Why I took a Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron

Why I took a Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron

There was no way I’d go back to Jerusalem and not pay a visit to the West Bank and Hebron. After all, I worked as a human rights lawyer for 15 years, and although the focus of my research has always been the Roma minority and the protection of cultural identity, I have done quite a bit of reading about the the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. That doesn’t make me an expert at all. But I know for sure that I am interested to learn more about it, and not necessarily from what is written on books. I wanted a first hand experience.

To read more about Jerusalem, check my post “Traditional and Alternative Things To Do In Jerusalem.”

I went to Jericho, Ramallah, and Betlehem. Getting there was actually very easy, and they appeared to be not only very safe for tourists, but also very interesting and pretty to explore. I got to visit Yasser Arafat Tomb in Ramallah and talk about him as a political figure, but I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to really get a better understanding of the conflict unless I went deeper into my exploration of the West Bank.

West Bank

Beautiful Betlehem is a lovely place to visit in the West Bank

I would have to go to Hebron to quench my thirst for knowledge. I decided to take a guided tour there, so that I would be showered with information and possibly find answers to my questions.

To find out why I recommend taking guided tours, read my post “Ten Reasons To Take A Guided Tour.”

When I told Janine, a girl I befriended at my hostel in Jerusalem, that I intended to go on a guided group tour of Hebron the following day, she wished me good luck, adding that she had been there the day before, that it had been an incredibly intense experience and that she was still trying to make sense of it.

That didn’t sound very reassuring. I was not sure what to make of it. I knew that Hebron was a city that the Palestinians and the Israelis fought over – actually, the most contested city in the West Bank. I had even followed the story of Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier accused and eventually convicted for having killed a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron. And still, I wanted to see the city with my own eyes, and not just through a television screen.

So I went on that group tour of Hebron, as I said I would. Sold as a day trip from Jerusalem, it was obvious that this would be much more – and certainly not a jolly ride to la la land. I had willingly decided to jump head first into one of the most politically and emotionally intense experiences of my life as a traveler.

West Bank

Road blocks in Hebron – they are all over the city

A Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron: One Story, Two Interpretations

The Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron which I went on is an interesting project; a joint effort by the Israeli company Abraham Tours and the Palestinian one Visit Hebron – Palestine. It is structured to have two guides. A Jewish guide takes visitors around the the bits of the city inhabited by the Jews; and a Palestinian guide walks them around the Palestinian areas.

The reason for having two guides is that literally Jews can’t go to the Palestinian parts of the city; and Palestinians can’t go to the Jewish areas. Meeting members of the two communities is an integral part of the tour. They sit with the tourists, talk about the city, and their daily life.

This means that whoever visits Hebron hears two versions of the same story. And as it is obvious, each guide and each local met more or less overtly hints that theirs is the version that anybody would want to support.

What I know for sure is that I went to Hebron full of certainties, with my very own views of the conflict. But those certainties crumbled in front of the convincing stories of the two guides: it was hard to keep a neutral side to each story; it was hard not to side with whichever story I was hearing, because both guides (and both people) seemed to be having very strong arguments.

By the end of the day, exhausted, I had troubles making sense of the experience. Following, is a recollection of what I saw in Hebron. I am not even trying to understand anymore.


The empty streets of H2, the Jewish side of Hebron, are at odds with its lively past

A bit of information about Hebron

Please keep in mind that this is a mere summary of my understanding of the history and political situation of Hebron. I am by no means trying to give a full recollection of historical facts – it would be impossible to do so. Nor do I claim to fully grasp what went on there, and what goes on nowadays.

Hebron is located at around 30 km from Jerusalem, at about 900 meters above sea level. It is the largest city in the West Bank, with around 215000 people living there, of which no more than 800 are Jewish settlers.

According to the Old Testament, Hebron was founded in 1730 BC. Its biblical name is Kiryat Arba (literally “the Village of Four”) and it refers to its position on four hills. Another interpretation of the name is that Hebron is the burial ground of the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their respective wives. This makes it one of the most sacred cities to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike; but sadly, instead of promoting links between the main monotheistic religions, this has made Hebron the most contested city in the West Bank.

Hebron fell under the Islamic rule during the 7th century. It then subsequently fell in the hands of the Crusaders, only to be reconquered by Saladin and fall once again under Islamic rule (and later on Ottoman rule) in the late 12th century. In 1917 the British occupied Hebron, which then fell under Egyptian rule in 1948 and then under the rule of Jordan.

Problems in Hebron started in 1929, when Arab nationalists revolted against the Jewish community after their leader spread the false rumor that Muslims were being killed in Jerusalem. Dozens of Jews living in the city were attacked, 67 were killed, and the rest were evacuated. This sad episode became known as the Hebron Massacre.

In 1967, after the Six Day War, Jewish settlers started moving to the centre of Hebron, and the village of Kiryat Arba was established nearby to attract more settlers. After that, Jews finally gained access to the Cave of the Patriarchs after 700 years of being unable to do so.


Soldiers patrol the H2 part of Hebron to protect Jewish settlers. Some of them are nothing more than kids.

After the Oslo Agreements of 1993 which saw the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from parts of the West Bank, Hebron was given special status and currently divided in two areas: H1 makes up 80% of the municipality and it is under Palestinian control; H2 makes up 20% of the municipality and is under Israeli military control. H2 also includes the important Tomb of the Patriarchs and parts of the beautiful Old City. Around 40000 Palestinians live in H2, against no more than 800 Jewish settlers. Roughly 4000 Israeli soldiers are spread around the Old City to protect the settlers.

In 1994 a Jewish settler shot and killed 29 Palestinian Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarchs mosque. Riots followed, causing more deaths and eventually leading to the creation of a buffer zone between H1 and H2. Palestinians who lived and worked on Al Shuhada Street (now called King David) were forced to relocate. The shops were shut, and have remained so since.

Visiting Hebron

Arriving in Hebron from Jerusalem is rather easy – at least, for tourists. A bus with bullet proof windows leaves from Jerusalem central bus station and after making several stops along the way, it stops right outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

That’s about the only easy thing about visiting Hebron. I don’t necessarily refer about the practical aspects of visiting the city, or about safety issues. Touring Hebron is easy enough for foreigners, especially if they are chaperoned by a guide. And I never felt concerned about my safety while I was there – whether I was on the Palestinian side of the city, or on the Jewish one.

What’s not easy is everything else – the sorrow feeling one feels going through the empty streets of the Old City, or listening to the stories of two people who once lived in peace, who are so similar in culture and values, and who have both suffered, and yet can’t seem to find a way of living peacefully together again.

West Bank

No more than a handful of tourists and a few soldiers can be seen on what used to be Hebron’s busiest street

The Jewish side of Hebron

The first stop of the Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron was the Abraham Avinu Synagogue. This was built in 1540 and destroyed in 1929, during the Hebron Massacre – and eventually rebuilt after the settlers started moving back to Hebron after 1967. There, our guide Gabe opened a display case containing a 500 years old Torah scroll that managed to survive the destruction of the synagogue.

The most sacred site in Hebron, to both Jews and Muslims, is the Cave of the Patriarchs (also known as the Sanctuary of Abraham). This is where Abraham (or Ibrahim, in Arabic) is buried. The building has been split in two to accommodate both faiths. Until 1967, when Hebron fell under Israeli control after the Six Day War, Jews were only allowed to go as far as the 7th step outside the cave.

We walked up a view point – the terrace of an apartment building – to get a full view of Hebron. From up there, it looked like the most normal of cities: full of history and culture, and beautiful. But then, we went back down and got slapped in the face by the reality of life in this city.


From a view point, Hebron looks like a completely normal, lively, interesting city

We walked along King David street, once buzzing with life and business, is now a ghost version of itself: the only people in sight are the few tourists who venture to Hebron, and the Israeli soldiers that stand at street corners and check points.

We saw many new buildings and commemorative plaques. Gabe explained that buildings and plaques are located in places where the Palestinians have carried out attacks against the Jews, to remember the victims. That’s the Zionist response to a terror attack.

As I walked along the empty streets of the Jewish quarters, a question kept running through my mind: why would any Jew want to move to Hebron, in a place that is so openly unwelcoming to them?

Meeting with a representative of the settlers community, I got the answer to my question as he explained us the importance of Hebron to Jews. He told us that Hebron is the cradle of the Jewish civilization, where the most important religious figures for the Jews are buried. Not allowing Jews to Hebron, he continued, would equate to not allowing Christians to go to Jerusalem, or Muslims to go to Mecca.

I still didn’t fully get it. It may be that I am not religious at all. But I just would not want to live in a place where every day is a struggle for survival, where I have to watch whatever I do and I am not free to move around as I wish.


Shops have shut in 1994 in King Street – once the busiest street of Hebron

Desolation and sadness is what I mostly felt when I walked through the Jewish quarter of Hebron. Hardly anybody was around, save from the soldiers that patrolled each street and any building of relevance – some of them nothing more than kids. It just ached my heart to see a place that was once full of life become so deserted. We were so geographically close to Tel Aviv, yet a million miles away.

To read more about Tel Aviv, read my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”

The Palestinian side of Hebron

We left our Israeli guide Gabe to meet Mohammed, our Palestinian guide. He took us to his home, where we were welcomed by his family and offered a delicious, home cooked lunch. Over lunch, we chatted away, much like a group of old friends would do.

Mohammed told us anecdotes of his recent visit to Italy (of all places!), where he felt welcome and respected and (needless to say) loved the food. We laughed about the most common stereotypes of various cultures and nationalities. His child kept walking in, demanding his attention. His mother also came in to check whether were were enjoying her food – like any proper Middle Eastern mother.

West Bank

The Palestinian side of Hebron felt normal, at least for a while…

I felt at ease; the feeling of desolation and frustration that troubled me for the last part of the morning at least momentarily gone thanks to the chit chat about nonsense stuff.

H1, the Palestinian side of Hebron, felt completely different from H2. This part of the city was bustling with life: cars, bikes, food carts, families with small children, shop owners inviting us in, people everywhere, going about their daily business as if Hebron isn’t one of the most contested cities on earth.

West Bank

A junk dealer on the Palestinian side of Hebron

It almost felt like a completely normal city, at least until Mohammed took us further into the bazaar, and the buzz was completely gone. Once again, there was hardly anybody around and once again I was overwhelmed by the desolation of the place. A lot of buildings looked abandoned, furniture left to rot on the streets. Many blinds were down.

And even within H1, for incomprehensible (at least to me) reasons, Israeli soldiers stood guard of some buildings, standing armed in their watch towers and observing our every move. I was there for just a few hours and felt almost violated. I couldn’t help but wonder what it must feel like for those that live there and, day in, day out, have to walk under the stares of soldiers.

It was in the old bazaar that we met some local shop owners, who – like the Jewish settlers on the other side – shared their story and views with us. But it was when Mohammed invited us to look up that we realized that on top of the crumbling old buildings of the bazaar stood shiny, stone buildings inhabited by the Jewish settlers. It didn’t make any sense to see Jewish settlements on areas that were evidently Palestinian (as if the separation made sense at all, actually).

West Bank

Desolated streets in the Palestinian side of Hebron – Israeli soldiers patrol some buildings there too

As if this wasn’t enough, a roof of wire mesh worked as a separating net between the two levels. Throughout the years this has acted like a sieve, collecting stones, plastic and glass bottles (at times containing urine or bleach), cans and any other items that the settlers have allegedly thrown below to their Palestinian neighbors.

It’s disturbing to know that such things can happen, especially when taking into account that less than a century ago Palestinians and Jewish people lived peacefully next to each other.

Mohammed told us stories of when, as a child, he learned to outsmart Israeli soldiers who took every opportunity to get confrontational with the Palestinian community. He told us of the time when he was 7 years old, and playing football with his older cousin, the ball fell outside the yard, right on the feet of an Israeli soldier. They ran away, but the soldier followed them and threatened the kids to give him the ball, or he’d shoot them. And he did. He shot a child, for no understandable reason.

I didn’t know what to say. All I felt, at that point, was anger. Perhaps the same emotion Palestinians feel.

Hoping for peace

Violence in Hebron is a tragic reality, but it occurs in waves. It is now facing a period of relative peace after the conviction of Elor Azaria. Attacks happen on both sides, carried out by Hamas forces as well as by the Kach Party (a Jewish terrorist organization). Tourists may feel discouraged to visit, but they are hardly a target.

I had my own ideas before visiting Hebron. I wanted to go because I wanted to have more insights about the daily lives of its inhabitants. All I can say is that it is not nearly as black and white as one may think, and I left perhaps more confused than I was when I went.

I could finally understand what my friend Janine meant when she told me she was still trying to make sense of what she had experienced. I wonder if she has finally managed to do so, because two months later I am still unable to. But it is just as well.

West Bank

Hoping for peace in Palestine

What I keep wondering, though, is why the Palestinians and Jews of Hebron can’t live in full peace today, as they have done for centuries. Why are they so stubborn, fighting over what to me seem like useless matters of principle, and can’t just accept that yes, tragic events have occurred in the past, but it is time to move on and finally forgive.

I look forward to the day when a peaceful solution to the Palestinian – Israeli conflict will come.

Useful Information

The Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron is offered by Abraham Tours every Sunday and Wednesday. It costs €73, or $82 USD. While it is not necessary to take a guided tour of the city and tourists are perfectly safe there, I recommend going on a guided tour to get better insights on the history and politics of the city.

Note about the comments: I know that the Palestinian – Israeli conflict is a controversial topic, but keep your comments civil. I appreciate disagreement but I won’t tolerate rudeness and profanities.

Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Abraham Tours during my visit of Hebron, however all the views expressed are my own.

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Learn more about the West Bank - via @clautavani








Tel Aviv loves life

Tel Aviv loves life

Tel Aviv

Blue sky, white sand – impossible not to love Tel Aviv

“I fell in love with a city I didn’t think I’d love. And I loved it, because Tel Aviv loves life.” That’s how my friend Margherita explains how much she enjoyed Tel Aviv. Yet, I had never been interested to go. You know – the parties, the nightlife, the modern skyline: nothing seemed to resonate with me, generally more interested in culture and history.

“I will definitely like Jerusalem better,” I told myself when I boarded the plane that took me to Israel.

“Welcome to my home!” was the welcoming message my friend Trisha sent me as soon as I landed in Tel Aviv.

“Wait, isn’t she from the Philippines?” I wondered. So why would she call Tel Aviv her home? That sounded weird. You see, I am from Sardinia, and I will always remain from Sardinia, no matter where I travel to, no matter where I live. In the more than 2 years I have lived in Colorado, and in the more than 8 years I have lived in England, I never called those places “home.” I’d say I lived there, but that was it. Home remained Cagliari – so attached to my homeland I am (as everyone else here).

tel aviv

How could I not fall in love with a city that has this to offer?

Is home really where the heart is?

So, how could a Filipino woman who had been living there for a mere 2 months talk of Tel Aviv as her home?

It didn’t take me long to understand why.

I fell in love with Tel Aviv. More than that. I felt at home in Tel Aviv – and although I have traveled the world far and wide, it never happened to me that I felt so comfortable in a place that I would consider making it my home for a while. I felt like this within minutes of arriving there, after having spent 4 days in Jerusalem, a city that left me culturally enriched, but somehow with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jerusalem, but I felt a bit unwelcome there, as a tourist and even more so as a human being. I perceived it as a city that doesn’t really want to be discovered, where people have put up a barrier that is difficult to cross, where they don’t want to communicate with anybody outside of their small circle.

Find out more about Jerusalem on my post Traditional and alternative things to do in Jerusalem.”

With these preambles, I was possibly expecting even less of Tel Aviv. What could someone like me possibly get out of a city that is known for being a business centre, and, at most, a place to go to have a little bit of fun?

Abraham Hostel

The gorgeous view of downtown Tel Aviv from the rooftop terrace of Abraham Hostel

A warm welcome

It was a glorious sunny day when I got to Tel Aviv. It was warm. Actually, it was almost too warm, for being the end of November. It was pleasant, after the cold wind that swept Jerusalem the day before and that froze my hands and, accompanied by the cold vibe, anesthetized my heart.

“Welcome to Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv, please make yourself at home” were the simple words, accompanied by a wide smile, that the receptionist told me as soon as I arrived. Now, that was a nice change from the icy stare I’d get at my hotel in Jerusalem.

People in Tel Aviv were already proving to be as warm as the weather.

“Why don’t you get yourself a cup of coffee or tea from the kitchen upstairs and wait in the rooftop terrace as we prepare your room and check you in?” he quickly added.

“Ok!” I uttered, thinking that any place with a rooftop terrace was bound to be cool.

I dropped my bag in the storage room, took the elevator and went to the kitchen. People in Tel Aviv like to keep a low profile, apparently. Calling that place a kitchen is a major understatement. Picture a room so large that you may wish to use rollerblades to go from one end to the other. On one side, an incredibly well equipped kitchen; then a bunch of tables and chairs; a bar that overshadows the best pubs in town and as if these were not enough already, a stage – yes, a stage – for performances and concerts.

I grabbed my coffee and made my way to the rooftop terrace – and walked by the tv room as I did so. But as soon as I made it to the terrace, I had to put the coffee down and take my camera out: the view was stunning and I wanted to take some pictures. Then I decided that it was such a nice day that I may as well go out and grab a bite.

Tel Aviv

Oceanfront cities such as Tel Aviv have that extra charme to me

Life is a beach

So I made my way to the Carmel Market – I like markets, and I like street food to the point that I even do street food tours (like in Bangkok), so it sounded like a good option. It was Friday morning, and it was packed with people shopping for their Shabbat dinner. I bought a delicious falafel sandwich for a mere 7 Sheckels (around 2 dollars), and ate it as I walked towards the beach.

Find out more about Bangkok and its street food scene on my post Nine fabulous things to do in Bangkok.”

I guess I should have known that I would have fallen for Tel Aviv, because I can’t help but love cities by the sea. I just didn’t make the connection before actually getting there. You see, I think there is something special about this kind of cities. I grew up in one (Cagliari), and it is refreshing to know that I can get a dose of vitamin sea within 7 minutes drive from home (and that is because I live on the other side of the city). I have visited several – Havana with its Malecon; San Sebastian, one of the top places to visit in Spain, with its gorgeous beaches that are a favorite among surfers; and Lima, which regularly gets fogged up because of the cold pacific air – and have always found that they have that something extra compared to others. Besides, Tel Aviv has been named one of the top ten oceanfront cities by National Geographic.

Tel Aviv

Even cats are laid back in Tel Aviv

As I walked along the waterfront, and looked at the busy urban beach, it all was a deja-vu: the people at the beach; the surfers in the water; people running; others biking or rollerblading; couples holding hands; families with children; others with their dogs; and a few cats that roamed freely. It reminded me of something I had already seen, of some place I knew very well and where I am comfortable. It reminded me of my beloved hometown Cagliari and its Poetto beach. It reminded me of home.

I continued walking along the waterfront: I could see Old Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel Aviv (whose White City, by the way, is a UNESCO site), in the distance – I’d visit that some other time. Now, as the sun started setting, the light was simply stunning and I could not get enough of it. I am hardly romantic, but I admit that I was captured by it. There was nowhere else I’d rather be.

Tel Aviv

Even cats enjoy the fabulous sunsets on Tel Aviv waterfront

It was only when it finally became dark that I realized I had been wandering around for hours. I had completely lost track of time, and it was time to walk back to the Abraham Hostel to finally check in. I already knew my way around: straight up to Carmel Market, then a right turn on Allenby, left on Rothschild and then right on Levontin. And in case I got lost I could make use of the free wifi that is available pretty much anywhere in Tel Aviv. I did not get lost, however, and I walked into the lobby to be once again welcomed by the great vibe of Abraham.

The great night out

“Do you want to join the Shabbat dinner tonight?” asked another friendly receptionist as I walked in. He explained that every Friday, as per Jewish tradition, the Abraham holds a Shabbat dinner for its guests.

“Sure,” I said – a bit dubious. I had no idea what a Shabbat dinner would be like, but why not? After all I was visiting a new country to try new experiences, and this would be one, right?

He then handed me the electronic key to my room, and I took my bag there so that I could freshen up for dinner. My room was lovely: a spacious private room on the third floor, simple yet cozy and with anything I may need for my stay.

At 7:30 pm I walked into the kitchen for the Shabbat dinner. Tables were set already, an array of home cooked food was about to be served, but we first said the prayers – well, the others did. I am an atheist, really. Besides, I could not make out a single word anyways! But it was a nice experience. A bunch of people – some travelers like me, other locals – all sitting at the same table, talking about the most diverse topics and enjoying some good food. It felt homey.

But I couldn’t make myself too comfortable. I have many Israeli friends that I have met during my travels in South America – Yuval in Peru, during the hike of the Colca Canyon; Yoav in Bolivia, when I toured the Pampas from Rurrenabaque; Eyal and Aya through our passion for cats. And there is no saying no to Israelis when they say they want to take you out.

That night, Yoav had promised to show me a bit of the nightlife Tel Aviv is famous for. We met at the Abraham and headed to Florentine. But it would have been just as well anywhere else – as we walked, I saw an incredible number of bars on the way, each of them packed with people talking, drinking and having a good time. Tel Avivians love going out, apparently.

Yoav and I had about a year and a half to catch on, and we hit several bars before I begged him to take me back to the hostel – it was almost 3 am, I was having a bike tour the next day, and a lady needs her beauty sleep anyways. Had it not been that I was meant to wake up early, I would have stayed out longer. It had been a while since I had such a good time on a night out.

Tel Aviv

Habima Square, in Tel Aviv, is one of the spots were locals like to hang out at weekends

Bike away with me

The sun wasn’t shining the following day, but it was still very warm – it was a good day for a bike tour. After all, Tel Aviv is one of the coolest cities in the world to bike around. I met Amit, my guide, in the lobby of Abraham hostel. He took me and a few more guests around the main places of interest in the city and helped us getting to know it better by adding historical and cultural relevance to the places we visited, such as Habima Square and the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion; the Rabin Memorial; Reading, the old power plant that is soon to be dismantled; and even the beaches and the waterfront. Who knew that there’s a beach for just about anybody in Tel Aviv? It just reinforced my idea of Tel Aviv as a welcoming, multicultural and vibrant city, and made me love it even more.

Tel Aviv

The old power plant of Reading is an interesting sight during the bike tour of Tel Aviv

And just in case I had any doubt at all on how welcoming Tel Aviv is, Eyal and Aya would not let me leave the city without making me try the best hummus in Israel. We met in Old Jaffa, a beautiful little town considered part of the greater Tel Aviv area. I parked my bike (how homey does it feel when you get to know your way around a city that you feel comfortable to go around by bike!) and we started walking through the narrow streets of Jaffa, passing by the Clock Tower, the Flea Market, crossing the Wishing Bridge, admiring the view of Tel Aviv from Andromeda’s Rock and the minaret of Al-Bahr Mosque. And we ended up in Jaffa Port, where we joined in the crowds in line at Abu Hassan to try the best hummus in the country.

Tel Aviv

Al-Bahr mosque, in Old Jaffa, faces directly the sea and offers a gorgeous view.

I must admit Eyal knew what he was talking about. I am far from being an expert on hummus, but that was by far the best one I have ever tried in my life.

Tel Aviv loves life

As the day turned into night and we continued onto Minzar Bar in Tel Aviv, I knew I was taken. It all made sense now – the feeling of being incredibly at ease and comfortable; the smiles I saw around me and the ones that grew on my face… These were all signs that not only I enjoyed visiting Tel Aviv, but I would not mind making this place my home at least for a while, as Trisha was already doing.

Margherita was right. Tel Aviv loves life, and I fell in love with Tel Aviv.

To find out more about Tel Aviv, check my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”

Tel Aviv

I could not get enough of the view of Tel Aviv beach from Old Jaffa.

Have you ever been to Tel Aviv? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

Find out how to plan the perfect trip to Israel.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Abraham Hostel and Abraham Tours during my stay in Tel Aviv, however all the views expressed are my own.