Sunday, December 21, 2008

Time to soul-search

Kislev 24, 5769, 12/21/2008

Time to soul-search

This is being written on Erev Hanukka, the holiday of light. In Hebrew we greet each other with the traditional blessing, "Chag Urim Sameach" – "Have a happy holiday of lights." I just came inside from photographing two wondrous events. First, the construction of a huge Menorah on the Abu-Sneneh hills, opposite the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. It was from these hills that infant Shalhevet Pass was murdered by a terrorist sniper over eight years ago. It was from these hills that such terrorists shot at Jews in Hebron, in their homes, on the streets, into their automobiles, for two years. Tonight, the light of Hanukka will shine forth from these hills, radiating the brilliance of the miracle of the Maccabee's victory against Hellenization, as far as the eye can see.

When I finished filming the menorah from afar, I found Hebron's kindergarten and nursery school kids playing outside in the newly renovated playground, the Hyman and Ruth Simon play center. Some of the children were adorned with crowns on their heads, the remnants of the just concluded Hanukka party. They looked so happy, their faces so full of delight, that I stopped and photographed them too.

So, on the face of it, the article should be filled with festivity and joy. But, alas, the events filling our lives are not always so enchanting. Shabbat, for example. Two young women, aged sixteen and seventeen, were walking down from Kiryat Arba in Hebron at 10:15 in the evening. When they reached the bottom of the hill, at the crossroads leading to Ma'arat HaMachpela, two Arab men started walking towards them. The girls took off. One of the Arabs caught up to B., knocked her down and sat on top of her. The other girl, behind her, started throwing rocks at him, while at the same time both began screaming. No one heard them. There weren't any soldiers to be seen. (However, about 100 meters up the road at least a dozen border police were guarding the sealed up Beit HaShalom, ensuring that no one try to retake the structure.) B. struggled with her attacker, and somehow, miraculously, in her words, managed to escape from under him.

The girls finally found an army jeep and reported the attack. However the soldier and officer in the jeep didn't take them seriously enough to report the attack to their superior officers. Hebron's security chief wasn't informed about the attack until 12:30 at night. The army had totally ignored it.

The next morning the girls and their families met with the military commander of the area, Col. Udi Ben-Mocha. When they complained that there weren't any soldiers in the area he replied that he didn't have enough manpower to place soldiers everywhere (except, of course, next to Beit HaShalom.) This, in spite of the fact that numerous times Israelis are attacked at the very location where the girls were attacked, on Shabbat and during the week, when rock-throwing Arabs hurl blocks at passing automobiles.

And now to the main task at hand.

Since the expulsion from Beit HaShalom, many articles have been written lambasting the Hebron Jewish community and the struggle against the expulsion. I previously wrote an oped piece which was printed in the Jerusalem Post. However, it seems that was not enough. I don't have the time or stomach to respond to each and every article written, but I have no choice but to deal with one of the most problematic of these essays. I hope my response will satisfy all those who have requested my reaction to each and every one of these articles.

Before responding: I know that my response will upset some of those who read it, perhaps even people I work with and have dealings with. However, I cannot sit back and quietly accept such hateful slander, which is based on outright lies.

Last Shabbat one Rabbi Mitch Wohlberg, rabbi of a Baltimore 'modern orthodox' congregation, spewed out a sermon whose subject was terror. The sermon, widely disseminated on internet is titled, "Terrorists in our midst." I will try to relate to this work of self-hate point by point, but not necessarily in the order it appears in the sermon.

How does Wohlberg relate to building?: "The settlers who took over a home in Hebron under questionable circumstances, spurring confrontations with the Israeli government and with the local Arabs, called the home "Beit Ha-Shalom – House of Peace… occupied by settlers in Hebron…."

Wohlberg has already decreed that the 'occupation' is 'questionable.' Why? Brooklyn resident Morris Abraham paid some one million dollars for the building and has the documents to prove the purchase. A film of the Arab counting the money appears on internet, as does a cassette of him stating that he sold the building.

The police and soldiers were acting by orders of the government, which in turn was acting by order of the Supreme Court." This is not true. The Supreme Court did not order the government to expel the Jews from the building. They ruled that the state was legally enabled to expel us, but did not order them to do so. The decision to go ahead with the violent confrontation was made by Ehud Barak in the midst of high-level discussions with leaders of the Hebron community aimed at preventing the confrontation.

there are Jews living in Hebron and across the West Bank who do not accept the decisions of Israel's Supreme Court or of its government leaders." My article in the Jerusalem Post relates to the judicial terror used against Hebron.

"The settlers who took over a home in Hebron … spurring confrontations with the Israeli government and with the local Arabs…" This is a lie. Jewish families lived in Beit HaShalom for twenty months 'peacefully,' with almost no confrontations with the Arabs living in the area. The Jews and Arab walked the same street in front of the building, without any misconduct by any of the Jews living or visiting there.

"these same Jewish terrorists have thrown stones at Israeli police and soldiers. They have uprooted the olive trees of Arabs, attacked Arab women and old people, have vandalized mosques and Muslim cemeteries..." Again, these accusations are out and out lies. In January, 2008, Efrat Weiss writing in the Hebrew internet site ynet and the daily newspaper Yediot Achronot wrote: "The head of the Israel Police's Hebron district, Commander Avshalom Peled told Ynet that "from my experience in the Hebron and Gush Etzion area, the activity on the part of the militant left can be severe and dangerous."

Hebron police have recorded a drop in disturbances involving Jewish settlers over the past year and noted an improvement in the dialogue between the settler community and police…"In the past we did not have any problems with the leftist organizations, but all this changed recently," another police official said. "Their activity has become more extreme in nature, and it may result in (an eruption of violence)."… "The leftists antagonize the settlers in the hope that the settlers will attack them," a police official said.The left-wing organizations have become an even greater threat than the anarchists.""

What factual evidence can Wohlberg supply to prove that Jews in Hebron have uprooted olive trees, vandalized mosques and desecrated cemeteries? Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron, as well as Ma'arat HaMachpela have been desecrated time and time again, without any reaction by Israeli security forces or international media, or, for that matter, Rabbi Wohlberg.

It is true that about 2 weeks before the expulsion a small group of kids drew Jewish stars on stones at an Arab cemetery and wrote slogans on a nearby mosque. They were immediately requested to leave the building and the vicinity and the others were instructed, in no uncertain terms, that this was not to happen again. Again, for almost 2 years Jews lived in that building without any such incidents at the cemetery or mosque.

What does Wohlberg call us?: " So what should we call Jews who similarly threaten people? There is only one word: "Terrorists."

Rabbi Wohlberg, how many Arabs were injured or killed by 'Jewish terror?' Why did you neglect mentioning Eliyasaf Asban, a sixteen year old who was hit in the head by a block hurled by an Arab. Eliyasaf was standing next to Beit HaShalom speaking to his brother and friends when the attack occurred. His skull was crushed and he was nearly killed, remaining unconscious and in critical condition for days after being hit. The Arab who tried to kill him still hasn't been arrested, despite the fact that the police know his identity. Yet the Jews are terrorists, being compared in the same breath with the monsters who murdered hundreds, including Jews, in India: " The terrorists who attacked in Mumbai were members of a terrorist organization called Lashkar-E-Taiba…"

Wohlberg, at the beginning of his sermon, describes what he calls a 'pogrom.' Yet he refrains from describing the 'attempted lynch' against two Jews from Kiryat Arba who where trying to get their kids out of Beit HaShalom and were forced to shoot in order to save themselves. One of the men is under house arrest, despite demands by the prosecutor's office that he be kept in jail, because a magistrate court judge stated that it is not clear that he was responsible for the events which forced him to shoot in self defense.

There were, as has been stated by myself and other representatives of Hebron's Jewish community, incidents which occurred before and during the expulsion which were not planned, nor are they considered to be acceptable or legitimate forms of protest. However, as repugnant as some of these events were, let's examine another, similar scenario:

Last week, (as reported in ynetnews and other media networks) Israeli security forces conducted a mass training exercise to ostensibly practice dealing with riots. However, sources participating in the exercise told that much of the time was spent practicing how to expel people from their homes. Some of the police played themselves – expellers, while others were transformed into 'settlers' being thrown out of their homes.

As a result of this 'training exercise' fifty four police were injured due to the fact that "the rioters" apparently used excessive force on "peacekeeping" officers during a mock disturbance."

In other words, police beat police – on both sides. The expellers beat the expellees, who hit back. And this is police vs. police!

So what, Rabbi Wohlberg, do you have to say to that?! If that's what happens during a 'mock disturbance' between police, what do expect kids to do in a 'real' situation?!

And of course, will you condemn the Arabs who tried to rape and murder two young Jewish women on Friday night in Hebron, Rabbi Wohlberg?

I would like to now conclude with several comments:

1. As I wrote in the Jerusalem Post: "It should be clear. Hebron's Jewish community opposes and rejects any and all violence aimed at innocent people, be they Arabs, Jews or anyone else." By the same token, we reject desecration of any kind by anyone. We are not terrorists, Rabbi Wohlberg. We are Jews who love our country, our land and our people. And we live what we believe. Our lives are dedicated entirely to G-d, to the Jewish people and to Eretz Yisrael, and we do not, nor will we ever apologize for that.

2. Jews have not ever conducted 'pogroms' against anyone. You forgot, in your Shabbat spiel, to recall a true Hebron pogrom, which took place in August of 1929, when 67 Jews were murdered by Arab masses, with the survivors then expelled from the city of Abraham by the then occupying British. You also forgot to mention the war against the Jews, when Arabs shot at us for two years, killing scores, including a ten month old baby in Hebron proper.

3. I would like to see what you would do, Rabbi Wohlberg, when, due to growing anti-Semitism in the United States, one fine Saturday morning, masses of police, FBI, and other security troops show up outside your shul, while you are in the middle of a sermon, and start forcibly removing you and your congregation from you pulpit and your seats. Will you walk out like sheep on the way to the slaughter, or will you fight back, refusing to be treated like subhuman beings? After all, 'dina d'malchuta dina' – right, Rabbi Wohlberg? If they want to expel you, they can – that could be the law of the land, right, Rabbi Wohlberg?

Don't think it couldn't happen. In Germany they didn't think it could happen. In Hungary, they didn't think it could happen. Ditto other countries in Europe.

Rabbi Wohlberg, we will not be, here in Hebron or anywhere in Israel, sheep led to slaughter. We are being dealt with as 3rd class citizens with laws being circumvented and at best, rewritten, to deal with over 300,000 people, including 'settler fanatics' who live not only in 'occupied Hebron,' but in 'the occupied Jordon Valley' and the 'occupied Golan Heights.'

Don't fool yourself or your congregation Rabbi. You too will be thought of, and dealt with, as 'occupiers' of downtown Baltimore. I suggest you stop breathing fire against kids, who despite their good intentions may have erred, and begin soul-searching yourself: who are you, what are you, and what do you really believe in? Because, judging from last week's sermon, the answer to these questions are very very unclear. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Extremism Breeds Extremism

Dec. 12, 2008

The real danger to Israeli society is not a few dozen kids throwing rocks while violently and illegitimately being thrown out of a home in Hebron. The true threat to our country is the warping of the fundamental institutions whose presence is supposed to protect the people rather than terrorize them. The decisions made concerning Beit Hashalom were not based upon justice, rather upon pure judicial terror.

Following the expulsion of families from Beit Hashalom in Hebron, during a radio interview with the BBC, I was asked about our future plans. When I responded that the community would continue to purchase property in Hebron, the interviewer asked, "But won't that just cause more violence?" I answered, "If I bought a home in London and was told that a Jew purchasing on 'that side of the city' would cause a violent reaction, how would that be viewed? Probably as anti-Semitism and racism. Why then can't a Jew buy property in Hebron, just as people purchase homes all over the world?"
Another common question I've had to field from journalists is, "Don't you think this has all gotten out of control?" My response is quite simple: "Of course it is totally out of control. That's not the question. The question is who is out of control?" Clearly, in my opinion, those who have lost control are those democratic institutions which are designed to protect citizens from despotic leadership.
FOLLOWING PURCHASE of Beit Hashalom for close to $1 million, the Hebron community found itself under attack from numerous sources. Rapidly the question of our legitimate presence in the building made its way to court. The original court decision found enough evidence supporting our claims to prevent immediate eviction. However, harsh restrictions were imposed, including denial to install windows and to hook up to the Hebron municipal electric grid. Only in the middle of a major snowstorm did the defense minister allow installation of windows in the building last winter.
Due to the political sensitivity of the case, we soon found ourselves opposite a Supreme Court panel hearing the various issues involved. That panel was composed of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Justices Edmond Levy and Uzi Fogelman. Levy is religious. Following a break in the court hearings, Beinisch changed the panel, removing Levy and Fogelman and replacing them with Justices Ayala Procaccia, who is known to be one of the most left-wing justices on the court, and Salim Joubran, the only Arab on the court. Beinisch, it must be noted, is not known for her right-wing ideological opinions. Two leftist justices and an Arab were left to decide the fate of the Jews living in Beit Hashalom. If that's not a stacked deck, nothing is. So wrote retired District Court judge Uri Struzman, calling the court's final decision blatantly political.
In that decision, the court ruled that it would not examine the evidence presented, including proof of authentication of the legal sales documents, a video of the seller receiving and counting the money received for the building, and an audio recording of his description of the sale and receipt of the money.
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, when presented with new evidence in the case, specifically the audio cassette, refused to meet with community attorneys or examine the proof of purchase.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced only two weeks ago his intention to legalize all the illegal Beduin construction in the South. Yet he gave the go-ahead to violently expel all residents of the building in the midst of advanced high-level negotiations which would have allowed him to forgo the brutal confrontation.
These are examples of nothing less than terror - administrative terror, utilized by the highest echelons of the country's democratic institutions to further their own political beliefs against loyal citizens of the state, in this case, residents of the Hebron Jewish community.
FOLLOWING VIOLENT reactions to the extremely harsh expulsion, which included use of tear gas and stun grenades, I was asked about "red lines" - and decisions to "cross those red lines." Unfortunately we are presently facing situations where the government is crossing all the red lines that previously existed. The transformation of the judicial system, including the attorney-general and the Supreme Court, into an extended arm of the political arena ends all notions of impartiality or objectivity.
Hebron residents are often labeled extremists. However nothing could be more extreme than the above-described actions of Mazuz and Beinisch. But due to their positions and political ideologies, their extremism is considered legitimate.
It should be clear. Hebron's Jewish community opposes and rejects any and all violence aimed at innocent people, be they Arabs, Jews or anyone else. However it is unthinkable and intolerable that Israel's top leadership should change the rules in the middle of the game, expecting the other side to play by the old ones, while they play by the new. Such actions, as we have recently witnessed, quite literally push a large segment of the population into a corner with no way out, creating a dangerously volatile situation. Peace may breed peace but by the same token, extremism breeds extremism.
The real danger to Israeli society is not a few dozen kids throwing rocks while violently and illegitimately being thrown out of a home in Hebron. The true threat to our country is the warping of the fundamental institutions whose presence is supposed to protect the people rather than terrorize them. The decisions made concerning Beit Hashalom were not based upon justice, rather upon pure judicial terror.
The writer is spokesman of the Jewish community of Hebron.
This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1227702464908&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Time is Now! - Moshe Feiglin & Manhigut Yehudit

Moshe Feiglin represents the paradigm Jewish leader: a man of faith and conviction
Following the brutal expulsion of Jewish families from Beit HaShalom in Hebron, former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu proclaimed, “We must act with an iron fist against the outlaws.”,7340,L-3632769,00.html Of course, this was stated before he spoke with anyone in Hebron to clarify the facts and establish what really happened.

It is quite clear: should Netanyahu be again elected Prime Minister with a parve Likud list, he will continue in the footsteps of one of his predecessors, namely one Bibi Netanyahu, who signed away 80% of Hebron to Arafat terrorists, and continued by agreeing to the infamous Wye Accords.

Today’s menu includes Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and just about all of Yehuda and Shomron. Without any strong brakes to stop him, Netanyahu is liable to form a coalition with Ehud Barak as his Defense Minster and Tzippy Livni as his Foreign Minister. This threesome will undoubtedly get along quite well with Obama, Clinton and Co. The only way to prevent this catastrophe is push the Likud from center-left as far right as possible. And the only way to do that today is to vote for Moshe Feiglin and the entire Manhigut Yehudit list.
Moshe Feiglin represents the paradigm Jewish leader: a man of faith and conviction, with a proven track record. The other candidates on the Manhigut Yehudit Likud Knesset list are of the same caliber, made of the same material. Shmuel Sackett, co-founder of this pair’s first venture into public activism, Zu Artzenu, will be a tremendous boost to a floundering, faithless Knesset. These two men, together with others on the list, will be a true Kiddush HaShem, bringing to Israeli leadership what has long been so lacking:  a belief and understanding of the ‘holy triangle’ of Am Yisrael – the Jewish people, Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel, and Torah.  Their official entrance into formal leadership of the Jewish people will finally put an end to calls for the replacement of the State of Israel by an alternative “Medinat Yehuda.” They will be living proof that it is possible to utilize the existing framework of the State of Israel within the boundaries of Kedusha – holiness, thereby bringing about a major ‘tikkun’ – rectification of the current failings of leaderless leadership.

Tomorrow I’m going to proudly cast my vote for Moshe, Shmuel and ten others, who, when elected to the Knesset, will represent the values and priorities we believe in, and actively work to bring our dreams to reality.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tate's talking - We just have to listen...

Tevet 16, 5769, 1/12/2009
Tate's talking - We just have to listen...

Tate's talking to us. We just have to listen to what He's saying. Tate's talking to us.
We have a doctor who lives here in Hebron. Born in Iran, he's a unique personality. His specialty is respiratory illnesses, lungs, and the like. But despite the fact that his diploma doesn’t' say so, he's also a super psychiatrist.
A little while ago I left 'my hole' where I spend many hours of my day, to take a stroll outside in the cool crisp Hebron air. The good doctor Ya'akov was sitting on a step trying different keys in various locks he had stored in a box. He smiled seeing me, and we talked a little. Mostly him, telling me some stories.
"I was working in Beer Sheva. There were a few rockets that hit. I received a phone call from one of my older patients.
'Doctor, I won't be coming to see you today.'
'Why not, what's the problem?'
'A Kassam him, right next to our building.' Now there's a telephone pole blocking the entrance, with exposed high-tension wires on the ground. We can't get out.'
'Was anyone hurt or killed?'
'No, thank G-d.'
'Mamale you can come to me whenever you want, with an appointment or without. I'll take you whenever you show up.'"
"David," Dr. Ya'akov said to me, "Tate's talking to us."

"Of course," I answered, "wasn't it that way here in Hebron for two and a half years?"
The doctor growled, "Shooting from Abu Sneneh and Harat a'Shech, may their names be blotted out."
"Did you know that I made the 'Bentched Gomel' (recited the blessing for thanksgiving, said after being involved in a life-threatening situation)?"
"When, what happened?"
"It was a few months ago. I was working at a clinic in Ashkelon and decided to take a break. I told my secretary that I was going out for lunch. I walked down the street to a different mall and bought myself something to eat in a restaurant there. A while later I got a call from my wife:
'Ya'akov, where are you?'
'What kind of question is that? I'm at work?'
She nearly came thru the receiver. 'No, where are you, exactly? Are you in the mall?'
'No,' I replied, 'I’m down the road at the other mall.'
'Your clinic, it went. It's gone.'

I went back, went upstairs, and from my office looked up straight into the sky, thru a huge hole in the roof of the building. I couldn't believe what I saw. And the doctor in the room next to me, he had just gone outside to smoke a cigarette. Don't tell anyone, but a cigarette saved his life.
And then I decided to measure where the rocket had exploded. Quickly I realized that had it hit about seven meters from the actual point of impact the roof would have come down on everyone inside the mall. Hundreds of tons of concrete and metal.  At least 300 people would have been killed.
So a few days later I recited the special blessing said when your life has been Divinely saved."
"David," Dr. Ya'akov said to me, "Tate's talking to us, maybe not verbally, but He's talking to us. All the time. Today, a rocket hit an apartment in Ashkelon, with two girls inside. They managed to get into their 'protected room' before it exploded. Otherwise…. David, Tate's talking to us. We just have to listen to what He's saying. Tate's talking to us."

(For those who don't know, 'Tate' in Yiddish means Father and is often used as a synonym for G-d.)