The City of the Beloved or Perseus Persuading

Their names bear a touch of medieval morality plays, but instead of Hope, Penance and Mercy, the three sisters are called Amal, Taura, Tahrir, or Hope, Revolution, and Liberation. Dressed like ordinary college girls they were – they would not stick out at Yale or Tel Aviv University. Their books and CDs are the same ones I saw this morning on my son’s shelf. But their smiles, their wonderful happy smiles and high spirits, are quite out of the ordinary, considering their circumstances.

Fifty years ago their parents were expelled from their ancestral home in the South for they weren’t Jews, and the sisters were born into a family of refugees in Halil. They were born one after another, to make up for the many years of their father’s jail term. He was with them but a short while, as he was gassed to death when a settler flung a gas grenade into his sitting room. The youngest sister, Amal, is at high school, while Tahrir is already a sophomore at university, studying architecture, the fine art of dressing thoughts in stone and building homes. Their own home, a modest, three-bedroom stone house with wide windows, set deep in the vineyards of the valley, is doomed.

The messengers of doom stood outside staring at the ruins of the neighbouring house, at its flat roof broken at the centre, and at a grey-haired woman with bright blue eyes who was searching in the vestiges of what was her home until yesterday.

“Yalla, ufi kvar”, screeched a tall Jewish girl, Barbra-or-something, at the old woman. Get lost!

An accompanying army officer was ready to oblige. He repeated the order in Arabic, and, while the woman climbed up from the crater, told Barbra-or-something about what the old woman had told him: “Her new leg”, he said. “Five thousand shekels’ worth. Over one thousand dollars, bought just a month ago. She used it for her better occasions, and yesterday, when we demolished her home, she had on her older limb.”

“No, she lost her leg as a child in 1948, when the Old city of Jerusalem was shelled”, the officer answered the unheard question of a tall, imposing man in an elegant grey suit and a small, head-covering kippa. Meanwhile, two bulldozers pulled away the remainder of the old lady’s home, neatly grabbed the remains of the vineyard and crushed its purple-red leaves into the mud.

At this time of the year, purple-red covers the hills in Halil Country. It is the land of vine, separated by Bethlehem to the north from the land of olive. It is the land of broad terraces, reddish-dry soil, abundant sheep, rare springs, strong faith, and of vine. Though a few hundred years ago the local folk gave up their Orthodox Christian religion and embraced Islam, they still press wine in the millennia-old stone wine presses. In the autumn, the women of Halil sell their heavy, yellow, sweet grapes, still covered by field dust, at Damascus Gate, wearing their long black dresses with exquisite embroidery. When my wife gave birth to our first son, I presented her with just such a black and purple-red dress sewn over many weeks in a village near Halil.

Much as I like the vine land and the people of Halil, it is not a place one visits gladly. Like in a Greek tragedy, dreadful doom befalls the city. The sea monster consumed the virgins of Jaffa in the story of Perseus, the Doom of Halil slowly eats up the city and its folk. Day after day, a house is confiscated, a shop torched, a man killed. Now, Halil is the semi-digested object fishermen used to find in the stomachs of decked sharks. It still preserves some features of the ancient, proud city of men, but it is half-eaten. If you ever visited a beautiful, terminally-ill young girl, you know the feeling.

In normal times, Halil country would be much admired, for it is very much the Land of the Bible: its people’s life-style has not changed much. They are the same shepherds and wine-growers, and the names of their villages are replete with memory. The great Palestinian brigand Daud, later King David, charged protection-money in Maan; the prophet Amos grew up in Tukua; Gad is buried in Halhul. Halil was called Hebron, later St Abraham, later Halil, or the Beloved, for it is a stock epithet of Abraham, the great culture hero of the Middle East. That is the original Judea of kings and prophets: Judean but (despite some similarity of sound) not Jewish, even quite unconnected to the Jews of old, who never ventured into this arid province so far south. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius did not know of those places; the Jewish books, Talmud and Mishna, hardly mentioned Hebron and Bethlehem. The Jews called the land, ‘Idumea’, and its Judean folk, ‘Idumeans’. (In similar vein, the Jews called the land of Israel ‘Samaria’, and its Israelites ‘Samaritans’, as they wanted to privatise the heritage of the Bible.) The native Judeans, the people of Halil, did not care: they still worked the same fields and worshipped at the same shrines as did their ancestors, the heroes of the Bible.

Most of all, they cherish their Ibrahimiye Mosque, commemorating the Beloved of God, Ibrahim (or Abraham), the spiritual pathfinder for mankind. This massive edifice of rusticated stones was built in the uncharted past. The Crusaders erected a beautiful basilica on the old foundations, and the benevolent rulers of Cairo and Damascus, Istanbul and Baghdad adorned its walls with Islamic verses. The Mosque of Halil exudes holiness and grace as the font of spirit that broke out in the Judean Hills. Yes, that is uniqueness of the Holy Land: while the Almighty gave oil to our neighbours, He gave the Halilis bottomless deposits of divine spirit. While oil runs out, the more spirit is given away, the more of it remains. Probably that is why the enemy made it so hard to get there.

The Old city of Halil is a dense swarm of medieval houses around the Ibrahimiye Mosque. The closely built houses leave but few entrances into the maze. These have been blocked by iron gates and barbed wire, leaving just two openings for access. The openings are controlled by massive checkpoints. The soldiers checked our documents again, searched us and let us into the city of the Beloved-turned-into-the-worst-jail in the Gulag archipelago of Palestine.

My Virgil in this descent to Hell was an unusual man, Jerry Levin from Alabama. An ex-CNN bureau Chief in Lebanon, he spent almost a year in Hezbollah captivity, and since then, he has lived in the Old City of Halil with a small team of Christian Peacemakers. CPT people bring food to the besieged, try to protect the city’s folk and suffer the abuses and violence of the settlers and the military. Born a Jew, he opted out of the vengeance cult, embraced Christ and cast his lot with the downtrodden of the Earth.

“Do not make too much of my Lebanese prison”, he warned me with a wry smile.

“Every man here can tell you of much longer and harsher jail terms.”

Children’s eyes watched us from behind iron bars. The streets were empty: for many months, the natives have not been allowed to tread the paved footpaths of their city. Eternal curfew was imposed here years ago. The shops were broken into and torched by looting settlers; the walls bear graffiti in cursive Hebrew script: ‘Kill the Goyim; it is good for the Jews’, ‘Kahane was right’, ‘Bless your soul, Dr Goldstein’.

We knocked on the iron door of a house and heard sounds of heavy locks being removed. The door opened a crack to let us in. We climbed up the narrow staircase to the roof. The grandiose edifice of the Mosque rises high just two hundred yards away, but the inhabitants rarely venture out that far. Narrow planks connect the roofs of the city and allow the besieged Halilis to visit their neighbours. Their children, like birds, run from house to house on planks set at astounding height, or stare through bars at the street below. The streets were privatised by the settlers, so they can walk there in complete peace, undisturbed by Gentile presence. Regularly, the settlers break doors down and attack the citizens, throw their bedding and chairs through windows and beat them up. That is why their doors are barred by heavy wooden beams and locks to hinder the way of soldiers and settlers during the frequent pogroms. They can’t even go out and buy food: it has to be brought in by European and American volunteers. Many escape this unbearable life, leave their homes, vineyards and properties behind and go away, into exile. In this half-eaten city, only the strongest remain.

Once, my American friend Michael asked me whether the Palestinians are engaged in non-violent struggle. In Halil, every day, every hour, every minute of a Palestinian’s life is a non-violent struggle for existence. T’is pity it is not very successful. Apparently, the monsters need a Perseus to do the persuading.

We walked out into the open. A settler called to us, peering into the dusk under the arches above the narrow lane:

“Arabs! Scram!”

A soldier on the corner calmed him: “They are no Arabs. They are
internationals.”

“They are even worse”, said the settler, an elderly East European Jew. And he called out in his heavy, accented English: “Go away! You are not wanted here.”

“Neither are you”, we responded, and came out to the Mosque. It was surrounded by three chains of soldiers, mainly recent imports from Ethiopia and Ukraine. We were checked once and once again, asked where from and why, walked through metal-finders and thought-controllers, soldiers’ watchful eyes upon us, full of habitual tireless hate, to the huge cenotaph of Abraham. And yet, I was swept by the spurt of holiness coming out of the place, as if my spirit were uplifted on the great tsunami wave. High. Very high. I do not know whether a holy place is holy due to the holy man buried there, or, other way around, they bury holy men in holy places, but
certainly it was a holy site.

As I turned around, I saw the people who had privatised the spiritual spring. They wore white prayer shawls with black stripes on their shoulders. They saw me.

“That is an Arab!” said one.

“No, he is a German.”

“No, he is an Arab with an Israeli passport; that is why he looks so arrogant”, said the first.

“You Arab?” asked the second.

“Sure”, said I.

“Get out of here, you vermin!” they shouted.

Actually, the settlers do not care much for the Tomb of the Beloved. They have another grave to worship, that of the mass murderer from Brooklyn, Dr Goldstein. He achieved glory in the Purim of 1994. Purim is the only merry feast of the Jewish calendar, the anniversary of a jolly good massacre committed by their ancestors in Persia some twenty-four hundred years ago, when 75,000 goyim, men, women and children, were massacred by the Jews – a good reason for everlasting joy. It is described in the Old Testament, and thus is a part of Christian Scriptures as well. But Christians read it as a story of deliverance, while for Jews there is no deliverance without vengeance.

In the Purim of 1994, Dr Baruch Goldstein came into the Mosque with two machine guns and a lot of spare clips. The watchful soldiers would not let us bring in a nail-file, but they did not stop him. He entered the prayer hall, called ‘Merry Purim!’ and opened fire. He slaughtered some thirty unarmed worshippers, until the survivors succeeded to kill the rampaging beast. When they carried their wounded and dead out of the mosque, the soldiers opened fire and killed an additional twenty worshippers, calling out ‘Merry Purim!’ When the news of the massacre reached the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, Hanan Porat, a leader of the Jewish Nationalist Religious Party, blessed the parliamentarians with “Merry Purim”.

Dr Goldstein was buried with much respect and love; his grave became a place of mass pilgrimage for the settlers and their admirers from Israel, America and all over the world. Young, plump Jewish maidens come there, lay flowers and light candles on his tomb. Young Jewish soldiers put their American-made M-16 rifles on his tombstone and ask for the holy man’s assistance and guidance. Young couples exchange vows, old men say Kaddish for his soul.

After the murder, there were voices in Israel calling to remove the settlers from Halil. But the Israeli government used it to punish the victims: half of the Mosque was taken over by the Jews; local worshippers were banned from venerating the Tomb of Abraham the Beloved of God; the entrances of the Old City were sealed; dozens of Palestinian homes were confiscated and erased; the main street of the city was forbidden for goys’ traffic. There is but little difference in outcome: whether a Jew kills or is killed, the Jewish state always uses it as a pretext to steal more land and punish Palestinians.

Still, on Fridays the settlers would go to the Tomb of Abraham, whom they venerate as Christians and Muslims do, but for a different reason. While for us, Abraham is the spiritual father, a man who found the way to commune with God and showed it to mankind; they claim him for a biological ancestor and justification for the privatisation of the holy place. (Adams, the American of Mark Twain’s short story would beat them by claiming direct descent from Adam.) If they could claim George Washington was a Jew, they would surely privatise the White House. (On second thoughts, they have done that anyway.) This perverse reading sits deep in the Jewish psyche, and Natalie, a nice Israeli journalist who accompanied us, asked me:

“Do local Arabs consider Abraham their ancestor as well?”

“The entire world considers him our spiritual ancestor”, I tried to explain to her the non-biological, spiritual and universal faith of Abraham. I reminded her that Abraham rejected his father, Muhammad rejected his tribe, and Christ rejected his brothers’ call and said that his brothers-in-spirit are more important than his brothers-in-flesh, but my words could not make a dent on the vision she was imbued with. Privatisation is a very Jewish trend: where the Palestinians see a font as a source of water for all who
want to come and drink of it, the Jewish tradition sees it as something to be made private.

On Fridays, the settlers rule supreme in the city. The army imposes especially heavy curfew and does not let a single goy out of his house to blacken the path of a Jew. The soldiers shoot at kids who dare to play outside. The city can’t breathe until the last Jew disappears into the barbed-wire fenced, for-Jews-only compound. Halil is a good place to learn of the real Jewish intentions about how the world is to be run – much better than reading their hypocritical, saccharine-sweet editorials.

But last Friday was different. After the heavy guard accompanied the settlers into their compound and was on the way to barracks, they came under guerrilla fire. The guerrilla fighters did not want to copy the Jewish mass murderer; they let the worshippers pass in peace to their homes, and only after that did they opened fire. A Perseus dropped by to visit the monster.

Israeli soldiers are brainwashed to believe in their racial superiority, in the superiority of their weapons, in the protection of their Supreme Commander Most High, in the natives’ meekness. They were sure the spirit of Halilis was irredeemably crushed. Arrogant and reckless, they rushed into hot pursuit. The fighters retreated into a lane between vineyards, and as the enemy soldiers entered there, they sprung their deadly trap.

The Jihad fighters used the old ruse of weak against strong, first described by Roman historians, later made into a play, The Horatians and the Curiatians, by the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht. The two warring Roman clans of Horatians and Curiatians met on the battlefield. The weaker Horatians feigned flight, and when their heavily-armed enemies followed them and spread sparse along the route, they turned back and killed their pursuers, one after another.

The result was nothing short of a miracle: three Jihad warriors with their carbines killed twelve heavily armed Jews, among them the chief tormentor of Halil, Colonel Gauleiter of the city, the Hebron Division Commander. The fighters could not escape: when they made their noble decision to attack only soldiers and let the settlers pass in peace, they sealed their own fate. Still, they proved their spirit is strong, as strong as foundations of their great shrine.

Often one hears that the Palestinians should act in this or other way. They should not kill the enemy if the enemy takes off his military uniform and goes for a holiday. They should be choosy with their targets, as otherwise it is ‘counter-productive’. The Halil ambush proved this to be but pious nonsense. The attack on the soldiers was the fairest one ever launched against the oppressor. And yet, the US President described it ‘a heinous crime’; the UN Secretary General called it ‘a horrible, bloody deed’ and the misled Pope referred to a ‘massacre of worshippers’. Even the Israeli Chief of Staff laughed at this description and refused to call it a ‘massacre’. Our soldiers died in the battle, he said. But anyway, he ordered the demolition of homes in the ambush lane.

Thus, it does not matter what the Palestinians do, whether they kill Israeli children or fight Israeli soldiers, or even if they are being killed by settlers, they are found guilty anyway, for they did not surrender to the Jews. Those who surrendered without fight won’t forgive them. But the Palestinians of Halil, these most abused people on earth, know the truth. And that is why broad, happy smiles stayed on the innocent faces of the three sisters, Hope, Revolution and Liberation.

The nice Israeli journalist Natalie felt she had to balance her story to make it acceptable to her editors.

“But what would you say about terrorist acts in Tel Aviv against Israeli civilians?” she demanded from the girls whose home was to be demolished. I wonder what my grandfather in the ghetto of Stanislawow would have answered to the question of a German journalist about his feelings for the German victims of Allied air raids. He would probably have answered as the Canadian Jewish columnist Mordecai Richler did: “I’m glad Dresden was bombed for no useful military purpose”[i].

We stood near the place of the ambush on the broad veranda of the three sisters. Probably our looks betrayed our feelings, for the group of settlers and their entourage turned on us. A settler, a sleek Jew, told us: “You should be on our side”, he said. “You are Jews, aren’t you? It is us or them. Listen to the voice of your blood; support your people against their enemies.”

“Was it necessary to demolish the houses of innocent people just because somebody shot at your soldiers in the vicinity?” asked Jerry.

The imposing, tall man in the grey suit looked at us sternly.

“How do you dare to speak of houses, when human life was extinguished here?” He was an American from New York, a Rabbi Wise.

“Would you demolish a house in New York if one of your people were killed next to it?” asked I.

“Oh yes, we should!” said Rabbi Wise, and a carnivorous, predatory smile disclosed his feelings. He would. He would erase Harlem if a Black were to kill a Jew. For the Rabbis Wise of this world, the life and property of a goy is of no consideration, just a wasps’ nest to be removed. If they do not bulldoze goys’ homes in New York, it is because they have even better tools: foreclosures, sequestration, privatisation. In Halil, or Hebron, as they call it by its old name, they enact their dreams free of limitations.

In this city of nasty settlers and brutal soldiers, there was no man as vile as this Rabbi Wise. The settlers turned life of local people into hell, and the soldiers protected them, but they did his will, and he brought them billions of dollars stolen from the Americans, and covered for them in corridors of the Congress and Senate. I felt great pity for the Americans, the industrious and generous folk, sold down the river by their politicians and turned into slaves of Mordor.

“You are Jews, aren’t you, – insisted the sleek settler.

“Oh no, glory to Christ, we are not”, said I, for the first time drawing some direct benefit from my recent baptism. “If you are, we certainly are not”.

The unique phenomenon of the last twenty years, the meteoric Rise of the Jews in the world, was painful for everybody: for Palestinians, who lost their homes and freedom; for Americans, whose `land of the free’ has now the biggest jail population, leads in death sentences and in the social gap between poor and rich; for Europeans, who have to reject their cultural traditions; for Muslims, who are forever bombed and vilified by Cohen and Pipes; for the Chinese, their next chosen sacrifice to the vengeful god.

Paradoxically, it was good for us, children of Jews who rejected the Jewish policy. While the Jews were weak, baptism had an aftertaste of desertion. Julian Tuwim, the great Polish poet, a Christian of Jewish descent, said after WWII: “I am a Jew not by blood in veins but by blood that pours out of veins”. Now, when blood pours out of Gentile veins, it has become increasingly easy, nay, paramount, for us to reject the victorious cult of hate and join mankind. The Israelis and Jews who feel that demonstrating against their government’s policies is not enough, are now doing the unthinkable with greater ease.

Neta Golan, the wonderful Israeli girl who stayed with besieged Palestinian villagers in Kufr Harith, was lionised as an example of a ‘good Jew’. But she rejected the faith of Hate for the faith of Mercy, and her name disappeared from the pages of American Jewish newspapers, for they had use for her only as provider of alibi for the killers and their supporters. In the most unexpected way, the vicious Zionist [anti-]Christian cultists’ dream of the Jews coming to Christ on the ruins of Palestine may yet come true, as ever more Jews who face real, victorious Judaism in the inferno of Hebron reject the paradigm of Domination and embrace the Brotherhood of Man. The Zionist [anti-]Christians were right but for the wrong reason: the gathering of Jews in the Holy Land will bring the good people to light, as they will see this total darkness undisguised and reject it.

That is why the Intifada is so important: it could be the beginning of universal world-wide Intifada against the dark forces of Greed. It should not stop at the borders of the Holy Land. I know this thought is foreign to Palestinians. They fight for their villages and towns, for their equality and freedom to live and worship at their shrines. For them, if the settlers were to lose their privilege, the problem will be over. They do not understand that for Rabbi Wise and his ilk their slavery and possession of Palestine is the necessary worldly proof of Chosen-ness, the ultimate manifestation of the Rise of the Jews, and they won’t let it off lightly.

This thought scares the friends of Palestine, who object to Dr Goldstein but do not dare to confront a Rabbi Wise fearing to alienate their Jewish comrades. They do not understand that the good Jews, much disgusted as they are by the settlers, won’t fight their evil brothers. Michael Neumann put it neatly: if the push comes to a shove, “All those wonderful, courageous Jewish marchers who weep for the children of Palestine would pack their bags, go home and bolt the door behind them. They wouldn’t call; they wouldn’t write”. Their position wouldn’t matter at all, if the Discourse of the West weren’t planted so firmly in the Jewish hands.

It all comes back to the morality play: Hope of Halil is but a sister of Liberation of Discourse and of the World Intifada against the forces of Greed.

Israel Shamir is a critically acclaimed and respected Russian Israeli writer. He has written extensively and translated Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Jaffa, is a Christian, and an outspoken critic of Israel and Zionism.