Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A Beacon of Light

May 19, 2004

I’m presently wandering around the United States – so here, it’s still Yom Yerushalayim and tonight begins Yom Hevron - the days when Hebron and Jerusalem were liberated during the Six-Day War in 1967.
I’d like to share with you some of my experiences here.
I spent last Shabbat out west. It was a great few days. People greeted me with wonderful enthusiasm and their hospitality was reminiscent of Abraham’s generosity. As far as I was concerned, it was a highly successful trip.
It was also highly educational. In what way?
I’m frequently asked if Hebron isn’t dangerous. How do we live there – how do we deal with terrorist threats, and the like. Hearing questions like these, one might assume that just about everywhere else in the world is really really safe. Everywhere except Hebron, and maybe a few other places, like maybe all of Eretz Yisrael.
Well, as I wrote, my hosts were fabulous – they wined and dined me, and made sure I met some of the right people. One night, knowing that I’d probably be leaving the house earlier than them the next morning, they gave me a key to their home, along with some interesting explanations. They told me that not too long ago a group of thugs had been breaking into people’s homes in their vicinity. Not only would they break into homes, they would break doors down, kicking them in, sometimes at two different entrances simultaneously. Once inside the house, they would not only ransack and steal. They raped women and beat up others present. Real good folk, as you can imagine.
So, at night, their front door isn’t only locked. Rather, a large, heavy metal bar is fitted horizontally on the door, preventing it from being kicked in. And that was only the beginning. This particular family, all of whom are really lovely people, have a household arsenal including a 12 gauge shotgun, a SigSaur pistol (an automatic sidearm used by elite special forces unit and the US Navy SEALs), and some other goodies, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. They all know how to shoot, mother, father and kids. If I had half of what they own in Hebron, I’d be accused of everything under the sun – and terrorism would be the least of the charges. They also installed electronically controlled metal security shutters.
So, that’s safe, good old America – and I thought, perhaps naively so, that the ‘wild west’ only exists today in cowboy movies and novels.
That’s out west.
Now, a little closer to the Atlantic, on the east coast. I spent an evening with friends out here in New York, in one of the famous five boroughs. At ten o’clock at night I went out with my host for evening prayers at a nearby Jewish educational institution, a large, very successful mix of Jewish and secular studies.
Just before we entered the building, he pointed in the direction of some benches outside, within the plaza leading to the building’s doors. Sitting there were a bunch of our ‘cousins,’ the kinds of which I thought I’d left in Hebron. Women wearing scarf head coverings and chadors, the veil showing only their eyes. Kids too, and a few men. There they were, sitting right next to the entrance of a yeshiva study hall in greater New York.
My host told me that during the summer months the courtyard is filled with them, and they sit there all night. When I asked about security problems he said that last year there was a little ‘rock-throwing’ but following some calls to the police, that had stopped. Since then it had been quiet. That really made me feel good, right at home.
And I’m the one people ask about ‘security threats?’ Maybe the questions are legitimate, but they should be directed perhaps, at the places I visit while traveling around the United States, as opposed to my home in Hebron.
Ok – that’s one set of stories. The second deals with how I celebrated Jerusalem Day. This morning I attended a few children’s classes in a New York elementary Jewish school. I spoke to three classes of children in 4th to 8th grade. It was really a lot of fun. The kids were good and listened to what I had to say.
I told them how it was, how it used to be - how the British arrested Rabbi Moshe Segal in the early 1930s for blowing the shofar at the Kotel, the Western Wall at the conclusion of Yom Kippur prayers. And how Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, then the Israeli Chief Rabbi threatened to continue the Yom Kippur fast and conduct a hunger strike until Segal was released. And how Jews were banned from the Kotel from 1948 until 1967.
I also spoke to them about Hebron and Ma’arat HaMachpela, about the ordinance forbidding a Jewish presence inside Ma’arat HaMachpela for seven hundred years, and how Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi of the IDF, single-handedly liberated the city in 1967.
When their Rabbi introduced me as an American living in Israel, I politely corrected him, telling the kids that I’m an Israeli who happened to be born in the United States. And I tried very hard to impress upon them that we live like they do – the kids play basketball and soccer, go to school everyday, play outside and ride on bicycles, and, very simply, live, not in fear, not with trepidation, but with the same zest for life that kids have everywhere.
Yesterday I spoke at a different school, where the children were involved in ‘chesed’ or ‘good-deed’ projects. Some kids were sewing teddy-bears for Hebron’s nursery school. Others were writing letters to soldiers in Iraq. And still others were designing crossword puzzles in Hebrew for children in an Israeli hospital. I also told these youngsters about Hebron, stressing that they were walking in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu, our forefather Abraham, whose primary trait was that of loving-kindness and good deeds.
As we celebrate the 37th anniversary of the liberation of Hebron, I think it’s time that our brethren around the world start to view Hebron in a different light – not as a beleaguered city, drowning in the shadows of terror and evil. Rather, Hebron must be seen as a glorious radiating light of hope, of spirituality, the roots of all peoples. Hebron can and will remain a free city, open to all, only as long as the Jewish community there exists and thrives. Should our community cease to be, G-d forbid, for any reason, Hebron would revert back to oppressive, barbaric rule, as existed for literally hundreds of years prior to the Six-Day War.
As long as Hebron is envisaged as ‘dangerous,’ so it will be in the eyes of many. When Hebron is grasped as a beacon of culture and heritage, so it will be. Then, the only people who will query me about ‘treacherous places’ will be my children, asking, ‘Abba, isn’t the United States dangerous?’
With blessing for a happy Hebron and Jerusalem Day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The True Untouchable

May 11, 2004

It’s difficult to write – there’s too much to write about. There are three subjects in particular, which are, I believe, related.
As I write this, I’m watching Israel television news. Today’s news have dealt with only one subject: the murder of six Israeli soldiers by Arafat’s killers, this morning, in Gaza. The six, traveling in an Armored Personnel Carrier filled with ammunition, were on their way back to their base, following a night of activities in Zaytun. Together with other Israeli soldiers, they participated in searching for terror factories, producing Kassam missiles and other deadly weapons. Their vehicle passed over a 100 kilo bomb, buried in the street, operated by remote control. The resulting explosion caused a fire ball which could be seen from miles away.
Pieces of the APC, together with the soldiers, were splattered around the area. Within minutes, Arab barbarians began accumulating body parts of the Israeli soldiers, cannibalistically displaying them before cameras, demanding that other terrorists be released from prison in exchange for the ransomed body parts. A short film of the terrorists, pointing to a severed head and demanding the release of terrorists, was shown on Israeli television, Channel One news.
Israeli soldiers, attempting to salvage their comrade’s remains, were attacked by Arab terrorists, surrounding them and shooting at them. Hundreds of troops were brought to the scene to protect their friends-in-arms.
The Israeli Chief of Staff, Lt. General Moshe ‘Bugi’ Yaalon stated during a brief press conference that Israel will not participate in any negotiations with the Arafat-terrorists who perpetrated this war crime.
Radio commentators noted that the IDF chose to send soldiers into the Zaytun neighborhood rather than destroy the weapon’s factories from the air because of the large numbers of civilians who live in the area. In other words, the Arab’s lives are worth more than Israeli lives.
That’s subject number one.
Subject number two:
A few days ago, seven Hebron residents were notified that arms, granted them by the IDF, were to be confiscated. Central Command General Moshe Kalpinsky, signed orders ordering that their weapons be taken from them. This, due to police recommendations that these people might be ‘dangerous.’ One of the men whose weapon is to be taken from him, Tel Rumeida resident Shalom Alkobi, is a member of the Hebron emergency security squad. He carries a weapon wherever he goes, for clear reasons of self-defense. He has a letter from the Prime Minister’s office stating that the Shabak, the Israeli intelligence services, had nothing to do with this decision. In other words, our good friends, the police, are at it again.
In reaction to these military orders, the resident’s attorney, Naftali Wertzberger, sent a furiously-worded letter to Kaplinsky, writing that the orders are blatantly illegal. A person legally holding a weapon must be granted a special hearing, with the reasons for the confiscation clarified, allowing the person a chance to defend or explain himself. A hearing such as this was never held. In addition, the orders give absolutely no reason for the confiscation.
The Hebron community sent an equally enraged reaction to the General, accusing him of abandoning Hebron’s Jews by ordering that their weapons be taken from them.

Interestingly enough, one of the people to receive a confiscation order was not male, rather a Hebron housewife. Her name is Elisheva Federman. Elisheva is the wife of administrative detainee Noam Federman. When her husband’s weapon was taken from him and he was jailed, the security forces suggested that she be licensed to carry a weapon in order to be able to protect her family, should the need arise. However, a few days ago, the Hebron police deemed Elisheva, mother of seven young children, living without her husband for eight months, too dangerous to have a gun, even at the cost of her life and her children’s lives.
Subject number three:
I’ve saved, perhaps, the best for last. Speaking of Elisheva and Noam Federman. This morning Elisheva had a rare opportunity to see her husband without having to look past the bars of a jail cell. Noam has been in prison for almost eight months, the only Jewish administrative detainee in Israel. He’s not been tried, or convicted. But he’s in jail.
This morning Elisheva met Noam at…. where else, at the Jerusalem Municipal court.
Almost two years ago Noam Federman was jailed, and then placed under house arrest, having been accused of masterminding the infamous “Bat-Ayin” Jewish terrorist ring. Subsequently three men were charged and convicted of trying to blow up an Arab girls school. Two other men were arrested and jailed, but later acquitted of all charges brought against them.
Noam’s accuser was one of those convicted. He named about 50 people who supposedly participated in the plot, but of them, only Noam was arrested. That was, again, almost two years ago, just as the investigation was beginning. (See: Noam Federman presenting the Twilight Zone-
As a result, Noam was placed under strict house arrest. While trying to legally overturn the house-arrest orders, the Israeli intelligence services had Noam jailed as an administrative detainee, thereby, for all intensive purposes, circumventing the courts, who almost always uphold ‘Shabak’ arrests, ‘for security reasons.’
This morning, Noam and Elisheva met at the Jerusalem court for another hearing dealing with the Bat Ayin case. Suddenly the prosecutor asked for the judge’s attention and stated that the state was dropping all charges against Noam in the Bat Ayin case for lack of proof. Their one, star witness, started telling different stories, and his instability led them to reconsider their case against Federman.
The surprised judge then asked the next, logical question. “So now Federman can go home?.” The prosecutor quickly jumped up and exclaimed, ‘No, of course not, he’s still an administrative detainee.”
It should be noted, that, according to media accounts, this is Noam Federman’s forty first acquittal.
Speaking later with Elisheva, she told me that the Shabak claims that the Bat Ayin case was only one of the reasons Noam is being held in jail. The other reasons are, of course, secret
Bolshevism, at it’s best, in Israel, 2004.
What can I say? Things here are really mixed up.
Concerning subject number one: about the six soldiers massacred this morning in Gaza, only to have their remains stolen by their killers – if the news media had made as big a deal of the Tali Hatual family killings a week ago as they are today twith the soldiers, maybe the soldiers would still be alive. Maybe the government would have allowed the IDF to unleash it full fury, thereby preventing today’s bloodshed. But no, after all, Tali and her four murdered children were only civilians, residents of Gush Katif. They opposed Sharon’s disengagement plan, almost making them ‘enemies of the people.’

Concerning subjects two and three: the weapons and the Federmans: In reality, they are nothing more than a continuation of subject number one. The Arab’s lives are worth more than Jewish lives – it’s preferable to attend Israeli soldier’s funerals rather than wipe out terrorist nests from the air, even at the cost of ‘innocent’ Arab lives. So too, it makes no difference if Jews have weapons to protect themselves or not. We can be jailed without due process of law and abandoned to the will of the same barbarians who steal dead human remains.
Clearly, according to the lexicon of the current Prime Minister (and some of those who preceded him) settlers are distinctly lower class citizens, similar to the Hindu untouchables.
As untouchable as Ariel Sharon may think we are, in the end, it is he who will be remembered as a cast out, an historic relic, whose infamy will rival that of such villains as Josephus Flavious, and others of his caste. He will be remembered as the true untouchable.

Monday, May 3, 2004


May 3, 2004

Today is one of those days – one of those days when you don’t know what to say. On the one hand, you breathe a great sigh of relief. Thank G-d, the hard work paid off and the referendum failed. Of course, concurrently you ask yourself why there was a referendum in the first place. Since when is Eretz Yisrael for sale? How is it possible that an Israeli, a Jew, especially someone with a long track record, most specifically, Ariel Sharon, conjure up such a nightmare – giving parts of Eretz Yisrael to our enemies, whose sole desire is to destroy us!? Certainly it doesn’t make any sense.

With that, you still offer a prayer of thanksgiving. Thank G-d for miracles.

To be honest, as soon as Limor and Bibi decided to go with Sharon, I was despondent. I told my friends and colleagues, “it’s not worth the struggle – the referendum is lost – don’t waste any time on it - now we have to start preparing for ‘the day after.’” Boy was I wrong.  This is as good a time as possible to repeat the age-old mantra: Never Give Up!

But on the other hand, it was difficult to smile, or show any expression of joy. The haunting pictures of Tali Hatual and her four girls are paralyzing. Such a beautiful family, such beautiful people. In truth, six, not five people were killed. Tali were in the beginning of her ninth month. Her husband David was quoted as saying, “We knew it a boy. We were so happy.”

According to IDF sources, after killing Tali with the first burst of gunfire, the terrorists approached the car and systematically murdered the four girls, one by one, shooting each one in the head. To define such behavior as beastly is an insult to beasts. There are no words to describe the deliberate viciousness creatures posing as human beings.

And what about the husband, the father? Can you imagine being at work, hearing of a terror attack, and not being able to reach your loved ones, who might well have been in the vicinity of the assault? That’s what happened to David Hatual. According to witnesses at the scene, Tali’s cell phone didn’t stop ringing – her husband was calling her. No one dared answer.

David, a teacher and school principal, sped from Ashkelon towards his Gush Katif home, only to be stopped on the way by his father-in-law, who broke the tragic, terrible news to him. Not only a pregnant wife, but his four daughters, his four children, his entire family. Inconceivable. Not even in the worst of your worst bad dreams. But it happened.

Responsibility: Where does it start and where does it end?  Some of the names are all too familiar – they need not even be repeated. Leadership is bound by the motto, ‘the buck stops here.’ Others are also not lacking in accountability. For example, this morning General Moshe ‘Bugi’ Ya’alon, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Armed Forces, pointed a finger at another guilty party. An Arutz 7 report states: ‘He places the blame on the Supreme Court. He said that lining the Kisufim Route are "houses that, for security reasons, we wanted to remove, and pay the occupants compensation. But the legal system did not allow us to do this." The homes served as camouflage for the terrorists and their actions.’ In other words, had those homes been destroyed, it is quite likely that none of us would ever had heard of the Hatual family. The Hatuals and others.

But responsibility for close to 1,000 deaths and over 6,000 casualties cannot be shouldered by any particular person.

The problem is conceptual. It demands an unyielding grasp of abstracts, such as faith, such as the association between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael.

Let’s face it. Without faith it is almost impossible to live here. And I’m not talking about Hebron. I’m referring to the entire State of Israel. I find myself repeatedly enlightening journalist of the Divine element of Israel’s existence. Clearly, nothing about the past 56 years – or even the past 100 years, is linked to logic or rationality. If G-d didn’t want us here, we simply wouldn’t be here.

That does not mean that we sit back and wait for a celestial hand to appear from the heavens. Many hundreds and thousands of people worked very hard over the past few weeks, bringing about the positive results of yesterday’s vote.

As far as the land of Israel is concerned, the first sentence of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen’s quintessential work “Orot” says it all: the land of Israel is not an intermediary, a superficial land entity for Jews to take refuge. Rather, it is an indispensable element of the existence of Judaism, together with Torah and Am Yisrael, the Jewish people.

Of course, if Eretz Yisrael is only earth and rocks, then who cares if we relent and give some away. But should Eretz Yisrael be an actual part of our collective neshama, our collective soul, how could we even entertain such thoughts? And that’s exactly what it is.

These are the elements that Israel’s leadership is lacking. Why else would Ariel Sharon do an about-face? Why would Rabin initiate Oslo?  Both, for the same reason. They have no faith, no faith in G-d, no faith in the determination and ability of Am Yisrael, and no faith in the sacredness of Eretz Yisrael. Deficiency of faith leads straight to despair, which in turn, leads to bizarre decision-making, (see Disengagement).

Yet a question remains: given the two sides of the coin, as presented above, which takes precedence: the sorrow or the celebration? This morning, Rav Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba ruled that this morning’s prayers be appended. He stated that, due to yesterday’s miracle, a special prayer be added. On Jewish festivals, or following a miraculous event, deserving of exceptional gratitude, a prayer of Thanksgiving is included during morning services. This morning, at Rav Lior’s yeshiva Torah institution, worshipers recited the Hallel, verses of praise extracted from Psalms.

Yesterday we cried while breathing a sigh of relief. Today, we paid tribute to the glory of G-d. And now, we must return to work, elucidating why Hallel was chanted after the Jewish people voted for Eretz Yisrael.

With blessings from Hebron.