Hebron Jewish family pledges to stand firm in face of evacuation threats

hebron kids 298 tovah (photo credit: )
hebron kids 298 tovah
(photo credit: )
Shlomit Bar-Kochba was among those who agreed in January 2006 to quietly leave the homes they had set up in empty Palestinian market stalls next to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood in Hebron. In retrospect, "I was naive," she said, now that she, her husband and their eight children, have returned to the same house, built in a converted shop. She is unlikely to make the same mistake twice, Bar-Kochba told The Jerusalem Post as she sat in her living room where she is once again under threat of forcible evacuation. Last week, the Civil Administration gave her and the Yahalom family that lives next door, until noon last Friday, July 27, to evacuate their homes in the former shops, on the grounds that their presence there is illegal. On Monday, the Civil Administration threatened to bill the two families for the removal costs, although it has not set a date for their removal. History, however, has shown Bar-Kochba that she needs to stand firm. Back in 2006, hundreds of right-wing activists, mostly teens and young adults, had flocked to the city to defend the right of eight Jewish families to live in the stalls which had not been operated by Palestinian merchants since 1994. But at the time, said Bar-Kochba, given the option for a peaceful outcome, her family and the others who lived in the former shops chose to avert violence, and the activists dispersed. It was around the same time that security services demolished nine empty homes at the Amona outpost. She said she believed that the force used against the activists there had actually been expected in Hebron. "The agreement was that we would leave, and shortly they would allow us to return," she said. Certain that it would work out in the end, they didn't move to a new home. Instead, the Bar-Kochba family packed their belongings and placed them in storage. She was pregnant, and so the family went to live with her sister in Karnei Shomron until after the birth of her eighth child. In the first months, it seemed that progress had been made on legalizing their presence in the homes. "We had a good feeling," she said. Then it all fell apart when Attorney General Menahem Mazuz overturned the agreement. By the summer, her family longed for home so they came back to Hebron in time for the start of the school year. "We didn't think it would interest anyone that we returned," she said. "I thought it doesn't interfere with anyone. We came back very quietly. We didn't make noise or celebrate." Further attempts to legalize their presence there have failed, she said. It seemed illogical to her, she said, that the government was upset by their presence some ten months later. The house, along with that of the Yahalom family, abuts the back of the last apartments in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, so that no additional security was required, she said. Moreover, she said, her home sits on land owned by Jews until the community was destroyed following the 1929 massacre in which Arabs killed 67 of its members. She added that the Palestinians who ran shops there after the Jews had left, had themselves not operated them for more than 13 years ago. They were not likely to return, given that building's proximity to the Avraham Avinu complex, said Bar-Kochba. With the bicycles lying by the yard filled with green shrubbery, the building looks like an extension of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Sitting inside the living room, lined with wooden shelves that her nephew built, Bar-Kochba said her family had put in many special touches to the space. But her determination to remain was ideological; it was not about their personal lives or comfort, said Bar-Kochba. But for her, the way is clear. She is determined to remain until she is dragged away. "I know that it is dangerous, but we are prepared to fight for our homes," she said. It's not a personal fight. It is not about whether her family gets to live in this spot, but rather, it's about the future of the Jews in the ancient biblical city and in Israel itself. "We can't give up on Jewish land," said Bar-Kochba, who grew up in Karnei Shomron and moved to Hebron when she got married 19 years ago. Should the security forces truly arrive at her doorstep, she is likely to send the small children away and allow the older ones to choose whether to remain. The daughter of a well known settler, Moshe Zar, who purchased a lot of land in Samaria to develop settlements, Bar-Kochba said, she was brought up with a deep belief in Jewish existence in Judea and Samaria. "We were brought up with a strong sense of land," she said. "We are willing to give everything for this land. It is very important to be proud Jews on our land." "We didn't come back here to live in exile," she said. There are some Jews, she said, who do not believe that the land is holy and that it can be exchanged or given away. "It [the Land of Israel] is like a body. You do not divide it," she said. On a personal level, her family has paid a price for its belief. In 2001, her older brother, Gilad Zar, who was the security head of the Samaria Regional Council, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist in a drive-by shooting near his Itamar home. His photo is displayed in her living room. Her seventh child, Gilad Hai, is named after him. Although he is only five, Gilad Hai knew that his Hebron home was in danger from "bad" people. "They want to chase us away," he told his mother Shlomit, shyly, in a quiet voice, when asked, before he heads out to play. Watching him go, his mother said: "He knows that what God wants is what will happen, and that if someone will do this to us then God will punish him. A person who evacuates Jews from Israel is evil."