August 23, 1997
A few days ago I had a most interesting experience. It took place early Thursday afternoon. Walking back to our offices in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood from Beit Hadassah I detected a group of about 50 Shalom Achshav people (Peace Now) strolling down the street. I soon discovered that most of them were reporters – both Israeli and Arab.
Usually Shalom Achshav groups in Hebron are a cause for heated discussions, disturbances or worse. They have a way of inciting Hebrons Arab community against the Jews living in the city. This tour focused on pointing out Arab property being occupied by Jewish extremists. I walked up to the group and requested permission to speak with them for three minutes. I wanted to say to them one thing, and one thing only. That day, last Thursday, just happened to be, by the Hebrew calendar, the 18th of Av – the 68th anniversary of the massacre which left 67 Jews dead in Hebron and led to the forced expulsion of the survivors, three days later. I thought it an inauspicious day to be stirring up Hebrons Arabs.
After asking who I was, they refused to let me speak to them. In their words, there was nothing to talk about – they didnt want to hear from me. I continued with them down the street, and some of them spoke with me privately. It was quite clear that we had little in common, and we sure werent going to find ourselves agreeing with each other. But we did converse. I related to them my disappointment that the group saw fit to talk with Hebron Arabs, but refused to talk with me, an official representative of Hebrons Jewish community, for even a few minutes. I mentioned to the few people I was speaking with the subject I wished to broach with the group, but they didnt seem to care. It didnt move them. I also told them that, at the very least, we should be able to speak together, even if we dont agree with each other. They answered me that they would later meet with Efrats Chief Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Riskin. He would have to represent us, I guess.
I continued back to the office, but soon heard that the group was to continue through the Kasba – the Arab market within Israeli-controlled Hebron, where we are forbidden to go. The Kasba is a closed military zone for Jews, but not Arabs. I decided to go with them.
By the time I caught up with them the army had forced them out of the Kasba, but they were continuing down another road, also in Israeli-controlled Hebron, but in an area forbidden to us. This particular road runs parallel to King David (Shuhada) Street. There was a time, in the past, when all Egged busses in Hebron drove down this particular road, called the Shallalla Gedola. I used to go shopping on this road. Not any more – not for a long time.
Walking down the road, together with the rest of the group, I found myself next to a 50 year-old-plus Arab – short, bald, dressed in a brown suit. He smiled at me and asked me, “you think you will be here forever?” “Why not,” I responded. “We live here.” So he smiled and answered, “Soon there will be changes here. Soon those with the green berets (palestinian police) will be here (in the Israeli side of Hebron) too. You really think you will be here forever? Israel is only a word on the map. Soon there will be great changes here.”
So I smiled back at him and commented, “You know, anyone who speaks about great changes has to be very careful, because sometimes those changes may not be exactly as expected. Sometimes they can take rather unexpected turns.”
By this time we were fairly close to the border between H1 and H2 – Arafat-land and Israel-controlled Hebron. The other Arabs kept muttering to me in Arabic – I think they were trying to tell me that I couldnt go any further. We were still being accompanied by Israeli soldiers, but at the border they wouldnt go any further. We reached the junction where, only a few weeks ago, hundreds of rocks and firebombs were being hurled at Israeli soldiers. On the other side of the street, Arabs in army uniforms, called police (in Arabic they are called the palestinian national force) were directing traffic.
Interestingly enough this junction is not the border – it is at least 50 meters more down the road. But, according to the Israeli soldiers with us, this was as far as they would go. The Arabs with the group kept pointing me out to the palestinian police and suddenly a couple of rocks flew down at us. Together with the Israeli soldiers, I took cover under a store awning and decided not to go any further. Together with a few soldiers I walked back up to Beit Hadassah my office in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood.
A couple of hours later I attended the memorial service for those killed in Hebron 68 years ago. I couldnt help but ask myself, how much has really changed since then. I am fully aware of what has transpired since then – but have things really changed? Sometimes I feel the need to pinch myself just to make sure what Im seeing and hearing is reality and not a bad dream. The trouble is, even after I pinch myself, it is still a bad dream.