Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hebron and CNN

August 28, 2007

Hebron and CNN

Following screening of the CNN production "Warriors of G-d", including a 2 hour segment dealing with Judaism and Israel, I think it appropriate to post the following two letters, between myself and Mr. Jonathan Klein, President of CNN/USA. The two letter are, I think, self-explanatory.

I must note, that following my 'revelation,' I notified a number of people who had, like myself, agreed to participate one way or another, with CNN. Some of them immediately ceased all contact with CNN and refused to take part in the program. Others decided to continue.

Each person can draw their own conclusions.

David Wilder


From: Hebron [mailto:mail?view=cm&tf=0&to=hebron@hebron.org.il]
Sent: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 5:44 PM
To: 'mail?view=cm&tf=0&to=public.information@cnn.com'
Subject: Cnn production of Religion and politics - produced by Andy Segal
Importance: High

Dear Mr. Klein,

A couple of months ago I was approached by one of your Israeli correspondents about participating in a program produced by CNN, dealing with politics and religion in Judaism. He introduced me to Mr. Andy Segal, who is producing the program, and we had several lengthy conversations, first by phone, and later in person, here in Hebron, in Israel. Our conversations were quite open and frank – I saw no reason to hide my suspicions about cooperating with CNN – the network's reputation concerning Israel is less than positive. We discussed this at great length, and at one point Andy requested to center the program around Hebron and the Hebron Jewish community.

Following much thought and conversations with colleagues of mine, I decided to refuse Andy's request, but did agree to participate in a more minor role in the program, basing our response to each request on its own merits.

A couple of weeks ago Andy again made contact and we spoke of several possibilities. He was interested in speaking to a family which had experienced terror first-hand, and had chosen to remain in Hebron, despite their loss and the dangers involved. I decided to try to assist and introduced him to Mrs. Tzippy Shlissel, whose father, Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan, was killed by terrorists in Hebron some eight and a half years ago. He met with her three times: first an introductory meeting, followed by an in-depth interview, and followed, earlier today, by a filmed interview and filming of the family, home, etc.

So far so good.


When we first discussed this project I asked Andy who was responsible for writing the script. He told me that he would be working on it, but there would be others involved. To the best of my recollection, my impression was that he was 'in charge' and for the most part, would determine the outlook of the script and would be 'on top' of the entire project.

This afternoon, that illusion shattered when he mentioned to me that in a few months, the chief international CNN correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, would be coming to Israel and would probably also want to speak with Mrs. Shlissel. Almost in shock, I asked him what her role is in this project. He told me that she is the narrator. I asked if she would have anything to do with writing the script and was told that "I will write the first draft." "Will she have anything to do with writing the final draft?" "Yes."

I then told Andy that had I known she was involved with this project I would not have had anything at all to do with it.

I am personally familiar with Christiane Amanpour. A number of years ago (about 10 years ago) she interviewed me. I had the dubious pleasure to have her yell and scream at me on camera. She obviously wanted me to scream back, so as to show her viewers 'an extremist from Hebron' exploding on camera. I refused to play into her hands and answered all her questions with a relaxed, calm smile on my face. However, I never forgot the interview. I haven't been yelled at, on camera, by too many journalists.

How can CNN produce an 'objective program' about Israel and religious settlers, when one of the prime elements of the program is known to be vehemently 'anti-Israel' and certainly 'anti-settlers,' so to speak? Her reputation is so blatantly prejudiced. For example: http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2006/03/from-terrorism-to-trash -collection_28.html

So when people ask: "Why did the Palestinian people elect a terrorist group?" The answer is because they see them as a lifeline.

Each time I go to the Palestinian territory of Gaza, I am shocked by the reality on the ground. On a recent visit, I passed through a short tunnel from the First World in Israel and emerged into the Third World that is Gaza. The poverty there is among the worst in the world.

Hamas officials told me they did not expect to win the election as overwhelmingly as they did. They say their main priority now is to meet the demands of the people for a better life.

But that may be impossible, because Israel and the United States refuse to deal with Hamas and have already cut funding to the new Palestinian government.

Posted By Christiane Amanpour, CNN Correspondent: 11:03 AM ET

A woman who justifies and backs Hamas is going to deal 'fairly' with Jews in Hebron, or anywhere else in Judea and Samaria? She is going to present us as 'religious nuts and fanatics' who are endangering world peace. She is certainly not going to present anything that could be considered positive concerning us, our lifestyles or our beliefs. She is certainly not going to present a balanced, objective program dealing with religious Jews and Eretz Yisrael.

I basically told Andy that I was out – and wouldn't have anything more to do with the project. I put a rather large degree of trust in Andy – I believed that he had the possibility to present an object, balanced program. However, I cannot have any trust whatsoever in Christiane Amanpour, whose reputation stands before her.

Andy Segal told me that you are responsible for this project, that you initiated it. Without being presumptuous, I think it fair to demand that Christiane Amanpour be removed from this project. I cannot imagine that such a biased person could have anything to do with a project dealing with religion and politics in Israel. The results are a foregone conclusion, even before the cameras start rolling. The question is whether the program you are producing is to be an interesting objective account of religion and politics in Israel, or another CNN-produced Israel (settler)-bashing?

I await your reply and hope, very much, to learn that Ms. Amanpour will no longer have anything to do with this project.


David Wilder
The Jewish Community of Hebron

From: Klein, Jon [mailto: mail?view=cm&tf=0&to=Jon.Klein@turner.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 6:41 PM
To: mail?view=cm&tf=0&to=hebron@hebron.org.il
Subject: Response to your email dated January 30, 2007

February 13, 2007

Mr. David Wilder
The Jewish Community of Hebron
February 12, 2007

Dear Mr. Wilder,

Let me begin by thanking you for your comments. I am sorry that the Jewish Community of Hebron has chosen not to be represented in our documentary. Our mission is to produce a program that goes far beyond what is normally seen in daily news broadcasts so that our viewers can better understand the people who risk their lives -- and their children's - to live on land they believe is their birthright: Jerusalem and the West Bank. Our goal is not to find fault or fix blame -- but to simply understand. To that end, I believe that you are missing a prime opportunity to be heard, not only in the United States, but in 180 countries around the world, and I would ask you to reconsider.

Regardless of your decision, I stand by CNN's reputation as a fair and impartial source of information. On conflicts as heated and long-standing as that between Israel and the Palestinians it is not surprising that "both sides" are at times unhappy with our reporting. We often hear that we are biased towards the other side, and that may be the surest indication of our impartiality.

Christiane Amanpour is one of our most talented and prominent international correspondents, and she is supported by a team of our strongest producers. In fact Andy Segal, our senior producer, is one of the best. As you probably have discovered, Andy comes to the table prepared. He is fair, honorable and ethical - a journalist who takes his work very seriously. He has produced a number of award-winning documentaries. Andy and his team are researching, producing and writing this documentary, and you can be assured that his reporting will shape the final program. As a spokesman for a prominent organization, I am sure you appreciate the need for others input before you represent the positions and views of Hebron's Jewish community. The same is true at CNN - not only will Ms. Amanpour have input, but so will editors and executives, to insure journalist standards and practices are met. In the end a program like this will be fully vetted and sourced.

I can honestly say that if you decide not to contribute to this program - perhaps the fullest exploration of this issue ever seen on western television - you may regret missing the opportunity to let millions of viewers understand your story. I hope you will reconsider your decision, but if not, you can be assured the program will meet the highest standards of journalism.


Jon Klein

Jon Klein

President, CNN U.S.

One Time Warner Center

New York, NY 10019

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Professor Hillel Weiss and the Hebron Expulsion: Words and Deeds

August 12, 2007

The past few days have been somewhat traumatic. True, the community had been notified of the impending expulsion. The thousand plus troops, dressed in black, gray, blue and green came as no surprise. Even Yaron London's statements about reviving the spirit of the Altelena, and permitting soldiers to shoot us has been heard before.
But some of the day's events were not expected.
During discussions conducted by the community leadership, one of the subjects raised was the 'western shuk,' i.e. the longer of the two buildings comprising the Rinat Shalhevet neighborhood, the structure perpendicular to the main road leading from the Tomb of the Patriarchs through the community neighborhoods. That building contained six apartments, a Torah study hall, and a room used by the children as a Bnei Akiva youth group club house. For the past year and a half this building was empty. The two families that had 'illegally' moved back into their old homes were in the smaller building, parallel to the road, and adjacent to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood and courtyard.
When a decision was made to refrain from voluntarily moving out, as had been done a year and a half ago, the question was raised: should we fill up both buildings with people, or should we just deal with the homes in question, the homes of the Yahalom and Bar Kochva families.
After much discussion it was decided to leave the empty and larger of the two buildings out of the dispute. 'That building is empty – leave it that way. At present the struggle is for the homes of two families – those two apartments, as well as the third home, formerly housed by the Shlissel family, will be the symbol of our opposition and our protest. Those three apartments will be filled with protesters, refusing to leave of their own accord. Should the government demand that these structures be empty, they will have to physically evict us. We won't leave on our own two feet.'
And so it was. The larger of the two buildings was left empty; no struggle took place there. However, the troops that expelled the families and protesters from the smaller building, upon concluding their initial task, took it upon themselves to destroy the six apartments in the larger building. It was a horrible sight to see: Israeli soldiers and police destroying Jewish homes in Hebron, and a Torah study hall, built in memory of a murdered ten-month old infant. It was distinctly reminiscent of other periods of our history, not in Israel, but rather in Russia, Poland, Germany, and other such countries. Then, the predators were Cossacks, and anti-Semitic Jew-haters. Today, in the State of Israel, 2007, the vulturous acts were taken by Jews, in uniform, representing the state.
It is not surprising that people might lose control of themselves. What is surprising is that virtually nobody did lose control. There was little violence initiated by demonstrators. The vicious brutality used was that of the Riot Squad "Yasam" forces and the border police. No one took up weapons against the destroyers, no knives, no guns, and almost no rocks or other dangerous objects. There were a few exceptions to the rule, but very few. Those were the instructions issued to the protestors, and an overwhelming majority abided by this decision.
I know people attending such demonstrations who intentionally leave their weapons at home. Even though they are licensed to carry arms, they lock them up in a closet, 'just to make sure.' However one of the things you cannot leave home is your mouth, or your emotions. Such horrid scenes reach the very depths of a person's neshama, a person's soul, and the suffering can be almost unbearable.
I've know Professor Hillel Weiss for a number years, have read some of his articles and have participated in discussions with him. He is an extremely intelligent man and has very firm beliefs. I personally do not agree with all his ideas or necessarily his form of expression. But clearly, his concern is not for his own benefit or well-being; his concern is for the Jewish people only.
The expressions he uttered towards the military commander of Hebron, Col. Yehuda Fox, are not necessarily to my liking, for a number of reasons. I personally know Col. Fox and, despite my major misgivings about his participation in the expulsion process, I know that he was not responsible for the decisions made on that particular day. But I must admit, even though I would not curse him, there are others that, even if I don't say the words out loud, I certainly think them about them. Not about Col. Fox, but about others, in much higher decision-making positions than the commander of forces in Hebron. There are, unfortunately, people in Israel, making decisions which could, G-d forbid, endanger the existence of the State of Israel. These people deserve whatever hardships should befall them, and you won't find any of us sad about their downfall. Some of these people are ignorant, but others are simply evil, and to hide this fact is stupid blindness. The truth must be met head-on, despite the unpleasantness of it all.
So even though I personally don't agree with Prof. Weiss' words in this particular instance, I find it difficult to swallow the media bias, which lambastes the Professor, but does not print pictures of the pogrom, which left Jewish homes in ruins. Why didn't the press print pictures of the destroyed furniture from the Bar Kochva or Yahalom homes, devastation which was totally unnecessary.
One other thing: true, Prof. Weiss' statements were very harsh. But perhaps people are unaware of a simple fact: Professor Hillel Weiss is the father of Tehila Yahalom , who has now, twice, been evicted from her home. The first time, it should be remembered, she, her husband and family agreed to voluntarily leave their home as part of an agreement with the Commander of forces in Judea and Samaria, who, representing the state, promised that families would soon be able to return to these homes, without any legal hassles. That agreement was broken by the State of Israel. This time she and her husband refused to give in. And Tehila's father, Professor Hillel Weiss, was more than just a little upset.
So, even though his words were harsh, and not necessarily what we would all agree to, Prof. Weiss said the words, but did not execute them. The police and soldiers in Hebron last week may not have said too much, but the damage they did was equivalent to pogroms of a hundred years ago.
Which is worse?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Eternal Flame of Hebron

August 08, 2007

Beginning early Monday night the Hebron Jewish Community switched gears, moving into full-speed expulsion mode. The community had been gearing up for the planned expulsion for a few weeks, while at the same time conducting talks with various political and legal authorities in the Knesset and Defense ministry. Months ago the Hebron leadership authorized former Justice Minister, attorney Ya'akov Neeman to present a compromise solution to the issue at hand.

The Avraham Avinu neighborhood was founded by Jews exiled from Spain in 1540. This was the central Jewish community in Hebron for almost 400 years, until the 1929 massacre abruptly decimated the community, with the survivors of the pogrom expelled by the occupying British forces.

Land adjacent to the Jewish Quarter was purchased by Rabbi Haim Bajayo in 1807 on behalf of the community. Following the 1929 expulsion, Hebron Arabs constructed a market place – the Hebron "shuk" at this site. This market operated thru the 1990s – 2000s, being closed in stages by the Israeli Defense Forces for security reasons. The leases on the building expired and Hebron leaders requested to rent them. All requests were denied by the Israeli custodian for abandoned property, under whose auspices the buildings fell.

Following the murder of 10-month old Shalhevet Pass in March, 2001, Hebron residents moved into these empty structures and slowly transformed them into beautiful apartments, nine in number, as well as a Beit Midrash (Torah Study Hall) in Shalhevet's memory. They lived in these apartments for five years, during which time the issue revolved in the Israeli courts, in an effort to remove us from the buildings. A military appeals court recognized the community's ownership of the land and recommended that the buildings be leased to the Jewish community, however this recommendation was rejected by the state Attorney General Eliyakim Rubenstein.

After the expulsion from Gush Katif, the prosecutor's office decided to finally evict families from these apartments also. The day prior to the planned expulsion, community leaders met with General Yair Golan, commander of forces in Judea and Samaria, who offered them a deal. If the community would agree to voluntarily leave the apartments, the government would allow families to 'legally' return within a few months. Following a debate and vote in the middle of the night, the community accepted the deal. The next day the families moved out. A few days later the Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, publicly announced that 'there had never been a deal.' He later changed this, stating that there had been an agreement, but General Yair Golan was unauthorized to finalize such a deal and it was null and void. This, despite the fact that Golan conducted numerous conversations with his superiors in the Defense ministry during the meeting with him in order to receive authorization to conclude the agreement.

Ten months ago two of the families who had agreed to move out of their homes, moved back in. Left with nowhere to live, and realizing that the agreement would never be honored, they decided enough is enough. With community backing, they returned to their abandoned homes. A few weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled that the government had the authority to again expel them, should they want to. The Israeli prosecutor's office, together with the 'Civil Administration' immediately issued expulsion orders. The families, with community support, refused to again leave voluntarily. Yesterday the expulsion orders were executed.

Hundreds of people came to Hebron to support the families and community. They filled the two family's apartments, as well as a third vacant apartment in the complex. The security forces numbered well over one thousand, including police, border police, the riot squad, and soldiers. At about 6:15 in the morning they attacked.

The doors to the apartments had been welded shut, so it took them some time to break in. People in the apartments offered no violent resistance, but just about everyone had to be dragged out. Where no cameras present, riot squad forces utilized excessive force, beating people and dragging them by their necks. A number of people were injured and necessitated medical treatment.

Within about two hours the apartments were vacant of people. The security forces then began destroying them, literally tearing the apartments apart. Amongst the rooms destroyed was the study hall/synagogue built in Shalhevet Pass' memory. All that was left was the eternal light, left hanging from the ceiling.

Ironically, this, more that anything else, represents the mood of Hebron's Jewish community. On the one hand, we have faced tremendous adversity and demolition. The site of people's homes in ruins is sickening. On the other hand, we know that the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the city where David began the Israelite monarchy, is an essential, eternal element of the Jewish people, which can never be extinguished.

True, there are those who would desire to exterminate us, literally. A veteran, respected Israeli journalist/commentator, Yaron London, said during a television show that the IDF shouldn't have wasted so many soldiers to evict families from their homes. Rather, they should have sent in a small unit and shot the resistors, 'reawakening the spirit of the Altelena.' [ http://news.nana10.co.il/Article/?ArticleID=505495&TypeID=1&sid=126 ]

However, we know that that the light of Hebron, the light of Avraham Avinu, the light of Eretz Yisrael, cannot and never will be doused, not by politicians, not by police and not by bullets. Nothing can destroy the eternal flame of the Jewish people, certainly not the everlasting glow of the holy city of Hebron .

Friday, August 3, 2007

Hebron and Darfur

August 3, 2007
A few days ago I toured with an American family from California. A fifteen-sixteen year old youth asked me the same question any number of times during the two hours we spent together. I don't know if I was able to satisfactorily respond to his queries.
When we were at Beit Hadassah and I described how the women and children living there were surrounded and lived under siege, he asked, "What, Arab police surrounded them?" My response was, of course, "no, Jewish police." "But why would Jewish police do something like that?" he asked.
When I told them the story of a little boy with a tooth-ache who was sent from Beit Hadassah to nearby Kiryat Arba to the dentist, who upon returning to Beit Hadassah wasn't allowed back in, he again asked, "An Arab guard wouldn't let him in?" And of course again I answered, 'no, a Jewish guard." "But why would a Jew do that to a child?"
When we arrived at the Shalhevet neighborhood, the 'shuk,' and I related to them the events leading up to next week's planned expulsion of two families from that site, again he piped up, "Arabs are going to throw you out?" And of course I responded, 'no, Jews are going to expel us.'
He looked at me with astonishment, his eyes wide, filled with question marks. "I don't understand. What does the Israeli government care about two families in the Shalhevet neighborhood in Hebron? Why are they going to forcibly expel families? How can they do that?!"
Very good questions, coming from a young man, first time in Hebron. I have trouble giving him a good answer. Not that I don't know the answer. The question is, how to express it, so that it will be comprehensible.
Yesterday Hebron marked the 78th anniversary of the 1929 riots and massacre during which 67 Jews were slaughtered and over 70 injured. The Washington Post article, which I responded to last week, stated that the survivors 'fled.' This is, of course, a lie. The survivors were expelled. They weren't expelled once. They were expelled twice. First in August, 1929 following the riots, and then again, in the spring of 1936. A large group of families desired to return to Hebron, but were prevented from doing so due to 'political considerations' determined by the Jewish leadership at the time. However a group of some 30 families did move back to Hebron in 1931, and lived in the city until a few days after Passover in 1936. At that time the British again expelled them, saying that the Mufti was inciting, there was going to be trouble, and that the British police wouldn't be able to protect them. They threw them out with the clothes they were wearing, but nothing else. That was the end of a Hebron Jewish community until our return in 1967. It was, for all intensive purposes, the first time in almost a thousand years that Hebron had no Jewish population.
In the 1920s and the 1930s there was no Jewish state, no Jewish army, no Jewish ability to truly defend themselves. Today, 78 years later, we have Jewish police, Jewish military, a Jewish government, a Jewish state. It seems that they prefer not to follow in the footsteps of the first Jew, Abraham, who, being commanded by G-d to "Lech Lecha" to "Go" to walk the land, the length and width of Eretz Yisrael, did just that, stopping only in Hebron, making this city his home, the first Jewish city in the Land of Israel. Rather, the Israeli state, using all of the resources available to such a sovereign body, prefers to follow in the footsteps of the Mufti and the British.
Ah, you ask, the Mufti? The Mufti slaughtered people. How can you compare the Israeli government to Haj Amin el Husseini, a Jew-hater whose incitement led to the 1929 riots?
Very clearly, Amin el Husseini's goal was the expulsion of Jews, starting with Hebron, and reaching Jerusalem, and other cities in Israel. He wanted Jews out, and cared not how it happened. He had plans to annihilate all the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael following Rommel's expected invasion of Israel during World War Two. He met with Hitler in Berlin in the 1930s and clearly discussed more than formation of the Muslim Brigades, which fought against the allied forces in Europe.
And our government, where are they? Are they defending their people? Where are they today, as Kasam rockets continue to fall on Sderot? Where were they last year when rockets fired from Lebanon blasted northern Israel? How are they, at present, preserving not only the physical entity of the State of Israel, but also its heritage, its history, its essence?
Yesterday, the new-old Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, effectively declared war on Hebron's Jewish residents, and seemingly on all Jews living in Judea and Samaria. Barak received first-hand information from high-ranking legal advisors within the administration that the families do not have to be expelled from their homes, that there is no court ruling compelling forced eviction of the families, and that there are legally viable alternatives to the expulsion which could be acceptable to both sides. (One of Hebron's ranking legal advisors, former Justice Minister Ya'akov Neeman offered such a compromise, labeled the "Neeman plan" months ago, on behalf of the community, but the compromise was rejected for reasons not specified.) Despite this information, despite the chance to avoid what could turn into an ugly clash, Barak prefers to flex his muscles and show the country what he's made of: Black uniforms, hard-rubber batons, tear gas, and lots of force. Blood, sweat and tears. ('Settler blood and tears, or course!) (The last time such a decision was taken, the result was Amona).
A year and a half ago, nine Hebron families and a Torah study hall voluntarily left these homes in order to prevent what could have been an extremely violent situation. The community was given a firm promise, in the form of an agreement with the commander of forces in Judea and Samaria, General Yair Golan, that following our voluntary exit from the homes, families would soon be allowed to 'legally' return. That was a year and a half ago. The agreement was voided by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, using the excuse that Golan was not authorized to make the agreement. This, despite the fact that the General was on and off the phone with his bosses in the Defense Ministry during the meeting with Hebron representatives in order to receive their OK to the compromise.
Again we've been told that 'we can talk about the shuk after the families leave.' We've been through that once, once too many times. Not again. The property is Jewish property. A military appeals court recommended that the buildings be leased to the Hebron Jewish community. This too was rejected. What more do they want?
The answer to that seems very clear: they are looking for blood. Jewish blood. Shades of the Mufti – shades of the British; blood and expulsion. Not by Arabs and British, rather by Jews. Astounding. And very sad.
One of this morning's headlines in the ynetnews internet news site proclaims: 63 MKs demand that Israel not expel refugees from Sudan. [http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L- 3433224,00.html] So now I have a new idea. Let's bring those refugees to Hebron and let them live in shuk. That way nobody will dare touch them. Unless, of course, they convert. Once they're Jewish, watch out. Then, for sure, they'll face expulsion: not from Israel, but from the Shalhevet neighborhood in Hebron.