'We live in a prison built by our own hands': Palestinian women trapped in Hebron wrestle free from Israeli chokehold
In the courtyard of her fenced house, Huriah Dofesh, 55, picks thyme from her garden to prepare the traditional Palestinian dish of Za'atar Akhdar for the family dinner.
A resident of Tel Rumedia, a neighbourhood of Hebron's historic old city, Huriah spoke to The New Arab about how life in Hebron has changed, and how her life is now defined by increasing settler intrusion after the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre of February 1994.
"We live in a prison build by our hands to protect our children, ourselves and our homes"
The massacre changed Hebron.
Hebron's old city was partitioned and the Hebron Protocol was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1994. According to the protocol, Israel controls closed military areas of the old city — called H2 — and represents 20% of Hebron city and 33,000 Palestinians.
"Before the military came, Palestinians used to be able to drive around the city, ambulances were easily able to reach our neighbourhood, and visiting family were able to come to see us without any issues," she says.
"But after 1994, life has become much harder and more dangerous," Huriah added, mentioning the time that she suffered severe back pain and waited for ten hours before the Israeli soldiers allowed the ambulance to enter and take her to the hospital.
Tel Rumedia is now surrounded by checkpoints. Palestinians are no longer able to drive in the old city and must coordinate with Israeli officials if they need to bring heavy objects, furniture or electrical appliances to their homes. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers living in the same area live their lives uninterrupted.
As Huriah cooks, her grandsons pass checkpoints to reach her house. "No one can come here without passing through checkpoints, soldiers check our IDs and our personal belongings. The speed at which we can pass through the checkpoint depends on the mood of the soldiers," a clearly exacerbated Huriah explains to The New Arab.
Huriah, a housewife and a Quran teacher at the local mosque, dreams of the resumption of normality, the feeling of opening the windows of her home and feeling the breeze waft in without the stench of settler-thrown bottles of urine or having to put up metal fences to stop objects being thrown at the house.
"We live in a prison built by our hands to protect our children, ourselves and our homes. The settlers throw stones, rubbish and metallic objects towards us, especially on their holidays," she said, describing how Israeli violations affect Palestinian private and public spaces.
Huriah takes us to the top floor of her home where she lines out the laundry and shows us where Israeli settlers shattered her glass solar panels with stones. She asks us, who will bring new panels in, and who will repair them. Like with the rest of her house, the solar panels are now covered with a metal mesh to stop objects from being thrown onto them.
"It's not easy to find a handyman to be allowed into the area, it's a big deal. I'm also looking for a carpenter, but more often than not they aren't able to come either.
Huriah worries also about the safety of her family. "As a mother, I'm always scared that something will happen to my husband or my children by the soldiers or settlers. It causes psychological harm, it's really really exhausting."
For the people of Tel Rumeidah, communal relations between neighbours are the only safety net that helps them support each other and help them stay resilient in the face of Israeli violations.
At Huriah's house, women of the community gather to chat about their daily struggles, hopes, dreams and concerns. Inside this social circle, women have found ways to support themselves, establishing a collective kitchen to prepare and sell local delicacies in the marks of the Occupied West Bank. They have even been successful enough to export their products to surrounding Arab countries.
“We gather several times a week to prepare the food in the kitchen and talk. Talking helps us to feel safe and supported. Sharing stories is key to expanding our presence in the neighbourhood, either by visiting the elderly ladies or patients and any other family who has a special day or event,” Huriah proudly explained to The New Arab.
"Our love for each other helps us survive despite the conditions," she adds.
"Life here isn't easy but we strive to better ourselves. Hebron is my home. Even if someone offered me all the gold in the world to leave, I would say no."
Salam AbuSharar is a Palestinian pharmacist, activist and blogger
Follow her on Twitter: @SalamAbuSharar