Sunday, December 21, 2008

Time to soul-search

Kislev 24, 5769, 12/21/2008

Time to soul-search

This is being written on Erev Hanukka, the holiday of light. In Hebrew we greet each other with the traditional blessing, "Chag Urim Sameach" – "Have a happy holiday of lights." I just came inside from photographing two wondrous events. First, the construction of a huge Menorah on the Abu-Sneneh hills, opposite the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. It was from these hills that infant Shalhevet Pass was murdered by a terrorist sniper over eight years ago. It was from these hills that such terrorists shot at Jews in Hebron, in their homes, on the streets, into their automobiles, for two years. Tonight, the light of Hanukka will shine forth from these hills, radiating the brilliance of the miracle of the Maccabee's victory against Hellenization, as far as the eye can see.

When I finished filming the menorah from afar, I found Hebron's kindergarten and nursery school kids playing outside in the newly renovated playground, the Hyman and Ruth Simon play center. Some of the children were adorned with crowns on their heads, the remnants of the just concluded Hanukka party. They looked so happy, their faces so full of delight, that I stopped and photographed them too.

So, on the face of it, the article should be filled with festivity and joy. But, alas, the events filling our lives are not always so enchanting. Shabbat, for example. Two young women, aged sixteen and seventeen, were walking down from Kiryat Arba in Hebron at 10:15 in the evening. When they reached the bottom of the hill, at the crossroads leading to Ma'arat HaMachpela, two Arab men started walking towards them. The girls took off. One of the Arabs caught up to B., knocked her down and sat on top of her. The other girl, behind her, started throwing rocks at him, while at the same time both began screaming. No one heard them. There weren't any soldiers to be seen. (However, about 100 meters up the road at least a dozen border police were guarding the sealed up Beit HaShalom, ensuring that no one try to retake the structure.) B. struggled with her attacker, and somehow, miraculously, in her words, managed to escape from under him.

The girls finally found an army jeep and reported the attack. However the soldier and officer in the jeep didn't take them seriously enough to report the attack to their superior officers. Hebron's security chief wasn't informed about the attack until 12:30 at night. The army had totally ignored it.

The next morning the girls and their families met with the military commander of the area, Col. Udi Ben-Mocha. When they complained that there weren't any soldiers in the area he replied that he didn't have enough manpower to place soldiers everywhere (except, of course, next to Beit HaShalom.) This, in spite of the fact that numerous times Israelis are attacked at the very location where the girls were attacked, on Shabbat and during the week, when rock-throwing Arabs hurl blocks at passing automobiles.

And now to the main task at hand.

Since the expulsion from Beit HaShalom, many articles have been written lambasting the Hebron Jewish community and the struggle against the expulsion. I previously wrote an oped piece which was printed in the Jerusalem Post. However, it seems that was not enough. I don't have the time or stomach to respond to each and every article written, but I have no choice but to deal with one of the most problematic of these essays. I hope my response will satisfy all those who have requested my reaction to each and every one of these articles.

Before responding: I know that my response will upset some of those who read it, perhaps even people I work with and have dealings with. However, I cannot sit back and quietly accept such hateful slander, which is based on outright lies.

Last Shabbat one Rabbi Mitch Wohlberg, rabbi of a Baltimore 'modern orthodox' congregation, spewed out a sermon whose subject was terror. The sermon, widely disseminated on internet is titled, "Terrorists in our midst." I will try to relate to this work of self-hate point by point, but not necessarily in the order it appears in the sermon.

How does Wohlberg relate to building?: "The settlers who took over a home in Hebron under questionable circumstances, spurring confrontations with the Israeli government and with the local Arabs, called the home "Beit Ha-Shalom – House of Peace… occupied by settlers in Hebron…."

Wohlberg has already decreed that the 'occupation' is 'questionable.' Why? Brooklyn resident Morris Abraham paid some one million dollars for the building and has the documents to prove the purchase. A film of the Arab counting the money appears on internet, as does a cassette of him stating that he sold the building.

The police and soldiers were acting by orders of the government, which in turn was acting by order of the Supreme Court." This is not true. The Supreme Court did not order the government to expel the Jews from the building. They ruled that the state was legally enabled to expel us, but did not order them to do so. The decision to go ahead with the violent confrontation was made by Ehud Barak in the midst of high-level discussions with leaders of the Hebron community aimed at preventing the confrontation.

there are Jews living in Hebron and across the West Bank who do not accept the decisions of Israel's Supreme Court or of its government leaders." My article in the Jerusalem Post relates to the judicial terror used against Hebron.

"The settlers who took over a home in Hebron … spurring confrontations with the Israeli government and with the local Arabs…" This is a lie. Jewish families lived in Beit HaShalom for twenty months 'peacefully,' with almost no confrontations with the Arabs living in the area. The Jews and Arab walked the same street in front of the building, without any misconduct by any of the Jews living or visiting there.

"these same Jewish terrorists have thrown stones at Israeli police and soldiers. They have uprooted the olive trees of Arabs, attacked Arab women and old people, have vandalized mosques and Muslim cemeteries..." Again, these accusations are out and out lies. In January, 2008, Efrat Weiss writing in the Hebrew internet site ynet and the daily newspaper Yediot Achronot wrote: "The head of the Israel Police's Hebron district, Commander Avshalom Peled told Ynet that "from my experience in the Hebron and Gush Etzion area, the activity on the part of the militant left can be severe and dangerous."

Hebron police have recorded a drop in disturbances involving Jewish settlers over the past year and noted an improvement in the dialogue between the settler community and police…"In the past we did not have any problems with the leftist organizations, but all this changed recently," another police official said. "Their activity has become more extreme in nature, and it may result in (an eruption of violence)."… "The leftists antagonize the settlers in the hope that the settlers will attack them," a police official said.The left-wing organizations have become an even greater threat than the anarchists.""

What factual evidence can Wohlberg supply to prove that Jews in Hebron have uprooted olive trees, vandalized mosques and desecrated cemeteries? Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron, as well as Ma'arat HaMachpela have been desecrated time and time again, without any reaction by Israeli security forces or international media, or, for that matter, Rabbi Wohlberg.

It is true that about 2 weeks before the expulsion a small group of kids drew Jewish stars on stones at an Arab cemetery and wrote slogans on a nearby mosque. They were immediately requested to leave the building and the vicinity and the others were instructed, in no uncertain terms, that this was not to happen again. Again, for almost 2 years Jews lived in that building without any such incidents at the cemetery or mosque.

What does Wohlberg call us?: " So what should we call Jews who similarly threaten people? There is only one word: "Terrorists."

Rabbi Wohlberg, how many Arabs were injured or killed by 'Jewish terror?' Why did you neglect mentioning Eliyasaf Asban, a sixteen year old who was hit in the head by a block hurled by an Arab. Eliyasaf was standing next to Beit HaShalom speaking to his brother and friends when the attack occurred. His skull was crushed and he was nearly killed, remaining unconscious and in critical condition for days after being hit. The Arab who tried to kill him still hasn't been arrested, despite the fact that the police know his identity. Yet the Jews are terrorists, being compared in the same breath with the monsters who murdered hundreds, including Jews, in India: " The terrorists who attacked in Mumbai were members of a terrorist organization called Lashkar-E-Taiba…"

Wohlberg, at the beginning of his sermon, describes what he calls a 'pogrom.' Yet he refrains from describing the 'attempted lynch' against two Jews from Kiryat Arba who where trying to get their kids out of Beit HaShalom and were forced to shoot in order to save themselves. One of the men is under house arrest, despite demands by the prosecutor's office that he be kept in jail, because a magistrate court judge stated that it is not clear that he was responsible for the events which forced him to shoot in self defense.

There were, as has been stated by myself and other representatives of Hebron's Jewish community, incidents which occurred before and during the expulsion which were not planned, nor are they considered to be acceptable or legitimate forms of protest. However, as repugnant as some of these events were, let's examine another, similar scenario:

Last week, (as reported in ynetnews and other media networks) Israeli security forces conducted a mass training exercise to ostensibly practice dealing with riots. However, sources participating in the exercise told that much of the time was spent practicing how to expel people from their homes. Some of the police played themselves – expellers, while others were transformed into 'settlers' being thrown out of their homes.

As a result of this 'training exercise' fifty four police were injured due to the fact that "the rioters" apparently used excessive force on "peacekeeping" officers during a mock disturbance."

In other words, police beat police – on both sides. The expellers beat the expellees, who hit back. And this is police vs. police!

So what, Rabbi Wohlberg, do you have to say to that?! If that's what happens during a 'mock disturbance' between police, what do expect kids to do in a 'real' situation?!

And of course, will you condemn the Arabs who tried to rape and murder two young Jewish women on Friday night in Hebron, Rabbi Wohlberg?

I would like to now conclude with several comments:

1. As I wrote in the Jerusalem Post: "It should be clear. Hebron's Jewish community opposes and rejects any and all violence aimed at innocent people, be they Arabs, Jews or anyone else." By the same token, we reject desecration of any kind by anyone. We are not terrorists, Rabbi Wohlberg. We are Jews who love our country, our land and our people. And we live what we believe. Our lives are dedicated entirely to G-d, to the Jewish people and to Eretz Yisrael, and we do not, nor will we ever apologize for that.

2. Jews have not ever conducted 'pogroms' against anyone. You forgot, in your Shabbat spiel, to recall a true Hebron pogrom, which took place in August of 1929, when 67 Jews were murdered by Arab masses, with the survivors then expelled from the city of Abraham by the then occupying British. You also forgot to mention the war against the Jews, when Arabs shot at us for two years, killing scores, including a ten month old baby in Hebron proper.

3. I would like to see what you would do, Rabbi Wohlberg, when, due to growing anti-Semitism in the United States, one fine Saturday morning, masses of police, FBI, and other security troops show up outside your shul, while you are in the middle of a sermon, and start forcibly removing you and your congregation from you pulpit and your seats. Will you walk out like sheep on the way to the slaughter, or will you fight back, refusing to be treated like subhuman beings? After all, 'dina d'malchuta dina' – right, Rabbi Wohlberg? If they want to expel you, they can – that could be the law of the land, right, Rabbi Wohlberg?

Don't think it couldn't happen. In Germany they didn't think it could happen. In Hungary, they didn't think it could happen. Ditto other countries in Europe.

Rabbi Wohlberg, we will not be, here in Hebron or anywhere in Israel, sheep led to slaughter. We are being dealt with as 3rd class citizens with laws being circumvented and at best, rewritten, to deal with over 300,000 people, including 'settler fanatics' who live not only in 'occupied Hebron,' but in 'the occupied Jordon Valley' and the 'occupied Golan Heights.'

Don't fool yourself or your congregation Rabbi. You too will be thought of, and dealt with, as 'occupiers' of downtown Baltimore. I suggest you stop breathing fire against kids, who despite their good intentions may have erred, and begin soul-searching yourself: who are you, what are you, and what do you really believe in? Because, judging from last week's sermon, the answer to these questions are very very unclear. 

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