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The looming confrontation between the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron and the army has little to do with Jews maintaining hold of a few dismal shops in the Arab wholesale market in the dismal city of Hebron. It has everything to do with the battle of the diehard Hebronite Jews and their allies for the Greater Land of Israel.
Unfortunately for the Greater Land of Israel patriots and their "hilltop youth" cohorts, they have not yet digested the fact that the dream was exorcised by the greatest patron of the movement, Ariel Sharon, when he pulled out of Gaza.
A few years ago, just before he was elected prime minister, Sharon paid a visit to The Jerusalem Post. He put forward the thesis that Israel needed to hold on to Hebron because of the centuries-old synagogues and Jewish cemetery there.
I told him that I was a resident of the former Arab village of Malha in west Jerusalem and pointed out that my home was a few meters from a mosque, now sealed off, and a Muslim graveyard, partially destroyed in order to build a school.
I asserted that there was no way that territory, sanctified by the 1949 lines, would be given up, and asked him if he did not see a parallel between a mosque and a Muslim graveyard in Malha and synagogues and a Jewish graveyard in Hebron - they perforce gave up the former, and we should give up the latter. He replied that Israel should not give up parts of the Land.
I assume that, subsequent to his disengagement from Gaza (which some Jewish authorities claim was part of the Promised Land) and parts of northern Samaria (definitely part of the Promised Land), Sharon might have related somewhat differently to Hebron.
Sharon was concerned about the demographic threat. And Hebron is unique in that it is the only place in the occupied territories where Jews live slap bang in the middle of a densely populated Arab city. Any permanent presence in Hebron would require swathes of Arabs to be incorporated into Jewish areas.
There is an overwhelming consensus among Israeli Jews (except for the extreme Right) that the state needs to withdraw to defensible borders incorporating a minimum number of Arabs. Even the rightist Likud party has rejected the "rebels" who attempted to thwart Sharon's disengagement and forced him to leave the party he founded.
In the meantime, the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron are girding their loins in advance of the anticipated onslaught next week.
Who are they going to confront - the menacing Arab Hebronites? No, they have the security forces to protect them from Arabs. Indeed the threat they are preparing to face is from the IDF and Israel Police itself.
A few weeks ago when security forces attempted to eject squatters from illegal outposts, Jewish Hebron boiled over and the army was forced to shut the town down.
The Jews of Hebron (like their Muslim counterparts) are not distinguished by their gentle demeanor. The most infamous Jewish terrorist of modern times, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who gunned down dozens of worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs), was from neighboring Kiryat Arba - another hotbed of extremists - where his grave has become a shrine.
The spiritual father of the Hebron extremists, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, got a bit flustered one day, let off a few rounds from his Uzi, and hit a shopkeeper minding his own business. The rabbi didn't even serve jail time for the killing.
I served many times in Hebron on reserve duty. Despite this occurring during a somewhat more relaxed period before the last two intifadas, the city was a dreary, laughter-less place. The level of hatred between Jews and Arabs was almost palpable.
I had the distinction of being temporarily invalided out of the army due to an accident while guarding Hebron's Jewish Quarter. I was injured on the roof of Rabbi Levinger's daughter's home. She was married to Uzi Sharabaf. He did serve (short) prison time for killing students in Hebron's Islamic College on behalf of the Jewish terrorist underground.
Even though Hebron is known in Arabic as El Khalil - the friend, after Abraham/Ibrahim - the Arabs there are not a particularly pleasant bunch, and have perpetrated their share of terrorist outrages.
The Jews and Arabs of Hebron deserve each other. And, apart from a certain sector of the population, few Israeli Jews even visit the City of the Patriarchs.
Population exchanges are not unknown in the history of nations. Alsace was for centuries a casus belli between France and Germany. Now there's barely a border between the two, and citizens of either country can live in the former disputed territory.
Indeed, population exchanges have already happened in the Israel-Arab conflict. The Arab towns of Jaffa, Nazareth, Lod and Ramle are totally and irrevocably incorporated into the State of Israel, and are now overwhelmingly Jewish. Bethlehem, the city of King David and the site of Rachel's tomb, houses no Jews.
OK, the City of the Patriarchs is not insignificant to the Jewish People. And forefather Abraham paid good money for the Tomb of the Patriarchs. But Ibrahim was also the forefather of the Arabs, and the tomb is now a mosque.
It would be, doubtless, a painful step to give up the City of the Patriarchs. But, who knows, maybe when the Messiah comes Jews and Arabs will be able to move freely and live in each other's territory, as in Alsace?
The writer is a former managing editor and military correspondant of The Jerusalem Post.
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