When Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967, virtually no Jews lived there. Most had fled their homes after Jews had been massacred by a group of marauding Arabs in 1929. But now that Israelis are in control of certain cities–notably Hebron, home of the tomb of Abraham–things have gone terribly awry. A new and essential report in the New York Review of Books shows what a disaster the Israeli occupation has become.
The reporter is Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for The Guardian and The Jewish Chronicle in London, and his piece makes for sober reading. Freedland gets a tour of the Hebron by an activist with Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization that publicizes the wrong-doings of the Israeli occupation for Jews to read for themselves.
Hebron now has a vigorous population of Jewish settlers that have, under the Israeli military’s protection, turned the city into something resembling Birmingham, circa 1950. Segregation, in other words, runs rampant. The city’s Jewish quarter has a road for Jews only—tzir sterli, or “sterile road”—that leads to the sacred Jewish site of Abraham’s burial place. Jewish settlers continually defile Arab homes with signs like “Death to the Arabs” and “Arabs to the gas chambers.” One Arab woman has put a cage over her balcony, whose roof sags with stones. She put the cage there because Jewish thugs continue to pelt rocks at her apartment.
When Freedland talks about all this with a Jewish spokesman in the neighborhood, a New Jersey-native named David Wilder, he gets responses like this:
‘People say there’s apartheid here,’ says David Wilder, their New Jersey–born spokesman. ‘I agree, there is—but it’s not against them, it’s against us.’ …He argues that, in effect, Jews have access to only 3 percent of the city—where the Israeli security presence is sufficiently intense—while Arabs have access to all the rest. Sure, he concedes, there’s one street, maybe a kilometer, a kilometer and a half, that the Arabs can’t walk on. Does he mean a-Shuhada Street [the street unofficially known as ‘sterile street’]? ‘I don’t know what they call it. We call it David Ha’Melech [King David] Street.’
Freedland’s rebuttal is swift and forceful:
Wilder’s message—that if the Palestinians stopped threatening the settlers with violence, the restrictions could be eased—runs counter to experience. When, for example, the US-born Baruch Goldstein killed twenty-nine Palestinian Muslim worshipers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994, Israel imposed new restrictions—not on the settlers but on Hebron’s Arabs. The vegetable and meat markets were closed, and the ban on Palestinian cars on a-Shuhada Street introduced.
These are not the facts about life in the Jewish state that Jews, especially Jews in America, like to hear. We tend to think that it’s only radical leftists who harp on these problems, and whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the entire Jewish state. But what journalists like Freedland and groups like Breaking the Silence do is show their fellow Jews that they themselves care about Israel, and want it to survive, even flourish. But with the ugly occupation not ending any time soon, that goal of a truly successful Jewish state, one which all Jews can be proud of, is a long way off.