Tuesday, January 28, 1997

Hebron-Bethlehem-From Abraham to Rachel

Hebron-Bethlehem-From Abraham to Rachel
January 28, 1997     

I am ashamed to admit that, in spite of the relatively short distance, I very 
infrequently visit Rachel's Tomb - Kever Rachel Emenu - in Bethlehem. The last 
time I was there was before the city was abandoned to Arafat, over a year ago. 
I recall feeling very emotionally drained, at that time. 'Redeployment' was 
pending and the very thought was beyond belief. 

Today I met a group of about 40 people in Jerusalem, and escorted them into 
Hebron for a full day tour.  They requested to stop first at Kever Rachel, so 
before leaving Jerusalem to Hebron, we detoured to Bethlehem. The stretch of 
road exiting Jerusalem to Kever Rachel is still under Israeli authority. There 
was a time when Kever Rachel was a familiar site to those in transit to and 
from Hebron-Kiryat Arba-Efrat-Gush Etzion to Jerusalem. The diminutive domed 
edifice, built over the traditional tomb of the Matriarch Rachel in the middle 
1800's by Sir Moses Montifiori was a constant link between Hebron and 
Jerusalem. Children would wait to pass Kever Rachel, some people would 
automatically say a short prayer or recite a Psalm, and others would glance up, 
taking the everyday site for granted. 

Today, when we arrived at Kever Rachel I could not believe my eyes: The dome 
was nowhere to be seen - instead a long stone wall lines the street, blocking 
the view, hiding Rachel's Tomb.  Stunned, stepping off the bus, I followed the 
other visitors inside, said a few Psalms, and went back outside. The 
construction is continuing - the building is being enlarged and it is obvious 
that the security precautions have not yet been completed. The wall will 
continue to grow, surrounding the tomb. In a tiny trailer I found the Kever 
Rachel Kollel - a group of yeshiva students studying Torah adjacent to the 
tomb. Eventually, when the building is finished, they will move into a room 
inside the compound. But for the time being a group of almost 10 men sit 
cramped inside the trailer, trying to ignite a spark of light in the gloomy 
reality of Arafatland.

I sort of felt the same way yesterday when I accompanied some Swiss 
journalists to the Abu-Snenah hilltop in Hebron. This hilltop is now part of 
the palestinian authority. This was my first venture into area H1 - the part of 
Hebron abandoned by Israel to the Arabs. On the way, after crossing the 
'border' I saw a big red sign announcing our entrance into an area patrolled by 
'palestinian police.' 

It is difficult for me to coherently express my emotions upon seeing such a 
sign.  After all, the reality of the Hebron accords has started to sink in, 
slowly. But still, seeing the letters standing out on a big red sign, it has a 
way of making your blood run cold. Friends of mine have been stopped by 
palestinian police in various sections of Hebron. Very simply, there aren't any 

I just ask myself, what Avraham Yitzhak, Ya'akov, Sara, Rivka, Leah and 
Rachel - wherever they are - what are they saying to themselves and to each 
other when they see what is going on here. I know what I would be saying if I 
were in their place - and I can only hope that they are more forgiving than I 
would be.

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