The Hebron Planter
January 20, 2003
I thought that tonight I’d be able to fill you in on some of the very positive aspects of my trip to the United States. I expected to tell you about a visit with a Senator who told me, “Arafat is a terrorist. You people must stay strong. We are behind you one hundred percent.” I hoped to relate to you how another Senator, after sitting with me for a half hour, showing me a picture of Jerusalem in his office, and telling me that this picture has to be placed higher on the wall than another picture, because Jerusalem is more important.
I expected to tell you about a wonderful eighteen-year-old woman named Danielle, from Baltimore, who decided to single-handedly help Israel. She began a “business”, importing flowers from Israel for holidays and for the first Shabbat in every new Jewish month, selling them to customers throughout the city. All of the profits earned are being donated to families of terror victims.
I also planned on talking about an extraordinary young Rabbi, who having visited Hebron this past summer, and again several weeks ago, invited me to be a guest of his synagogue, and spoke about Hebron, during his weekly sermon, two weeks in a row.
But unfortunately, I’ll have to leave these uplifting events for some other time.
It was exactly six years ago, I think it was today, January 20, when then Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government gave the go-ahead to abandon Hebron. At that time over 80% of the city was denuded of any Jewish presence. The site of the famous “Slobadka – Hebron” Yeshiva; the cave of the first Judge in Eretz Yisrael, Otniel ben Knaz; and of course, the hills surrounding Hebron’s Jewish neighborhoods, Abu Sneneh and Harat a’Shech. Almost immediately the community came under attack, massive rock-throwing and fire-bomb assaults. For months on end the Netanyahu government did virtually nothing to stop the attacks. Only after an Israeli soldier was badly burned by a Molotov cocktail was Arafat presented with, not a crushing military blow, rather, an ultimatum: Stop, or else!
We warned, both before the Israeli withdrawal, and after, that the inevitable result of the Oslo and Hebron Accords would be war, and it wasn’t long in coming. There are those who prefer the Arab word, “intifada,” meaning uprising. This phrase is nothing more than an Arab-media propaganda ploy, a euphemism, hiding behind it the true substance of current events: War.
The Oslo war, a much more accurate calling card, has cost Israel over 720 deaths and thousands of wounded and maimed, all over the country. No city, no bus stop, no school is immune. Hebron has been hit hard, very hard. For almost two full years we were shot at day and night. Ten month old Shalhevet was murdered, shot to death from the surrounding hills. Elazar Lebovitch, on the eve of his 21st birthday, was struck down, only miles outside the center of the city. Two of the Meshulam brothers were shot and wounded while standing on their apartment balcony. Another brother was stabbed and critically wounded. One of the Struk family boys was hit in the chest by a bullet fragment. Another was shot in the back, also, just outside Hebron. Others from the Hebron region, were gunned down: only to mention a few, Rina Didovsky, Eliyahu ben Ami, David Cohen, Yehezkel Mualem, and the list goes on. And of course, the miracles are many to numerous to detail during a five minute conversation.
Then, two and a half months ago, the commencement of a major terror offensive in the Hebron district. First, twelve killed during a Friday night terror ambush – three civilians from Kiryat Arba and nine soldiers. A week and a half later, two more soldiers were gunned down in Hebron. Then, a few weeks later, the Otniel Yeshiva Shabbat attack, leaving four dead. And now, this past Friday night, an additional victim of terror, another widow, another five orphans.
Nati Uzeri was a familiar personage, thirty five years old, having lived in the Kiryat Arba vicinity for well over a decade. His personality combined abundant traits: an idealist, a pioneer, a Torah scholar, and a doer, who practiced what he preached. He fully believed in Torah study, and he fully believed in working the land. He and his family lived in an isolated home, which should not have been secluded, because it was built within the municipal boundaries of Kiryat Arba. Uzeri knew that if Jews did not settle this land, it would soon be filled with Arab housing. With the dedication and self-sacrifice so characteristic of him, the family lived there, just outside of Kiryat Arba, happily fulfilling a goal, settling Eretz Yisrael.
On Friday night, while eating their Sabbath meal, the family was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Who’s there?” Nati asked. From outside came a voice answering, “Mordechai.” Being suspicious, Nati drew his gun and opened the door. He shot and hit one of the two terrorists before being struck down. Two guests in the house, both unarmed, left quickly through a back entrance and surprised the terrorists from behind, jumping on them and beating them. One of the terrorists was killed on the spot and the other, the next morning, by Israeli forces. But Nati Uzeri was dead, the nineteenth victim in the Hebron area in less than three months.
Two days ago, Shabbat, was the Jewish holiday Tu b’Shvat, the traditional “New Year for Trees.” The Hebron community planned a huge tree- planting ceremony, planting trees in memory of the heroic twelve. Planting a tree in the ground is an act of faith, knowing that the rewards are not immediate, that fruit will grow only in the future. But knowing that new roots are now growing in the ground, new roots, intermingling with old roots, this is symbolic of our past, our present and our future, all blending together. It is an inspirational event.
However, yesterday, rather than plant roots of new trees in the soil, Hebron participated in lowering another victim into the ground, earth scorched by so much blood, boiling blood of so many innocent people, their only crime being Jews, settling the land of Israel.
All a direct result of what happened here, exactly six years ago today. Land and guns, for blood. You’d think we’d have learned by now.
With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder