By Khaled Diab
Monday 9 January 2012
Khaled Diab: What I’m gathering from what you’ve been saying is that you feel there’s 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: That’s a big question, so let’s chop it up. Let’s start with the first part of the question. In terms of the military. First of all, it’s important to understand that the community here is here with the… the community here was re-established with the express consent and approval of the Israeli government. In other words, it’s not a pirate community. So, it’s real, it’s official, it’s not, you know, where somebody came in and they put up a tent, and then we grew and reached…
But the early settlers after the 1967 war, weren’t they like that?
We first came back… 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, wasn’t overjoyed that they were there but he didn’t throw them out. He made their living conditions extremely difficult, but he didn’t 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 buildings… but some of the buildings here, the rebuilding or the renovations, were done with funding from the Israeli government. So it’s something that’s real and official, ok.
The fact that there are people who don’t like it, you know. I don’t 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 didn’t have in Jerusalem security guards at bus stops, checking people getting on buses to make sure they’re not carrying bombs to blow up people on the bus. It’s 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, I’m not responsible for the fact that there are only 850 people here. The property that we have is full. If we’re 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 you’re very much aware, PA law says that Arabs who sell property to Jews will be summarily executed – it’s a capital crime [Ed: the PA has not actually executed anyone for this offence]. And they do it, so most Arabs, they’re not looking, you know, for all those virgins up there in the sky, so they don’t do it, because they’re not really interested in getting killed. It’s a very difficult procedure.
The military that is here have several different functions. They’re here to protect me, for sure. They’re 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, there’s a group of 400 people here.
But, as far as I’m 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 Be’er 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 I’m 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 that’s certainly no less important than making sure that I’m safe and you’re safe. And that takes soldiers, you know.
Well, you can say that, if we pulled out of all of Hebron. Great! Well, then let’s just look at… 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. There’s the whole no-man’s-land. There’s the perimeter. There’re 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 was… 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 were… I don’t understand the field at all, but they were very sophisticated… 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, they’ve turned into terrorist bases which have wreaked havoc in Israel proper, ok. I’m not talking about what they try to do in Hebron. I’m talking about what they try to do to people in Tel Aviv – and that, I think, is a major reason why the military is here and why the numbers have to be where they’re at.
So that’s the first part of the question. The other part of the question is dealing with… you asked me about, you know, well, there are people that don’t like us here… So, there are people that don’t like us, so what?
The concept of Hebron – 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 you’ve just finished – that’s the vision that people have. And they come in and it’s not like that. When I used to give tours… I still give tours but a different kind of tour… We would start in Kiryat Arba and the bus would come in and I’d just go around Kiryat Arba in the bus before coming down here into Hebron. And I used to watch people’s faces, and they didn’t believe it. They didn’t 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 that’s 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 you’re religious or you’re not religious, it doesn’t 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 isn’t what they taught me about Hebron. And it’s a totally different image. And that’s when mainstream Israelis who say may be we shouldn’t be here start saying, may be we should be. And we’ve 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 can’t leave Hebron, you know, and that happens when people see it, when they’re here, when they start to feel it a little bit. And we see that happen time and time and time again. It’s 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 land…
Ok, look, there’s a major difference between what I like and what I don’t like and what is legally acceptable. I can say that I don’t 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 wouldn’t let them, the Supreme Court said you have to let them, you have to sell it to them, cuz they’re 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 doesn’t 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 ago… 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, I’ll kill you. That was an Arab telling the Arabs. The next day nobody showed up.
In other words, there can be differences of opinion – pro, for, against, whatever – and that’s all legitimate. But when you take that and legalise it, and you say the law is…
But isn’t there a law, a form of legalisation, that says Israel officially owns all the land of Israel, like the Israeli government…
I wish that was true, but it’s not. I mean, you can ask me religiously what I believe, but in terms of what’s on the books, the president of the Supreme Court ruled, much to my own personal differing of opinion or opposition, but she’s the president of the Supreme Court, not me – at least, for a little while longer, she is. She ruled that any land that’s not registered as being owned by the Israeli government or the state of Israel belongs to the Arabs. Now I don’t know where she gets that from. But it’s just the opposite of what you just said.
There is land that’s owned by Arabs, I know that, and there’s land that isn’t. There’s land that’s owned by Jews, that’s owned by Arabs, there’s state-owned land. In any country in the world, there’s state-owned land.
And you think land captured by conquest is legitimate property?
You’re asking about…
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 there’s 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 it’s 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 I’m 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. It’s 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 can’t declare war and figure that even if they lose, they’re not going to have to pay a price. You know, when you say, as Nasser said, we’re 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, let’s finish them off.
In 1967, the prime minister was Levi Eshkol…
But didn’t Israel start the 1967 war or don’t you regard that Israel started it?
I don’t know. The history books that I have say that Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran. That’s an act of war. The United Nations left. You know, that’s an act of war. The fact that he closed the Straits of Tiran, that he put a blockade on Israel, and said we’re going to throw you into the sea, formed a military pact with the Syrians and the Jordanians, I think that’s 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 don’t want anything, just leave us alone – we have enough to worry about up north and down south, just leave us alone. We’ll 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 wouldn’t just have East Jerusalem, he would get West Jerusalem too and a little bit more. But it didn’t work like that. You can’t start a war and expect that, if by chance you lose the war, it’s 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 we’re not allowed to be here, or that we’re occupying this, then who’s 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 don’t want anything to do with it. It’s not mine any more.
But he relinquished them to the Palestinians, not to Israel.
No, he said, it’s not mine.
And he voted for the Palestinians, the PLO, as the representatives of the interests of the Palestinian people.
But that doesn’t mean just because he said so that it belongs to them. I mean, like, you know. The questions involved… I mean, legally, I don’t have any problems with international law. I mean, there are no problems. But if we take a place like Hebron, ok, and we take… I mean, right now, there was a… You know, for 700 years, Jews and Christians had no access to Machpelah, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Is that true?
Oh, yeah, unfortunately it’s true. In the year 1267… 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 hadn’t 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, it’s a mosque. And for 700 years, we couldn’t go inside. There used to be stairs on the eastern wall. Jews could go up to the seventh step. That’s as far as we could go. They started to let Christians back in in the early to middle 1900s. Jews couldn’t 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 it’s 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, I’m writing about it now, the Arab mayor of Hebron… I say it to people all the time, but nobody really believes it, but now he’s said it… He said it, you know, and it was printed by, in Time magazine, by a writer who’s not a big friend of ours, so if he writes that’s what they said, then I think he’s accurate. The Arab mayor of Hebron today says that if he ever controls it, he won’t let Jews back in. He says it’s a mosque, always has been, always will be. He said, you know, we’ve been there as a mosque since, you know, 1260 or 1400 or whatever date.
If we’re not here, then there’s no access. It’s gone.
So, you feel yourselves to be guardians of the Jewish heritage of Hebron?
We… Let’s put it this way, if there wasn’t a Jewish community in Hebron today, it doesn’t matter whether I’m here or somebody else is here, if there wasn’t a Jewish community in Hebron today, Machpelah would’ve been lost a long time ago. We would’ve lost Machpelah in 1997. Arafat demanded it then, and they wouldn’t give it to him. And the people who wouldn’t give it to him weren’t 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 can’t give it away, we can’t give it to you, there are too many Jews that go visit, and those numbers keep growing.