There were two places at the top of my Places I Must Visit Before I Leave list: Ein Gedi and Chevron. I've now been to both. I went on an organized tiyyul to Ein Gedi during the first week of April. It was beautiful, but my trip to Chevron outstrips its blogging importance.
I went to Chevron this past Sunday with my buddy Avi. I've always wanted to visit Maarat HaMachpela, the Cave of the Machpela, where Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, Yaakov and Leah are buried. I also learned (after I left, so I didn't get to see it) that Esav's head is also there. I don't know where the rest of him is. Chevron is undoubtedly the most publicized land purchase in the history of the written word. Open any copy of the Old Testament and there it is- a record of exactly how much Avraham Avinu paid in order to buy this cave and the land around it in order to bury his beloved wife.
Chevron is a highly controversial part of Israel. There are those who insist that we leave it for good, despite the fact that Jews have pretty much always lived there. In fact, for 700 years, Jews were forbidden to even enter Maarat HaMachpela. They were only permitted to go as high as the 7th step leading up to the entrance. Even that was too much leeway for them, according to their friendly Arab neighbors, who attacked them simply for standing where they were legally allowed to stand.
Chevron today is, in a word, depressing. The Jewish area is like a ghost town, with graffiti scrawled on metal shutters. Soldiers are everywhere. It's the only place in Israel that I've been to that feels and looks like a war zone. The atmosphere is one of death and destruction, focused on a bloody history of being oppressed by the surrounding Arabs. Yes, I said oppressed.
What else would you call it when, in 1929, the Grand Mufti gave a call for the Jews of Chevron to be slaughtered for the sole reason that they were Jews? 66 were killed and 67 were wounded in the massacre. The rest were forced to leave Chevron by the British Mandate. There's a tiny museum in Chevron devoted to the 1929 massacre. There are pictures of some of the survivors: a 7-year-old girl with her skull bashed in, a young man whose hand had been chopped off with an axe, a toddler who was the sole survivor of his family. And who were these Jews who lived in Chevron back then? They were yeshiva students and their families. Scholars. Rabbis. Dedicated Jews who wished to live close to their ancestors.
There are also pictures of how the Arabs treated the Jewish area after the Jews were kicked out. They put cows in synagogues. They burned books and Torahs. They destroyed anything and everything that held value to the Jews who had lived there. It wasn't enough to slaughter us. It wasn't enough to kick us out. They also had figuratively and literally shit on anything that had been ours.
The Jews who have returned to Chevron still live in danger. Perhaps you remember reading about Shalhevet Techiya Pass back in 2001. She was the 10-month-old infant who was murdered when an Arab sniper took careful aim and shot her in the head. What crime had she committed? Breathing? Did she cry too loudly at night? Or was her only crime being born Jewish? There's a memorial to her in Chevron. I wish every idiot out there who claims that the Jews are oppressing the Palestinians would go stand before that wall. Oppression is not being able to take your baby for a walk in her stroller without having to worry that she'll be killed by a sniper. Oppression is being mutilated with an axe for learning in a yeshiva. Oppression is being raped simply because you're a Jewish female. The army had to maintain such a high presence in Chevron in order to make sure that the Jews who live there aren't treated the way that the previous generation had been treated.
I've always believed that Chevron must remain a part of the State of Israel. After being in Chevron, that conviction is even stronger. If Israel "disengages" from Chevron, I'm willing to bet that soon cows will once again be shitting in synagogues, that Torahs will be burned and destroyed, and that any Jews who wishes to be close to Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka or Leah will find themselves staring at the shiny edge of an axe. Or maybe they don't use axes anymore. Maybe sniper bullets are the new "in".