Thursday, December 29, 2011

Turning up the lights: Hanukkah in Hebron

It’s happened to me three times in the past few weeks. Once, while giving a tour, in the middle of a suspense story, the next time at a Brit, a baby’s circumcision, and two days ago, during a candle-lighting ceremony; all at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

More Hanukkah in Hebron here - Videos and photos
On the second night of Hanukkah we had a double candle-lighting ceremony. The first, at six o’clock, was with the police. Hebron police commander, Itzik Rachamim, together with some officers and police, were listening to Rabbi Hillel Horowitz speak about the eternal elements of Hanukkah.  Then, as he mentioned the great miracle, the great blessing and the lights of Hanukkah, which still shine upon us today: Allah HuAchbar. The muezzin began his call to prayer, with the loudspeakers facing into the Machpela courtyard, drowning out whatever anyone might try to say. Rather than begin lighting the Hanukkah menorah, the gathered crowd began singing and dancing to Eli Gilboa’s accordion music, in an attempt to prevent having to listen to the noise being projected by the Arab muezzin.


Time and time again we face this disgrace. I have no problem with them praying amongst themselves, but why do we have to suffer their public worship, at least five times a day, beginning at about five in the morning, through late at night. In a city such as Hebron, the noise levels are multiplied, as the various mosques, all equipped with modern audio equipment, blast out the Arabic words, not necessarily synched. So we get it in quadraphonic plus. Not what I call music to my ears.

Having the Hanukkah ceremony delayed, a ceremony representing the lights of Judaism, rejecting foreign cultures attempting to destroy our own, at Machpela, in Hebron, by Islamic prayer, is more than a simple disgrace. It is humiliating. After we were prevented from entering into and praying at this so holy a site for 700 years, now we must hear that noise, at decibel levels  way above the norm, as we celebrate Hanukkah, or a Brit, or a regular prayer service? It makes no sense.

On the other hand, that aside, Hanukkah in Hebron is really quite special.  There are numerous candle-lightings. At Machpela, in the Avraham Avinu synagogue, and of course, the famous event on the very top of the Abu-Sneneh Hill, overlooking Hebron, sponsored by my good friend Rabbi Danny Cohen and Chabad.


The night of the above-mentioned shame also had some bright spots. After the noise ended and the candles were lit, Commander Rachamim spoke, saying things some people might not necessarily expect to hear from a senior ranking police officer, especially in Hebron.

"The police and officers of the Hebron serve in this holy place with a sense of challenge and purpose.
And as the dear  Rabbi said, we light the candles "to see them only,"  first of all when we see them, I have a wish that the Israeli police here in Hebron together with the army and the Shin Bet and the organizations and the communities and all elements of security and settlement, and the rabbis and community leaders, that G-d will enlighten our path every day this year allowing personal safety for residents, quality of life and dwell only on projects will enhance the unity of Israel and the whole country (Shelmut HaAretz).  And the vision of serving in a Holy place like this, our ultimate goal is not only Jews in the Diaspora will come to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs, but even the citizens of Israel will all come in droves to visit this holy place. We fully identify with the importance of this place which is Israel's foundation.

So thank you and I thank everyone for the opportunity you gave us light Hanukkah candles on the second night of Hanukkah and everyone should have a happy holiday."

We do not always agree with the police, with everything they say and do. But Commander Yitzik Rachamim’s words, as opposed to the noise of the muezzin, are music to my ears.

A little later, Hebron’s military Commander, Col. Guy Hazzut lit candles also at the Ma’ara. Much is made of the negative attitudes and behaviors towards the army, be it in Hebron or elsewhere. For that reason, I think it imperative that all watch the greeting Col Hazzut received at Machpela, by Hebron residents and students from the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva. The video and photos speak for themselves.

Finally, last night, I attended a ceremony at ‘Havat Yehuda,’ a few minutes out of the center of Hebron, on the road to Kiryat Arba. It was at this site that Asher Palmer, and his baby son Yonaton were murdered by Arab terrorists a few months ago.  It has since been discovered that that area is the site of an ancient Jewish village, and attempts are being made to renovate the place and bring visitors there, to see the ancient wonders of Judea. A bus-load of people attended in the cold but clear Hebron air, together with Hebron-Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, who lit three lights, on the side of the road, publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah to all who drove by. Also attending were Michael and Mollie Palmer, who lost their son and grandson in the murderous attack. Additionally, Noam Arnon spoke about the historical importance of the area, only a short distance from where the Maccabees fought for Jewish independence from the Greeks, some 2,300 years ago.


At present, we still must fight, for our identity and for our right to live freely in our land. There are those who would still take both from us. Judah the Maccabee was a warrior, but he also realized the significance of the spiritual side of our people. He fought and killed, and also lit the lights of the Menorah in the Holy Temple.  Those lights, even though they seem to have dimmed, are still shining. We need only open our eyes and our souls in order to absorb them.  There are those who have opened themselves up to this light, as we heard in the words of Yitzik Rachamim. It's called, turning up the lights. That’s what Hanukkah is all about.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Hanukkah: The Hebron Chronicles

The Hebron Chronicles
December 20, 2011

See first night Hanukkah candle-lighting at Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hebron

Tonight the Festival of Lights will be upon us. Hanukkah is an unusually joyous holiday, allowing us eight full days of extra added illumination.
Hanukkah’s celebration centers around one word, that being miracle. It could well be coined the festival of miracles. What miracles? Two particular unnatural events occurred. The Greek invasion and conquest of Israel led to Hellenization of the Jewish population, and the desecration of the Temple, which was transformed into a place to worship Zeus.
When liberated during the Maccabean Wars against the Greek pagans, the Jews discovered that the canisters of pure olive oil, used to light the holy Menorah, had been tainted, were impure and not fit for use. Only a single can of pure oil was found, enough for one day’s use. As is known, that oil lasted for eight days.
The question is then asked, if Hanukkah is a remembrance for that event, it should be only seven days, as the miracle of the oil was only seven days. One of the most frequently given answers to this question is that the eighth day commemorated the second miracle, that being the victory over the Greeks. They were the superpower of their day, and their army was second to none. Their decision to fight, to take on the strongest empire in the world, cannot be ignored.
That fact that a small group of people could awaken the souls of their Jewish brethren and then defeat the Greek empire was surely nothing less than a Divine miracle.
And for these two miracles, we celebrate Hannukah.
However, I might add, there are others hidden within those phenomenon. For example, that fact that even one small oil tin was discovered, that too was a miracle. And also, the fact that the Maccabees themselves did not lose their identity within the Hellenistic culture, which admired more the body than the soul, was too wondrous. And the fact that they brought their people back to Judaism, away from Hellenism, that too must be celebrated.
The headline of Hanukkah’s nightly candle-lighting ceremony is, in Hebrew, ‘persumie nisa’ that is, publicizing the miracle, making sure as many people know about it as possible. For that reason, when feasible, the Hanukkah menorah is light adjacent to the doorpost of a house, or courtyard, thereby advertising, to all who pass by, the miracles of Hannukah.
But there’s more to it. We have to promote the miracle to others, but first we must internalize it ourselves. First we must recognize the marvels which have taken place, and then send them on to others. For even a person, alone in his house, must light the Menorah, even if no one else will see it. He, or she will see it. And that alone, should fill them with faith.
These days we need a lot of faith. And we have much faith, for without Divine protection and assistance, we certainly would not be here today. Our being in Israel, and in Hebron, is most definitely a miracle.
Hanukkah is a holiday of light, a holiday of faith. A little light goes a long long way. A little light dispels much darkness. One tin of oil has provided us light for over two thousand years. One small candle is not only a reminiscence of that light; it is that very light. It appears every year, at this very time, as we recite nightly, ‘in those days, at this time.’
In honor of Hanukkah, I’ve decided to make available over 500 articles I’ve authored since 1995. Named “The Hebron Chronicles, ”they tell numerous stories, and shed much light on our presence in Hebron and in Israel.
The book can be downloaded for free at:
Happy Festival of Lights.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Facts are the archenemy of lies

Facts are the archenemy of lies
Dec. 11, 2011

Friday morning a van pulled up outside my Beit Hadassah home in Hebron, and out stepped Alan Clemmons, State Representative from South Carolina. First I shook his hand and then told him, ‘you deserve a hug,’ and proceeded to hug him.

Representative Alan Clemmons at Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hebron

Alan Clemmons is one of a growing number of young American politicians taking an active, first-hand role in the continued conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors in Judea and Samaria.  His visit comes on the heels of this summer’s visit by five congressmen to Israel. Their visit included not only Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but also Ariel, Psagot and Hebron.  

Alan Clemmons is not your everyday, run of the mill politician. Dressed in a casual sweater on a cold day, I remarked that when representatives of the American Consulate visit Hebron, they arrive in tank-like vehicles, may not enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs because their armed body guards aren’t allowed in with their weapons, and must plan just about every site to be visited prior to arrival, otherwise it’s off-limits. Whereas Rep. Clemmons, and the others, show up by themselves, without an arsenal following their every footstep.

Why did I hug Alan Clemmons? On June 2, 2011, he introduced a resolution in the South Carolina House of Representatives, which was passed unanimously  by all 124 members, stating:

“Be it further resolved that the members of this body support Israel in their natural and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon their own lands, recognizing that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others, and that peace can be afforded the region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people.” []
We toured Hebron, saw all the sites and talked over a cup of coffee in my home. As we finished up, I spoke with Representative Clemmons on camera: []

Alan Clemmons outside Ma''arat HaMachpela in Hebron


There are people who would tell you Jews have no claim to Hebron, that Jews have no claim to the lands referred to as the ‘west bank.’ I stand to correct them. They need to see what I’ve seen. They need to go to Ruth’s tomb. They need to be where I am, in the field purchased, one of the most sacred sites in the Judeo-Christian world. Is right here, where I’m sitting, in Hebron. I’m in awe at what I’ve seen, I’m in awe of the people that I see here, the Jewish people, protecting Israel’s right and claim here in a land which they’ve had, and which they’ve lived, as their home, for millennia. At times being persecuted and driven out and here they’ve got their toehold back on the land. And they’re holding this sacred piece of ground for future generations.

Representative Alan Clemmons outside the Tomb of Ruth and Jesse in Hebron

How will you try to convince people that what you are saying is correct? How will you try to change their minds?

The truth is an enemy to lies. And as I share the truth of what I’m seeing, what I’ve seen, here in Israel, the truth will help to dispel the myths, the misinformation, that the world-wide media seems to be sharing with the world, which is being bought, on a large part, by the world.

Representative Alan Clemmons in 1,500 year old synagogue in Hebron
How can you help to influence Congressmen in Washington to stop pressuring Israel to renlinquish places like Hebron and acqueise to Arab terror?
I have friends in Congress, friends who are friends to Israel. Unfortunately today there is more attention given to the enemies of Israel by those in the highest positions in the United States.  I’m from a small state, South Carolina, and represent about 30,000 people. There are only about 600 Jews in my district. I proposed a resolution in South Carolina that takes a position that most Bible-believing Americans hold, and that is that Israel has a right to the land of Israel. They have a right to settle, and a duty to settle and protect and defend it, defend these holy pieces of ground, that no man, that no government gave them, that G-d gave them, where people, who have owned,  who have lived in, they’ve given birth in, they’ve died in, they have a right and duty to protect this holy land. I’ve discovered that this is truly the opinion of the heart and soul of the American people, when I proposed that resolution, and all 124 members of the South Carolina House of Representatives agreed with me and voted in favor of the resolution, not  a single person voted against it.  I’ve now been in contact with about half of the states and they’re proposing the same resolution. I’m working on a bottom-up revolution in the United States, to send a message to our president and to those sitting on Capitol Hill that America is with Israel. And by sending that message from the bottom up, my hope and my prayer and my belief is that those sitting in the highest offices of the land in America, they will likewise reach out to protect Israel.

Representative Alan Clemmons in Hebron

What can others do to further this effort?

I implore that people that love Israel, they do take an active role. They can do that by contacting their representative, their member of their state house of representatives, their state senator, call them, send them a letter, send them a letter, catch them by their arms when you see them at church, tell them about this resolution.They can find out more about it by contacting me at, take the resolution, model it, and propose it. What’s the worst that could happen?  It’s debated, and facts are put on the table, and facts are the archenemy of lies, debate the facts about Israel, and Israel’s right and claim to this G-d – given land and the worst that can happen is that Israel-haters would vote the resolution down. The best that could happen is that which happened in South Carolina, where all members of the house stood together, united, linking arms, regardless if they’re Republican or Democrat, black or white, or whatever else might divide them, but on this issue they link arms and say we are united with Israel.
A few days ago Newt Gingrich, present frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, said that the ‘palestinians’ are an ‘invented people.’"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab community, and they had the chance to go many places."Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes. Are we in a situation where every day rockets are fired into Israel while the United States? The current administration tries to pressure the Israelis into a peace process... Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, if there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left? We pay for those textbooks through our aid money. It's fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, enough lying about the Middle East." []

Newt, meet Alan. You’d make a great ticket.
And Representative Alan Clemmons, thank you for your love, support, and action, for Hebron, all Judea and Samaria, and the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel.

 All photos and video by David Wilder-Hebron
This article is dedicated to the memory of my father, Samuel H. Wilder, a lover of Hebron and Eretz Yisrael, whose Yartzheit falls tomorrow on the 16th of Kislev.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A free people in our land – Hebron

November 17, 2011 Thursday 20 Heshvan 5772 20:37 IST

Print Edition

A free people in our land – Hebron

Several years ago, on the anniversary of the liberation of Hebron in 1967, I was interviewed by a journalist who queried me about various problems facing Hebron’s Jewish community. His concluding question/statement was, “Well, I guess you’re not celebrating today?”

“Why not?” I replied.

“Well, you have all these problems and issues, how can you celebrate?”

“You just don’t understand,” I answered. “Look at where were we 70 years ago, or 60 years ago. Were we in Hebron? Today I’m here, in the first Jewish city in Israel. I live here, I work here, I’m bringing up my children here. This is my home. True, we have problems. There are ups and downs. Issues must be dealt with. And they will be overcome. But I’m here. And as long as I’m here, I have what to celebrate, and that’s exactly what I’m doing today!”

One of our most special celebrations will occur this weekend. The Torah portion of Hayei Sarah, otherwise known as “Shabbat Hebron,” is an extraordinary event. It is not an ordinary shabbat (which in Hebron is also unique). Rather, it is an event.

Over the past decade, some 20,000 people have capitalized on this special Sabbath to crowd into Hebron and nearby Kiryat Arba to rejoice. Starting on Friday morning, Israelis young and old will begin flocking to the city. Jews from the United States and other countries fly to Israel to be in Hebron for this exceptional occasion.

Well over six months prior to this Sabbath we begin receiving phone calls and emails requesting places to sleep and eat on this auspicious day. Dozens of tents are pitched outside Me’arat Hamachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs, and Matriarchs. Public buildings are transformed into dormitories, with separate facilities for men and women. It’s the only time of the year when my living room is wall-to-wall people sleeping on the floor.

One year, on Saturday night, a young woman walked into our kitchen to thank my wife. She asked what for. The woman said she had slept in one of our rooms. We had no idea she was there, or where she slept, because the room was already packed.

A huge tent is constructed outside the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, providing meals thousands of guests. Literally every nook and cranny in Hebron is utilized, with people sleeping and eating wherever they can find a few free meters.

All hours of the day and night the streets are full of people walking to and from the various neighborhoods in Hebron. Saturday afternoon, multitudes tour the city, visiting the Hebron Heritage Museum at Beit Hadassah, the tomb of Jesse and Ruth in Tel Rumeida, and the Avraham Avinu synagogue in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Special Casba tours are also included in the day’s agenda.

The heart of the day’s events takes place at Me’arat Hamachpela. On Friday night, literally thousands of people gather at this holy site, inside and out, to offer joyous Sabbath prayers. Singing and dancing during a huge “Carlebach minyan,” conducted in the Machpela courtyard, is unbelievably uplifting.

But the pinnacle and actual raison d’être for the ingathering begins early Saturday morning.

By 5:15 a.m., thousands make their way to early morning prayers at the Machpela. The entire building is open to Jewish worshipers, including “Ohel Yitzhak,” the Isaac Hall, available to Jews only ten days during the year. The first vatikin service, with the sunrise, is a spiritually inspirational way to start the day.

However, the peak takes place about an hour into the service. A Torah scroll is removed from the Holy Ark and opened. The first person, usually a cohen, or priest, is called up to the Torah. Following recitation of a blessing, the reader begins:

“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba –the same is Hebron – in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her... and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver...four hundred shekels of silver... And Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre – the same is Hebron – in the land of Canaan...” (Gen: 23, 1-20).

HERE, AT Machpela in Hebron, some 3,800 years ago, Abraham, the first Jew, purchases the first Jewish property in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. It is an amazing thought: here we are, almost 4,000 years later, the offspring of the first Jew, present at that very site which we read about in the Torah. It is all the more astonishing considering that fact that this sacred site was off-limits to Jews for seven centuries, following the 1267 Mamluk conquest of Israel. Only since our return to Hebron in 1967 has this holy place again accessible to any and all who wish to visit or worship here.

If that isn’t a reason to celebrate, what is?

As a result of political anti-Semitism, the first Jewish site of national heritage has become an object of international controversy. UNESCO has recognized our first holy site as a “Palestinian heritage site,” demanding it be removed from Israel's list of “national heritage sites.”

Should this site again be placed under Muslim control, Jews (and Christians) will no longer be allowed to enter and worship at this holy place, as was the case for 700 years, as the Arabs consider it to be a mosque. According to Islam, only Muslims may enter and pray in a mosque.

Support for a continued Jewish presence in Hebron and at Machpela is tangible. Some half a million visitors of all religions visit Hebron and Machpela annually, letting their feet do the talking. Polls show that almost 90 percent of Israelis reject relinquishing Me’arat Hamachpela. Rejection of Hebron and Me’arat Hamachpela is equivalent to chopping off our roots. And we all know what happens to a tree when you sever its roots.

Shabbat Hayei Sarah in Hebron is an affirmation of our people’s right to live and worship freely in our land. This is the embodiment of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva: Lehiot am hofshi, b’artzeinu – to be a free people in our land. Can we be a free people in our land without the first Jewish city in Israel; without free, unlimited worship at the first Jewish holy site in our land?

This Sabbath, some 20,000 people from Israel and around the world will answer that question, at Machpela, in Hebron.

The writer is a spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron.This article is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Sholom DovBer Goldshmid, who passed away last week. Born in Hebron 86 years ago, he survived the 1929 Hebron massacre, but his father, Moshe, was killed at their home. He loved Hebron with all his heart and soul. May his memory be blessed.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The View from the Abu Netanyahu Hills

The View from the Abu Netanyahu Hills

David Wilder
October 23, 2011

Time sure flies. Just yesterday we were preparing for Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. Preparations in Hebron are two-fold: Private and Public. On the private side, each to his own, introspection, an examination of the past year, the good and the not so good, trying to figure out what to do differently next year. Prayer, supplication, mixed with song and dance, in an effort to ensure self-improvement on all different levels.

Thousands at Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hebron - Succot, 2011 (all photographs - David Wilder)
But in Hebron, there's also public preparation. Getting ready for the tens of thousands who flock to Ma'arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. For a month prior to Rosh HaShana, through the high holy days, to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, following into the joy of Succot, the feast of Tabernacles. The festive worship services, the music festival, children's plays and activities, thousands upon thousands walking the streets of Hebron. During this time alone, over the week-long Succot holiday, well over 50,000 people visited Hebron. Over the month and a half we probably came close to 100,000. That's a lot of people. Very exciting, very invigorating and refreshing, very supporting, very addictive. You want to see it happen again, and again, and again.
In conjunction with our United States partner, the Hebron Fund, this Succot we offered a special VIP tour to select supporters. Two busloads of friends, mostly from the United States, participated in this unique event. They attended an exceptional luncheon at the Yeshivat Shavei Hebron succah, and heard a particularly moving speech from Hebron's police chief, Arnon Friedman. In the past, relationships between police and Hebron citizens were such that the last person expected to speak at a Hebron event would have been a police officer. However, times have changed. You can see and hear Friedman's address here
. Also talking to the visitors were Hebron Mayor Avraham Ben Yosef and Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum.

Police Chief Arnon Friedman with Hebron Fund Director Ari Lieberman
Additionally the group had special access to Ma'arat HaMachpela, and also attended the dedication of 'the Ayal Park,' in memory of our beloved resident, Ayal Noked, who passed away a few months ago, not yet forty years old, leaving a wife and ten children. One of Ayal's dreams was the 'greening of Hebron,' and as such, dedicating a park in his memory, in the hopes of continuing his holy work, was more than fitting.
However, the highlight of the day was an exclusive event, that being a trip up the hill to the south of Hebron's Jewish community, known as Abu Sneneh. In the past, prior to the 1997 Hebron Accords which split the city, this area was readily accessible to Jewish visitors. However when Hebron was divided, this area was transferred to Arab control. On the brink of the hill, overlooking the city, a 'joint' Israeli – Arab patrol, in two jeeps, kept a constant lookout over the city. However, when the second Intifada, or the Oslo War, as we call it, began, the Israeli jeep disappeared and the Arabs stayed. The hill became a source of shooting attacks on the Jewish community for two and a half years. It was from this hill that Shalhevet Pass was shot and killed.

Visitors atop Abu Sneneh Hill during Succot holiday
Since the end of that war the hill has been under Israeli military control, with a small base providing protection, preventing renewal of those shooting attacks at Jewish Hebron below.
Civilians don't have frequent access to this site; once a year, during the eight days of Hanukkah, a large Menorah, built on the edge of the hill, is lit nightly. That's about the only time during the year we make the climb up the hill (in a jeep, not by foot). This year though, we received permission to take our group of VIP visitors on a short tour of Hebron from the top of Abu Sneneh.

The Avraham Avinu neighborhood from Abu Sneneh Hills
Usually I enjoy the trip to Abu Sneneh. It's a great place to get fabulous photos. With my equipment I can get close-ups of the neighborhoods and Ma'arat HaMachpela. Kiryat Arba, kilometers in the distance, turns into a stone's throw away. The pictures are stunning. And the visitors had a great time. None of them had ever before experienced viewing Hebron from above. Together with full explanations by Noam Arnon, the visit was a real success and a great way to reward loyal friends.
But truthfully, this time around, I left with hill with an unsettling, troublesome feeling.
Keep in mind, the talk of the day centered around one subject alone, that being Gilad Shalt. Hundreds of terrorist murderers were about to be released for our Israeli POW, held captive by Hamas for over five years. The deal was extremely controversial. Letting hundreds of murderers out of jail, for one person, could almost be called an act of desperation. Clearly the decision-makers reached a breaking point of 'now or never.' Shalit's life was in their hands. Do or die.

Families of terrorist victims, felt betrayed. Rightly so. They had been promised that the killers of their loved ones would never again see the light of day. And around the country, citizens, understanding the implications of blood-thirsty terrorists again roaming the streets, feared the worst. The question was, where they would hit first. The idea of their return to terror is not, and was not, a question. It is a given.
My queasiness though, didn't so much stem from the terrorists' freedom. Its cause was the source of that liberation: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. If Netanyahu had the guts, and also the despair to make such a decision, what might be next?
Back in 1996-1997 Hebron's Jewish community pulled just about every string possible to prevent the accords from being signed and implemented. We made a movie showing the bloody results of shooting from Abu Sneneh. We were labeled as paranoid scaredy cats. After all, peace had arrived. Then Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu promised his hesitant ministers, 'if one shot is fired at them, I'll send up the tanks. You think I'd endanger the life of one Jew in Hebron?!?'
Endanger he did. Two and half years of gunfire, until the tanks were sent in. And of course he was no longer Prime Minister when the shooting started, or when it ended.
So the big question is, in my mind, what's next? If this Prime Minister was able to send hundreds of killers home-free, for one Israeli soldier, how much guts, or despair, would it take to give Abu Sneneh back to the Arabs? How much American/UN/European/Russian/ pressure would it take to roll back the clock to the days pre-Oslo War, in Hebron and throughout Judea and Samaria?

Kiryat Arba from Abu Sneneh Hills
As I looked down at the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, at people entering Ma'arat HaMachpela, at Kiryat Arba, at Yeshivat Shavei Hebron, that question reverberated through my head, and through my body. 'This is what the terrorists saw, this is where they took aim and shot at us. A terrorist with a good scope can see into people's windows, into cars, kids walking on the street. Will it happen again?'
That's the big question: will history repeat itself, will we be forced to live through it again?
After Shalhevet was killed, we renamed the area the 'Shalhevet Hills.' The name didn't really stick. I sure hope we don't have to change the name again. For the time being, I might call them the Abu Netanyahu hills, just to remind Bibi. He doesn't have to make do with my photos. He should come and see first-hand the view from the Abu Netanyahu Hills before any other kind of 'Gilad Shalit decisions' about Hebron, or Judea and Samaria. Maybe it would shake him up enough to discard the thought of relinquishing Israeli control here again, forever.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What would Rabbi Meir say?

The Succot holiday has arrived. As we say in Hebrew – ‘Chag Sameach’ – Happy Holiday. Succot has a uniquely special characteristic – it is a time of great joy. It is considered to be the ‘happiest’ of the Jewish holidays, coming after the intense holy days of Rosh HaShana, the New Year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the entire month preceding these, as a time of concentrated preparation.
Now, with those past, we can sing and dance, celebrating Eretz Yisrael, living in small ‘booths,’ while participating in joyous worship services.

Yet this Succot, our festivity is somewhat dulled. The announcement that Gilad Shalit will soon be released is certainly a cause for overwhelming gratitude and happiness. But the price, release of 1,000 terrorists, of whom, according to past statistics, sixty percent will return to terror activities, is not a reason to celebrate. To the contrary.

The Shalit agreement is a done deal. There isn’t too much we can do to prevent it. Past experience shows that the courts will not stop the exchange. Next week, barring unforeseen circumstances, it will happen.

That being the case, I can only but express, in my opinion, a couple of elements missing from this disgraceful surrender by Israel to terrorists. If it has to be, at least is should include at least two other factors.

The first, I’ve already seen others speaking of. According to published reports, Interior minister Eli Yishai is demanding the release of Jewish ‘terrorists,’ that is, Jews who have been convicted of perpetrating crimes against Arabs. A list of such people has been prepared by my friend and neighbor, ‘Zangi’ Medad, the head of the Honenu organization, which works to defend Jews accused of any and all crimes under the sun.

Medad and Yishai are to be commended. It goes without saying: if hundreds of Arab terrorists, convicted of murdering, maiming and wounding hundreds and thousands of Jews, with the intent to destroy the State of Israel are being released from prison, so why not release a few Jews too?

Are they worse than the Arabs? Of course not. These people are not terrorists, nor are they ‘common criminals.’ These are people who, as a result of continued Jewish bloodshed, reacted. The manner in which they chose to react is not commonly accepted by Jews or Israelis; the fact is, the number of such ‘criminals’ is miniscule. If people really believed that this was the way to solve our dilemmas, ‘taking the law into their own hands,’ the numbers would be much much larger.

People do make mistakes. It certainly would be preferable that the Arab terrorists be left to rot in Israeli jails, or better yet, be executed for their deadly crimes. But being that Israel sees fit to release 1,000 for one, there’s no reason to leave Jewish Israelis in prison.

But this is only one side of the coin. There is another side, which I have yet to see mentioned.

What about Jonathan Pollard?  

Pollard wasn’t convicted of murder. He didn’t harm anyone. He was convicted of ‘spying’ for a friendly ally of the United States. He has expressed regret for his actions. If Israel can release so many evil individuals, with blood on their hands, creatures who have committed the worst of crimes, how can the United States continue to hold Pollard in jail?

There shouldn’t be any mistake made. I’m not, in any way, shape or form, comparing Pollard to Arab terrorists, or to Jewish convicts. He doesn’t fit into these categories . But his release is no less humanitarian than that of Shalit’s.  Were he being held by any other country in the world, the United States would be in the forefront of the attempts to have him released.

In truth, Pollard, similar to Gilad Shalit, is a Prisoner of War. Jonathan Pollard did not spy to get rich. He didn’t have any evil illusions about destroying the United States. He was a Jew, in a position to help Israel against deadly enemies, wishing to annihilate another few million Jews. His only concern was to help Israel survive. For that, he is paying an enormous price. Shalit has been in a Hamas dungeon for five years. And Pollard? In an American dungeon for almost 9,500 hundred days.

Netanyahu has spoken at length over the past few days about leadership. He, today, following agreement to free terrorist murderers, must demand of the United States, to simultaneously release Jonathan Pollard from the pit in which he is being held captive. As Shalit crosses into Israel and terrorists are freed, so too, the United States must do its part, and let Jonathan come home too, to Israel. At least that. Not 1,027 for one, rather 1,027 for two.

Last night, coming home from my daughter’s home in Eshtamoa in the southern Hebron Hills, we were discussing the deal. One of my sons, who has also served in a combat unit, was resolute, exclaiming, ‘you would never do that because of me.’ In other words, he said, should I ever become a captive of the enemy (G-d forbid), I wouldn’t want you to demand the release of hundreds and thousands of murderers and terrorists, whose freedom would cost so many more Jewish lives. 

I certainly hope and pray that I’m never put in a situation where I would have to face such a test. What I do know is that some seven hundred and twenty years ago, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of his time, died in prison after being held captive for seven years. An enormous ransom was demanded for his release and according to tradition, some 23,000 silver marks were collected for his freedom. Yet he refused to allow this money to be paid, fearing it would result in further imprisonment of others, as a way to extort huge amounts of money from Jews.  And today: what would Rabbi Meir say?

There will be many Israelis crying next week, as Shalit crosses the border. Not tears of joy, rather tears of anguish, seeing their loved-one's murderers go free. At the very least, the very very least, we should have some small sense of something positive, seeing not only Shalit, but also, Jonathan, coming home too.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Forty years ago today: Happy Birthday and Happy New Year

Forty years ago today: Happy Birthday and Happy New Year

It’s never pleasant visiting people in mourning. Especially when the deceased were victims of terror. It’s such a waste of life and such a disgrace to our people.

Yesterday I paid a condolence call to the Palmers. They sat, listened and discussed with high-ranking IDF officers the failure of the state of Israel to protect their loved-ones, and others on the road, who are stoned by Arab terrorists daily. They don’t have any excuses, except that their actions are limited by ‘political decisions.’ Unfortunately, some of those officers are no less political than their civilian boss, Ehud Barak, and their action or inaction in the field is proof.

One of the subjects spoken about by several of the people present was deterrence. In the past (albeit a long time ago) the army used numerous forms of methods to ‘deter’ continued terror acts. Such forms of ‘collective punishment’ were, when used correctly, quite effective and helped do the job. At a demonstration prior to the funeral on Sunday, Rav Dov Lior demanded that the IDF utilize collective actions, as is allowed by Jewish Torah law, to save lives. However, as was said during today’s discussion at the Palmer’s home, collective punishment is no longer considered ‘for reasons we all know.’

One of the other subjects directed at the officers present was the danger of driving on the roads. Any time a person drives between Hebron to Jerusalem, he puts his life on the line. Not only because of rock-throwing or shooting, but because Arab drivers use their cars as vehicles of terror. Driving on curvy, dangerous roads at speed fifty kilometers over the speed limit, at 150 kilometers an hour, passing four or five cars at a time, over white lines, speaking on cell phones and ignoring the road, keeping bright lights lit at night, not dimming them when a vehicle appears opposite them; these are but a few examples of the craziness on the roads.  It was asked why Israeli police are not stationed on the road, stopping the overtly reckless Arab drivers. This security access on the roads would also have a deterrent effect on our enemies.

There were no answers to these questions.
But there are answers to these questions. The first is continued, expanded Jewish presence on the roads, and specifically between Hebron and Kiryat Arba to the north, towards Jerusalem, and south, towards Beer Sheva. Yesterday a rock again was hurled from a moving Arab car at an Israeli vehicle, less than a kilometer south of the entrance to Kiryat Arba. A larger presence on the street will allow us a better opportunity to defend ourselves and apprehend terrorists attempting to kill Jews.
The other answer is quite simply to close the roads to Arab traffic. If they want to act like animals, treat them like animals, and don’t give them use of roads from which they continue to try to murder Jews.  This should have been done immediately following the murder, except for the fact that only yesterday was the family officially notified that their loved-ones were murdered as a result of Arab terror and did not die in an ‘auto accident.’ Today the family was told that they've been recognized as a 'terror-struck' family.

This is type of collective punishment Rav Lior discussed. And it is guaranteed, it  will be understood immediately. Closing road 60 from south of Kiryat Arba, to Jerusalem, would have a major effect on their economics. This street is packed with Arab trucks transporting produce. This would immediately hit them in their pockets, and could cause pressure stopping these continued rock attacks. And should the road be reopened, with the attacks continuing, it should be permanently closed to our enemies, who prefer dead Jews to a successful economy.
While at the Palmer’s, Michael, Asher’s father, told me that he prefer that people remember Asher alive, rather than dwell on his death. He told me, ‘he’s gone, and there’s nothing we can do about that, but we can remember his life, how much love he gave to all of us, his happiness, his family, his Torah.’ He requested that I pass this message on to others, so that they too can learn from him and thank G-d for the 25 years he had on this earth.

Today is the eve of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. By all rights, I shouldn’t be in the office writing this. However a short time ago we prayed afternoon prayers at the site of the murder. Following the service, Rav Lior spoke for a few minutes and I really would like to post the short video (in Hebrew) before the holy day.
That being the case, I think it essential, following Michael Palmer’s line of thought, to remember, to remember back exactly forty years today. It was the eve of Rosh HaShana in 1971 that the first Jews moved into newly built homes in the new community called Kiryat Arba.

Jews had come back to the Hebron region to live in 1968, but were forced to set up home in the Hebron military compound, outside of the city. The conditions there were awful, but they made do and refused to give up. As a result, the defense minister then, Moshe Dayan, finally allowed initiation of a new community, Kiryat Arba. And so it was that forty years ago today, families moved into those first buildings, and began renewal of a Jewish presence in Hebron and in all of Judea and Samaria.
These past four decades have been costly. Asher and Yonatan are the last in a long list of people who gave their lives to live here. But, never, ever, did Jews consider abandoning their homeland as a result of this deadly violence. Sure, it would be easier and much more pleasant not to have to face such tests. But our enemies will never again drive us out of our homes, our land, the roots and heart of our people.
This is the message I would like to leave you with, as we approach the new year of 5772, and wish all of us a happy and healthy new year, a year of spiritual prosperity, of personal and national growth, of building, expansion, of aliyah, and of tranquility.

                                                Happy Birthday to Kiryat Arba and a good, happy year to all.  Shana tova.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Killing Asher Palmer Twice

Killing Asher Palmer Twice
The Palmer family is very special. I don’t know many people whose ‘mesirut nefesh’ for Eretz Yisrael is greater than theirs. They came to Israel about 30 years ago. They moved because they wanted their children to grow up in a Jewish environment. Michael, the father of the family, has a special expertise and despite numerous, numerous attempts, was never able to find suitable employment in Israel. As a result, he works in the United States, coming home to his family in Kiryat Arba several times a year, celebrating with them various Jewish holidays and events.

Molly Palmer brought up her children with much love and care for Eretz Yisrael. She has worked for many years teaching English in Kiryat Arba and the Southern Hebron Hills region. I also seem to recall that she’s an excellent cook and baker. In the past she sold various pastries, of which I remember enjoying immensely.

On Friday afternoon Molly Palmer and her family were stunned, as were all that know them, by the terrible news that her 25 year old son Asher, together with his year old son, were killed in a ‘traffic accident.’ Police reported that as a result of speeding, he had lost control of his car not too far outside of Kiryat Arba. The car flipped over twice in the air, being totally destroyed as it crash landed.

Immediately, even before the victims were identified, the army released a statement that soldiers stationed in the area hadn ‘t witnessed any rock-throwing, or any Arabs fleeing from the area of the ‘accident.’

This past Friday was one of those times when no one had any idea what the day would bring. As a rule, when Arabs want to protest, Friday, after their prayers, is the time. Following Obama’s rejection of a UN-declared palestinian state, together with Abu-Mazen’s speech scheduled for Friday, tension was high. Bolstered security forces were stationed throughout Judea and Samaria, prepared for the worst.

Those fears were a double-edged sword. Media account over the past few weeks centered not so much on Arab violence, rather on Israel responses, and most particularly, those of ‘radical settlers.’ Normal, everyday Jews are so being labeled. For example, New York Times Bureau chief Ethan Bronner, in an article posted Friday, writes, “…Bat Ayin, a fenceless settlement near Bethlehem known for its radicalism.’  Known by whom?  Bat Ayin, a community of Hassidic Jews in the Gush Eztion area, is far from ‘radical’ as I would define the word.

The police/security establishment has one fear, and one fear alone. It is not dead Jews. It is dead Arabs. They are petrified of the thought that Arabs will attack Jews, on the roads or in communities, and that the Jews will respond, causing Arab casualties, resulting in Arab propaganda campaigns, similar to those following the Marmara debacle, leading to massive foreign pressure on Israel.

The area of the accident is quite prone to rock attacks. Cars are stoned daily, many times in areas known from their vulnerability. Unfortunately, very little, if anything, is done to prevent these attacks. Very high ranking officers, during instructions to lower-level commanders, have been quoted as saying that ‘rock attacks are sufferable.’ In other words, the IDF really doesn’t have any responsibility to stop such attacks or apprehend the terrorists hurling the rocks. The ‘settlers’ can and will just have to live with this reality.

However, lately, our enemies have begun using a new method in their continued attempts to kill Jews. Instead of standing on the side of the road and throwing a rock, they are heaving them from moving cars, coming at you from the opposite direction. They toss a rock out their window, in front of your car, just prior to passing you.

The impact is tremendous. The rock is flying at the speed at which the car was driving. When it impacts with the car moving in the other direction, the force is phenomenal.

I’ve been told of numerous such incidents in recent weeks, in the exact area where the ‘accident’ killing Asher and Yonatan Palmer occurred.

On Friday afternoon, this is exactly what happened. That’s why no one was seen fleeing on foot, because the rock was thrown from a moving vehicle. It hit the windshield, breaking it, hitting Asher in the face, causing him to lose control of the car. The rock was found in the wrecked car.  A hole, the type of which caused by a thrown rock, was also identified in the windshield.  Yet the police and army climbed up a very high tree, claiming that the ‘accident’ was Asher’s fault. They claimed that the rock entered the car as it flipped over in a rock-bed on the side of the road. All this in an effort to cover up the murder of two Jews by Arabs. According to my sources, the police have already concluded that the ‘accident’ was not an accident, that it was cold-blooded murder; the killing two Jews.

There are other details which have not yet been released, and I’m hesitant to fully publicize them for the moment. Some of Asher’s possessions seemed to be missing and have not yet been found at the scene of the crash. There are also signs of possible additional violence at the site. These details prove, without any doubt, that the accident was Arab terror.

The police, not yet weary of the additional pain they’ve already caused the Palmer family are continuing to torture them; they went to court to obtain an order allowing them to perform an autopsy on the two bodies. Jewish law, excluding unique circumstances, forbids autopsies. However all evidence, including examinations of the bodies, the car, and the scene of the attack are proof enough. Why continue to cause unnecessary suffering?!

The seriousness of this cannot be downplayed. Israeli security forces intentionally attempted to cover-up murder. The implications are mind-boggling. In order to prevent possible ‘disturbances’ between Jews and Arabs as the result of this terror, they killed Asher Palmer twice. First, Arabs killed him. But then Israeli police killed him again, blaming him for his own death, due to reckless driving, and being responsible for killing his one year old son, leaving his widow and family to live with this horrible reality for the rest of their lives.  

Of course, these facts would preclude having to search for ‘terrorists.’ And would also prevent Asher’s widow from receiving financial aid provided by the State to terror victims’ families.

Such lies, on the part of Israeli security forces, must be uncovered and dealt with to the fullest. It is unthinkable that Israeli security forces would lie about a terror attack in order to prevent ‘Jewish responses.’ Additionally, a  Jew cannot be blamed for crimes that he did not commit.  Blame where blame lies: with murderous Arab terrorists.

Asher and Yonatan Palmer will be buried tonight, Sunday, Sept. 25, in Hebron. The funeral procession will leave the Palmer home in Kiryat Arba at 18:00. May their memories be blessed and may HaShem Yinkom Damam.