Women and children in communal kitchen/dining room
at Beit HaShalom
In a few days we'll be celebrating the State of Israel's 59th birthday. In a couple of weeks we'll be marking the fortieth anniversary of the Jewish people's return to Jerusalem and Hebron. There are, it seems, many people who ask themselves: what are we celebrating, or should we be celebrating at all?
Why ponder such questions? Let's start with a brief Hebron update. A month ago Hebron residents moved into a newly purchased structure – Beit HaShalom – the Shalom House, it was called. A huge building, almost 4,000 square meters large, Beit HaShalom is located above the main road leading from Hebron to Kiryat Arba. Recognized as a significant security asset by the IDF, military leaders from the Chief of Staff to the commander of the Hebron region refuse to condemn the Jewish presence there for 'security reasons.' In addition, the state attorney general is publicly on record as recognizing the legality of the purchase.
However, this has not prevented Defense Minister Amir Peretz from attempting to expel us from the site, solely for political reasons. Utilizing draconian measures, which demand that Jews (or anyone other than Arabs, for that matter) 'receive permission' from the government (under the guise of the 'civil administration of Judea and Samaria) in order to purchase and/or move into new property, orders were issued demanding that the community prove the legality of the purchase or be expelled. Hebron's attorneys are hard at work preparing the community's response. However, very likely, whatever Hebron's reply is, despite its legality, the chances that the explanations will be accepted range from slim to zilch. The panel making the decision falls under the authority of the Defense minister, who gives the orders and expects them to be carried out.
What then? Who knows? It has already been publicized that most of the ministers in the government oppose expulsion of the building's residents. Many Knesset members also back the Hebron community. Also, despite the Defense minister's authority to issue expulsion orders, such a command cannot be carried out with the approval of the Prime Minister, and very possibly, of the entire cabinet. Although the Prime Minister has not made any public statements concerning Beit HaShalom, people very close to him have expressed support for the community's presence in the building.
Of course, should it come down to the crunch, the community can always go the courts. In any normal country, Hebron's case would be considered to be very strong, perhaps even undefeatable. But we all know that the Israeli court system does not always deal with justice, rather, with legalizing otherwise illegal political policies. (See, for example, the Supreme Court ruling on the Gush Katif-Northern Shomron expulsion law.) So, it is almost impossible to predict the events of the next few weeks, at least as far as Beit HaShalom is concerned.
This being the case, knowing full well the absurdity of such problems, on top of what has happened in the past (Oslo, the Hebron and Wye Accords, Gush Katif) and current speculation concerning further planned expulsions and abandonments, why should we celebrate? On the face of it, what is there to be happy about?
Exactly 28 years ago, a group of ten women and some forty children moved from Kiryat Arba into an abandoned building in Hebron called Beit Hadassah. Jews had come back to Hebron during the 1967 Six-day war and lived in the regional military compound from 1968 to 1971. At that time the first buildings in Kiryat Arba were constructed. However, the goal was to return to Hebron. That goal was only realized in early May of 1979.
The women and children lived for months under siege; whoever left the building was not allowed to return. Husband could visit their families from 'outside the fence;' no one was allowed in. Living conditions were primitive, to say the least. Running water and sanitary facilities were a dream. Hepatitis was a reality. One morning Rebbitzen Miriam Levinger awoke to find her son Shlomo's eyes yellow. She expected all the women to flee following that revelation. But no one left. (Today Shlomo and his family live in Beit HaShalom.) For an entire year the women and children lived in Beit Hadassah waiting for the Israeli government, then led by Menachem Begin, to give their stamp of approval. That permission finally came, but only after a terrible terror attack at the site which left six men dead and twenty wounded.
That year, 1979-1980 , could easily have been a year of despair, a year of 'another attempt failed – why try again?' The women and children could quite justifiably have 'gone home.' After all, a year is a long time, and no one knew when that 'year' would come to an end, or what the final result would be.
But they held their own, the women, the children, their husbands, their extended families, their friends and the entire community. Truthfully, I think many more watching and waiting. Without sounding too mystical, more than likely the souls of all those who had once lived in Hebron, those who had died in Hebron, including the 1929 massacre victims, and perhaps even the neshamot, the souls of those millions lost in the holocaust, were watching and waiting. Had the time come? What are these people really made of ? Will Jews finally come home, come back to live in first Jewish city in Israel, will they withstand the pressures, or will they collapse? Will Hebron again be Jewish?
The women and children knew, consciously and subconsciously, in body and in spirit: all eyes are on us. The eyes of eternity - not sleeping, not slumbering: watching and waiting.
The women and children stayed put – they refused to bow to pressures, physical, political or psychological. And they won. Who would ever have believed it would happen? Jews, again living in Hebron, after an absence of fifty years. Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the second-holiest site to Jews in the entire world, just down the street from Jewish homes, Jewish families, Jewish children. The dream came true.
In August or September of 1979, or during the cold winter of 1980, had you asked: what is there to celebrate – 'look what the Israeli government is doing to those 'poor' women and children in Beit Hadassah' – what might the response have been? But, thank G-d, today, so many years later, we do celebrate – we celebrate our return to Hebron and to Jerusalem and to our land. Had we not come back to Eretz Yisrael, had the state not been founded, more than likely, today we would not be here in the city of the Forefathers, nor would we be in Jerusalem, and who knows how many Jews would be in Israel at all.
Life is far from perfect, and there is much to be improved, but if we don't know how to count our blessings, and they are abundant, by my way of thinking we are blind to the good that G-d has given us. G-d gave us the framework and the tools and said "Go to it." True there have been many mistakes made, but the very existence of Jews living in Israel at all, and most certainly a Jewish community in Hebron, are indelible proofs that we can do it – we can succeed against all odds, we can be victorious in our yearning to resettle our land. And just as we have been triumphant in the past, so too, will we be successful in the future. No doubt about it.
With blessings from Hebron.