Last week, I took part in a tour through Hebron organized, in conjunction with Breaking the Silence, by Israeli young people who are members of a group that calls itself The Sons of Abraham.*
In the past, I have participated in several trips organized by “leftist” organizations due to my conviction that seeing is believing and of the necessity of understanding what is happening in the territories. I returned from my trip to Hebron filled with the sense that it is sometimes difficult to believe what we see with our own eyes: In Hebron they are engaging in systematic, brutal ethnic cleansing against the Arab population in the main parts of the city, which are under Israeli control. I’m sorry, I mean under settler control, protected by the Israeli government and its army. Everything there is done in the name of messianic religious bigotry, dressed up in clear racist nationalist zealotry.
We accompanied Amos, Assaf, Hillel, and Yehuda through the Kiryat Arba settlement and the tomb of “Saint Baruch Goldstein”** on Worshippers’ Way, which leads to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the area under Israeli control, H2,*** one of Benyamin Netanyahu’s contributions to our lives.
First impression: abandoned homes, doors closed up with bricks or metal sheets, cameras on posts to observe all movement. The police met us at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and asked us not to enter the area in which Jews live because we might endanger ourselves by doing so. From that point on, a policeman and a soldier accompanied us, the soldier’s weapon poised to separate us from the homes of Jews whenever we neared the place where they feared clashes with settlers. So we wandered around the ghost town, once the Old City of Hebron, on the outskirts of the Jewish neighborhood, around the area where the market was once located on Martyrs’ Way. Most of the stores in the market were closed, their doors blocked by metal sheets. The buildings were destroyed in several places, like the Camel Market, now used as a meeting place for the settlers.
The means: Young Jews, younger than the age at which they can be punished [according to Jewish Law], enter the stores and destroy them one after the other, until they obtain complete control over an entire section of buildings. The settlers have turned the few buildings into “a club” or “an animal corner” as one phase of their efforts to take physical control of an area that was once a pulsing Oriental market. Any crossing between the area controlled by the settlers and the market is closed, and the area is enclosed in razor wire and metal sheets. (Sometimes, stores are closed to prevent settlers from attacking the few Palestinians who have held on to their homes; the Palestinians are forced to enter their homes through a makeshift opening in the back, far from the street.) Soldiers stand on every corner, their weapons loaded and ready. This entire area is described as “a clean area” and no Arab is allowed to enter, not even to cross the street, for example, on his way home from work. Instead, he must make a detour of several kilometers around the area where the settlers live so that he can reach his home, located within a stone’s throw of the place in which he was standing at the outset. School girls must walk about 100 meters on the outskirts of the clean area to reach the gates at the border area or the crossing to H1. Every day they are accompanied to school by foreign volunteers or young people with The Sons of Abraham to avoid attack by settlers from Beit Hadassah and the surrounding areas.
So it was that Palestinians were the only people we met and talked to. Near Beit Romano,**** which has grown into a huge fortress, at the entrance to the waterfalls areas where one can see some Palestinian activity, people gathered around us and we spoke at length. We were invited to visit the home of a Palestinian family near the settlement of Tel al-Rumeida. The house must be entered through a makeshift dirt road in the back because the main road is under the control of the masters on the hill. The house is surrounded by a small garden and, as is the case in many Arab homes, grapevines line the road, offering shade and cooling the air, although most of the old grapevines have been cut by unknown assailants.
During the trip, our guides convinced the authorities to let us enter Tel al-Rumeida. That is, they agreed to let us walk along an alley that stretches for 100-200 meters. On one side is a group of trailers and a new house opened last Passover. It was built with the consent of then Minister of Defense Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. The building was “legalized” in another way as well: It was built over an historical site. To meet the needs of the settlers, a dubious solution was reached and the house was built on concrete pillars. At the end of the alley stands another Palestinian home taken over by Israelis. On the other side of the alley, the army stands ready to defend the security of these lawbreakers.
The trip ended at a crossing near a Jewish cemetery on top of a hill, where the army has taken over a home whose top floor is used as a surveillance spot to view the Palestinian city (which has developed enormously compared to what I remember 30 years ago, most of the development involving the construction of tall buildings). From this site, the army can shoot at “sources of gunfire” every time a mortar is fired from the Palestinian area.
We still had before us the experience of leaving the city, passing through Kiryat Arba on our way home. At the entrance to Kiryat Arba, a guard asked us—those on “the leftist bus”—for our IDs. All of our guide’s arguments that the guard had no right to demand our IDs were to no avail. But about 20 minutes later, after a Hebron police officer was summoned, we were allowed to pass, accompanied by a police jeep, on our way to Jerusalem.
About 500 Israelis live in Hebron itself, in area H2; the same area is home to about 30,000 Palestinians. It is estimated that about half of them (40-50%) have left the area. As for the rest, the Jewish settlers make their lives miserable with a hostile brutality (not all of them; it appears the yeshiva students do not take part in the troublemaking). The best occasions for such troublemaking are the days of joy and grief, weddings, funerals, Israeli holidays, fast days, and, of course, when the Palestinians launch a terrorist attack. Everything is done under the “supervision” of the Israeli authorities, which provides the budget for the invasive constructions and defends the Jews who are expelling people from their homes, whether directly or indirectly, by making their lives miserable. Checkpoints are everywhere; there are repeated searches; and some days an ongoing full curfew is imposed. Police do not investigate incidents of violence (more than 75% of cases are closed without results); no building permits are given [to Palestinians]; and commercial areas are closed, particularly in the Old City. All of these things are simply the outlines of a regime that is operating in our names. It is not difficult to see that they are succeeding: Geographic contiguity from Kiryat Arba to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and from there to the Jewish streets and the surrounding “clean area,” stuck in the heart of “Palestinian Hebron” has become a reality. I repeat: All of this is done with the systematic aid of Israel’s “Civil Administration,” which has refused to enforce the laws of the state or even help enforce them, an attitude that is completely at odds with democratic values that respect all human beings. It is not difficult to see that we ourselves have caused this open wound, which thwarts any attempt to reach a settlement with the Palestinian population. This is our disease, reflecting the features of Israeli society. Hebron is our mirror, but a distorted one.
In history books we learn that Senator Cato, at the end of every Senate meeting in Rome, no matter the subject under discussion, would stand and declare, “We must destroy Carthage!” It is time for us to stand everywhere, particularly in the Knesset, and conclude every discussion, no matter what the subject, with the declaration, “We must evacuate Hebron!”