We were standing in Kiryat Arba at the grave of Baruch Goldstein, who, in 1994, perpetrated the massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. On the tombstone in Hebrew was the inscription: “the holy Baruch Goldstein who gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land and had clean hands and a pure heart.” The grave is located in Park Kahana, named after the militant extremist Rabbi Meir Kahana, a man whose political party Kach was banned by the Israeli government for being “racist” and “anti-democratic.”
Suddenly not far from us I noticed a child, of about 11, crying bitterly. He was one of the settlers boys at the park, a man was comforting him as the boy kept saying “They call the holy Baruch Goldstein a murderer.”
In saying “they” he meant us, we were a group of 350 people in 8 buses, who came to the park as part of a tour organized by Breaking the Silence to catch a glimpse of life in Kirayat Arba and Hebron.
Breaking the Silence, founded in 2004, is an organization which is dedicated to exposing the day to day reality of military service in the Occupied Territories, and its purpose is to shed light on Israel’s operational methods in the Territories and to encourage debate about the nature of the occupation (from the book Our Harsh Logic compiled by the organization Breaking the Silence).
When we got to Hebron the same settler, whom we saw with the boy in Park Kahana, was already waiting for us. He was accompanied by several other boys holding the Israeli flag. He announced to our group: “I am happy that you came, the photos of such a large group of visitors surrounded by Israeli flags is a great publicity for us.”
The settlers children joined our group and walked along with us through the deserted streets of old Hebron. They looked like any other children. Probably for them it was a welcome activity in an otherwise boring day at the end of the summer vacation. They interrupted our guide who presented to us the history of occupation in Hebron, and every so often operated a megaphone so that the loud music would disturb the presentations.
Our walking tour in Hebron included all the Jewish settlements in the old city. It was hard not to notice that the names of the streets were written in Hebrew and were changed to Israeli names. For example the deserted Shuhada street, the main street of old Hebron is renamed “King David” street, and the steps opposite Beit Hadassah are “The Steps of Hope.”
The last stop of our tour was Tel Rumeida settlement, which is built on top of a hill above an archeological site. It took almost two hours to be let in to that area since one of its residents Baruch Marzel, an extremist and one of the followers of the late Rabbi Kahana, objected to our visit and caused such a disruption that the army closed the entrance to the settlement.
When we finally entered the settlement we walked quietly alongside the houses in order to get to the Palestinian side. The settlers were upset and tried to stop us from passing through. A distressed older woman pushed me and threw water in my face.
Later I found out that she was the widow of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, who was murdered in 1998 by a Palestinian terrorist that had broken into their mobile home, stabbed her husband to death, set fire into the place and escaped.
This was a sad conclusion to a day that started and ended with the consequences of unnecessary murders.
I Am A Camera is the title of Christopher Isherwood’s stories of life in Berlin in between the wars. The writer was trying to give an almost photographic account of what he saw when he lived there. But of course, as was the case with the Israeli flags, we are aware of the fact that what we see depends on who is holding the camera and what he/she chooses to show us.
Thus, my short account of what I saw in Hebron could never be impartial either. But I did see Jewish settlers in their quarters, Israeli policemen, and Israeli soldiers. What I did not see were Palestinian people: the streets of Hebron are deserted and the city has become a ghost town.
My personal impression of that confusing day is that in Hebron hatred, violence and killings, on both sides, are celebrated and seen as courage: It is a sad commentary on humanity.
This Post has been updated to include a link to a later essay about Breaking The Silence:
“The Steps of Hope” opposite Beit Hadassah