Local Time

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Growing up with hatred

Sunday Times magazine February 22, 2004

Growing up with hatred

At the heart of an Arab city, 300 Jewish children live amid hostility and bloodshed.
Philip Jacobson reports from Hebron. Photographs by Jan Grarup accompany this article in the newsprint edition

For the 300 or so children of the tiny Jewish community embedded in the heart of the volatile Arab city of Hebron, there is no escaping the shadow of the gun. The 9mm pistol on a father's hip, an older brother's M-16 rifle, the Uzi beside the driver of the armoured school bus. Heavily armed Israeli troops guard every street corner and man rooftop posts, while snipers on the surrounding high ground search for Jewish targets through telescopic sights. Unlike young people growing up in other West Bank settlements, isolated behind acres of razor wire and electrified fences, Hebron's Jewish children are immersed in a sea of Arabs. Around a quarter of the city's 130,000 Palestinians are stranded on the Israeli side of the 'seam line' established by an addendum to the Oslo peace accords in 1997. Many of the sandbagged, bullet-holed windows of buildings in the besieged enclaves face Arab homes.

From a very early age, the Jewish children of Hebron - which ironically means 'friend' in both its Arabic and Hebrew versions - absorb their parents' messianic conviction that they are doing God's will by resettling Judaism's most holy city after Jerusalem. It is drummed into them that constant danger is the price of reoccupying the ground where Jews had lived for centuries, until the black day in 1929 when Arabs massacred 67 people and drove out the survivors. By the time they leave kindergarten, they are grimly familiar with the safety drills to be followed in the event of a terrorist attack.

Sadly, many will also have been infected with the raw edge of suspicion and hatred of Arabs that thrives in Hebron's ultranationalistic enclaves. Ten-year-olds have been seen punching and kicking Palestinian women and overturning stalls during clashes that erupt periodically in the tense city centre. 'They know that nobody's going to punish them, least of all their parents,' said a member of a foreign Christian organisation that escorts Palestinian pupils to and from school at times of trouble. He claimed that Jewish children in buildings overlooking the marketplace had been known to shower Arabs with excrement.

'You need children to build, and ours quickly become active, dedicated partners in our ideals,' one settler proudly informed a Canadian visitor. Today, small boys with the side locks and skullcaps of religious Jews get their fun scrambling around the rubble of Palestinian shops and houses destroyed by the army in response to terrorist attacks or to create a buffer zone between the communities. Other properties stand shuttered and abandoned, their owners driven out by the threats and assaults of hardline settlers. Many are spray-painted with Israel's star of David, alongside slogans proclaiming: 'Death to the Arabs'.

The cockpit of communal tensions in Hebron, the Palestinian commercial capital some 25 miles south of Jerusalem, is the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a massive stone edifice built by King Herod on the site where the prophet Abraham, revered by Jews and Muslims alike, is buried. It was here in 1994 that Baruch Goldstein, a doctor from the much larger settlement of Kiryat Arba on the hills above Hebron, burst into the mosque that occupies part of the complex and shot dead 29 Palestinians at Friday prayers before he was beaten to death.

Hebron's children are encouraged by extremists to cherish Goldstein as a saint, martyred for defending the Jewish community. They are taken to pay their respects at his grave in the trim memorial garden laid out in Kiryat Arba with a panoramic view over Hebron, while soldiers with powerful binoculars scan the streets of the Arab neighbourhoods below for signs of trouble.

The raw animosity towards Ariel Sharon among Hebron's Jews, some of whom openly denounce him as a traitor, feeds on the fear that he could be prepared to sacrifice them, in the face of international pressure, to dismantle illegal settlements. The prime minister's shock announcement, earlier this month, that he envisages the removal of all the 7,500 Jews in the Gaza Strip as part of a unilateral 'disengagement' strategy, did nothing to allay their concerns. Some in the Hebron enclaves believe that Sharon would deserve the same fate as Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated by an Israeli fanatic for contemplating the abandonment of any part of the land.

'Plenty of Israelis regard us as fanatics and provocateurs for sitting here with our families, surrounded by people who hate us,' admits David Wilder, a wiry, voluble man who grew up in New Jersey and now acts as a spokesman for Hebron's Jews. At present, he says, the resident community consists of some 80 families; students at the yeshiva (religious high school) increase numbers to about 800. At least 40 of his friends and neighbours have been killed or wounded since he and his wife, Ora, who have seven children, moved into their cramped flat in 1991.

'You want to know about this? Let's start with Shalhevet Pass.'In March 2001, this 10-month-old baby girl, whose first name means 'flame' in Hebrew, was killed by a sniper's bullet through the head as her mother wheeled her pushchair around the Avraham Avinu playground. Her father, Yitzhak, was wounded in both legs; he was still in a wheelchair when the funeral took place, after being delayed for a week under a special rabbinical dispensation intended to increase pressure on the Israeli government for tougher measures against local Palestinians. Posters showing Shalhevet's plump, rather solemn face were plastered on walls and lampposts along the heavily guarded route to Hebron's ancient Jewish cemetery.

Wilder's youngest daughter, Rutie, then aged a little over nine, had seen Shalhevet die before her eyes and ran screaming into his office nearby. 'As you can imagine, she was distraught,' he recalls. 'Yet even for someone so young, this was not her first taste of violent death.' Three months earlier, Rutie's favourite teacher, Rina Didovsky, a mother of six, had been murdered by terrorists on a back road near Hebron: 'She was old enough to understand what had happened, and young enough to let her thoughts wander and be afraid.'

A few weeks after Shalhevet was killed, Wilder was working late when he heard the familiar crackle of gunfire from the hills. Then the phone rang. 'It was my 16-year-old daughter, Aderet, crying that our home was hit and bullets had just missed her and Rutie.' He rushed home to find that five high-velocity rounds had penetrated a gap in the sandbags protecting their windows, slamming into a wall between the girls. 'We gave thanks to God that we live in a city of miracles.'

Wilder seems confident that his children, like those of the other Hebron families who have chosen to put them in harm's way, possess the physical and spiritual resilience to bounce back from such searing experiences. 'My gut feeling is that the kids here are going to grow up to form the nucleus of a remarkable new generation of Jewish leaders. They run the same risks as the rest of us, and that can only make them stronger.'

Dr Zvi Moses is not convinced: a psychologist who is himself a West Bank settler, he argues that the most fervent of Jewish nationalists suffer from a sense of 'fractured reality'. So deeply held are their beliefs, he maintains, they cannot properly assess 'the danger to which they expose their children'. Studies from the Palestinian side show abundant evidence of the damage inflicted on the young and vulnerable - from nightmares and hallucinations to the hopelessness and despair that drive some to become suicide bombers.

Although most Hebron settlers have no time for foreign journalists, strenuously protecting the privacy of their families, Jan Grarup gained their confidence enough to be allowed to photograph freely inside the enclaves. His pictures provide a vivid insight into a tight knit community at ease with itself if not the outside world. In particular, those taken around the time of the festival of Purim last March capture the feel of daily life for Hebron's younger Jews.

Purim is the most joyful, child-friendly of religious holidays, celebrating God's delivery of the Jewish people from oppression with fancy-dress parades and gifts; but there was a darker side to the occasion in Hebron. To guard against a repeat of the sniper attack on the previous year's march that had sparked off a gunfight, hundreds of troops and several armoured personnel carriers escorted the march through streets emptied of Palestinians by a strict curfew. Among the girls dressed as bunny rabbits and boys trailing balloons astride their father's shoulders was a grotesque apparition in camouflage uniform, wearing a gas mask and brandishing an M-16 with a fixed bayonet. A self-professed extremist from Kiryat Arba, Jonathan, 19, had brought his message of undiluted hatred of the Arabs. His helmet was adorned with a 'Born to Kill' sticker. 'Kill them all and let God sort them out' was scrawled across the ammunition clip in his loaded rifle. Nobody appeared to object to his presence, and the parade passed off without incident, leaving students to follow Purim tradition by getting drunk.

The troops who protect Hebron's enclaves, many of them teenage conscripts, have clashed periodically with gangs of Jewish youths intent on attacking the surrounding Arab neighbourhoods. After they had trashed homes and looted shops in the wake of the killing of a Hebron settler, a senior Israeli army officer accused them of mounting 'a pogrom' against innocent Palestinians. Following the deaths of 12 soldiers and security officers in an ambush in November 2002 as they returned from sabbath prayers, a mob of young people gathered at the tomb, baying for Arab blood, spitting and swearing at troops trying to defuse the situation.

'I've had kids no older than my little brother right in my face, calling me names,' said a weary corporal hitching a lift at the Avraham Avinu bus stop. 'One told me I was a f***ing Nazi. You've got to believe they pick up this stuff at home.' Settler parents often put their children in harm's way by brushing aside advice from the army not to bring them to highly charged events such as funerals. 'They do exactly what they want; then, when trouble starts, they accuse the army of endangering their kids' lives by being soft on the Arabs.

'On one occasion, against warnings from security officials, a group of children from Hebron were taken to Bethlehem to the tomb of Rachel, the wife of the patriarch Jacob. At the time, the area was considered highly dangerous, with firefights erupting between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen. But the women who organised the trip were adamant that 'by bringing children to these sacred places, we enable them to live a full Jewish life'.

Although some Israeli soldiers admit privately that they find the task of protecting settlers and their unruly offspring distasteful, there have been allegations that others refuse to prevent Jewish schoolchildren from attacking Arabs. One western human-rights activist claims to have seen soldiers letting them spit on young Palestinians held at a checkpoint. 'Not every settler in Hebron is a thug and a bully; there are other settlements where contempt and hatred for the Arabs is even more extreme,' she said. 'But the enclaves here contain virulent nationalists and, unfortunately, young people tend to look up to them.'

Last summer, Hebron's Jews were stunned by the arrest of Yitzak Pass, the father of the murdered Shalhevet, for possession of 10lb of high explosive. Rumours soon spread that Pass was deeply involved with an underground terrorist organisation planning attacks on Palestinian civilians. It emerged that his family had suffered severely at the hands of Palestinian extremists: his brother was shot and wounded on a visit to the Hebron enclaves, his father-in-law had been badly injured in an axe attack, his wife's twin sister had been stabbed. Even so, David Wilder could not accept that Pass would seek bloody revenge. He insists his community rejects any form of vigilante action.

Although Sharon has not singled out Hebron as among the more problematic West Bank settlements, it is known that the army has standing contingency plans for the forcible evacuation of certain ultranationalist strongholds. 'Of course, if he sends enough troops, they could clear us out of our homes, but we would never stop trying to return,' Wilder emphasised. 'That's a sacred duty we owe to the children who will follow us.'

Meanwhile, an Israeli journalist familiar with the Jewish enclaves sees no hope of settlers ever accepting a degree of peaceful coexistence with their neighbours along the dividing line. 'We're talking about a claustrophobic, inward-looking society, where kids learn almost as soon as they can walk that Palestinians are the enemy. Children on the Arab side are equally indoctrinated with hatred of Jews. That's the tragedy of Hebron.'

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Unsurprisingly the opposition have issued an alert condemning this article for inciting hatred and biased reporting. They ask their subscribers to write in to the Sunday Times quoting Israeli Government reports (very objective) on how much more indoctrinated and hateful Palestinian children are! Although they cannot deny the truths and facts in this account they wish to demonise Palestinians by focusing only on their reaction to this oppression.

Please counter their complaints by making the following points:

Extremist settlers such as those at Hebron, their power, influence and appetite for violence, which are often downplayed by Zionists are the real obstacles to peace.

Object to the statement: 'Children on the Arab side are equally indoctrinated with hatred of Jews.' It is absurd to argue Arab children have been indoctrinated, the violence that is perpetrated against them, the abuse they suffer on a daily basis and the threat of ethnic cleansing is what shapes their desire to fight the colonisers and their army, to blame school books and the PA as Zionists do for everything is ridiculous.

Some more instances of violence and incitement against Palestinians that this report failed to mention:

o Baruch Marzel is one of the most prominent leaders of the settlers, like all religious Zionists, Marzel is indoctrinated in the ideology of Messianic Zionism which teaches that the Jewish Messiah or Redeemer will not appear until Palestine is "cleansed" of non-Jews. A few years ago, he shot and killed a 15-year-Palestinian boy, Ibrahim Idris, who was visiting from Amman. Marzel claimed the boy threw a stone at him and he had to defend himself. Marzel was also arrested (but released) for conspiring to plant a bomb at an Arab school.

o In July 2002, Israeli settlers in Hebron killed 14-year old Palestinian girl, Nivin Jamjoum. She was fatally wounded in her right eye with a bullet shot from an M16 machinegun. The shooting occured when a number of Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian homes. Nivin's brother, Marwan Jamjoum (20) was wounded in his right leg. They were hit when they were standing on their balcony in the Shaludi quarter in the old city of Hebron. Eleven Palestinians were wounded in the settlers' rampage.

o In the same month an Israeli settler stabbed 7-years old Ahmad al Natshi. Another Israeli setter from the Israeli colony Kiryat Arba shot and wounded 9 years old Fawaz Idris. Furthermore, six Palestinians were injured when an Israeli setter drove into their car in the Abu Snini neighborhood of Hebron. Anwar Masuda (45) and Nuzha Nofal (40) were also wounded when Israeli settlers attacked the old city of Hebron.

o In 1997 (pre-Intifada) without provocation settler militants hung posters portraying the prophet of Islam as a pig (astaghfirullah) dozens of settlers shouted "Mohammed is the son of a whore" and "Mohammed is a pig" at Palestinians who then rioted in anger, whereupon occupation soldiers fired rubber bullets at them.

o There are plenty more accounts like these.
Most importantly inform the Sunday Times about the importance of Al-Khalil to Muslims something the Zionists constantly deny.

The city of Al-Khalil (Hebron) contains the Haram al-Ibrahimi al-Khalil (The Sanctuary of Abraham, the Friend). In the mosque is the Prophet Ibrahim's (AS) tomb, and the tombs of his wife Sara (RA), his son Prophet Ishaq (Isaac) (AS) and his wife Rifqah (Rachel) (RA), Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) (AS) and Prophet Yakub (Jacob) (AS). Al-Khalil is named after Prophet Ibrahim (AS) who was called "Khalil" or 'friend of Allah' in the Quran: "Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to Allah, does good, and follows the way of Abraham the true in faith? For Allah did take Abraham for a friend."
(Holy Quran 4:125)

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