While events in Amona seem destined to accentuate the great divide between secular Israelis and the national-religious public, an astonishing event in Hebron some days ago brought together these two sectors of Israeli society generally portrayed by the media as being strongly antagonistic toward one another.
As a compromise over the fate of the homes of nine Jewish families living in the old market area of Hebron was being worked out behind the scenes, several hundred kibbutz members, secular professors and members of secular Labor Zionist youth movements took part in a first-of-its-kind solidarity conference in Hebron. But this ground-breaking confluence of secular socialists and religious settlers took place with absolutely no media coverage. While politicians and rabbis constantly talk about the need for unity, no one seems to pay any attention when it actually occurs.
The secular group that convened in Hebron is headed by Tsafrir Ronen, a member of Kibbutz Ein Harod (Meuhad), who convened the Nahalal Conference to demonstrate that "there's no difference between our kind of settlement and what's happening here in Hebron."
Nahalal was the biblical name of the first secular moshav in Israel, founded in 1920, Ronen adds. "We believe in the connection between the people and the land - what stronger connection is there than to Hebron?"
Residents of Hebron mingled with bare-headed men and women wearing pants in the Shalhevet Gate area of the city as speaker after speaker with impeccable Labor Zionist credentials rose to express their solidarity. Hebron pioneer Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Kedumim activist Daniella Weiss chatted warmly with secular student leader Liron Zeyden. Levinger hugged kibbutznik Yossi Tzur - a David Ben-Gurion look-alike.
Ronen, a former Rabin campaign adviser, respectfully asked Kiryat Arba and Hebron Rabbi Dov Lior to bestow his blessing on the meeting.
Several speakers struggled to be heard over the loud call for evening prayer that rang out from the nearby muezzin, but the strong message of solidarity in the lengthy poem read by Netanya writer Esti Schneerson resonated with the crowd.
Moshe Peled from Kibbutz Beit Hashita recited the names of kibbutzim and moshavim founded in the early 20th century and said his generation had been raised on the ethos of settlement and couldn't understand why it had now become a dirty word.
LAW PROFESSOR Dafna Netanyahu, sister-in-law of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, slammed the legal basis for declaring both the market property in Hebron and the Amona outposts as illegal. Netanyahu questioned why the same legal principles aren't being used to evict Beduin and Arabs from illegal buildings all over Israel.
I LOOKED on in disbelief as Liron Zeyden, leader of the Orange student movement made up of mostly secular university students, told the crowd he was "looking for the extremists portrayed in the media. But all I see is people who love the Land of Israel."
Zeyden, who served in the IDF as a captain in the Golani Brigade, questioned whether Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert isn't the real extremist. "Olmert, who wasn't elected by anyone, hates the religious public and the settlers," Zeyden asserted. "He thinks he'll get votes by these evictions - we have to show him that he'll lose by throwing Jews off their land."
The student leader announced that his group had founded a Faculty of Zionism to impart Zionist history and values among Israeli students. "They have no idea who Hanna Szenes was or the significance of the 29th of November."
Even more astonishing was the message from Rani Sneh, 18, a member of the Hashomer Hatza'ir youth movement from Nahariya, who told the audience he had traveled to Hebron to declare, "anyone who weakens Hebron weakens us all." Sneh admitted that "it's not 'in' to be pro-Israel amongst my peers."
Other speakers from staunchly secular backgrounds included veteran kibbutznik Yossi Tzur, a founder of Kibbutz Shuval in the Negev, Gen. (res.) Moshe Leshem and Prof. Arieh Zaritsky of Ben-Gurion University. A message of support was read on behalf of Likud Knesset candidate Natan Sharansky.
At the end of the evening, as the frozen participants piled back on their buses to Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after sitting side by side with their fellow settlers in Hebron for more than three hours, there was an overwhelming sense of strength and unity. Too bad that no one else took any notice.
The writer is the Jerusalem-based author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times and the forthcoming So What's Really Happening in Israel, Anyway?