Tag Archives: western wall

The trouble with Hebron

Praying at the Western Wall

Praying at the Western Wall

The main trouble with Hebron on the West Bank is that it is one of the holiest sites for the Jewish people. It is second only to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

In Hebron sits the Machpelah, which is said to have been purchased by Abraham, the progenitor of the Jewish people.

In the Machpelah, which is one half beautiful mosque and one half beautiful synagogue, are said to be buried the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. Rachel is buried in nearby Bethlehem, where she is said to have died in childbirth.

And Joseph’s tomb is said to be located in the West Bank town of Nablus.

Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus are all in the West Bank and are wanted by the Palestinians, along with east Jerusalem, as part of a future Palestinian state.

The Synagogue of the Machpelah, Hebron.

The Synagogue of the Machpelah, Hebron.

But Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus are as much a part of the religion, culture and history of the Jewish people as the two Jewish Temples that used to sit atop the Temple Mount in east Jerusalem and which have since been replaced by the Golden Domed Mosque. The Western Wall is the only remaining remnant of the Second Jewish Temple.

And it is partly with all this in mind that the Jewish people were granted the authority to return to these areas via the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

But between 1949 and 1967 Jews were cleansed from these areas by the Arabs when Jordan controlled the West Bank. Israel took it during the 1967 war and since then Israeli Jews have been able to visit these sites for prayer or just cultural curiosity, if they wish.

Most Jews, including non-Israeli ones, generally don’t though and the reason is clear.

On Tuesday four Israeli civilians were gunned down in their car near Hebron. Hamas proudly claimed responsibility while Palestinians poured on to the streets of Gaza to celebrate the murder of innocents.

The usual sickening excuses that the victims brought it upon themselves by being in the West Bank in the first place are being rolled out, but those who were murdered had every right to be where they were when they were killed.

However many times an ignorant journalist or lazy presenter calls the settlements or the settlers “illegal”, that does not make it a fact.

No where in international law are the settlements stated to be illegal.

Anyway, it is not like Hamas thinks about international law when it wants to carry out a terrorist act.

When they murdered those four people on tuesday they saw four Jews, not some dubious legal grievance.

It was the same in Hebron in 1929, 19 years before Israel was born, when the Mufti of Jerusalem incited the slaughter of 60 members of the orthoodox Jewish community of Hebron.

That said Jewish settlers should not necessarily stay in the West Bank just because they have the unambiguous right to.

If there is a reasonable prospect of a proper accord with the Palestinians then the settlers can be removed in the cause of peace. This is all subject to negotiation now.

The only people who can decide the course of events and history are those currently ensconced around the negotiating tables in Washington.

However, it is highly incongruous that while the Palestinians are insistent on having all their religious needs met by holding on to Hebron and the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem (as stated, both being sacred ground for Jews also), the Jews are expected to lay waste to their own religious heritage.

In a final peace agreement the Temple Mount in east Jerusalem, the holiest of Jewish sites, will be in Palestine as will Nablus and Bethlehem. The Palestinians also expect to obtain Hebron, the second holiest of Jewish sites.

While the Jewish people will still retain the Western Wall, where they can pray for dead and dying loved ones, it is only the Jews that will have sacrificed important parts of their religious heritage.

If religious sites cannot somehow be shared then the Palestinians must also expect to give up parts of their own religious heritage for peace.

Golden Domed Mosque sits atop the Jewish Temples' site

Golden Domed Mosque sits atop the Jewish Temples' site

Inside Machpelah Synagogue, Hebron

Inside Machpelah Synagogue, Hebron

The Mosque of the Machpelah, Hebron

The Mosque of the Machpelah, Hebron

Israeli army outside the Machpelah

Israeli army outside the Machpelah

Love Jews, Hate Israel.

Living life as a British Jew sometimes makes me feel like we have regressed 200 years. This feeling is even more pronounced at general election time.

200 years ago a Jewish state was nothing more than a figment of some madman’s imagination. Jews were nothing more than a religious people who were to be looked after, nurtured and cared for by the country in which they resided. Under Muslim rule they were considered “millet“; they could organise their own religious practices just as long as they were loyal to the Empire.

And on 21st December 1789 Clermont-Tonnerre declared in revolutionary France: “To the Jews as a nation nothing, to the Jews as individuals everything.”

Jews were expected to commit wholly to the country they lived in, which they did. There was to be no mention of Jewish autonomy or, dread the thought, a Jewish state.

And so forward 200 years to present day UK.

Our politicians have worked out that by mentioning Jews, but not Israel, they can have it both ways; ingratiate themselves with their Jewish constituents while being able to harness the Muslim vote. The perfect combo.

Just before this general election election was called the three main parties were united in the decision to expel an Israel diplomat after Israel’s, as yet unproven, use of British passports to assassinate a self-confessed Hamas terrorist.

And in the FT of 31 March David Cameron said: “Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as ‘occupied East Jerusalem’”.

Why did Cameron feel the need to call it “occupied”? He was adopting the language of one side, the Palestinians. No one called it “occupied” when it was controlled by Jordan between 1949-1967, when Jewish cemeteries and synagogues were trashed by the Arabs and the most religious site for Jews, the Western Wall, was allowed to fall into total disrepair.

Israeli Jews were banned from visiting the Wall. Had I been around at the time I would have been able to visit it but only by flashing said British passport.

But now the election is on there is hardly a negative mention of Israel, if it is mentioned at all, from the politicians wanting my “Jewish vote”.

David Cameron recently spoke to the Movement for Reform Judaism and failed to mention Israel. He praised the “Jewish people” and said he was appalled by the rise in anti-Semitic incidents. Most worthy was Cameron’s assertion that he will ban preachers of hate and extremist groups that are radicalising British students.

But a little more acknowledgement of why anti-Semitism is on the rise would have been welcome; because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel is unpopular with many British Muslims because of the conflict. But that does not mean that Israel is wrong in defending its innocent civilians from terror attacks. If Cameron was more courageous he would have pointed that out.

The Liberal Democrats’ views on Israel are now notorious. No need to keep mentioning Nick Clegg’s call for a ban on the sale of arms to Israel, so leaving it highly vulnerable to attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah.

But Ed Fordham, their candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, posted On the Doorsteps of Hampstead and Kilburn on the JC blog in which he goes out on a limb to mention the concerns of “one house of Jewish voters” and his “Jewish friends” as well as his visit to Dennington Park Road synagogue.

Then Labour politician Diane Abbot pops up on the JC website with her blog Fighting for Yemeni Jews. She wants to offer the persecuted Yemeni Jews sanctuary in the UK. Maybe they would like to go to Israel though? For some reason Abbot does not consider this obvious option.

Diane Abbott - Fighting for Yemeni Jews

There is no mention of Israel in her entire post but then again Abbott thinks Israel commits war crimes as you can see in the video below in which she passionately denounces Israel during Operation Cast Lead.

It is hypocritical that although in her post Abbott admits that Yemeni Jews are being persecuted “because of insurgent Islamicism”, when Israel defends itself against said “insurgent Islamicism” she considers Israel to be committing “war crimes”.

So although it is good to see that politicians are so concerned for British Jews, what they don’t realise is that theirs is a job only half done.

For most British Jews, although totally committed to Britain, concern for the welfare of Israel is part-and-parcel of their Jewishness just as for most British Muslims, also totally committed to Britain, their concern for the Palestinians is part-and-parcel of their Islam.

So these politicians need to be courageous enough to express that what Israel is up against is also what many of our own troops are currently dying because of in Afghanistan; said “insurgent Islamicism”.

They also need to speak out against the vicious campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, the latest incarnation of which is the Advertising Standards Authority’s banning of pictures of Western Wall in tourism adverts for Israel, unless the Wall is described as being on “occupied land”. The ASA’s delving into politics is unwelcome and wrong.

But as things currently stand, after some 200 years of enlightenment British politics seems to have regressed to the once extinct ideology of “to the Jews as a nation nothing, to the Jews as individuals everything”. It is a worrying development.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Jewish Chronicle