By Khaled Diab
Â Hebron settlement is as important as Tel Aviv, Israel is obliged to protect it and what Arabs lost in war should not be returned, says spokesman.
Monday 9 January 2012
Khaled Diab: What Iâm gathering from what youâve been saying is that you feel thereâs a lack of understanding, comprehension and empathy and, even sympathy, towards your community and its aspirations. But how about if we turn the tables, do you feel your community understands and comprehends and empathises with mainstream concerns, such as, for example, you said that you were about 800 people here, yet you need several hundred, or a couple of thousand, soldiers to protect your presence here? Quite a lot of mainstream Israelis are relatively bitter about that. And how about the wider concerns, that your presence here has a humanitarian impact on the Palestinian population of Hebron.
David Wilder: Thatâs a big question, so letâs chop it up. Letâs start with the first part of the question. In terms of the military. First of all, itâs important to understand that the community here is here with theâ¦ the community here was re-established with the express consent and approval of the Israeli government. In other words, itâs not a pirate community. So, itâs real, itâs official, itâs not, you know, where somebody came in and they put up a tent, and then we grew and reachedâ¦
But the early settlers after the 1967 war, werenât they like that?
We first came backâ¦ we came in 1968. People rented a hotel and then the Israeli government moved them to a military compound, and they lived there for two and a half years. After that, Kiryat Arba was established by the Israeli government, by Moshe Dayan, and they moved up there.
In 1979, a group of women and children moved into Hebron, to Beit Haddasa, which was a Jewish building, it was built by Jews in 1893 as a medical clinic which was used by both Jews and Arabs in Hebron. At that time, it was empty. The prime minister then, Menachem Begim, wasnât overjoyed that they were there but he didnât throw them out. He made their living conditions extremely difficult, but he didnât expel them.
In 1980, following a terrorist attack here, when six men were killed, the Israeli government voted and re-established officially a Jewish community in Hebron. And a lot of, not all of, the buildingsâ¦ but some of the buildings here, the rebuilding or the renovations, were done with funding from the Israeli government. So itâs something thatâs real and official, ok.
The fact that there are people who donât like it, you know. I donât like Tel Aviv, does that mean we should tear Tel Aviv down and throw everybody out? No. I like this; they like that.
In terms of the military presence here, the Israeli military, or the Israeli government, has policies whereby they protect Jews wherever they are. And there are Jews here, so they also have to be protected. When I came to Israel in 1974, you didnât have in Jerusalem security guards at bus stops, checking people getting on buses to make sure theyâre not carrying bombs to blow up people on the bus. Itâs a tremendous outlay to have security people at bus stops, you know, but Israel did it because it was a necessity. And the same thing is true in Hebron.
First of all, Iâm not responsible for the fact that there are only 850 people here. The property that we have is full. If weâre allowed to build in Hebron on the property that we own, then we could have more people here. If we could buy from Arabs that want to sell us property, we could have more people. But as youâre very much aware, PA law says that Arabs who sell property to Jews will be summarily executed â itâs a capital crime [Ed: the PA has not actually executed anyone for this offence]. And they do it, so most Arabs, theyâre not looking, you know, for all those virgins up there in the sky, so they donât do it, because theyâre not really interested in getting killed. Itâs a very difficult procedure.
The military that is here have several different functions. Theyâre here to protect me, for sure. Theyâre also here to protect you, and all the other people that come here to visit, because we have a lot of people that come in to visit. Today, thereâs a group of 400 people here.
But, as far as Iâm concerned, the most important role of the military here has absolutely nothing to do with us. When Hebron was divided in 1997, the Hebron Accords, Israel pulled out of most of the city. It was given entirely to Arafat, and we pulled everything out. When we did that, the other side of Hebron turned into a terrorist nest, and you had people running around Israel from Hebron blowing themselves up, in Tel Aviv and Beâer Sheva and Haifa. There was a soccer team, a football team, in Hebron that they all turned into suicide bombers. There was an article about them in Newsweek.
In other words, when there was no Israeli intelligence, no Israeli security, on the other side of the city, it just, you know, it turned into a breeding ground for terrorism. And the same thing happened in Jenin. It happened in other places. And it cost us. It cost us a lot of lives. The Israeli military, as far as Iâm concerned is here at least as much for, if not more, to protect the people in Tel Aviv than they are to protect me. Because if they can prevent someone from building a bomb and getting out to Tel Aviv or wherever they want to go to blow themselves up, then thatâs certainly no less important than making sure that Iâm safe and youâre safe. And that takes soldiers, you know.
Well, you can say that, if we pulled out of all of Hebron. Great! Well, then letâs just look atâ¦ if we want to learn a little bit from our recent past, we did that in Gush Katif. We pulled out of Gush Katif and we got 10,000 rockets back into Israel from what we gave them.
And you regard that as a pullout? I mean, the military is still in there.
They pulled out. They pulled out entirely.
Yes, but the military presence of Israel is still there. Thereâs the whole no-manâs-land. Thereâs the perimeter. Thereâre regular raids. The borders and economy are controlled by Israel.
No, no, of course not. The only reason you have raid is stop them throwing rockets at us. When we pulled out, the idea wasâ¦ the Europeans invested a lot of money there. The Israelis who were down there, they had initiated and developed tremendous flower industries and the Europeans bought a lot of the hothouses that they used, which wereâ¦ I donât understand the field at all, but they were very sophisticatedâ¦ So that the Arabs who then inherited what we left would be able to use them, and they destroyed them. They took them apart; they destroyed them.
When Israel pulls out of areas, theyâve turned into terrorist bases which have wreaked havoc in Israel proper, ok. Iâm not talking about what they try to do in Hebron. Iâm talking about what they try to do to people in Tel Aviv â and that, I think, is a major reason why the military is here and why the numbers have to be where theyâre at.
So thatâs the first part of the question. The other part of the question is dealing withâ¦ you asked me about, you know, well, there are people that donât like us hereâ¦ So, there are people that donât like us, so what?
The concept of Hebron â i.e. Jews with horns and tails who breathe fire and eat one Arab for breakfast and two for lunch and three for dinner with the blood dripping off from your moustache from the one youâve just finished â thatâs the vision that people have. And they come in and itâs not like that. When I used to give toursâ¦ I still give tours but a different kind of tourâ¦ We would start in Kiryat Arba and the bus would come in and Iâd just go around Kiryat Arba in the bus before coming down here into Hebron. And I used to watch peopleâs faces, and they didnât believe it. They didnât believe they were in Kiryat Arba, because Kiryat Arba is a settlement, and you know what a settlement is, a settlement is some tents, right? But thatâs what people thought, that was the vision they had.
And a lot of Israelis who come in, not for a political tour, they can ask questions if they like, but forget the politics, just the historical element, the religious element, what Hebron means to the Jewish people, whether youâre religious or youâre not religious, it doesnât make any difference. Everybody has a heritage, and they see it and they hear a little bit, and all of a sudden (clicks fingers): this isnât what they taught me about Hebron. And itâs a totally different image. And thatâs when mainstream Israelis who say may be we shouldnât be here start saying, may be we should be. And weâve had that happen.
It happened not so long ago. A major Israeli television entertainment personality was here and, after he was here, he said, yeah, there are problems with the community here and there, but we canât leave Hebron, you know, and that happens when people see it, when theyâre here, when they start to feel it a little bit. And we see that happen time and time and time again. Itâs not an isolated kind of a thing.
To touch on something you said in passing about the taboo amongst Palestinians towards selling property to Israeli Jews. How does the community here and other groups among the Jewish community feel about selling land to Arabs, Palestinians? Look, if a Palestinian came and asked to buy your landâ¦
Ok, look, thereâs a major difference between what I like and what I donât like and what is legally acceptable. I can say that I donât like it, I can even oppose it, but the Supreme Court just ruled, up north in one of the moshavim, that when they had a tender to buy property, there was an Arab couple that wanted to buy and the community wouldnât let them, the Supreme Court said you have to let them, you have to sell it to them, cuz theyâre no different than anybody else.
Legally, according to PA law, which is based on Jordanian law, an Arab that sells property to a Jew is to be killed. Israeli law doesnât say that. There can be reasons why yes and why know; there can be security elements; there can be all sorts of elements.
We used to have here, many years agoâ¦ They were building outside here, and there were Arab workers. One day, an Arab came inside here, with a gun, and he pulled them all together and told them if you come back here tomorrow, Iâll kill you. That was an Arab telling the Arabs. The next day nobody showed up.
In other words, there can be differences of opinion â pro, for, against, whatever â and thatâs all legitimate. But when you take that and legalise it, and you say the law isâ¦
But isnât there a law, a form of legalisation, that says Israel officially owns all the land of Israel, like the Israeli governmentâ¦
I wish that was true, but itâs not. I mean, you can ask me religiously what I believe, but in terms of whatâs on the books, the president of the Supreme Court ruled, much to my own personal differing of opinion or opposition, but sheâs the president of the Supreme Court, not me â at least, for a little while longer, she is. She ruled that any land thatâs not registered as being owned by the Israeli government or the state of Israel belongs to the Arabs. Now I donât know where she gets that from. But itâs just the opposite of what you just said.
There is land thatâs owned by Arabs, I know that, and thereâs land that isnât. Thereâs land thatâs owned by Jews, thatâs owned by Arabs, thereâs state-owned land. In any country in the world, thereâs state-owned land.
And you think land captured by conquest is legitimate property?
Youâre asking aboutâ¦
Like what, for example, the international community regards as occupied territory?
Like the Jordanian conquest of 1948. The land that they took in 1948 by conquest. Is that legally theirs or not?
Or the land that Israel took in 1967. I mean, in all cases.
First of all, you see one of the anomalies of the conflict today is that thereâs almost a given that violence, or different levels of violence, committed by one side is legitimate and accepted and understood and justifiable, and from the other side itâs not. There are consequences. If somebody declares war, or forget the war, if somebody walks into my office, and I start beating them up. You walked into my office just now and you said, my name is Khaled, and I jump on you and start hitting you, and you sue me, ok. You sue me for a million shekels. You take me to court. Then Iâm going to have to pay the consequences for beating you up. May be you beat me up too. But I have to pay for what I did. Itâs my problem. It might have hurt you, but I have to pay the consequences for what I did.
If somebody starts a war with you, then there are consequences for that. People canât declare war and figure that even if they lose, theyâre not going to have to pay a price. You know, when you say, as Nasser said, weâre going to throw them into the sea and, you know, he made a pact with the Syrians and the Jordanians, and he said, you know, letâs finish them off.
In 1967, the prime minister was Levi Eshkolâ¦
But didnât Israel start the 1967 war or donât you regard that Israel started it?
I donât know. The history books that I have say that Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran. Thatâs an act of war. The United Nations left. You know, thatâs an act of war. The fact that he closed the Straits of Tiran, that he put a blockade on Israel, and said weâre going to throw you into the sea, formed a military pact with the Syrians and the Jordanians, I think thatâs pretty much an act of war.
When Levi Eshkol was prime minister and he sent representatives from the state of Israel, including Golda Meir, to Hussein in Jordan saying to him, we donât want anything, just leave us alone â we have enough to worry about up north and down south, just leave us alone. Weâll leave you alone, you leave us alone. And his response was to start shelling Jerusalem. He started shooting missiles from Jordan into Israel.
So, what, he thought he was going to do that and we were going to just ignore him? May be he thought that we would be finished, that they would defeat us and he would get everything. He wouldnât just have East Jerusalem, he would get West Jerusalem too and a little bit more. But it didnât work like that. You canât start a war and expect that, if by chance you lose the war, itâs not going to cost you anything.
We came into Judea and Samaria and Gaza as a result of that war. And we stayed. Today, when people talk about the Geneva Convention and civilians and all of that, there are many different responses to all of those questions. The first one is, of course, if you want to say that weâre not allowed to be here, or that weâre occupying this, then whoâs the legal owner, so to speak?
In other words, back in 1974 or 1975, Hussein relinquished all claims to Judea and Samaria. He said, I donât want anything to do with it. Itâs not mine any more.
But he relinquished them to the Palestinians, not to Israel.
No, he said, itâs not mine.
And he voted for the Palestinians, the PLO, as the representatives of the interests of the Palestinian people.
But that doesnât mean just because he said so that it belongs to them. I mean, like, you know. The questions involvedâ¦ I mean, legally, I donât have any problems with international law. I mean, there are no problems. But if we take a place like Hebron, ok, and we takeâ¦ I mean, right now, there was aâ¦ You know, for 700 years, Jews and Christians had no access to Machpelah, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Is that true?
Oh, yeah, unfortunately itâs true. In the year 1267â¦ In 1260, the Mamluks pushed out the Crusaders. The Crusaders came in about 1100. And, ironically, the Crusaders in Hebron threw out the Jews. It was the first time I know of in a long, long time that there hadnât been Jews in Hebron.
In 1260, the Mamluks threw out the Crusaders and let the Jews back in. The Mamluk emperor was a guy called Baybars and he closed off Temple Mount and, as an aside, he closed of Machpelah. He said, itâs a mosque. And for 700 years, we couldnât go inside. There used to be stairs on the eastern wall. Jews could go up to the seventh step. Thatâs as far as we could go. They started to let Christians back in in the early to middle 1900s. Jews couldnât go in. And for hundreds and hundreds of years, there were stairs on the eastern wall and Jews could go up to the seventh step.
And itâs only since we came back, is that side accessible to anybody. Anybody who wants to can go in. There are different sides, and this for this, and that for that, but anybody that wants to can go inside, with very, very few exceptions. Today, and you can read it, Iâm writing about it now, the Arab mayor of Hebronâ¦ I say it to people all the time, but nobody really believes it, but now heâs said itâ¦ He said it, you know, and it was printed by, in Time magazine, by a writer whoâs not a big friend of ours, so if he writes thatâs what they said, then I think heâs accurate. The Arab mayor of Hebron today says that if he ever controls it, he wonât let Jews back in. He says itâs a mosque, always has been, always will be. He said, you know, weâve been there as a mosque since, you know, 1260 or 1400 or whatever date.
If weâre not here, then thereâs no access. Itâs gone.
So, you feel yourselves to be guardians of the Jewish heritage of Hebron?
Weâ¦ Letâs put it this way, if there wasnât a Jewish community in Hebron today, it doesnât matter whether Iâm here or somebody else is here, if there wasnât a Jewish community in Hebron today, Machpelah wouldâve been lost a long time ago. We wouldâve lost Machpelah in 1997. Arafat demanded it then, and they wouldnât give it to him. And the people who wouldnât give it to him werenât rightwing extremists like me, they were leftwing extremists. Bu they were the ones running the show, and they took to Arafat the numbers, and they said this is how many Jews are visiting and how many Arabs are visiting. We canât give it away, we canât give it to you, there are too many Jews that go visit, and those numbers keep growing.