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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

It Says Right Here: Israeli Settlers Cite the Bible as Their Source
February 2, 2000

Waiting for the bus, bundled up against the cold wind on the road out of Jerusalem to Hebron. Several Arab minibuses passed, headed my way. I didn't get on them. This time, I'm not going to the Arab side of town.

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.

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Baruch shows me a painting in his home.
The second reason Kiryat Arba has been in the news is that the Israeli government recently tore down a memorial around the grave of a man named Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein, a doctor from Brooklyn who lived at Kiryat Arba, is considered a terrorist-or a martyr, depending on your point of view. In 1994, he entered the mosque in Hebron and opened fire on the Muslim men praying inside, killing 29 and injuring many before he was beaten to death. Today, the government says that memorials to terrorists are illegal and incite violence. The front page of the paper showed Goldstein's father lying on top of his son's grave, protecting it from the IDF (Israeli Defense Force), which had come to dismantle the memorial.

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the road to Hebron passes through olive groves in the rocky West Bank.
Bus #160 pulled up, and it was so full that the driver motioned me to enter through the back door. I squeezed in between army fatigues and Uzis. Looking around the standing-room only bus, I counted only three other people who weren't in military uniform. Yep, this is the right bus!

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.


Here is the land of Palestine-
Palestine here I come.
Land of Israel, Israel's land-
That's where I belong.
The country, the state and the people-
One is all-all is one.

     Whoever else is living here
     is living in my home.

Some neighbors may be friendly,
while others may be not.
There are those I like to be with-
And those who hate a lot.

     And while hating me and fighting
     someone may get shot.

There are laws I have to follow,
as a citizen of the state-
They provide for me, protect me,
safeguard mine and my country's peace.

     But when those laws are denied and abused
     by those who are wielding the power.

Then I'll still keep those laws
which are God's and are mine-
and Heaven knows what will happen meantime-
for His wonders will never cease.

It looked normal enough. There were a bank, a grocery store, playgrounds and municipal buildings, plus many apartment complexes built of the same white stone that made much of Jerusalem. On the third floor of Building One, grandmotherly Rachel answered the door with a smile, and welcomed me into her cozy living room full of plants and pictures.

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.

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The settlement of Kiryat Arba overlooks the town of Hebron.
"There are three places in the world which no one can tell me don't belong to the Jewish people," she said. "Hebron, Jerusalem and Shechem," (now called Nablus). In Genesis, it clearly states that the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron was bought by Abraham about 4,000 years ago, with old Israeli shekels, for his descendents for eternity. These three towns are the only ones that have had a continuous Jewish community living in them since Biblical times. "They were bought with real money!" Rachel explained. And that, in a nutshell, is the logic behind the existence of this settlement of 6,000-7,000 Israeli settlers, from over 40 different countries, here near Hebron.

Vocabulary Box

dismantle - take apart
autonomy -freedom to govern oneself
secular - non-religious
Hasidic Jew - member of a Jewish sect of mystics who emphasize joyful worship
Intifada - Palestinian uprising
Purim - holiday honoring the deliverance of Jews from a massacre
Holocaust -the destruction of millions of Jews by the Nazis
ideologies -thinking of an idealistic nature
Most everyone we've spoken with since we've been in Israel and Palestine supports, at least in theory, the current peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I came here to find another side to the story, and I found it.

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.

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Baruch paints religious themes, like this representation of the three 
cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, and Shechem (Nablus)
"They are giving Jewish lands to the armies of Arafat!" exclaimed Baruch Nachshon, an Hasidic Jew and famous painter who lives at Kiryat Arba.

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."

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Rachel showed me around Kiryat Arba, despite the cold and rain.
Kiryat Arba has been around since 1968, when a group of religious Jews, led by a man named Rabbi Levinger, returned to Hebron and refused to leave. The original Jewish community had fled in 1929 after the Arabs massacred 68 of them. Baruch and his wife Sarah were one of the seven original families that defied the Israeli government in order to return a Jewish presence to Hebron.

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Rachel shows me a photo of her grandson, who is being raised in another Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Rachel tells me the story of reclaiming parts of Hebron for the Jews, and the creation of Kiryat Arba, all mixed in with Biblical references and divine symbolism. What for Muslims and secular Israelis seems like antagonism and fanaticism, for Rachel was divinely inspired and heroic. She even shared with me her poetry, something that speaks to the heart, and I found myself understanding and impressed...a little.

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

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