Friday, April 20, 2007

To a dear friend in the U.S. who sent me a letter she recieved from a friend in Israel.

Hello Debbie

It was wonderful hearing from you and a little about you. I also read your friend’s letter. Normally I would have put her letter aside, but I obviously sensed the tinge of urgency and desperation in your own request for a sounding board. So this letter is to you, not to your friend.

Yes, I think your friend is right in pointing out that a major obstacle to peace are the Palestinian Arabs. They are one of three major obstacles: The first obstacle is of a global nature – the attempt of a militant and fundamentalist Islam to take over the Arab world and once again “take on” the western world. The second obstacle are the Palestinian people themselves that are finding it difficult to stand up to the first obstacle, are wooed by its promise of “victory”, and live under enough misery to warrant an approach of “nothing to loose” in a struggle for what they believe is theirs. The third obstacle is “us” – we Israelis, who have created a conquered territory filled with a local population that is held in bondage – not as hostages towards bargaining for peace or co-existence, but as a way of expanding and repopulating our “promised land”, regaining our biblically promised territories, and excusing much human degradation under the guise of defense necessities.

It seems to me that whoever doesn’t recognize all three major obstacles is either inflicted by a serious lack of knowledge regarding our situation, or else blinded by an overly amount of non-objectivism. Either case is often generated by an overly amount of subjective “belief” in “my side is right” – whichever side that may be.

No, I am not totally objective. I have beliefs, and some of them definitely come into conflict with the beliefs of others. It is particularly then, that I need to begin looking objectively at BOTH beliefs and decide whether it is worthwhile to find a way of resolving the conflict without one belief obliterating the other.

I need to add one more observation regarding the three major obstacles to peace. Resolving any one obstacle will not necessarily result in peace; more likely it will not. This is really the point that shows how intricate our problem really is, how answers cannot be given in “black and white”.

Perhaps I should also introduce some of my background. I am a Zionist, an American Oleh who came here in 1965 to kibbutz Gesher Haziv. I am familiar with Arab terrorism much earlier than the first Intifada. One of the first Katyushot that fell in Israel landed beside the window of our children’s bedroom as they were asleep. For many years my wife and I carried guns while strolling outside for fear of terrorist infiltrators that were coming in by border and by sea. Many many nights were spent lying in ambush around our perimeter before going out to work in the fields by morning (armed, of course). I have also spent time standing guard over Arab farmers near Shchem fearful of working their fields in the vicinity of pseudo-legal and vastly illegal Jewish Settlements in the occupied territories. I have also been to our Israeli occupied section of Hevron to witness and examine the conditions under which the local Arab populace lives. At least some of my impressions and thoughts come not from those of others but from what I have also seen, heard and felt on site.

I have read your friends letter of April 1st. She expresses what I think is a majority opinion in the country. It is therefore also the comfortable opinion, in the sense that it will rub fewer people the wrong way and will allow us to be acceptable in most crowds. (I don’t say this to be crude, only to point out that contrary opinions – like mine – can be awfully uncomfortable in most circles. As your friend indicates in her letter, not knowing her “truth” is a matter of “intellectual integrity” or lack of….)

As for some of the truths embodied in the letter, they are certainly worthwhile examining.

Your friend writes: “Fact: The "settlers" did not seize the building [in Hevron]. It was legally purchased. It would seem that you are not prepared to give Jews rights under the laws of Israel.”

Allow me to mention a few minor “facts”:
The Israeli occupied Hevron (Area H2) is not part of the State of Israel wherein reign the “Laws of Israel” – legally, according to Israeli law, it is occupied, not annexed. Israeli law, by the way, also states that moving into any new area of occupied territories must first receive government sanction and approval. This of course was not done in the case at hand. (Unfortunately, in my thinking, the government has given so many sanctions and approvals in the past, both over and under the table, that most settlers see this as a very minor issue.)

Your friend also misses the point regarding our search for co-existence - rather than our search for property. If legal property papers were the issue between us and the Palestinians, we are in deep trouble. Literally scores of villages in Israel, and a frightful amount of real-estate in cities like Jerusalem, Tzfat, Yaffo, and so much land which is today in the hands of the Lands Authority or the Army – have behind them legal titles belonging to many Palestinian refugees and Arab land owners from other countries in the Middle East (and also to many Israeli Arabs who are not allowed the privilege of returning to their homes). Aside from misrepresenting the legal issue, your friend seems to be trying to avoid the real issue: putting out the fire or at least lowering the flames of enmity. Your friend’s assumed “fact” prefers to throw another can of gasoline on a burning house – rather than assist the fire department in containment of the blaze.

Your friend enlightens us to another “fact”: “Hebron is widely considered an "Arab" city today only because of a history of Arab massacres of the Jews there during British Mandate times, when the British considered it easier to forcibly remove the Jews who survived the massacres rather than protect them, followed by a period of Jordanian occupation during which the area was rendered Judenrein.”

I found this to be a very strange “fact”. Most of the world considers Hevron an Arab city because of demography that stretches from earlier than the previous millennium till this very day. Our Jewish heritage and history not withstanding, Hevron is considered an Arab city also because it was not within the cease-fire boundaries that created the “recognized” State of Israel. It is considered an Arab city because it was occupied by us in a defensive war and held by us under martial law – because it is an Arab city. Even at the height of Jewish presence in Hevron, Hevron was demographically an Arab city.
Unless, of course, your friend means something else………something connected to her remarks about the pogrom of 1928 and to the last word quoted in the alleged “fact” – “JUDENREIN”. How quickly we revert to pogroms and the Shoah to excuse our every action. Your friend seems to be entering the complicated conflict between us and the Palestinians with intent for “revenge” rather than a quest for solutions. She is not alone in that approach.

Your friend’s subject matter is specifically Hevron rather than the wider issues of our conflict. I assume this is as a response to some other article or remarks about the latest real estate take-over in Hevron. Perhaps, then, I should relate some impressions I’ve gathered while walking the streets of our Israeli held H2 section of Hevron.

But first I must apologize. I, too, have been rambling on without touching base with those issues of the conflict which are so much more basic within my thinking. Also, these paragraphs fail to relate my own deepest sense of commitment to our Zionist creation, our State of Israel. Nor do these paragraphs relate my deep sense of regret at today’s face of our creation. Nor do these paragraphs relate my deep sense of frustration with the Palestinian leadership and their choice of terrorism as a legitimate weapon.ׁPerhaps some later opportunity will allow us to expand. Meanwhile, I revert to some impressions from Hevron.

Section H2 had about 35,000 Arab inhabitants when it was sectioned off from the rest of the city. I receive a variety of estimates regarding its present population – it seems that a good number of thousands have left their homes and crossed over to Section H1. I start walking from Maarat-Hamachpela. As I walk down the main street, Shuada, I realize that this is the immensely bustling downtown business center that I saw at times on the silver screen. Shop after shop line the street on the ground floor of all the buildings. Above them are the many windows of people’s homes, entrances thru narrow doors on the street bellow. This was a bustling market area. Today it is almost silent. Only soldiers. Army vehicles, some cars with “settlers” driving in or out of the city, and occasional “outsiders” like me visiting and perhaps disturbing the peace.

Along this entire main street, Arab vehicles, be they a bicycle or a pushcart or a car, cannot travel. Along most of this street Arabs cannot walk (only recently I joined a small group of young Arabs who dared “walking the road” as a result of a Supreme Court decision that the ban has been illegal for many years.) Shop fronts are all barricaded and shut tight – no business allowed. More than 1,500 shops have been closed down and nailed shut. No one can enter their homes thru the street doors. Nor thru the street windows. Doors are nailed shut. Windows are behind bars or wire mesh. Most homes are entered by climbing to the roof from the other side and going down from there into the buildings. More than 900 homes have been evacuated here because of the cumbersome obstacle course coming home to your kitchen or bedroom.

At the end of this main street (bordering between H1 and H2) is a passage way to H1 and a marketplace that isn’t hindered by “no walk and no wheels” rules. An Army checkpoint searches each man/woman/child crossing this junction. I can’t go into H2. I turn left going up a long steep street with local houses on both sides, into a totally residential area of Hevron. “Steep” is an understatement. I feel like I’m walking up at a 45 degree angle. Here Arabs can walk, but still nothing allowed on wheels (except for settlers). Ahead of me is an Arab man my age carrying on his back a large heavy canister of cooking gas for his kitchen, slowly trudging uphill at what seems like a 45 degree angle. Somewhere ahead of him is a young woman carrying bags of something as she leans forward to grapple with the upward climb. A car filled with settlers passes us by. I’m out of breath and rest a number of times till I reach the top of the street.

Once more I turn left, climbing up another street to visit an interesting family. Here I also pass alongside a large building which is one of the “Settlements” in the heart of Hevron. Doors are wide open, so are all the windows on all floors, Jewish children wearing bowl-shaped kipot are playing out on the street and giggling as we go by. Across the street are Arab houses. Doors and windows totally enclosed in iron cages with wire mesh. No children on the street. The cages were put up by order of the army. No, not just to keep the street adjacent to the “Settlement” clear of Arabs (or according to your friend’s vocabulary – “ArabRein”), but –according to the army- to protect the Arab families from harassment by the settlers.

(I already have a feeing that I’m not getting it all in…..the soldiers at every turn and corner….their faces…..The man with the canister on his back moving aside for the settler’s 4X4….the Arab having his groceries frisked on his way back home…..the embarrassment….the frustration….the shame….the silent anger. I don’t have all or enough of the right words.)

I go thru an iron gate into the courtyard of a three-family building. Two families have already left for H1. One family is still there and insists on staying. This has been their home for generations. I’m visiting a home of a relatively young couple who have a small daughter and a son almost reaching the beginning of his teens. The grandfather of today’s young owner made this house a safe haven for Jews during the pogrom of 1928 and forcibly held back any marauders attempting to enter. Many years later a grateful Israeli government gave him a letter of appreciation and thanks. It is held as a family treasure. The grandchild of that brave Arab belongs to a small group of young Arab adults in Hevron who have put together a small “non-violent-but-get-out-of-our-town-and let’s-have-Peace-now” movement. Obviously their impact is less than overwhelming, but nonetheless important.

This home has been a particular target of harassment by the neighbors next door – our Jewish Settlers. (This is a wonderful piece of real-estate. Large house and yard. A good view of lower Hevron from on high. But most of all, it’s in the proximity of our Jewish settlement. If we could only get the last owner out, and then find a way thru third and fourth parties to get hold of - even buy, if need be - the necessary deeds of ownership. Wouldn’t that be great??) Till recently (The family says this last year has been quieter) the family’s home had barrages of children throwing stones, older children and young adults actually entering their yard, surrounding their house from every side, menacing their children and trying to break in, only to be called back at various times by the appearance of army personnel. After lodging a number of complaints with the “proper authorities” – they learned the lessons of “a waste of time”. After all, it was only harassment (violent harassment, yet only harassment). But they aren’t moving out. This is irksome, even outrageously insulting to Settlers whose aim is to push out all Arab residents (remember once more your friend’s vocabulary style – ArabRein), and return this biblical city of Abraham to its rightful owners.

I visited a few more Arab neighbors who belong to the same real-estate resistance club. Their complaints, including eye-witness reports by soldiers, are lodged with the “proper authorities”, and there they rest in peace.

By the way, my ticket to these homes was thru a small group of Jewish peace activists called “B’nei Avraham”. The few of them who I met contain a mixture of “Chiloni-Shenken” with “Dati former-Settlers”. They concentrate specifically on Hevron with its biblical connection to Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac – therefore “B’nei Avraham”. How easily so many of our Jews wish to forget that Abraham was also the father of Ishmael (the elder son ! ).

O.K. enough. I haven’t yet touched base with many other words written by your friend and which seem very odd and difficult within our complicated conflict. Yet have no doubt, they are not the voice of a minority. To my great sorrow. As to my own impressions and thoughts (and beliefs) about our conflict, I think that I’ve barely scraped the surface, but I also never meant to turn this letter to you into a dragged out piece of frustration. So I shall stop and let you breath – if you managed to stay tuned in this long.

My very very best to you.
Please keep well……and in touch.

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