robin-yassin-kassab-Robin Yassin-Kassab is the author of The Road from Damascus, a novel published by Penguin, and co-editor of PULSE, one of Le Monde Diplomatique's five favourite websites. The opinions expressed are his own.-

There’s no pretty way to describe what I saw in Hebron, no tidy conceit to wrap it in.

I visited as a participant in the Palestine Festival of Literature, the brain child of the great British-Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif. I was in the company of many wonderful writers and publishers, among them Python and traveller Michael Palin, best-selling crime novelist Henning Mankel, Pride and Prejudice screenplay writer Deborah Moggach, and prize-winning novelists Claire Messud and MG Vassanji.

Our first stop was Hebron University, where I ran a workshop on "the role of writing in changing political realities." The students were bright and eager; the only discomforting note was struck by a memorial stone to three killed while walking on campus, by rampaging settlers, in 1986.

After lunch we visited Hebron’s historic centre. The usual way on the West Bank is for Israeli checkpoints, towers and settlements to encircle Palestinian population concentrations. But here 400 gun-wielding settlers, guarded by 1500 soldiers, also occupy the centre of the Old City.