A Visit to Hebron
If you think that Itamar Ben Gvir has radical ideas, wait until you meet his teacher Baruch Marzel. Marzel is a direct student of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the assassinated founder of the militant Jewish Defense League. Marzel, lives in the holy city of Hebron, and has been keeping the flame alive for those who believe in settling every inch of the ancient Land of Israel.
I was recently invited by Marzel to visit him to discuss the legacy of the late Rabbi.
Hebron is not a major player on any organized tourist destination. Most US visitors are steered toward the safe, traditional Israeli destinations. When someone insists on visiting the holy city, tour groups who provide bullet proof buses with an armed escort are recommended.
My family and I have been visiting Hebron on each of our annual Israeli trips. Yonatan was ten on our first trip, so I yielded to a mothers’ misgivings , and we also opted for the bulletproof bus. On our more than half a dozen trips, however, there were never any incidents.
While visiting Israel recently, I met up with several old friends. At one time, ‘back in the day”, we were all committed members of Rabbi Kahane’s Jewish Defense League, some 40 years ago. Today we are retired grandfathers. Joe offered to drive me down as he lives in Shomron and frequently participates in Hebron’s Vatiken early morning prayers.
We had no bullet proof car, and I did not see any evidence of weapons. But in the interest of total disclosure, I must admit that I did not frisk him nor his wife Joy, who accompanied us. Joe knows his way around Israeli roads and navigates to most places without Waze.
Hebron is very special for me and has been since I was 13 years old. Chayei Sara, the portion of the Torah that describes Abraham buying the Cave of Machpelah to bury his wife Sara, was my Bar Mitzva “parsha”. The Torah describes the purchase and refers to Hebron also as Kiryat Arba. The Torah also alludes to the enmity between Avraham’s two sons, Yitchak and Yishmael and prophesies that this tension will last for ever. Still, Hebron had an uninterrupted Jewish presence for thousands of years and is special to all traditional Jews.
In 1929, The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin El Husseini incited the Arabs in Palestine to riot by telling them that the Jews were about to destroy the Al Aksa Mosque and erect the ancient Jewish Temple in its place. Arabs went on a murderous rampage and massacred 133 Jews. In Hebron 67 innocent Yeshiva students and their families were butchered. The British, in a “ blame the victims” move, removed the surviving Jews from Hebron. It was only after the Six Day war in 67’ that Jews came back. It was also the first time under Israeli rule that Jews were allowed to pray at the Machpelah. Most visitors upon entering Hebron are taken to the cemetery to pay respects to the 67 victims.
Literally everyone was against the return of the Jews. The Arabs were demanding a “do over” to regain the territory lost in their disastrous humiliation, and the US exerted pressure on Israel to keep previously Jordanian occupied areas, Judenfrei. Even the Israeli government had no sympathy to control areas not deemed strategically important.
Baruch Marzel is one of the main leaders of the movement to settle Hebron. A student of Kahane since the tender age of 13, he has been a vocal advocate of settling the entire Land of Israel. His advocacy has angered the Government of Israel and he has been arrested over 100 times.
Marzel lives in Tel Rumeida in “downtown“Hebron. Upon our arrival, he invited us in to his spartan apartment and offered a cup of hot coffee. As a follower of Meir Kahane in the late sixties, he questioned me about Kahane in the early days. What was he like? How did he go about building the JDL? His questions surprised me as I came to get to know him and what made him “tick”.
Marzel is a true radical with ideas not espoused by the mainstream. He is intense and becomes animated when talking politics. He offers simple solutions to complex, complicated problems. But this doesn’t bother him a bit. Listening to him one is convinced that he believes in his words.
He describes the hardships of living in such hostile atmosphere. “We fight for every inch as they (Arabs) are unwilling to recognize our right to be here”. The Israeli government is also an obstacle. They control the amount of trailers and buildings that can be built. “It was a year’s long battle to install an air conditioner” he told me. “Sharing the Ma’Arah was a struggle and even now, after many years, it’s a constant battle. Look at what’s happening on the Temple Mount.” As the Arabs are unwilling to share “The Arabs have to go” he told me unequivocally.
He explains to visitors that the solution is to get the Arabs to leave voluntarily. And just how can that be accomplished? he is asked “You pay them money to relocate” He does not advocate forcible expulsion. “If you pay them, they will leave”. He also doesn’t advocate wanton murder such as the Baruch Goldstein incident in the Machpelah. Although Marzel feels that he understood what drove Goldstein to his bizarre and desperate act, he did not condone it.
“The Arabs do not want peace” he went on “they show it with their constant incitement to violence. They encourage terrorists to murder Israelis by paying a stipend based on an escalating scale. More money for larger acts of terror. How can you trust someone who pays to murder you?”
He is incensed by Arab narratives denying the connection of Jews to the Holy Land. “They even deny that there was a Temple on the Temple Mount” he marvels. “If one believes in the Torah” he explained “there can be no compromise. Avraham bought this land for 400 silver shekels. The land was given to the Jews by G-d, case closed!” “For me” he stated simply “It’s either theirs or ours! “
After a three-hour discussion, it was time for minha/maariv. We left the apartment and walked the short distance, arriving at the steps leading up to the Ma’Arah. After a friendly discussion with the soldiers at the metal detectors, we were inside the Machpelah. Baruch greeted his fellow Hebronites and other visitors, warmly, and with the ease of someone who is at home. And then we were ready to daven. While this may be a routine daily occurrence for them, I felt very moved to be davening at the Yaacov Avinu shrine. I also realized, as I looked at Baruch and the others, that if it was not for them and their tenacious struggle, we would never have been allowed in there.
Dr. Alex Sternberg
Author: Recipes from Auschwitz- The Survival Stories of Two Hungarian Jews with Historical Insights” Amazon