The Jews of Hebron were recently in the news again. A Jewish woman named Yifat Elkobi was videotaped spewing venomous curses at her Arab neighbor. For many American tourists the powderkeg that is Hebron is invisible. Hebron to them is the holy Me'arat Hamachpela, the Tomb of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs. Despite making aliyah in 1997, I have not been to Hebron for 25 years. To me, Hebron has come to represent Jewish lawlessness, hatred, violence and child abuse.
I didn't always think of Hebron in these terms. In the Spring of 1979, when I was a high-school student spending the second part of my senior year in Israel, I became very friendly with a family from Kiryat Arba (the major Jewish settlement in the area with a population of about 6,500, founded in 1971 adjacent to Hebron). Back then you didn't have to think twice about taking a stroll (unarmed and alone) down the hill to worship at the Me'arat Hamachpela. Of course, back then there were no Jews living in Hebron. But the status quo that existed for 22 years (since the 1967 Six Day War) changed in May of that year, with the occupation of a building called Beit Hadassah by a Jewish group of 10 women and 40 children.
Today, there are approximately 400 Jews and 30,000 Arabs living in the Hebron area surrounding the Tomb. The business district there is now nothing but a ghost town (thus reported the Haaretz newspaper in the wake of the January hate incident). In order to protect the safety of the Jews of Hebron, the army has made normal commerce impossible by restricting traffic and access in the area. The Jewish residents also contributed their share to the exodus, sending their children to break the wares of Arab merchants and to wreak havoc on their vegetable and fruit stalls. As a senior police official told the YNET news service about Hebron's Jews: "We see time and again a cynical use of children for carrying out crimes because they are minors." When an adult incites their child to violence, or even when that adult conveys to their child that certain acts of violence against innocent civilians are acceptable, I believe this constitutes a kind of child abuse.
There are those who would argue as follows: The story of the Jews of Hebron is the story of the State of Israel writ small. Where would the State of Israel be today if its founders were concerned about how its neighbors would accept it? And it's no coincidence that the struggle in Hebron revolves around a Jewish holy site, as does the struggle over the area containing the Western Wall. The Arabs intentionally target Jewish holy sites for either destruction or for appropriation as a Muslim holy site in an effort to demonstrate that the Jewish people do not have the claim to this land that they say they have.
I am aware of this argument but I don't accept its "all or nothing" charge. Not everything done in the name of living near a Jewish holy site is acceptable. I am sure that the Jews of Hebron would say that the Arabs have been the ones to incite the Jews, that the Arabs never could tolerate the Jews in Hebron (in fact, the current Jewish settlement in Hebron owes its legal standing to an attack on the Jewish squatters in 1980 that left 6 dead). But you know what? It doesn't matter to me who is at fault. It is absolutely clear that Jews cannot live in even peaceful hostility in Hebron. I am ashamed at what the Jews of Hebron are doing--supposedly in my name, supposedly to protect one of my holy places. I say to them: go back up the hill to Kiryat Arba. I don't want you and your children spewing hatred and violence in the name of the peaceful resting place of my ancestors.
Copyright 2007, Teddy Weinberger