It's the smallest moments that distill for me what occupation means. Today, I was walking through old city of Hebron, on the way to do some shopping. I walked through the Mosque gate, through the turnstiles and towards two soldiers sitting at a checkpoint. One of them asked me where I was from and I answered the United States. "Welcome," he said. I found myself speechless. How can a soldier welcome me to a city that is not his? What do I say to this?
I went walking towards the shop and was, of course, met by a young Palestinian man who was extremely eager talk and press postcards and bracelets into my hands. We chatted and as I was buying from him a soldier walked up and grabbed a key out of the young man's pocket. It was a huge, iron key, clearly to a very old building. It was the type of key that is iconic in Palestine, often used as a symbol of 1948 refugees who carefully locked their doors as they ran away from their villages, expecting to return soon. The soldier grabbed the key and laughed. He held it up for his colleague to see. Their looks said, how old! See, the Arabs are so backward. The young man just laughed. He deals with these soldiers, stationed ten feet from his shop, every day. I did the only thing that I could do - spend money, chat, smile. Then I walked back through the checkpoint and to our apartment, feeling totally helpless.