Rocky path to peace
In November's issue of Hull in print, we interviewed John Lynes, a local Quaker, who was about to join the international Christian Peacemaker Team in Israel's occupied territories. Now, in a special report for the magazine, he describes some of his experiences in one of the focal points of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Hebron, 25 miles south of Jerusalem, is a Palestinian town partly under Israeli military occupation.
Said to be the world's oldest unwalled city, it contains the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Old Testament figures like Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca are buried. This shrine, over 1,000 years old, is known locally as the Ibrahimi Mosque. It is sacred both to Muslims and to Jews, and one part is now a synagogue.
Hull to Hebron: John walks the 'worshippers' way'
You can approach it along a steep winding footpath, the 'worshippers' way', flanked by ancient buildings some in ruins and some still inhabited by Palestinian families. I love this pathway, rich in memories and mysteries, trodden by Crusaders and pilgrims back to the time of Abraham.
The neighbourhood has known tragedy. In 1994 an Israeli settler opened fire on Muslims at prayer in the mosque, killing 29 and injuring many more. Murder returned a few weeks ago, on the evening of November 15 2002. Palestinian gunmen killed 12 Israeli soldiers and armed guards along the worshippers' way.
As a Quaker human rights observer, sent here by Quaker Peace and Social Witness, I was caught up in the immediate aftermath of the November shooting. Each day I climbed the worshippers' way to photograph homes bulldozed in retaliation, and to sleep in the homes of fearful Palestinian families.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the site of the ambush and announced a plan to widen the worshippers' way, demolishing 15 of the ancient buildings in the process. The occupants or owners of these houses have not been linked to the attack of November 15 and the purpose of this demolition is to make a safer promenade for settlers from nearby Israeli Jewish settlements to approach the Tomb of the Patriarchs each Sabbath.
I joined other human rights activists, Israelis, Palestinians and 'internationals' in resisting this proposal, which would make several Palestinian families homeless.
Until recently I was a lecturer at Hull School of Architecture. So, I was almost equally indignant at the indifference to a cherished townscape. Who could dream of destroying these precious buildings just to provide a safer path to the Sabbath service? It would be like bulldozing Robin Hood's Bay to widen a road!
I e-mailed every archaeological organisation I could think of, and urged others to do the same.
Since then the protests have been pouring in. A group of Israeli army veterans and reservists obtained an injunction from the Israeli High Court stopping the proposed demolitions until December 18 when judges promised a ruling in two to three weeks. It is still possible that by the time you read this the bulldozers will have moved in.
Each day brings fresh encounters between the Israeli army in Hebron and the Palestinian inhabitants. Each day I intervene, sometimes by my silent presence in the red cap of the Christian Peacemaker Team with my camera and notebook, sometimes by open disrespect for guns, curfews and the barbed-wire paraphernalia of the military occupation.
I am still optimistic about the future. The military occupation has not brought security to Israel. Pressure is mounting both inside and outside Israel for an end to the occupation. Peace is possible. Our own government could do much more to guarantee it.
My own vision for the Tomb of the Patriarchs is that it will become a pilgrimage centre for Christians, Muslims and Jews. I see our grandchildren gathering from across the world to walk hand-in-hand along worshippers' way in peace. This is the hope that keeps me going.