27 November 2008
Printed in the Jewish Press - Nov. 28, 2008
David Wilder (November 26, 2008)
A professor from Bar Ilan University, an expert on ancient affairs, investigated the value of silver thousands of years ago. He concluded that the price our Patriarch Abraham paid for Ma'arat HaMachpela, four hundred silver shekels , the caves where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, is worth, in today's terms, some $750,000. That's just a little less than what Morris Abraham and his father Mickey paid for Beit HaShalom in Hebron.
Beit HaShalom, (the "Peace house" in English) is a huge, 40,000 square foot structure, just above the main road leading from Hebron to Kiryat Arba. When it became known that the Arab owner of the building, some five years ago, was putting it up for sale, and the Abraham family heard about it, it was a done deal.
Well, not quite. It took a few years to actually complete the transaction. Jews purchasing property from Arabs in Hebron is not an everyday occurrence, and is not easily accomplished. It is a task which requires, among other things, a tremendous amount of money, fine attorneys, much time, nerves of platinum, and most of all, a huge quantity of Divine assistance.
Thank G-d, it all came together, and about 20 months ago, having received a green light from the lawyers, residents from Hebron's Jewish community moved in.
It wasn't easy. From literally the moment we moved in, there was someone trying to have us removed. There were those who claimed that we 'stole the building' from the Arab owner. There were others who said, 'we don't care if they bought it legally. Jews shouldn't be in Hebron, period. Throw them out!"
However, we had a lot going for us. First of all, the building was purchased legally. At one point the community released a film of the Arab counting the cash he received. (When he later denied the sale during a police investigation, and the police showed him the video, he exclaimed, "I later cancelled the deal and gave them the money back!")
Hebron's commanding IDF officer was ecstatic about the purchase, being that the building is located at a very strategic position, overlooking all of Kiryat Arba, just across the road, and most of Hebron. And an initial police investigation of the documents was positive. The documents were authentic.
But facts don't necessarily mean much in Israel. A court ruled that there was enough seeming evidence to prevent us from being evicted, but too many question marks to allow 'life as usual.' So a status quo was ordered. We could stay, but without making any major changes in the building. That meant, for example, that windows could not be installed in the empty spaces in the walls. Nor could the building be hooked up the Hebron electric grid. So, as winter approached, the people inside were a little cold. A small generator was running, providing minimum electricity to keep the heaters running. But a building without windows, in a snow storm, is quite a bit to weather. Big sheets of plastic in place of glass don't really do the trick.
Finally, in the middle of a snow storm, and as a result of massive public pressure, cabinet ministers started pounding on Defense Minister Ehud Barak's desk, demanding that the government allow windows to be immediately installed. The pressure worked, and finally windows were brought in. They refused to allow window shades or shutters; that was too much. But glass windows were okayed.
But the left refused to give up and intensified efforts to have the Jews residents expelled from the building. Police suddenly decided that many of the sale documents were counterfeit, but refused to reveal which ones were faked. Finally the court forced them to allow the community an opportunity to defend itself and they had no choice but to divulge which papers were suspect. The community, via a former police officer, an expert on such affairs, was able to easily dispel the doubts as to the authenticity of the documents.
At a recent Supreme Court hearing, the judges, (two of the most left-wing members of the court together with an Arab judge, hearing the case), accused the community of 'taking the building by force' from its Arab owner. In response the community gave the court new, startling evidence: an audio recording of the Arab owners saying, in plain language, that he sold the place and received full compensation for the building. He also declared that he had come under great pressure from Palestinian authority intelligence forces to 'change his story.'
Last week the Supreme Court announced its decision. The decided to ignore the facts in the case, not letting them get in the way of their own political biases. They announced that they would not get involved in the previous government decision to expel the building's residents until the question of ownership was decided in a lower court. They gave the people living there 72 hours to leave of their own accord. If they did not voluntarily evict themselves, the government would then have legal permission to expel them.
As of this writing, new families and many youth are moving into Beit HaShalom, in order to reinforce Jewish presence at that building , which clearly belongs to Hebron's Jewish community. One family, Nahum and Revital Almagor and their 15 year old daughter came from Brooklyn to participate in the struggle for the building.
Last week, a retired judge, Uri Struzman, harshly criticized the Supreme Court ruling, calling it political and a sham. Another retired Supreme Court judge, Ya'akov Turkal, said that the Supreme Court decision did not demand that the families be removed from the building, rather that the government could remove them, if they so desired. In other words, the decision of expulsion is in the hands of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
At the moment, the building's many families: men, women and children, are willing to put up with a cold winter; (we expect that the cost to heat Beit HaShalom this winter at over $150,000 – money which the community does not presently have;) but they have no intentions of leaving their beloved home, Beit HaShalom, the building that Morris Abraham gave to the Jewish people of Hebron. A representative council of men and women from Hebron and Kiryat Arba, and other activists, has announced that the group will not initiate any violent acts against Israeli security forces, but should those forces attempt to expel them, there will be fierce resistance. However, the level of violence will be determined by the expulsion forces. MK Uri Ariel, speaking at an emergency community meeting last week, with over 1,000 people present, clearly stated that should those in the building be attacked and beaten, that they have a right to defend themselves.
Last Shabbat close to 25,000 people visited Hebron, hearing the Torah tell how Avraham Avinu purchased the Caves of Machpela some 3,800 years ago. Many of those people also visited Beit HaShalom, showing their support and encouragement. How fitting that a family named Abraham should buy a building for almost the same price Avraham Avinu paid for Ma'arat HaMachpela, a piece of property just five minutes from the first Jewish-owned land in Eretz Yisrael. comments ***************************************************************************
The real issue in Hebron
By Moshe Arens
Printed in HaAretz Newspaper
Incongruously named Beit Hashalom (House of Peace), that building on the road from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron has become a source of confrontation and altercations between the Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces, on the one hand, and the local settlers and their supporters, on the other.
What is this all about? Is it about the right of Jews to have access to one of the holiest sites of Judaism, or is it about the IDF's duty to prevent the occupation by settlers of a building that, it is claimed, has been purchased from its Arab owner under legally questionable circumstances? Since under the military law prevailing in Judea and Samaria, the acquisition of real estate there requires the approval of the commanding general of the area - in other words, of the minister of defense - and since that approval has not been granted at this point, the purchase, even if it was properly executed, is not considered legal.
Hence, the government considers the Jewish occupants of the building as being in violation of the law and has declared its intention of forcibly expelling them from it. The first question that arises, then, is what is the government's policy regarding access of Jews to the Cave of the Patriarchs (or Machpelah, in Hebrew), and what is the reason for the defense minister's not having approved the purchase of Beit Hashalom?
Next to Jerusalem, Hebron, the city of our forefathers, is the city to which Jews have the greatest historical and religious attachment. Next to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron is Judaism's holiest site.
Nevertheless, following the massacre of the Jewish community in Hebron in 1929, Jewish access to the city was severely limited, and from then until the end of the British Mandate, Jews were denied entry to the Cave and were not permitted to ascend beyond the seventh step on the stairs leading to it. During the days of Jordanian occupation the city was closed to Jews altogether.
Only after the Six-Day War could Jews pray again at the Cave of the Patriarchs, and the Jewish Quarter in Hebron was reestablished. Were it not for the presence of Jewish settlers in the city, in the Jewish Quarter and in nearby Kiryat Arba, access for Jews to the Cave would probably not have been possible in recent years. In other words, Jewish access to the Cave of the Patriarchs is dependent on the presence of the settlers in the Hebron area. This will probably be true in future years as well, regardless of any agreements that might be reached with the Palestinians or the Jordanians. Seen in this light, the acquisition of Beit Hashalom, on the road leading to the Machpelah, is a significant contribution to that end.
If it is the government's policy to assure the right of Jews to pray in the Cave, the defense minister should have instructed the commanding general to grant approval of the purchase of the building. In the absence of such an instruction, the impression is created that the defense minister and presumably the government in general have no interest in assuring this access. On the contrary, it seems they would like the settlers to leave the area, and are reconciled to Jews in the future being denied access to the Cave of the Patriarchs and the city of Hebron in general. If that is the government's intention, then its tactics in recent days are certainly succeeding. Provocative statements, daily threats of imminent forcible evacuation, and the use of invectives like a "cancerous growth" to describe the settlers are provoking the expected reaction. The fringe element of youngsters from the settlement movement are drawn to the site, engage in acts of hooliganism, and promote antagonism to the settlement movement that is likely to provide support for a forcible evacuation of Beit Shalom in the days to come. The government has to make a clear decision on whether it considers Jewish access to the Cave of the Patriarchs an inherent and legitimate right of the Jewish people, one that the State of Israel must guarantee now and in the future, or whether it considers it to be of no particular importance and is prepared to take steps that will lead to conditions that will make it difficult to exercise this right. That is the real issue in Hebron today.
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