I have the sense that somewhere in heaven, angels are weeping. Violence directed at the Jewish people by our enemies is one thing; internal strife and violence is something else.
In Hebron is a tiny community of brave Jews, there to maintain a presence in an historically Jewish city, living on property that is Jewish-owned, at the edge of the Arab market. It is within the neighborhood called Avraham Avinu – the designated Jewish district of Hebron – and is a three-minute walk from the Machpelah Cave (where the patriarch and matriarchs of Israel, save Rachel, are buried).
Eight families are involved – about 50 people, the majority of them children, and a kollel, where another 15 men study. The Israeli government is set to remove these Jews by court order.
Jews were driven out of Hebron during the massacres of 1929, and Arab squatters moved in. In 1994 (after the massacre of Arab worshippers at Machpelah by Baruch Goldstein), the Arabs were expelled from the buildings, which sat empty until 2001. At that time, a Palestinian sniper shot and killed 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass in a location nearby. Jews then decided to move back in, and named their tiny neighborhood Mitzpe Shalhevet.
Palestinian storekeepers in the nearby Arab market almost immediately petitioned the Israeli courts to have them removed. The case has been in the courts ever since. The claim is not that this is not Jewish land – it is – but that the particular Jews living there did not have deeds to the property.
This issue came to a head earlier this month when representatives of the Israeli government's Civil Authority, accompanied by Israel Defense Force troops and riot police, came to serve eviction notices on the community, notices the people refused to receive. Tensions were high; eggs and paint were thrown at the authorities by the residents; Jewish kids protesting the order were dragged away by the police.
Now, it is reported that the government, anticipating strong resistance, has decided to use commandos to move the Jews out of this neighborhood and dismantle it. Dismantle the neighborhood? It is being called an "illegal outpost."
The argument is about whether the land belongs to Israel, which didn't give permission for these Jews to live there, or whether there is private Jewish ownership of the land, which the residents claim. A 5-dunam plot of land adjacent to the Jewish Quarter was purchased for 1,200 grushim by one Haim Bajaio in 1807, on behalf of the Jewish community. The deal was witnessed and signed by Hebron Arab notables.
Given the government's stance, it seems the residents of the neighborhood are correct in their fears that the government's intention is to prevent Jews from living there. They have vowed not go quietly.
The head of the police in Judea and Samaria has said they will use all means at their disposal to evict the Jews in this Hebron neighborhood. However, just recently, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz indicated that Israel cannot use all the means at its disposal to prevent the firing of Kassam rockets at Israeli communities. How is it that a Palestinian attack is not a more significant challenge to officials than the presence of Jews in Hebron?
These events are a bad sign – the start of a government policy of withdrawal from Judea-Samaria.
Hebron is the oldest Jewish community in the world. It is the place where David was anointed, and where he reigned for seven years. It was – 1,000 years later – the site of the first Jewish revolt against the Romans. Jews resided there almost continuously until the Arab massacres of 1929. In 1948, Jordan took over the area, which was reclaimed by Israel in 1967. It was only then that Muslim restrictions (enacted in the 12th century) that prohibited Jews from going past the seventh step of the entrance to Machpelah were removed, and full Jewish worship restored.
Do we just brush aside our heritage? Are we beginning the process of abandoning it and returning to the seventh step? Already, Yossi Beilin, chairman of the Meretz-Yahad Party, has called on acting premier Ehud Olmert to expel all Jewish residents from the city of Hebron.
If the angels are weeping at this, so, too, is my own heart.
Arlene Kushner is an American-born writer living in Jerusalem.