What I saw in Hebron
Maggie Hindley reports on a month in Palestine
The last thing I did before retiring as a minister in 2017 was take a sabbatical trip to South Africa. There, after I’d spent time with people who had been involved in the struggle against Apartheid, I thought back to some of my recent visits to the Holy Land and began to see parallels with South Africa 40 years ago and Israel/Palestine now. As I moved into retirement proper, doing what I could towards ending the occupation was top of my new list of priorities.
I trained with Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Then Covid stopped travel. This spring I finally joined the CPT team in Hebron. This is the burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Jacob. It was David’s first capital, before Jerusalem. These days it’s hugely contested; it’s an Arab city but Israeli settlers have come to live, not just in developments outside the town, but also within the old city itself. There are walls and checkpoints everywhere to protect the settlers. CPT, which monitors the checkpoints, bears witness to what is going on and supports the Palestinian residents, amplifying their voices.
How has my experience changed me? I arrived to find a team of six young Palestinians, not older foreigners like myself. Covid had changed everything! It makes a lot of sense to have a team of locals – they speak the language, live the culture and know people by name. On my first day, I learned that it was a very different experience for them than it was for me. At the checkpoints we passed through several times a day soldiers would smile and laugh cheerily when they checked my British passport. My teammates were treated abruptly, even contemptuously. The men might be required to lift their shirts to show they weren’t carrying a weapon; one teammate had to lift his trouser legs and have his socks inspected at gunpoint. Not so long ago, two teammates had been detained and interrogated, accused – quite falsely – of encouraging school children to throw stones at the soldiers. It all adds up to trauma for my Palestinian friends and completely unmerited privilege for me. Change number one: I no longer take the privilege of a British passport for granted…
Maggie Hindley is a retired minister
This is an extract from an article published in the November 2022 edition of Reform