There haven't been many tours to Hebron run by Breaking the Silence or Bne Abraham lately. Sure, the High Court upheld their right to conduct tours, but trips to Hebron take place, surprisingly, in Hebron and not in a courtroom. And in Hebron the bosses are the army and the police, which have close ties to the settlers. So while the army and the police cannot officially ban the tours, they can "dry out" the groups by delaying them, or by calling for clearance, etc., etc.
I saw this in action for myself yesterday. I did not go on a tour but on a private visit arranged by the Hebron activists. We went in an Israeli taxi from Jerusalem, driven by a Palestinian cab-driver who spoke Hebrew, English, and a little Yiddish. I hadn't been in Hebron for two years, and things have changed for the worse. The road to Hebron is mostly tunnel and wall; the tunnel reminded me of the famous Agnon story, "The Tale of the Goat," in which a Jew follows a goat into a hole in Poland and emerges in the Land of Israel. Only this time I did not emerge in the Land of Israel but rather in the Land of the Settlers, the land where there are two sets of laws, roads, and lives for two sets of people. Efrat epitomizes Settler Sprawl; what was once a relatively small growth on the landscape of the Land of Israel gets bigger, uglier, and more out of place every year. And Efrat, one huge illegal outpost, now has its own illegal outposts.
The Separation Wall completely hides Beit Lechem from the view of the Israeli-only road. I must congratulate the wall designers, though; the wall (from the Jewish side) is more aesthetically pleasing than the concrete slabs one generally sees in the pictures (or the the-much photographed wall along Highway 443, where somebody actually painted a landscape without Arabs.) Of course, I couldn't see how it looked from the Palestinian side.
We emerged from the car park near the Cave of the Machpelah, when we were met by our escort, a Settler Goon named Ofer who recognized one of us as the Enemy. When he found out that we going to take a tour on foot, he attached himself to us, filming us on his video camera, talking, and in general harrassing us. Part of the parasitical nature of the Hebron Settlers is to do everything that they think the human rights activists do. You know, they will take a law suit and then submit the same one, changing the names. If the human rights activists have video cameras, they will also have a video cameras. They don't actually do anything with the videos, and I am not really sure that he turned it on. He was, afterall, a Goon.
Of course, the next thing that the Goon did was to complain to the soldiers, who asked us what we were doing there. The soldiers then asked us for identification and told us to wait, which we did. When nobody showed up, we continued our journey. Mind you, these streets are open to Jews, and we saw other Jews walking along them. But the other Jews were dressed like Haredim, and so nobody bothered to ask them for identification. I guess we looked like Israelis. (Note that in the picture below, the Palestinians have to walk on the left side of the fence. That's not apartheid; that's hafrada.)
We then made our way through the streets that have been shut down since the Goldstein massacre. The way things work in Hebron is that a Jew massacres lots of Arabs, and then the Arabs are, "for their own protection," not allowed to open their businesses near the Jews. Aaron Miller's book opens with him measuring the Shuhada Street in Hebron to see where the border will be….needless to say, all this is a buffer zone that a) makes the Arabs suffer, b) makes the Jews feel good, and c) provides the possibility for expansion.
And suffer they do. We then went to visit some Palestinian friends who told us how the latest brigade of soldiers have been harrassing them. Of course, if Israeli soldiers harrass Palestinians, they get to complain to…Israeli soldiers. (That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the suffering of Jews and Arabs in Israel – not who blows you up, but who you turn to turn in order not to be blown up.)
We then went to visit Palestinians who are living in the house that the activists helped renovate a year ago. The settlers had recently smashed windows, part of which the Palestinian occupants had filmed on their cell phone.
By the way, we were stopped several times by soldiers who wondered why we wanted to go to visit Palestinians. Once again, we were told that we could not go "for our own protection." But at least once, a higher up instructed the soldiers to escort us for our own protection (presumably from the settlers, not from the Palestinians, although I must say that because there were only a few of us, not many settlers besides the Goon even noticed us.
At the end of the trip, we went to visit some of the souvenir salespeople who have been doubly hit by the cancellation of the tours because the haredim won't by from them. But they were very friendly to us, even though, when you think about it, they have tsuris from the settlers because they are nice to the activists.