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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mourning

Gal Kobi
An Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Gal Kobi, was killed in Hebron on Sunday, September 22. His death was the second Israeli soldier death in three days.

During clashes, Kobi was shot, some sources by a Palestinian sniper, others say by friendly fire.  Even to write it makes my stomach turn. The Occupation is good for no one.

The Jewish holiday of Sukkoth has been going on for the last week.  In Hebron that means an influx of Israeli tourists and, as a result, a multiplication of Israeli military presence. For several days, the mosque is closed to Muslims, the Israeli military imposes greater restrictions on Palestinian movement, and there is often more-than-usual settler harassment towards Palestinians.  This year was no exception.  

Teargas used during Sunday's clashes
Early Sunday afternoon 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 for about an hour and a half, but left the clashes because we heard two boys were being detained on a roof by the Israeli military. They'd been held since about 9:00 AM.  We went to a high roof near where they were to try to look down on them to document it, but they were sitting too far against the wall for us to see them. Thankfully, while we were strategizing what we might do to help them, they were released, about 5 1/2 hours after they'd been taken there.  The boys looked shaken, but OK; one said the soldiers had kicked him.  

Roof where the Israeli military held 2
Palestinian boys  for 5 1/2 hours
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 killed. He didn't die on the spot, but was taken to a Jerusalem hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Some friends of ours from another monitoring NGO were there and saw him right after he was shot.  I was talking to one of them today.  She is a beautiful soul and, as anyone with a modicum of compassion (and she has much more than a modicum) would be, she is deeply troubled by what she saw.  She is struggling to find an outlet for her own grief and looking for a way to express her condolences to the soldiers who are grieving the loss of their friend.

Understandably, his death sparked even greater tension (to put it mildly).  Checkpoints near where he was shot were closed. We tried to go through one to get to the area.  It was closed.  Many soldiers were there and when they told us to go away, I tried to ask why.  One soldier, one who I see frequently angrily 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 over to me, 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.

Seven Palestinians are taken away handcuffed. 
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 stationed there and a few other people, not the settlers we'd seen earlier, were also standing there talking. One was an Israeli journalist who we talked to 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 spit at my feet. An Israeli policeman stationed near us must've known the man, because when he showed up, the officer immediately stood between us and him. After saying some words we didn't understand but were clearly not nice, the man left. Tensions were high.  The day was not an easy one. Clashes, the beating of a Palestinian child, Israeli tourists parading through the Old City, house raids; I won't go into all the details.  Tuesday was not as bad, but it wasn't peaceful, either.

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 this morning.  Today life in Hebron is a little calmer.  There were clashes again, but they started later than in previous days and only lasted a couple of hours.  It is quiet again.

This 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 feel much deeper than I, hit me.

It was later in the day that we saw our friend, the one who saw Kobi shortly before his death.  Her grapplings also affected me.

It wasn't until those moments today that I allowed myself to feel anything about Kobi's death.  What's worse is that I wasn't really even aware of how well the defense mechanisms were working to protect me from the feelings.  I am aware now.  I am sad now.

Here in Hebron we most often see the effects of the Occupation on Palestinians. There is no doubt that Palestinians bear the brunt of the cost of the Occupation. This week, there was also a high cost for Israelis.

And so I allow myself just a little space to grieve for Palestinians and for Israelis.

I won'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 fully feel may have to wait until I have a little distance from here.  The best I can do now is to 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. 

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing from your heart, Cory. We're praying for you and the rest of the CPT'ers.

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    1. Thank you so much. Your prayers are greatly appreciated.

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  2. As a parent, I must say that I fear for you like my own. Tears well up for you, the soldier, the woman, the kids...the whole situation. It is like when they played sports - football, soccer - and it ended up in the emergency room....what else would you expect? That is part of the game. It seems harsh and unkind that I say these things...but the reality of peacemakers in war zones is that it hurts, it hurts deep and long and sometimes that hurt is even physical as the peacemaker's blood is spilled. Thank God you were not called to that level of participation....I fear, pray, love and wait....that all will be well with you and your fellow peacemakers....and compassion makes me feel your feelings that much more....and I know now a little better the deep feelings that creep into the heart and mind in the quiet hours away from the danger. Cory, please take care to be care-filled. God be with you...

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    1. Thank you- for your comment, for your compassion, for your prayers. It is because I have so many people caring for me that I am able to (try to) care for others. I have had excellent teachers.

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  3. “You don't really keep vigil; it keeps you-suspended in awkward silence and dead air-desperate for anything at all to stir some hope out of these murky waters and make things vital again.”
    ― Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

    My Dear Cory,
    Praying with you for any sign of hope.......... Trusting in Love,
    Susan

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    1. There are signs of hope, small glimmers, but they are there nonetheless. I, too, am trusting in Love...

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