No Jews have been reviled like Hebron Jews. For Tamara Neuman, author of Settling Hebron (2018), the most despised Jewish settlers are the religious women whose “volatile political protest” led the return of Jews to their ancient holy city in 1979—50 years after its destruction during murderous Arab rioting.
Their “staging” for “political ends” began when Beit Hadassah, the former Jewish medical clinic in the heart of the Hebron Jewish Quarter, was “taken over” by women with their young children who were living up the hill in the Kiryat Arba settlement. Climbing a ladder in the middle of the night to enter, they refused to leave until the Israeli government finally recognized their right to remain. The return of Jews to Hebron had begun.
But for Neuman it exemplified “striking tactics” by “disaffected mothers,” claiming “a Palestinian area” as “their staging of maternalism [that] neutralized the illegality of their actions.” Using “emotion and empathy” and “devout Jewish motherhood,” they downplayed “the role settler women have in furthering the occupation.”
Their return to Hebron demonstrates for Neuman how “the aggrandizement of maternal roles” was used to claim rights in “Palestinian areas that have little remaining material evidence of a Jewish past” (due to Muslim determination to erase it). Seemingly oblivious to Hebron’s place in Jewish history, she ignores the massive millennia-old Machpelah burial site of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, and the rule of King David in Hebron before relocating his throne to Jerusalem. In the seventh century Machpelah was converted into a mosque to obliterate Jewish claims.
Neuman seems particularly agitated by detestable “armed ideological settlers” from Kiryat Arba who walk down the hill to Machpelah through “Palestinian space” for Shabbat and holy day prayer services. No less irritating, local Palestinians “are made into unwilling spectators of this display of domination.” To be sure, they are not required to watch.
She conveniently ignores prospering Arab Hebron, inhabited by more than 200,000 Muslims, with hotels, a shopping mall and a university. Jews are forbidden to enter. It is Hebron Arabs—not Jews—who live (quite comfortably) in their “ethnically distinct settled spaces.” Yet Jews, she preposterously writes, have assumed “permanent religious control over Hebron with the overlay of halakhic authority.” Driven by “colonial preoccupations,” they “move through and inhabit Palestinian space” in pursuit of their “messianic ideal.” This is blatantly false. Even in the tiny Jewish Quarter several hundred Jews comprise a tiny minority amid 30,000 Palestinians.
With hardly a word about repeated eruptions of murderous Palestinian violence, she devotes a chapter to “the role of ideological settlers in perpetrating acts of violence that target Palestinian civilians.” She believes that “violence is deeply embedded in the ideological settler project.” She cites no evidence to support this claim—because there is none.
The conspicuous exception, to which she devotes a chapter, was the murder of two-dozen Arabs in prayer inside Machpelah’s Isaac Hall by community doctor Baruch Goldstein. He had treated numerous victims of murderous Palestinian terrorist attacks and was warned that further violence was imminent. So it was: Twelve Israelis were murdered on their way from Machpelah to Kiryat Arba by Palestinian members of Islamic Jihad.
For Neuman “the brief fusion of Zionism and Judaism,” sparked by Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War, had vanished by century’s end. (It had not, as my own Hebron visits affirmed.) But Hebron Jews, she eventually acknowledges, “are nothing if not determined and persistent.” Indeed, “For 3,000 years, Hebron has symbolized something ineradicable from Jewish consciousness: the power of memory.”
Yet Hebron Jews, for Neuman, are “the pariahs of the Jewish people.” Her concluding references to “settler colonialism” and “Israeli occupation” expose the bias that pervades her book. Hebron settlers are neither “colonists” or “occupiers.” They are Jews who have returned to their most ancient holy site.