Monday, October 1, 2007

Hugging Hebron

When he's not praying with me in Bnei Brak (see this post from a week ago), Michael is a full time peace and human rights activist. Much of his job is done around Hebron, where 600 hateful zealots are holding tens of thousands of Palestinians hostage with the aid of a well armed military presence, thus encouraging zealotry and hatred on the other end. Michael is fighting to allow Palestinians the right to walk on the streets on which they live (many of them are only allowed to leave their houses via the rooftops), to prevent settlers from taking over their stores and houses, and to keep people aware of the violence and abuse that take place in that city daily.

He called me today to apologize for not returning my phone call from yesterday. "I took a day off with Yaelle and we went to the old city of Jerusalem," he explained, then told a bit of their fine adventures.

"I was actually in your turf." I told him. "I went to Hebron to give free hugs."

A short pause of bafflement ensued.

"Yeah, you see, I met this German girl at a party in Jaffa, I talked about volunteering with you in Hebron, she talked about the free hugs phenomenon, you know what it is."

"Yeah, sure I do. Keep going."

"So we decided to combine the two and give the free hugs where they are most needed. A friend of hers came along to document it. we created posters in Hebrew, English and Arabic and hit town. Now, of course if you walk with a sign in Arabic down Shuhada street, that's considered a leftist provocation. so the police gave us plenty of trouble, but that was only after we got to do quite a bit of hugging. We hugged settlers, soldiers, Palestinians, everybody."

"I can't believe you went. There are lots of people there now for the holiday."

"All the more free hugs."

Michael was overjoyed, which meant a lot to me. Hebron needs serious activism and I wasn't sure hugging there fell into that category. it was more of an experiment and an act of goodwill. If somebody who cares so much for the Hebronites likes our idea, it was probably appropriate. "Can I tell the guys about this?" he asked, meaning members of his organization "Children of Abraham"

"Of course, and tell them that I learned a lot. I was surprised that the settlers were not hostile towards us, but that the police was. It demonstrated to me once again that the problem is not necessarily the settlers, that they are just a symptom. The problem is official Israeli policy. I mean, the cops were civil with us, since we are not Arab, and I understand they're extra nervous around the holiday, but it was sad all the same. They kept asking us if we are related to any peace organization, saying 'peace' like someone might say 'terrorism'. I said that we weren't but that I guess hugging was a sharing of peace, whereupon they let us know that if we hug once more they will arrest us."

A note on the images: The first shows a rare instance of man-woman hug. In general all societies living in Hebron are quite traditional, Pamela could only hug women and I could only hug men. The Israeli soldiers come from a bit of a different universe.

The second image was taken on a street where only Jews and non-Arab visitors are allowed to walk. This is the very heart of Hebron's bubble of hatred. I was pleased and surprised to see the settler lady hugging Pamela while she was holding the sign in Arabic.

In the third image we are being interrogated by plainclothesmen. At the same time, one of the policemen says a benediction on the "four species", a collection of plants that is revered during this holiday. The source and meaning of this custom is lost. It's interesting that someone who engages in it would consider our behaviour strange.


Ariela said...

Hello, I stumbled across your blog by being bored and unable to sleep. Just kidding. (Well sorta, so please forgive me if my writing feels long-winded and incoherent) I did want to say though, that I've been reading your updated entries and thought I’d offer my two cents.

This Free hug day has turned into quite the global phenomenon. I remember such a day I experienced during a snowy winter afternoon in a public park of Colorado Springs. Flyers posting: “Free Hugs for all, We’ve got enough arms to spare,” were pinned up around the city and a huge influx of people headed toward the center of town with a spirit of connection. I remember hoping that this hug day could possibly ease some tensions between the students of the college and the locals of C. Springs.

It turned out to be a wonderful outcome with a much bigger turnout then we imagined. Not only were people sharing embraces, but they were also engaging in dialogues about issues a lot of us had been wanting to talk about in person that were only being covered thru newspaper journalists and opinions sections in the local magazines. So along with the warm and cozy hugs we got during the cold weather, we also were fortunate enough to spark some long awaited conversations.

I think hugging, along with other forms of touch, are really missing from our daily interactions. Things seem to move by so quickly with most of us just going thru the day wrapped in our own thoughts and problems. We forget how valuable something as seemingly simple yet rewarding as an embrace could be. I could only imagine what something as uncomplicated as a hug in a place of conflict might have to offer. Unfortunately, (as you pointed out with Israeli govt. policy), there will always be present, a stronger force to complicate the situation. It’s our job to remain human during all this and one great way of doing that is spreading our arms with no expectations or impositions. In any case, I wish I could’ve been there to join in on the embraces.

I have only been to Hebron once on a leftist tour, which I think was called The Green Line Tour, a few years back. I distinctly recall learning a lot about politically imposed land boundaries and the psychological impacts they produce on those experiencing them. Something, which I feel doesn't get a lot of attention, as we are busy focusing on the macro-effects of a conflict that seems to already call for a TRI-state solution.

In continuing with your post on activism---

While in the states, I was involved in mostly environmental, and gay rights activism in my area, because these are some of the more prevalent issues that affect the region in which I lived. (also issues I found personally important) Here, I find myself having to read 4-5 newspapers online every day just to keep up with what’s going on. It’s exciting and daunting to be living in a place where I am surrounding by impassioned people. In Israel it’s different, I feel almost as if it is peoples moral obligation to be impassioned and proactive about political issues or they are almost less human. Mostly because the politics seem to touch everyone, on some level, throughout the socio-culutral-political spectrum. This is my judgment, and I am aware that there exist bubbles even within such a small country, but like you said, (which is probably one of the most honest and insightful comments about activism and just being a living citizen of a country) “in fact it is impossible to live in peace without being active, otherwise you end up becoming a tool of war.” And might I add: a tool of the system and a tool of political forces in general.

Lastly, i'm not sure if you have heard or not, but I’ve recently been told that there are huge boycotts of the 2008 Chinese Olympics going on around the UK and US because of their involvement in, and financial support of, the Burmese military. There have been petitions circulating the net if you're interested in read about it. (one website)

So, I hope you are well, and that your travels (for your book and otherwise) are taking you to great and exciting places. I have just gotten back from a week in Haifa and the street theatre in Acco, which was a glorious experience. (I got to see some of those clowns you were telling me about) They inspired me to do some sort of photography expose/anthropological study on traveling clown societies in the future. There’s a sense of tragedy looming beneath those bright red-rudolf noses and smiley masked exteriors that I find myself attracted to. Yet another project idea to add to the list. Give me a ring if you’ve got any interesting places you’re going to that you think I may like, and I will do the same.


Yuval said...

Now that the dollar's value is dropping globally, it's wonderful to see how far two cents can still go. Thanks a lot for your insight and stories, as well as for quoting me to myself, that's always a lovely feeling.

You bring up the psychological effects of physical limitations on movement. Hebron is such an unbelievable factory for different claustrophobic reactions. I won't even go into it further now because it makes me so sad. We'll chat soon for sure.

childofabraham said...

hey man,

insane idea but just might work...
maybe we can try it around issa's house!

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