Saturday, August 23, 1997

An Inauspicious Day

An Inauspicious Day
August 23, 1997

 A few days ago I had a most interesting experience. It took place early Thursday afternoon. Walking back to our offices in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood from Beit Hadassah I detected a group of about 50 Shalom Achshav people (Peace Now) strolling down the street. I soon discovered that most of them were reporters - both Israeli and Arab.

Usually Shalom Achshav groups in Hebron are a cause for heated discussions, disturbances or worse. They have a way of inciting Hebron’s Arab community against the Jews living in the city. This tour focused on pointing out ‘Arab property’ being ‘occupied’ by ‘Jewish extremists.’ I walked up to the group and requested permission to speak with them for three minutes. I wanted to say to them one thing, and one thing only. That day, last Thursday, just happened to be, by the Hebrew calendar, the 18th of Av - the 68th anniversary of the massacre which left 67 Jews dead in Hebron and led to the forced expulsion of the survivors, three days later. I thought it an inauspicious day to be stirring up Hebron’s Arabs.

After asking who I was, they refused to let me speak to them. In their words, ‘there was nothing to talk about - they didn’t want to hear from me.’ I continued with them down the street, and some of them spoke with me privately. It was quite clear that we had little in common, and we sure weren’t going to find ourselves agreeing with each other. But we did converse. I related to them my disappointment that the group saw fit to talk with Hebron Arabs, but refused to talk with me, an official representative of Hebron’s Jewish community, for even a few minutes. I mentioned to the few people I was speaking with the subject I wished to broach with the group, but they didn’t seem to care. It didn’t move them. I also told them that, at the very least, we should be able to speak together, even if we don’t agree with each other. They answered me that they would later meet with Efrat’s Chief Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Riskin. He would have to represent us, I guess.

I continued back to the office, but soon heard that the group was to continue through the Kasba - the Arab market within Israeli-controlled Hebron, where we are forbidden to go. The Kasba is a ‘closed military zone’ for Jews, but not Arabs. I decided to go with them.

By the time I caught up with them the army had forced them out of the Kasba, but they were continuing down another road, also in Israeli-controlled Hebron, but in an area forbidden to us. This particular road runs parallel to King David (Shuhada) Street. There was a time, in the past, when all Egged busses in Hebron drove down this particular road, called the Shallalla Gedola. I used to go shopping on this road. Not any more - not for a long time.

Walking down the road, together with the rest of the group, I found myself next to a 50 year-old-plus Arab - short, bald, dressed in a brown suit. He smiled at me and asked me, "you think you will be here forever?" "Why not," I responded. "We live here." So he smiled and answered, "Soon there will be changes here. Soon those with the green berets (palestinian police) will be here (in the Israeli side of Hebron) too. You really think you will be here forever? Israel is only a word on the map. Soon there will be great changes here."

So I smiled back at him and commented, "You know, anyone who speaks about great changes has to be very careful, because sometimes those changes may not be exactly as expected. Sometimes they can take rather unexpected turns."

By this time we were fairly close to the border between H1 and H2 - Arafat-land and Israel-controlled Hebron. The other Arabs kept muttering to me in Arabic - I think they were trying to tell me that I couldn’t go any further. We were still being accompanied by Israeli soldiers, but at the ‘border’ they wouldn’t go any further. We reached the junction where, only a few weeks ago, hundreds of rocks and firebombs were being hurled at Israeli soldiers. On the other side of the street, Arabs in army uniforms, called police (in Arabic they are called the ‘palestinian national force’) were directing traffic.

Interestingly enough this junction is not the border - it is at least 50 meters more down the road. But, according to the Israeli soldiers with us, this was as far as they would go. The Arabs with the group kept pointing me out to the ‘palestinian police’ and suddenly a couple of rocks flew down at us. Together with the Israeli soldiers, I took cover under a store awning and decided not to go any further. Together with a few soldiers I walked back up to Beit Hadassah my office in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood.

A couple of hours later I attended the memorial service for those killed in Hebron 68 years ago. I couldn’t help but ask myself, how much has really changed since then. I am fully aware of what has transpired since then - but have things really changed? Sometimes I feel the need to pinch myself just to make sure what I’m seeing and hearing is reality and not a bad dream. The trouble is, even after I pinch myself, it is still a bad dream.

Thursday, August 14, 1997

Mirror Image - Part Two

Mirror Image - Part Two
August 14, 1997

Following posting of my last article "Mirror Image" I received a number of
responses similar in content. The following are two of those letters, sent
to me by Hebron supporters:

Dear David,

The no-mirror policy has been in force for the past few weeks. We were also
stunned when we were checked for mirrors a couple of weeks ago for the
first time. ( we're at the Meara every Friday morning) One of the girls
with me admitted to having a mirror and she handed it in. When we got
upstairs, we saw that more little mirrors had been confiscated. The same as
for pocket knives and other such things. Yes, it's very humiliating but do
you really think it was necessary for that woman to make such a scene? That
policy was not set by that police-woman and it would have been sufficient
to write a letter afterwards asking why this new policy against mirrors. We
surmised that a mirror could theoretically be broken in half and made into
a very sharp weapon. Do we have to fight each other, no matter how
humiliated we're made to feel by our own Chayalim and police? This Friday,
there was a very friendly senior police officer at the entrance to the
Meara who tried to make each one coming in feel good. Yes, they had to
check our bags but they certainly weren't nasty about it and there's no
reason for us to be nasty to them.

So, let's ALL examine ourselves and see whether we're not being excessively
provocative because of tensions in Hevron which are certainly reason to be
angry and explosive but this anger should be directed against policy makers
and those idiots who forced the "Hevron agreement" on us... The one-sided
agreement, of course.


Dear David,

I read your reports with much interest and really appreciate
receiving them. I am more than sympathetic to the plight of the Jews in
Hebron and the courage they display. Most of the incidents you describe
indicate to me the lack of cooperation shown by the Israeli authorities .
It appears as if they would like you all to go away but to me your
presence in Hebron is most significant to all the Jews of the world. In
your recent story about Esther and the mirror I find it hard to fully
sympathize with her. Why didn't she just hand over the mirror and than
reclaim it on the way out? We are dealing with people who are given some
authority and usually this type cannot interpret a rule as it might have
meant to be. It would have been better not to challenge the authority and
just rise above this policewoman. There are other instances where a
challenge to their authority is more significant. My prayers are for the
safety of the people of Hebron and I hope the day will come when they can
live a life with the confidence of complete secutiry.



Due to the importance of the questions raised, I feel it is important to
publically post my response:

I understand what you are saying, but you have to understand the tactics
being used against us (all of us) in Hebron. One day we were told that no
cellular phones, cameras, and beepers would be allowed inside. They
actually tried to enforce the 'no camera' edict, until I made a lot of
noise there, and then it was rescinded. There is a limit to the abuse we
can allow -they (the decision-makers) take advantage of every show of
weakness or acquiescence on our part and continue. The idea that a mirror
might be used as a weapon is so totally ridiculous - besides which - who
are we going to attack with a mirror sliver? - The Arabs they let wander
around 'our side' of the Ma'ara? If that is what they are worried about,
they should stop the Arabs from being on 'our side.' After all, we have
absolutely no rights to be on 'their side.'

Aside from that, the behaviour of the border police who are stationed at
the Ma'ara, is, many times, disgraceful. They use excessive force without
any need to do so, and lie through their teeth. Esther did not attack
anyone, but they want to charge her with doing just that. - Please be
aware that Mishmar HaGvul (Border police) are not soldiers - they do not
operate under the auspices of the IDF - they are full-fledged police,
dressed in uniforms looking like soldiers.

We have no choice but to resist the continued humiliations, because if we
don't we will only pay a higher price for the next condition on the list
that they will try to enforce, after seeing that this decree has been
successfully implemented.