During clashes, Kobi was shot, some sources say, by a Palestinian sniper, others say from friendly fire. Even to write about his death makes my stomach turn.
The Jewish holiday of Sukkoth was going on that week. In Hebron, the holiday means an influx of Israeli religious tourists and, as a result, a multiplication of Israeli military presence. For several days, the mosque is closed to Muslims; the Israeli military imposes more restrictions on Palestinian movement, and settlers increase their harassment of Palestinians. This year was no exception.
Early on the afternoon of September 22, we monitored the beginning of the clashes near where Kobi was killed. The Israeli military had blocked Palestinian vehicle access to several roads, so that Israeli buses could drive through. The clashes began shortly after school let out. We monitored the situation for about an hour and a half, but left the clashes because we heard Israeli soldiers had been detaining two boys on a roof since 9:00 a.m. We went to a high roof nearby to try to look down on them to document the incident, but the boys were sitting too far against the wall for us to see them. Thankfully, while we were strategizing how we might help them, soldiers released them about five and a half hours after they had taken them. The boys looked shaken, but okay; one said the soldiers had kicked him.
Assured that the boys were back with their parents, we went home to take a break. It was while we were away that Kobi was shot. Some friends of ours from another monitoring NGO were there and saw him right after he was shot. I talked to one of them a few days after the shooting. She is a beautiful soul and, as anyone with a modicum of compassion (and she has much more than a modicum) would be, she was deeply troubled by what she saw. She was struggling to find an outlet for her grief and looking for a way to express her condolences to the soldiers who were grieving the loss of their friend.
Understandably, his death sparked even greater tension (to put it mildly) in the city. Checkpoints near where he was shot were closed. When we tried to go through one to get to the area, the soldiers there told us to go away. I tried to ask why. One soldier whom I see frequently lashed out, “Why do you ask so many questions? We told you to go; just go. Stop asking questions!”
We then tried to go to the checkpoint nearest to where Kobi was killed. Many Israeli soldiers, border policemen, policemen, and settlers were gathered there.
Two settlers came near us, one hovering over me. “You killed the soldier. You killed the soldier. Your Arab friend killed the soldier.” At that point, we didn’t even know that he’d died, only that he’d been shot.
“I didn’t kill anyone. I am a peacemaker.”
Another settler behind him, “You are an anti-Semite. You are an anti-Semite.”
The hovering man continued to hover, “If you don’t leave, I’m going to…”
I looked towards an Israeli policeman, who intervened, putting himself between me and the man who was threatening me. I was thankful. “Go, you must go.” We obeyed.
Through that encounter and throughout the rest of the evening, I felt calm. I can only attribute it to the prayers I’d requested from my church family at home earlier that day. There was nothing around us to induce any sense of calm.
We walked back to the checkpoint we’d tried to go through earlier. We stood back and observed. Seven Palestinian men were seated, hands behind their backs, behind a guard post. Then we watched the Israeli military escort the handcuffed men away. We watched as the Israeli military raided homes and took away many, many young men, sometimes children, for questioning. We watched the raids for several hours until finally, at least where we were, things calmed down and we decided to head back home.
Before doing so, we walked back to the checkpoint nearest to where Kobi was killed. It was quiet; only a few soldiers were there and a few other people, not the settlers we’d seen earlier, were also standing there talking. One was an Israeli journalist with whom we talked for a few minutes.
We asked a soldier if the checkpoint was open. He said no. We asked when it would be open again; he didn’t know. Five mornings a week, we stand at that particular checkpoint to monitor the children and teachers who go through on their way to school.
All of the above is only a small part of the chaos of Sunday.
Thankfully, the checkpoint that we monitor was open Monday morning. However, very few children came through. In fact, so few children showed up at the boys’ school and girls’ school nearest the checkpoint that classes were cancelled. While we did our morning monitoring, a few settlers came by. One muttered, “Piece of s**t” as he walked by and looked at us. The hoverer from the night before came by and spat at my feet. An Israeli police officer stationed near us must have known the man, because when he showed up, the officer immediately stood between him and us. After saying some words we didn’t understand but were clearly not nice, the man left.
The day was not an easy one. Clashes, the beating of a Palestinian child, Israeli tourists parading through the Old City, house raids, and so much more.
Tuesday was my day off. I spent the day in Bethlehem, catching up on sleep, eating well, enjoying the fact that I saw no heavily-armed people. My mind, my heart, my body got a break from the assault of the previous days.
I returned the next morning. Life in Hebron was a little calmer. There were clashes again, but they started later than the previous days and only lasted a couple of hours.
Also that afternoon, an elderly woman was trying to go to her doctor’s appointment. She had a heart condition and requested to go through the gate next to the checkpoint, rather than through the metal detectors of the checkpoint. The soldiers wouldn’t let her because she didn’t have a card she was supposed to have. She sat waiting at the checkpoint for at least 45 minutes. She would not go through the metal detectors and they would not let her through the gate. We approached the soldiers to intervene on her behalf.
We asked them to let her through. We showed an English-speaking soldier the documentation of her condition, but this was not enough, he said.
“What if this were your mother or grandmother? How would you feel?”
“A soldier died. No more examples.” The soldier turned his back on us. His comment affected me. I didn’t wanted to be discounted as someone who didn’t care or worse, someone who was happy about Kobi’s death. I knew I needed to say something, though I wasn’t sure what or how.
We continued to plead on behalf of the woman. Thankfully, after a few minutes, though the soldiers didn’t open the gate, they finally turned off the metal detectors and let her walk out.
The two people I was with went their way and I went mine. However, before I left, I asked to speak to the soldier who’d made the comment.
I looked him in the eye and said something like, “I think it is awful that the soldier was killed. I wish harm on no one.” I felt my eyes well up and a lump form in my throat as I spoke. The heaviness of the death, the heaviness I am sure the soldiers felt much deeper than I did, hit me.
Here in Hebron we most often see the effects of the Occupation on Palestinians. That week, there was also a high cost for Israelis.
And so I allowed myself just a little space to grieve for Palestinians and for Israelis.
I don’t allow myself too much space or I will be overwhelmed, something I can’t afford if I want to continue to do the work I’m doing. The time to feel fully may have to wait until I have a little distance from here. The best I can do now is work and pray with all my heart for an end to the Occupation, for a reconciliation I can’t imagine but nevertheless hope for, for an end to the spiral of violence. I pray for peace. And I ask you to do the same.