This is another article from the series about the life in Israel, based on my impressions from the recent trip. As I mentioned before, I am not covering the events in chronological order. Earlier today I heard the news about an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv, where we spent several days, is a laid back city with ubiquitous fresh juice stands, populated by friendly artsy types, who don’t seem to think too much about the dangers facing Israel, yet the long arm of the Muslim barbarism reached them again.
If you don’t live there, it is difficult to understand a country where an ordinary bus ride may turn into a death trip. And this is not a dysfunctional third-world place, where the everyday madness is a norm. Israel is a country, which tries to balance its democratic openness with the necessity to protect itself from its enemies. All this creates a reality, where the good intentions often backfire.
Our trip to Hebron earlier this month illustrates my point very well. The first unusual thing about the trip was that we had to get a bulletproof bus. Despite the 6 peaceful years, the tourist safety required it. On the outside it looks like an ordinary bus, but its windows are somewhat smaller.
The details that our guide Era provided reminded us of the grim reality with which the Israelis must cope every day. First of all, such a bus is very expensive – it costs about 1.5 million shekels. It is heavy and consumes roughly 1 litre of gas per kilometre (with gas prices much higher than those in Canada).
Those buses are mandatory for transporting children in the risky areas (in fact, the first assignment of our driver for the day was to drive kids to their school). That’s why it looks (and feels) like the seats are smaller. All parts of the bus, including the top, the floor and the tires are designed to withstand an assault. That includes the windows, made from special double glass, which should be kept free from scratches to avoid cracks when hit. That’s why the glass is covered with plastic on the both sides (it made taking pictures from the inside more difficult).
The bulletproof tire
The bulletproof windows protected with plastic
Like almost everywhere in Israel, every inch of the land is linked to some episode of the Jewish history. We passed an area related to the Biblical times, where Samson was buried. Further on, we took a road, which was essential during the Independence War in 1948. It was the road, which a group of 35 Israeli soldiers tried to use to deliver help to the besieged areas. They were seen by two Arab women, whom the soldiers let go despite the danger. The women alerted the Arab military, which attacked the group and killed everybody. Not only that, but the soldiers’ corpses were hacked with axes and knives beyond recognition.
Another reminder of the current reality is a set of giant satellite dishes we pass. They are used for collecting intelligence.
While approaching Hebron through a winding road, which leads us uphill, we see the Arab areas.
“Tent” at a Palestinian refugee camp near Hebron
We pass by a Palestinian refugee camp, which looks more like a well-maintained suburban area. This all is a product of the billions of dollars provided by UNWRA, the UN Palestinian welfare agency, to people who do very little work. Since the UN doesn’t earn its money, these are funds provided by the USA, Canada, Japan, Germany and a few other suckers.
More refugee “tents”
Nobody knows the actual number of the Arabs living there. Since UNWRA gives away money based of the number of the people, most deaths are not reported. As a result, there are “refugees” in the records, who are over 130 years old.
“Expropriated Zionist” cars at the refugee camp
Before the “peace process” started, many of the Arabs living in the areas used to work in Israeli businesses and farms. The path of hostility and destruction, taken by the PLO after that, made that almost impossible. However, it looks like (just like in the USA) they can live quite comfortably on international welfare money.
We finally reach Hebron. That’s an old Jewish town, which many centuries ago was King David’s capital. After over 700 years of Muslim control, its population now is almost 90% Arab. There is still a thriving Jewish community of about 8,000, but the Arabs have never hidden their intention to eradicate it.
On guard at a bus stop near Hebron
We approach the Jewish quarter through the only safe road. Our first stop is the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat HaMachpela). After the Temple Mount, this is the second holiest Jewish site. According to the Bible, this was the place, which Abraham chose as a burial place for Sarah. It was a cave with the land around it, for which Abraham paid 400 silver sheqalim, and enormous amount of money for its time. Later Abraham himself was buried here, along with Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca (Rivka) and Leah.
And just like at the Temple Mount, you can still see here the bitter consequences of the Muslim domination.
Checkpoint at the entrance of the Tomb of the Patriarchs
The Tomb became accessible to the Jews only after 1967. Now it is heavily guarded, there is a checkpoint you can see above. The building is on the left and behind it there are Arab houses.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs
About 2,000 years ago, in the times of Herod, the structure at the Tomb was replaced by a large stone building. However, the centuries of Muslim domination left their ugly trace at the site. For starters, they raised two minarets at the corners, which make the Tomb look like a mosque. The Muslims also divided the hall inside the building into many rooms, placing ugly tiles with quotes from the Koran on the walls.
However, the despicable part was how the Jews were treated at the site during the Muslim occupation. As I mentioned, they had no access to the interior. They were allowed only to a small area at the wall, at the seventh step of a staircase that led to one of the entrances (thus the place is still called “The Seventh Step”).
The Seventh Step
The place is still marked with a sign, but the staircase was demolished in 1967 after the liberation. One may think that the things changed then, but the Jews didn’t gain much from the government control over the holy site.
Like in the case with Temple Mount, the Israeli Government, probably trying to look open-minded and accommodating, gave up most of the control of the Tomb of the Patriarchs to the very people who persecuted the Jews in the area – the Muslim authorities.
As a result, the Jews are humiliated again. Now they have access to only 20% of the building. In practical terms, this means two relatively small rooms, which could hardly accommodate all worshippers. We visited the site on a weekday and it was crammed with people, I can imagine what it looks like on the shabbath.
The entrance to the Jewish part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs
Of course, there are armed soldiers at the entrance and the visitors must pass a metal detector. Then they go through a wide hallway to the two rooms.
The way to the prayer rooms
The room on the left
The room on the right
As you can see, the second room, which still has those horrible koranic tiles on the walls, is really tiny. That’s not the only problem – the Muslims are still allowed to impose all kinds of humiliating restrictions. They have prohibited the Jews from making any changes; even the archeological exploration has been banned. That’s a shame, because during secret archeological work a few years back, the actual cave with several levels and artifacts from the First Temple period were discovered, but for now that promising research has been halted.
Limited areas of the other parts of the building are accessible by Jews only for a few days each year.
There are thousands of Jews heading every Friday to Hebron to worship at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, but the limited accommodations in the Jewish quarter force them to rent rooms where many people have to spend the night on mattresses. During the summer they even sleep in tents. We saw people driving with mattresses on the roofs of their cars, preparing for the shabbath. Of course, you can always look for a room in the Arab part of the town, but you must be suicidal to do so.
That’s what we saw at the Tomb of the Patriarch. Again, it was another case, where the Israeli reality looks very different from the way it is pictured in the foreign media.
Can you imagine another country, where the government restricts its citizens (both sharing the same religion) from access to their holiest site? And all that in the name of accommodating an ethnic group, whose main purpose is to destroy the country…
But that’s exactly what the supposedly “genocidal Zionist” government does to please its enemies.
While we were at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, we met a remarkable Jewish woman – Elisheva Federman. She invited us to her home and later that afternoon we visited it – the “notorious” “Federman Farm” – where we saw how the dreaded Jewish settlers live. But that is going to be a topic of another article…