February 2, 2000
Kevin had told me not to waste my time. My Israeli friends looked at me in surprise when I told them I was headed to Kiryat Arba, in Hebron, one of the best-known Jewish settlements in the West Bank. My Palestinian friends, on the other hand, got quiet. There was a strange look in their eyes-one of fear mixed with sadness. What is it about these settlers that inspires such reactions?
Kiryat Arba has been in the news a lot recently. One reason is that its settlers have been threatening to tear down the home of a Palestinian man named Omar Sultan. They claim the home is on their land, and therefore illegal. Mr. Sultan says the land is his. A few weeks ago, the situation came to a head when the settlers spent the night marching around the house with torches and tearing down the stone walls in the fields. Kevin and I wentn the next day and found a few dozen peace activists protecting the house from further damage.
The extra layer of bulletproof glass on the windows made it difficult to see the countryside I was passing through, but I could make out the now familiar site of rocky hills with olive trees, and a few grape orchards. After about 45 minutes and two army checkpoints, we passed through a huge gate next to a military encampment, and I was on the hill above Hebron, in Kiryat Arba.
Sitting in an armchair in the sun, she began to tell me the history of Kiryat Arba in her sweet British accent. "It starts from the twenty-third chapter of Genesis, second verse," she began, "when Sarah dies, and Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah as a place to bury her."
"Whoa!" I thought. "This is going to be a loooong story!"
First, she told me of the Biblical significance of Hebron, as the location of the Garden of Eden and the burial site of four important Biblical couples: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.
Right now, the theory behind the peace process-or, as it was called by the people I met here in Kiryat Arba, the "so-called peace process"-is that Palestinians will gradually gain more and more autonomy within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israelis will gain peace and security in exchange for giving up control of that land. But as you can see by Rachel's opinion, which is shared by many religious (and some secular ) Jews, this idea is not popular with all Israelis.
This is no small problem here in Israel, and it is one of the major "obstacles" in the peace process. For some of the 200,000 people who live in the settlements of the Occupied Territories, their goal is to hold onto more land, in order to have a "greater Israel"t; with more "security." But for the religious Jews like Rachel and Baruch, the land of Judea and Samaria-which is the current West Bank- was given to them by God. Unlike Tel Aviv and most of what is Israel proper, what we call the "Occupied West Bank" is considered by the Torah as the "Promised Land." Arafat, Clinton and Barak may be good negotiators, but it's hard to compromise with a 4,000-year-old promise from God.
"We believe in peace as much, maybe even more, than most places," Rachel told me. "We 'shalom' for goodbye and hello. But peace is not at the expense of life. Hebron is not just a museum for dead Jews; it is a place for the living."
Since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, Hebron has seen frequent violence, from both sides. When I asked Rachel about Baruch Goldstein, the man who gunned down the men praying at the mosque, she pulled out two photocopied papers for me to read. The first was a list of all the violence that had occurred in Hebron against Jews-from throwing rocks to stabbings to gas bombs-between the start of the Intifada and the day Goldstein entered the mosque.
The other paper was an announcement to the people of Kiryat Arba, warning them of a suspected Arab siege on their settlement, and recommending that they stock up on food and be careful. "That was released the day before the shootings," she explained. "He may have been fearing an attack by Hamas, a pogrom, another massacre...He felt he had to save the Jews, because in Purim, many Jews would have been in the Cave of Machpelah, and he had to do something to save the Jews."
'Well, uh, that's an interesting way to view a massacre,' I thought to myself. But this again calls to mind one very important fact that's all too easy for a young non-Jew like me to forget: the Holocaust still sits very heavy on the minds of most Jews, and the "never again" attitude can, at times, lead them to do things that seem extreme.
My trip to Kiryat Arba balances, for me, my conversation with the spokesman of Hamas, the radical Islamic group that is also against the "so-called peace process" (from a Palestinian perspective). It is ironic for me how similar in many ways their ideologies are. Check it out hebron for more information.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica - Suffering in Your Daily Life, the Dheisheh Refugee Camp
Jasmine - Where's Jazzy?
Abeja - Interview with a Terrorist?
Abeja - May Palestine Find Peace
Team - Meeting the Challenges? The Israeli-Syrian Peace Negotiations
Kavitha - Kavi Gets MAD With Art
Time Machine | Multimedia and Special Guests
Home | Search | Teacher Zone | Odyssey Info