The great historical process of the Jewish people all started in Hebron, where Abraham made the first Jewish land purchase in Eretz Yisrael. In Hebron, he buried Sarah – establishing facts on the ground.
Hebron is a place of connections. It connects heaven and earth. It connects the supreme ideal, the command to inherit the land – and its mundane fulfillment. Those who attach themselves to Hebron draw strength from it, as was the case with Calev ben Yefune and Yehoshua bin Nun when they, at Moshe’s behest, spied out the Land.
The 12 spies arrived in Eretz Yisrael and found a difficult reality. Calev and Yehoshua went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and their perspective was different. What they saw was that “the Land is very, very good” (Bamidbar 14:7).
Didn’t Calev and Yehoshua see the reality, like the rest of the spies? Certainly they did. Yet they understood that to understand reality, you’ve got to introduce other data. God promised this land to the Jewish people. Calev and Yehoshua understood that theirs was a unique mission, involving precisely this land. Eretz Yisrael has unique virtues. It responds only to its children, and produces fruit only for them (as per historical proof). This is the land set apart for us, for us to fulfill our mission to the world and to invest the most profound, moral meaning in the entire universe.
Those were the thoughts that preoccupied us 30 years ago, in late spring 1979, when – as a group of 13 women and 45 children – we prepared to secretly move into the Beit Hadassah complex in Hebron. Our purpose was to restore Jewish life to the city. At the time, Jews – eight years after Kiryat Arba’s founding, and 11 years after Rav Moshe Levinger’s settlement attempt in Hebron – were still forbidden to live permanently in Hebron. Our entry into that edifice, a military operation in every sense of the word, was intended to change that.
Beit Hadassah had served as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs. It was established by the American Hadassah Women’s organization in 1893, 36 years before the 1929 Hebron massacre. In that massacre 67 Jews were murdered, dozens wounded, and all of Hebron’s Jews were exiled from the city. Further, their property was looted by the Arabs. Thus, it had been 70 years since Jews had last lived in the Beit Hadassah compound. In fact the only Jewish business allowed in Hebron during the 1970s was “The Settlers’ Restaurant,” next to Ma’arat HaMachpela. It was run only during the day – by my husband, Zvi.
We reasoned the following: It cannot be that the Arabs could commit a terrible pogrom against the Jews and that the Jews should be forbidden to return to the homes where they were murdered – and which they were forced to leave.
In Kiryat Arba we climbed onto a truck in the middle of the night, with children and equipment, and went down to Hebron. We climbed into the Beit Hadassah edifice by way of a ladder that was set up inside the truck. We climbed up quietly so that the soldiers, on guard in front of the building at night to keep Jews from entering, wouldn’t notice. Amazingly (and even miraculously), none of the children cried or made noise. After getting in without the soldiers noticing, we felt that God was helping us. We knew we were doing the right thing.
While life in Beit Hadassah was physically difficult, our spirits were joyous.
There were people who told us worriedly, “How can you endanger your children? There’s a danger of malaria. There’s no running water, no electricity, no restrooms, no showers, no possibility of leaving or coming back.”
There was an immense feeling of mission, an enormous sense of exaltation. We knew that if we take the correct steps, we would exalt the government, its ministers and the entire nation.
Thank God, the act by these women renewed Jewish life in the City of the Patriarchs. For almost an entire year, we remained inside the edifice without ever leaving. At the end of that year, following the murder of six worshippers, we received permission to stay in Beit Hadassah. This constituted the first renewal of Jewish settlement in the ancient city of Hebron.
From Beit Hadassah we continued on, redeeming the Avraham Avinu Synagogue and building the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Next came Tel Romeida and other new neighborhoods in Kiryat Arba. Today, thank God, the City of the Patriarchs is full of life from Tel Romeida to Ramat Mamre.
The women’s act in Beit Hadassah set an example for other groups of women who likewise understood that only if they rose and initiated acts of settlement would they succeed in redeeming the Land, thus preventing the Arabs from taking control. That’s how it was, for example, in the summer of 1995, when a group of 10 women from Efrat and Gush Etzion, headed by Nadia Matar, settled on Dagan – a hill belonging to the town of Efrat but in danger, due to the Oslo II accords, of being handed over to the PLO. The women stopped their normal lives and went to live on the exposed hill.
Hundreds of Jews from the area and from Israel at large joined the struggle over Dagan. They lived there under harsh summer conditions – in tents, without water and electricity. But with strong faith in the justice of their path, they believed that only by such means would they save the hill and that only by such means would they arouse the public to the need to preserve every place in Eretz Yisrael.
Two weeks later, the settlers were forcibly evacuated. This did not deter them, and they came back again and again. Today, thank God, Dagan is populated with dozens of young couples and a yeshiva with dozens of students. And at present, the residents of Efrat and Gush Etzion, together with the action committees of the Judea Region and the Women in Green, are continuing the struggle to settle the hill of Eitam.
The same spirit of Beit Hadassah and Givat Dagan guides us to continue settling and expanding throughout the land. With that same spirit, we are acting at Shdema.
Shdema consists of an army base that was abandoned for political reasons. The Arabs and international organizations want to take control of this piece of land. Shdema is a five-minute drive from Jerusalem on the new Eastern Gush Etzion road. We are working to keep Shdema in our hands, with the purpose of saving the lands of Eretz Yisrael. Additionally we are working to maintain settlement contiguity between Gush Etzion and Jerusalem, and to ensure security on the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem road.
Each week we go to Shdema. We hold Torah talks and lectures. On holidays we hold large events with hundreds of people, with the support of Women in Green and the Gush Etzion Regional Council.
At first, we weren’t allowed to go up there. The army was in shock that we would even consider going back to a place that, to their way of thinking, was already abandoned and gone. Only thanks to weekly persistence and determination did we accustom everyone to the fact of our going there. The army understands that it is dealing with a serious group of adults that is unwilling to concede. Our present duty is to increase our presence at the site.
We, members of the Committee for Shdema, plan to establish at the site a spiritual-cultural center. It is there that we will disseminate the special worth of Eretz Yisrael, study Bible and history, learn to work the soil, learn self-defense, and delve deeply into present-day questions about our Jewish identity. These measures are the essence of our survival – and our task at the present time.
Our roots are in Hebron. From there we draw our spirit, our strength, our determination. We learned there that it is possible and necessary to change the national-political agenda through the stubborn, determined action of individuals who must do the work, who must rise and take the initiative. It is very important to keep up the spirit of the struggle. Among the Jewish people, there were always groups that led the national spirit forward with pride. Every struggle must be backed up with good public relations and political action, and with maintaining a presence at the site in question.
We hope, God willing, that just as we succeeded in Beit Hadassah in Hebron, in Dagan in Efrat, and in other places, so it will be at Shdema. The Jewish people possess the fortitude to succeed and change direction, all in the name of settling Eretz Yisrael.
The struggle at Shdema requires many participants. Toward that end, we plan to make a public relations trip to the U.S. from March 12-19. Women in Green Chairwoman Nadia Matar will join me (of Kiryat Arba-Hebron) in making the case for the Committee for Shdema.
We know that Jewish Press readers are with us in our determined struggle. Your hearts beat with the history of the Jewish people. With God’s help, we will succeed.