22 september 2012, hebron and on

One of the reasons a two-state solution to israel-palestine gets further away every day is hebron. When peace is finally won, the 1967 "green line" will loosely be the border, with in-roads made by permanent settlements compensated by land elsewhere. Kiryat arba though (7000 jews) lies deep in the west bank, and borders hebron, home of some 250,000 palestinians and around 400 jews. Dozens were massacred there in the 1930s; and dozens of muslims in the 1994 by baruch goldstein. Over time a slice of hebron, linking it to kiryat arba, has been carved out and emptied of palestinians. I saw it myself when I went for a walk down that road with a friend shortly after the massacre. The 160 bus from jerusalem had thick bars on the windows (against stones), even as we crossed beautiful countryside for the best part of an hour before reaching the breeze blocks of the entrance to the settlement. At its centre is meir kahane park, at the centre of which was goldstein's tomb, resplendent in beige marble with gardens, arches and a cupboard of prayer books. It is one of the most sickening and disgusting sights I have ever seen, the more so as kids on a school trip arrived as we left. I almost cried when the new government of ehud barak finally bulldozed it in 1999. The bus from there to hebron proper is a short one, looking much like any other arab town - until you reach the machpela, surrounded by roadblocks and the army. In the courtyard we dived to the ground as two soldiers assumed the position to fire on a group of arabs. There is no jewish quarter as such in hebron, just 3 isolated sites, with the army surrounding them and creating protecting routes between them which they travel in screaming jeeps. There are more soldiers on the rooftops. Foolishly shielded with our british identies and cameras, we declined the invitation to climb aboard and walked between them, though the streets were pretty deserted apart from smiling kids following us around as we bought chicken in pitta bread. Two jewish kids also passed us, with a heavily armed escort. The third jewish outpost has just one house, surrounded on all sides by sentries, who we chatted to. Quite how nutty the people they are guarding are is just incomprehensible, and decades on, they're still there, barriers to peace. It is my sincere new year wish that without any bloodshed, by 5774 they are gone.