Twenty Years Later – We Overcame, We Persevered by David Wilder
This week marks an auspicious date, as it leads to the inauguration of the incoming President of the United States.
However, my view of the week of January 20th is of a completely different perspective. This year, this week marks the 20th anniversary of the signing, Knesset vote and implementation of the so-called “Hebron Accords,” which, as a continuation of Oslo, split the city of Hebron. On March 15, the Israeli cabinet voted in favor of the Hebron Protocol. The next day the Knesset voted to implement the accords. The next day, Friday, the city was officially split. The IDF vacated/abandoned the Hebron military headquarters, with Col. Gadi Shamni, the commander of the Hebron region, being the last to leave. On Sunday, January 19, Arafat, celebrating the ‘liberation’ of the city, visited the former Israeli military compound, high on the hills in Hebron, to the cheers of tens of thousands. Some 80% of the city was transferred/abandoned to Arafat and the palestinian authority. In reality, the agreement left Jews with access to 3% of Hebron, while the Arabs had access to 97% of the city.
After over 35 years in Hebron and nearby Kiryat Arba, I’ve witnessed many and various events, some quite joyous, and others, almost unbearably sad. But this day, which will undoubtedly be recalled as one of the most awful episodes in the annuls of Jewish history, has left me stunned, even after two decades.
The Arab celebrations were totally out of hand. Israeli security forces didn’t even try to prevent disturbances in the center of Hebron. Living then in Kiryat Arba, I remember walking down to Friday night Shabbat prayers at Ma’arat HaMachpela, and then continuing on to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, basically too numb to really feel anything. Over the next weeks and months, when driving around the community, I could not bring myself to believe that the Israeli government, led by Binyamin Netanyahu had actually signed and implemented this suicidal agreement. Why suicidal?
A strategically vital land area was all but totally turned over to the Arabs. The hills surrounding the Jewish community officially belonged to Arafat. But as a symbolic gesture, an Israeli military jeep was stationed along side a PA jeep overlooking the Jewish neighborhoods. On the eve of Rosh HaShana in the year 2000, the Oslo War, aka the 2nd Intifada began. The Israeli vehicle disappeared. For the next two years Arab terrorists utilized the land we gave them as a base from which to shoot at us.
It was clearly evident, prior to the signing and implementation of the accords that the result would be catastrophic. We went so far as to produce a movie, called “Hebron in Danger” in English and Hebrew, predicting in graphic detail the consequences of the agreement. We were laughed at and ridiculed. After all, the era of peace was at hand.
Not too long prior to the government’s approval, Hebron leaders met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Future MK Orit Struk said, “Bibi, look me in the eye and tell me the Arabs won’t shoot at us from the hills.” His response: “Orit, if one shot is fired, I’ll send in the tanks.”
On the morning of the cabinet vote, then minister Natan Sharansky came into Hebron. We took him to the peak of the Abu Sneneh hills, to the south of the community, to show him once again, the dangers incurred by the accords. Upon his return to Jerusalem, Sharansky met with Netanyahu and exclaimed, “Bibi, this agreement is endangering the Jews in Hebron.” Netanyahu put his arm around Sharansky’s shoulders and retorted, “Natan, do you think that I would do anything to endanger the Jews in Hebron?”
No danger, no danger at all.
But statistics published by the ministry of foreign affairs show partial results of ‘no danger at all.’ Between 1969 and 1996, a period of 27 years, 29 Jews were killed in the Hebron area. From 1997 to 2016, that is 19 years, some 60 Jews were murdered in the same area. These numbers do not include the thousands wounded, and the tens of thousands of attacks, stabbings, shootings, fire-bombings, and rock attacks.
Ironically the agreement between Israel and the PA, granted Hebron’s Jewish community a degree of legitimacy. In other words, they recognized our existence. Except in reality they didn’t. Arafat himself, speaking in Hebron, said, “Hebron is a springboard … so that we can establish our independent Palestinian state.”
And his appointed head of the Hebron region, Jibril Rajoub, speaking about the Jewish community said, “They are big stones on our chest and we have to take them off,”
On January 16, 1997 Netanyahu, speaking in the Knesset, said “… I would like to appeal to the residents of Hebron. I know that you are fearful today, and I would like to say to you, brothers and sisters, that we are concerned for you, that we do not see you as an insignificant appendage. We see you are dear brothers. We are concerned for each and every one of you. We do not see you as 400 insignificant Jews, but as our representatives... in the last analysis, every agreement is dependent upon the goodwill of the signatories. I call from this podium upon the Palestinians and our Arab neighbors to support the agreement, to fulfill all its provisions, in order that security should be preserved…Until now, Hebron has been a symbol of division and conflict because of the hostility between Palestinians and Israelis. Now we have an opportunity to prove that Hebron can also serve an opposite example – one of cooperation, of co-existence, a paradigm of peace.”
My only explanation of these words is that he must have been hallucinating when he wrote the speech. Sure, we were representatives, teaching Israelis how to ‘die with dignity.’
The day before, with the cabinet agreement approving the Hebron Accords the following statement was tacked on to the decision: “The Government will act to maintain all the conditions and requirements necessary for the existence, security and consolidation of the Jewish community in Hebron.”
The problem was that these words were written with invisible ink. They disappeared almost immediately upon the accord’s implementation. And as all know, Bibi has a very selective memory. It seems he forgot this clause shortly thereafter.
Where are we, 20 years down the road?
Past: On September 7, 1995 Binyamin Netanyahu, candidate for Prime Minister, while visiting Hebron, issued the following statement:
The Jewish settlement will remain in Hebron permanently. If someone tries to take it away, my friends and I will be here, and they will have to take us away as well. It will be a fatal mistake to bring hundreds of armed Palestinian policemen here, and there will be a small area where the Jews can pass and where the police and IDF can operate. If there will be a conflict, the IDF will not be able to function and will quickly collide with the Palestinian forces. This is a prescription for tragedy. There is one body responsible, and that has to be the IDF”.
Present: On December 11, 2016 Netanyahu told 60 Minutes that he remained committed to the two-state solution, and hoped the Trump administration would assist in achieving it.
“I’m willing to negotiate with [the Palestinian Authority] at any moment,” said Netanyahu. “I haven’t reversed my position. I’ve said, ‘Look, we will solve this because we want two nation states at peace and with the proper security arrangements.’ Two states for two peoples…. that’s where I’m focused.”
“I’d like to have President Trump, when he gets into the White House, help me work on that. I’d like to see if the Arab states can help me achieve that. It’s a new reality. A new possibility.”
In other words, Netanyahu has learned nothing, but absolutely nothing from the decisions and their consequences over the past two decades. He is willing to continue down a path of pain, terror, and Jewish blood.
The most appropriate action he could take this week is to make a special trip to Ma’arat HaMachpela in Hebron, stand on the steps leading up to the edifice, and apologize, to first and foremost our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, who have witness to this continued desecration of the sanctify of G-d. He must apologize to the family of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, murdered in his bedroom in August, 1998. He must apologize to the family of Shalhevet Pass, 10 months old, shot in the head by an Arab sniper.
He should stand and recite the names of all of those killed in and around Hebron from January 1997 through the present, just as victims of the Holocaust’s names are read from the podium in the Knesset.
And then he must state, unequivocally, that the Accords were a mistake and a failure, that Oslo was a mistake and a failure, and then, with one hand on his heart and the other on a Bible, swear to put a total end to any talk of further concessions, leading to a Palestinian State. Perhaps one symbolic act could conclude the event: A palestinian authority flag be placed within a coffin, and then buried in the local Arab cemetery.
An idea, dead and buried. Only then, and really only then, can we start to look forward to the future, to rectify the enormous errors, costing so many lives, and begin to live as Jews, as Israelis, on our land.
The concluding words of my essay, written on January 14, 1997: “The immediate future will be very difficult – of that I have no doubts or illusions. If the Jewish People were able to overcome the results of a Holocaust that left one third of our people murdered, and in spite of that were able to create a viable state only three years after the furnaces were extinguished, we can overcome anything. It will not be easy, but we will persevere.” Little did I know then how difficult it actually would be. But I was correct. We overcame, we persevered. And we will continue to do so. Forever and ever and ever. Let no one think otherwise.