Thursday, May 29, 2014

Celebrating Hebron Liberation Day

The Jerusalem Post

Celebrating Hebron Liberation Day
May 29, 2014

Forty eight years ago it couldn't have happened.
Dozens of Israeli men and women, in uniform, standing in formation, in the plaza outside Ma'arat HaMachpela.

Yesterday we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the liberation of the holiest city in the world, Jerusalem. Foreign occupation, beginning some 2,000 years ago finally ended. True, this sacred city was not (and still is not) 'complete' – but, Jews, as those who for hundreds of year gave their lives reciting the words "Next year in Jerusalem" could finally actualize this dream.

Today we celebrate Yom Hebron, Hebron Liberation Day. The following day, after liberation of Jerusalem, the Jewish people came home to Hebron.

This phrase, 'coming home,' cannot be taken for granted. I speak with hundreds of people from around the world who cannot grasp how or why Hebron is 'home' to the Jewish people, and who cannot fathom why people like myself would come to live here.

The story of our return is well known. Following the liberation of the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the then Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Rabbi Shlomo Goren zt"l, traveled from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion, about half-way between Hebron and Jerusalem. There he met up with the Israeli forces who had, that same day, freed that area too. Knowing that the next morning they would be leaving for Hebron, he made a short speech about the importance of Hebron, and lay down to rest for a few hours.

When he awoke, the site was empty of people. Rabbi Goren woke up his driver, saying, 'They left without us – get in the jeep, we'll catch up with them.'

So it was that a Rabbi and his driver, alone, drove from Gush Etzion south, towards Hebron. Driving into Hebron, Rabbi Goren quickly realized the Arab enemy had surrendered, viewing white sheets hanging from windows and rooftops. The city's Arab residents remembered all too well the 1929 massacre, when 67 Jews were slaughtered by their next-door neighbors in August of that year. Fearing retribution, the Arab men fled the city, with the women and children waiting for the liberating forces.

Rabbi Goren quickly made his way to Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, which had been totally off-limits to Jews for 700 years. This, the first Jewish possession in the first Jewish city in Israel, second in sanctity only to Temple Mount in Jerusalem, was finally back in Jewish hands.

Rabbi Goren ran up the western staircase, only to find the doors closed and locked. Unable to open them, he shot at the doors with his Uzi submachine gun. However, the doors remained locked. He backed his jeep up the stairs, attached chains to the jeep and the doors, and proceeded to pull then down. At last inside, he began to pray, thanking G-d for the miracles happening.

The Mufti of Hebron sent a messenger, wanting to surrender. Rabbi Goren sent him away, saying 'This place, Ma'arat HaMachpela, is a place of prayer and peace. Surrender elsewhere.' Which is what happened.

Rabbi Goren later explained: I have the rank of General. Why should I give them the honor to surrender to a General? Let them surrender to a lower ranking officer.' Which too happened.
However, when the Rabbi left in his jeep from Gush Etzion, his goal was to catch up to the army. Where were they?

What he didn't realize was that the IDF was unaware that Hebron's Arabs were about to surrender. They had made their way to the western side of Gush Etzion, to prepare the attack. They had also sent a contingent to enter the city from another direction.

In other words, Rabbi Goren liberated Hebron for the Jewish people, singlehandedly.

That's how we came back to Hebron.

Last night, we again reaffirmed our allegiance to this so holy a place.
For the past two years, Colonel Avi Bluth commanded the Judea Division, sometimes called the Hebron Division. Avi grew up in Israel. His parents made Aliyah, that is, came to live in Israel from the United States. Last night, at a unique and special ceremony, Avi transferred command to another young colonel, Yariv Ben Ezra. The ceremony took place in the plaza outside the huge structure, atop the caves of Machpela.

It is very difficult for me to express the emotions I sensed during the half-hour ceremony. I might call it pride, but actually it's much more than that.

First, about the commander. Avi Bluth is a military man. But he is also a religious Jew.
For many years, it was almost impossible for an orthodox Jew to reach such the rank and position of Colonel. And today, when it is possible, I'm asked about the 'religious people' 'taking over' the army.

When religious Jews didn't undertake military service, as did others, they were accused of 'not serving the country.' Now, when religious Jews do undertake to serve, and reach high-ranking positions, they are accused of 'taking over.' As one person described it to me, 'you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don’t.'

In any case, my personal feelings, seeing a man like Avi, serving with such distinction, in a place like Hebron, are overwhelming. At a short farewell meeting in our offices, I told him that not too many people have had the privilege and honor to serve where Abraham, the Jewish people's first General, and David, who became King of Israel in Hebron, lived and served.

The fact that Avi is religious didn't affect his decision-making. There were times when we agreed with his decisions and actions, and times when we didn't. We had many meetings with him and conducted an open line of communications. As has been the case with previous commanders, and as will continue with the new commander. His assessments determined his decisions, as should be.

What I didn't say to Avi was how much he reminded me of a previous Hebron commander, Col. Dror Weinberg, hy'd, who was killed in Hebron during a major terror attack over ten years ago. Both men are very similar. Both young, very determined, very loyal, very hard working, and also, both religious.
But Avi mentioned him during his outgoing speech last night, saying that Dror was his first commander, and that he was to him an example to be followed.

Avi also spoke of the honor and privilege to serve and command in Hebron.
And all of this, at this so special a site, the Tombs of the first Jews,  Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rivka, and Ya'akov and Lea. Liberated, exactly 47 years ago today.

What an experience!

Lately I've found some words, which perhaps, express in the most lucid way possible, our connection to Hebron.

The Jews are the most tenacious people in history. Hebron is there to prove it.

It ties 20 miles south of Jerusalem, 3,000 feet up in the Judaean hills. There, in the Cave of Machpelah, are the Tombs of the Patriarchs. According to ancient tradition, one sepulchre, itself of great antiquity, contains the mortal remains of Abraham, founder of the Jewish religion and ancestor of the Jewish race. Paired with his tomb is that of his wife Sarah. Within the building are the twin tombs of his son Isaac and his wife Rebecca. Across the inner courtyard is another pair of tombs, of Abraham's grandson Jacob and his wife Leah...This is where the 4,000-year history of the Jews, in so far as it can be anchored in time and place, began.

Hebron has great and venerable beauty. It provides the peace and stillness often to be found in ancient sanctuaries. But its stones are mute witnesses to constant strife and four millennia of religious and political disputes. It has been in turn a Hebrew shrine, a synagogue, a Byzantine basilica, a mosque, a crusader church, and then a mosque again. Herod the Great enclosed it with a majestic wall, which still stands, soaring nearly 40 feet high, composed of massive hewn stones, some of them 23 feet long. Saladin adorned the shrine with a pulpit. Hebron reflects the long, tragic history of the Jews and their unrivalled capacity to survive their misfortunes. David was anointed king there, first of Judah (II Samuel 2:1-4), then of all Israel (II Samuel 5:1-3). When Jerusalem fell, the Jews were expelled and it was settled by Edom. It was conquered by Greece, then by Rome, converted, plundered by the Zealots, burned by the Romans, occupied in turn by Arabs, Franks and Mamluks. From 1266 the Jews were forbidden to enter the Cave to pray. They were permitted only to ascend seven steps by the side of the eastern wall. On the fourth step they inserted their petitions to God in a hole bored 6 feet 6 inches through the stone.

...The Jewish community, never very numerous, was ferociously attacked by the Arabs in 1929...When Israeli soldiers entered Hebron during the Six Day War in 1967, for a generation not one Jew had lived there. But a modest settlement was re-established in 1970. Despite much fear and uncertainty, it has flourished.

So when the historian visits Hebron today, he asks himself: where are all those peoples which once held the place? Where are the Canaanites? Where are the Edomites? Where are the ancient Hellenes and the Romans, the Byzantines, the Franks, the Mamluks and the Ottomans? They have vanished into time, irrevocably. But the Jews are still in Hebron.

Hebron is thus an example of Jewish obstinacy over 4,000 years.
These words where not authored by myself, rather by a Gentile historian, Paul Johnson, in a book called:  A History of the Jews.

This is Hebron, this is Eretz Yisrael, this is Am Yisrael, this is Torat Yisrael.

All wrapped up in one.
As exemplified by Col Avi Bluth, by Col Yariv Ben Ezra, and by so many others.
Happy Hebron liberation day.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Hebronization of Yitzhar

The Hebronization of Yitzhar
May 7, 2014
Iyar 7, 5774,
The year was 1996. Shimon Peres signed away Hebron, chopping the city into two pieces, the larger abandoned to Arafat. But then the miracle happened. Bibi was elected. The Messiah had arrived. Hebron was saved.

Except that in January, 1997 the Messiah was revealed as a phony. Implementing the Hebron Accords, the city was split.

We warned – if you give the terrorists all the hills surrounding us, they'll use them as a base to shoot at us. We were ignored, or rather we were accused of being hysterical. After all, the false messiah told us, if one bullet is shot, I'll send in the troops.

The last days of September, 2000.  Israel's worst (then) CoC was Prime Minister. When the Arabs started shooting, on the eve of Rosh HaShana, Barak, was caught with his pants down. Those attacks continued through the middle of 2002.

We asked, we pleaded, we did everything possible, demanding that the IDF retake the hills. Nothing happened, they kept shooting.

The end of March, 2001. Shalhevet Pas, 10 months old, shot in the head and killed by an Arab sniper, from those hills.

Eruption. The volcano exploded, lava covered the already scorched earth.

How can you sit quietly and watch yourself, your family, your friends, everyone, being transformed into moving targets.  The reactions were swift, and to a degree, violent. But nowhere near as vicious as the attackers.

And then, almost overnight, Hebron's Jewish community was transformed from the victim to the predator. The Arabs continued daily and nightly target practice on men, women and children. Simultaneously the Israeli police, together with IDF soldiers, who were ordered to use police tactics and treat us as aggressors, swooped down on us , turning our already hell-like lives into a nightmare. Facing an Arab enemy is much easier than dealing with so-called 'fellow countrymen,' who rather than assist you, brutalize you.

Occasionally I have reason to flip through photos from those days, months, and years. I have no idea how we were able to overcome the police-prosecution-court persecution. People's homes were broken into in the middle of the night. Kids were swooped up on the street, whisked away into police cars, disappearing. Police, chasing after teenagers, with guns drawn, ran through children's nursery school classes.  Cars were stopped for 'routine checks' again and again and again.

Despite the continued shooting and terror, we were portrayed as monsters, who deserve whatever happens to them.

And it was much much worse than these few measly lines of writing can possibly describe.

Why write about this today, so many years later? Because these are the thoughts clogging my head for the past few weeks, as I witness the Hebronization of Yitzhar.

I'm not a fan of attacking soldiers. I also don't get my kicks throwing rocks at police. Or at anyone else, for that matter. But I do know that there are times when people lose it. Or almost lose it. There are varying degrees of 'losing it.'

After the expulsion from Beit HaShalom, in 2007, I wrote an article called Extremism breeds Extremism. It was true then and it continues to be true today.

The residents of Yitzhar, in the Shomron (Samaria) are no less idealistic than anyone else in Israel. And they are, just as most of the rest of us, loyal, law-abiding citizens, who work, serve in the army, pay taxes, and live, just like everyone else.  But they've been labeled, and unjustifiably monsterized .

Sure, I agree, there are red lines. When those lines are crossed, the people responsible must be held accountable for their actions. But collective police-judicial terror, signed and dotted on the highest levels of Israeli government, is no less atrocious.

The episodes of the past month or so, culminating with the arrest and torture of a woman, a mother, over a period of three days, being strip searched numerous times, not being allowed to use a bathroom, being denied basic elements of life, for no reason whatsoever, is totally inexcusable.

Today's headlines were breath-taking.  A twenty-two year old Yitzhar woman, eight months pregnant, arrested for incitement.  I certainly don't find her comments particularly wise or correct. Such statements are too, not my cup of tea. Yet, I do know that I've heard people say all sorts of crazy things, expressing thoughts and opinions that, heard, recorded and broadcast on youtube would have caused them loads of trouble. And I have to admit, me too. I've thought things, and sometimes even spoken words, that could cause me havoc.

But, who hasn't?! Maybe there are a few people, somewhere in the world, who were born righteous and remained so all the days of their lives. But there aren't too many of them.

Last week the owner of a basketball team was recorded making some very stupid and racist remarks. I read more than one column, by very respectable authors, who, while decrying the comments, questioned the morality and ethics of publicizing private conversations.  I mean, come on, who hasn't said really dumb things in private conversations?

The forum, where 22 year old Eliraz spouted her abhorrence of police and soldiers was private. She's about to give birth. She doesn’t seem to be a prime candidate to kill anyone in the near future. She didn't stand on a rooftop and declare before the people of Israel that they should take up arms against police or soldiers. She expressed her thoughts, as brainless as they were, at a given moment of rage. Is that illegal?

I don't know what brought it on. But I can guess. The constant attacks, by Arabs and Jews, the steady delegitimization, like Chinese water torture, drop after drop after drop, – as I wrote, sometimes people lose it.  Legality and illegality is a question of definition. But in this case, it seems part of a grand plan by the 'authorities' to continue their fierce and somewhat sadistic campaign against Yitzhar, in an attempt to break them, all of the people there, good people, one at a time, until they simply disappear into thin air. Or into jails or dungeons.

I conclude with a facebook post that my son wrote:
'Daily, yes daily, there are tens, if not hundreds, who hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers. Ah, yes, also on police and civilians. And boulders, and firebombs, and sometimes, even shoot.  Hitting, wounding, killing.

No one speaks or writes about the different theories of 'for' or 'against.' Rather, get up and do something.

But here begins the policy of containment.  We can 'contain it,' absorb, ignore…and what else!?

When Arabs enemies hurt us, or our soldiers, well, we can 'contain' it. But when a young person writes something stupid, while overly agitated, she is attacked as an enemy of the people and state….'

Continued government extremism against Yitzhar will only exasperate an already deteriorating situation. They don't deserve it any more than we did. This extremism will only breed further extremism, with events liable to really spiral out of control.
This article does not necessarily represent the Jewish Community of Hebron

Friday, May 2, 2014

David the Nachalite

The Jerusalem Post
David the Nachalite
Thursday May 01, 2014

A couple of days ago a new youtube video surfaced, filmed just outside my Beit Hadassah home in Hebron. It shows an Israeli soldier, guarding on the road outside the building, being first verbally, and then physically attacked, first by one Arab, and then by a second, who joined in. The soldier, realizing he is being threatened from two sides, loads his weapon, pointing it at the attackers, who then leave.
 Following release of this video, the soldier, named David, who belonged to the Nachal IDF division, was relieved of his post, put on trial, jailed and told that he would no longer serve in a combat unit.
There are still a few unanswered questions about the soldier and his punishment. The IDF first claimed that he'd been punished because of 'unnecessary violence' against the Arabs who attacked him. They later changed that, claiming that he is a 'problematic soldier,' having been involved in disputes with his commanding officers.

I was told, by friends of his, serving here in Hebron, that this incident and its ramifications have 'broken him.' They related that he did have incidents that may have brought about some kind of punishment, but not nearly as severe as he was sentenced to, (twenty days in prison) and that he would not have been banished from his army unit.

In other words, he was definitely harshly punished for defending himself against Arab aggression.

As an aside, but an important note: Young men work very hard to succeed in combat units. They must endure rough basic training, long marches, with full equipment loads, and then proceed to 'advanced training' sessions which are no less trying than basic training. After months of extreme physical and also mental exertion,  they 'graduate' into active units, which serve in places like the Golan Heights, the border with Lebanon, Jordan,  Egypt or Gaza, and areas in Judea and Samaria, like Hebron.

Hebron is considered to be one of the most difficult posts. There are frequent 'alerts,' there is tension, as soldiers must remain very alert for long periods of time, and the hours they work are not easy. With that, many soldiers here find their work rewarding; they develop positive bonds with many people here, both Hebron residents and visitors from around the world, they are serving in Hebron, which many find to be a unique experience, and they understand that here they are serving Am Yisrael, the people of Israel and the State of Israel, in as tangible way as possible.

The media immediately picked up the video and broadcast it on Israeli television. One TV news host asked the correspondent what should be done in such a case. The reporter answered that the 'orders' are for the soldier to 'put down his head, look the other way and ignore them.' The news anchor replied, 'I take my hat off to anyone who can do that.'

Very quickly word spread of David's punishment. A facebook page was opened, protesting his punishment, with soldiers posting photos of themselves, many times with their faces hidden, with notes saying, "I'm with David, the Nachal soldier." The page has over 100,000 'likes.'

Hebron's Jewish community also conducted a demonstration yesterday, opposite the base where David served, until being jailed.

The issue at point is not simple. Clearly the IDF must enforce codes of action and also of discipline. However, it does not stand to reason that a soldier is punished for defending himself against Arab aggression.

This problem is not new. In the past, soldiers in Hebron, and in other places were punished, including imprisonment, for defending themselves against rock-thowing Arabs, and fire-bomb attacks. Senior officers were dismissed from the IDF for defending themselves against anarchist-foreigners, who attacked them and endangered their lives. In the past I told many visitors who asked about self-defense: 'It's permissible to use your weapon if you're dead. If you're still alive, it's forbidden.' This may sound silly or exaggerated, but unfortunately, it's almost true.

What really happened with David from the Nachal division? Simply, he was set up. There's an organization in Hebron called Youth against Settlements. It's run by an 'old friend' Issa Amru, with whom I've had multiple run-ins. What he does is 'set up' soldiers, and other security personnel, like David. He sends a few Arabs to begin a provocation, with at least one or two others in the rear, with cameras rolling. A soldier, border policeman, or even a civilian is verbally, and/or physically attacked. The victim responds. The entire incident is filmed, edited and posted on youtube. The result is an arrest, trial and many times, conviction, as happened with David, the Nachal soldier. 

The ramifications are exceedingly serious. First, this blots Israel's good name. The US State Department released a report reprimanding Israel for attacks against Arabs (palestinians) while commending PA 'security forces.' Such 'admissions' by Israel of 'unnecessary violence' against Arabs, even when they are clearly the instigators, is similar to kicking a soccer ball into your opponent's goal for him.

But more disturbing is the influence on soldiers. Such incidents lower their morale and cause them, most problematically, to hesitate. Certainly there are times when a soldier or officer must 'stop and think.' But there are other situations, when many people's lives could be at stake, when the person must act instinctively. If they hesitate, even for a moment, the results can be catastrophic. If a soldier, when attacked, must hesitate, stop and think before reacting, he many lose his life and many others may, too. It is unthinkable that a person should be trained, given a uniform and arms, sent out to protect civilians, and then told to refrain from acting when the situation calls for immediate action.

And of course, these event cause great joy and comfort to the enemy, who realizing his victory, continues on the same road, continuing to goad soldiers and civilians, hoping to bring them too, to their knees. Over the past few days I've seen numerous incidents whereby soldiers, at the same location next to Beit Hadassah, are baited by Arab youth of all ages, with the soldier left with little recourse but to look the other way, and walk away.

Today the IDF officially forbade soldiers from using Facebook as a means to protest such incidents, as David the Nachal soldier's punishment. It seems to me that this attempt to subdue public objections will fail. To the contrary, it will only fan the flames of turbulence amongst the brave young IDF warriors, who ask, rightly, 'what do you want from us?' As they write on their facebook photos, 'we are with David the Nachalite.'
The root of this issue is, 'what will they say,' the 'they' being Obama and Kerry, the EU's Ashton, and other anti-Israel, pro-Arab world leaders. So, who comes first? Our men and women in uniform, their lives and the lives of civilians, or world opinion?

The answer should be clear, after sixty six years of independence.