Many Jewish and Christian tourists to Israel skip Hebron,
declaring it too dangerous, and indeed four Israelis, including a pregnant woman,
were killed there just two weeks ago with another two shot this week.
But terrorists dare not determine whether visitors to the Holy Land
make pilgrimages to Judaism’s holiest sites, and besides terrorists incidents have declined dramatically and the city, comparatively speaking,
The first thing you discover about the residents of Hebron, whom
the world derisively describes as settlers – as if Jews living in their own
ancient capitol are newcomers – is their warmth, friendliness, and
hospitality. I arrived with twenty guests and our host, a wise and dedicated
communal activist named Yigal, prepared a feast fit for a king. We ate in
his Sukka, surrounded by a tranquility and quiet that I, in my busy
life, rarely experience. The night air was cool and energiving.
All around us children were playing, utterly carefree, on pristine
playgrounds. So many Jews in Hebron have been killed in terror
attacks over the years. Yet the residents in general, and the children in
particular, live unafraid. They are also liberated from hatred.
When their friends die – as did the four two weeks ago – they mourn them,
bury them, commemorate them, and get on with their lives. There are no calls
for revenge attacks, there are no mass demonstrations braying for Arab
blood. Their response, rather, is to demonstrate, in the most peaceful
manner, that they are there to stay.
For nearly a thousand years, the Islamic rulers of the Holy Land
forbade Jews from entering the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs,
allowing them to climb only seven steps into the tomb but beating them
mercilessly if they rose any higher. When Israel captured the tomb in 1967,
Jewish pilgrims came to Hebron, swearing never again to be separated from
their origin. As my host explained, even amid the worst terror attacks,
property values never decline. There are no fluctuations in the commitment
to pray by the graves of those who gave the world monotheism.
Yet these residents have been demonized by the entire world. They
face daily character-assassination in the media by those who would
decry their simple desire to walk in the footsteps of Abraham. World leaders
regularly engage in extreme defamation of families whose only wish it is to
raise their children in the Judean hills of King David. President Obama
rises at the United Nations and calls for a further moratorium on building
in the settlements as if it’s a crime for peaceful people to have
children and add rooms to warm and hospitable homes.
Abraham, at whose tomb I prayed with my children tonight, is the
father of all peoples, Jew and Arab alike. The Arabs are my brothers, equal
children of G-d in every respect. And Arabs and Jews must learn to live
peacefully together in the land. Neither group should be asked to abide my a moratorium that stifles the natural expansion of either
population. It is not the spiritual-seeking settlers who threaten the peace, but
rather the murderous groups of Hezbollah and Hamas, who wish to make all of
I spent time tonight in Hebron talking to the brave Israel
eighteen to twenty years old – who patrol the streets of Hebron to
protect the Jewish population from further slaughter. It is a sad
commentary on some of my Arab brothers and sisters who live in Hebron that
soldiers should be needed to protect children at playgrounds. Yet the
soldiers have no rancor in their heart. Indeed, many of them were telling me how
they never wish to make the Arab population feel intimidated by their
presence and are given strict orders never to appear overbearing. Their
mission is not to enforce an Israeli hegemony but to simply stop Jews from
Just a few yards from the spot where Shalhevet Pass, a ten-month-old
Israeli infant, was famously shot and killed by a Palestinian
sniper while sitting in her stroller in March, 2001, I danced with my children
to celebrate the Jewish festival of Sukkot.
The streets of Hebron were alive with joyous residents dancing to
music of a Jewish mystical hippie band whose flowing locks and
mesmerizing music brought gladness to my heart. I was uplifted and
joyous to be dancing in a city that in 1929 saw the massacre of 67 Jews
and the destruction of nearly all the Synagogues and Jewish buildings. I
felt alive and utterly free of fear.
Could it really be that a community who simply wish to live aside
earthly remains of Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and
Leah, are obstacles to peace? Are 800 Jews in Hebron such a criminal
incitement to the 100,000 Palestinians who surround them? And is it fair to characterize religious individuals who have a love for children
and large families, and who live without material extravagance or opulence,
But don’t take my word for it. The next time you’re in Israel,
come and immerse yourself in the city chosen by Abraham as the eternal
resting place for a wife he so loved to forever rest in peace.