Monday, December 13, 2004

A Little Light Goes a Long Way

December 13, 2004

We are in the midst of Hanukkah – the holiday of lights. Today is also the first day of the new month of Tevet – as we say in Hebrew – Rosh Hodesh. Hanukkah is generally a happy holiday – eight days when we light the menorah, commemorating the miracle of the Maccabees, a minority which overcame a majority of their fellow countrymen and brought about the defeat of the Greeks, the USA of their day. We celebrate the discovery of a small tin of pure olive oil, enough for lighting the Menorah in the Temple for one day, but miraculously lasting for eight days. We observe the victory of true Jewish spirit and culture over that of the Greek empire, a civilization which brought foreign traditions and assimilation to Eretz Yisrael, leading to massive Hellenization of the Jewish people in Israel.
In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, this commentary should be full of shining light, radiating with optimism and hope. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The events I am obligated to speak about today are quite the opposite.
Let's begin with several events which occurred towards the end of last week. Our illustrious armed forces decided that Hebron's Jews had crossed the line of no return and decided to take action.
Last summer, Hebron's children took upon themselves construction of, what we call in Hebrew, a 'pinat chai,' which in English, is roughly translated as a 'petting zoo.' The children, using their own money and their own two hands, constructed wire cages and purchased a variety of animals, including ducks, chickens, rabbits and the like. At one point they even bought a donkey.
This project occupied them for days and weeks, and the site became a favorite of many mothers in Hebron, whose young children had much fun clucking together with the birds.
Being that space is quite limited within the Jewish neighborhoods in Hebron, the children built their little zoo in an abandoned gas station, bordering the Beit Hadassah neighborhood. This gas station has been closed for somewhere in the vicinity of seven years, and very little of it remains. It was a perfect outdoors area for ducks, chickens and rabbits to roam around in. At least, so we thought.
Unfortunately, Hebron's new military commander, Col. Moti Baruch, thought otherwise. Last week, after having been honored to light the first Hanukkah candle at Ma'arat HaMachpela, Col. Baruch, in the middle of the night, led his forces to the 'pinat chai' and ordered its destruction. The gates to the cages were opened and their occupants expelled. Then the troops went to work. It didn't take long to finish the job. Soon, the only remnants of the zoo were a few poor ducks, quacking away their frustrations.
Why did Col. Baruch order the zoo's obliteration? Simply, because it was labeled 'illegal construction' in Hebron.
A short time earlier the same force of destruction did their dirty work on a shack in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood parking lot. A Succah, built by one of the families during the Succot holiday, had been left standing and was used for storage purposes. The family, with three children, lives in a 35 sq. meter apartment, and needed a little extra room. However, Col. Baruch doesn't really care about families living in ridiculously cramped conditions. The wood Succah-shack was declared 'illegal building' and demolished.
It should be noted that the demolition squad was accompanied by massive police and riot squad units, offering protection from the dangerous residents of Hebron – no, not the Arabs, rather the Jews.
Now, a word about illegal building in Hebron. For months on end, even before Col. Moti Baruch appeared on the scene, Hebron's leadership has been attempting to halt massive Arab illegal construction in the area surrounding Hebron's Jewish neighborhoods. The previous military commander understood the problem and attempted to help us find solutions. However, Col. Baruch is of a different opinion. He doesn't see any problem with a massive influx of Arabs into the 'Jewish-controlled' section of Hebron, despite the obvious security dangers. For months Arabs have been illegally building and renovating abandoned property, yet the Jewish demolition squad is nowhere to be seen. In particular, the Arabs are building a 'mosque' on the main road between Hebron and Kiryat Arba, at a location crucially important to Hebron. This building has been officially recognized as 'illegal construction' but Col. Baruch doesn't have the necessary forces available to halt continued Arab work at the site. It seems that the only forces he has available are those who destroy Jewish zoos and shacks.
These problems come on top of deteriorating security in the Hebron region. Last week a 16 year old Arab tried to kill Jews in Hebron by throwing a home-made bomb at a car in the city. Fortunately the bomb exploded in his hand, before he could hurl it. Several times over the past week Arabs have tried to stab Israeli security forces near Ma'arat HaMachpela. Thank G-d , these attempts have failed. However, the pattern is crystal clear, and we are certainly not happy about it.
On a broader scale, we were hoping that Hanukkah would usher in another miracle which would witness the end of the Sharon fiasco. This too, didn't happen. To the contrary, it looks like Sharon will come out of the latest government crisis stronger than he was before, forming a new coalition with Labor, and probably Shas and Agudat Yisrael.
In the meantime, the situation in Gaza isn't getting any better. Last night we lost five soldiers in an explosion of a tunnel underneath their outpost. This morning an Israeli engineer offered a unique solution to the problem of underground tunnels. He said that, just as walls can be constructed above ground to keep 'the bad guys' out, so too, walls can be built in the other direction, going down underground, offering protection from terror tunnels.
In other words, the suggested new Israeli ghetto is bi-directional, with walls surrounding us from above and from below. Truthfully, while listening to this interview I almost decided to visit my local ear doctor, requesting urgent aid. Or perhaps I needed a good psychologist – I had to have been hearing things – voices out of the air, imaginary conversations. I just could not believe my ears.
So, with all of this gloomy news, you ask, what's next. And the truth is, I really don't know. It might get worse before it gets better. At the moment, despite the holiday, there seems to be much more darkness than light. But, then again, that's what Hanukkah comes to teach us, that a very little bit of light can expel a tremendous amount of darkness. Try it. Put yourself in a totally dark room, without any windows or lights. Opening your eyes wide won't help. You can't see anything. Then, light a match – the darkness suddenly disappears. Much of what was invisible is quickly visible. It doesn't take much light – just a very little bit. I guess that's today's lesson – to ignite a small flame and watch it start to burn away the darkness, first slowly, but then blazing – just as we begin the first night with one candle, but reach the eighth night with eight candles.
Remember – a little bit of light goes a long long way.
Happy Hanukkah.
With blessings from Hebron.

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