Defaming Jews: What Else is New?
Many centuries before Jerusalem was conquered by King David and became the capital of the united kingdom of Judea and Samaria, Hebron was already deeply embedded in Jewish history. There, according to the biblical narrative, Abraham purchased a burial place for Sarah in the first parcel of land owned by the Jewish people in their promised land. The matriarchs and patriarchs of the Jewish people were buried there. Joseph and his brothers brought the body of their father Jacob from Egypt for burial in the cave of Machpelah. At the beginning of the Common Era, King Herod built its massive stone enclosure that remains the oldest intact structure in the Land of Israel. Jews have returned to pray and to live in Hebron ever since.
But in a recent speech Sir Alan Duncan MP, formerly vice chairman of the Conservative Party and minister for international development, demonstrated his appalling ignorance of Jewish history and his no less reprehensible loathing for Israel. Gliding from accusations of “criminal intent” for its announcement of plans to build 2,600 homes in Jerusalem (for Jews and Arabs), he redirected his fury to the community of 800 Hebron Jews who live in a tiny enclave surrounded by 170,000 Palestinians. “One should not use the word ‘apartheid’ lightly,” Duncan raged, “but as a description of Hebron it is both accurate and undeniable.” There, he asserted, “the rule of international law has been shelved.” He proclaimed: “Over the years we have made a firm stand against racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. It is time now that we added ‘settlement endorsement’ to that list of extreme undemocratic attitudes which we are not prepared to tolerate.” With that outburst Sir Alan elevated himself to the top rank of anti-Semitic bigots.
Some twenty miles to the north of Hebron, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, Jews are no less welcome. Until recently 500 Jews lived among 50,000 Palestinians in the neighborhood abutting Ir David, captured by King David three thousand years ago. Long before Muhammad tethered his horse Burack to the Western Wall, according to Muslim legend, Jews lived nearby. As in Hebron, they were expelled but eventually returned to reside in their sacred cities. But the dismaying prospect of yet more Jews in Silwan roiled Palestinian residents, who found a sympathetic forum – not surprisingly – in The New York Times. In yet another Times story (October 15) lamenting the arrival of Jews in Silwan, Isabel Kirshner labeled it a “politically delicate neighborhood” located “in territory that Israel conquered from Jordan” in 1967 and then annexed “in a move that was never internationally recognized.”
Guided by Jerusalem stringer Said Ghazali, she interviewed members of the Karain family and neighbors who expressed dismay at the presence of yet more Jews living nearby. Mahmoud Karain was stunned to encounter “strangers” moving into his uncle’s empty house early one recent morning. It had been leased to a Palestinian man who paid a year’s rent in advance and then vanished. That prompted Kirshner’s disdainful reference to Elad, “a nongovernmental settler association dedicated to preventing any future division of Jerusalem.” It had engaged in “a multimillion-dollar series of complex and shadowy transactions” to purchase Jerusalem property (gasp!) for Jews.
Karain’s Palestinian neighbors “harbor suspicions and trade rumors” about those who “might have cooperated with the Arab brokers who transferred the properties into the settlers’ hands.” His family members wondered if they had been sold with “forged documents,” or by a nephew. A next-door-neighbor recounted the stated intention of the bygone Palestinian purchaser to build an upper floor “for one of his two wives.” But he had disappeared, and although “we went looking for him in 12 cars,” he was nowhere to be found. Another family had sold property to a broker before leaving for Dubai.
And so it went, as the nefarious conspiracy to sell houses to Jews spiraled. A “neighborhood activist” explained: “Settlers’ buying houses seems legitimate, but it’s not. . . . We are not living in Tel Aviv, in a normal situation to decide whether to sell or not.” An East Jerusalem lawyer representing Silwan families was vigorously searching for “flaws, illegalities or violations” that could nullify the sale of property to Jews. “The national and religious control for the area,” Kirshner concluded, “is taking place house by house.” Jews, by strong implication, are the pushy intruders. Conspicuously absent from her interviews were Jewish residents of Silwan, who might have expressed contrary views about Jewish newcomers.
These ancient “sister cities,” as David Ben-Gurion identified Hebron and Jerusalem, are more deeply embedded in Jewish history than any others. “We will make a great and awful mistake,” he declared after the Six-Day War, “if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor and predecessor of Jerusalem, with a large Jewish settlement, constantly growing and expanding.” That is hardly less true for the city whose loss Jews lamented from Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning. . . . Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember you not; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Psalm 137:5-6). Jerusalem includes Silwan.
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner