I glanced at the window beside me; a fractured kaleidoscope of colours reflected by the scenery outside. Tiny cracks spider webbing out from the point of impact in the middle crawled across the entire window pane. I wondered what had made the window crack like that. I hoped it was a rock, but I also recognized that it could have just as easily been a bullet. After all, we were on a bullet-proof bus headed to the divided city of Hebron; a city known for conflict and violence. This was the dual narrative Hebron tour and I knew that by the end that the cracked window pane was only the beginning of what I would see and hear about today.
*disclaimer: I was a guest of Abraham Tours during my visit to Israel. All opinions are, as always, my own.
As our bus rumbled down the highway, our Hebron tour guide, a friendly expat from the USA, filled us in on what we passed. The gas station/convenience store swarming with soldiers is known to be a small war zone after an Israeli was brutally murdered by a Palestinian. The towering, grey walls beside the highway was the safety wall…at least according to the Israelis. Our guide also told us that the same wall was known as the apartheid wall by the Palestinians. One wall, two completely different perspectives of it.
As we drove through the Israeli countryside, I saw the wall snaking off into the distance and, beside it, barbed wire and an electric fence. We passed several checkpoints off to the side of the road; giant red signs with bold white writing in Hebrew, Arabic, and English:
“This road leads to Area “A”. Under the Palestinian Authority the entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives, and against the law.”
After about 45 minutes, and several stops where we picked up soldiers, we arrived at our stop. This was as far as our Israeli bus could go. Upon exiting the bus we were faced with dozens of Israeli soldiers, guns held at the ready as they eyed our small group.
And so began our Hebron tour.
*My IG stories of this day trip were of huge interest to my followers so I did save them to include in this article. You can find it below if you are interested.
The Divided City of Hebron
Hebron is a divided city. Meaning that part of the city, H1, falls under Palestinian authority while another part, H2, falls under Israeli Military control. While both sides agree that the division of the city was for the best, it is still an area of dispute and violence with men, women, and children killed or injured on both sides.
Palestinians can visit the Israeli side of the city, should they wish. However, the Israelis cannot enter the Palestinian side. Except for the military, who have declared some areas on the Palestinian side a military zone, forcing the local Palestinians to close up their shops and leave their homes. Additionally, the Palestinians must have special permits in order to make their way through Hebron and navigate the military checkpoints spread throughout the city.
Hebron is not a typical city that tourists would choose to visit. In fact, most tourists don’t know anything about Hebron. However, for those who are interested in learning more about the Palestine-Israel conflict, and seeing a bit of it up close and in person, a visit to Hebron is a must and the dual narrative Hebron tour is the best way to go.
What is the Dual Narrative Hebron Tour
So what exactly is the dual narrative Hebron tour, and why would I recommend it over any other Hebron tour? The Dual Narrative Hebron tour is actually a collaborative tour between Israeli and Palestinian guides. It’s a tour that allows tourists, such as myself, to hear the stories from both sides while getting to also experience a little bit of it for ourselves as well. After all, hearing about something is one thing. But seeing it for yourself can often be more powerful.
The Dual Narrative Hebron Tour is offered through Abraham Tours, with whom I partnered with for the duration of my Israel and Jordan trip. The tour is offered from Jerusalem and requires using public transit (a bulletproof bus) to get to and from the city of Hebron. It is a full day tour that does require quite a bit of walking (there are a couple of steep hills as well as a viewpoint requiring a few flights of stairs). That being said, the pace is reasonable with many of stopping points.
In my opinion: if you only do one tour in Israel- make sure it’s this one.
My Experience in Hebron, Israel Side
The Israeli side of Hebron was a ghost town. In fact, it was hard to believe that anyone other than soldiers actually lived here. As we walked through the dirty streets, past the rolls of barbed wire covering some alleys I honestly felt like I was walking through a war zone. Except that most of the soldiers were pretty friendly, many of them smiled or waved at us as we passed, a few even calling out to ask where we were from.
Only about 80 Israeli families live in Hebron. They don’t stay because it’s easy. In fact, it’s very hard and dangerous. But they stay to make a point and to make a claim on this land that is so important to their faith. Unfortunately, many have suffered and lost their lives to do so.
The barbed wire, our Israeli guide explained, was a safety precaution put into place after an Israeli man was brutally stabbed to death in the streets by a Palestinian. He pointed to a monument on the wall in remembrance of the horrific murder.
Less than five minutes later we came to another monument on the wall. This one showed a baby carriage surrounded by flames. It was in honour of a 10-month old baby girl who was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2001.
As our Hebron tour continued through the quiet streets of the Israeli side we learned more about why certain areas were mainly abandoned. We were taken to important religious sites including a tomb and a bath, both of which were guarded by Israeli soldiers as a safety precaution.
A couple of local men came to meet us. One, gun tucked into the waistband of his pants, shared his experiences living here with his family. He explained that Jews have a good relationship with the Arabs, but not the PA. “If you want to join us, join us. Let’s be brothers. If you want to fight us, find somewhere else to live.”
The second man we met was a Rabbi. While our talk with him was quick and just in passing, his small speech stuck with me; he spoke of hope for peace and friendship in the future. It may obvious, however, after a morning hearing of death, murder, and hate, hearing someone speak with hope added a little light to what had so far been a dark morning.
Without a doubt, the Israeli part of our Hebron tour was eye opening and left me with a lot to consider. But, of course, the views and opinions I heard here were only one side of the story.
My Experience in Hebron, Palestine Side
Our Hebron tour on the Palestine side started with a little bit of Palestinian hospitality: a homemade lunch served in a local’s home. A local woman made the meal and her children served it. Hungry after so much walking, we downed our meal and thanked her profusely before heading following our Palestinian guide to the first official stop of the tour: a café.
It might seem strange that, after a morning of learning about murders and seeing memorials, we spent a good hour sitting drinking mint tea in a Palestinian Café, but our stop served two purposes. Firstly, tea in Arabic cultures is kind of a big deal and while it may have just seemed like a way to relax, our guide was really introducing us to the local culture. Secondly, it provided the perfect setting for our guide to share his own stories and experiences as a Palestinian living not just in Hebron, but in general under Israeli military control.
While I sipped my mint tea in the shady street of the Palestinian side of Old Hebron, I listened to his stories. Unlike those that we heard on the Israeli part of the tour, these stories were more focused on dehumanization of the Palestinians rather than gory stories of extreme violence and murder. Though violence still played its part. We heard stories of being denied entry to Jerusalem, a holy city for the Muslims as well, for no apparent reason. Stories of Palestinians being thrown in jail with no warning and no cause and stories of Palestinians being shot to death when trying to cross the wall to Jerusalem.
After hearing this from our guide, we headed further into Old City to the market to talk to some more locals. We walked down a winding alley where vendors sold their wares under what looked to be a giant fishnet covering the street. The net was full of debris; bottles, garbage, just junk in general. One shop owner told is that the net was protection. The Israeli military had access to the rooftop and threw their trash down on the Palestinians in the street. However, while the net worked in terms of stopping solids, the liquids still spilled through to the people and streets below. Sometimes it was just water or some leftover drink, other times it was urine.
We left old town and entered the bustling more modern area of Palestinian Hebron, the streets became busier and louder. Our group garnered quite a bit of attention from the locals who were quick to call out ‘hello’ and ‘welcome’. It was a whole different world here on the Palestinian side in comparison to the empty streets we explored in the morning.
As we walked across a main square, our guide pointed upwards to a fenced off area where a number of Israeli soldiers watched. Hands on their guns as they stared down, across the fence, at the busy Palestinian streets below. A large Israeli flag fluttered on the building behind them and the whole scene looked more like an ominous warning than anything else. It was hard to believe that just a couple of hours ago these guards had been waving to us and asking us where we were from.
Is the Hebron Tour Safe?
My best response to this question is: is anywhere safe? Not really, right? There’s no guarantees anywhere.
I can truthfully tell you though that I never once felt in danger during the Hebron tour either when I was with the guide or during the time I had to explore on my own. In fact, residents on both sides of this divided city welcomed us and seemed to enjoy that we visited.
In full honesty, I did get a couple odd looks from a couple of the men while we walked around the Palestinian side on our own. I asked the guide about it after, his thoughts were it might have been because I didn’t have my hair covered. Personally, I have never covered my hair in Muslim countries/areas, however it is the norm so I do understand why that could have been the reason. Overall, however, we received lots of warm ‘welcomes’ more than anything else from both men and women alike.
Final Thoughts about the Hebron Tour
The dual narrative Hebron tour was my favourite tour in Israel. Coming to Israel and Palestine, I had so many questions but the Conflict is, for obvious reasons, not something you can openly talk about. I loved that during this experience both of our guides not only answered my questions, but welcomed them as well. I didn’t feel like I needed to be too sensitive in what I was asking and I was pleased to find that neither side censored their answers as well. I learned so much during this tour and while I didn’t walk away with an answer (I don’t think anyone ever will) I did walk away with a respect and understanding for both sides.
If you read my article on things to know before travelling to Israel, you’ll remember that I mentioned a visit to Israel really should be combined with a visit to Palestine. This is the perfect opportunity to do so and learn more about the conflict from both perspectives.
Want to experience this for yourself? You can sign up for Abraham’s Dual Narrative Hebron tour here.