The Eternal Flame of Hebron

[David Wilder]

Summary ... We know that the light of Hebron — the light of Avraham Avinu, the light of Eretz Yisrael — cannot and never will be doused, not by politicians, not by police and not by bullets. Nothing can destroy the eternal flame of the Jewish people, certainly not the everlasting glow of the holy city of Hebron.

Beginning early Monday night the Hebron Jewish Community switched gears, moving into full-speed expulsion mode. The community had been gearing up for the planned expulsion for a few weeks, while at the same time conducting talks with various political and legal authorities in the Knesset and Defense ministry. Months ago the Hebron leadership authorized former Justice Minister, attorney Ya'akov Neeman to present a compromise solution to the issue at hand.

The Avraham Avinu neighborhood was founded by Jews exiled from Spain in 1540. This was the central Jewish community in Hebron for almost 400 years, until the 1929 massacre abruptly decimated the community, with the survivors of the pogrom expelled by the occupying British forces.

Land adjacent to the Jewish Quarter was purchased by Rabbi Haim Bajayo in 1807 on behalf of the community. Following the 1929 expulsion, Hebron Arabs constructed a market place — the Hebron "shuk" at this site. This market operated thru the 1990s — 2000s, being closed in stages by the Israeli Defense Forces for security reasons. The leases on the building expired and Hebron leaders requested to rent them. All requests were denied by the Israeli custodian for abandoned property, under whose auspices the buildings fell.

Following the murder of 10-month old Shalhevet Pass in March, 2001, Hebron residents moved into these empty structures and slowly transformed them into beautiful apartments, nine in number, as well as a Beit Midrash (Torah Study Hall) in Shalhevet's memory. They lived in these apartments for five years, during which time the issue revolved in the Israeli courts, in an effort to remove us from the buildings. A military appeals court recognized the community's ownership of the land and recommended that the buildings be leased to the Jewish community, however this recommendation was rejected by the state Attorney General Eliyakim Rubenstein.

After the expulsion from Gush Katif, the prosecutor's office decided to finally evict families from these apartments also. The day prior to the planned expulsion, community leaders met with General Yair Golan, commander of forces in Judea and Samaria, who offered them a deal. If the community would agree to voluntarily leave the apartments, the government would allow families to 'legally' return within a few months. Following a debate and vote in the middle of the night, the community accepted the deal. The next day the families moved out. A few days later the Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, publicly announced that 'there had never been a deal.' He later changed this, stating that there had been an agreement, but General Yair Golan was unauthorized to finalize such a deal and it was null and void. This, despite the fact that Golan conducted numerous conversations with his superiors in the Defense ministry during the meeting with him in order to receive authorization to conclude the agreement.

Ten months ago two of the families who had agreed to move out of their homes, moved back in. Left with nowhere to live, and realizing that the agreement would never be honored, they decided enough is enough. With community backing, they returned to their abandoned homes. A few weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled that the government had the authority to again expel them, should they want to. The Israeli prosecutor's office, together with the 'Civil Administration' immediately issued expulsion orders. The families, with community support, refused to again leave voluntarily. Yesterday the expulsion orders were executed.

Hundreds of people came to Hebron to support the families and community. They filled the two family's apartments, as well as a third vacant apartment in the complex. The security forces numbered well over one thousand, including police, border police, the riot squad, and soldiers. At about 6:15 in the morning they attacked.

The doors to the apartments had been welded shut, so it took them some time to break in. People in the apartments offered no violent resistance, but just about everyone had to be dragged out. Where no cameras present, riot squad forces utilized excessive force, beating people and dragging them by their necks. A number of people were injured and necessitated medical treatment. Youngsters and elderly were brutally dragged out of the neighborhood, as it had been declared a 'closed military zone.'

Within about two hours the apartments were vacant of people. The security forces then began destroying them, literally tearing the apartments apart. Beautiful homes were left in ragged ruins. Amongst the rooms destroyed was the study hall/synagogue built in Shalhevet Pass' memory. All that was left was the eternal light, left hanging from the ceiling.

Ironically, this, more that anything else, represents the mood of Hebron's Jewish community. On the one hand, we have faced tremendous adversity and demolition. The site of people's homes in ruins is sickening. On the other hand, we know that the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the city where David began the Israelite monarchy, is an essential, eternal element of the Jewish people, which can never be extinguished.

True, there are those who would desire to exterminate us, literally. A veteran, respected Israeli journalist/commentator, Yaron London, said during a television show that the IDF shouldn't have wasted so many soldiers to evict families from their homes. Rather, they should have sent in a small unit and shot the resistors, 'reawakening the spirit of the Altelena.'

However, we know that the light of Hebron — the light of Avraham Avinu, the light of Eretz Yisrael — cannot and never will be doused, not by politicians, not by police and not by bullets. Nothing can destroy the eternal flame of the Jewish people, certainly not the everlasting glow of the holy city of Hebron.

[ Published: August 11, 2007 ]

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