Chelli is a woman in her late twenties, a US citizen and a dissident. Two days later, she wrote me some of her memories from my homeland Hebron. She said: I wanted to give some of the beautiful moments I remember well from Tel Rumeida, the Palestinian historical area over the highest hill in center of the occupied city of Hebron.
The first long period I was in Tel Rumeida in 2005, we had been working there for some months, and every morning we would go and take our places in the streets, near Qurtaba primary school for girls and near the squatters colony of the so-called “Beit Hadassah” on Al-Shuhada Street, near the military checkpoint at the entrance of the street, and at the top of the first stretch of the hill in the street, where it evens out below the so called “Ramot Yishai”.
On this morning, I had just gotten up and was walking from our apartment where we lived above the Palestinian family of Abu Ghassan Abu Aisha’s home. I turned the corner to go down the hill to Al-Shuhada and saw Hamzi, a young man whom we all very much loved and appreciated for his good spirit, helpfulness, and kindness. He was, from a young age, a very great man. I saw him and said good morning. He laughed, and said to me, in Arabic, “Congratulations on changing your clothes”. I looked at him in astonishment. It’s true, I often wear the same thing day after day. I couldn’t believe he had noticed! I laughed and ducked my head in slight embarrassment which caused him even more glee …
I remember visiting the home of three little girls: Roba, Sarah, and Ala, three Palestinian girls I loved them because they were adorable, and also because they all shared with their mother a gravelly voice. At that time, they were young, between the ages of four and seven. I came to their home, and asked: “Where is Roba?” She was the youngest and super cute. Her father looked under the sofa and saw her sleeping there. He pulled her out against my protestations and stood her up, straight from full slumber. He encouraged her to greet me, which she did while rubbing her eyes. I remember later that visit she played on my knees, leaning on them and swinging on them.
I remember looking at the colonial Israeli settlement, the so-called “Ramot Yishai” imposing itself on the city, from our apartment which had a full and unobstructed view of the back side, above the Azzeh homes. I watched it many times and filmed their attacks. On this day I observed the settler children. They wandered around bored, listless. They sat on their swing. They did not pretend or play or laugh. Adults wandered around, talking on cell phones. They did not greet the children. I observed that actually I had never seen the settler children playing pretend.
“In this footage two Israeli settler boys repeatedly throw rocks at the Abu Aisha family’s home directly across the street from the colonial settlement at Tel Rumeida . This family has built a steel cage over the facade of their home in order to minimize damage from ongoing settler terror, and to try to keep themselves safe when entering and exiting their home. You will notice that the colonial settlers are using pieces of an ancient archeological site, a historical place listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, to stone the Abu Aisha home.”
I then wandered to the front of the apartment, looking over the area near Bassem Abu Aisha’s home. I saw his young son, about three or four years old, sitting on the curb with another young friend. They were playing with dirt, which they began to throw over their heads, yelling “Opa!”
I laughed at this, and later made it a point to mention it to his parents, probably on a few occasions, how cute their son was, and how joyful his play.
I remember the first time I was there for a long time, and Ramadan came. Kids asked me everyday if I was fasting, and I had just come from eating something… And I’d sort of chuckle and say in Arabic, “Yaani….” that means perhaps.
We were very busy during this time, and much was happening. I was feeling exhausted and had been visiting homes on many very nice occasions for celebrations. On this day, I felt I needed some rest at the end of our day in the streets. Just then, on Shuhada Street, Hamdi, a man I knew, invited me to his extended family’s home for a large celebration. I tried to apologize and refuse, but he insisted strongly. I then…. sent two others along in my place with my apologies (though they didn’t speak Arabic, nor he English), and didn’t go. I saw him two days later on the stairs to Qurtuba, where he shouted at me, “You are not correct!” I couldn’t help laughing a little and apologized a lot. I celebrated with them a few days later and our good relations remained intact.
I remember an old woman (il haji) that lived in Al-Shuhada St. I cannot remember her name, but she is a great woman. She often locked her door and then returned, sometimes a few times, to check to make sure it was locked. I loved many of the people on that stretch of Al-Shuhada, where I spent a lot of my days. Musa, il haj. The Al-Bayyid family, Reheia, the mother, and her sons. One time Musa told me that the haji was an extremely beautiful woman in her youth, known for it. He then called over to her,”Did you hear what I said?” and told her in Arabic. She chuckled and then insisted he stop, looking around in mock fear of the young men who might overhear and descend upon her. She shared tea with us this day and we drank in the street.