Monday, November 18, 2002

A Field of Life

A Field of Life
November 18, 2002
Exactly two years ago, early on a Friday morning, Rina Didovsky and Eliyahu Ben Ami were shot and killed, just outside Hebron. I distinctly remember returning to the office after having visited the scene of the murder feeling numb. It?s the kind of sensation I experience only after such dreadful kinds of events. For the past couple of days I?ve felt numb ? not just my body, but also my mind and my soul. The happenings of Friday night are indelibly inscribed on my being for as long as I?ll live.

We had sat down to our weekly Shabbat evening meal when, at about seven o?clock, heavy gunfire could be heard, not too far outside of Hebron. I ran downstairs to see what was happening and saw some of our emergency medics flying down the road in our ambulance and other vehicles. One of my friends, panting, managed to tell me that the gunfire originated somewhere near Kiryat Arba and that injuries were reported. That was as much as I knew for the next couple of hours.

Later on word started filtering back. The terror attack occurred outside Kiryat Arba, near the south gate. People had been killed. Slowly we started hearing numbers. They varied, but were somewhere near ten or eleven. Ten or eleven dead.

Then a little bit later, some of the Hebron emergency crew returned, pale, tired and very upset. The news they brought us was tragic. Colonel Dror Weinberg, the thirty-eight year old father of five, commander of the Hebron brigade, was among those ambushed, shot and killed. Not too long after that we received word that three men from nearby Kiryat Arba had also been murdered, including the town?s security officer, Yitzhak Buanish.

The next morning we found out that a total of 12 people were dead and another fourteen wounded, some critically. Nine soldiers, officers and border police and three men from the Kiryat Arba emergency squad. All cut down by two Arab terrorists, who successfully ambushed them in an alley, just outside Kiryat Arba.

Yesterday was spent going from funeral to funeral. Beginning in Kiryat Arba, three coffins, one next to another. Alex Duchan, father of four, who came to Israel from France. Alex Tzvitman, from the Soviet Union, father of a five year old son. And Yitzhak Buanish, head of Kiryat Arba security, who celebrated the marriage of his oldest daughter just two weeks ago, father of seven. The funeral procession left for Jerusalem, where thousands waited at the Har HaMenuchot cemetery, paying respects to these three men who left their Shabbat tables to try and aid Israeli soldiers wounded by the terrorist gunfire, never to return.

We left Jerusalem for Kfar Saba to attend the funeral of Colonel Dror Weinberg, commander of the Hebron Brigade. I first met Dror over 20 years ago, when he was in twelfth grade. He then participated in initiating a new yeshiva in Ophira, better known as Sharm el-Sheikh, on the southern tip of Israel. At that time, Israel was withdrawing from Ophira and all other cities in Sinai as part of the Egypt-Israel peace accords, and the new yeshiva was started as part of a protest against the planned evacuation. I remember Dror then as a quiet and intense individual, characteristics that would lead him to a distinguished career in the Israel Defense Forces.

Dror Weinberg, having served in elite army units, took upon himself a most difficult task as commander of the Hebron region. But he did a magnificent job. He was totally fearless, and he dealt with the enemy in a way in which the enemy understood with whom they were dealing. He refused to acquiesce to Arab terror, successfully maintaining security in Hebron, at least as much as was permitted by his superiors. He worked together with the Hebron community leadership, was open to ideas and suggestions, and did what he thought was right, in any given circumstance. Opposing the planned pullout from the Arafat-controlled side of Hebron, Dror spoke with his superior officers, who agreed with him. When, despite his misgivings, the army did evacuate 80% of the city three weeks ago, he warned of planned terror attacks. On Friday, only hours before being killed, while meeting with security officers in the Hebron region, he again warned that a vacuum had been created on the other side of Hebron, that the Islamic Jihad was planning a major terror attack in the area, and that it would more than likely occur very soon. Little did he know how fatally correct he was.

In a couple of months time Colonel Dror Weinberg was to take command of the Paratrooper Division, a next step up in his illustrious career. Had he lived, he almost definitely would have become a full general, and might possibly have reached the top job, that of Chief of Staff. That?s how good he was. That?s how heavy a price we?ve paid.

At the funeral, Dror Weinberg was eulogized by the Israeli Chief Rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, the Chief of Staff, Moshe ?Bugi? Ya?alon and the Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz, among others. He had requested, should anything happen to him, to be buried in Kfar Saba, where he grew up. Not far from his fresh grave lie two of Dror?s uncles, his mother?s brothers, who were killed days apart during the 1967 Six Day War. Dror?s wife Hadassah is five months pregnant with their sixth child, a child who will never have the privilege to meet his or her father. What a loss, what a tragedy.

In reaction to this catastrophe we have made a number of demands:

First and foremost, the Israeli armed forces must not only take total control of all of Hebron, but must also stay in the entire city, without any plans to ever again withdraw. Following the pullout three weeks ago, there were eleven terrorist incidents in and around Hebron, prior to Friday night?s murders. As long as the terrorists control Hebron, the terror will continue. At present, the army has moved back into all of Hebron, and they must stay there.

Secondly, the city must be cleaned up and all the terrorists either apprehended or eliminated. Anyone having anything to do with the Friday night massacre must be taken care of - the sooner the better.

Finally, we expect the government to allow a ?true Zionist response.? That is, construction of a new neighborhood, leading from Hebron to Kiryat Arba, along the same road where the attack took place. The terrorists must be forced to understand that they will never be able to accomplish their goal, which is, of course, the removal of Jews from Hebron, or from any other part of Eretz Yisrael. When they try and kill us, not only will we not leave, rather, on the contrary, we will bring in more people to live here. This is vital, and hopefully will receive the full approval of Ariel Sharon and the entire government.

At the moment there is a proposed plan, initiated by Sharon years ago, during negotiations of the original Hebron Accords, by which Hebron will be accorded full security via walls. That plan is again being tossed around and, just as we opposed it then, so we oppose it today. That arrangement calls for all of Hebron?s neighborhoods to be surrounded by walls, separating us from the Arabs around us. As I?ve written in the past, this is nothing less that a virtual ghettoization of Hebron. It is a truly repulsive idea for several reasons: A wall has never been known to provide security. It may act as a stumbling block, but is eventually overcome. Much more importantly, we did not come back to Eretz Yisrael, or to Hebron, to live in a ghetto. We left eastern Europe to get out of the ghetto and to live in Israel, as we sing in the national anthem HaTikva, ?lihiot am hofshi b?artzenu? ? ?to be a free people in our land.? And we certainly cannot be ?a free people in our land? if we are forced to live behind walls in a twenty-first century ghetto. We expect a continuous Israeli population from Hebron to Kiryat Arba, with full security, but definitely without walls. The suggested program, called the ?sharvul?, which literally means ?sleeve?, must be rejected. As a ?short sleeve?, i.e., in the short run, it might seem to be effective; however as a ?long sleeve?, it is not only worthless, it is damaging. If the Arabs see us living behind walls, thinking that they have managed to scare us into hiding from them, the terror will only increase.

As I wrote above, the events of the past weekend have left us numb. The losses, the pain and the frustration - frustration because the attacks were not inevitable, had anyone listened to us, and had the army stayed in Hebron. However, that is in the past. The hurt will stay with us for a long time to come, but that cannot prevent us from looking forward, from searching for ways to progress, thereby honoring the memories of those we have lost. None of those whom I personally knew, and I?m sure the others too, would have wanted us to stop and give up. They gave their lives for the zechut, the privilege, to live in Eretz Yisrael, for the privilege to live in Hebron. They made a supreme sacrifice, and the best and only way to commemorate them is to continue on the same path for which they lived and died. We must transform the field, adjacent to the site of their murder, from a field of death, to a field of life. Then, perhaps, they will lie in peace and we, too, will be able to be at peace with ourselves, knowing that we are fulfilling their will. May their memories be blessed, and may they be a blessing unto us, Amen.

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Ouch, That Hurts!

Ouch, That Hurts!
November 6, 2002
I have an idea for anyone looking to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine: find a preventative medicine for aches and pains. There are lots of people over here hurting real bad. To win the prize it?s not going to be enough to find a cure for the aches and pains themselves; what?s needed is a preventative. Otherwise they?re going to be in bad shape for a long time.


This past Shabbat we celebrated the purchase of Ma?arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, some three thousand seven hundred years ago. Every year we open our homes, in Hebron and in Kiryat Arba, welcoming anyone who wishes to celebrate with us. On that Shabbat we read in the weekly Torah portion about Abraham?s negotiations with Efron the Hittite, his paying the Hittite the enormous sum of four hundred silver shekels for the cave and field, known by the name Machpela. It?s really special to read this Biblical story at the actual site of the event, especially when it is so significant. This was the first land transaction in the land of Israel, in the first Jewish-settled city in Israel. The site itself is considered to be the holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The two places ? Hebron and the Temple Mount - are inherently bonded. We learn in the Talmud that every morning, before beginning the daily work in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Cohanim, or priests, would look to heavens, searching for the first signs of dawn, and then ask, ?Has the sun yet risen, even in Hebron?? If the answer was positive, the work could commence. If not, they had to wait. The context of linking light and dark in Jerusalem and Hebron has consequences for us today, just as it did then. If it?s dark in Hebron, so too it will be dark in Jerusalem, G-d forbid.

This weekend is a prime example, not of gloom, but of radiance. Over 25,000 people arrived in Hebron-Kiryat Arba for Shabbat, the largest such Shabbat we have ever hosted. What a day it was. Beginning Friday afternoon, buses started rolling into Kiryat Arba. Guests made their way to an empty room or to a host?s homes. Many slept in Kiryat Arba. Others stayed in Hebron. The real festivities began early Friday night, when prayer services began at Ma?arat HaMachpela. Literally thousands of people - men, women and children - gathered, both inside and outside the two thousand year old structure, which was constructed by King Herod above the original caves of Machpela. Inside, there simply wasn?t enough room for everyone. Following prayers and evening dinner, the streets were full, with people attending lectures and discussion groups. An overwhelming majority of the guests spent the night sleeping on a piece of floor, either in someone?s house, or somewhere else. Speaking to my own guests, we had thirty people squeezed into our living room, I told them how ironic it is: I invite them, seat them like sardines around the table, without any elbow room whatsoever, put them to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, and then, strangely enough, they want to come back next year!

The next morning, again, Ma?arat HaMachpela was wall-to-wall full. The morning?s highlight was the Torah-reading, not just hearing it, but actually experiencing Avraham?s acquisition of the Ma?ara. All afternoon the streets were full. Group after group visited the museum in Beit Hadassah, viewed the new building site at Tel Rumeida and spoke with young couples living in the ?Mitzpe Shalhevet? neighborhood, formerly Hebron?s Arab market. Seeing all these people, feeling their vibrancy, sensing the unbelievable support for Hebron?s Jewish community, it was like spending a day in heaven.

Of course, there has to be someone who isn?t so happy about massive support for Jews in Hebron. Early Sunday morning the Israeli media initiated attacks. How is it that so many soldiers are needed to protect Jews in Hebron? Why is the Knesset allocating so much money to activities at Ma?arat HaMachpela? Why should Arabs be held under curfew because of Jewish festivities? Israel?s Reshet Bet news called up my colleague, Noam Arnon at 6:30 in the morning to interview him a few minutes later. The news producers can stay up all night long getting ready for the attack and then give us only a few minutes to prepare to respond.

Their questions really aren?t difficult. Why a curfew? First of all, that?s a military decision, not a civilian decision. However, it?s not hard to understand. If the Arabs didn?t shoot at us at every opportunity, just as happened during the Succot holiday, there wouldn?t be a curfew. We are not responsible for the fact that they try to kill us, unless our very being in Hebron is a crime. That is also why so many forces were needed to help keep so many people safe for the day.

What really stings the Left is money. So much so, that they sprout outright lies to try and convince the Israeli public how evil we are. Meretz Knesset member Avshalom Vilan claimed that millions of shekels were allocated for activities at Ma?arat HaMachpela. No one in Hebron had any idea what he was talking about. It turned out that the budget does allocate millions of shekels - to families of Arabs killed at Ma?arat HaMachpela almost eight years ago. What also bothers the Left is money budgeted for a new tayelet - a promenade - connecting Hebron and Kiryat Arba, ranging about a kilometer and a half. Spending money on beautifying the second holiest Jewish site in the world is a felony. In short, anything positive about Hebron causes them great discomfort.

This is why I suggest someone invent a medical preventative for aches and pains. This weekend we had twenty-five thousand Jews visiting us. One of these days we?ll have twenty-five thousand Jews living in Hebron!

Ouch, that hurts!