Kiryat Arba, Israel
These are hard times. The Arabs of the Land of Israel, some of them with Israeli citizenship and some without, are presently going all around Israel stabbing Jews. In fact, they’re not just stabbing them. They’re throwing rocks at them, running them over with cars, and even shooting at them. It has reached the point where, a few days ago, when our chazan skipped Tachanun at our sunrise service in the Tomb of the Patriarchs – which he often does – and people wondered who was holding a circumcision, one of our local wags commented, “What circumcision? We’re celebrating five hours without a stabbing.…”
No one knows where it will all lead. The Israeli army’s response at this point, as it always is when trouble begins, is guarded and defensive. By the same token, neither do we know what the Arabs are ultimately planning in the long term, or if they have a plan to begin with.
Still, there’s nothing really new about today’s situation, nothing terribly surprising about it – it’s been this way for 130 years. The rabbis said that the Land of Israel is acquired through suffering, and it truly is. Just last week, our yearly “Shabbat Chayei Sarah” in Hebron was marred by the wounding of two older teenage boys who had come to spend the weekend in a tent on the lawn in front of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The boys were wounded by Arabs snipers hiding in the surrounding Arab homes and shooting live gunfire.
We’re suffering, but we’re also acquiring Eretz Yisrael. There are 400,000 Jews now in Judea and Samaria, almost four times as many as there were 20 years ago when the Oslo Accords loomed. I do not believe in trying to see things from the Arab point of view, but you don’t have to be a genius to understand that the “window of opportunity” on giving the Arabs parts of the Land of Israel is slowly closing, and the Arabs must be in a panic. We’re fortunate to be living in these times, when G-d is restoring His divine presence to the Land of Israel. We’re fortunate, and very privileged, to be seeing this with our own eyes. And if we’re suffering as well, we cannot say that we were not warned.
People ask me whether it is hard to live in Kiryat Arba-Hebron right now. After all, the newspapers are full of reports of stabbings and car rammings “near Hebron.” Yet the truth is that life in Kiryat Arba and in many other towns in Judea and Samaria is easier right now than elsewhere. As essentially “gated communities,” generally devoid of Arabs, we still feel comfortable to walk our streets, day or night. The army is outside our towns protecting us. Besides, my wife, who works in Jerusalem, still feels comfortable making the daily bus trip in a bulletproof bus, catching up on sleep on the way. As for all the reports about things happening “near Hebron,” anything that happens 10 minutes north or south of Kiryat Arba on the main highway is called “near Hebron,” even if we are unaware of it and never hear of it.
I remember five weeks ago, at the very beginning of the most recent troubles, I was sitting on a park bench in Kiryat Arba, in front of my mother’s home, on a Friday morning, reading Aryeh Kaplan’s translation of Parashat Bereishit to my mother, when I heard gunfire. As my mother lives near one of the exits from Kiryat Arba, I instinctively looked to my left towards what is called “the Western Gate” leading down to Hebron, and there, 150 meters away, I saw soldiers in defensive positions behind cement pillars just outside the gate, shooting at something, although I could not tell what they were shooting at. Just one day before, a Jew had been stabbed in that exact spot outside the fence.
I paused in my reading for a moment, and said, “Mom, I’d like to move us right now to a better spot,” to which my mother placidly agreed. Her hearing isn’t so great, and she hadn’t heard the shots or noticed the commotion. I calmly walked 50 feet around the corner, pushing my mother’s wheelchair, sat down on a low wall and, as though nothing had happened, continued reading from where I had left off, thinking nothing more of the incident. Thank G-d my Mom does enjoy Aryeh Kaplan.
Yet when I told one of my daughters what had occurred, she said to me, “Only someone from Kiryat Arba would have reacted the way you did. Anybody else would have nervously run inside and locked the door.”
My daughter’s remark surprised me a bit at first – I thought I had reacted naturally and logically. Yet I think my daughter, sensitized to the mentality of people outside Kiryat Arba by two years of National Service in Arad, knows what she is talking about. We in Kiryat Arba have been conditioned not to panic, to realize that shooting probably means the army is responding to something, and just to make sure we’re not in the line of fire.
I don’t want to make it seem as though the rest of the country is not functioning. People everywhere take precautions, but they go where they need to go, and continue to enjoy life. For those of you in Baltimore, I am not an actuary, but I believe that there is no reason to avoid a visit at this time.
Still, it has to be said that some places in Israel have suffered a bad shock. The wealthiest large town in Israel is perpetually Rishon LeTziyon, whenever those things are measured. It is perfectly natural for people in such places to want to enjoy their lives and not to dwell on the problems found elsewhere, and perhaps even to view themselves as invulnerable. This may or may not constitute what is called “denial,” but it is perfectly understandable. Yet the result is that, when reality finally slaps them in the face, the shock is doubly severe. Thus, on Monday, November 2, when a terrorist stabbed and wounded three people in downtown Rishon LeTziyon, including an 80-year-old woman, an internet video showed a crowd attempting to attack the terrorist as he was being led away by police, who successfully held them back.
What? Jews from wealthy “Rishon” trying to lynch an arrested terrorist? That’s not your normal headline. But it speaks oceans about what is happening to the Israeli public these days. It’s not just the fact that Rishon LeTziyon was struck but that the perpetrator was an Israeli citizen. Much of the Israeli public has been able, until now, to distinguish between the “bad Arabs,” the ones in Judea and Samaria, and the “good Arabs,” the Israeli citizens. Today, that difference is being blurred.
So what is the solution? In general, as long as we tempt the Arabs to view our land as theirs, and as long as we exhibit weakness, they will continue to see how far they can go. I have suggested a few solutions in these pages over the past year, but since I enjoy doing it, I will suggest three more ideas that should give the Arabs food for thought and make them think twice before continuing their present campaign:
1) Double the size of Jewish Hebron. The town presently has 92 families. Make that 200. The whole country would benefit from that.
2) Build housing in Kiryat Arba for 1,000 more families. The town, 25 minutes from Jerusalem, has fenced-off land that we are not allowed to build on. Jews want to build there and populate it. Let them. It will help solve Israel’s housing crisis.
3) Joseph’s Tomb sits on the edge of modern-day Shechem. There is no Arab population separating it from Jewish Elon Moreh except for the residents of Balata, a refugee camp arbitrarily plopped down there. No Jews have studied on a daily basis in the Joseph’s Tomb compound since 2000, when, contrary even to the Oslo Accords, the Arabs overran the site and killed a soldier; no Arab was ever punished. My suggestion is this: Move the refugee camp to the other side of Shechem and build four 10-story apartment buildings around the Joseph’s Tomb compound, providing housing for 160 large families. It can be called, “Yeshiva Lane East!”