A Visit to Hebron with Breaking the Silence
I have been in Israel for two weeks, and I have not yet been to the old city, but I have been to Hebron. This has been far from a conscious decision; I have been meaning to go to the old city since I got here. But there has been much here to keep my roommates and me busy in terms of setting up our apartment, so we have spent more time in areas with stores that sell household items and food, such as Emek Refaim Street, which is a ten minute walk away from where we live, and our favorite place to buy delicious produce, the shuk.
I went to Hebron with an organization called Breaking the Silence, which was started by a group of Israeli soldiers who felt strongly that the general public–both Israelis and non-Israelis–should know what is going on in Hevron. The most striking part of this day trip for me was not the political-religious perspectives and implications of the groups and individuals we encountered. I am generally uncomfortable with extreme opinions from both sides, and this trip helped me explore to a larger degree why I feel that way. Physically standing in a place about which there is so much controversy–and actually experiencing the tensions there–was a raw, unparalleled learning experience for me.
And then, as if I were not conflicted enough already, I felt the religious significance of the place of Hebron. As we stood outside of Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs, I felt connected to the Bible and the significant ancestors whose tombs are there.
I felt as if my head were going to explode with the difficult thoughts and feelings that this trip evoked, but I left with one thought ringing in my ears:
I truly believe that human dignity is paramount and that religion is secondary. In situations such as these, God has far more to do with human dignity than with religion. I cannot relate to a God who uncompromisingly commands people to live in specific geographical locations or a God who orders people to refrain from leaving their homes in the most dire of circumstances. I am concerned with a God who cares deeply about humanity and the basic human dignity that each and every person deserves. And this realization leads to a new set of questions entirely, including: how to relate to others in the same religious tradition who do not agree with this core issue, and: how exactly should human dignity be defined, and how does that play out?