I woke up New Year’s day in the suburbs of a foggy city to the tinkling of some green glass fish made from what I had often described as my faveourite place in the West Bank.
The Hebron glass factory, from my first visit in 2006, has been a place of magical beauty, sparkling craftsmanship, and understated wonder. Better than Santa, it exists even though it seems somehow impossible. And best of all, it proves that the fragile has way more staying power that its given credit for. Beauty persists.
It is all that in and of itself, but more so, because I first walked in on a sunny August day after visiting Hebron’s old town center, now home to an estimated 700 Israeli settlers. I and some classmates at the time had arranged to visit a woman with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, an observer group made up of mostly middle-aged and senior citizens from North America. The woman we visited was with the Mennonite Church, took one look at three girls with rosy cheeks and said, “we’re going to go and visit my friends up the hill.”
Apparently its easier to access zones where the Red Cross wasn’t allowed in last week with three fresh-faced ladies…
Just for some atmosphere, here’s what it looks like on the other side of the settlement in Hebron….
That’s a military tower above a kitchen-wares shop, chicken-wire strung above the main souq so settlers in the homes above don’t throw rocks, bottles and diapers down on shoppers, and the Gold Souq, which was shut down by military order. Settlers live above the shops on the left and the right, and have built a bridge connecting the two blocs. The once bustling street is a razor-wire dump now….
Anyway, that was just to get too the CPT office.
“Up the hill” was a family whose back yard had been taken over by a handfull of Israeli settler families, who installed maybe five or six trailer homes on the top of the hill behind the home. Since we had to sweet-talk our way past three soldiers manning make-shift posts up the street, and this was my first time up-close and personal with soldiers, I do not have any photos. I may have held my breath the entire time.
From the military patrols through the main shopping district of the city, to the checkpoints set up everywhere, to the settlers shooting darts out of cut-eye glances as we walked past, the story of the family dealing with constant harassment and abuse by the settlers, then being sprayed down with water guns by settler kids as we walked away from the house, most of the excursion was adrenaline-fueled, and there wasn’t much time to process.
We emerged from the checkpoint back into the hustle and bustle of non-settlement Hebron, a little shell-shocked.
Somehow managing to get a cab out to the glass factory, we drove about ten minutes outside of the city, and it was there, amid the glass fires and the tinted sunshine that my heart stopped racing. And what a place. Somehow, the delicately stacked glass existed. Just outside a city of chicken-wire, trash heaps and broken windows.
I think we stayed in there for more than an hour.
Maybe the third or fourth time I visited the glass factory — possibly after making a large purchase of wedding gifts for friends back home plus some more glass bobbles for myself — one of the owners picked out some green glass fish from a bin-full of them, and tied seven emerald figures to a central bulb. He wrapped it all up, gave me a wink.
I had always thought the fish were a bit cheezy, a little awkward looking, though the sound of the wind knocking them together had always appealed when I walked into the showroom. And the glass pouring through the cluster they had strung up was perhaps the first thing that let me exhale that first visit there.
The thing is there is no water in Hebron, so I always wondered: why the fish?
I mean, I was on board with the plates, pitchers and wine glasses early. But fish?
I asked the glass blower once (there are a couple, but one man I see every single time I visit, he knows I’m a regular) “why fish?”
The answer, simply, “they’re beautiful, right?”