Chanting slogans, "One, Two, Three, Four, Evacuate the Four" (referring to Kyriat Arba, the 34-year old Jewish community of 15,000 inhabitants adjacent to Hebron), "Expel the Jews from Hebron NOW," scores of Peace Now activists demonstrated across the road from the place where 8 Israeli soldiers and 4 civilians were ambushed and murdered by Palestinian gunmen.
After the tragedy, a makeshift outpost was erected near the site in memory of those who were killed. They hoped that their presence and the IDF would protect Jewish worshippers on their way to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Machpelah, in Hebron. The government destroyed the structures and the Jews rebuilt it. Peace Now and Meretz had come back for an anti-memorial.
Thousands of Arab homes fill the surrounding hillsides opposite Kyriat Arba. Built after 1967 when the IDF conquered Hebron, they reflect the prosperity that Arabs experienced under Israeli "occupation."
On the balcony of a nearby Arab home, several residents looked out from behind their laundry at the noisy demonstration. They are used to seeing Jews as neighbors, going to work, or to and from prayers in Hebron. These demonstrators were different.
Israeli soldiers stood passively at a distance, while speakers in Hebrew, English and Arabic denounced US President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon and Jews who live on "occupied Palestinian lands."
One speaker after another, most of them veteran left-wing Israelis, spoke passionately with a common message: Israel is responsible for Arab terrorism.
'How could this be?' I asked.
"If Barak and Sharon had given the Palestinians their own state, there would be no terrorism," they replied. "Settlements undermine the peace process."
"What 'peace process,'" I asked.
"The one that we destroyed," they answered.
"Yes, we forced them to use violence. They had no other means to express their desperation," said Adi.
"The Karine A…?" (A ship loaded with 50 tons of weapons intended for Palestinian terrorists that Israel intercepted in 2002).
"A fake. A set-up. Not real," she said. "We're not being told the truth."
"And the truth is…?"
"The Palestinians want peace; Israel wants war.”
"Extremists on both sides," offered Carol, a middle-aged woman, part of the left-wing "Rabbis for Human Rights." She and her friend Adina were studying in Israel for a year and planned to return to the States. She admitted, however, that she did not agree with demands to remove all settlements.
"But that's what the sign says that you're carrying," I pointed out. She read the sign again and then handed it to someone else. "I don't know. I guess we need to know more," she added.
"We've deprived the Palestinians of their basic human rights," said Rachel. "Oslo was a disaster for the Palestinians. It embedded the occupation, the restrictions in laws. It made their lives hell." Rachel works for a group promoting Arab-Jewish dialogue.
Ranier, a German student at the Hebrew University agreed. "We need to give them (Arabs) back their dignity."
"But what about terrorism? Isn't that where it started?"
"No. The Jews caused this suffering."
Would total withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian state end terrorism?
" No, but there's no alternative," insisted Yaron. "Give them a state."
"Even with terrorism?"
"Yes," he replied adamantly.
On the way back we passed Efrat, a Jewish community of over 5,000 families in Gush Etzion. "Get rid of them," an elderly lady sitting near me hissed. "Let them move to the Negev. They have no business here."
I asked where she lived. "Jerusalem," she replied.
"Would you be willing to move to the Negev?" I asked.
"Why should I? I don't bother anyone. It's these religious fanatics who are making trouble. They're the problem."
Alon, a computer sciences student, believes that the "settlers have turned Judaism into racism. They want a theocracy. I want a modern country with Western values. They are destroying Zionism."
For many left-wing Israelis their brand of Zionism is under attack, not only from the outside, by Palestinian terrorists, but from within, by settlers and religious Jews. It is not only an ideological debate among Jews over policy issues, but a struggle over the identity of what it means to be an Israeli.
"Removing Jews from Hebron," admits Alon, "is difficult, but necessary, although there is more Jewish history in Hebron than Jerusalem. But Jews don't belong there now."
"We have to recognize Palestinians rights," adds his friend, Dina.
"Why then do the Jews have to be removed?" I ask.
"For peace." As if, in this single word one can find some order amidst the chaos, some respite from constant terrorist attacks, perhaps a way of confronting despair.
Groups of children watch us from behind the fence that protects Kyriat Arba. I remind myself that they live here; we do not. In the morning, they will get on buses and go to school and if they are lucky, they will come back alive. Some of the children wave, but no one waves back from our bus, for they are seen as the enemy.
The author is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem. firstname.lastname@example.org
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