The Hebron hullabaloo

With each additional high-handed edict from officialdom, settlers grow more alienated, increasing the likelihood of conflicts.

Beit Hamachpela in Hebron 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Beit Hamachpela in Hebron 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In a surprise swift swoop on Wednesday, Border Police easily evicted Jewish residents from a small apartment house near Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs.
Thus without much fanfare ended yet another attempt to expand the Jewish toehold in the city.
Whether one agrees with the removal of the families or not, a very unsavory component of the saga has been embedded in our public discourse: Israel’s own defense minister has told the world that the very presence of Jews in arbitrarily decreed locations within the cradle of Jewish nationhood that is Judea and Samaria can be deemed “a threat to public order.”
That’s precisely how the Arabs have described the entire Zionist endeavor since the 19th century onward and precisely the reason for which the British Mandate forbade land purchases by Jews in its draconian 1939 White Paper. Herein lies the danger inherent in Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s stance.
He imparts a fundamentally damaging impression both to public opinion at home and abroad just when Israel is critically challenged by a relentless and escalating campaign of demonization.
Israel’s eager slanderers now need only quote Barak to undermine the very legitimacy of the state of Israel as well as of those “settlement blocs” to which Barak presumably acquiesces.
For Israel’s detractors, no difference exists between Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ariel or Hebron – to say nothing of between “approved Jewish” homes in Hebron and the disputed Beit Hamachpela, which, evicted Jewish residents maintain, was bought and paid for in full. The realization that to our enemies we’re all the same must never fade from our collective consciousness. Hence extra sensitivity, care and forbearance wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Beit Hamachpela is situated in a section of Hebron which is anyway under Israeli military control and which includes other Jewish enclaves. It was thus hardly likely to have constituted an outstanding menace to public order.
Then there’s the technicality on which Barak based his decision to expel the Jewish residents, i.e. that they hadn’t obtained military authorization to move in, irrespective of whether they’re the legal owners of the building.
The power to arbitrarily ban Jewish residence confers in Barak’s hands clout the voters didn’t grant him.
He was incontrovertibly routed in the last elections and has lost even more support since his split from Labor. Nevertheless, despite heading a minuscule political fragment, Barak has maneuvered himself in the current coalition setup to a position whereby he dictates policy to a majority that doesn’t share his political inclinations.
That potentially distorts democracy and can crucially further erode public confidence in the system.
We’re faced with a state of affairs in which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accedes to Barak’s positions in order to not to be tagged as excessively rightist. Barak in turn tilts leftward in order not to be denounced as Netanyahu’s enabler. The upshot is that both seek to curry left-wing favor, allowing Barak – with the attorney- general’s sanction – to be simultaneously a side to the argument and its the final arbiter.
Lost in the hullabaloo is Hebron’s special status, which David Ben-Gurion described as “Jerusalem’s sister,” second only to the capital in sanctity and historic significance to the Jewish people. Laborites such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon approved the Jewish return to Hebron in 1968.
Hebron is the nation’s first capital and home to an ancient Jewish community that was brutally uprooted in the murderous 1929 Arab pogrom. If Jews have no right to reside in Hebron, they can hardly claim any other stretch of this land.
The stock retort to the Beit Hamachpela evacuees is that if they dislike Barak’s ruling, they’re free to petition the High Court of Justice. In theory this makes sense, but the reality is that settlers doubt they can get a fair shake from the Supreme Court. They feel pushed into a corner where they must resort to faits accomplis. Radicalization isn’t far behind.
With each additional high-handed edict from officialdom, settlers grow more alienated, increasing the likelihood of conflicts, however undesirable and avoidable.
Levelheadedness in high places can prevail and yield less polarizing results.