Israel is a magical country, but to experience one of its greatest wonders you
have to travel to what the world calls the West Bank and the Bible calls Judea
and Samaria. Its crown jewel is the city of Hebron, first capital of the Jewish
people, and where its patriarchs and matriarchs are buried.
skip Hebron, declaring it too dangerous, and indeed four Israelis were killed
near there last month, and another two shot last week. But terrorists dare not
determine whether me and my children make pilgrimages to Judaism’s holiest
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 capital are newcomers – is their warmth and hospitality. I arrived with
20 guests and our host, a wise and dedicated communal activist named Yigal,
prepared a feast. We ate in his succa, surrounded by a tranquility and quiet
that I rarely experience. The night air was cool and enervating.
around us children were playing, 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 free
from hatred. Even when their friends die, they mourn them, bury them,
commemorate them but get on with their lives.
There are no calls for
revenge, no mass demonstrations braying for Arab blood. Their response, rather,
is to demonstrate, in the most peaceful manner, that they are there to stay.
(And yes, I know all about Baruch Goldstein. My house in Oxford was firebombed
with my children sleeping inside, just a few hours after he perpetrated his
mass-murder. But his criminal abomination was committed alone, 17 years
For nearly 1,000 years, the Islamic rulers of the Holy Land forbade
Jews to enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, allowing them to climb
only seven steps but beating them mercilessly if they rose any
When Israel captured the tomb in 1967, Jewish pilgrims came
swearing never again to be separated from their origins. Even amid the worst
terror attacks, property values in Hebron and Kiryat Arba 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
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 defaming families whose only wish is to raise their children
in the Judean hills of King David.
President Barack Obama rises at the UN
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
Worse, my close friends in Tel Aviv tell me they hate the
“settlers” because their children are forced to “defend a bunch of fanatics who
live surrounded by 100,000 Arabs.”
I quickly remind them that, first, the
residents of Hebron also serve in elite combat units; second, if a nation can’t
hold fast to the tombs of its ancestors (and remember that the tomb in its
present form was constructed by King Herod 2,000 years ago from the very same
stone as the Western Wall), then it scarcely deserves to call itself a people;
three, I know many Jews, particularly in Britain, who wonder why they should
have to raise money for the six million Jews who have “settled” in Israel,
surrounded as they are by half a billion Arabs; and finally, give up Hebron and,
as we discovered with Gush Katif and Sderot, you bring hostile forces to bear
directly on Jerusalem.
ABRAHAM, at whose tomb I prayed with my children,
is the father of all peoples, and so Arabs and Jews, who thus share both a
celestial and a terrestrial father, must learn to live peacefully together.
Neither group should be asked to abide a moratorium that stifles natural
expansion. It is not the spiritual seekers of Hebron who threaten peace, but the
death groupies of Hizbullah and Hamas, who seek to make Israel
Just a few yards from where Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old
infant, was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper in March 2001, I danced with
my children to celebrate Succot.
The streets of Hebron were alive with
joyous residents dancing to the music of a mystical hippie band whose flowing
locks and mesmerizing music set my soul alight.
I was electrified to be
dancing in a city that in 1929 saw the savage massacre of 67 Jews and the
destruction of nearly all the Jewish buildings.
We American Jews live
with so many infantile fears, like the fear of not being able to keep up with
the Joneses or suffering a decline in standards of living.
But dancing in
Hebron I felt liberated, free of fear and deeply grateful to the residents who
live without material extravagance, and who taught me that even in a place of
stress and danger one can find inner tranquility.
The writer has just
published Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter