Jews are Expelled from their Home in Hebron
An Interview with David Wilder the Spokesman for the Hebron Jewish Community.
May 11, 2006 - Audio, 21.00 MIN
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This is Dave Billington with this week's Bible in the News. The ancient city of Hebron is a city that resounds with events of faith. Abraham the father of the faithful is buried there with Sarah his wife; Caleb, one of the faithful spies choose Hebron for his portion in the land of Canaan, the place where the giants were and the cities great and fenced; and Samson carried the gates of Gaza all night and around the time the sun arose this mighty man filled with the spirit of God placed the gates of Gaza on a hill before Hebron, no doubt with the promise to Abraham in mind, that his seed would possess the gate of his enemies.
Today the city of Hebron also requires a different outlook and perspective to live and to thrive in this renowned city. Just this week 1700 police and soldiers came to remove three Jewish families and their children from a home that had been purchased a month ago. The mainstream media portray the Jewish community of Hebron in a very bad light. We wanted to know what was really going on, so we called David Wilder in Hebron and spoke with him about the recent events.
We have with us David Wilder, the spokesman for the Jewish Community of Hebron.
David, welcome to the program.
A pleasure to be with you, thank-you very much.
David, to start with, could you give us a very brief background to the Hebron Jewish community?
Hebron is the first Jewish city in the land of Israel. Not only is it the home of the Jewish people, actually it is the beginning of all of monotheism. Now Abraham was the first person to believe in one God and from Abraham we find spreading out the major western religions. Jews have actually been here since the days of Abraham, almost uninterruptedly. Here, of course, we have the tomb of the Patriarchs, the Matriarchs - Maarat Ha'Machpelah and this is, of course, where King David ruled for seven and a half years, prior to his going up to Jerusalem and today we have, thank God, a thriving Jewish community here.
Okay, the recent community was started after the Six Day War, and there was the Gush Emunim which means the "Block of the Faithful", so what kind of faith did these people have that made them want to come to Hebron?
Well, we knew that Hebron is a very, very important place, a very significant place; the community here had come to an abrupt end in 1929 when, during riots, 67 Jews were massacred and 70 were wounded, and the rest of the community that survived was basically expelled by the British who were then here. There was a yearning to come back -- a small group came back in 1931, but were again expelled by the British during 1936 and of course, people wanted to be able to worship at the tomb of the Patriarchs which is considered to be the second holiest site for the Jewish people in all the world. That site has been of limits to anybody who is not Muslim for 700 years. Be it 1267, after the Crusaders were defeated by the Mamalukes, until 1967 - the Six Day War, and following the victory of the Six Day War, we again were able to be in Hebron. We had access to the tomb of the Patriarchs and people started to come back here. People came here on a semi-permanent basis in 1968 -- the Passover Holidays, and that was basically the beginning of the return and of course, the faith that people have, the faith from the Bible, the faith that God gave us this land and He didn't give us this land to look at from a map or from pictures, but to settle the land, to live the land and to be here and that's what people did. Just as we learn from the patriarch Abraham, who God told to walk the length and width of the land, so too, so do we have to do that today and follow in his footsteps and what better place to begin than in the city where Abraham settled so many thousands of years ago.
Now unfortunately as you very well know, David, there has been some trouble recently in the Jewish Community of Hebron, and even before the evictions of this week some Jews were expelled from their homes in the Hebron Marketplace not so long ago. Could you very briefly describe what happened in the Hebron Marketplace incident?
Well, that's property that has belonged to the Jews in Hebron since the early 1800's. Following the expulsion in 1929, the Arabs built a market on that property and that market continued to operate, actually, through the 1990's -- it was finally closed by Israel's security forces for security reasons and following the murder of the 10 month old infant Shalhevet Pas, the beginning of 2001, we started to reuse those buildings as homes for Jews here in Hebron, and named the neighbourhood in her memory. Unfortunately, we were ordered out of those buildings and we went to courts and we were basically given an ultimatum. We decided to voluntarily leave those buildings of our own accord -- with promises from the Israeli government and the army that we would soon be able to return and that it would be worked out legally so that we would be able to return -- so we did pick up and leave. Nine families left, including a Torah Study Hall, and unfortunately the government, it seems, reneged on that promise and basically the Attorney General has nullified the agreement we made with them, but we still hope with that, that hopefully it won't take too long before we are able to move back into those homes.
Right, so, this is very frustrating for the people in Hebron, I would imagine, and then this week some residents were forcibly removed from their newly purchased home or rented home, can you explain what happened this week?
We were able to purchase a building in Hebron right next to the neighbourhood actually, where the old Marketplace used to be -- paid a tremendous amount of money for it, and moved in, we moved in just over a month ago. However, for political reasons, the present administration, really, isn't interested in seeing the Hebron population expand or see us be able to move into new buildings here; so they used legal means, basically, in court -- not so much arguing legal reasons, but political reasons why we should not be allowed to stay there -- making claims that our documents were forged. This is all a lie. We know that the building was purchased legally and the documents we have prove that, however, unfortunately in this country many things don't work via truth, rather by politics. So again we were forced to leave -- 3 families were expelled, and 2 of those families have actually been expelled from their homes in the old market just a few months ago, and we were thrown out. The police came and anybody who didn't walk out voluntarily -- they were picked up and carried out. Fortunately there wasn't too much violence in the building, outside of the building there was, but not inside the building. But there too, we are going to court and I sure that we will be able to prove that that building does belong to us and eventually we will be able to move back in there too.
So I read on the news that there was 1700 police and soldiers involved in the operation. Why is the government investing so much time and money to expel so few residents, families, just from one building?
I think that Olmert is trying to prove a point. He has publicly stated that he claims that expelling somewhere in the vicinity of 90,000 people from their homes in the next few years from Judea and Samaria he said in the Knesset, in his first speech as incoming Prime Minister, that the communities in Judea and Samaria endanger the existence of the State of Israel and that the only way to save the State is to abandon this land area and expel Jews that live here. I think that this was a very significant place for him to start by sending so many troops into Hebron, trying to say to the people here, to the people who are throughout Judea and Samaria, the people throughout the country, and throughout the world -- because this made headlines all over the world -- that here we have a Prime Minister who wants to try to carry out, God-forbid, in the footsteps of Ariel Sharon.
In the mainstream media these residents that were evicted are called "squatters", "extremist settlers", "Hard-line settlers" and on one -- on the Associated press, I think it was -- I read: "the settlers in Hebron are the most militant in the West Bank, believing that the biblical city of Abraham where patriarchs and matriarchs are believed buried belongs to Jews only." Could you describe, David, what these residents are really like?
Well, look, I can talk about one of the families, personal friends of mine. They have 10 children, the woman, Mrs Tzippy Shlissel is the great-granddaughter of the first Chief Rabbi of the state of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, who was a tremendous scholar and was known for his tremendous Jewish thought and unfortunately, 8 years ago, Tzippy's father, who was Rabbi Kook's grandson, was murdered by terrorists in the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood here in Hebron. He was getting ready to go to bed and a terrorist came through his bedroom window and stabbed him to death. He was 63 years old at the time. Following that murder, the Shlissels moved to Hebron. Her husband, Rabbi Yisrael Shlissel became the dean of a Torah Study Centre in her father's memory and he himself was shot at and nearly killed on the road coming into Hebron, driving here. They are a very wonderful family, very wonderful people, very righteous people. He is a Torah scholar and she is, as I said, the mother of 10 children, and now they have, just a couple of days ago, a new granddaughter, and they too were expelled from their home in the Shalhavet neighbourhood were they had lived for a few years and then moved into Hebron. I have difficulty understanding why people here are called extremists. I many times confront journalists with that and ask them why am I considered to be an extremist? I only want to live in my homeland. I've never been convicted of any crimes, I have never shot anybody and I see myself as living an ideology - an ideology which we absorb from the Bible, from the Book of God who gave us this land. I have never said, as a spokesman for the community of Hebron that in order for us to live here all the Arabs have to leave, but unfortunately that's the way they deal with us. They say that there will never be peace in Hebron as long as there are Jews here. However, what they really mean is that there will never be peace in the land of Israel or in the Middle East until there are no Jews here in Israel.
Right, maybe if you could just make a quick comment, David, on Rabbi Kook. His ideology or his teaching was a little bit different than the other Rabbis at the time, and I think his teaching is really the start of the settlement movement. Could you briefly state how his teaching was different from other Rabbis?
Well, he was a firm believer in the return to the land of Israel. He himself came here and became the Rabbi of the Tel Aviv area when he came here in the early 1900's. He was very mystical and he basically believed that the land has to be settled and he saw all people that came here, whether they were religiously observant, or whether they were religiously secular, as being an instrument in God's plan to bring the Jewish people back to the land of Israel; and while there were many other Rabbis who said that Zionism is evil and is to be despised, he said that Zionism and the return to the land is a Godly goal and the land of Israel is a gift to the Jewish people. And therefore he was very active, not only with those people who were considered to be religiously observant, but also with others, and this brings actually quite a new kind of a concept at that time. Many teachers of that time could not accept that kind of leadership.
Now, on the Hebron website, just going back to the eviction, on the Hebron website there is a slideshow of pictures of the expulsion. The last picture is of a young lad about 14 year of age, I would guess, and he is holding what appears to be a prayer book and he is crying, and a policeman is glaring at him with a really despising, sneering look on his face. David, why is there so much hate from some of these policemen toward these religious youth?
Well, that was a very, very touching scene. Those are pictures that I photographed and it was very, very difficult to watch this young man, because as you know, the police, when they broke into the room with the men there, they thought they were going to face tremendous violence and they were ready to beat back these kids and the kids just sat there. Most of them got up and walked out themselves, a few of them were carried out and this young lad just stood there and cried. Police are used as an extended arm of the political system and they are used as a tool by the justice system and many of them, their actions are not those of what one would expect from civilized human beings. We saw this a few months ago in the Amona evictions, when people were beaten with wooden batons and with hard plastic batons. It was very difficult to see this and to stomach it. We tried very hard to prevent that this time and thankfully we did. However, there is a tremendous problem with the police, not only in Hebron, but throughout Judea and Samaria. It is very difficult to explain how these acts come about.
Yes, that was a very touching picture to me. Do you think, David, there is a kind of religious persecution taking place in Israel today?
Yes I do. I think that the major thrust behind what began as Oslo, back in the days of the Rabin/Peres administration in the early 1990's, was basically a concerted plan to try to break the back of the nationalistic religious movements here in Israel. Many of the people that initiated Oslo and today are still in power, see Israel not as a religious Jewish State, or as a Jewish State at all, but just as a state that has Jews living in it. They see countries such as Sweden, Europe, Scandinavia and the United States as role models for Israel. Rather than seeing it as a spiritual place, they see it as a very secular kind of a country, being not very different from other countries in the world and of course, there are others that see Israel otherwise. The idea of ridding the state of Judea and Samaria and Gaza, basically they see as breaking the backbone of religious Judaism today, nationalistic Judaism, religious Judaism -- which they see as an enemy basically, of what they themselves believe. However, thank God, they have not succeeded. People have not fled despite the tremendous terror that we have had to face. People here have a tremendous amount of faith. We know that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing and we can only do what we can and we have to leave something to the hand of God. Here in Hebron, I can bear witness to the fact that there are miracles here on a daily basis, even more than on a daily basis -- every minute. Without that divine presence here, it would be impossible to live here, but we have no plans of giving up!
The new Olmert government has plans to destroy many of the Jewish communities in Judah and Samaria. Do you think they will succeed in this plan?
I certainly hope not. After having seen what happened in Gush Katif this summer, it is fairly obvious that many, many acts which we never believed could happen, have happened. We never really believed that almost 10,000 people would be expelled from Gush Katif and northern Samaria, however they were able to do that and accomplish that and I think that we have to realize that evil abounds and they can do it again. We are going to have to try to stop that, prevent that from happening. Whether we will be successful or not, we will have to try and do whatever we can and as I said, we have to leave something for God in the heavens to do also. I certainly hope that we will be successful and not them, because I think that should they be able to accomplish this plan not only will they do tremendous damage to the state of Israel, but they will basically be endangering the entire world because continued acquiescence to terror, which is what Israel is doing, what we did in Gush Katif and what Olmert is planning to do here in Judea and Samaria will only boomerang and cause tremendous terror throughout the western world. People that don't understand that, don't see that, and don't understand that -- I have no other way to describe them than as blind.
So, David, just to finish up with; what is the spirit like in the Jewish community in Hebron after these events?
I don't know if you can hear it from the phone that I am talking from, but outside the kids are playing in the courtyard, people are continuing with their everyday lives. The people that were expelled from their homes a couple of days ago have bounced back and they are back at their everyday affairs, working and studying. One of the women who was expelled will be in the United States next week speaking in an event that we are going to be having in New Jersey. We always look forward. I mean, there are setbacks, it's very sad, it's very upsetting, but we realize that in this world there are ups and there are downs. We have to keep in mind that for 2000 years the Jews weren't in the land of Israel. Jews were going to the stake for talking about "next year in Jerusalem" and only 60 years ago Jews were behind the fences of Auschwitz, watching the smoke out of the crematoriums rise up into the sky. And now, 60 years later, we have a wonderful state which isn't perfect yet - there is still a lot of problems, but we have learned how to overcome over the millennium and the same thing is true here in Hebron. We will continue to look forward, try to correct the errors that are made and we fully expect that the Jews will continue to live in Hebron. Hebron was here before Sharon and Olmert and Hebron will be here long after they're long gone. We know that in the end truth and right will win and I suppose that's God's plan.
Okay David, thank-you so much for being on the program and blessings to you all in Hebron.
Dave, thank-you very much.
Indeed, truth and right will prevail it is God's plan. It is God's plan to re-establish the ancient Jewish kingdom of Israel in the territory of Judah. Today we are seeing the birth pains of this kingdom, as it is about to be born. The controversy surrounding this territory is part of the controversy of Zion and the more this controversy heats up, the closer we are to the establishing of the kingdom and the comforting of Zion. If you would like to learn more about the Jewish community of Hebron visit their website at www.hebron.com. Come back again next week for another edition of The Bible in the News, God Willing.
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