Waiting 'forever' in a Hebron home

Atmosphere in Beit Hashalom was mix of boredom and spontaneous chaos.

hebron settler land is ours 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
hebron settler land is ours 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
On the roof of the disputed Hebron building on Tuesday, a young man named Yona played Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," on the guitar, butchering the lyrics. "May God keep you and bless you always," Yona sang, his voice screeching with the notes. "May you be forever young." And then a stun grenade went off, sending the crowd of mostly religious youth who had congregated on the roof running towards the edge. "They're throwing rocks at Jews over there!" one of them yelled. There were more explosions and more smoke, and rocks began pelting the crowd, as they huddled behind whatever they could find for cover. The atmosphere Tuesday in the building, dubbed Beit Hashalom ("peace house") by those dwelling inside it, was a mix of long pockets of boredom, peppered with spontaneous moments of chaos. After the stun grenades and rock-throwing were over, the chaos gave way to an uneasy quiet, as if everyone inside knew that it would once again be shattered. Inside, boys scrupulously poured over tractates of Talmud and Psalms, while others, like Yona, played guitar on the roof and smoked cigarette after cigarette, waiting for something - anything - to happen. Rumors that an evacuation of the building was imminent brought throngs of young men and women from surrounding communities and more distant cities to hunker down inside, and wait for what many say is the inevitable to begin. "There will be war over the house of peace," read graffiti sprayed on nearby Palestinian homes. Other buildings, the sites of previous rock-throwing confrontations between Beit Hashalom's inhabitants and their Palestinian neighbors had the word "revenge" scrawled across them, a Star of David often beside it. Soldiers and police stood by cautiously, as one boy, a teenager with no shoes and a baseball cap, tried to hand them fliers calling on them to refuse the orders to evacuate. Back inside, young mothers tended to their babies, while bread and cans of food littered the tables and floors. In various rooms throughout the house, young men were playing cards or backgammon and eating tangerines. "We'll never leave this place," said one young man, a shirt covering his face in the form of a mask. "We'll stay here forever if we have to." His message was resounding. Following the pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the confrontation at Amona in 2006, Beit Hashalom in Hebron has come to symbolize a last stand for many settlers and their supporters. And while many inside expressed support for the IDF in a general sense, the soldiers who may come to evacuate the building will not be greeted warmly. A large sign hanging in front of the building called on the security forces to disobey their orders. Another one, written in English, simply said, "To our dear brothers, welcome to Hebron, the city of Abraham." As the young men sitting inside prayed fervently, their voices echoing out onto the street, others sat in the dirt, their faces covered with T-shirts, as the waiting continued.