Monday, July 26, 2004

Chains of Freedom or Chains of Slavery

Chains of Freedom or Chains of Slavery
July 26, 2004

Yesterday witnessed two key happenings, both centered around Gush Katif, but whose significances far supercede one land area in Israel.

The first of these events stretched out over 90 kilometers, that’s some 56 miles, from Gush Katif in Gaza to the old city of Jerusalem, to the Wall, the Kotel. Somewhere between 150 to 200,000 people joined hands at seven o’clock in the evening, singing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, ‘The Hope’.

This huge human chain, possibly the longest of its kind in the world, represented a number of things.

First of all, the fact that so many men, women and children  stopped what they were doing, and traveled to different places, (almost 1,000 buses participated in this event), standing on the sides of road for over two hours, from before five in the afternoon until seven at night, is an amazing feat, in and of itself. Anybody ever trying to organize a mass rally, attempting to bring tens of thousands of people together in one place, at one time, knows how difficult it is to achieve such an occurrence. But to manage hundreds of thousands people, stretched out over almost a hundred kilometers, that has never ever before been done in Israel. I’m not sure it was ever done, anywhere in the world.  There has to be tremendous motivation, both on the side of the organizers and on the side of the participants, to succeed in such a huge venture. And yesterday, succeed it did.

Waving Israeli flags, singing songs about Eretz Yisrael, waving at the helicopters filming from overhead, this human chain signified the single greatest protest to Ariel Sharon’s plans to uproot some 7,500 people from their homes in Gush Katif and abandon that land to Israel’s bloodthirsty archenemy, whose stated goal is not to be the recipient of Gush Katif, rather it is to be the beneficiary of the other side of the procession, Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the most sacred site in the world. I have no doubt that these two hundred thousand people represented well over a million, if not more, Israelis, and multitudes around the world who cringe at the thought of acquiescing to terrorist killers, whose plans include declaration of a palestinian state encompassing the entire State of Israel. How can Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, cut itself off from its G-d-given land, expel its own citizens, and relinquish Eretz Israel to terrorist murderers?

These masses, by their very presence on the roads from Gush Katif to Jerusalem, without threats, without violence, without blood-curling chants, voiced their undivided opposition to the Chamberlanization of Israel, trying to appease an enemy whose appetite will never be satisfied until it has consumed everything, lock, stock and barrel.

Yet this colossal human chain was more than a mere demonstration. It represented the unity of Eretz Yisrael, and the importance of all parts of the land, be it small towns in Gush Katif, or the city of Jerusalem itself. It embodied the belief that all of the Land of Israel, from Metulla in the north to Eilat in the south, Hebron, Beit El, Kfar Darom, Netzarim, Morag – it is all one. Just as a human being cannot amputate a foot without affecting his arms, so too, we cannot chop off Gush Katif from our collective body without influencing the rest of the land, the rest of the country.

It was more than symbolic that this gigantic show of unity occurred only two days before the ninth of Av, Tisha b’Av, the day marking the destruction of the first and second Temples, the latter some 1,983 years ago. These days, more than anything else in our history, represent the very opposite of Jewish unity, and also are a remembrance of the first rejection of Eretz Yisrael, so many thousands of years ago, following the redemption from Egypt. At that time, Moses’ spies returned from viewing the land, wailed, claiming that Eretz Yisrael is a land of giants, a land which devours its inhabitants. They convinced almost all the people, who ripped their clothing and too, wept into the night. It was then, the first time Am Yisrael rejected its land, that G-d decreed that that day, later to be known as Tisha b’Av, would be a day of weeping and wailing throughout the generations.

How can it be that today, having returned to our land, to Eretz Yisrael, we too can still weep and wail at our presence in the land, rejecting the heavenly gift, granted us for eternity by the L-rd?

Yesterday’s chain was a repetition of the words of Joshua and Kalev, who repudiated the evil slander of the other ten spies and exalted, ‘it is a wonderful land, a very very good land, which of course we can conquer.’

That was one very significant event which occurred yesterday.

But as I opened, there was something else that happened, late yesterday afternoon. At the peak of the ‘chain celebration’ Arab terrorists shot missiles into Gush Katif. One of them landed and exploded near children playing at the Neve Dekalim community center. Six children were injured, including a ten year old who was seriously wounded.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, Ariel Sharon still does not understand that Israel is at war. The war for independence did not end in 1949. We are still fighting for our existence. Our enemy desires our total destruction, our entire expulsion from our land. So many miracles occur daily in Gush Katif – only days ago an Arab-shot missile burrowed into a bedroom where a mother and her three children were sleeping. Only a Divine miracle prevented a huge tragedy. And so it is, virtually every day. Yesterday, a 10 year old little boy wasn’t so lucky. He will carry the scars of another Arab attempt at murder for the rest of his life.

Israel has to make a fateful choice. We have two alternatives: We can declare our love for our land, for all our land, and united, stand up to all those who want to destroy us and take our land from us. Or, G-d forbid, we can become servants to those very enemies, kowtowing to their every demand, living according to their threats and blackmail, - ‘do this, give us that – OR ELSE!’

We can bond together in a chain of freedom, or we can be bound by a chain of slavery. It is our choice and our choice alone. In my mind, the answer is clear.

With blessings from Hebron.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Come On, Rape Me

July 19, 2004

The week opened with all sorts of wonderful events. New coalition talks: meetings between Peres and Sharon; Labor-Likud negotiators squabbling over economics and cabinet positions; Shas huddling with the Likud demanding: Dump Shinui; Agudat Yisrael toying with an original idea: accepting a ministerial post in the government. Everyone is expected to get what he wants, especially Ariel Sharon: a majority government, permitting him to rule for another two years. And all for a sale price: Eretz Yisrael goes cheap!
And let’s not forget our favorite National Religious Party – in Hebrew, the “Mafdal” or NRP. What do they have to say? Of course the two ‘brave souls,’ Effie Eitam and Rabbi Yitzhak Levy have already taken the giant step, having resigned their ministerial posts and abandoned Sharon’s slimy ship. Yet others still remain, hanging on at all costs, stuck to their chairs. And what is really important to them? NRP minister Zevulun Or-Lev, battling Effie Eitam for leadership of the party, made headlines on Sunday morning. Why? What did he demand? Did he insist that all ‘disengagement’ talks from Gush Katif be stopped immediately, due to the massive ‘chaos’ in Gaza, as so described by the resigning PA Prime Minister Abu Ala? Did he blast Sharon for commencing talks with Peres and Co? Did he question Shinui’s continued membership in the government? No. None of these factors interest him. What he did request was that Shinui not receive another minister in the cabinet, replacing the disgraced Yosef Pariztky, fired for alleged criminal shenanigans. Or-Lev claimed that Paritzky’s, exclusion from the ranks of his party bring Shinui down from 15 mandates to 14, thereby reducing the number of ministers allowed from that party from five to four. That’s first on Or-Lev’s wish list this week. Really important, compared to everything else that’s happening in Israel. Impressive, for a guy who’s supposed to be smart and claims leadership of his party.
Why is Labor interested? That’s easy. Shimon has ants in his pants. He cannot sit by and watch his old buddy Arik get credit for emptying the Land of Israel of some of its extremist settlers, an event he’s wanted to accomplish for years. He too wants his name in the history books.
In addition, Peres still smells the Prime Minister’s office. He intends to campaign for Labor leadership, in order to run again for the premiership. He realizes that his chances will be much improved coming from a position of strength, i.e., a position of leadership, proving to his electorate that, without Shimon Peres, Israel would not be able to rid itself of Gaza.
What about Shas? What’s their excuse? That too is not difficult to solve. First of all, they must avenge the wounds inflicted by Shinui. After all, Tommy Lapid’s party is virulently anti-religious, almost anti-Jewish. They announced loud and clear: ‘we will not participate in a coalition with Shas or Agudat Yisrael.’ Shinui has done everything possible to take money from religious affairs, yeshivas, etc. Now, Shas smells blood. They want revenge. They want in, with Shinui out. At any cost. Even at the cost of Eretz Yisrael.
Of course, we cannot ignore money, power, and political struggles. Eli Yishai needs to prove himself, to prove that he too is a master political manipulator, that he too can squeeze money from the Likud, and that he deserves to continue on the throne of the Shas party. A leader can only accomplish such goals from within, not from the outside. So he wants in, even if that means that Gush Katif is out.
And what about Agudat Yisrael? They too have a sharpened sense of smell. Dollars, shekels, whatever currency you like, have a distinct odor. And money tends to attract. Need more be said?
But the real scoundrels are our friends with the knitted skullcaps on their heads, the National Religious Party. After all, they are keeping Sharon in the Prime Minister’s office. Without their votes, it might have been possible to bring Sharon down, evicting him from his office before he could complete his dirty deed. But no, they insist on providing much needed legitimacy to Arik’s abandonment from Gaza. How can they, or how can anyone else in the religious camp, complain about Shas or Agudat Yisrael, two other religious parties closing a deal with Sharon, when the “political symbol” of Eretz Yisrael is stubbornly insisting that they can ‘influence from inside.’ How can anyone demand that Shas and Agudat Yisrael keep out with the NRP in?
That’s one side of the coin. The other is, without a doubt, Arik himself. The question marks and exclamation points are so vivid, it’s difficult to comprehend his obstinacy. The past few days have witnessed total upheaval in Arab Gaza. Razi Jabali, head of Arafat-terrorist security, was kidnapped on Friday. Jabali, a known killer who has an outstanding arrest warrant hanging over his head in Israel, was grabbed by other Arab terrorist forces because of PA “corruption.” Arafat achieved his release by firing him from his position as PA security chief. When his replacement was announced, Yasir’s nephew, Mussa Arafat, Arabs took to the streets in Gaza, rejecting the appointment. Several others were kidnapped and released in Gaza, including western peace activists. There is no Palestinian Authority – this so-called framework, if it ever did exist, has totally disintegrated. And this is all before Arafat’s demise. When he goes, the remains of the PA are going to fireball, engulfing Gaza and much of the Arab-occupied cities and villages in Judea and Samaria. The ensuing power struggle will include not only kidnapping; it will involve killing, killing and more killing. After all, that’s how the Arabs get things done.
With all this, Arik is giving the green light – let’s get out as fast as possible, uproot the Jews, flee from Gaza, and let them worry about themselves. Without giving a thought to the repercussions of such a conflagration on Israel, on how many lives it will cost us!
Arik doesn’t want to go it alone. Somewhere, in the back of his head, is a little red light, blinking on and off, warning him. So he wants someone to hold his hand, someone who can share the blame when things get out of hand – like Shimon, Shas, Agudat Yisrael and the NRP the more the merrier.
Ariel Sharon reminds me of a woman who wants to be a prostitute, but is afraid to stand on the street corner and sell herself. So what does she do? She dresses in really skimply clothing, showing just about everything, and strolls around the wrong part of the city. In her actions, she is teasing and inviting, suggesting to the lucky guy, ‘come on, rape me.’ That’s what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is doing – he is prostituting Israel, begging the Arabs: Come on, rape me!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Keep Your Spirits UP

July 12, 2004

During my Israel National Radio weekly show, “Blessings from Hebron,” (first broadcast every Monday at 5:00 PM Israel time –, I interviewed Hebron resident Yifat Alkobi, who spoke about Shalhevet’s father and Uncle, Itzik Pass and Matti Shvu, both of whom are still in jail and are being denied the basic rights afforded to other prisoners. I again repeat, a new web site has been established, including an online petition calling for their release, and until then, demanding that they be allowed periodic vacations, as are permitted murderers, rapists and others. The web site address is: – please send this address to all your friends and ask them to sign the petition and send it on to their friends. The goal is to obtain at least 5,000 signatures, which will be presented to Israeli president Moshe Katzav, who has the power to pardon the two men.

In addition, the phone and fax numbers of Katzav, Internal Security minister Tzachi HaNegbi and Shabak (intelligence) chief, Avi Dichter, (via the Prime Minister’s office), are posted. Please call and fax these men – it is imperative to let them know that the public, in Israel and around the world, cares about the fate of Itzik Pass and Matti Shvu. Recently President Katzav, together with Justice Minister Tommy Lapid, decided to reduce the sentences of terrorists ‘with blood on their hands,’ i.e. murderers, including Shalhevet Pass’ killer. How is it possible that Israel shows mercy to these creatures, while torturing bereaved families? The continued incarceration of Pass and Shvu, and the denial of visits home, is clearly torture, both to the men, their wives and children and their parents. They have clearly suffered enough. It is time to let them go home.
Yifat also spoke about her own trial, brought about due to a protest, together with three other women, following the Uzeri home on Hill 26, almost two years ago. It should be remembered that Nati Uzeri was murdered in this home, just outside Kiryat Arba, in front of his wife and children. Only a few months later, in the dark of night, Israeli security forces illegally destroyed the house, evicting the widow and orphans, and pulling shack down upon all its belongings. Yifat and the other women, protesting this atrocity, were arrested for being present in a ‘closed military zone,’ as it was so declared, and for ‘abandoning their children,’ as a result of keeping their children with them during the protest.
Now I would like to add on a third episode, which Yifat did not speak about. About a month and a half ago the Hebron police arrested fifteen year old Akiva Lebovitch. He was charged with various ‘crimes’ in Hebron. During the interrogation, the police demanded that Akiva be fingerprinted and photographed, for police records. When he refused to submit to the police request, he was taken to court, where a hearing was held. The prosecutor told the judge that the police were willing to forgo the fingerprints, because no fingerprints were found at the site of the crime. The judge, hearing this, ruled that Akiva need not be fingerprinted.

Last week, the police called the Lebovitch home and asked that Akiva return to the station for a further, brief interrogation. Despite the fact that such telephone requests are not official and non-binding, Akiva’s parents decided to comply. When Akiva arrived at the police station, he was told that now he must supply fingerprints to the interrogators. Having already been subjected to this demand, and following the court ruling which denied the police Akiva’s fingerprints, the youth refused. Upon his refusal, the police handcuffed the fifteen year old, and again took him to court, demanding that he comply with the fingerprint demand. He was cuffed for several hours before the court session began. The demand, according to the police representative, was based upon ‘new evidence.’ When asked why a fifteen year old had been handcuffed for several hours, the police representative replies, ‘the handcuffing was justified because Akiva was
‘disrupting a police investigation.’
The judge ruled that the arrest was illegal. Akiva’s father is now suing the police for 30,000 shekels for false arrest.
It should be noted that Akiva’s brother Elazar, was murdered by terrorists almost two years ago, on the eve of his twenty-first birthday. Elazar was killed by the same terrorists who shot and killed three members of the Dickstein family from Psagot. In a couple of weeks, on the anniversary of the killings, the Dicksteins and the Lebovitch’s will sponsor a joint memorial march to the site of the murders, which will be followed by a special Torah class (Tish) conducted by Rabbi Moti Elon and a concert of ‘songs that Elazar loved.’
Following these three horror stories, you ask, ‘so, what’s the good news?”
You might expect that episodes such as those just described might paralyze people in Hebron. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Almost all the children and teenagers in Hebron are participating in this summer’s recreation/camp program, either as campers or as counselors. Tomorrow I’m one of the adult escorts for a children’s two-day venture to the upper Galil – hiking, canoeing, getting wet, and having fun. Hebron’s women are leaving on an annual ‘women’s vacation,’ enjoying a few days without husbands or kids, or anyone else to bother them, (yes, including the police!)
This summer, Hebron is full of people, literally. This past Shabbat afternoon, dozens of guests walked the streets, visiting friends and participating in a tour of the Kasba, led by Noam Arnon. I toured with a group of about 25 people, mostly from the Machon Meir Jewish Studies Center in Jerusalem. A middle-aged woman who joined the group told me that she only discovered her Judaism less than two years ago. As soon as she realized that she belonged to the people of Israel, she left the United States and made Aliyah. This Shabbat was her first trip to Hebron. Wow!
And Shabbat isn’t the only time people visit. We have busloads of people here every day of the week. Our director of tourism, Simcha Hochbaum (, really has his hands full. We have Hebron-initiated tours from Jerusalem on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And usually there are others on private tours the other days. Remember, last week I told you about the special Hebron Fund mission, from August 7th to 13th – Sunday to Friday. You can get more information by calling 718-677-6886.
So, despite it all, there are good things too. This summer promises to be a lot of fun for young and old alike, with, hopefully, much good news. So keep your spirits up, and together with us, have a good time.
With blessings from Hebron.

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Living What You Believe and Believing What you Live

July 4, 2004

Yesterday afternoon I was guiding two journalists around Hebron, showing them the sites, so to speak. One of them is the bureau chief of the New York Times, James Bennett, together with a columnist for the International Herald Tribune, Roger Cohen. A few interesting things happened during the couple of hours we spent talking and touring that I’d like to relate to you.
Perhaps the most impressive part of our wandering had nothing to do with any of us. Rather, it was a young, 23-year old we met, guarding at the entrance to Tel Rumeida. Hearing us talking, he asked in very fluent English where we were from. His accent was definitely not Israeli, but distinctly American. This fellow, I’ll call him P.K. for the sake of this article, is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He’s been in Israel for little over 18 months, is not yet a citizen, rather is here on a student visa, and here he is, serving in the IDF in Hebron. I told him that I don’t thing I’ve ever met a Jew from Milwaukee in Hebron before.
Every once in a while I bump into people like P.K.. He’s serving in through a program called Machal, which is a volunteer plan for ‘not yet’ Israeli citizens who want to serve their people. In his words, “I was studying philosophy and Jewish history in a United States university, watching buses blow up here. Kind of a bummer.”
So P.K., rather than continuing to watch buses blow up from afar, took action. He came to serve in the Israeli army. A real, honest-to-goodness soldier, just like everyone else. I won’t specify his job, but it carries real responsibility, and not a little danger.
Fortunately P.K. isn’t alone is his Zionistic idealism. A few years ago I wrote an article about a similar soldier named Ari, who too, hadn’t yet made official Aliyah. A couple of weeks ago I met Ari again, for the first time is several years. Today, a full-fledged Israeli, he is studying for a Masters at Bar-Ilan University. And he hasn’t lost his idealism either. When the army refused to take him into the reserves, he signed a form volunteering for IDF reserve duty for twenty years.
Just so that you understand, many Israelis will do anything they can to get out of reserve service. And here, Ari is doing exactly the opposite. Believe me, it’s people like P.K. and Ari that keep me going.
That brings me to my second point. I’m not sure exactly how to classify this – sad, unfortunate, I really don’t know.
Towards the end of my conversations with Mr. Roger Cohen, he remarked, ‘it’s difficult to find something good to write about people like you.’ This remark, not made nastily, was a reflection of much of our dialogue. Cohen obviously had great difficulty digesting the fact that Jews live in a city like Hebron. I was emotionally struck by his remarks while visiting the memorial room for the 1929 massacre victims at Beit Hadassah. He had a problem relating to the significance of the event itself, on several planes. First of all, he attempted to compare it to conflicts between other countries, or ethnic groups in Europe, saying that while once they were bitter enemies, today they belong to a common political and economic unit, and live together in harmony. The Hebron massacre was ‘small’ in scope, compared to other atrocities.
In addition, Mr. Cohen could not grasp the seemingly constant memories of such an event. He asked me why we must continue to look back as opposed to looking forward.
In truth, I had trouble comprehending Cohen’s statements, which seemed to question the necessity of memories. When dealing with correspondents I really try and keep my cool; in this case I almost lost it. Roger Cohen, obviously a very intelligent person, didn’t seem to make any sense.
I, of course, explained that without a past, there is no future, that we must learn from the past, acting upon that knowledge in the future. That way, we can continue to look forward. In addition, I tried to clarify the fact that our adversary had not changed in the slightest, that he is today just as primitive and barbaric as he was seventy five years ago. Perhaps the difference is that then, they could only kill one Jew at a time. Today, with one bomb, they kill and maim dozens in an instant.
(Only after Cohen left did I discover the real question behind his question, his own struggle with comprehending memories, in a fascinating lecture he delivered in 2001 – []).
However, the most disturbing element of our conversation was his remark that it’s difficult to find anything good to say about us. Again, he wasn’t being antagonistic, just truthful, from his perspective. He really doesn’t understand why a Jew should live in Hebron. This troubled me, having visited Tel Rumeida, seeing the excavations, thousands of years old, the tomb of Jessie and Ruth, the Avraham Avinu synagogue and its ancient Torah Scrolls, and, of course, Ma’arat HaMachpela – the Caves of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. What would it take to convince him?
By this time I had to keep my explanations short, time was running out. So I asked him, “why not?” “What is the problem with being a Jew in Hebron, living an ideal, living in my home, trying to living a normal life, in the first Jewish city in Israel? Why is that bad?” I don’t recall that he responded.
It is difficult for me to fathom correspondent Roger Cohen, or the other Roger Cohens of the world, probably as much as it is for them to fathom me. In my eyes they have lost touch with reality – genuine reality, as opposed to their perception of the way the world should be. For some reason they live an illusion, professing a concept of perfection which negates actuality, perhaps demanding a breakdown of humanity, humanity which is composed of different cultures and traditions, for a humanism which would delete us as individuals and nations.
My prayer is that the future lies not with them, but with the P.K.s and Aris of the world, the real idealists, who live what they believe and believe what they live.
With blessings from Hebron.