Article By Dr. Richard Benkin

[Comments are welcome at our Dialogue Corner]

Whither Hebron?

An Objective Indicator For Peace

I was fortunate to visit many places in Judea and Samaria, but one place I did not see was Hebron. "Too dangerous," I was told, which only increased my admiration for the Jewish communities there. In a land replete with places of tremendous significance for this American Jew, Hebron and the Cave of Machpela are very near the top of that list. To pray where our patriarchs and matriarchs were laid to rest, the first plot of land purchased by Abraham in the Land of Israel! But it was too dangerous for me. Strange, I thought at the time, while Muslims scream ingenuously about Israeli attempts to destroy their culture, I should have been able to pray in Hebron just as Muslims can.

Yet, with all the current optimism for Middle East peace, it appears that I might never get there. That does not mean that I hold my personal travel itinerary over peace. A common misconception about people who favor a strong defense, who support military actions, who are skeptical of "peace processes" and "road maps" is that we favor war. On the contrary, we so favor peace that we refuse to talk ourselves into believing the Orwellian logic that claims to represent that option.

We do not have to listen hard to hear the echoes of the Oslo debacle. While people have cited many reasons for its failure, one of the most often cited is the strategic decision by Israeli and American leaders to ignore the Arabs' refusal to end terror and anti-Israeli incitement in their social institutions. For even now, as Israel's prohibitive "peace partner" ratchets up tired old maximalist demands, an Israeli government spokesman tells us to ignore the rhetoric and that Abbas will be judged on what he does after the PA election.

But that spokesman forgets how the continual restatement of "Palestinian" articles of faith cements their place in the minds of their community. Schools, mosques, and now "moderates" make sure everyone believes that Israel's existence as a Jewish state has no moral standing next to their own "right of return," and that Jerusalem is theirs and theirs alone. During the Oslo years, we ignored such rhetoric and seemed surprised when the metamorphosis never came and ended instead with thousands of dead Israelis and Palestinians.

Peace will not be possible as long as total war and inveterate hatred remain the Arab coin of the realm. Israel will get nothing better than a shaky cease-fire, unless the Arab refusal to accept the Jewish state is addressed. Former US negotiator, Dennis Ross, has stated time and again that even those Arabs who recognize Israel do so only to acknowledge reality of the moment; never Israel's legitimacy.

Partisans on the left and the right argue their positions, but either side can call the other's mere speculation. I suggest that there is at least one objective indicator we can use to measure a true change of the Arab heart. How much do they respect the Jewish holy places? Have they acknowledged that Jews have legitimate claims to them?

In Hebron, Muslims have worked strenuously to keep Jews out of the Cave of Machpela. When Muslims controlled the Cave, Jews were never allowed inside, relegated instead to specially built stairs leading nowhere. While Israeli governments might be accused of complicity, cowardice, or diplomacy - Jewish prayer is not allowed on the Temple Mount because the Muslim Waqf insists upon it. Muslims have threatened an uprising of epic proportions if Jews (or Christians) dare to construct any house of worship other than a mosque on the Mount. The Waqf has led the effort to destroy the archeological record of both Jewish Temples, and to Islamicize the Mount with water from Mecca's Zam Zam Spring. There are countless more examples, from the 1929 pogrom in Hebron, through Jordan's 1948-67 campaign to cleanse its occupied Jerusalem of any Jewish presence, to the recent desecration of Joseph's Tomb.

I fear that if the politics of delusion prevail, I might never get to Hebron and never will pray in the Cave of Machpela. I caught my glimpse of Jewish holy sites under Arab control when some years ago, I ascended Mount Nebo in "moderate" Jordan. My wife noticed both Muslim and Christian monuments on Nebo, the mount where Moses saw the Promised Land, a site so deeply tied to Jewish history and tradition. So, she asked our Arab guide why there was no mention of Judaism. He replied matter-of-factly, "There are no Jews in Jordan."

Here is a basic indicator for you. When Jews see that the Arabs acknowledge the sanctity and legitimacy of their religious sensitivities, they will know that there is true hope for peace, where all communities respect each other and recognize everyone's civil rights.

Dr. Richard Benkin, 27/January/2005

Chair, International Effort to Free Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Chicago, USA


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