Every block stands another one- machine gun in hand, watching, and waiting. Sometimes there are two of them. Every so often is a guard booth, where there are three or four policemen surveilling. People walk around, doing their daily business. Periodically there is some action- one of the guards checks an ID card, or grabs someone to interrogate. There is a central base, heavily surrounded by barbed wire. Down the main street is a barrier, separating the races. Policemen stand guard, daring little children to jump to the other side and then run away, before the police catch them. A fight break out, and instantly there are twenty or more policemen, guns pointed, breaking up the fight. The participants throw rocks at each other, and then, as they are led away scream at the police that they have no right to be involved in their fight. And, through all this, stand TIPH Observers, whom "assist in monitoring and reporting the efforts to maintain normal life in the City of Hebron, thus creating a feeling of security among Palestinians in the City of Hebron." Yes, my friends. Welcome to Hebron.
I have a notorious dislike of Hebron. Really, my dislike has no political basis- just an aesthetic one. The city is crowded, old, polluted, destitute, and altogether not attractive. The crowning jewel, Maarat Hamachpela, is even worse. The Tomb is horribly decorated, overrun, and falling apart. Against all odds, however, I agreed to spend Shabbat in Hebron, after not having been there in three years.
While we were driving, a group of Arab children decided to throw rocks at out bus. As you may well know, my classmates consider me to be the "left- winger" of the class, and they were curious as to my reaction. I told them my honest belief- that these kids don''t know any better. If they were educated properly, and their standard of living went up, they would likely stop throwing rocks. They would appreciate the State of Israel, and instead of throwing rocks would go do something productive with their time.
The arrival into Hebron posed a new question- should Jews be living in this city at all? According to Education Minister Gideon Sa''ar, the answer is yes. He says,"One should not allow the Arabs to harbor the illusion the one day there won''t be Jews here [in Hebron]. Jews will always live here..." And, accordingly, he has created Hebron heritage tours for schoolchildren, with a purpose of strenghtening Zionist and Jewish values.
My initial reaction was strongly against this attitude. Why, I asked, should we risk our soldiers'' lives, to protect the few extremist right wingers who choose to live here? Hebron, I said, is an Arab city. Granted, Jews do have a right to Hebron, and there have been Jews living in the city for hundreds of years (not to mention the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rivka, Jacob, and Leah). The Jewish population in the city would have grown, if not for the 1929 Massacre. But in the aftermath of the massacre, the remaining Jews left, because the city was too dangerous. Today, as well, the Jews have no place in Hebron.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I disagreed with myself. Suppose we move out, and leave the city to the Arabs. Let them destroy the Jewish buildings, and all remnants that Jews ever lived there. But, once or twice a year, there will be organized trips to Hebron, to pray at Maarat Hamachpela. There will be heavy security, and all will go well. I realized that this cannot be the answer. Hebron would then turn into Shechem, and Ma''arat Hamachpela would be Joseph''s Tomb. The same people who break in to Joseph''s tomb would break into Ma''arat Hamachpela. Hebron and Shechem would be Arab cities, where the Jewish population moved out. And it would be one up for the Arabs, all over again.
We cannot let that happen. We cannot afford to lose another city, to let the Arabs take control of our heritage, little by little. We must promote peaceful living, side by side, in the microcosm that is Hebron.
After Shabbat, we found ourselves with a nice amount of leftovers. As we walked towards the garbages, three Arab boys, busy scouraging for food, ran over to us. "Food? Food?", they cried. And we handed over our leftovers. The boys walked away, staggering under the weight of our food. And I prayed. I prayed that these boys would remember this moment, and that they wouldn''t grow up and throw rocks at Jewish cars. Because they would remember. And they would wish to live in peace with their neighbors.