Hebron­Past, Present and Forever -- February 5, 1999

MEASURES OF STRENGTH

By David Wilder

Two subjects have become major topics of the current elections: Tel Rumeida and Bibi's new campaign slogan.

Tel Rumeida? Yes! Labor candidate Ehud Barak has turned Tel Rumeida into a campaign issue. In what way? For example, a few days ago, on Tuesday, Feb. 2nd, as quoted in Ha'Artetz newspaper: "We have clear red lines. Yitzhar and Tel Rumeida are one thing; But Alphei Menashe, Gush Etzion, Ariel, Nirit, the Jordan Valley settlements and many other places are part of the State of Israel in the permanent settlement as well."

In other words, Tel Rumeida is NOT part of the State of Israel, according to Barak.

What exactly is Tel Rumeida? This Hebron neighborhood is very special. The word Rumeida, in Arabic, has something to do with a fire that occurred well over 1,000 years ago and for some reason the name stuck. However, the real name of this site is not Tel Rumeida. Rather, it is Tel Hebron. For this is the site of the original Hebron ­ the home of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Lea.

According to archeologists, a huge, ancient wall found here originated during the days of Joshua. Later, this site was the location of King David's first palace ­ the first capital of the Kingdom of Judea, where David went following the death of King Saul. Visitors can see here the Tomb of Jessie and Ruth ­ Jessie, King David's father, and Ruth, his great grandmother.

Other excavations have unearthed ruins from two thousand years ago, during the time of the Second Temple. Only a few months ago a superficial excavation discovered 40 clay jugs four thousand years old. Some of this pottery was intact, and some of the jugs contained jewelry inside them. When I take tourists to visit this neighborhood I tell them, "You literally have 4,000 years of Jewish history here, under your feet. This is the roots of the Jewish People, the roots of monotheism. Our history began here. This is the original Hebron, the first Jewish city in Israel."

Tel Rumeida today is a small Jewish neighborhood. Small, not because this is the way we want it, but because we have denied the ability to build, or to bring in prefabricated structures. Seven families live today in this area, living in what we call 'caravans' or mobile homes. Each caravan is about 45 square meters in size. One family, who we frequently visit while touring, has two caravans ­ 90 square meters. The reason: they recently celebrated the birth of their 12th child. So they need a little extra room. Another family in Tel Rumeida came from Russia, not too many years ago. The wife, Anna, is one of Israel's premiere musicians. Tel Rumeida is also home to Hebron director Rabbi Hillel Horowitz and his family. And of course, I must mention another family, a family which experienced tremendous tragedy a few months ago: Rabbanit Chaya Ra'anan. Her husband, Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan, the sixty three year old grandson of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, Israel's first Chief Rabbi, was brutally murdered by an Arab terrorist less than six months ago.

These are some of the seven families living today at the site of Israel's first Jewish city. This is the neighborhood of the 'extremists' which, according to Barak, is NOT a part of the State of Israel. This is a land area which, according to Barak, WILL BE GIVEN TO ARAFAT, as part of a final status settlement.

(A few weeks ago an Israeli archeologist who excavated at Tel Rumeida, and who is also a well­known activist of Shalom Achshav ­ Peace Now, in the Israeli left, told us, "This is the second most important archeological site in Israel, second only to Jerusalem." He added, "Unfortunately, it belongs to Arafat.")

This is where Barak draws the line.

The second topic I mentioned is Bibi's campaign slogan, which says: Netanyahu: A strong leader for a strong people. (Well, they got half of it right. We are a strong people. Whether or not Netanyahu is a strong leader is another story.)

Why is this a controversial subject? For some reason, people object to the use of the word 'strength'. It seems to have negative connotations. This, I personally find difficult to comprehend. Strength does not necessarily mean physical strength. What about moral and ethical strength, spiritual strength, or what might be called assertiveness ­ i.e. standing up for what you believe in?

What I find interesting is that the same people who negate Tel Rumeida also object to this campaign slogan. And the reason seems to be fairly obvious. They prefer weakness. They prefer mediocrity. They prefer a fuzzy and obscure identity. They cannot identify with Abraham or King David or Joshua, because these central figures in the history of our People were strong and assertive. They cannot associate with a people like the Maccabees, who revolted against the Greeks, or Bar­Kochva, who led the revolt against the Romans following the fall of the Second Temple. Both the Maccabees and Bar Kochva battled in ancient Hebron. For they represent the antithesis of 'good Jews'. They prefer Jews who kowtow to the demands of others, who prefer Washington and Geneva to Hebron and Yitzhar (a community in the Shomron). They prefer to erase our past, thereby stunting our future.

A people unwilling to honor its past, cannot honor its future. Of course we always have to look forward, but when we look at ourselves in the mirror of history, we are our past. If we despise our past, we despise our present. And in the future, we too will be disregarded. The measure of who we are ­ Israelis and Jews ­ this is our past and our strength. That is why, obviously, Barak rejects not only the 'strength' in the campaign slogan, but also the historic identity with Tel Rumeida.

We, to the contrary, have a different measure of strength, a strength which is inextricably bound up with Tel Rumeida ­ with Abraham and King David, with Joshua and the Maccabees. And with seven families who are keeping this ancient holy site accessible for all the Jewish people.

(Note: The present administration has recently granted permission to build at Tel Rumeida. Hopefully, following archeological excavations due to begin shortly, new houses will be built at this site and the population will be doubled.)


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