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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Michael Totten visits Hebron

It took him a while to write about it, but Michael Totten visited Hebron when he was in Israel last summer, and he's now written about it.
Everyone on the street could plainly see Eve’s Israeli license plates, and the posture from some of the young men walking by was palpably hostile.

Most communication between humans is non-verbal. It’s conveyed through body language and is the same across cultures. I wasn’t imagining the hatred directed at me from some of the Palestinian men on that road. It was obvious.

I am not paranoid around Arabs, not after having lived in an Arab country. Nor am I paranoid around Palestinians. I’ve met too many to count in Israel and was never once stared at in a hostile manner in Ramallah, perhaps because it was obvious, at least to some, that I was American and not Israeli, at least while I was walking around and talking to people. On my way into Hebron, however, no one could have known that I was American. Thanks to the plates on Eve’s car and the glass between me and them, they naturally assumed I was Israeli. And I felt their hatred as though it were heat.

Just a few weeks after I left, several Israeli civilians in a car much like Eve’s—including a pregnant woman—were shot to death on that very road by Palestinian gunmen.


“That’s certainly a primary reason,” David [Wilder] said. “Hebron is the first Jewish city in Israel. This is where Abraham came 3700 years ago. He lived here. All the patriarchs and matriarchs lived here. King David started the Kingdom of Israel here before he went up to Jerusalem. And with very few exceptions, Jews have always been living here. The last time there were no Jews here before the riots in 1929 was back in 1100 when the Crusaders threw all the Jews out and replaced them with Christians. The Christians have since been replaced with Arabs. But otherwise there were always Jews here. This community is part of a chain that goes all the way back to the beginning of Judaism.”


“Do you have any contact at all with the Palestinians here?” I said.

“Today?” David said. “Virtually none. There used to be contact. Relations between Jews and Arabs used to be good. Most relationships were positive. But in 1929, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, began inciting the Arabs. The Jews here were warned to gather weapons for self-defense, but they said no, the Arabs are our friends, they will protect us. They protected us in 1921, and the Jews here were sure they’d be protected again. So they didn’t take up weapons. And they were defenseless.”


“If you’re afraid you can’t live here,” David said, “but Jews in Israel are targeted no matter where they live. I know who lives around us, and I know what they’ve done. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it many times. Somebody put a teddy bear out here in the market that had wires sticking out of it. It was a bomb. They were hoping one of our kids would pick it up. So the army closed the market.”

He took me around the corner and showed me a destroyed home that Israelis recently occupied before the army threw them out.

“When we came back in 1967,” David said, “there was nothing here. Everything was destroyed. More recently we asked if we could move into empty buildings that were old Jewish property. The government, of course, wouldn’t let us. But after the baby was killed by a sniper, we moved in anyway. We put some apartments in here. And after five years the army evicted us. A year later two families who didn’t have anywhere else to go moved back in, one here and one at the other end. After they were discovered, the government sent hundreds of Israeli soldiers in to pull them out. The soldiers came in with sledgehammers and destroyed everything.”

Nobody gets to live in that building, not Jews and not Arabs, so the building is wasted and ruined. An entire swath of the old city is like this. Hebron would be a beautiful place if everyone could live together peaceably like they do elsewhere, but they can’t, so it’s not.

“These buildings,” he said, “without any doubt, belong to us. The courts accept that. But they won’t let us use the buildings because then there would be more Jewish families here. Some people don’t think we shouldn’t be here in the first place, so they certainly won’t let us grow. Palestinians have 97 percent of this city. They can build whatever they want wherever they want, but we’re not allowed to build anything.”

“There are, what, 800 Jews here?” I said. “And as many, if not more, Israeli soldiers? Why are there so many soldiers protecting so few people?

“It’s true that they’re here to protect us,” he said. “They’re also here to protect you and the other visitors. The main reason they’re here, though, isn’t to patrol this area, but to patrol the other side of the city. They go over there and arrest terrorists before they can blow themselves up in Jerusalem. They’re protecting the entire country and making sure Hamas doesn’t take over the area. If the Israeli army wasn’t doing that, Hamas would have taken over a long time ago. And everyone knows it.”

He took me to a memorial for the victims of the 1929 massacre. Sixty seven of Hebron’s Jews were killed in late August that year. Houses and synagogues were vandalized. Hundreds, though, were saved by Arabs who not only refused to participate, but hid would-be victims from their rampaging neighbors in their own houses.

“The killers did horrible things to people,” David said. “They castrated men. An Arab working at a bakery put his Jewish boss into the oven and baked him. They cut off women’s breasts and horribly raped them. These are the easy pictures to look at.”


Human life is surely more important than property and the right to move freely, but security here comes at a terrible cost to the city in the absence of peace and civil relations. What the Israeli military calls the “sterile zone” was once a vibrant ancient city. Today, it looks like a ghost town, as though everyone had been driven out by a violent catastrophe, which is pretty close to what happened. These streets are in Hebron’s old city, a part of town that would overflow with thousands of tourists and pilgrims from all over the world if it weren’t a slum made hideous by hatred and war.
Read the whole thing.

And as always with Michael, look at the pictures.

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At 6:39 PM, Blogger Juniper in the Desert said...

Thank you for this wonderful article. I did not know Hebron was where Abraham came to!

I must say that we native Brits, get the same looks of hatred from the mozlems that have just arrived in England. Also the ones whose parents arrived 40 years ago and still don't speak English. We are becoming aliens in our own land, thanks to the government giving in to all mozlem demands. We already pay the 2nd class citizen tax, jizya, for them and up to 4 wives and all their children to be on welfare. Sharia is here by stealth.


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