Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hebron is the microcosm of Israel itself

In many ways, Hebron is to Palestine as Israel is to the Middle East.

A tiny group of Jews moves into an area that is holy for Jews worldwide. Their historic claim to the area is impeccable. Their legal claim to the area is as solid as anybody's claim to any land worldwide can be.

Yet their very existence there is deemed illegal by a large portion of the world as well as essentially every Arab. Any activity that they do is scrutinized and spun as evil. Tiny incidents become worldwide headlines. And the amount of disinformation and lies about what exactly is happening there surpasses the truth by orders of magnitude.

The major difference is that Hebron's Jews are treated by most secular Israelis the way that Israeli Jews are treated by the world.

Here is an article, published in Ha'aretz of all places, that sheds a little light on what the situation is in Hebron:
How easy it is to hate them
By Nadav Shragai

For the State of Tel Aviv, Hebron is an Arab city where a few hundred Jews are living temporarily until a "final status agreement" is signed. For broad segments of the religious and ultra-Orthodox communities, Hebron is the City of the Patriarchs, where David established his kingdom even before the conquest of Jerusalem, a city in which Jewish settlement has existed since "then" and will continue to exist "forever."

Hebron is also a reflection of the line that divides Israeli society between secular Zionism, for which the land is first and foremost a national home and a country of refuge, and religious, faith-based Zionism, for which the land is the land of the Bible, the Promised Land and the land of our forefathers.

The Hebron of the Israeli media is also a land of black and white. How easy it is to hate the settlers, to portray them as absolute evil, as occupiers, as dispossessors and violent invaders. After hundreds of Palestinian suicide bombers, the Jewish community in Kiryat Arba grew its own first Jewish suicide terrorist: Baruch Goldstein. Then came "petty incidents" such as the "slut" curse, the comparison between leftist activists and neo-Nazis, or overturned stands in the market and even attacks on Arabs following Arab terrorist incidents. Add to that the fact that even externally the Jews of Hebron try hard not to look like the Israelis from Tel Aviv, and you have a recipe for total rejection of the Jewish settlement in Hebron by the enlightened Israeli.

But the reality is far more complex, and for the most part just the opposite. Here are several facts that have not received wide coverage: The city of Hebron is about 18 square kilometers. Fifteen square kilometers were handed over to the Palestinian Authority in the Hebron agreement. This area is closed to Jews, although the agreement guaranteed Jews freedom of movement in the city. In most of the remaining area, which is ostensibly "Jewish" (H2), a Jewish presence was also forbidden, but most of it is open to Arab movement and presence. The Jews are today limited to 0.6 square kilometers, or 3 percent of Hebron, where thousands of Arabs continue to live. The PA operates various institutions in this area, with the declared purpose of "suffocating" the Jewish settlement.

As a result of the "Oslo War," which erupted in September 2000, and a series of attacks in which dozens of Jews were killed and wounded, the defense establishment limited Arab vehicular traffic in the "Jewish district." The area in which Arab traffic is completely banned, the area that has stirred the left's outcry, is limited to several hundred meters only.

While many of the Arabs of Hebron enjoy the natural and basic right to purchase and own real estate, this right has been almost totally denied to the Jewish population. The houses, the stores and the land left behind by the Jews of Hebron, who were expelled from the city after the 1929 riot, were confiscated after the Jordanian conquest in 1948 and were never returned. The Israeli government has become reconciled to this injustice. The Jews are generally denied the natural right to purchase homes and to enjoy the right of purchase. Palestinian law decrees a death sentence for an Arab who sells his house to a Jew, and the State of Israel has reconciled itself to these racist laws as well. In the course of about 20 years, building permits in the tiny Jewish district have been given to only three houses, so that those suffering from urban suffocation are not the Arabs, who are building high rises in the west of the city, but the Jews.

An Arab who harasses a Jew in Hebron - incidents documented in a detailed report - is not only a story that will not be broadcast, it will usually not be dealt with either. On the other hand, a Jew who throws stones and curses back is always a good story. But those Jews in Hebron, all of them - always all of them - disgust many Israelis, and therefore the context is unimportant. It makes no difference who started. The Jews of Hebron will always get the blame.

My own tiny video contribution to showing the truth about Hebron that I posted last month can be seen here: