The Jews of the Hebron market leave, but vow to return

On a wall opposite the former Arab wholesale market here where Jews have squatted for the past three years is a mural of a payot-donning man in black sandals and a red kippa raising an M-16 high above his head. Standing by a well, with the Cave of the Patriarchs in the background, he guards two women in purple and pink blouses who are planting flowers. All around the Jewish areas of town, in pictures, banners and in the words of Jewish residents, the message is clear: this is Jewish land and it will be defended by force - from friend and foe alike - if necessary. But on Monday, convinced occupation of the heavily symbolic Mitzpe Shalhevet outpost was just a small battle in a larger war, the Jews of Hebron left. Quietly, they packed their belongings. Resolutely, they vowed to return. "There's a big determination by the community here that in a short time we will return to this land because it's Jewish land," said Hillel Horovitz, a 20-year resident of Hebron. "Of course it's a big sacrifice for the families in the market, but in this situation there really was no other choice." When judgment day finally came, the local leadership's fiery rhetoric of the past days and weeks about not yielding an inch turned into triumphant talk of securing the future at the expense of the present. "We feel good that the place will stay in Jewish hands. It would have been a great crime if Jews were evacuated from land that was rightfully ours," said Danny Cohen, the Chabad representative in Hebron. "There's a big difference between being thrown out of the city in bloody clashes with the army and just moving your stuff." According to numerous residents, the decision to accept the deal offered by the IDF was made collectively by the Jewish community with the consent, or at least the acceptance of the market residents. Even after Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and the Defense Ministry stated that no agreement existed between the state and the Hebron community that would allow Jewish residents here to return to the market in the coming months, the settlers did not alter their stance. "We've got promises and we have an agreement with the commander of this area," said Noam Arnon, a local leader. "This area is under military sovereignty and the military command is responsible in the name of the state and the law. We are going to implement our share of the agreement and we're quite sure they will implement theirs." The settlers were not spoiling for a fight. So amidst a dozen photographers, a couple camera crews and a light and unintrusive police presence, the market residents began packing. According to the agreement, which was outlined in only broad terms by community leaders, the families residing in Mitzpe Shalhevet were not allowed to sleep in the market past Sunday night, but had until the end of the week to clear out their belongings. Temporary shelter in Hebron for the departing settlers was being hastily arranged, said David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community. "It's not easy for them or for anyone here," he said. "But what's most important is that we are not replaying what happened in Gush Katif. This property will remain in Israeli hands and that is a major victory." Like the mural's caricature, the Hebron Jews are trying to cement their presence here for a long time to come - even if they have to take a step back to do it. "What we are doing is not for us, it's not for personal gain," said Yair Garbovsky, a father of three who has lived with his family in the market for more than three years. "We are here for the nation of Israel and [by leaving] we are doing what is best for everyone. Whether or not it is easy for us is not the point."