Shahar Azani
Veteran Israeli Diplomat. Speaker. Author. JBS Senior Vice President. Jewish.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

A response to Sharon Brous op-ed in the L.A. Times (08/26/18), “My daughter loves the miracle of Israel. It was time for her to see the other side“. 
Shalhevet Pass would have been 17 today, only she never got the chance to be. On March 26th, 2001, Shalhevet was a ten-month-old Israeli baby girl, whose only crime was being: being Jewish, being Israeli, and being within the range of a Fatah terrorist, Mahmud Amru, in the city of Hebron. Amru, cold-heartedly perpetrating the most evil of deeds known to man, sniped at little Shalhevet, shooting her with one bullet straight to the head as she was sitting in her stroller, pushed by her father. The bullet killed her instantly, penetrating through her skull and eventually hitting her father as well and injuring him severely. This heinous act of sheer terror shocked the Israeli public, as the thought of a sniper deliberately aiming at a baby justly sends shivers down any decent human being’s spine. The Palestinian authority “arrested” Amru, only to release him from prison shortly thereafter. Justice was not served until Israel’s security services apprehended the murderer a year later, and he was brought before a court of law and sentenced to a lengthy time in prison.
The story of the intertwined lives of Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, is a complicated one, and nowhere more so than the in the city of Hebron, an ultimate clash point of ideologies, and the home of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Judaism and Islam.
In her op-ed in the L.A Times (08/26/2018), Sharon Brous elaborates on a trip she recently took to Israel, during which “she didn’t want to, yet took her kid to the West Bank City of Hebron”. Then, she goes on to describe the “sealed homes and shops”, Israel’s heavy security presence in the city and “the once-thriving Casbah, dead quite now. All of this, the direct result of Israeli military policy”.
Telling a story entails a responsibility, especially when discussing such a complex issue. To those who only know the outlines of the “conflict in the Middle East”, and whose source of information is mainly the news media, this narrative makes perfect sense, simplistic enough to draw a clear line between good and bad. However, as the story usually goes, life is much – much – more complicated and multi-layered than that. For instance, the fact is that Israel’s military presence in the city is key to allowing freedom of worship to all.
The city of Hebron has been a focal point of intense violence over the years, and especially during the Palestinian wave of terror at the beginning of 2000s (a period also known as “the Second intifada”), when restrictions were imposed by Israel on Palestinian movement in parts of the city. As described in legal proceedings from that time, Israel’s decision was due to the fact that “the city of Hebron has been since the month of September 2000 a center for terror organizations, including such large-scale attacks resulting in many dead and injured. In addition, many of those terrorists operate from within the civilian population and use it to hide, attack and escape“.
Such was one bloody Friday night, on November 15th 2002, when Palestinian terrorists attacked Israelis who made their way after services by foot from the Tomb of the Patriarchs back to their homes in the nearby town of Qiryat Arba. Three weeks before, as an act of good will, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) evacuated its forces from the city of Hebron, against the opinion of the local commander, Dror Weinberg of blessed memory, who believed that by doing so, the IDF will lose its ability to thwart Palestinian terror attacks. Moreover, in the days before the attack there was intelligence indicating an upcoming terror attack, yet the IDF still refrained from coming into the city. The results were nothing short of catastrophic: 12 Israelis were murdered that night, including IDF’s Dror Weinberg z”l, and 14 others more injured.
This is the backdrop, the missing piece, to the current reality in Hebron. Indeed, as Brous mentions, the Jewish settlement in Hebron is a devout and ideological one, which suffered tremendously from the hands of Palestinian terror (not especially helpful to foster a neighborly relationship between Jews and Arabs). The settlers’ relationship with the IDF has also known ups and downs, as there have been many a case where the IDF evacuated buildings or homes seized illegally by settlers, all in accordance with the law and the decision of the courts.
Baruch Goldstein’s act of terror against Palestinians praying in the Tomb of the Patriarchs is worthy of all condemnation, and so are the hateful words spouted by “Aaron, the New York settler”, but both are far from representing the mainstream of Israeli society nor even the mainstream of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, many of whom are there for economic and social reasons, and not necessarily religious or ideological. Didn’t we say its complicated?!
One must also wonder about the complaint of “having 850 Jews living in the city, protected by 600 Israeli police and soldiers”. Upon signing the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron (01/17/1997) it was clearly noted that “both sides reiterate their commitment to maintain normal life throughout the City of Hebron and to prevent any provocation or friction that may affect the normal life in the city”. The hope was that Jews and Arabs could live side by side, until a resolution is reached. Furthermore, Jews and Arabs live together in cities all over Israel, and never did it occur to place special guards over the Arabs for fear of their Jewish neighbors. So how come it is acceptable to frown upon Jews living in a Palestinian city, thus implicitly acquiescing to acts of violence against them?! The real question we must ask ourselves is WHY so much security is needed to protect Jews in a Palestinian city and why do we legitimize the Palestinian dream of living in a Palestine devoid of all Jewish presence?!
We are all united in the hope for peace in Israel and the Middle East, yet over-simplification of the complex realities on the ground – as appealing as it may be to us as human beings and to the ruling narrative in the media – does nothing to promote it. Quite to the contrary. It pushes peace away by further alienating and distancing Israelis from Palestinians and deepening the divide between the two peoples. At the end of the day, only few live on the edges of the political spectrum, whereas most of us are somewhere in the middle, maybe silent, but still the majority.
Let’s do the right thing and make sure to tell the whole story.
About the Author
Veteran Israeli Diplomat. Speaker, Author, JBS Senior Vice President. Formerly Israel's Consul for Media Affairs in NY and L.A.. Thankful for every day. Hopeful for the future.
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