Before I begin I would like to give a special word of thanks to the Al Qasrawi family and the Al Bakri family for the heartwarming welcome that I received. Hebron is a city rich in history and it is very significant to me as a Christian. I am sure that my trip would have been very different had it not been for your generous hospitality and kindness.
الله يحفظكم ويحميكم
In 2017 I studied Arabic in Amman, the captical city of Jordan. During this time I was invited to go travelling with a group of friends accross the border of Jordan to explore Palestine. The area holds a special place in my heart and so naturally I accepted and we travelled to Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and of course, Hebron.
I had never visited Hebron before, but I had heard numerous reports about the conflict and problems that existed within the city. That being said I am firm believer in experiencing a situation before casting any judgement (thanks Mum and Dad for this valuable lesson!) After a long drive and an hour and a half wait in Jericho, we found a hire car and began our journey.
Note: Hebron is a divided city, therefore areas such as the Old City of Hebron are split into two. Palestinians are restricted from entering certain parts of the city and have limited freedom of movement. I have only had the privelage of visiting the ‘Palestinian side’ of the city of Hebron and that is what I will be writing about in this article.
What is significant about Hebron?
Hebron is a divided Palestinian city that is located in the West Bank and is currently the second largest Palestinian city following Gaza. The city is situated in the southern Judaean Hills and is southwest of the well known capital, Jerusalem. The city is located roughly 3000 feet above sea level and it is famous for its numerous fruit trees and vineyards.
Hebron is no ordinary Palestinian city as it plays major significance to the religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the land and it has associations with several of the Patriarchs, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David. The city is considered one of the four holy cities of Judaism and one of the four holy cities of Islam and therefore the cities recieves thousands of tourists and visitors each year.
Our arrival in Hebron
I am not sure if you are familiar with Palestinian culture, so let me say that if you are ever invited to eat Palestinian food then you are blessed indeed. Palestinians are some of the kindest and most hospitable people that I have ever met, I may sound biased but it is the truth!
After a long three hour drive along road 90 towards Hebron we finally arrived at our destination. We were all exhausted beyond belief. As we entered the one of the houses that we were to stay in during our trip we were met with a beautiful spread of food. Our hosts must have spent ages preparing the food and we were so very grateful for their generous hospitality. Does this picture make you feel as hungry as we were that evening?
Taking a walk in the Old City of Hebron
The next morning we went for a walk through the Old City to visit our friend’s grandmother’s house. We also wanted to visit the well known Al-Ibrahimi mosque. We drove into the Old city, parked up and began our tour. I was unsure of what to expect: I had heard that Hebron is very similar to Jerusalem and I quickly started to notice some of the similarities.
The first similarity that I noticed was the colourful souqs and market places: they were filled with interesting items ranging from souvineers to fresh and dried fruits. It was strange to walk through a city that seemed so familiar to Jerusalem and equally so different. I remeber trying to store every detail and every alleyway into my mind just like I had done many a time in the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. If I had the opportunity I would love to return and wander through the streets of Hebron once more.
Unfortunatly our visit to Hebron was interrupted by harsh realities including countless checkpoints and bag searches. I never find it easy to enter or exit through a checkpoint; of course, I hold a British passport so I rarely face any challenges whatsoever. Still, it hardly seems fair that a small red booklet effect the freedom of movement?
A house in the Old City
During our visit to Hebron, we stayed in a house in the Old City that lies above the remains of a Turkish baths. The house is located on Al Shuhada street. The main enterance to the house has been sealed off – like other houses along the street – Palestinians are forced to exit from a back entrance of their houses. The lady that we stayed with was ninety years old; she reminded me of my grandparents and she lived in the house alone. It was nearly impossible for her to leave the house, meaning that she was reliant on both neighbours and family members to support her basic needs. Her balcony that looked out onto the street was completely sealed off by bars that had recently been installed. Despite everything I could not help but notice our hostess’ cheerful beaming smile: we were so honoured to be her guests!
The interior of this house is simply beautiful, especially as the sun rises and beams of light sneak through into the open living room. I love how the plants have been placed around the window: green is such a welcoming colour. The plants look so beautiful stood against the faded cream walls; decorating does not have to be too complicated.
The old Turkish bath house located underneath our hostess’ house is simply incredible. Sadly, the baths have been out of operation since 2003 but can you imagine how beautiful they used to look? Its times like these when I wish that I could step back in time to see them in their former glory!
As you can see from the above picture, the Turkish baths is in need of a lot of restoration due to vandalism and other issues, however there is great potential for the building. Just late last year I heard the news that a team of volunteers are helping the owners to refurbish the baths to its original beauty. I simply cannot wait to see the transformation take place! Watch the video below to see some of the work in action.
Life in Hebron is complicated and very difficult. A visit to Hebron certainly makes for an eye opening and informative trip. I learned some valuable lessons from my time in Hebron. Although it was only a short visit, I learned and experienced hospitality in its truest form.