February 18, 2005
Holding the position I do in Hebron grants me the dubious honor of receiving and reading various works of dribble written about those of us living in the city of Abraham. I find all sorts of garbage on various web sites circulating throughout the internet universe.
A few days ago I received another such article, written by someone named MJ Rosenberg, who is the Director of Policy Analysis for an organization called IPF – Israel Policy Forum. This organization’s goal, as published on their web site, is “to support active and sustained American efforts aimed at resolving the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In doing so, IPF seeks to strengthen Israeli security and to further U.S. foreign policy interests in the Middle East”.
Oh boy. Another one of those….
In any case, in an article dated February 11, called “Hebron Horrors,” MJ Rosenberg tries to allay the so-called ‘success’ of the Sharm Summit. It is quite clear who Rosenberg holds responsible for the ‘issues which produced the violence in the first place.’ In order to rebut the author’s view of ‘Hebron Horrors’ I am going to try and dismantle the article, piece by piece.
And so we begin:
Hebron is a city considered holy by both Jews and Muslims because of the presence there of the Cave of Machpela, traditionally thought to be the burial place of Abraham, the patriarch of both Judaism and Islam. Predominantly Arab, Jews also lived in the city, adjacent to the tomb, until 1929 when a pogrom launched by Arab fanatics resulted in the murder of 69 Jews and the end of the Jewish presence in the city.
What’s missing? Several facts: (1) There was an almost continuous Jewish presence in Hebron for thousands of years. (2) The structure atop Ma’arat HaMachpela was constructed by Herod some 600 years before the birth of Muhammad. (3) The site, despite considered being ‘holy’ to both Jews and Muslims, was placed off-limits to anyone not Muslim, i.e. Jews and Christians, for 700 years. (3) True, the massacre was launched by fanatics, but was carried out by ‘normal, everyday folk,’ i.e. the Jews’ next door friends and neighbors.
In 1967, following the Six Day War — with Israel now in control of the West Bank, including Hebron — ultra-religious Jewish nationalists pressured the Israeli government to permit Jewish settlers to reclaim, and move into, properties that had belonged to the Jewish community prior to 1929.
The government refused. It arranged for Jewish worship inside the tomb but not for civilian settlement inside the city, which it considered to be both impractical and provocative. Only a tiny group of extremists (many from outside Israel) had any interest in living inside Hebron and – in the midst of a city of 160,000 Palestinians – they would need to be defended by hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers.
The settlers moved in anyway, establishing illegal outposts in the heart of Hebron, which have been tolerated by successive Israeli governments for 36 years. Following the Oslo agreements, the Israeli army withdrew from all Palestinian cities except Hebron, where troops remained to defend the settlers. In 1997, the Israeli army withdrew from 80% of Hebron, remaining only in an area labeled H-2 which includes the Cave of Machpela, the Casbah (Arab market) and the Jewish settlements.
(1)According to the Encyclopedia Judaica: “According to the 1967 census, conducted by Israel, Hebron had 38,309 inhabitants, all of whom (excepting 106 Christians) were Muslim. Hebron has a smaller percentage of Palestinian Arab refugees than most other places of the West Bank.“
(2)On June 8 1967 David Ben-Gurion said “we now control Jerusalem and that is one of the greatest of events – one of the first things that must be done is build neighborhoods – to immediately settle the Jewish Quarter. If there are empty Arab houses, we’ll put Jews in them. The same is true for Hebron – I am sure that with the current mood, the people will go.” Ben Gurion later wrote that “Hebron is a sister city to Jerusalem. [http://www.hebron.org.il/text/DBG.htm]. Golda Meir said the “Shehechiyanu” blessing, thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this joyous time. [http://news.haaretz.co.il/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=173030]
(3) Yigal Allon, then a government minister, encouraged and fully backed Rabbi Moshe Levinger and the plan to reestablish a Jewish community in Hebron. Allon later built Kiryat Arba. “There have always been Jews in Hebron, the cradle of our nation, and they will remain until they are evicted by force. [http://www.jafi.org.il/education/50/act/bg/bg5.html]
(4) An overwhelming majority of the Jews arriving in Hebron in 1968, (as well as the present population) was and is native Israeli.
In May, 1981, the Israeli government, led by Menachem Begin, officially recognized and authorized the renewal of a Jewish community in Hebron. There are no ‘illegal outposts’ in the center of Hebron, as claimed in the article.
Some 400 settlers live in H-2 in the midst of 30,000 Palestinians.
Hebron’s current population consists of over 800 Jews, including almost 100 families, hundreds of children, and between 250-300 post-high school Yeshiva students at Yeshivat Shavei Hevron in Beit Romano. According to statistics received from Israeli security forces, in 1997 there were approximately 100,000 Arabs living in the entire Hebron Municipality (which includes Kiryat Arba – another 7,000 Jews) and about 20,000 Arabs in the H-2 Israeli controlled side of the city. That number has decreased significantly in the past 3 years.
Last month, I visited H-2 despite being told by an Israeli friend that it is “the worst place in the West Bank.” How so? “The settlers there are religious fanatics and dedicate their lives to terrorizing the Palestinians with the goal of driving them all out. The Palestinians can’t fight back because the army won’t let them. On top of all that, the settlers hate the soldiers almost as much as they hate the Palestinians because the soldiers try to curb their activities. These soldiers are in a situation where they have to defend fanatics who routinely refer to them as Nazis.”
But, he added, “so long as the settlers are there, the soldiers must remain as well. Snipers, shooting from the hills, have killed Jews [including a two year old, Shalhevet Pass] and, so the soldiers need to be there, no matter how much they hate it.”
This is simply not true. (1) All residents of Hebron are religiously observant. So are many other Jews in Israel and around the world. We are no more ‘fanatical’ than anyone else. (2) We dedicate our lives to living, attempting to live normal lives in very hostile surroundings. We do not ‘dedicate our lives to terrorizing Palestinians.’ To the contrary, they dedicate their lives trying to kill us. For two years we were shot at, day and night. (3) Arab terror in Hebron is a fact of life. Hand grenades are hurled at automobiles. Last week an Arab attempted to kill an Israeli soldier with a knife. An Arab exploded on Hebron’s main street, killing a couple from Kiryat Arba. Last year an Arab started shooting at Jewish cars on the road leading to Tel Rumeida, injuring two people. (4) Hebron’s Jewish residents do not hate Israeli soldiers. In fact we are very happy that they are here and we try to make their lives more comfortable while they are serving here, including offering them food, drink and a Shabbat meal. The only time there is friction between Jewish residents and soldiers is when the soldiers are ordered to act as police. Community leaders have repeatedly tried to prevent this, unsuccessfully. There are frequent meetings between the community leadership and local commanding officers. The community holds a party for each unit upon conclusion its service in Hebron. (5) Hebron’s Jews do not ‘routinely’ refer to soldiers as Nazis. (6) A vast majority of soldiers do not ‘hate’ being in Hebron. Many of them are quite happy serving here.
I walked into the heart of H-2 following a short inquisition by an IDF soldier. My first stop was the Ibrahami Mosque, which encompasses the Tomb of the Patriarchs. As I walked down the steps toward the mosque, a young Palestinian made the point of informing me that I was following the same route Jewish zealot Baruch Goldstein took when, in February 1994, he burst into the mosque and shot dead 29 Muslims at prayer.
Goldstein is a hero to the Hebron settlers. His burial place (in a tourist park named after Meir Kahane) was turned into a shrine where settlers annually celebrate Goldstein’s murder spree with parties and games. (In 2004, police arrested some of them for holding an illegal celebration of both the Goldstein murders and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin). For Palestinians, of course, the Goldstein massacre is a symbol of the ultimate threat.
The author’s bias becomes exceeding clear by speaking of Ma’arat HaMachpela as the ‘Ibrahimi Mosque,’ thereby negating legitimate Jewish rights to worship at the site. According to Islam, only Muslims can pray at a mosque. Therefore, Rosenberg implicitly agrees that this holy site should be inaccessible to Jews and Christians.
Of course, no besmirching of Hebron would be complete without mentioning Baruch Goldstein. Hebron’s Jewish community has repeated, time and time again, that it rejects all illegitimate and unnecessary violence. The fact is that no Hebron Jewish resident has ever used a weapon to indiscriminately shoot Arabs in Hebron. Goldstein’s grave site is not a shrine, rather it is located in an isolated area in Kiryat Arba. The grave stone was erected by his family, as is customary for any deceased person. The site and the nearby park are not tourist attractions.
The generalization that ‘Goldstein is a hero to the Hebron settlers’ is grossly distorted. Baruch Goldstein, in his capacity as a regional doctor, saved many people’s lives following terror attacks in and around Hebron. I can honestly say that there are very mixed feelings about his actions in February, 1994 amongst people in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, including many people who knew him personally and were his friends.
I left the mosque and walked through the mostly deserted Casbah toward the settlers’ neighborhood. There wasn’t much to see, just settlers strutting around with rifles and a few Arabs trying to sell their wares in what was once a thriving market and is now mostly abandoned. And there is the graffiti in English and Hebrew promising death to all Palestinians.
But the most striking thing is the steel mesh screens that the Arabs have installed just above the heads of pedestrians to protect them from the garbage and excrement routinely dumped by the settlers from their second floor windows. The screens catch all sorts of disgusting stuff and lethal objects like cinder blocks, although liquid debris does make its way to the ground or on the heads of anyone below.
It’s an appalling sight. Imagine looking up and seeing and smelling the foulest debris just above your head, stopped only by mesh. But then everything about H-2 is appalling, including the fact that Israeli soldiers are forced to serve there.
Of course, there isn’t much to see, from Rosenberg’s perspective. Jewish sanctity at Hebron is nonexistent, be it at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of Jessie and Ruth, or the Avraham Avinu synagogue, not to mention Jewish holy sites which are ‘off-limits’ to Jews, such as the cave of Otniel ben Knaz (the first Judge in Israel) and the tomb of Avner ben Ner (adjacent to Ma’arat HaMachpela. (1)Jews do not ‘strut’ with rifles. People carry arms for reasons of self-defense. There are Jews alive today because they had weapons to protect themselves with. And vice versa. (2) The ‘once thriving market’ is no longer thriving due to the fact that Hebron’s Arabs declared war on the city’s Jewish population, shooting at us day and night for two years. Rosenberg does not see fit to even mention this fact anywhere in the article (excepting a brief notation concerning the killing of 10 month old Shalhevet Pass). The shops were closed by the Israel Defense Forces in accordance with security precautions needed to protect Israelis in the city. According to all estimates, this threat has not yet passed and the stores are still closed.
Concerning graffiti and garbage: Rosenberg neglects to mention that the wire screening also acts as a deterrent, preventing Arabs from hurling rocks, hand grenades and other explosive devices (bombs) into the Jewish homes and playgrounds from the Casbah. It is not an infrequent event that rocks and other projectiles are thrown at Jewish homes, particularly in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood.
I have written in previous articles that Hebron’s Jews are not perfect. We are also people, not angels. Our children, have been constantly attacked by Arabs, either on the streets or from afar, (people were shot at in their homes, cars and walking on the streets. Hebron youth were stabbed and seriously wounded by Arab terrorists). Therefore it is no wonder that graffiti, expressing ‘dislike’ for our enemies, be seen on walls in Hebron. This is certainly not a ‘just solution’ to the problems we face, but I can image much more serious reactions to such events as we’ve dealt with in Hebron over the past four years.
The final paragraphs of Rosenberg’s column deal with ‘eyewitness accounts’ of soldiers in Hebron. I will not reprint them here – you can read them for yourselves if you so desire [http://www.israelpolicyforum.org/display.cfm?rid=1579]. The group, called ‘Breaking Silence’ used its military service in Hebron as a springboard to launch a new ‘leftwing’ form of expression. The photo exhibition and accounts deal primarily with the soldiers and relationships amongst themselves, as opposed to dealing directly with Hebron.
Unfortunately, over the past decade, the role of Israeli military personnel has been maligned, and as a result, many soldiers are unaware of their true purpose. They have little understanding of the importance and significance of Eretz Yisrael. (Many of them arrive in Hebron knowing virtually nothing about the historic importance of the city.) Their ability to defend themselves was, for many years, greatly curtailed, with army morale falling leaps and bounds. This has led to groups, such as ‘Breaking Silence,’ which, under different circumstances, could be defined as treasonous as well as ‘aiding and abetting the enemy.’ In Israel, if you are on the left side of the political spectrum, this is legitimate.
I will not relate to the individual ‘accounts’ for there is absolutely no proof of their veracity.
That is why Hebron is significant. In one neighborhood, in one city, on any given day, anyone can experience the occupation at its worst — terrible for the Palestinians and terrible for the Israelis too.
The Sharm el-Sheikh summit was a start toward a full ceasefire and the end of the Intifada. But it won’t change much in Hebron or in the rest of the West Bank either. As for Gaza, Ariel Sharon is getting out. That is if extremists in the Knesset, and settlers very much like their brethren in Hebron, let him. But a start is certainly better than the status quo.
Why is it a given that Jews, living in Hebron represent ‘occupation? ‘ Why can’t a Jew live in the first Jewish city in Israel?
I understand from Rosenberg’s remarks that anyone opposing Sharon’s plans in Gush Katif is an extremist – “…if extremists in the Knesset, and settlers very much like their brethren in Hebron…” meaning that ‘they’ (in the Knesset) and all other settlers, are comparable to us (their brethren in Hebron). In other words, Rosenberg’s article isn’t really dealing with Hebron – rather it is describing his vision of reality amongst all Jews living in Yesha, and all others around the country who support us. That is, about 50% of the Jews living in Israel. In other words, I am in good company.
According to Rosenberg’s reality, at least half of the Jews living in Israel represent ‘horror.’
The only thing left to say is: The only horror I’ve witnessed in MJ Rosenberg’s article is that of another self-hating Jew, true, self-hating horror.
With blessings from Hebron.