surely Hebron is the city to go to if you wish to witness Israeli occupation. But the area we were dropped off at seemed more like a flourishing city like Ramallah- which we previously compared to an Arab New York City. However, unlike Ramallah, people looked at us different here; people seemed to be concealing an inner suspicion towards us. As we walked towards a row of taxis, a group of drivers approached us, and unlike the typical desperate Palestinian drivers we have encountered elsewhere, these shofars began to question, almost interrogate us: "Where you from?" "What's your name?" "You Muslim?" We were bombarded with questions. We peered down the street to see two Palestinian Authority police officers quickly approaching.

"Where you come from?" they asked. We told them we were visiting and volunteering from America, and had come to see Palestine. They requested our passports and upon looking at them, they radioed in to other police. Within literally a minute, Fatah police sporting their AK-47's surrounded us from all angels- police in trucks, on foot, and on motorbikes. Within these few minutes, we became the center of attention on the busy street. The man who seemed to be the officer in charge took our passports and demanded we follow him for further questioning. We were baffled; with no idea of what was happening, who they thought we were, or where we were headed- we were placed in the back of a police car. We called an Arabic speaking friend of our's to explain in their language who we are.

Many individuals watched in curiosity from the streets, as we dealt with the PA officers. After clarifying our origins, and that we were indeed volunteering for a respected Palestinian organization, the tone of the officers' voices changed drastically- as the officer said, "Welcome! Welcome to Hebron!"- a tint of irony as we were seated in the back of a police car. They explained that some individuals had thought we were Israelis up to no good.

A little shaken, we requested they take us back to a Bethlehem-bound bus. On the way, the gave us a quick tour of the city they call home. "You must see the Ibraheemi Mosque- very beautiful!" They pointed to the direction of the Old City of Hebron, where lies the tension of Israeli settlers and Palestinians. The officers guided us to a taxi-driver who linked arms with Michael, (as is common amongst friends in Arab culture), and led us directly to his taxi.

Although we didn't have the chance to see the actual conflict in Hebron, the resulting tension was sure prevelant in the area.

Lesson learned: next time we travel around a tense Palestinian city, we will be sure to bring a Palestinian guide. Unlike Bethlehem (where we are currently residing), we found that not all Palestine is so open and welcoming.


  1. Wow, not too many people can say they have been detained by Palestinian police!
    It's interesting to think about what would have happened if you two were Israelis or were not there for a "good" purpose. Or, conversely, if these had been Israeli troops and you two had been Palestinian.

  2. "as the officer said, "Welcome! Welcome to Hebron!"- a tint of irony as we were seated in the back of a police car."
    LOVED that line. great observation.

    havin not much knowledge of the on-the-ground issues, what did thy mean, "israelis up to no good"?

    in response to brandon's, "if these had been Israeli troops... "
    please read

  3. Well, first of all Lily Sussman was not Palestinian.

    Second, to argue that the norm for Israeli troops and laptops is to blow them up or riddle with bullets is silly, and of course you can point to extreme examples on both sides.

    Oversimplification doesn't solve anything.

  4. i dont think i ever said shes palestinian... but are you implying that if she was it would be different somehow?

  5. Um, no. But you said "in response to Brandon's if these had been Israeli troops...", and then posted your link.

    What I said was: "Or, conversely, if these had been Israeli troops and you two had been Palestinian."

    I thought since you were responding to me, you had read the entire sentence.

  6. a bit passive aggressive there aren't you?

    so yeah, i was just responding to the parts that i had in quotes.. you know.. thats why i put those words in quotes and not the rest.

    anyway, sorry to confuse you.

  7. I'm glad you guys had someone to interpret for you. I'm guessing you guys are communicating with your friends through mobiles? Or did you get in touch via the police radio?

    Did you get to visit the mosque in the end? Or did you guys feel it was too risky? It's probably a good thing that you guys didn't get to encounter the conflict. Israeli soldiers don't really sound very reasonable.