Hebron. A place and a people to be reckoned with.
When we started talking about Hebron in my last ethics class, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. From a Biblical perspective, Abraham purchased this little plot of land from the Hittites so he could bury his wife, Sarah. This place is said to be the resting place of our ancestors- Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and all the others that follow. Fast forward through a history in which the Jews are exiled and the land falls under Muslim, Egyptian, and British rule. The Jews once again reclaim Hebron along with the rest of the West Bank in 1967. Shortest history lesson ever. You’re welcome. Mollie brought me up to date in her blog Treasure Your Being, and I highly recommend you check out the rest of her fascinating post, Tiyul to Hebron.
To put it mildly, things are not good in Hebron. There is rock throwing and use of tear gas and all sorts of violence that makes me sick just thinking about it. Doors smeared with stars of David and slogans like “Arabs to the gas chambers” echo with a haunting sneer from own bloody past. I struggle with the injustices of Hebron and with the disdain that I feel for this deep-set hatred.
Before I go on, let’s return to the text because there’s a lot we can learn from our forefathers about where we went wrong in this modern day conflict. A narrative in Midrash HaGadol says the following:
“Come and see Avraham Avinu’s humility – the Almighty had promised to give the land to him and his offspring forever, and now he could not even find a burial spot for his wife without paying a huge sum of money. Yet, he did not question the attributes of the Almighty or protest. What more, he spoke with the inhabitants of the land only in modesty…Said the Almighty, You lowered yourself – I swear that I will make you a master and prince over them!'”
The act of purchasing the land is not the key in this narrative. It is the way in which Abraham handles himself when negotiating his purchase. The Biblical law states that the land belongs to us, but the ethics imply that we are to be humble, fair, and respectful when dealing with the Hebron’s native inhabitants. Regardless of the situation or who has the authority, Judaism teaches that we treat people fairly.
Violence occurs because the “law” is being upheld- namely the regulations stipulated in a scared text- without considering the way in which we should ethically uphold them. Claiming that Hebron is ours without showing love, humility, and respect does not only blatantly disregard the most important part of the teaching, it also fails to embody the values of Judaism. If we disregard the values, we are not living Jewishly, nor are we acting in a just way as human beings.
What can we do with this knowledge? How can we begin to combat today’s violence? I’m not naive- I know peace is not easy, nor is it immediately feasible. How can we restore the balance between justice and ethical practice in a world where we value ethics so little?
I’m not going to pretend to have the answers for you. But discussion is a place to start. If I am permitted to quote Micah (the leader of my ethics class), he suggests that we initiate friendly relations “one day at time, building one relationship, one smile, one act of kindness, and mobilizing and organizing the shit out of other people to do the same.”
Breaking the Silence (BTS) is working to do just that. Many Jewish people are unaware of the conditions in Hebron, so BTS collects testimonies and leads tours in order to raise awareness of the issues on both sides. BTS activists refuse to take a side in the issue, but they recognize that the status quo is intolerable and SOMETHING needs to be done.
The rest of us need to acknowledge what is happening and do our part in resolving the conflict. There are many that stand with Israel regardless of its policy or actions, and I understand your steadfastness. But I am more of agreement with Michael Goldin when he says, “our institutions are only worth having if they promote what is just and fair. If they stand with Israel regardless of what it does and ignore which direction its political winds are blowing, there is little point to their existence.” Justice. Fairness. Empathy. Humility. These are the directions we need to head towards. If we refuse to acknowledge the validity and the humanity of the other side, we will never have peace, and the fight is over before it has begun.