Thursday, July 31, 2008

Yossi Ezra's Return To Hebron

Tammuz 28, 5768, 7/31/2008

Yossi Ezra's Return To Hebron

A few weeks ago, I bumped into some journalists in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Seeing me, they asked about various problems, including threatened expulsion from several buildings here in Hebron.

Finishing up their interview, they concluded by saying/asking, "I guess you don't have too much to be happy about with all of these problems." My answer: "No, you are wrong. We have a tremendous reason to be in high spirits. The very fact that we are here is reason to celebrate. The fact that today there are some 90 families and well over 300 children in Hebron, in five neighborhoods, is reason to celebrate. The fact that we are still in Beit HaShalom a year after having moved in, despite all the attempts to expel us, is something of a miracle and reason to celebrate.

"True, there are problems. There always have been problems and almost always will be - but what of it? That's the way life is. True, it could be easier; but taking into consideration where we were 60 years ago and 40 years ago, as well as the kinds of politicians running the country and the pressures from so many different sources, the very fact that we are in Hebron at all is, in my eyes, nothing less than a Divine miracle. And for that, we are truly happy."

One of the seeming issues we have today is the right to purchase property in Hebron, and the legitimacy of construction on Jewish-owned land.

For example a couple of weeks ago, on a Friday morning, we had a special visitor in Hebron. Yosef Ezra was born in Hebron in the early 1930's. However, as he related to us, his family history in Hebron goes back over 400 years. Following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, Jews scattered all over the world. Yossi Ezra's family made their way from Spain to Eretz Yisrael, and settled here in Hebron. They lived here continuously until the expulsion immediately after the 1929 riots and massacre, but returned with a small group of families in 1931.

Most of those families were again expelled in the spring of 1936. However, one family remained in Hebron: The Ezra family. Yossi's father, Ya'akov, processed dairy products and sold them to Arabs in the city. He refused to leave. He would work in Hebron during the week and return to his family in Jerusalem for Shabbat. Many times his children would come with him, running around in the streets and alleys of Hebron and playing with Arab kids.

Until November 29, 1947, that is. The United Nations approved the partition plan, dividing Eretz Yisrael between the Jews and Arabs. The Jewish leadership in Israel accepted the plan. The Arabs rejected it and declared war. Ya'akov Ezra's friends told him, "When you go to Jerusalem for Shabbat, don't come back any more." Only then was the Ezra family, 450 years in Hebron, exiled from the home. That lasted for 19 years.

Following the 1967 Six-Day War, the Ezras wanted to return to Hebron and their age-old property. But all requests fell on deaf ears. Moshe Dayan and others weren't interested in Jews returning to Hebron and refused to speak to them. But today, things have changed.

Yossi Ezra comes into the Avraham Avinu neighborhood like a long lost child coming home. Looking around behind the destroyed Jewish homes in the old "Arab shuk," he declares, "All this was an olive grove that my father worked. Twelve dunam (1,000 square meters - 10,700 feet) of land - all of it here belonged to my father. Here, you see this mosque? My father built it on his land for the Arabs who worked here, so they'd have a place to pray. All the buildings here are on my family's property."

Yosef Ezra carefully examining an ancient
Sefer Torah in the Avraham Avinu Shul. Written
in the 1100's, it was brought to Hebron by his ancestors.

Yossi Ezra has been instrumental in assisting Hebron over the past few months. A few years ago the community built a small apartment called Beit Ezra, underneath Beit Nachum v'Yehuda, in an abandoned Arab shop - itself built on Ezra's property. A military appeals panel recently ruled that the Arabs have no claim to that land. When the three judges visited the site, Ezra pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. "My father paid the water bill here. This is the receipt, from 1932."

A few meters away, inside the Avraham Avinu shul, Yossi Ezra carefully examines an ancient Sefer Torah, explaining that it was written in the 1100's and brought to Hebron by his ancestors.

Yossi Ezra is an authentic example of Hebron's fascinating history, blending the past, the present and the future.

However, the following should be clear: I mentioned earlier about "the seeming issues" plaguing Hebron, as illustrated by the struggle to continuing living in "Beit Ezra." But the roots of the issues are much deeper and, in truth, have nothing to do with building or purchasing today.

Not too long ago, a group of government representatives visited Hebron. While standing outside Ma'arat HaMachpela discussing various ways to improve conditions at the holy site, one of the young "legal experts" piped up, "But there's a problem here because Ma'arat HaMachpela is registered as belonging to the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust." One of the Hebron men scratched his head, looked at the lawyer, and reacted. "Gee, I remember reading somewhere that it was registered with someone who preceded Muhammad. Avraham, I think his name was."

This is the real issue! When Jews in the State of Israel of 2008 can conjure up such a statement as, "Ma'arat HaMachpela belongs to the Arabs" (while keeping in mind that they wouldn't allow Jews access to this site for 700 years), it's clear that something in our national and religious psyche is tainted.

On the other hand there is a cure, a medicine to alleviate all such ills. On the same day that Yossi Ezra visited Hebron, I came upon a large group outside in the Machpela garden. A group of first-graders from Efrat had come to celebrate the conclusion of studying Chumash Bereishit - the Book of Genesis. The festivity included a wonderful play, depicting Abraham's purchase of the Caves of Machpela almost 4,000 years ago.

This is the recipe to heal such a disease that threatens to destroy our roots: children outside Ma'arat HaMachpela, acting out the purchase of this sacred site. In reality, it's not only a play. It's reality! Every day, Jews who visit, pray and identify with this hallowed place are recreating and reinforcing - with their very presence - Jewish ownership of our land. This is our strength, our legacy, and our future.

Yossi Ezra represents where we came from. These children represent where we are going.

It's a good thing Abraham didn't need anyone's permission to buy Ma'arat HaMachpela. 

Friday, July 18, 2008

Eretz Yisrael is obtained with hardship

Tammuz 15, 5768, 7/18/2008

Eretz Yisrael is obtained with hardship

Yitzhak Herskovitz: I want to help guarantee the survival of Israel.
The Talmud in the tractate Brachot teaches us that three prizes are obtained via hardship: Torah, the Next World, and Eretz Yisrael. Yitzhak Herskovitz has first-hand experience with the adversity involved in redeeming and settling Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.

R' Yitzchak made aliyah over 20 years ago. A carpenter by trade, he remodeled the lift he used to transport his belongings to Israel into a wonderful home in Kiryat Arba. But a home outside Hebron wasn't enough to quench his thirst for settling our holy land. Back in 1988 he began proceedings to purchase a home in south Jerusalem, near Gilo, today called Givat HaMatos, bordering a neighborhood called by the Arabs, Beit Tsafafa.

The transaction took a few years to finalize but in 1992 he received the papers and the property was his.

Almost. But not quite.

That's because his new home had visitors who had no plans to leave. Arab squatters, the Salach clan had moved in and the new Jewish owner of the property didn't impress them. They stayed.

Yitzhak Herskovitz
Yitzchak Herskovitz did what any good citizen would do. He went to the police and eventually to the courts. That's where the case has remained for the past sixteen years.

During the first Magistrate court proceedings, experts proved beyond any doubt that the papers presented by the Arabs, purporting to support their claims, to be forgeries. After years and years of court sessions, the judge ruled in Herskovitz' favor. An order was issued demanding that the police remove the illegal residents from the property. Over the years some seven eviction notices have been issued. But the Salach clan is still there. The police, despite the court order, refused to expel the illegal squatters.

Following Herskovitz' victory the Arabs appealed to a Jerusalem District Court, claiming that they owned the property. The judge decided not only to hear the appeal, but also to retry the case from the very beginning, forcing Herskovitz to keep paying an attorney and bring back all his past witnesses for a second round of court sessions.

Herskovitz' attorney, Ms. Anat Ben-Dror explained that the original court verdict did not rule on ownership of the property, rather regarded the case as an 'eviction hearing.' The Arabs, after losing the first case, then filed an 'ownership suit,' and the judge fell into the trap they set for him and began hearing the case for a second time.

Herskovitz pointed out that when the Arabs made a verbal claim of ownership twelve years ago, the Magistrate Court judge told them in no uncertain terms: 'if you claim ownership, file a claim in the District Court which has authority to rule on such an issue.' The fact that they did not follow the judge's instructions then basically proved that they themselves knew that they had no case.

Not too long ago R' Yitzchak won a small victory in court. The judge ruled that the Arabs would have to deposit all back rent as well as a monetary bond covering future costs, in order for him to cancel the eviction notice issued and still standing against them. However, as of this writing they still have not paid the money, and are still living in the house.

Yitzhak Herskovitz has himself authored a number of documents concerning his property:

" I spent 15 years of my life in court. I spent hundreds of thousands of shekels in legal fees, court expenses, investigation and expert research of their documents, which the police crime laboratory and my hand writing expert found to be fabricated. All of this just to pursue justice.

The police do not enforce the law when it comes to Arabs. Should I not be upset when I see and feel the injustice of this?

I understand that there are squatter's rights when they are legitimate. But when they are illegitimate, that person is a trespasser. A trespasser is a criminal. He should be put in jail so the public will know that trespassers go to jail.

I do not believe a person can fathom the pain of what trespassing does to me. The restraint that I bear goes beyond comprehension. I have been told by many not to trust the Israeli courts. I now understand why. It goes without saying: the courts and the government are responsible to protect the property rights of their citizens.

This is the primary function of the government. This is their duty and responsibility. They must provide for the safety and security of their citizens in Hebron, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or in Beit HaShalom and in Givat Hamatos.

Many of my of my acquaintances and friends keep telling me: Sell it and forget it!

The best answer I can give is that I love my children, I love my family and I love my people. I want them to have a home that they can come home to. We cannot allow Arabs to occupy our homes and our properties, to steal and rob our Land from us.

I want to help guarantee the survival of Israel.

(This article was first printed in the Jewish Press Magazine, Page M8, July 18, 2008 issue)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

If I forget thee....

Tammuz 12, 5768, 7/15/2008

If I forget thee....

Tomorrow’s planned prisoner exchange is very bittersweet.  Almost everyone has an opinion and all sides have some element of legitimacy. On one hand, the price is so very high; on the other hand, we have a responsibility to bring our soldiers home, dead or alive. A soldier, entering battle, must know that anything and everything will be done to bring him home, be it to his family, or to  ‘kever Yisrael’ – to a Jewish grave. Yet, perhaps the swap will serve as motivation to capture more soldiers, and exchange them for other terrorist killers. But, who can forget the unbelievable ‘mesirut nefesh’ – total dedication, of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then Chief Rabbi of the IDF, to wade through enemy mine fields to recover bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in action.

It’s something of a catch 22 – whatever you do is right, and whatever you do is wrong.  I know that I’ve asked myself countless times, ‘what would I do if, (G-d forbid), it was one of my sons.’ In truth, I don’t know.
Of course, with the release of two Israeli soldiers, either dead or alive, a huge dark cloud shadows their return:  where is Ron Arad, whose fate is still unknown? Is he dead or alive? Is he in Lebanon or Iran? According to Israeli intelligence sources, having studied the newly-released photos of Arad, taken about 20 years ago, the pictures were taken not in Lebanon, rather in Iran. Perhaps Ron Arad is still alive, wasting away in an Iranian dungeon?

However, with enigma surrounding Ron Arad and the as of yet unknown condition of Regev and Goldwasser, at least people know their names, show some concern for them and their families. Unfortunately, it’s not that way with all Israeli MIAs, POWS.  There are those, who, for one reason or another, have been forgotten, despite that fact that they wore the same uniform as the others, fought for the same country as the others, and whose fate is just as unknown as the others.

Ron Arad was captured in October, 1986. Four years earlier, in June, 1882, during the battle of Sultan Ya’akub, Israel  lost three of its finest.  During the battle, commanded by Ehud Barak, three tank warriors,  Tzvi Feldman,  born in 1956, Yehuda Katz, born in 1959, and Zacharia Baumel, born in 1960, disappeared.  They may have been killed during the brutal fighting. However, there were accounts of people who saw them displayed during a parade in Syria. Their families have gathered accounts over the years, which, at the very least, raise a reasonable doubt as to their fate. Perhaps they are long gone. But perhaps not.  And, if we use the Regev-Goldwasser  measuring stick, what difference does it make? Why have the IDF and the Israeli government totally forgotten about these three men? Why aren’t they household names, as is Ron Arad? Why didn’t Israel demand a full report from Hizballah concerning the fate and location of these three men just as they did concerning Ron Arad?  Why doesn’t the Israeli media exert pressure on the government and IDF concerning then, as they did concerning Regev, Goldwasser, Arad and Gilad Shalit? Why does Gilad Shalit’s name continue to make headlines, while most Israelis, 22 years later, have no idea who Katz, Feldman and Baumel are?

I have an answer, but don’t really like it. As a matter of fact, I despise what I think. It really stinks. It’s even worse than that. But I can’t think of any other viable reason.

These three men came from the wrong side of Israeli society. They all had Kippas on their heads. They belonged to religious tank units. Their families were not left-wing supporters of ‘peace,’ Labor, and Arabs.  The men weren’t media lovelies. Rather, they were young idealistic patriots, who fought for their country, their people and their belief. Their belief hasn’t betrayed them, but their country and their people have. 

But that’s not all.

It’s clear that serious negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit will continue between Israel and Hamas. Clearly, Israel should demand information and release of the three above-discussed men. But in my opinion, that’s not enough.

Hamas terrorists are not stupid. If, as is expected, Israel receives two bodies for killer Kuntar, Hamas is going to demand an even higher price for a ‘live’ Israeli. That price will almost undoubtedly include Marwan Barghuti, a convicted murderer and leader of the ‘2nd intidada’ which claimed thousands of Israeli lives, dead, maimed and wounded. The present Israeli government will almost assuredly OK the deal. However, Israel must demand more than the release of POW Gilad Shalit. After all, Barghuti will only be one of the hundreds of terrorists freed by Israel. Israel must look towards its best friend and ally, put its foot down, and tell the United States: look at what we are being forced into in order to release one Israeli soldier. What is the price of one man? Is there a price? Yet, the price is too high. We must bring home more than one POW. When we release Barghuti and Hamas releases Shalit, you must free Jonathan Pollard.  If we can do it, so can you.

At every Jewish wedding, the happiest day in a person’s life, we repeat the words, ‘If I forget thee Jerusalem….’ 

I add :

If we forget thee, Tzvi…
If we forget thee Yehuda…
If we forget thee Zacharia…
If we forget thee Jonathan…
If we forget all of you, who are we, what are we, why are we?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ethical Sleaze

Tammuz 8, 5768, 7/11/2008

Ethical Sleaze

Three "major' topics were headline news earlier this week. The first was absolutely revolting, dealing with sex allegations against former President Moshe Katzav. Coverage of accusations against Katzav are described almost down to the last detail. It's as if Israel radio and TV news are attempting to compete with porno shows, rated triple X. Disgusting. I would suggest that anyone in Israel with children at home keep an ear out for such sordid details and be ready to turn down the volume real fast. Before the kids start asking for explanations.

The second item is the juicy quote from our illustrious Education Minister, Yuli Tamir, a founder of Peace Now. During a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee, she said to the former Director General of that ministry, Ronit Tirosh: "I'm clearing out the trash and sh-t you left me."
What fine examples from official Israel radio/tv and the Education minister to Israeli children!

The third item making big news is the impending drought. A former Israeli water authority chief, interviewed during the daily radio news program said that one of the repercussions will include empty water faucets. That shook up the country. Especially when he added that a good rainy winter this year will not solve Israel's water deficiency.

However, no one is asking the really important question which is: why isn't there any water. I'm not talking about the technical reasons: no rain, and refusal by the treasury to finance massive construction of desalinization plants. That's the easy side. But what is at the root of the problem?

Observant Jews repeat at least twice daily Kriyat Shema. However we repeat not only Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokenu, HaShem Echad. We also recite two other paragraphs from the Torah. One of them speaks specifically about rain. If we implement G-d's will, He will reward us with rain. If we don't do as He instructs us, we will suffer droughts.

A story on the TV news seemed to explain why we are drying up. It was not enough that the Israeli government expelled almost 10,000 Jews from Gush Katif. An Arab who worked for a Jewish farmer in Gush Katif filed suit against his former employer because he, the Arab, had lost his job. The official reaction from the SELA authority, supposedly assisting the expellees, was that the compensation granted to the former Gush Katif residents included funds to pay damages to Arabs demanding reparation because they had lost their jobs and that any such court cases were the expellee's problem, not theirs.

In other words, the government expects citizens who were expelled from their homes, who still don't have permanent residences or employment, to pay off terrorists who are today shooting rockets into Israel from Gush Katif, with whatever is left of their compensation. And of course, it doesn't take too much imagination to figure out where most of that money will go.

Corruption takes many shapes and forms. Israel has witnessed more than its share of corrupt politicians, judges, police, prosecutors and others. Most corrupt people are attempting to either get rich/richer or obtain/maintain power.

But there's another type of corruption. I'll call it moral, ethical sleaze. What could be sleazier than telling people evicted from their homes that they have to pay off their terrorist enemies because the government stole their land and employment from them? This is more repulsive than the Katzav affair mentioned above.

Of course, this is not a 'major news story.' After all, who really cares what happens to those 'settlers' who dared 'occupy' Arab land and were rightfully kicked out of their homes, which were subsequently destroyed?

But in my humble opinion, this is why we are in the midst of a major drought. We are doing it to ourselves. We are drying ourselves out. 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

All in a Day's Work

Tammuz 3, 5768, 7/6/2008

All in a Day's Work

This morning started off fairly regularly, as Sundays go. A favorite person of mine was coming in to visit.

My friends Prof. Rachel Suissa and her husband Erez Urieli have lived for a number of years in Norway, but are both native Israelis. They initiated an organization there called 'the Center against anti-Semitism, which negates much of they slander spoken and written about Jews and Israel in general, and more specifically about places like Hebron. They produce a high-quality publication four times a year, which is distributed in tens of thousands of copies to influential people in Norway and throughout Scandinavia.
Rachel flew in last week for a short visit and this morning drove into Hebron. We had a meeting with a few people here in our offices and met with others she knows here in the community. I also pointed out to her the presence of Israel-hating anarchists who have chosen Hebron as a location to spout their abhorrence of Jews in Hebron.
At about 11:45 we were on our way to grab a bite at the Gutnick Center, next to Ma'arat HaMachpela. We never made it.
About 30 meters from the Ma'ara I drove past a group of what looked to be diplomats, being guided by an Arab. I pulled over the side, stopped the car and got out. Asking who the people were, I was told 'French diplomats.' I approached the head of the group, pulled out a business card, introduced myself, and asked if perhaps I could speak with them too, as to present 'another side' of the story.

However, they didn't have time. A soldier there told me, in response to a question, that the Arab was allowed to that point, but no further. I went over to the car to take out my camera in order to record the event and later figure out who our distinguished guests were.

As soon as I walked over with the camera a member of the group came over and started waving his hands in the air, trying to block my view to prevent me from photographing. Wherever I went, he went too, and eventually moved his hands from the air to me and to the camera, pushing me, and holding on to my arm and the camera. At one point my glasses went flying, thanks to his active hands.

Rachel, see what was transpiring, came over to try to stop him from assaulting me. For her efforts she received an elbow in the stomach and a big push from the Frenchman.

I called over to the soldier asking him to notify the police because we had been attacked. When he refused, I continued with the group, on their way to Ma'arat HaMachpela, where I called to a border policeman that I had been attacked, and requested that he prevent to offender from leaving. He did just that and called the police. The attacker was taken to Hebron police headquarters where he was questioned and Rachel and I issued a complaint against him.

I don't have names of everyone on the group, except for the French Deputy Consul General in Jerusalem, Alexi LaCour Grandmaison, who was carrying a book in Arabic called "Hebron, the old city."

But that wasn't the end. Whey I arrived at police headquarters in Kiryat Arba to issue the complaint, I walked into an office where I had been instructed to go. As soon as I walked in an officer with a tag on his shirt identifying him as Ya'akov ben Moshe, began ranting and raving, screaming at me, as if I'd just committed murder. He yelled that he would stop Jewish terrorism in Hebron and that he'd 'take care of me.' When I asked him why he was speaking to me in such a way; after all he hadn't heard my side of the story, he yelled, "I'm the boss here and I'll do whatever I want to do.'

After a few minutes of this, including threats against me, he walked out. I followed and asked for his remarks in writing. He started yelling again and screamed at me 'jump…'

Rachel and I finally concluded issuing our complaints, however, because the Frenchman holds a diplomatic passport, probably nothing will be done to him.

However, I find it sad that foreign diplomats tour Hebron with Arabs, read Arab literature about Hebron, and choose to ignore the Jewish community here in the city. Then again, they are French.

So, that's what I did today – all in a day's work.
See photos: