The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
The road to Hebron was nearly deserted as I drove to the town Monday night, August 6. The Avraham Avinu neighborhood, however, one of the Jewish enclaves inside the PA-controlled city, was alive with hundreds of young people when I arrived. They had come to protest the destruction of several Jewish homes by the Israeli government, slated for early the next morning. Several thousand police and anti-riot troops had been deployed in nearby army camps to carry out the action.
The Avraham Avinu compound, less than a half-acre square with about 40 families living in several buildings, is only a few minutes’ walk away Machpelah, the two-thousand-year-old building built over the burial site of the biblical forefathers and foremothers.
Surrounded by Arabs, like the four other Jewish compounds in Hebron, its Jewish residents have been attacked by terrorists. A year-old child was murdered a few years back.
In August 1929, the Arabs of Hebron rioted, murdering 67 innocent Jews, mostly rabbis, women, children and yeshiva students; many more were maimed. The British then expelled the surviving Jews.
In the 1950’s, under Jordanian occupation, Arabs turned the ruined compound into a vegetable market, its synagogue into a public toilet and animal pen, and a few buildings were used as stores. The market and these stores were vacated more than a decade ago for security reasons; several years later, nine Jewish families moved into these abandoned buildings.
According to Israeli courts, the buildings are the property of the state, and its Jewish residents were ordered to leave. Despite previous agreements with military and government authorities, the police were ordered to vacate the buildings.
At 3 a.m., loudspeakers alerted the residents that troops were on the way. I joined about 30 young men in one of the three tiny apartments marked for destruction. One of the other apartments was designated for the ladies.
Thirteen-year-old David, the youngest of the group, sat at the side of the room, hugging his knees. I asked him if he was afraid. He shook his head. “Been through this before?” I asked. He nodded. I admired his courage.
By 4 a.m., the metal door of the house was welded shut from the inside. The only way out was a tiny window in the back. The windows in front had been sealed with concrete blocks and metal sheets. A meter-and-a-half square concrete box had been constructed at one side of the room, into which several young men had enclosed themselves. A small hole provided air. I was afraid for them. What if they needed to get out? A sudden wave of panic hit me. What if I needed to get out? We were sealed in. Was I ready to die for this?
The boys were instructed not to engage in violence. Resistance would be stubborn but passive. “We are here to show the government that we won’t be taken out as sheep,” a reference to compliance in Gush Katif which made the evacuation easier.
Bottles of water were passed around. A large drum of cooking oil had been prepared to make the floor slippery. Many of the boys began to pray, wrapping themselves in tallit and tefillin as the first light of dawn slipped through the cracks. Shema Yisrael, they shouted in unison, as the police began to batter the door with sledgehammers.
The boys finished their prayers, placed their siddurim, tallitot and tefillin into a bag and passed it out through the opening in the back room. The pounding became louder and more intense. It was now only a matter of minutes before the police would break through. The boys prepared for confrontation, arranging themselves in small groups on the floor, linking arms and singing Psalms.
A steel saw cut through the door, showering sparks, as the metal was pried open, and then pulled apart. Heavily armed police in riot gear swarmed into the room and began to tear into the boys. Memories of Gush Katif: children singing against black-clad soldiers. And of Amona, where police violence was caught on film, and of hilltops in the Shomron, where demonstrators were beaten. Perhaps due to cameras, the police here were more careful. There was no clubbing. The boys were handled roughly, kicked and slapped, but it was bloodless.
One by one, the boys were thrown out and the three apartments emptied. It took another hour before the police were able to break open the reinforced concrete box. Exhausted, the boys inside staggered out.
Around the corner, inside the neighborhood, police and special-units personnel were confronted by girls and a few boys who threw paint, eggs and stones. The police seemed eager for a confrontation and charged; the kids scattered, though some, unable to escape, were knocked down and had to be evacuated on stretchers.
The police laughed and congratulated themselves; the kids were sullen. Many cried. They had lost another battle, as they knew they would, but their spirit was not broken; their wounds would heal and make them stronger.
A coming-of-age for these Israeli youth, such confrontations indicate the social and political turmoil in which Israel is mired, a reaction to an increasingly powerful post- (read: anti) Zionist, un-Jewish, unjust, superficial democracy. While the government calls for “law-and-order,” this struggle exposes the primary, fundamental clash between Judaism and Israelism to define the national character.
Hebron is where the first brit – sign of the Covenant – took place. Resistance to the government is a new form of brit: a commitment to a Jewish Zionist ideology and, for many, a mark of alienation from their country.
About the Author: Moshe Dann is a writer living in Jerusalem.
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