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Business as Usual in Hebron

Peace Cycle to Palestine

by SUSAN GALLEYMORE

The Peace Cycle, an annual ride for peace from London, just ended in Jerusalem. At the same time, Ehud Olmert just ended what he may have hoped would be a victory lap speaking around the United States and Palestinian school children from the villages of Tuba and Maghayir Al Abeed were prevented from attending school in At-Tuwani.

The first two events received far more publicity than the last and yet they’re all connected by the banal and the mundane: business as usual.

Laura Abraham, co-founder of the Peace Cycle, came to Israel and the West Bank after she heard reports in Britain about the bombardment of Jenin in 2002. The Israelis sealed off that town and refused access to ambulances and journalists. “I listened to how people were killed when buildings were demolished on top of them. It was so horrific that I realized I needed to do more than just know about it, I had to do something about it.”

This year’s peace cyclists rode from Amman, Jordan to Jenin and other West Bank towns and villages, including Hebron. The ancient city referenced in the Old Testament is shuttered now and wire mesh covers its walkways. This, to prevent fundamentalist Jewish settlers who live above street level from tossing garbage onto pedestrians below.

Fatigued mesh sags under the weigh of garbage thrown from above. It hangs so low that pedestrians must walk around it. Photo: S Galleymore, 2005.

Laura Abraham tells of a Palestinian youth who joined her group’s visit to the mosque. “All his life, this twenty-year-old has lived 200 yards from the mosque and this was his first visit there. When I ask why he visited on this day, he said he feels safe with us because we are from England, the ‘outside’, and can protect him from Israeli soldiers and settlers who set upon Palestinians. He said, ‘They attack us less when Internationals can see them.’”

Abraham states, “This is another reason international individuals and organizations such as our Peace Cycle must visit the region: besides learning about the situation and telling others about it, Internationals reduce the day-to-day violence against Palestinians, at least while they’re here. Once they leave Palestinians are harassed with impunity.”

Meanwhile, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leveraged business as usual and scaled new heights of chutzpa on his speaking tour around the United States just months after he was indicted in a corruption scandal that may put him behind bars. The charges predate his 2006 to 2009 term and include defrauding the government and overseas Jewish groups for double- and triple-billing travel charges, taking bribes, and for impropriety in maintaining a relationship with a business partner while a minister of trade and industry. Ever urbane and witty, Olmert tossed one liners as protesters in audiences around the country stood up and accused him of war crimes, of having blood on his hands, of murdering women and children in Gaza, and of the illegal use of White Phosphorous munitions against civilians.
Police in San Francisco turned the tables on protesters who called for Olmert’s arrest: instead of cuffing Olmert and escorting him jail, they arrested twenty-two citizens exercising free speech and locked them up.

It is a sad business when Israeli soldiers must escort Palestinian children to and from their villages of Tuba and Maghayir Al Abeed to their school in At-Tuwani, near Hebron. The Israeli Knesset mandates the Israeli military ensure the children’s safety and avoid the daily threat of violence from adults of the Israeli settlement of Ma’on and the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on.

When Israeli soldiers are late, the fearful children walk a longer route to and from school – or do not go to school at all. Additionally, the children report that soldiers sometimes use violence against them, that soldiers usually drive military vehicles next to them rather than walk alongside them and, sometimes, they drive so fast that the children must run to keep up. A lagging child risks being isolated from the others and is vulnerable to attack by settlers.

So, while Olmert spoke about his legacy and cycle participants rode and learned four adult Israeli settlers, one masked and armed with a slingshot, prevented small children from attending their studies. Soldiers were late that day, as they are most of the time, although this time they claimed they were new to the situation and did not know where to meet the children for the escort. The day before, soldiers failed to arrive at all, forcing the children to take the longer path…where they have been attacked on numerous past occasions.

Did I mention that former Prime Minister and current Middle East envoy Tony Blair visited Hebron at the same time as the Peace Cycle? And that his eight-year-old niece Alexandra and her mother Lauren Booth – Blair’s sister-in-law – participated in this year’s Peace Cycle?

After his visit to Hebron Blair and his convoy swept past the cyclists stopped on the side of the road.

Alexandra waved then asked Laura Abraham, “Do you think my uncle saw me?”

I’m sure Laura Abraham’s answer was appropriate to the child’s age and that it models the humanity she has displayed ever since she learned about events in Jenin.

I may have said, “Probably my dear. But, out here, children and Palestinians count for nothing when it comes to maintaining business as usual.”

SUSAN GALLEYMORE is author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, host of Raising Sand Radio, and itinerant artist illustrating the effects of war in her Families of War Series. She lived and worked in Israel from 1975 to 1977 where she also learned Hebrew.