March 28, 2007

From: AFSI: Mideast Outpost [] or

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles Outpost will publish on the most important Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, the much maligned "settlements.")

If the Jewish people has undeniable rights anywhere on earth it is in Hebron. Hebron, numbered among the four holy cities (with Jerusalem, Tiberias and Safed) is the first Jewish city in history. It is the place where the Jewish national patriarchs lived and were buried. Their burial plot – Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs—was the first Jewish property purchased in the Land of Israel, and one of the Jewish people's most impressive monuments was built atop it.

The Jewish community in Hebron existed for thousands of years until it was brutally displaced in 1929—after Arab marauders murdered, raped and burned to death scores of Jews and dispossessed the community of properties that included hundreds of acres of real estate. Not surprisingly, after Israel's conquest of Judea and Samaria in the Six Day War of 1967, the restoration of Hebron loomed large as a goal for many Jews. In 1967 a group of religious Jews rented the Park Hotel in Hebron for the Passover period – and refused to leave. Pressure grew upon a reluctant government, which then allowed the group to settle on empty land adjoining the city, which became Kiryat Arba. But the Jews of Kiryat Arba did not give up on their goal of returning to Hebron itself.
A tragedy paved the way for the renewal of Jewish life in Hebron. In 1975 a baby boy named Avraham Yedidya was born to famous Hasidic artist Baruch Nachshon and his wife Sarah, who were among the first Jews to come to Kiryat Arba in 1968. Three months later Sarah found her newborn baby lifeless in his crib. The young mother was beside herself. "Everything in this world has a purpose," she thought to herself. "What was the purpose of her three- month old son?"

Sarah Nachshon decided that Avraham Yedidya would be buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron. The cemetery had been last used to inter Jews slaughtered in the 1929 riots in Hebron. It is minutes from the traditional graves of Ruth and Jesse and overlooks Ma'arat HaMachpela. Perhaps, Sarah thought, this was the purpose of Avraham Yedidya, to take part in a sad but vital part of renewing Jewish Hebron. After almost fifty years, the Jewish cemetery of Hebron would again be utilized as a Jew's last resting place.

Late in the afternoon the funeral procession left Kiryat Arba for the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron. Then, suddenly, the mourners encountered soldiers and roadblocks. "No, you may not proceed to the cemetery," the soldiers ordered the mourners, "the cemetery is off-limits. You must bury the baby in Jerusalem."

One of the car doors opened. A short woman stepped out, with a bundle in her arms. "Are you looking for me—are you looking for my baby? My name is Sarah Nachshon. Here is my baby, in my arms. If you won't let us drive to the cemetery we will walk!"

Men with shovels and flashlights, and women, Kiryat Arba residents, walked through ancient Hebron in the early evening. They passed Ma'arat HaMachpela. They passed the sheep sty atop the 450 year-old Abraham Avinu synagogue, left in ruins, destroyed by the Jordanian occupiers and Hebron Arabs. Blockades, set up to stop the crowd, were pushed aside. Senior officers gave orders over their walkie-talkies: "Stop them—don't let them proceed"—but the soldiers, overcome by the scene, radioed back: "We can't stop them. If you want, come here and do it yourselves." The procession continued, past Beit Romano, Beit Shneerson, home of Menucha Rachel Shneerson Slonim, granddaughter of the "Ba'al HaTanya," up the steep hill to the ancient cemetery.

Sarah Nachshon released the body of her tiny son and it was lowered into the freshly dug grave, only meters from the mass grave of the 1929-Tarpat riot victims. Mustering her voice, Sarah spoke: "Four thousand years ago our Patriarch Abraham purchased Hebron for the Jewish People by burying here his wife Sarah. Tonight Sarah is repurchasing Hebron for the Jewish People by burying here her son Avraham."

Four years later a group of 10 Jewish women and 40 children resettled Hebron, moving into the abandoned Beit Hadassah building, just minutes from the cemetery. One of those ten women was Sarah Nachshon.

One of the most common questions I receive, from journalists and tourists alike is: What's it like to live in Hebron? What's everyday life all about?

There is a stereotype attached to places like Hebron, similar to the Wild West. In all honesty, it's generally not like that.

So, what is it like? Usually, life is a routine, just as it is elsewhere in Israel and around the world. I can speak for myself and I think this fairly represents most people here. I get up in the morning, pray, eat breakfast, and then go to work. There are many men who arise early for prayers at Ma'arat HaMachpela and then attend a daily Talmud class.

Each person has his/her own employment: there are men who study Torah in a yeshiva or kollel; a few men are sofrim (scribes); others work in some aspect of education, many here in Hebron or in Kiryat Arba. There's a doctor who lives in Hebron who has clinics around the county. We also have musicians, artists, nurses and office workers living in Hebron. Of course, during the day, the kids are in school, either in Hebron or Kiryat Arba. Those of high school age and above may study and live away from home, as is wont in Israeli religious society. After-school youth groups, clubs, library and homework assistance are all part of every day life.

Shopping, a post office, doctors and dentists, a medical center with up-to-date technology can all be found in Kiryat Arba. There are several supermarkets that are less than 5-10 minutes from our homes. Orders can also be given over the phone and delivered to our door. In other words, for the most part, it's not difficult to be self-sufficient within a radius of 10 minutes from our homes.

So when is life not so normal? One day last week my cell phone rang at about 4:50 in the morning. One of my colleagues was on the phone: Excitedly she said, "Get here fast, the police are here…" (In truth, not even my wife can get me out of bed so fast, especially at that time of the morning, but…)

And of course, as I write ( March 20), the Hebron community's purchase of Beit HaShalom (The House of Peace), between Kiryat Arba and Hebron, and our moving into the building, has radically changed my personal daily schedule and the lives of many others. [See:] Many Hebron families have, as a result of the purchase, moved into the new building, albeit temporarily, in order to maintain possession of the structure. People are spending days and nights there, helping with necessary renovations. Hebron's Talmud Torah has started giving classes there. A neighborhood, where up until a few days ago Jews had no presence, is now thriving with Jewish life: men, women, many children and multitudes of visitors.

This kind of event generally does not occur elsewhere. In Hebron, this is the second time in a year that this type of 'adventure' has transpired. So in some ways it could be concluded that life in Hebron is quite different from just about anywhere else in the world.

And of course it's not normal for your own government to restrict your movements and ignore your most basic rights in the city where you live. Today Jews are allowed to enter only three percent of the municipal area of Hebron. Yet thousands of Arabs continue to live in the Israeli zone. The Palestinian Authority is deliberately establishing institutions in this area for the express purpose of "strangling" the Jewish community by attracting masses of Arabs.

Although the 1997 "Hebron Accord" stipulated that Jews should enjoy total freedom of movement in Hebron and the right to visit and worship at shrines such as Elonei Mamre and the Tomb of Otniel ben Katz, its provisions are totally ignored. Jews find it virtually impossible to register title to land. In the past 20 years the Israeli government has issued permits for only three buildings. Offspring of the Jewish community who marry and wish to live in their community cannot do so—due to the racist Jews-only building restrictions.

Under blatantly discriminatory guidelines from the State Attorney's Office, the Israeli government uses law-enforcement as a technique to harass the Jewish community. The procedures require the police to invest unprecedented resources in personnel, funds and motor vehicles in order to monitor the Jews. As a direct result of this over-enforcement there is wholesale opening of investigation files for trifling offenses and inconsequential activities, often ending with acquittals or closure of files on technical grounds. This adds up to a grievous, ongoing blow to the personal freedoms of the Jewish residents of Hebron, coupled with cumulative damage in the form of files that besmirch the inhabitants with criminal records—files that would not have been opened anywhere else in Israel.

One last point: it is important to keep in mind that no one is being forced to live in Hebron. All the people who reside here do so because they want to be here. Anyone who wishes to leave, for any reason, can do so. However, most people stay, regardless of the difficulties and the 'abnormalities,' despite the terror attacks and murders that have claimed dozens of casualties in Hebron's Jewish community since the "second Intifada" that began in September 2000.

They remain because it is a privilege to live in Israel's first Jewish city, and to walk in the footsteps of Avraham and Sarah, and King David. Despite the problems, Hebron is our home, and we are honored to be residents of such a holy city.

Of course, there are those who would say that we are crazy for wanting to live here. So be it: Crazy or not, Hebron is here to stay, and so are its Jewish inhabitants.