Parashat Hayei Sarah: Hebron, City of Refuge, where Violence Goes to Die

This Shabbat, Jews the world over read Parashat Hayei Sarah (Bereishit 23:1-25:18), opening with the detailed narration of Sarah’s death and Avraham’s negotiated purchase of the Cave of Machpela from local Hittites as a burial ground.  Thousands of Jews will converge upon the contemporary city of Hebron, for a sort of annual, National-Religious Woodstock packing in with the several hundred Israeli citizens who have maintained a settlement there since the first few refused government orders to leave after Pesach of 1968.  This festival takes place annually on this parashah, which is seen by the organizers as the proof of the sole and eternal Jewish ownership over Hebron. The basic thrust of the Torah at the heart of the claim is something like this:  Avraham bought this land for a lot of money before lots of witnesses and the Torah is the contract to it.  Therefore, it’s ours, always.  Others who may reside here — ie the Palestinians — are trespassers.  This argument justifies the violence to which the 177,000 Palestinian Hebronites are regularly subjected.

I think that this Torah argument is pretty peculiar:  even if the Torah is accepted as a legally-actionable historical record of contract law, it’s entirely unclear why it would preclude any future contract transactions in the area; or why the purchase of the Cave environs would be taken to cover a whole, much larger, metropolitan area 3500 years later; or why all future descendants of the purchaser would be equal and exclusive inheritors to that plot; and by “all future descendants” we mean the descendants of one of his sons, Isaac, and not the other son, Ishmael.  I would like to explore a richer and fuller picture of the legacy of the city of Hebron as we have learned it from the Tanakh and our Sages.  This piece should be viewed as a part of a larger effort called Project Hayei Sarah — a several-years-old initiative of a number of Torah educators disturbed by the disgrace done in the name of Torah that is today’s Hebron — to teach a more responsible and truthful Torah about this historically rich city.

The 35th chapter of Bemidbar legislates that six cities be appointed as cities of refuge, three cities on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west side of the Jordan.  Open to Israelites as well as for resident aliens, these six cities were to be a refuge for anyone who kills someone accidentally, so they could to flee there and be safe from vengeful relatives of the victim. More »

We’ll take off our shtreimls if you put on more clothes…

I'd rather go nude than take off my shtreiml

I'd rather go nude than take off my shtreiml

Most of the world is perfectly fine with Pamela Anderson taking off her clothes. I admit I am. So are most of the Israeli men oggling her figure while the blond bombshell visits Israel this week as a judge on the Israeli version of ‘Dancing with the Stars.’

One might assume correctly that Israeli Hardeidim would feel otherwise, and indeed when Anderson visited the Kotel she managed to cover herself appropriately enough not to rile its self-appointed guardians.

But Anderson’s agenda in Israel was not limited to television appearances. She is an advocate for PETA’s anti-fur efforts and as luck would have it Israel’s Animal Welfare Law bans the import of real fur products.

The catch?  The bill has been stymied by United Torah Judaism’s MK Moses, a Shtreiml-wearing Belzer Hasid. Shtreimls are those funny looking fur hats worn by many men in several hasidic sects. And many a hasid is loathe to set aside their beloved head pelt. So what if its 90 degrees in the shade in Mea Shaarim? It would be sacrilege to shun the shtreiml.

And so it would seem that Anderson’s efforts to try and convince the Haredim holding up the bill to give up their shtreimls are for naught… Doubly so because if anyone is going to avert their eyes and ears from the charms of this shalicha, its Hareidim.

There are of course a multitude of other sorts of fur hats worn as well, notably the spodik, worn mostly by Gerers. The Gerer Rebbe, however, issued a chumra on the purchase of actual fur spodiks, as they are a sign of ostentation. Gerers wear phauz fur spodiks. Say that ten times fast…

So there is precedence of adopting altern-hat-ives among hasidim.  If she really wants to get the Hasidim to take off their fur, Pamela should maybe offer up the possibility of dressing tznius all the time… Or better yet, threaten not to and to parade around the Kotel again. The Hareidim would of course have a predictable response, but it might also have an unintended consequence- thousands of Chilonim thronging to the Kotel…

Ironically, there’s a wonderful related post on this by YESHA spokesman Yisrael Medad. And some nice pictures too, one of which is above.

And the king took off his ring and gave it to Haman

Today’s disinformation missive from David Wilder, Jewish Hebron’s propaganda minister, was titled “Despite the violence, Hebron’s children begin Purim.”

There is no hint of the insidious irony in that tag, as it is the violence of the Jewish community in Hebron which we are all mourning.

New Fascism-Tourism Opportunity

From the website of the Jewish Community of Hebron:

hebron_screen_grab_editHebron, the ultimate family experience in Israel!
Isn’t it about time you took your children to visit your great-grandparents in Hebron?
New armored buses, inspiring guides like Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, Yossi Baumol & David Wilder, Hebron’s historic sites and our pioneering spirit – all come together to make this tour your most moving day in Israel!
Celebrate Jewish history with those who keep writing it!

New armored buses—what else do you need?

HOLY SHIT, Haaretz gets copy of Israeli settlement database

UN Map of the West Bank settlements 2006I hope the implications of this event don’t get buried in other news, because this stands to blow the settlement project’s lies out of the water for good: Haaretz reports it has a copy of the Israeli government’s database of settlement construction — including Palestinian land appropriation, building violations, and illegal settlements. Read the lengthy Haaretz article and a report from the database (Hebrew).

Among the information revealed:

-  In about 75 percent of settlements, construction occurred without permits or contrary to the permits that were issued.

-  In more than 30 settlements, “extensive construction” — roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas, and even police stations – has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents. (Approx. 120 full settlements exist, plus 12 East Jerusalem settlements, and over 100 outposts, according to Peace Now.)

This contradicts the government’s claims, mainly “Israel’s actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law – Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements.”

The settlement legitimacy question has changed, and thank God it’s less of a question. More »

Occupying the language

During the evacuation of Yamit, in 1982, I was listening to the radio in my dorm room in Yeshivat Har Etzion. This was during the time that Yaakov Ariel was down in Yamit acting the Rosh Yeshiva [Head of the Yeshiva] of his newly founded yeshivah, trying to convince Israeli soldiers not to follow orders to evacuate the settlers of Yamit. Most of the settlers took their checks, left peacefully and tried to rebuild their lives elsewhere.

On this day, a reporter was interviewing a settler, a religious settler, who had just been forcibly evacuated, with his family, from Yamit. The settler was angry, crying, screaming. The reporter asked the settler if the trauma that they were causing to the country as a whole was worth it. The settler replied: “What about the trauma caused to my young children who forcibly removed from their home?!” The reporter then asked the obvious follow-up question: “How long have you lived in Yamit?” “Three weeks” was the answer.

Language is often a casualty of tyranny and terror. The house in Hebron which bears a sign which reads “God gave Israel to the Jews” is called the “House of Peace” by the Jewish community of Hebron.
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Video sampling of Hebron in the last couple of days

click below for three videos of incidents in Hebron of recent: settlers firing upon Palestinians, soldiers and police evacuating residents of the “Peace House” and one shot from the roof of the house. More »

Dispatches from another planet

So, for some unknown reason, I am on the email list of the “Jewish community of Hebron”. As a result of this good fortune I receive an email two or three times a week from David Wilder, the spokesperson of the community. This morning my inbox brought me Mr. Wilder’s response to Nicholas Kristof’s column in today’s New York Times (mentioned here). I won’t rehearse Wilder’s “arguments” (which seem to consist of repeating a version of “x is exaggerated” or “y is a fairy tale”) which are available here.
The telling thing about his response is his opening paragraph:

Nicholas D. Kristof called me a few days ago and we spoke for a while on the phone. Obviously he visited Hebron, but did not see fit to interview me at the time, preferring a phone conversation. That fact, in and of itself, is unfortunate, for had he spent some time with me on site, seeing Hebron through Jewish-Israeli eyes also, perhaps his column would have been written differently.

“Seeing Hebron through Jewish-Israeli eyes.” Since Kristof seems to have spent time with many apparently Jewish Israelis, it seems that Wilder does not consider people who care about Palestinian human rights, or who work for or with B’Tzelem, or who volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians to be Jewish-Israelis.
This brings to mind a Shabbat I spent in Hebron in the mid-80s. It was pre-first Intifada Hebron and therefore Jewish settlers could swagger through the Arab markets brandishing AK-47s with impunity. I spent Friday night with the Levingers. Over Shabbat dinner, Moshe Levinger told us that Israel should, in fact, invade Jordan since it was Eretz Yisrael but that the time was not right. This was just a few years before he was arrested and convicted of shooting towards shops in the Arab market at random, killing Khayed Salah, a 42 year old Hebron shopkeeper, after Palestinians threw stones at his car.
The Jewish settlers in Hebron have created a religion which is foreign to the traditions of our ancestors. The open question is, as Jeffrey Goldberg asked in an important 2004 New Yorker piece, will they destroy Israel?

The Right Way to Criticize Israel

It is here in the Palestinian territories that you see the worst side of Israel . . . Yet it is also here that you see the very best side of Israel.

Alright, there’s nothing Earth shattering here. No brand new observation that we haven’t seen before, but Nicholas Kristoff does it right today. Too often our friends on the right laud Israel’s greatness while ignoring the underbelly, and too often our friends on the left scourge Israel for its mistakes, while missing it’s beauty. If you want a balanced opinion, read Mr. Kristoff’s essay. It’s an easy read, and it’s good for the soul.

Gaza

Wow. Estimates of the number of people who went from Gaza to Egypt today range from 200,000 to 350,000 (out of a total population of 1.5 million).

I’m probably missing something big, but I’m finding it hard to see how this isn’t a good thing for both Israel and Palestinians. The right-winger in me says that after 60 years, maybe this will finally force Egypt to take some responsibility for the situation in Gaza, and the left-winger in me says that Gaza is a shithole so who wouldn’t want to leave. We’re not talking about the West Bank, with ancestral villages and olive groves and such.

Whether one sees all Palestinians as terrorists, or whether one sees them as human beings to whom the Israeli government has a responsibility as long as they’re living in Israeli-controlled territory, one way or the other it seems like Israel is better off letting this be Egypt’s problem.

Firm that sold settlers contested house in Hebron suspected of forgery

Surprise, surprise! Haaretz reports,

The company that facilitated the purchase of the disputed house in Hebron occupied by settlers is currently the subject of a police probe. Police suspect the company of forgery and fraud in purchases performed before the transaction of the contested house.

Police are investigating two purchases after which settlers moved into houses in the West Bank city owned by Palestinians.

The company is suspected of forging documents on the two purchases as well as fraud. The purchase of the house occupied since March 19 by settlers in Hebron is not currently being investigated by the police because no evidence suggesting criminal activity has been presented.

Full story.

International Zionist groups back petition against settler actions in Hebron


Katie Miranda

Coming on the heels of the recent controversy surrounding settler incitement against Palestinians in Hebron, the Alternative Information Center (an independent Israeli-Palestinian news agency) reports,

On the evening of Monday, March 19, 2007 around 200 settlers from Kiryat Arba’ and other small outposts and settlements in Hebron city, occupied a building belonging to Fayez Rajabi and Mohammed Baradi’ee.

The building is located to the west the Kiryat Arba’ settlement, on the main road that leads to the center of the city, in an area called al-Ras. The large building, measuring 300 sq. meters in total, is three floors; it holds six individual apartments and 16 shops on the ground level, in addition to an empty hall on the second floor.

The settlers acted under the protection of Israeli soldiers and the police. During the occupation of the building, the settlers threw stones at other houses and the main road was closed off for Palestinians.

The settlers claim they bought the land on which the building is built on. The owner of the house said he purchased this land 16 years ago from the original owner and has all the documentation to prove it.

The ISM is providing live updates from Hebron as events transpire.

Last Tuesday, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres denounced the settlers as having created an “unbearable situation” for Palestinians in Hebron. Nonetheless, upon visiting the occupied building, MK Otniel Schneller, a member of Peres’ own Kadima party, said that “the takeover of the house was consistent with Kadima’s policy, and that the party viewed a Hebron settlement bloc as part of a future peace agreement.” On Sunday, dozens of Israeli activists gathered near the house in protest. No action has yet been taken by the government against the settlers.

More »