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The Dying Heart of the World

By Peter Dziedzic
On July 24, 2011


Peter Dziedzic is a junior studying English and religious studies.



The Dying Heart of the World

It has taken me a while to sit down and write this entry. I feel as though words will only take away from the experience I have had, and yet, I feel that it is necessary to articulate this reality in some way. Today, as we journeyed through the city of Hebron, a large city in the southern West Bank, I not only felt as though I was continuing on my journey of profound emotional transformation. I also felt as though I had entered a deeply significant area – an axis mundi of world conflict, a dim-lit stage for human failure, a clogged Heart of the World.

Hebron is divided into two areas, respectively controlled by Israeli and Palestinian authorities, and we entered through the Israeli territory in order to visit a deeply spiritual site for all three of the Abrahamic traditions, the Tomb of the Patriarchs. A mosque and a synagogue share the complex, and one must go through heavy security to access both sanctuaries. While the perimeter was dominated by security guards, metal detectors, and barbed wire, the interiors of both the synagogue and mosque were serene, vibrant, as if the deep conflict could permeate all else but these ancient stone walls.

Both sanctuaries look upon the same representational tombs (the actual proposed tombs are underground), and Muslims and Jews will often have the opportunity of a quick glance at the other past the bars and tombs. It is as if the Prophets still continue their work by inviting both Jews and Muslims to look upon the face of the "other" which has become demonized, a profound reality and forced schism in this conflict.

After our visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, our delegation took a tour of Hebron. We began by walking through the now desolate downtown Hebron, which used to be an area of heavy traffic and many businesses. However, after Israeli occupation, many Arabs were forced out of their homes and respective businesses, and the shops were closed. Now, when walking down the streets, one finds only one or two shops open. Downtown Hebron is now a wasteland, a dried artery, and homes that once belonged to Arab families was now in the possession of Israeli settlers or left empty.

Next, we continued on through the city and passed through streets and alleys that were now more populated, but scarred by a laced shadow from above. Peering up, I noticed a canopy. Our guide explained that the canopy catches the trash thrown out the windows by Israeli settlers above. There are stories of Palestinians being drenched in wastewater and settlers throwing dangerous objects such as glass and knifes that injure and sometimes kill pedestrians below.

We then made our way to the checkpoint that lead to the Israeli-controlled zone of the city, which was reached only after passing through an invasive checkpoint and a thorough questioning by Israeli forces. As the guard spent a few minutes checking over my passport and reaffirming my American identity a few times, I noticed his heavy armor and top-end rifle, one of the most menacing pieces of weaponry I had seen.

I also looked above, and noticed soldiers and snipers overlooking the Palestinians – young boys playing football and hustling mothers, mostly – below. The soldier waved me through with an indifferent glance, and yet, I did not feel that same indifference permeated the city.

We climbed up a narrow alley to reach our guide's old house, a weathered edifice. The home was confiscated by Israelis and occupied for many years by an Israeli family but reclaimed after a long string of court cases. Making our way through the house and to the balcony, we looked beyond a long mire of barbed wire and fencing to the adjacent building – another home occupied by Israeli settlers. The settler looked at us, displaying his polished rifle. By his side was his young son, occupying himself with the warm summer day. This time, however, there was no indifference in his eyes.

There was hate.

Hebron is a city beyond division and segregation, but a city saturated with injustice and insecurity. Walking through the streets, seeing the closed shops, speaking to the residents,  and witnessing Israeli existential anxiety manifested in hidden cameras, well-stocked soldiers, impenetrable walls and humiliating checkpoints, I felt as thought Hebron was the epicenter and microcosm of my entire journey.

And yet, I felt it went even beyond this. Here, where injustice was so deeply embedded in the daily reality of the Palestinians and insecurity so deeply ingrained into the Israelis, I felt as though I was at the center of our failure as human beings. Here, humanity has failed at every turn, and here, hatred and injustice thrives. I was at the Heart of the World, and it was this heart that has known the thousands of years of pain, suffering and injustice as we have attempted to understand, define, and empower, and transcend ourselves.

And while the heart beats from Sudan and Tibet and Colombia and from all corners of the world where humanity has failed to stop the dominance of injustice and hate, it was here, on this day, that I felt the pulse emanate from the littered streets, glinting hilts, and stone barriers of Hebron.

-Peter Dziedzic

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 – Hebron

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