Dec. 10, 2001
Dec. 10, 2001
Almost a year ago, it was the beginning of April, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I drove into the parking lot outside the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, parked the car and opened the door. As I stepped out of the car a shot rang out. I quickly ducked back into the car. The shot was very loud, and the bullet hadn’t been too far from me.
Only a few meters away were two Israeli soldiers, on duty at the entrance to the neighborhood. Leaving the car I ran over to them and exclaimed, “they’re shooting at us.” They looked calmly back at me and said, “no, it was firecrackers.” Refusing to accept their conclusion I again stated that I had just been shot at. Again, they ignored me.
Ten minutes later, not very far from where I had been standing, ten month old Shalhevet Pass was shot and murdered by the same Arab terrorist sniper who had shot over my head.
You might expect that certain conclusions would be reached. However, that is not the way it is.
Early yesterday afternoon hundreds of people attended the funeral of a young man from Kiryat Arba, tragically killed in an automobile accident late Friday afternoon. As the funeral ended and the mourners were leaving the cemetery, a shot rang out. People turned to soldiers at the site and yelled to them, ‘they’re shooting at us.” The reponse, “no, it’s firecrackers.” Until Hebron resident Yoni Bleichbard, a security officer for Hebron’s Jewish community approached the soldiers and showed them where the bullet just fired skimmed his cheek, scratching it. Rabbi Hillel Horowitz, who had been standing next to his car, called over some others to see the hole in his roof, a hole that hadn’t been there before the shot was fired. The bullet passed through the center of the car. Had anyone been sitting there, the results would have been unthinkable.
The army spokesman, reporting on the attack to the media, claimed that “an army jeep had been fired upon.” Only hours after the shooting did he agree to change the official version, saying, “in Hebron, a civilian was slightly wounded when a bullet scratched his cheek. The shooting was aimed at people leaving a funeral in the area. Officials from the central region staff said that the shooting was a violation of local agreements in the city and that the army was weighing a reaction to it.”
The long-awaited reaction was quick to come. When the Israeli army pulled back off the hills following the Succot shootings and subsequent retaking of those hills, terrorist Jibril Rajoub was quoted as saying, “if there is even one shot fired, I won’t object to an Israeli reentry into the hills. Ariel Sharon promised, “if one shot is fired, we will go back into the hills.”
Since those famous words were spoken the community has been shot at numerous times, yet the pledge is yet to be redeemed.
Yesterday, Sharon had the perfect opportunity. After all, Arafat’s palestinian authority has been defined as a “terrorist-supporting entity.” Suicide bombers are blowing themselves up, killing Jews, all over the country. The government promised harsh measures in reaction to the continued violence. What could be more expressive than a retaking of the hills surrounding Hebron’s Jewish neighborhoods.
That’s what perhaps you and I think. But not our courageous leaders. They had something else in mind.
First, some background.
The second holiest site to the Jewish people, Ma’arat HaMachpela in Hebron, is divided between Jews and Muslims. They control about 80% of the building. Ten days a year, the Jews get the whole building, and it’s closed to the Arabs. Ten days a year they get the whole building and it’s closed to us.
This year, when the scheduled dates for the openings and closings were released, we were astounded to find that this year they received fifteen days to our ten. Why? Because last year there were five times when they could not take advantage of their days because they were under curfew for having shot at us. So this year, the sources that be decided to compensate them by allowing them an extra five days. Of course, the fact that this year, over Succot, when hundreds of Jews were shot at on our special days, was not taken into account. And we discovered that Ma’arat HaMachpela would be closed to us for five days during the eight day Hanuakkah holiday.
Following protests to local security officers, we were promised that Ma’arat HaMachpela would be closed to us only three days during Hanukkah, not five, as previously planned. That was how things stood, until yesterday evening.
As a result of yesterday’s shooting the Arab’s punishment is a rescheduling of the days when Ma’arat HaMachpela is closed to us, and again, during Hanukkah, the building will be closed to us for five days, including days that were not on the original schedule.
What difference does it make which days the building is closed? Well, for instance, a few weeks ago I was approached to give a tour to an international Jewish organization during the Hanukkah holiday. Seeing that Hebron’s main attraction, Ma’arat HaMachpela, would be closed several days during the holiday, we scheduled the trip for tomorrow, when the building was to be open to Jewish visitors. Last night, we were informed that tomorrow the building would be closed to everyone but Muslims.
As a result, the group arriving tomorrow will have to experience what Jews experienced for 700 years, when the Arabs would not allow us into this sacred site.
So it goes. Gunshots are firecrackers. Punitive measures are positive, rewarding the attackers and punishing the victims. It seems that the army and government prefer to try and “buy” quiet, paying off bribes to Rajoub in return for more, worthless promises.
Well over two thousand years ago then too there were Jews, who thought they could purchase peace and tranquility by conforming to the pressures of foreign forces. Those Jews were even a majority. But a small group stood up and refused to acquiesce to the terror of those days. Believing in their heritage, in their past, and concerned about their future, the Maccabees, an infinitesimal dot as compared to the Greeks and their Jewish Hellenist allies, overturned the seemingly inevitable. Learning from their example, we are carrying on in their footsteps. And we too, as did our heroic ancestors, have no doubt that victory is assured.
In parenthesis, tonight’s message has a postscript: About an hour after I finished writing this, Israeli military helicopters attacked the head of the Islamic Jihad in Hebron, killing him and wounding several other terrorists. Thank G-d for small miracles.
With blessings for a very happy Hanukkah, from Hebron,
This is David Wilder