August 18, 2003
Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a correspondent who spent a couple of hours with me in Hebron. We sat for a while in my office, indulging in the usual question and answer period, while centering on several points which were of prime concern to this particular journalist. Later I took him to the various neighborhoods, showing him the results of three years of the Oslo War: bullet holes in walls, books, etc. He also conversed with some other Hebron residents.
Talking on our way back to the office, the official ‘interview’ over, he said to me, “you know, I don’t spend a lot of time in Israel – I’ve been here for a total of four or five months over the past few years, but being here now I get the impression that the chances of Israel surviving as a Jewish state are steadily decreasing.”
I’ve spent time, and conducted conversations with many many people, including major international correspondents (and I would classify this person as ‘serious’) but I’ve never before heard so pessimistic an outlook concerning the future of the State of Israel.
I asked him what brought him to that conclusion and he replied that the cycle of violence was continuing, that a ‘real’ agreement was very far off, if at all, and the only alternative, in his eyes, was ‘transfer.’
I responded by asking if a Palestinian state would be an insurance policy for the existence of Israel? This, keeping in mind that in the past ten years, all agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority were violated to the hilt, leading to the murder of almost a thousand people and the injuring of thousands in the past three years.
His answers began to become evasive – “I don’t know, but it has to be given a try.”
Going back to the T word - I mentioned that ‘transfer’ is usually associated with racism and other negative ‘isms.’ He interrupted, “it’s more like ‘cleansing.’But I queried further: Why,when transfer is spoken of concerning Arabs, it is considered to be racial bigotry, but if a ‘peace agreement’ is reached, I will be ‘ethnically cleansed’ from my home. After all, there will never be a Palestinian state including a Hebron with David Wilder living here. Why is it permissible for me to evicted from my home, while any such talk concerning Arabs is prohibited?
His answer: This is very complicated and I really don’t want to get into it. But he added, ‘in the end it’s the demographics that do you in.’
As the discussion finished, I told him, “you know, looking at the situation logically and rationally, from the outside, like you, I might very easily come to the same conclusion. It doesn’t look good for Israel, not demographically, not security-wise, turmoil from within and from without, threats from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, from almost all directions. It would be very easy to presume that Israel’s future, as a Jewish state, is in jeopardy.”
“But,” I continued, “you’re missing something, and that is a Divine element. You have to understand that G-d didn’t bring us back to Israel after two thousand years, to again expel us from our land. Realize that Jews held in the German extermination camps during World War Two, and from there to British detention camps, disembarked and made their way from ships to the battlefield in 1948. The military victories of 1948, 1967, and 1973 didn’t happen by themselves. That fact that during the Lebanese War in the early 1980s Israel shot down over 100 Syrian M.I.G.s without losing any airplanes is statistically impossible. Yet it happened. And the deciding factor was, always has been, and always will be, the hand of G-d.”
I had the opportunity to repeat this conversation yesterday afternoon to a group of 120 men, women and children visiting Hebron through. Speaking to them in the courtyard of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, we were rudely interrupted when the Moslem muezzin, escorted by a pack of soldiers, border police and regular police, made his way through the courtyard to a Waqf room near the entrance to the building, where he played a recording of middle afternoon Moslem prayers at full volume through the building’s loudspeaker system, making it very difficult for our visitors to hear what I was saying. Again, an example of the same thing I mentioned earlier – if Jews were to blast their prayers over a loudspeaker we would be accused of religious coercion. When the Arabs do it, it is considered natural.
But the noise didn’t stop me, and I continued talking, or perhaps shouting is more accurate, to the group. One of the primary messages I tried to get across was the importance of such visits in Hebron. Thank G-d, this year tourism is back up, and we have groups touring the city almost every day. And not only Jewish groups. A few weeks ago a Christian group from Czechoslovakia spent a few hours with me, as did a group from Germany. On the fast day, Tisha b’Av I spoke for an hour with a group from Holland. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, director of tourism for the Jewish Community of Hebron is busy with groups that sign up for our tours through the New York based Hebron Fund, literally seven days a week.
I try to impress upon all of these groups the importance of their visiting Hebron. First of all, their very presence here proves to the Israeli government, the American government, and even to our Arab neighbors, that Hebron isn’t a small, isolated community that nobody cares about. That fact that tens and hundreds of thousands of people of all religions and nationalities pour into Hebron speaks for itself.
It’s also essential that people see ‘the real Hebron,’ as opposed to the Hebron of CNN, BBC or the New York Times.
And perhaps most importantly, when people leave Hebron, they become our representatives, world-wide, spreading the ‘good word’ so to speak, thereby encouraging others to visit us on their trips to Israel.
Of course, in my eyes, the most significant step a Jew can take today is to come live in Israel, and thank G-d, that is happening. The conversation with my journalist friend ended on the demographic note. I told him, “You may be correct that demographics is a key to success. But wait and see. Just as over a million Russians have come to Israel since the fall of the Iron Curtain, so too will Jews flock to Israel, from North America, Europe, South Africa, Australia, you name it – they’ll eventually all be here. Then the demographics will change, as will your basic premise, that Israel’s fate as Jewish State is in danger. We have no intentions of leaving our land, not now, not ever.”
With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder