It’s tough to talk about Hebron, the mere name is like hitting at a fault line in the nation. I went there on Friday with a group called Breaking the Silence, they’re not short on controversy though I found their tour incredibly impressive, mainly for its simplicity, but more about them in a later post.
The tour left me reeling in a lot of ways, what you see and what you hear is essentially a challenge to your own views about Israel and I’ve been trying to reconcile where I am ever since.
Before I really begin let’s get down to some fundamentals, I’m a Jew and I’m an Israeli, I’m certainly not a Palestinian and my interest in a Palestinian state stems from the fact that I have no doubt that a state of Palestine is in Israel’s best interest. I am not a campaigner for human rights nor do I want to be, I am most certainly not interested in shaming my country or my people before the world or before anyone at all.
I moved here because I love it here and I have a fundamental commitment to making sure Israel is as strong and free as she can possibly be. I have nothing more than a desire to see Israel become and remain the country she should be, a bastion of democracy, freedom and the Jewish homeland.
I believe in the establishment of a Palestinian state because I think we need to leave the territories behind our own national survival . These are things I already knew, but this trip really forced me to re-examine who I am and what I believe.
When we arrived in Hebron and I found myself standing in front of the Tomb of the Patriarchs all I wanted to do was abandon the tour and go in. It struck me as ridiculous that I have never been to the second holiest site in Judaism, never paid my respects to the place where the fathers and mothers of my religion are buried. Shameful even. Abraham himself is buried there, could you get any more central to Judaism than that?
It drives me crazy that it’s so easy for people to tell us Jews to abandon our holy sites and yet they would never even consider telling anyone else to abandon theirs. The UN, the EU, the international community find it so easy to criticise and point the finger at us, these are the same people who are silent when it comes to the fact that so much as being in Saudi Arabia as a Jew is illegal. It’s absurd.
Furthermore in a state of Palestine (which clearly has no chance of being democratic) the opportunity for Jews to visit Hebron would be either severely curtailed or non-existent. The fear of this happening is enough to make a lot of people go to some pretty extreme steps, like making sure they live right there. Their physical presence in Hebron ensures that no government can ever give up on the Jewish right to pray at our holy site. By their very presence they are protecting the Cave of the Partiarchs for the rest of us.
But what does this mean?
It means that around 700 Jews are living in an army base in the center of Hebron where they’re surrounded by 1,000 soldiers. These soldiers are in turn surrounded by 180,000 Palestinians. The security precautions that have been taken to ensure that the Jewish population remains protected are…severe, sometimes verging on the absurd. What was once the souk area, the heart and soul of the city is now utterly devoid of people and of the roughly 35,000 Palestinians who once lived in the general area around the Jewish settlements 15,000 have (my guide tells me) left, been forced out or intimidated away.
In the street above it’s actually forbidden for Palestinians to walk, but where the security precautions verge on the absurd is that there were people living on the street who were breaking the law when they left their houses. Small wonder that so many thousands of people left. You can see in the map below what the restrictions are for wandering around the streets of Hebron if you’re a Palestinian. Or just click here for the same map in pdf from B’tselem’s website.
So now you’ve got a situation where a city has been torn in two to ensure that Jews have the right to pray and live there safely. The Palestinians who are still there have put chicken wire and steel grills over their windows because settlers have been smashing the windows. If you choose to believe the guide that is.
And yet really I knew that it was. If you’re at the vanguard of the nation then you have a job to do. You have to ensure absolutely that these Arabs either leave entirely and most certainly that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt who’s in charge and don’t cause problems.
So we get to choose whether to believe that the gratings and chicken wire are there because settlers have been breaking the windows or that these are lies and there’s another reason entirely. When I walked through the area I thought back to a youtube video (skip to 3 minutes in) of settlers throwing stones at Palestinians in Hebron. I remember how I didn’t believe it because you couldn’t actually see who the stones were hitting, I was sure that the video was simply Palestinian propaganda I came up with a whole range of reasons why it’s not true and then, standing there I ran out of excuses to make.
I understood that I didn’t believe the footage because I didn’t want to believe it.
Standing there in Hebron I had some more choices to make. I could choose to believe that getting rid of 15,000 people so that 700 can live in an army base is worth it or I can choose to cover my ears, tell myself the figure is just a lie and that the houses all around are empty for other reasons. I can tell myself that even if it is true then it’s all because of Palestinian terrorism and so they all deserve it. I can ignore the stories about settler violence on Palestinians or at least tell myself that their (our) violence is necessary to keep the Arabs in line.
I can argue to myself and others that a Jews only street is absolutely necessary so that Jews can go pray in the tomb of the Patriarchs safely. I can argue with myself that in Hebron sits a shrine that we need to hang on to in order to ensure that Israel, the only Jewish state, remains in full control of Jewish holy places. I can argue that the cost borne out by the Palestinians who live there is worth it.
But I’d be lying to myself.
I am just one of the millions of Israelis who have never prayed in Hebron, one of the millions of Jews around the world who have never so much as considered it before. Those who are holding on to Hebron are doing so in my name, but not at my behest.
And yet even while writing this I still want to go back and pray there, I want to go inside and see it for myself. Just like while I was there I wanted to reach out to the soldiers and tell them that I wasn’t really one of these lefties but that i was one of them. I wanted to be with the settlers and talking to them not sitting with a Palestinian activist listening to his words (lies?).
I didn’t want to be considered a traitor to my own by writing an article like this. But in Hebron I feel like we’re winning the battle and losing it at the same time. I feel like God himself is playing a trick on us, saying that we can have our Holy Places and the land He promised us but that in payment we have to give up on our own moral code, the same one He instilled within us.
He gave us a cruel choice to make and that the punishment for making the wrong choice is to lose the country entirely.