Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Less than perfect

Less than perfect
March 10, 2004

In Hebron, Purim is a very two-faced holiday. “Of course,” you might say, “that’s the way Purim’s supposed to be.” Purim is a day of costumes, makeup, and much fun. The mask’s make it literally, a two-faced day. But unfortunately, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Purim in Hebron is a multi-faceted affair. On the one hand, children and adults do dress up and do have much fun. Due to halachic rulings, that is, rabbinic decisions, Purim is celebrated for two days in the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Traditionally, on the first day, a festive Purim parade, called in Hebrew an “Ad’d’lo Yadah, is held, starting at the Tel Rumeida neighborhood and concluding at Ma’arat HaMachpela. Hundreds of people, including adults and children, from Hebron, Kiryat Arba and other places, participate in this fun-filled event, which includes a tractor-driven wagon, carrying a father-and-son song team, filling the air with joyful Purim songs. It’s a very difficult event to describe in words. Pictures help, but they are nothing compared to the ‘real thing.’ The parade lasts for about two hours, and is protected by Israeli security forces.

That’s one of the two faces of Purim. The happy side. But there is, as noted, a second face, this one, less positive. I call them ‘the leeches.’ Others call them ‘media.’

You must understand that here, I’m walking on very thin ice. My job, that of spokesman of Hebron’s Jewish Community, is to work with media, in Israel and around the world. I give them tours, am interviewed, set up meetings with others in Hebron, etc. There are those who firmly believe that we shouldn’t have anything to do with media, but I, for the most part, disagree. However, Purim is definitely an extreme exception to the rule.

I’d like to use two examples to define my point:
A couple of weeks ago I found a copy of an article called “Growing Up With Hatred” by Philip Jacobson, for the Sunday Times, dated February 22,  2004. The article deals primarily with children growing up in a place of danger. It is certainly not a ‘pro-Hebron’ feature, and the text in not entirely ‘objective.’ For example, the last paragraph begins with the sentence, “Meanwhile, an Israeli journalist familiar with the Jewish enclaves sees no hope of settlers ever accepting a degree of peaceful coexistence with their neighbours along the dividing line.” First of all, in the past there was coexistence; sometime more and sometimes less, peaceful, – until the Arabs started shooting at us 3 and a half years ago. And what about the Arabs – they will ever accept a degree of future peaceful coexistence?

However, in this case, it’s not the text that really disturbs me, rather it’s the pictures. Photographed by Jan Grarup, they are quite professional. But, they are also extremely disturbing. Printed in black and white, many of these pictures were taken last Purim, during our above-mentioned Purim parade. Everyone knows that a picture is worth a thousand words, that many readers prefer to glance at the article, reading random sentences here and there, and are primarily influenced by the headlines and the pictures. The pictures used in this article grossly distort Hebron and its residents. They are certainly not representative, considering the day they were photographed and amount of people depicted.

A much more serious example of Purim leechism appeared in Monday’s Jerusalem Post, in an article authored by Matthew Gutman, called “Celebrating Purim in Hebron under a microscope.”  This article is a springboard for several topics of discussion.

The first of those is  Dr. Baruch Goldstein. This year in particular Hebron has come under attack, being the 10th anniversary of his killing of twenty nine Arabs in Ma’arat HaMachpela. 

This topic has been so overplayed in the past decade that, as a rule, I don’t deal with it. But, for the record, there are a few points that must be clarified.

  1. The Jewish Community of Hebron has always rejected any and all illegitimate violence towards anyone, Arab and Jew alike. In fact, over the past three and a half years of warfare, when here in Hebron we were shot at day and night, in our homes and on the streets for over two years, no one took out an M16 and started randomly shooting people. True, most people here are armed, (and not only in Hebron, but throughout Yesha and a good part of the rest of the State of Israel) for reasons of self-defense, and are licensed to carry arms by the Interior Ministry and the IDF. The difference between us and our enemies is that we carry weapons for self-protection. When they obtain arms, they use them to attack. This is, by itself, overwhelming proof that Dr. Goldstein’s actions are not seen as a solution to the problems we face. For if people did accept his approach, he certainly would not have been the only one to use it.
  2. Almost all articles articles about Dr. Goldstein invariable mention his grave. For instance, the Sunday Times article: “Hebron’s children are encouraged by extremists to cherish Goldstein as a saint…they are taken to pay respects at his grave…”
I do not know who the ‘extremists’ are, and being that they are not named, my guess is that this is the author’s supposition, based upon expectation and hearsay. I cannot say that I loiter around Dr. Goldstein’s grave site, but it is located near the western entrance to Kiryat Arba, and over the years I have rarely noticed throngs of people, be they from Hebron or anywhere else, hanging around there.
3.  Most articles equate Dr. Goldstein with Hebron/Kiryat Arba and the outlawed Kach movement, almost relating to them as synonyms. This is simply not true. It is true, there are Kach supporters in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, but there are also Kach supporters all over Israel. The number of such supporters is also greatly exaggerated. For example, about 12 years ago, before it was outlawed, the Kach list in Kiryat Arba received one seat out of nine. 

4. As for memorial services held for Dr. Goldstein on the date of his death: All of these services are sparsely attended, and those participating are, by enlarge, not from Hebron or Kiryat Arba. Another service, held by the family, is small, private and identical to Jewish memorial services for all family members who are no longer among the living.

Gutman seems to enjoy insinuating guilt by association. The prime example he uses is our old friend Avishai Raviv: "It was there [Hebron] that Avishai Raviv, an extremist settler provocateur turned controversial Shin Bet informer, used the city as the center for violent activity."

In other words, Hebron is responsible for the fact that Raviv's controllers sent him to Hebron in order to cause violent disturbances that could then be blamed on Hebron. Right?! Does it make sense to you? As for the 'charge' that Raviv was 'an extremist settler,' please note that Raviv began his Shabak-initiated activities in 1989-1990 when he lived in Holon and studied at Tel Aviv University. After being expelled (!), the Shabak moved him to Bar Ilan University and the Shomron community Ma'ale Levona. He arrived in Kiryat Arba (where the Shabak rented him and apartment) and Hebron post-1994.

However, this is the minor problem with Gutman’s article. The major difficulty lies with the statements made by Professor Aviezer Ravitzky. Ravitzky is active in the left-wing religious party Meimad, whose web site identifies him as the party council chairman. (Meimad, it should be recalled, participated in the Peres government in 1996 and later integrated in the Labor party and served in the Ehud Barak fiasco.)

I would like to quote Ravitzky's gem, as written by Gutman: "There is a type of symbiosis between the Arabs and Jews in Hebron. They become increasingly similar. Even in their dress and mindset…The fringes of both sides push the notion that 'violence is the single solution,' and that the dehumanization of the other side is the way to get there."

Way back when, in April, 1995, similar statements were made, then by Prof. Moshe Zimmerman, who compared Hebron's children to Nazi youth. Almost ten years later another Professor is comparing Hebron residents to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. In his opinion we are all the same. We explode on buses full of innocent men, women and children, we blow ourselves up in restaurants, and kill as many kids as we can at discotheques. Our dress is quite discerning: one can distinguish the difference between a Hebron resident, and a Jew from, say, Jerusalem, Beit El, or even Tel-Aviv, quite easily. We look more like Arabs than our fellow brethren. And of course, we teach our children, (as can be found on the Hebron web site, in Hebron school textbooks, in Hebron summer camp activities and in movies we produce) to KILL KILL KILL.

The article concludes with another Ravitzky treasure: "The issue of Hebron and Baruch Goldstein's message does not reach the rest of Israel. If we didn't read about the parades in the press, we would never know about them."

Again – Hebron is responsible for the killing of 29 Arabs, simply because we are here. Just like Hertzelia is responsible for Rabin's assassination, because Yigal Amir lived there…right? And this is, according to Ravitzky, Hebron's message.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, and to connect them is odious. Hebron's message is short and simple. Jews should be allowed to live freely and securely in Eretz Yisrael. Surely, Jews have a right, a G-d given right, a cultural right, a historic right, to live in the first Jewish city in the land of Israel, where they lived for hundreds and thousands of years, prior to the 1929 riots, massacre and expulsion. We have no aspirations to kill anyone or to instigate violence. To the contrary, our goal is to live peacefully and normally, just like any other person, anywhere else in the world. If only our neighbors would let us!

We believe that 'our job' is to live here – our security is in the hands of G-d and the Israeli security forces. It is their responsibility to see to it that we are safe.

The very fact that Ravitzky has the gall to compare us to Hebron's Arab terrorists, who shot at us for over two years, is repulsive. The fact that a supposedly 'responsible' and 'serious' journalist, like Matthew Gutman would see fit to print such rubbish is detestable.

But in the end, it's the headline that says it all: Celebrating Purim in Hebron under a microscope – when everything said and done in Hebron must be 100% perfect – anything less will find its way into another yellow journalistic piece of junk. I don't know of anywhere else where people are expected to be faultless. Only here. And I admit, we are not flawless. So what? We are people – skin and bones, just like everyone else. Is being less that perfect a crime?

According to the Sunday Times, according to Ravitzky and others, yes, definitely, if you live in Hebron.

In truth, I don't mind being less than perfect. As long as I can be less than perfect in Hebron.

With blessings from Hebron.

No comments:

Post a Comment