Wednesday, January 31, 1996

The Heart of the People

The Heart of the People

"On the occasion of the thirty second anniversary of the renewal of the Jewish Community of Hebron, I am happy to convey to the entire community blessings of success and shalom. The right of Jews to live tranquilly in the city of the Forefathers securely, protected from all danger, is not disputed."

So begins Prime Minister Ehud Barak's letter of good wishes to The Jewish Community of Hebron.  
The renewed Jewish Community of Hebron is 32 years old. The day before Passover in 1968 a group of families arrived at the Park Hotel in Hebron. The proprietor rented them half of the kitchen, which they promptly koshered. The women and children slept in the rooms; the men and boys slept in the lobby and on the floor. It was the first Jewish Pesach in Hebron since 1936.

Following the riots, massacre and exile in 1929, a small group of Jews returned to Hebron in 1931. About thirty families lived in the city until just after Passover, 1936, when they were expelled by the British. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews again had access to the first Jewish city in Israel. In 1968 they officially came back home.

Moshe Dayan z"l, then Minister of Defense, arrived in Hebron shortly after Passover. Following several weeks of discussions he offered the group two choices: either be forcibly removed from the city, or go live in the Hebron military compound, several kilometers outside the center of the city. This building, originally a British police station, had been transformed into the Israeli military Headquarters of Judea. It was not overly conducive to a civilian lifestyle. Dayan must have expected that the young families, including women and babies, would soon throw up their arms in frustration at the poor living conditions and leave of their own accord. 

Dayan was partially correct. The group did eventually leave. But first they lived in the military headquarters for two and half years, until the first neighborhood of the newly founded Hebron suburb, Kiryat Arba, was completed.

There was, however, a yearning to return to Hebron, to Beit Hadassah, to the 450 year old Jewish Quarter, home of the ancient Avraham Avinu Shul, to reside adjacent to Ma'arat HaMachpela. Attempts were made, again and again, all leading to failure. Only in 1979, when Menachem Begin was Prime Minister, did a group of 10 women and 40 children succeed in setting up house in the basement of the old medical center, Beit Hadassah, in the middle of the city. Living in adverse conditions for close to a year, these women and childen became the nucleus of Hebron's renewed Jewish community. In 1980, following the murder of six young men outside Beit Hadassah, the Israeli government finally gave official recognition and authorization of Hebron's Jewish Community. 

The present Jewish Community of Hebron numbers some six hundred people, including almost 60 families, over 300 children, and 150 post-high school yeshiva students studying at Yeshivat Shavei Hevron in Beit Romano. The reason there aren't more people living in Hebron is simply because of lack of space. There are not any apartments available. Two new buildings, allowing room for 12 new families, are virtually finished and should be totally occupied shortly after Passover. Were there more room in Hebron, there would be many more Jews living in the city.

However, in spite of the small size of the community, according to number received from the IDF and Civil Administration, well over 500,000 people visit Hebron and Ma'arat HaMachpela annually, in spite of transfer of over 80% of the city to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. The tremendous support generated for Hebron around the world is beyond doubt. 

Why do we choose to live in Hebron? Again, the answer is quite simple. Last June, a group of people associated with the New Israel Fund visited Hebron. Following a short visit on the Jewish side of the city, they crossed the 'border' and met with Hebron's Arab mayor, Mustepha Natsche. They asked him whether Jews were allowed to pray at Ma'arat HaMachpela, the second holiest site to the Jewish people in the world. His answer greatly surprised them. He said no. "Ma'arat HaMachpela is a mosque, and only Moslems can pray in a Mosque," said Arab Mayor Mustepha Natsche. 

The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs was off-limits to Jews for 700 years. During that time Jews, (as well as Christians), were not allowed inside the 2,000 year old Herodian structure atop the Caves of Machpela. Today we are told by Hebron's Arab Mayor that should he (i.e. the Palestinian Authority) ever again control all of Hebron, again this holy site will be closed to anyone not Moslem.

The only reason that Ma'arat HaMachpela is still accessible to Jews is because there is a permanent Jewish presence in the city. The disappearance of the Jewish Community of Hebron would be tantamount to abandoning our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Could any Jew, be they religious or secular, dream of abandoning the Fathers and Mothers of our people?

What is our goal, living in Hebron? Despite media reports, the goal of Hebron's Jewish community is not to expel the Arabs living here. Anyone of any race or religion should be able to live in Hebron. However, we demand that our Arab neighbors accept the fact that the Jews have an eternal, legitimate right to live in the first Jewish city in the land of Israel. This is our goal: living normal lives, just as anyone else, anywhere in Israel.

Prime Minister Barak's blessings to Hebron continued: "The test of the renewed Hebron Jewish community, which is the same test of the Arab majority, is the ability to develop good neighborly relationships. Mutual honor and a joint effort are necessary to overcome the scars, the pain and the difficult reminders left from the despicable carnage which desecrated this holy city."

Hebron's Jewish Community could not agree more with this statement.  The time has come for our Arab neighbors to stop throwing rocks and firebombs at us, for no other reason than because we are Jews living in Hebron. The time has come for them to stop shooting at us and stabbing us, for no other reason than because we are Jews living in Hebron.  Perhaps they believe that by killing us, or by attempting to murder us, they will scare us away. They cannot be further from the truth, because Hebron is the heart of the Jewish people, the life-blood from which the Jewish people derives its sanctity. This is a truth that even a left-wing prime minister not only understands, but also agrees with. We truly hope and pray for the day when true peace will prevail, both in Hebron, and throughout the land of Israel.

Friday, January 26, 1996

Ya’akov in WonderLand or 2084

Ya’akov in WonderLand or 2084                                                                                                                                                                                                                             January 26, 1996

“Ya’akov, Ya’kov, wake up.  Today you are going on a classtrip.  You’ve been waiting so long - get up and get dressed fast. You don’t want to miss the bus.”
                Twelve-year old Ya’akov jumped out of bed and, lickity-split, was dressed and ready to go.  Today was to be a very special day. In preparation for their ‘coming-of-age’, the class was being taken to the Wonderland Museum in Tel Aviv.  “The Wonderland Museum,” the teacher had told them, “is not a real museum.  It’s a fantasy land - with movies, magic mirrors, and other unreal exhibits.  The StoryTeller, a narration, relates legends of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.”  “Remember,” he had stressed, “some all of the stories aren’t true - they are fictional legends.  But this is part of our heritage and culture.  Of course, this isn’t modern culture, as we know it today - it is a primitive kind of culture, describing lifestyles foreign to our everyday way of life.  But just as you learn about Greek myths and ancient Roman divinities, so you must be familiar with such Jewish folklore.”
                The class entered the museum into a spacious room with beautiful pictures adorning the walls. 
“Children,” began the StoryTeller, “this is the beginning of our journey through Israel’s unique Wonderland.  From now on, for the next two hours, you must listen carefully, follow instructions, and keep your eyes open.  You must also keep totally silent.  NO QUESTIONS ARE ALLOWED.  This is a cardinal rule.  Any child discussing what he sees or who asks any questions during our special journey will be promptly removed from the group and punished.  And now we begin.....”
                “You are presently in the Jerusalem Room.  This room represents the legendary capital of the ancient Israelites.  Look to your right to see ‘Jerusalem - Old and New’.”  The children viewed a fascinating sound and light show, portraying King David capturing Jerusalem and his son Solomon’s construction of the ‘Temple’.  “Please note that David conquered the city from it’s previous Palestinian citizens.  You have all been taught that the Jews are not a conquering people.  Look to your left.”  The children watched in silence as an army marched into an ancient walled city.  “This is the famous 1967 War of Liberation, when Jerusalem was returned to it’s original and rightful nation.  Today, the site known in Jewish legend as Jerusalem is called El-Kuds, the capital of modern Palestine.”
                One of the children nudged his friend.  “You know, this is really strange.  I read in an old book I found up in the attic about the 1967 six-day war, when Jerusalem was liberated from the Arabs and returned to Israel.  This StoryTeller is weird.” 
                The StoryTeller burst out, “WonderGuards, there, those two boys standing in the third row, in the middle, yes, those two, they are partaking in subversive conversation.  Remove them at once.”  The two boys were swept away before anyone knew what had happened.
                “Please enter the next room.  Sit down in the chairs and watch.”  The chairs began moving, taking the children through a medly of Jewish history.  Three old men with wrinkled faces and long white beards, walking with crooked wood canes appeared.  “We are the legendary Forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We founded Judaism, thousands of years ago.”  One of the figures stepped forward and exclaimed, “Of course, I am the father of both Yishmael and Yitzhak.”  The second old man spoke up and said, “I am the father of both Asav  and Ya’akov.”   The third man said nothing.
                The three men vanished and a single figure and someone else began speaking with them.  “My name is Moshe.  I led the Israelites through the sea.”  The children found themselves members of a huge chain of people, crossing the Red Sea.
                The StoryTeller continued. “Move into the next room.  Here you will see, not fictional people, but images of real persons who lived in Israel.  They look strange because they really were.  In spite of the fact that they lived in Israel, they were not Israelis. Presently and extinct species, they were called ‘mitnachalim’ or ‘settlers’.   They were known for criminal activities.  Most of them were subversives, who  participated in acts against the state.”  The children viewed very strange-looking creatures, as if they were looking through magic mirrors.  “If you think that we have perverted these images in any way, you are wrong,” continued the StoryTeller.  This is really the way they were.  Mutations.  Thankfully, just as the dinasaurs, they have disappeared from the face of the earth.”
                Herded into the next room, the children found themselves in the midst of more, strange figures.  “These people were known as ‘religious’ Jews.  They used to pray.  The room you are in is the reproduction of a ‘synagoge’ or house of prayer.”
                One of the children couldn’t help himself and called out, “What is prayer?  What did they do?”
The StoryTeller yelled back, “No questions - any more outbursts and you will all be punished.”  The child who asked the question was, of course, removed by the WonderGuards.
                On to the next room.  “This is the city of El-Khalil.  It used to be known, in olden days, as Hebron.  The Jewish sect that lived here belonged to the ‘mitnachalim’.  Those residing here in El-Khalil were particularly vicious.  The big building on the right is the El-Ibrahimi Mosque.  It is the second most Palestinian holy place, after the mosque in El Kuds.  The mitnachalim claimed it for their own, but of course, this was totally false.  It was rightfully restored to its original owners.”
                Ya’akov jumped and had to restrain himself from speaking out.  He had seen this very same building somewhere, before today.  Thinking hard, searching in his mind, he suddenly hit upon it.  He had seen the picture in an old dusty book he found in the cellar.  The book, called Hebron, City of the Patriarchs, included a full-page color picture of this strange-looking building.  There were also pictures of Hebron’s citizens, and they didn’t look at all like the ‘mitnachalim’ they had been shown in the other room.  They looked like real, regular people, just like himself.  The stories in the book were of young brave Israelis. “I wonder what they were really like,” he thought to himself.
                “WonderGuards, WonderGuards - over there.  That boy in the stripped shirt.  He is a dangerous spy.  Out - now.  This is the end of the tour.  Remove them all, immediately!”
                Ya’akov found himself being dragged out of the room and was suddenly swallowed up into a sea of darkness.
                That night four sets of parents received notification that their children, being of extraordinary talent, were being trained for special service in the Wonderland Museum.  This was to be their permanent occupation and  they would no longer be returning home.

Wednesday, January 17, 1996

Distinguishing between Blood and Blood and Blood

Distinguishing between Blood and Blood and Blood
January 17, 1996
Whose blood is thicker and whose is thinner? Whose blood is more important and whose is less important? Whose blood is worth more, and whose is worth less?
Any distinction between blood, i.e., people’s lives, is pure unadulterated racism. In Israel, racism is forbidden by law. However, in our day and age, legalities are dependent upon your political beliefs: that which is permissible to one side is forbidden to the other.

So whose blood is worth more - a regular Israeli’s, or an Arab’s, or a ‘settler’s? Let’s see. The Israeli government released over one thousand terrorists in the last week. Over two hundred were convicted of murder. According to the published lists, only Arabs convicted of KILLING OTHER ARABS were released, not Arabs convicted of killing Jews, (but it ain’t necessarily so). Arabs murdered over 2,000 suspected collaborators during the years of the intifada. It seems that, in this case, some Arab blood is worth less than Jewish blood.

Question #1: What is the difference between a terrorist convicted of killing an Arab and Arab convicted of killing a Jew?

Of course, the Peres and Co. don’t care that some of those Arabs killed DID HELP ISRAEL, and that there are others still wondering around.

Question #2: What is to be the fate of collaborators or ‘suspected collaborators’ now that proven Arab killers have been released from prison? Are these people also to be considered ‘sacrifices for piece?’
(When showing visitors the memorial room in Beit Hadassah for the 1929 massacre victims, I attempt to remember to mention, among other things, that there were Arabs who SAVED Jews. True there weren’t many, surely not enough, but there are people still alive today because an Hebron Arab saved his or her life. There is no great passion between Arabs and Jews, but credit, where credit is due.)

This is a point that the Israeli government seems to have forgotten. Only last Friday an Arab in Hebron was killed, having been suspected of collaborating with Israel.

Question #3: If an Arab who killed an Arab is being released, why shouldn’t Jews who killed Arabs also be released?

What about Jewish blood - how much is it worth? I guess it depends who you are. If you live on the proper (I cannot say ‘right’ for obvious reasons) side of the ‘green line’ you are a faithful citizen of the State of Israel. If, however, you live on the wrong side, well, that’s your problem. In Hebron, for example, the Jewish Community is to be surrounded on all sides by armed terrorists. And there should be no mistake: the creatures classified ‘palestinian police’ are far from police. They are soldiers serving, in an army. And this is not only in my ‘extremist’ opinion. This afternoon, while being interviewed by a reporter from the Washington Post I made this point and to my utter shock and surprise, he agreed with me. Not only did he agree. He added on that the term ‘palestinian police’ was absolutely ridiculous’.

Question #4: Why does the Israeli govt., while officially denying the existence of a ‘palestinian state’ allow the formation of a real palestinian army, whose goals are very well known?

If you live on the wrong side of the ‘green line’ - what are your rights? You may be held under administrative detention, without being indicted, tried or convicted. Your personal weapon, needed for obvious reasons of self-defense, may be confiscated at the whim of a police or army officer. You are a sub-person.

And there are those who want to leave - not in Hebron, but in Kiryat Arba - not many, not 200 families as publicized, but there are a few that would like to leave. What about them? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favor of compensation for those leaving Judea and Samaria. But from Peres’ point of view, if he was really sincere - what about people who own apartments in these areas and have nothing else, - there are those in this situation. Property value out here is next to nothing. What are they supposed to do? No compensation, no apartment, nowhere to go,- Catch-22, Israel style. If Peres was really interested in his citizen’s welfare, he would jump to assist them.

Question #5: Does Shimon Peres or the Israeli government really care about Israelis living in Judea and Samaria?

Of course, there is the ‘regular, normal Israeli’ living in ‘good neighborhoods.’ Theoretically, they are on safe ground. But are they really? How many automobiles have been stolen since the beginning of the Oslo piece process, and especially since the beginning of autonomy? Who much has car insurance skyrocketed? Who is going to protect them from their armed terrorist neighbors who are as interested in the Jewish homes in Kfar Saba and Petach Tikva and Haifa and Acco as those in Kalkilya and Ramallah. The busses blown up in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Hadera - were they filled with ‘settlers’?

Question #6: So who is the piece plan really good for?

It seems, unfortunately, that Peres and Co. have only one real concern. Not the Arabs who helped (or are even just suspected of helping) the Jews, not the Israeli’s who live on the ‘right’ (yes, right) side of the ‘green line’ and not those who live on the ‘proper’ side of the ‘green line’. So who are they concerned about?

Question #7: When Israeli ministers go abroad, such as Foreign Minister (and he really is foreign) Ehud Barak, in Paris last week, who is he raising money for? The development towns, the Russian immigrants, or, take a guess, the Palestinian Authority?

The only care is for our long-lost friends, who are still, officially calling for the destruction of the State of Israel in the palestinian charter. And in spite of the declaration ‘if it is not repealed, the piece process will stop, wait and see.

We have a government of true Jew-haters, and Arab (enemy) lovers. They have made a clear, indisputable distinction between blood, blood and blood.

Question #8: If Peres had his way, who do you think he would pick to succeed him as Prime Minister of Israel?


Sunday, January 7, 1996

Hebron Today

Hebron Today
January 7, 1996

Too many times we have to report the darker side of life
in Hebron. Unfortunately this is part of our everyday
existence. However, I also try to fill in our
readers with the brighter aspects ofHebron. For example this
past Shabbat I had the honor, with nineteen
other families from Hebron-Kiryat Arba, to be in Bat Yam.

The ride from Hebron to Bat Yam is little over an
hour and a half, but in today's topsy-turvey world, that
hour and a half might be considered in terms of light-
years. The chances of being hit by a rock or being
attacked by a fire-bomb, or even by terrorist bullets is
almost nonexistent when we cross the so-called `green
line' separating Judea from the center of the country.
The traffic gets heavier, the air more smoggy, and people
living different kinds of lives. Priorities change.
Not far from Tel Aviv, Bat Yam has a sizable
population supporting the Jewish Community of Hebron.

These people, realizing the colossal differences caused
by the seemingly meager distance, have invited Hebron
residents in the past to stay in touch, to keep track of
what's going on. They decided to do it again.

Hosting us in their homes, Bat Yam's residents
provided the kind of hospitality we learn about from our
Patriarch Avraham. Believe me, it isn't easy to have
guests, people who you've never met, with six or seven of
their children, including a baby that has just learned to
crawl. But Bat Yam's citizens took it right in stride
and welcomed us with open arms.

The main thrust of the Shabbat is three-fold: To
meet new people, face-to-face, on an individual basis, to
speak to groups, usually at synagogues, and to celebrate
a special `Hebron-night' on Saturday evening. We have
the opportunity to meet people at each of the three
Shabbat meals. As much as possible, different families
host individual families for each meal. Twenty families
multiplied by three meals gives us the chance to
establish contact with sixty families in one day. These
meetings are fertile ground for discussion and exchange
of ideas and opinions. Inasmuch as our hosts are
generally supporters of continued Jewish presence in
Judea, Samaria and Gazza, media accounts of events are so
convoluted that very few people really have accurate
updates of current affairs.

For weeks before the target date all the synagogues
in the city were notified of the impending guests. We
made the rounds, speaking in each synagogue for between
10 to 15 minutes. The talks are not politically
inclined. Rather, we try to impart the message of Hebron
via the weekly Torah portion. This week that was not
overly difficult: Ma'arat HaMachpela plays a major role
in the last chapters of Bereshit (Genesis). Yosef
solemnly swore to his father Ya'akov, lying on his
deathbed in Egypt, that he would bring him back to Hebron
to be buried in the tomb of his father and grandfather,
Ma'arat HaMachpela. It is fitting that we leave the book
of creation with this thought, that Ya'akov was so
determined to find eternal rest in the city of Hebron.

On Saturday evening the entire group of families met
at a hall in downtown Bat Yam, under the auspices of the
Bat Yam City Council. Some 700 Bat Yam residents
attended the special `Hebron Night.' A festive gathering,
this evening gave expression to the warmth and respect
people have for Kiryat Arba, Hebron, and all our
citizens. Mayor Yehoshua Segui, a general (ret) in the
IDF and MK Benny Begin were the main speakers. Several
entertainers appeared, including "Pirchai Yerushalaim."

Over the past two years we have organized over 15
Shabbat programs such as this one. The continued contact
between Hebron-Kiryat Arba and people all over the
country has kept open lines of communication that would
otherwise be closed. The importance of this
communication cannot be overstated.

Of course, this is only one way to reach certain
segments of the Israeli population. It is extremely
effective. Others means of communications are utilized
to reach out to others. About that, in future editions
of Hebron Today.

Friday, January 5, 1996

An Open Letter from Somewhere

Hebron-Past, Present and Forever
by David Wilder
An Open Letter from Somewhere
January 5, 1996

Dear Shimmy,
Nu, how are you doing in your new job? I’ve been trying to keep track, but it isn’t always possible.
In the past you didn’t take too kindly to my advice. However, the changes have been so drastic that it would be prudent for you to pay attention. Different perspectives allow for changes in opinion, and mine is a prime example.
You know, I determined my priorities according to what I believed to be the good of the Jewish People in Israel. I fully believed in peace, I believed in the ideology we both grew up with. That ideology espouses humanism, without particular concern for traditions, for religious faith, or religous practice. Man is man, land is land - there is no real distinction between peoples or places. Tradition was good for the history books - ancient customs with, seemingly, little true significance in the twentieth century. These values emphasizied the power of man, and diminished, or perhaps even totally negated any Divine element, any Divine influence on our daily lives or on our existance as a people, as a nation. These values permeated our existance, ruled our thoughts and guided our actions. Based on our ideology we set our goal, that of a new Israel. We made a cognative decision to use the peace process as a means to annihilating, as a first step, the religious-zionist ideology preached and practiced by most of the Jewish inhabitants of Yehuda, Shomron and Gazza. Their ideology, as we viewed it, acted as a direct threat to our goals and values. We desired a humanistic Israel - they live for a Jewish Israel. Their lifestyle, their ethics, their ideology directly contradicts ours - they believe that the spiritual essence of life takes precedence over the physical, that ideology must be lived and not only spoken. They teach the role of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, and refuse to compromise. They view the conflict between Jews and Arabs not as political, but rather as religious.
Of course, many of them live religiously observant lives, and claim that this is the ‘true’ Judaism. They refuse, under any circumstances, to succumb to pressures, that would shatter anyone with lesser convictions. Their attachment to three elements of life - Torah, Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael - their determination to prevent any division between these components, their fervor and self-sacrifice, well you know as well as I did, it is much stronger than we could ever have imagined. We fought them - it might even be defined as a war - though not necessarily an armed struggle, but rather a cultural war, which we were determined to win at any price.
Shimmy, I could continue for a long time, for there is much to say, but my time is very limited. So let me just say this: Shimmy, we were wrong. Wrong - wrong -wrong. I see things very differently now, everything is so very clear. And I cannot understand how I was so blind, or how you are still so unseeing - what can I say - we made very grave mistakes. Don’t misunderstand, they aren’t a hundred percent correct, and when their mistakes become clear to them they too will be dumbfounded - but the basic ideology, lifestyle, priorities, - they are right and we are wrong.
Know Shimmy, please recognize, there really is a G-d. He is rightous, merciful, and all-knowing. And the Land of Israel really does belong to the Jewish People - stop all this foolishness with the terrorists, and do it now. For if not, it will cost us dearly. I am not at liberty to reveal the future, in spite of the fact that it is crystal clear - and you too should be able to more or less predict the results of most given alternatives available today. That is a pretty big hint. When you do what you are supposed to do, the Divine intervention is tangable. How were we so blind as to not see it?! Whatever the seeming odds, Israel will be victorious. Israel is eternal and will not be deserted, ever.
And know that Torah Judaism, the traditions and practices, they are much more relevant to our lives than you could possibly conceive. And not only individually, but also to the destiny of our People and to the entire world.
You may think I am exaggerating, but I guarantee you, I am not. It is your responsibility and obligation to change your course of action and that of the State of Israel. It won’t be easy, but we will all be here helping you, however we can. And know Shimmy, if you don’t do it, someone else will. That is assured.
Please, if you never listened to me before - listen now. I know.
Best regards - praying for your repentence,