Thursday, May 25, 2006

In honor of 39 years of Hebron´s liberation: Why live in Hebron

In honor of 39 years of Hebron´s liberation: Why live in Hebron

May 25, 2006
Erev Yom Yerushalayim//Yom Hebron

"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 began former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's letter of good wishes to The Jewish Community of Hebron. (It should be noted that Ehud Barak is not a supporter of the Israeli right.)

Hebron is the first Jewish city in the land of Israel , home of our patriarchs and matriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. King David ruled from Hebron for more than seven years before moving the capital to Jerusalem .

Jews have lived in Hebron almost continuously for thousands of years. At Tel Hebron, commonly known as "Tel Rumeida," artifacts were discovered dating to the era of the Patriarch Abraham. "L'Melech" (King) seals, 2,700 years old, inscribed with the word "Hevron" in ancient Hebrew were uncovered there by archeologists. Our community offices are in a neighborhood founded in 1540 by Jews exiled from Spain in 1492. Jewish presence in Hebron came to an abrupt end only in August 1929, when Arab riots led to the murder of 67 Jews and the wounding of 70. All survivors were exiled from the city by the ruling British.

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 . It must be clearly understood: when returned to Hebron in 1967, Jews did not occupy a foreign city; rather, they came back home.

In 1968 Jews officially came back to Hebron . The day before Passover in April, 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 in decades.

Moshe Dayan, 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 close to 1,000 hundred people, including almost 100 families, hundreds of children, and some 250 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. That is, perhaps, a misnomer. There are apartments available that we are presently unable to utilize. In the past four months we have been unjustifiably expelled from 12 apartments that we lived in. Clearly, 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 the statistics received from the IDF and Civil Administration, hundreds of thousands of people visit Hebron annually. Worldwide support, including Jews and gentiles, is overwhelming. Groups from Europe, the , Scandinavia and even the Far East tour Hebron .

Why do we choose to live in Hebron ? Again, the answer is quite simple. A few years ago, 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.

This was reiterated by Natsche's deputy, Kamal Dweck. In an interview he also stated that Jews and Christians may not pray in the Tomb of the Patriarchs 'because it is not a church or a synagogue; it is a mosque and only Moslems can worship in a mosque.'

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 and deputy mayor that should the Palestinian Authority ever regain control all of Hebron , again this holy site will be closed to anyone not Moslem.

There are those who are skeptical. How then, can one explain what happened to Joseph's Tomb in Shechem. According to the Olso Accords this holy site was to remain accessible to Jews. However, following the killing of an Israeli soldier at the tomb, was forced to abandon it. The result was the total destruction of the building which was burned to the ground. And if the Arabs had their way, Kever Rachel would have long ago been turned over to the Palestinian Authority.

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 . Our goal is to ensure that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to live in Hebron . Our goal is to make sure that all Jews will have access to Ma'arat HaMachpela, that Jews will never again be told that this holy site is 'off-limits' because 'you are Jews.'

Others ask: how can you stay in Hebron ? It is so dangerous. How can you risk the lives of your families and children in such a place?

It was May 2001, about eight months after the Oslo War — otherwise known as the second intifada — began. Daily, Hebron 's residents were attacked by terrorist gunmen from the surrounding hills transferred to the control of the Palestinian Authority several years earlier.

At 11 one night I was still in the office, five minutes from our home. Again, the sound of gunfire could be heard from the Abu Sneneh and Harat al-Shech hills The phone on my desk rang. It was one of my daughters, Aderet, then 16. Breathless, she exclaimed, "Dad, they're shooting again." I answered lackadaisically, "Yeah, I hear it." In other words, "What's new — it's the same, every day."

"But they shot into our apartment. And I was standing there," my daughter cried.

Arriving home, I discovered five holes in a wall opposite the window in the children's room. Aderet and Ruti had been standing not more than three feet from where the bullets hit. Miraculously, they weren't injured.

Today, Aderet is married with two children of her own. And she too lives here in Hebron . Another of my married daughters, with three children, also continues to live in the city. Why not leave, due to the danger?

Jews in Hebron are willing to risk present dangers because acquiescence can only be defined as a reward for terrorism. Arab terror seeks to expel us from our homes, using murder as a means to an end. However, "our homes" include not only those in Hebron but also in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa . New Palestinian textbooks contain maps of "Palestine" that include the entire state of Israel .

Eviction from Hebron, the first Jewish city in Eretz Yisrael, would be tantamount to the removal of Americans from Boston or Philadelphia upon terrorist demands. Except, of course, that American history is less than 250 years old; Jewish history in Hebron is more than 3,700 years old. Hebron , home of Abraham, is not just the place where Judaism got its start. It is the source of monotheism for all peoples of the world.

Jewish people in and around the world support a strong, vibrant Jewish presence in Hebron . We do not expect any Israeli government to attempt to follow in the footsteps of Arab Nazi Mufti Amin el-Husseini and the British and expel Jews from the city. In any case, we would never abandon our homes.

Besides which, why should the state of be forced to chop off its roots to appease Arab terror? We know the result of eradicating the roots of a tree. God forbid that should happen!

Former 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 shooting at us, to stop trying to kill 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 simple truth that everyone should not only understand, but also agree with. We truly hope and pray for the day when true peace will prevail, both in Hebron, throughout the land of Israel and all over the entire world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Don't Fool Yourselves - It Can Happen

Don't Fool Yourselves – It Can Happen

May 23, 2006

One of the paradigms of modern Israeli culture is the adjacency of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Independence Day, to Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day.

It stands to reason that prior to celebrating national liberation, those who made the supreme sacrifice leading to achievement of the goal of independence must be honored, remembered and shown gratitude.

Memorial day effects just about every citizen of Israel, as well as many Jews around the world. The proverbial 'everybody knows somebody who…' it all too real in a small state, not yet sixty years old. Putting it succinctly, memorial day really hits home. There's no way to escape the imbued sense of national mourning which includes each and every Israeli citizen.

For this reason it is all the more difficult, and perhaps all the more touching, that Memorial Day is immediately followed, almost continued, by Independence Day. One minute you are mourning and the next minute, celebrating. Such a mixture and combination of emotions can be confusing, to say the least.

But this blending of sentiment clearly reflects Jewish history, and the return to the Homeland, Eretz Yisrael. What better an example than just sixty years ago, when the creation of the state of Israel was preceded by the wholesale slaughter of between six to seven million Jews, in what is called 'the Holocaust.' How is it possible to cheerfully observe Jewish independence on the footsteps of such atrocity? But this is the way it was, and this is the way it is.

So why bring this up now, when Memorial Day and Independence Day are behind us, having occurred just a few weeks ago? I cannot help but feel that we are on the brink of yet another parallel set of seeming opposites.

In a few days we will, supposedly, celebrate Jerusalem Day, observing the 58th anniversary of the liberation of the holiest city in the world. Jerusalem: Jews, with their last breath, screaming, "Next year in Jerusalem," and then burning on the stake. And it wasn't too many years ago that "Next year in Jerusalem" was a one-way ticket to Siberia. There was a Rabbi in Jerusalem, who, following the fall of the 'Old City,' including Temple Mount and the Western Wall during the 1948 War of Independence, refused to leave his home for 19 years, until liberation of the entire city, during the Six-day war in 1967! Jerusalem, in the hearts and souls of all Jews, in song and poetry, prayer and thought, finally, in 1967, after a two thousand year exile, Jews were back home.

Or were we? It is a well-known fact that then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent Golda Meir and a few other Israeli politicians to Hussein of Jordan, pleading with him not to take part in the war. They were unequivocal: Israel will not attack the "Old City" and not move into Judea and Samaria. Jerusalem is yours. Just stay out of the war. Don't open up another front from the east.

Hussein's response was to sign a five year mutual defense pact with Egypt, establish a joint command with Nasser, and to begin shelling Jerusalem. Israel and Eshkol had no choice? Or did they?

Prior to being given the green light to enter the Old City during the war, the Israeli army waited outside the walls for many hours. Why? A proposal had been suggested to the Israeli cabinet: declare Jerusalem an 'international city' and don't attack, refrain from making Jerusalem a part of the State of Israel.

Fortunately this proposal was rejected, due to the persuasive arguments of then Minister Menachem Begin and IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren. However, it is clear. The Israeli leadership of 1967 did not view Jerusalem as an integral element of Israel's essence. It was 'another place' which could be 'sacrificed' for the 'sake of peace.'

So too, it seems today. The Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Ehud Olmert, almost as these word are being written, is replaying pre-Jerusalem 1967. Again, Jerusalem is on the table, waiting for the surgeons to begin to amputate. So ironic it is that only a few days before "Jerusalem Day," the Israeli prime minister is trying to convince the President of the United States to allow Israel to unilaterally part from our land, including parts of Jerusalem, including, almost inevitably, Temple Mount. All that Jews yearned for, prayed for, were imprisoned for, died for, poof, to be gone like a cloud in the sky, blown away by the winds of surrender, capitulation, terror, and, in the end, fear.

Yes, fear. Only a people afraid are willing to even consider parting from their most valuable possessions, in this case, not only our land, but our spirit. All the bravery and cunning, the self-assuredness, the faith, it has all seeming gone down the drain of peace. Not a peace of the courageous, rather a peace of the terrified.

Ehud Olmert, together with all his supporters, political and otherwise, is literally shaking in his pants. "PLEASE PRESIDENT BUSH, LET US GIVE AWAY OUR LAND!"

For whatever reason, and there are lots of reasons, many Israelis have lost their will and their way; they have lost their will to live and their way of life. The willingness to cut out our collective heart is unparalleled spiritual suicide and the willingness to continue to chop up our land and abandon it to the enemy is unparalleled physical suicide.

So, as we approach "Jerusalem Day," only three days away, I ask myself, perhaps we need to preface this holiday, as we introduce Independence Day with Memorial day. With what? I would suggest moving Tisha B'Av, the traditional anniversary of the destruction of the first and second Temples, from the date of that destruction, to the day prior to Jerusalem day. Were we collectively, to fast, sit on the ground as a sign of mourning, and weep for what we lacked for two thousand years, the day before the celebration, perhaps we would better understand why we celebrate; just as Independence Day is so much more meaningful following the mourning of the preceding day.

For I fear that we may soon find ourselves marking another Tisha b'Av; one marking the destructions of the past, and a second, marking the self-inflicted destruction of the present.

And no one should dare say, "It cannot and will not happen." We've been there, we've done that – and anyone who has forgotten should just go back and take a look at the pictures from last summer.

Don't fool yourselves. It can happen.

With prayers for many more festive Jerusalem Days

With blessings from Hebron.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Beit Shapira in Hebron - Justice at its best

Beit Shapira in Hebron - Justice at its best

May 4, 2006

Last March, just over a year ago, Hebron's Jewish community completed acquisition of a large house in the Tel-Rumeida – Admot Ishai neighborhood. The building, adjacent to a recently completed apartment complex and the neighborhood's caravan homes, was something of a coup. It is extremely difficult to obtain buildings from Arabs anywhere, but especially in Hebron. Arabs selling property to Jews are summarily executed. Of course, first they are tortured. So it was only a few weeks ago when Muhammad Abu al-Hawa, a 48 year old Arab, was found tortured and killed for having sold Jews property on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem [,,251-2134917,00.html].

However, where there's a will, there's a way. It is a quite complicated process and necessitates much patience. Frequently, a successful transaction can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to conclude.

Upon moving into the building, security forces arrived, demanding 'proof of purchase.' All the necessary documents were turned over to the police, army and 'civil administration' in charge of Yesha. Everything was legal, and we were quite sure that everything would work out.

The director of the civil administration, a wonderful man, met with his senior staff and told them, "you have to get them out of that building!"

One of those present, an expert on such affairs, responded, "We can't. I've gone through all the documents. They crossed all the 'tees' and dotted all the 'iis'. It's all legal."

His boss answered, "I don't care, Find a way to get them out."

Over course the Arab owner of the building claimed that the documentation was all forged and that he had never sold the property. These claims, for a good reason. Arabs who sell to Jews are murdered.

It didn't take long to dismantle his story. He was lying through his teeth and within a short time his version of things fell apart.

That was over a year ago, and despite a 'continuing investigation' the house and property are with us. They couldn't and didn't 'get us out.'

But the appetite was there, a big appetite at that. They waited.

Exactly a month ago the Hebron Jewish community carbon-copied the Tel Rumeida transaction. Following years of negotiations, a large building adjacent to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood was acquired, exactly as the Tel Rumeida property was acquired. Entrance into the building was held up until the attorneys gave their final O.K. – everything is kosher, the papers are in order – you have a green light. GO.

So, go we did. At nine in the evening a large group of Hebron residents dittoed the act of a year ago, and moved in. The building had to be cleaned; it was a real mess inside. But Hebron's population was highly motivated. Not every day do you successfully move into a new building in the city of the Patriarchs.

Of course, the police, army and civil administration showed up in full force, and received explanations and documentation, as a year before. And that was it. At least for a few days.

Several men were called in by the police for interrogation. They answers to most of the questions were fairly standard. 'The entire deal is legal – we have the papers to prove it – any questions concerning the details can be addressed to our lawyers. They are the experts.'

Following a few minutes of such conversation, a senior interrogator came into the room and started lecturing: "This time we are going to get you. Last time, we let you get away with it, but not this time. WE ARE GOING TO GET YOU!"

These words were repeated for about 40 minutes, over an over again, until he thought he'd gotten his point across. And that was it.

Last week we received notification that the police and others in the security forces 'decided' that the documentation was a complete forgery and that our presence in the building was illegal. They gave us notification: if you don't leave voluntarily, we will forcibly expel you.

Why now? According to the law, there is a procedure whereby tenants can be removed from a building within 30 days of their entrance. After 30 days, it becomes much more difficult to legally expel tenants from the home or building. Our '30 days' ends tonight.

For the past month, three families, about 25 people, have been living in Beit Shapira. Tonight, depending on the ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice (the Supreme Court), between 1,500 to 2,000 police and soldiers are planning on throwing them out.

Here then, is a summary of the facts concerning Beit Shapira, (named in memory of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhak Shapira, killed next to the house by Arab terrorists during Succot, 2003).

1. The Jewish presence in the building is legal.
All necessary legal documentation is available and held by the claimants. Tremendous amounts of money were invested in the building, and the decision to expel us, based upon empty, false complaints of the previous owners, comprises thievery and improper utilization of authority by powers that be.

2 . We accuse the previous Arab owner of false claims.

The fact that the previous owner denies the transaction is a normal and frequent occurrence. This, due to the fact that their lives are endangered. Such a denial is accompanied by a complaint issued with the police. The police investigation should then take place in accordance with this fact, which is well known to them, and they should not reach hasty conclusions.

3. We accuse the investigators of a tendentious investigation and improper use of their authority. The police and the civil administration hastened to draw conclusions, without any factual basis for their conclusions, while refraining from any objective, professional investigation of the facts. Despite the fact that they were not able to ascertain that the documentation was forged, as claimed by the previous owner and did not conduct any kind of true investigation of the facts, the police reached one-sided conclusions.

We are one hundred percent convinced that, given the opportunity to present the facts and documentation in an authorized court of law, the undisputed conclusion will be reached that the property is legally held by the Jewish community of Hebron. We therefore are requesting that the Supreme court prevent the proposed expulsion and transfer the case to the proper court of law.

4. We are facing a classic case of improper use of authority by the authorities, who are utilizing their positions in a clearly biased manner, without any fairness or objectivity.

5. It is only proper that the question of legal possession and tenure, and the determination as to the authenticity of the documents, be determined by an appropriate court as soon as possible. Such decisions should not be made by 'field court-martial' with overtly political overtones.

6. Concerning the last point, it must be stressed that the question at hand is not legal, rather it is strictly political. The decision to expel us from the building was taken by outgoing Defense Minister Shaul Mufaz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert immediately following our entrance into the building, prior to any examination of the legal documents or claims. The police then began a one-sided investigation before any claims or complaints were filed by the previous owner.

This being the case, we expect the high court of justice to accept our petition and order the police to refrain from any and all expulsion of Jewish families from Beit Shapira in Hebron.