Hollywood actor Richard Gere likened the situation in Hebron to segregation in the Jim Crow-era American South, during a recent tour of the divided West Bank city.
In footage aired by Channel 2 Wednesday, Gere said the separation in the city, home to a few hundreds Israeli Jewish families among tens of thousands of Palestinians, was the same as what happened in the “old south” of the United States.
The tour took place 10 days ago and was led by anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence.
Hebron is the only West Bank city divided into areas of Israeli control (20%) and Palestinian control (80%). Other Palestinian West Bank cities are fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority, although Israeli retains overall authority in the West Bank.
Guides from Breaking the Silence walked with Gere down Shuhada Street, the former main thoroughfare and commercial hub of Hebron. Arab stores on the street were shuttered in 1994 amid riots sparked by the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, which saw an Israeli settler kill 29 Palestinians. It was closed to Palestinian traffic during the Second Intifada.
Contrasting the street now, barred to Palestinians, to photos of the market’s vibrant heyday in the early 90s, Gere compared the situation to the racial segregation that predated the civil rights movement.
“It’s exactly what the old South was in America. Blacks knew where they could go,” he told his guides. “They couldn’t drink from that fountain, they couldn’t go over there, they couldn’t eat in that place. It was well understood — you didn’t cross it if you didn’t want to get your head kicked in or get lynched.”
He also said he was struck by how odd the whole situation was.
“This is the thing that is flipping me out right now… this is really bizarre, genuinely strange,” he said. “Who owns the city and their feeling of ‘I’m protected, I can do whatever I want.'”
After a car belonging to a Jewish resident sped past, Gere likened the entire scene to the dystopian movie “Mad Max,” which describes the collapse of society. He also said, “That’s a really dark energy… It’s like an old cowboy movie or something.”
Earlier Gere visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron with film director Joseph Cedar.
Gere was in Israel for the premier of Cedar’s movie “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” in which he plays Norman Oppenheimer, a has-been New York fixer.
On the way to Shuhada Street Gere took time to pose for photographs with soldiers who initially wanted to block his access to the area.
Breaking the Silence was founded in 2004 by a group of veteran Israeli army combatants. The organization collects reports, usually anonymously, about alleged abuses by soldiers in the West Bank. It has often locked horns with the Israeli political establishment and military brass, and its critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.
In January a bill to ban the group from holding events in Israeli schools passed a preliminary reading.
Jessica Steinberg and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.