Scoundrel Time

Not Seeing the Friend of God

To get to the Old City of Hebron,
al-Kahlil, medieval Ottoman
city of white and lustered
limestone and to the souk where
chickens roasted on rotisseries,
lambs and rabbits hung on meat hooks,
wasps buzzed near bins of nuts and candies,
and I bought a buttery drippy cinnamon stick,
and some of us stopped and shopped
for scarves and dresses to bolster
the merchants’ sagging business,
and a man stopped us and asked us in English
if we were peacemakers
and welcomed us to his village, the next
one over – agricultural, he said slowly –
as a woman in jeans – we’d gotten used to seeing
abaya – watched and waited a few feet away,

first we waited, we stood
in line – all seventeen of us
who wanted to see Hebron, Americans who
signed up to see all sides –
in front of a closed checkpoint,
the entrance to H2, metal doors manned
by Israeli soldiers with Tavors,
metal doors that let one person
through the metal detector
at a time, when they did open,
and we stood, next to teachers and students,
men in line talking and gesturing to one another – when
will the checkpoint open? when it opens —
another translated, the waiting children, the women stoic,

but then our guide, a Christian Peacemaker,
told us she’d lead us
another way, since we could, instead of each
of us keeping schoolchildren and teachers
from getting home on time, shopowners
from getting to the shops – almost 2,000 have closed
since 2000 – and we could go through
the Old City
and finally see Al-Shuhada by a back way,
a checkpoint Palestinians are not allowed to cross,
the once-bustling center shuttered and caged,
“Death to the Arabs” chalked on a wall,
the one person on the street a boy
who stepped out a door and gaped
at us, watchful blue eyes framed
by perfect blond ringlet peyot
as our gaggle milled in two waves
and I forgot I wasn’t a pair of
invisible eyes outside the bus-station-turned-
military compound and held my pen
to my mouth like a microphone where
a group of soldiers were in formation, waiting
to be relieved, maybe,
and I looked up and the assault rifles
pointed at my feet, and behind them
were heads covered by plexiglass helmets.
I put my hands to my sides, slid my pen
up my sleeve, and saw nothing.

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Image By: https://palsolidarity.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/checkpoint-with-woman-and-girl-wm-600×400.jpg

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“Not Seeing the Friend of God” is part of a longer sequence of poems based on her research on Israel-Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project. More information can be found on her website: http://joyarbor.net.