Friday, June 03, 2011

Michael Totten in Hebron

Earlier this week Michael Totten wrote a nice article about the Jews of Hebron, from a perspective that one rarely sees in the general media. Here's a part:

Last summer I visited Hebron, one of the darkest and most hate-stricken cities in the West Bank, a place most tourists visiting the Holy Land for a sun-drenched Levantine holiday would not dream of setting foot. Six years ago I took my mother to Beirut and even down to Beaufort Castle overlooking Hezbollahland and the Israeli border area, but I would not take her to Hebron. This is a city where a few hundred Jewish “settlers” make their home at the bottom of valley surrounded by Palestinians who have been trying, sometimes violently, to drive them out for a very long time.

Eve Harow drove me there. She works as a professional tour guide and knows the area well.

“Hebron’s a tough place,” she said. “I could never live there.” She agreed, however, to take me in her car.

Eve is a tough lady, but Hebron is tougher. She, too, lives in a settlement in the West Bank, not in Hebron, but in a “mainstream” one, Efrat, a small California-style town in the Gush Etzion bloc that functions more or less as a suburb of Jerusalem. You can drive from one to the other in just a few minutes.

‘What do you think of Hebron?” I said to Eve as we headed south out of Jerusalem. Like so much of the Middle East, it’s a problem without a solution that makes me want to throw my hands in the air and give up.

“It’s a microcosm of the Middle East,” she said. “It really is. There are a few Jews and a lot of Arabs. If Jews are not allowed to live there because they were once driven out, then that validates the ethnic cleansing of 1948. Ethnic cleansing is wrong no matter who is the focus. We didn’t throw the Arabs out when we came back in 1967 even though they thought we would.”

Most communication between humans is non-verbal. It’s conveyed through body language and is the same across cultures. I wasn’t imagining the hatred directed at me from some of the Palestinian men on that road. It was obvious.

I am not paranoid around Arabs, not after having lived in an Arab country. Nor am I paranoid around Palestinians. I’ve met too many to count in Israel and was never once stared at in a hostile manner in Ramallah, perhaps because it was obvious, at least to some, that I was American and not Israeli, at least while I was walking around and talking to people. On my way into Hebron, however, no one could have known that I was American. Thanks to the plates on Eve’s car and the glass between me and them, they naturally assumed I was Israeli. And I felt their hatred as though it were heat.

Just a few weeks after I left, several Israeli civilians in a car much like Eve’s—including a pregnant woman—were shot to death on that very road by Palestinian gunmen.

he introduced me to David Wilder, a spokesperson for Hebron’s Jewish community. He grew up in New Jersey, but has lived in Israel for 35 years. He first visited during a one-year program in college and said it changed his life, so he came back after he graduated and has been there ever since.

“When we came back in 1967,” he said, “we had reasonable relations between Jews and Arabs again. There were business relationships, personal relationships. We could walk around the city unarmed and there were no problems. Things weren’t all lovey-dovey, but people got along. Things started to change in a bad way during the first Intifada in the late 1980s. The PLO began rounding up Arabs who were seen talking to Jews and accusing them of being collaborators, so pretty soon the Arabs stopped talking to us.”

While it’s not true that the first Intifada consisted entirely of civil disobedience and rock throwing, the second Intifada was nevertheless much worse than the first. The second consisted almost entirely of suicide bombings and rifle attacks. The road from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion was ferociously dangerous, but Hebron degenerated into a war zone.

“They shot at us for two and a half years from the hills around us,” David said.

“What did they use?” I said. “Sniper rifles? Regular rifles?”

“They shot at us with both,” he said. “A sniper shot and killed a baby in the head right on this street. They shot into my apartment a number of times. We warned during the Oslo Accords that if Arafat was given control of the hills around us that we would be shot at. People said we were panicking, that we were hysterical, but we were right.”
Totten received complaints about this piece, especially about not mentioning Baruch Goldstein's massacre in Hebron and not demonizing the Jewish "settlers" he interviewed. So he wrote a follow-up where he regrets the omission of Goldstein, but he puts it in the correct context:

Jewish terrorism doesn’t take up a large space in my consciousness for a reason that I trust is obvious—it’s rare. Goldstein shocked and appalled almost every Jew in the world when he murdered those people. One of their own became a full-blown no-way-to-whitewash-it mass-murdering terrorist. He was killed when some of his would-be victims beat him to death, but had he survived, the Israelis would have thrown him in a cage and left him there for the rest of his days.

All cultures produce murderers, all cultures produce political extremists, and all cultures produce individuals who combine the two into deadly concoctions. Israeli society, though, does a pretty good job policing these people and ensuring that their following is both miniscule and marginalized. So I’m not particularly concerned about the moral health of Israeli society, and I’m entirely unconvinced that the defective people it does produce are numerous or dangerous enough to prevent peace in the Middle East.

Palestinian society produces far more violent extremists, and they hold a massive amount of power in Palestinian politics. There is no getting around this. Hamas rules the entire Gaza Strip with an iron fist and is now part of a “national unity government” with Fatah, a party founded by Yasser Arafat that has no shortage of terrorists among its own ranks.

The Sunni and Shia militias that engaged in murderous sectarian “cleansing” operations against each other in Iraq were more or less equivalent morally, so I described them as such when I filed reports from Baghdad. The violent Israeli settlers in Hebron—and there are some—in no way compare to the Palestinian terrorist organizations that waged such massive and relentless campaigns of mass murder that it took the powerful Israeli army years to put them down.

There’s a serious asymmetry between the two sides, and that’s why I don’t place an equal amount of emphasis on the amount of criminal violence each side commits. Jews and Israelis everywhere recoil in horror from the likes of Baruch Goldstein, but public squares in Palestinian cities are named after suicide bombers and other killers of innocents.

I am well aware of the caricature of Israeli settlers as bigoted thugs, and I’m likewise aware that some of them fit that description. Some have attacked not only their Palestinian neighbors, but also Israeli soldiers.

The two Israelis I interviewed, though, don’t fit that description. I hardly know David Wilder, but we talked for an hour on tape and he didn’t say anything racist or brutal. I’m courteous enough not to libel him as a bigot just because he’s a spokesperson for Jews living in Hebron. I may not have gone to journalism school, but I’m pretty sure the demands of my profession don’t require me to do such a thing.

And I personally know Eve Harow well enough that I can say with confidence that she’s not a bigoted thug. I can’t very well denounce her as one just because that’s a fashionable stereotype I’m obligated to feed.
Read both of the articles to see what the mainstream media doesn't dare to touch.