It happened again.
In 2002, on the first day of the huge Sukkot celebrations, early evening, an Arab terrorist opened fire near the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. As a result, Rabbi Shlomo Shapira from Jerusalem was killed.
Fast forward: Sukkot, September 2013, eleven years later. Almost the same exact time. An Arab terrorist shoots, killing an Israeli soldier, near the “Beit Merkachat” intersection in Hebron. As with Rabbi Shapira, the soldier never really had a chance. A bullet penetrated his neck, leaving an entrance and exit wound. Medical personnel did everything humanly possible. But it wasn’t enough.
Prior to the killing, I could define today as “interesting.” Actually I really don’t know if that’s the right word to use.
More than 10,000 people arrived in Hebron Sunday, filling Ma’arat HaMachpela, walking the streets, visiting the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, all having a good time. One of the day’s highlights was the opening of the Cave of Otniel ben Knaz to Jewish visitors, an event occurring only very few days during the year. This, because the site is located on the “Arab” H1 side of the city.
On holidays, such as today, the 300 meter walk from the “Kikar HaShoter” checkpoint to the holy site is heavily protected, allowing visitors, escorted by soldiers or police, to view and worship at the cave.
But earlier, prior to its opening, I’d received notification of trouble. A firebomb was hurled at soldiers in the area. Rock-throwing, an almost normal occurrence in Hebron, was starting. But the security forces had the situation under control, and dozens and dozens of people walked back and forth to the place.
Me, too. Today was the first day of our special VIP tour. A busload of Hebron friends and supporters visited our newly initiated Tel Hebron overlook, on the roof of Beit Menachem, in Tel Rumeida. They also heard a short talk from Mrs. Tzippy Shlissel (whose father, Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, was killed by terrorists in Hebron), and then, too, participated in the walk to the fascinating Cave of Otniel.
I had the privilege to escort a wonderful woman whom I’ve known for about 15 years, Mrs. Ruth Simons, 91 years young, but you’d never know it. When we arrived at the Cave, she climbed up the stairs on her own two legs, entering the site for the first time in her life.
But, honestly, on the way there, and on the way back, I wasn’t entirely relaxed. I’ve done this many times before, and people here, well, sometimes we develop “antennas” which pick up vibrations in the air. And the vibes were definitely there.
Everything and everyone were in place – soldiers, border police, regular police, but, at the same time, booms from stun grenades and rubber bullets being shot at distant attackers, filled the air. It wasn’t, as it usually is, a quiet walk. I was very impressed by my guests. Ruth and her family, who didn’t seem phased in the least. They took it all in stride.
But my insides, my gut, didn’t like it. It is a disgrace for Jews to have to walk down a street to the tune of stun grenades exploding, not too far from them, on a Jewish holiday. Or on any day, for that matter.
But we did it, and that was that.
Later, our guests were treated to a delicious lunch at the Yeshivat Shavei Hebron sukkah and then visited Machpela. After they left, I recalled, for some reason, Rabbi Shlomo Shapira’s murder, as I walked past the site of that terror attack, back to the office.
A little while later, at 6:30, I received a call from my son, who works with security in a community outside of Hebron, asking about the shooting.
“There was a shooting and someone was hit.”
It didn’t take long to get preliminary details, where, when, and the victim’s condition: very critical. Together with a few others, we watched soldiers and police running back and forth, huddling, talking in whispers. Ambulances, their red lights flashing, driving by, in all directions. There wasn’t too much else to do, except wait.
Later tonight we’ll meet, and talk, to discuss our reactions.
The first reactions are easily expressible. First, our shock and pain at a young soldier’s death, as a result of an Arab terrorist sniper’s bullet.
But after that, the first question everyone asks is, “what about tomorrow?” On Monday we are expecting some 50,000 people in Hebron, to participate in our Sukkot music festival, outside M’arat HaMachpela. This year, the festival is headed up by Ya’akov Shwekey, one of the most popular Chassidic singers in the business today. Shwekey in known to bring out big crowds, and a free concert in Hebron is sure to be a huge event.
Eleven years ago, following Rabbi Shapira’s murder, we faced the same, identical question. And we didn’t cancel. The show went on. We hosted thousands more than we’d expected. People showed their support for Hebron and their disdain for terror by voting with their feet, by coming into Hebron in droves.
We expect the same tomorrow. Of course, the show will go on. There will be pain, pain at the needless killing of another Israeli, in the line of duty. But, actually, we are all soldiers in the line of duty.
No, not only the Jews of Hebron. Jews in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva. We are all soldiers, whether we wear uniforms or not. We are living in our land, and still fighting for our land, against those who wish to take it from us. Our enemies don’t distinguish between Hebron and Tel Aviv, Sderot or Beit El. It’s all the same. And the way to fight them is to continue to live in all these places, to continue on, despite the difficulties, despite the pain and the blood. There is no choice, it’s us or them. And we don’t have any intentions to allow them to win. Whatever the cost.
That is the way of an army, of soldiers, and that is what we all are. As will be the multitudes who will fill Hebron tomorrow.
Sukkot is a feast of joy and happiness. This year, there will be a tinge of black over the blue skies of Monday’s concert. But one of the answers to Sunday’s murder is to keep the show going, and that’s what will happen. Forever and ever and ever.
About the Author: David Wilder is the spokesperson for the Hebron Community.
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