Part I: Dinner on Tel Rumeida
9 September 2007
One of the delights of sitting in the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) room which is the center of the apartment, just off the first storey courtyard, is that I never know who will next come through the door, nor what news they will bring.
Yesterday Dianne came home from being out in the city and said "Damien is going tomorrow. Issa has invited us to a barbecue at his and Heba’s house on Tel Rumeida. We will take food."
Issa? Heba? Damien? I know none of those people yet. I do know about taking food for a dinner and I do know Tel Rumeida, for it is the hill where John led me yesterday to show me the site of the original walled City of Hebron, the one mentioned in Genesis 23. He showed me the well that was there before the time of Abraham and excavations of the original wall of Hebron which was there when Abraham bought land for his family graves from the Hittites. What a wonderful place to meet for dinner!
And so it was!
Valerie Joy was on cooking duty. She and I sat in the courtyard in the late afternoon cutting and peeling fruit : figs, mangoes, apples, pears, limes and grapes, gossiping as we worked. We made a huge bowl of fruit salad. ‘Going out to dinner’ required a bit of tidying up, so out came special clothes. Getting there required discussion on the best way to carry the bowls of fruit and potato salad and the shortest route. Without the blockade we would have walked out the CPT front door, turned left, reached Shuhada Street in a few steps, crossed over and found a path taking us up Tel Rumeida to the house near the top. However, the blockade is firmly in place, so we turned right then left and walked through the closed-up souk until we found a checkpoint way up the road where we could be checked, ("Shalom!" to the soldiers: ‘Bling!’ from the metal detector), cross Shuhada Street then find a path up the Tel. The steps, when we did get to them, were steep and well-worn. They led up through stoney ground and ancient olive trees. There were a few houses among the olive trees, some occupied, some empty. Which one was Issa’s? John went ahead to find the way for us and I was glad to rest. The bowl of food was not light. Resting gave me a chance to admire the olive trees whose craggy trunks carry the signs of their thousands of years of growth: miracles of survival. ‘This way!’ came the call and soon we were at the house.
What a site! High on Tel Rumeida, we could see out over Hebron. The two-storied stone house is tidy on the outside, has protective steel shutters on the lower windows, gratings on the upper ones, sturdy doors. A tall wire fence, draped with razor wire surrounds the small block of land. Occupancy of this house has not been easily won. The Palestinian flag flew from an upper window. Damien greeted us. A couple of doors on blocks made tables for our dinner, chairs and piles of blocks topped with striped rugs, the seats. In among enjoying the view and the wondering about what this gathering is all about was chat and introductions. Soon connections were found. Damien, Irish, well travelled in the work of International Solidarity Movement knows Kathy Kelly, a woman Christina and I met in Amman on our way here. More ISM people arrived with more bowls of food. Hani, whose house is nearby arrived and so did Issa and Fawaz.
Dinner began with a circle of silence "Tis a thing most hard to find in life" said Damien. Into the silence we drew the names of people known to us whose lives and homes are at risk in the struggle for justice. There were many. Tributes were paid to Damien and the work he’d done as a co-ordinator during his short stay in Hebron. As dark fell and the lights of Hebron lit the near view, military flares played around the hills surrounding the city. The eating was good: the talk passionate. Issa told the story of his struggle to reclaim this house, a traditional family home, from soldiers and the settlers who had occupied it. There were endless court hearings, lawyers, struggles and abuse on the ground. Now, at last, the validity of his lease has recognized by the Israeli High Court. Issa has a dream. There, in the yard of his house on Tel Rumeida, site of the ancient City of Hebron, he spoke of his dream to turn the upper floor of the house into a centre for unity where people from all over the world can come to learn ways of non-violence. This would be the fulfillment of his passion for non-violent solutions. "Gaza is an example," he said. "Violence has freed them from the occupier, but the violence has remained in the community."
When the talking and the eating were done, it was quite dark. The path we followed led along past the old city wall, down by the ancient well, past more olive trees. Starlight, a few small torches and solicitous care for each other got us safely down the dark, rocky track to Shuhada Street. By the side of the road Fawaz bid us goodnight. "I can not come with you," he said. "Maybe one day, but not yet.". He and Damien saw us off as we walked up the street to a checkpoint, greeted the sleepy looking soldier, passed through the checkpoint and into the souk.
It was eerie at night among the stone walls, cobbled stones and steel doors. Small groups of men were gathered at crossroads. They were cheerful in their greetings. I was glad to be with others, happy to be heading home after an evening of companionship, inspiration and celebration. How different it was in the souk the very next night when groups of soldiers filled the passages with different sounds. That’s another story!