In the name of the patriarchs

The place where foundations of Jewish life were laid must not be where Zionist enterprise unravels.

cave of patriarchs 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cave of patriarchs 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Torah identifies the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as the oldest piece of Jewish-owned property. There Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried. In modern times, the city has been a flashpoint. In 1929, Arabs slaughtered dozens of Jewish residents, forcing the survivors to flee. In 1979, Hebron's Jewish community was reestablished but only with the unenthusiastic acquiescence of the Israeli government. The city is home to some of the most combative settlers in Judea and Samaria. They have been killed (think Aharon Gross and Shalhevet Pas) and they have killed (think Baruch Goldstein). They have been demonized and demonized others. They have fiercely struggled over every centimeter of their relatively small and hard to defend enclave. Hebron's predicament is seldom far from the headlines. Late last month, a panel of three justices headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that Jewish families living in a disputed building - Beit Hashalom - had to leave. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai says the Supreme Court's decision will be carried out. The settlers, who have been living in the disputed dwelling for a year and eight months, argue that the ruling does not obligate security forces to take any immediate action. A sense of looming confrontation pervades. IT'S A legally convoluted case, and Beinisch appears to have lost patience while waiting for other judges to rule. A Jerusalem District Court has yet to decide whether the settlers own the disputed building. A military appeals court has been dragging its feet on a settlers' appeal over the decision by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria not to register their ownership of the site. Both courts have, in our view, acted irresponsibly in delaying their rulings. Some say a politically motivated Beinisch acted impetuously, seeking to force a confrontation between the state and the least popular segment of the settler population. Others say she acted reluctantly, belatedly and only when the case was thrust at her by state authorities. Beyond the disputed ownership of the building is the technical question of who had custody of it on the night of March 19, 2007, when settlers moved in. Was it Saed Rajbi, a Palestinian, or agents for the Jewish community? The police eventually decided that Rajbi had custody - which means the settlers are obligated to vacate while the case over ownership plays itself out in the courts. The state took its case to Beinisch only when the settlers refused to honor the police demand that they vacate. With regard to ownership, the settlers argue that they bought the building from Rajbi in 2004 (and have a video of the contract signing to prove it). Rajbi claims that he changed his mind and returned the payments he had thus far received. At any rate, lawful ownership requires the filing of a title deed - something which can't take place while the dispute persists. THIS CLASH is emblematic of a much larger struggle not just between Jews and Arabs but among Israeli Jews - and not just over Hebron, but over borders and the political and religious character of the Jewish state. A splinter, but by no means trivial, group of settler extremists, and the elders who provide them with spiritual and material succor, have concluded that the apparatus of the state has "become disengaged from Zionism and Judaism." Thus they feel free to treat its symbols, soldiers and laws as no longer legitimate. These extremists should not be coddled. They should be quarantined - politically, socially and religiously. And the greater effort to marginalize them should be led by those who are faithful to the settlement enterprise. It may be argued that Beinisch should have allowed the other court processes to take their course. It can be argued, to the contrary, that further delay would have exacerbated matters. Either way, the decision of the Supreme Court must be honored. We implore the Hebron settlers - most of whom are patriots - to voluntarily vacate the disputed building, even as we call upon both the District Court and the military appeals court to promptly issue their rulings. The place where the foundations of Jewish civilization were first laid must not be where the Zionist enterprise unravels.