Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Illuminating the Truth

Illuminating the Truth
December 4, 2002

Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights. A little illumination certainly wouldn?t hurt. 

Recent headlines told us that Israel?s UN ambassador, Yehuda Lancry, expressed Israel?s willingness to accept a ?two states for two people? policy. Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Netanyahu quickly repudiated the statement. It was also publicized that Defense Minister Mofaz was considering again withdrawing Israeli security forces from Bethlehem, in honor of Christmas. Mofaz denied this. Hebron?s Jewish community issued a letter saying, ?during the funeral of Colonel Dror Weinberg, we heard statements from the head?s of Israel?s security forces to the effect that there is no longer any reason to trust Palestinian security forces, and there is no longer any reason to place the security of Israeli citizens in their hands. After the last withdrawal from Bethlehem, a bus blew up in Jerusalem, killing and wounding dozens. The price we paid for the withdrawal from Hebron was catastrophic. Any decision to again withdraw will be a security fiasco and undoubtedly lead to further Jewish bloodshed.?

Subsequent headlines announced that Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Moshe ?Bugi? Ya?alon, speaking to a think-tank forum in Washington, admitted that ?a majority of the settlements would have be evacuated.? Ya?alon denied the remarks, explaining that he had said that ?the Palestinians thought that Israel would be willing to evacuate most of the settlements, but still refused to reach a peaceful solution with us.? And again, in the next day?s newspapers we were graced with the good news that the IDF is planning on destroying ?15 palestinian houses? between Kiryat Arba and Ma?arat HaMachpela in Hebron, in order to provide protection for those walking back and forth on the road. Of course, the objective is not only to pull down ruins that have lined the pathway for years, but also to build a so-called protective wall, all the way from Kiryat Arba to Hebron.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has labeled this latest plan for Hebron a sharvul, a sleeve. For the Jewish community in Hebron, the word "sleeve" has dire connotations. In Sharonolgy, "sleeve" means "wall." Loosely translated into everyman's lingo, "wall" means ghetto. Simply put, Sharon plans on reinventing an 800-year-old creation. The last official western European ghetto, in Rome, was abolished in 1870. Hebron, too, knew a ghetto. The Jewish Quarter, today called the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, was established in 1540 when Rabbi Malchiel Ashkenazi led Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 from their temporary residence in Turkey to the center of Hebron. That neighborhood, surrounded by a high wall, was essentially a ghetto. At that time, Hebron, as well as all of Eretz Yisrael, was governed by the Ottoman Empire. However, for all intents and purposes, the city was ruled by Arab sheikhs. The Jews were greatly outnumbered. There was no State of Israel. There was no Israeli army. There weren't any Jewish security forces. The community was at the mercy of the city's strong man. Thus the necessity of a protective ghetto.

Hebron's Jews started moving out of the ghetto in the early 1800s, spreading out throughout the city, living with, and among, their Arab neighbors. The relationship had its ups and downs, but for the most part, they lived peacefully together. Until the bubble burst during the 1929 riots and massacre, leaving 67 dead and 70 wounded. The Jewish survivors were expelled by the British military government.

When the Hebron Accords were signed and implemented almost six years ago, the concept of Hebron walls was revived. Politicians, military leaders and the Israeli civil administration cooked up numerous plans for a renewed ghetto. Hebron leaders asked the initiators of various proposals why walls were necessary. After all, Israel had just signed a "peace accord" with the "chosen partner," promising peace, quiet, and normalcy in Hebron. What they received by way of response was questioning looks, bordering on disbelief. The proposals were rejected out of hand by the Hebron leaders. Jews did not come back to Hebron to live in a ghetto, they reasoned. Jews left eastern Europe to escape the ghetto, to live in Israel as "a free people in our land", to quote the national anthem,Hatikva.

During the past two years, Hebron's neighborhoods have been attacked by terrorist gunfire from the surrounding hills. Virtually every day, for more than a year and a half, Jewish homes were the target of murderous attacks from the Abu Snena and Harat a-Sheikh hills. Ten-month-old Shalhevet Pass was one victim of Arafat-initiated terror. Others were injured, including children. The near misses are too numerous to count. But Hebron remained open - no walls, no fences, and no artificial boundaries. The result of the Hebron community policy was not an abandonment of the city. This past Succot, more than 40,000 Jews visited Hebron. Thirty thousand flocked to the city following the murder of Shlomo Yitzhak Shapiro. A few weeks ago, some 25,000 Jews participated in theShabbat reading of the weekly Torah portion describing Abraham's purchase of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, at that very site. How many of these Jews would have dared visit Hebron knowing that the city's permanent residents lived only behind walls?

A wall symbolizes fear. A wall in Hebron, constructed in the midst of a war, signifies a terrorist victory, showing our enemies that they have instilled panic. The implications are clear: Continued terror will increase fear and eventually lead to the evacuation of the city. When has a wall ever been proven to be an effective deterrent to terror? Furthermore, today is not 1540. The State of Israel exists. It has an army. It has security forces. Why punish the victim of terrorism by ghettoizing him, while leaving the aggressor free?

Following the recent Hebron massacre, in which 12 soldiers and civilians were ambushed and killed, Sharon is recommending a "solution" to terror in Hebron. However, a walled-in Hebron is effectively a "short sleeve" - a short-term solution. What is needed is a "long sleeve," a long-term response to Arafat's declaration of war. A ghetto is not the answer. 

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