Imagine you are surrounded by large, stately looking stone buildings. They are the same brown as the dusty streets, bits of color coming from the rusted netting on the windows and the faded blue gates. Some buildings have awnings in front, precarious metal appendages, Arabic writing faded and peeling. On a deserted street corner next to a graffitied Star of David is a taxi stand, like a bad joke amid the deserted streets.
Other than the occasional car, the streets are empty. The blue gates look sealed shut and the houses are silent. From one metal-enclosed balcony come sounds of life, but they are not enough to break the eerie quiet on the streets. A band of young boys passes by and suddenly the silence is broken by falling stone. The boys are in a building, yelling gleefully in Hebrew, breaking, smashing, dropping. They walk the streets, a ragtag youth patrol like something out of a dystopian novel. Near a fallen Arabic sign advertising wedding rings half obscured by weeds and barbed wire is a headquarters of sorts: a circle of chairs, and snacks. Next to it, Hebrew graffiti announces, Arabs are trash.
Imagine you live on this street, one of few who remain, and from behind the metal screens on your windows, you can hear the sharp slap of a colliding rock. Imagine you climb down a makeshift back entrance because your front door is bolted shut and it’s been years since you, as a Palestinian, have been allowed to set foot on your own street.
Imagine you are a young Israeli soldier sent to this ghost town. Imagine you sit by yourself for thirteen hours a day, oversized radio in your hands, oversized gun in your lap, guarding a bus stop in this oversized operation while the sun beats down and the buses pass by and you begin to imagine one of those buses could take you to New York where you dream of learning to cook.
Imagine walking past empty streets, ground littered with trash and fallen signs, weeds reclaiming land that had been claimed by concrete, and you are told that what you are looking at was recently the bustling downtown market of Hebron.
You walk further down the ghostly main drag, silence broken only by the occasional passing car, kippah-clad man in the driver’s seat, while the few Palestinians you see navigate on foot the few streets they are allowed to walk – but never drive – on.
At the end of the street is a checkpoint. Soldiers guard a small wall squeezed between two buildings, obscuring your vision of the other side. A flash of your passport and you walk past the soldiers, through a large metal turnstile and into another world. White cars and bright yellow taxis crowd the streets and the honking, walking, talking, hawking is like an explosion in your ears. Storefronts are open, laden with goods, and Arabic signs, fresh and unfaded, cover the buildings. People walk and shop freely, but the checkpoint reminds them of where they used to walk and shop freely, of where their parents siblings friends teachers cousins grandparents used to live, but they are no longer able to go, stopped by a soldier guarding the entrance to this ghost town called Hebron*.
*To be more precise, the checkpoint in question divides the H1 region of Hebron from the H2 region of Hebron. Hebron, here, is in reference to H2. The Hebron Protocol of 1997 divided the city into these two regions, H1 under PA control and H2 under Israeli military control, with the addendum that “division of security responsibility will not divide the city,” and that “movement of people, goods and vehicles within and in and out of the city will be smooth and normal, without obstacles or barriers.” H2 encompasses the traditional downtown and shopping area of Hebron, now defunct, as well as over 30,000 Palestinian residents and 700 Jewish settlers.