I think the way I need to deal with everything I learned, saw, and experienced, is to tell myself that the settlers aren’t Jews. There’s just no way that I can support their position. And there’s just no way I can understand Jews behaving, believing, as they do. Therefore, I have to believe that they’re not Jewish.
Because Friday I spent in Hebron, on a tour offered by Shovrim Shtika/Breaking The Silence. The group was started by soldiers who served in Hebron, the West Bank, Gaza, and wanted to tell their stories. Our tour guide was a soldier, then a commanding officer. Our very first stop, at the grave of Baruch Goldstein in the Qiryat Arba settlement, showed us how the settlers can justify and twist history. Dr. Goldstein is best known as an American-born Jew who moved to Israel and, fast forward many years, massacred 29 Arab Muslims after he barged into their mosque. He was beat to death by some of the men who survived his open-firing. At the grave, our guide attempted to tell us this history, and explain the different views of what happened and how this impacted the residents of Hebron. Instead, a settler by the name of Feldman shouted his message (which included some great conspiracies – did you know the EU is funding Israelis to kill all the Jews and bring down Israel?) and prevented our tour leader from speaking. (Our tour guide was then brought in to the police station as Feldman and another settler accused him of physically assaulting them at the grave. And two weeks ago on a tour, they accused our tour guide of desecrating the grave of Baruch Goldstein by urinating on it, which never happened. (Our tour continued without him. Luckily, he was released, and rejoined us about 4 hours later.)) When people on the tour asked Feldman why he was exalting Goldman, a murderer, his response was, “Dr. Goldman’s 17 grandkids were killed by Palestinians…” And does that justify murdering 29 men while they pray? “Understandably, he went a little crazy because of his sadness over his grandkids.” And that justified killing 29? “No… 29 were killed in terrorist attacks.” Right.
Then on to Hebron.
Perhaps I should back up and give some information for those of you unfamiliar with the city/cities. Hebron is the only city in Israel with a Jewish settlement within it. (Therefore, it’s the only Arab city that Israelis can legally go to.) But let’s back up further. In the 15th century, Jews, of Middle Eastern background, moved to Hebron for religious reasons. They wanted to live where the Tomb of the Patriarchs was located. (NB: they did not move for nationalist/zionist reasons.) They lived in fairly good relations with their Arab neighbours until the late-19th/early-20th century. As the political atmosphere started to change in Israel, the Jews of Hebron still remained peaceful and refused to take arms. This changed in 1929 when there were massacres of Jews in various locations, including Hebron, as part of a Palestinian uprising (although Jews said it was purely anti-Semitic). In Hebron, 67 Jews were killed; many more were raped and injured; property was destroyed. Most of the Jews of Hebron left the city following the massacre; the remaining Jews left Hebron in 1948. In 1967, after the area was taken from Jordan in the war, Jews returned to Hebron, and it became “one of the first settlements.” (A rabbi was given permission by the army to take a group of Jews to Hebron for Passover, but they were supposed to leave after the week. Instead, they refused to leave and the Israeli army eventually allowed the settlers to stay.) In 1970, a settlement was built next to Hebron, so the Jews moved there from the centre of Hebron. In 1979, women and their children infiltrated the Bet Hadassah (old Jewish hospital in Hebron). Because there weren’t men with them (their husbands visited on the weekends but didn’t stay all week), it wasn’t considered an actual settlement by the army. These people saw themselves as a continuation of the pre-1929 Jewish Hebron community, and said they were reclaiming Jewish property. A few of these Jews were killed in 1980 and 1981, prompting the government to respond by allowing the Jews to actually create settlements there. Four settlements were built in Hebron. In 1994 there was the Baruch Goldstein massacre. And in 1997, Hebron, a city of 150,000 Palestinians was divided into two zones/cities: H1 and H2. H1 is 80% of the city, Palestinian controlled, and had a population of 120,000 Palestinians in 1997. H2 is Israeli controlled, included the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the old city, and the industrial/market centre, and had a 1997 population of 30,000 Palestinians and 600 Jewish settlers (plus 500 soldiers, plus about 100 police). Today, about 40% of the Palestinians in H2 have left, because they are confined to certain areas of town, and have restricted access to streets, the town centre, etc.
Right. So we went into Hebron and saw the centre of town which basically looks like a ghost town. The shops are all closed and the streets are empty. It’s a “sterilized” street, which means Palestinians aren’t allowed to have shops on it or drive there. The army extends this to also mean “no walking.”
We were invited into the home of a Palestinian family. They showed us videos they took of the settlers. In one clip, the family is inside their apartment because it’s during curfew. (Curfew meant that the Palestinians had to stay in their homes, except for 2 hours every week or two, during which they could go buy food and supplies and such. In 2003-4, there were 400 curfew days.) We see the settlers destroying Palestinian homes and breaking into their locked homes, while the Palestinians are inside (because, again, it’s curfew). You can clearly see police and the IDF (army) not doing anything. Our tour guide explains that it’s hard for a few soldiers/police to hold back a mob. But on the other hand, how much are they even trying? The second clip shows a group of young Jewish girls, probably in their early teens, waiting on a hillside in Hebron. A few seconds later, Palestinian girls try to pass by, escorted by their teachers. The settlers are waiting there to push them, shout “kill the Arabs, Hebron is ours!,” and throw rocks. The police/soldiers are there, not doing anything until some of the settlers start picking fights with the Palestinian girls, pushing past their teachers, at which point the soldiers tell the settlers not to do that and try to get them to separate from the Palestinians. But not successfully; nor do they really seem to maintain any effort to keep them from repeating the offenses against the Palestinians. As the Palestinians make their way towards the edge of the hill, they have to go down some stairs to the street below. Where young settler boys are waiting with rocks, throwing rocks at the Palestinians while the soldiers on the street do nothing. The Palestinians basically run down the stairs to the street and keep running towards their homes. This is despicable, disgusting, and unacceptable behaviour. It’s explained to us that the settlers used to get out of class before the Palestinians, so they’d wait and do this most weeks. Especially on Saturdays or holidays. And the offenders are most often children, under the age of 14, because they can’t be prosecuted under the law. (Our tour guide, who served in the army, told us a story of being attacked by settler children/youth, while a father shouted in the background, “only the kids under 14!” because he knew they wouldn’t be arrested.)
Part of the problem is that there is 1 armed security person (soldier or police) for each settler in Hebron. So that’s roughly 600 settlers and roughly 600 soldiers/police. When the settlers do these horrible things, why aren’t the police/army stopping them? Because the role of the soldiers is to protect the settlers from the Palestinians. There’s nothing in their job descriptions about protecting the Palestinians from the settlers.
Another part of the problem is that a rabbi has told them that if they are actively fighting the Palestinians, then they do not need to fast on Tisha Ba’av. This tidbit, coupled with the Palestinian family who described how the violence against them, their home, and their fellow Palestinians increases on Jewish holidays made me think. My first thought was, “that’s really fucked up.” My second thought was slightly more analytical: how are the settlers rationalizing this? Some use the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy 7:1-5 which talks about destroying (some read as “killing”) the 7 nations. But, you might say, the Palestinians are not among the seven nations. Ah, yes, I would agree. However it seems that some claim that the Palestinians are the Canaanites. Ah, you might say, then the land of Canaan belongs to the Canaanites who are the Palestinians, so why don’t the settlers return the land? To this, I would say, good question – it seems they only follow the logic when it’s convenient to them.
I realise I’ve gone around in circles, and haven’t even fully begun to describe all that I want to from Friday in Hebron. But it’s late and I’m on a borrowed computer. So I’m going to have to get back to my original statement: I cannot accept that the settlers are Jewish. People that readily kill, harm, destroy, hurt, belittle, impoverish, and humiliate their neighbours are not operating within a Jewish framework, within the Torah as I know and understand it. People who lie to the police in order to have a Jew arrested so that they can present their honoured version of history, is not operating within a Jewish framework. Someone who believes they are above both civil and martial law, and uses that to wreak havoc on others is not behaving Jewishly as I know it. I can not associate myself, my religion, my Torah with a people who act so poorly towards other humans. I just can’t.
Hebron photoset (with comments) here.
I’ll write more on other aspects of Hebron when I borrow another computer.
Filed under: israel, palestine, photos, politics, travels, war, wtf?