Lost in the Garden of Eden
We are at an army checkpoint, going to the Arab part of Hebron. The air is of a paradisal temperature-less quality, but the sun is fierce. I am starting to get a headache after walking for some forty minutes on a dusty trail around Arab houses and empty fields with stunning views, slippery stone steps, children playing their favourite game of trying to scare you from behind a corner (they do show some respect when you’re not getting scared, though – power play is the name of the game in this world), dusty carpets lying seemingly vicariously on the stones (why?), and olive trees behind barbed wire.
And now it’s passport time. We all take out our passports with visas, and the border crossing is quick and uneventful, that is, until Marc shows his German ID card.
– Where is your passport?
– I left it in Jerusalem.
– Why not?
It started off as potentially a trip from hell. We were supposed to meet up with David Wilder from the Hebron Fund for a tour at 10 am, but he couldn’t make it. Going to a war zone on a Friday and leaving on an Israeli bus just minutes after Friday prayer – is, well, probably not for everyone. Probably not the wisest idea. But Friday is the only free day we’ve got to go travelling. And so we went – me and six guys, a mixed group of German, Italian, French, American and Norwegian nationals. And heck, we could be our own tour guides. I was in Hebron two years ago, when David graciously showed me and my friend Tova around, and am now trying to remember what to see and how to get there.
At the entrance to Machpela, the tomb of the patriarchs, our bags all beep, naturally.
– You have any sharp objects, knives, scissors, in your bags? – the soldiers ask relaxedly. And suddenly, turning to me, the only woman in the group, with a flirtatious smile:
– Maybe a gun?
This is the second time I am here, and the second time I am asked whether I carry a gun at this same entrance. It’s as if the story from two years ago picks up where we left it, and continues.
The Jews come to pray here to take advantage of the merit of the forefathers. Four couples are buried here, at Ma’arat haMachpela – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, and, according to Jewish mystics, also Adam and Eve (which may surprise many Christians, who believe Adam was buried at the Place of the Scull in Jerusalem). According to the Zohar, the Tomb of the Patriarchs is the gateway to Eden, the connection of the realms of heaven and earth, the place through which prayers ascend to heaven. Adam has been revealed the secrets of it, and therefore he and Eve were buried there. Abraham discovered the supreme sanctity of the place, hence his eagerness to buy it.
Outside in town, the soldiers are bit edgy. You can tell they’re gearing up for the Friday prayers. As we walk through the eerie ghost town that used to be an Arab market, a hawker tries to sell us some beads, and keeps following us, causing a soldier to step in and chase him away.
– He’s doing it with everybody, – he shrugs. – You all have your passports? No, no, you don’t have to show us, just make sure you have them.
– We came prepared, I smile. And – thank you.
And then it is as if a spirit of political incorrectness descends upon me, and with a passion I never knew I had I speak my mind up until the moment we leave Hebron. We go to the Abraham Avinu neighbourhood, visit the synagogue, where I remind everyone of the story from Genesis 23, of Abraham buying a plot of land for four hundred shekels, to bury Sarah, his wife, and how he insisted on buying it, not accepting it as a gift.
Could he have known? Could Abraham our father have foreseen what would happen?.. And this piece of land legally bought was the first plot of land belonging to the first Jew outside Canaan, in what would later become the land of Israel.
– This was the beginning of Israel, – someone from our group says. Yes, this was the beginning of Israel. This is why it is so important, so holy. And this is why he insisted on buying it.
We go to Tel Hebron and stand at the place where the deed was, as it seems from archeological evidence, actually made. All those thousands of years ago. Now there is a handful of Jews living here, among them a woman with 13 children whose father was stabbed to death, and up on the hill is the tomb of Ruth, the woman who left her own country and her own people, and said passionately and without reservation: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you”
Two years ago, I stood at her tomb, and I touched the stones, and it felt as if I had met an old friend, and I shared cakes with the soldiers at a nearby post, and I asked her to pray for me. If nothing else, she would understand…
And now I’m back. And the brochures in the small Jewish museum in Beit Hadassa bear the logo of an organisation I worked for every Sunday for the last five months in Norway, and an address of my good friend Rachel, whom I met through David in Hebron. We would have coffee in the kitchen at that address, and the Hebron calendar was above my seat, showing the time two years ago when I lost my soul to the land. Why these dates, it’s from two years ago, I would ask Rachel. To make me feel younger, she smiled. Indeed. I think she just liked the picture.
We go look at the Arab street below Beit Hadassa (where a few families, including David’s, live), and the 10-year-old garbage lying on the lattice above it. No, it is not thrown every day. And when we finally descend one level down, as if in a bad computer game, after having passed the obstacles of checkpoints, and slippery stairs, and wicked children, and a funny shopkeeper, and the tombs and the excavations (Lara Croft goes to Hebron?), and the garbage we just saw is now suspended above our heads, but nobody is trying to lecture us on it. Because we just spoke to them from above. Instead, we get “Welcome to Hebron” from every corner, and the men stare at me, I think the only woman on the streets, and in the deserted Friday shouk, and somebody tries to grab me by the arm, while I linger at the crossroads. I just keep walking. The gay guy from our group walks back to me realising it’s time to save me. An elderly gentleman wearing keffiyeh walks non-chalantly down the street smoking pot. A meat carcass is hanging at a butcher’s. Somebody is walking their goat. Hebron proper is chaotic, free-flow and cheap. It’s the real thing. Welcome to Hebron. Shukran.
And we get back through the checkpoint, with Free Israel spray-painted on the stones ahead of it, a few more id checks, and armoured trucks and an ambulance moving in, we walk through the same ghost town and the same hawker rushes towards the familiar prey again. Boy, is he happy to see us! I make eye contact with the nearest soldier, he understands and starts moving towards us. The hawker sees it, too, the heightened perceptiveness of having to live in the world of Hebron, and lashes out on me, shouting I am the reason people don’t buy from him. He ends up grabbing Marc, however, as the soldier moves closer and starts shouting, too. Marc, who will probably have to attempt travelling to Gaza with just a library card – and then writing a book about it – tells the hawker he has a knife. Happy Friday, everyone.
I go to buy a lighter at the automat, and I don’t have enough change. The local jester, a funny Jewish guy, comes over to ask if I need any help, and gives me the extra change, then asks me for a ciggie, and goes over to socialise with the soldiers. Meanwhile, two soldiers see the seven of us approaching the bus stop and start chasing the kids away from the bench. The kids are a tough bunch here, but they do give way, while the EAPI observers are taking pictures and the TIPH people are driving by. More reports to send to wherever they send them?
The bullet-proof glass on the bus has cracks on it. But the Friday prayer is over, and the ambulance is standing by idly, and we leave Hebron – and come back in one piece.
We will be back.
- The Wilder Way by David Wilder: Disgrace Redux (israelnationalnews.com)
- Hebron’s famed Gangnam Style Soldiers (readerofzion.wordpress.com)
- A brand-new Palestinian Arab lie (elderofziyon.blogspot.com)
- In Aug 1929, The Arabs Massacred the Jews Of Hebron (While the British Watched) (yidwithlid.blogspot.com)
- Israel should praise their dancing IDF soldiers, not condemn them | Seth Freedman (theguardian.com)
- “Welcome to Israel” (kaliradical.wordpress.com)