What I Mostly Appreciate
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
The slopes of Hebron are unforgiving. Seen from a comfortable distance, they are but a spectacular addition to the rolling urbanity of the city, undulating gently across the landscape of the southern West Bank. Yet to climb them, is to know them, and to know them is to feel the unyielding severity that they and the city represent. As we ascended these slopes with a discomforting combination of vigor and unease, it became apparent that the relative absence of human form had allowed for a certain spatial representation of the city’s trauma, both current and historical.
With no one present to speak to the struggle that this land has continuously endured, the surrounding infrastructure seemed to inject its memory into an atmosphere that had enveloped us not gradually, but all at once. The relentless silence, eroding buildings, and ominous graffiti all seemed to swell into an aura of eeriness that came to embody and then impose, upon the city, a kind of distortionary quality. A couple strolling leisurely across the street was now an image of tension. A bird’s chirp became an abrasive sound invading the silence. Children laughing on a rooftop appeared, somehow, as a scene of tragedy. As I watched the people of Hebron fade into the distance, or disappear around a corner, I was struck with the foreboding sense that the city was swallowing them whole.
Never was the gravity and enormity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more tangible to me than when I stalked the streets of Hebron, finally given a glimpse into the scale of its devastating humanity. I had looked into the abyss, and it had returned my gaze. A critical moment in this personal “revelation” occurred as we scaled the hills of the city’s settler-dominated sector, separated from Palestinian Hebron by IDF checkpoints and structural barriers. As I stopped to rest and take in what I had witnessed, I noticed a gap in a concrete wall that had thus far only served to intensify the insularity of our visual experience. The Arabic graffiti sprawled across the barrier abruptly stopped at this point, and as I peered through the aperture, I was presented with a panoramic view of a Hebron that was only accessible by sight, from afar.
For me, this greatly embodied one of the more abstract but substantive notions that have underlined my understanding of this conflict and how it is approached – the idea of disconnection and distance. The vastness of Hebron allowed me to envision the physical manifestation of these concepts, as I, a literal outsider, examined from beyond exclusionary walls. Within our attempts to reconcile our personal beliefs and perceptions about the nature of the conflict, we are constantly fighting a battle against the seduction of emotion, while at the same time doing our best to immerse our being into reality of what is happening on the ground. In order to grasp the truth, we must step outside that which we must explore. Yet is this true exploration if our analysis is predicated on a proper distance from the conflict’s harsh realities? Does this in turn disconnect us rom those very realities?
In this same vein, it feels repellent to write about my experience, to attempt to reconcile my internal struggles with what I am processing. Yet at the same time, I feel that it is the lack of nuanced reflection that has bred the errors of judgment committed by both sides, generation after generation. How distanced was Arafat from his people’s needs when he agreed to accept Israel’s recognition of the PLO at the expense of increased settlements in the West bank. How cognizant was Netanyahu of Israelis’ desire to achieve a two state solution when he pandered to the far right in his attempt to win re-election? Perhaps the political sphere has thrived on the fundamental weaknesses of every society – exploiting its inherent paranoia and thirst for justice (extrajudicial or otherwise). Maybe it has consumed itself and emerged as an entirely new world unto itself, with a distorted understanding of opportunities for peace and reconciliation.
The possibilities and narratives seem to accumulate and cascade into avalanche-like proportions, repelling and bleeding into each other almost simultaneously. But it seems likely that if we can appreciate and parse the struggle within the struggle, we can transcend the sensory overload, the ease with which we fall into the trap of hopelessness and cynicism. If anything, this trip has taught me to appreciate the art and science of closing the distance between the phenomena that we examine and our personal attempt to understand what it all means. In order to comprehend the implications of Hebron, I must step outside it, and acknowledge the existence of cultural, political, societal forces that are superior to my will and instrumental in molding the reality that I have witnessed. But this does not undermine the symptoms of my immersive experience – the sensory, the intellectual, the emotional. Our experiences in Israel and Palestine have given us the privilege of exposure and the tools to transcend distance and disconnection For that, I am most appreciative.
Robert Wickers is a member of the 2015 Ibrahim cohort.