Text size

The holiest sites of Christianity and Judaism, as well as major sacred Muslim sites, are located in the Land of Israel. The major Christian holy sites are in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth; the main Muslim holy sites are on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and in Hebron; and the major Jewish holy sites are the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

All Israeli governments have shown great respect for the Muslim and Christian holy sites and proper deference to the international Muslim and Christian communities, making a great effort to preserve the sites and to assure free access. For some strange reason, this is not true for the sites sacred to religious Jews. Although great care has been given to the Western Wall and the large plaza built at its foot, the Temple Mount itself is frequently not accessible to Jews. And the Cave of the Patriarchs has been left in the care of the small Jewish community that has reestablished itself in Hebron, and the Muslim religious authorities. It reminds one of the days of the British Mandate, when Jews were not permitted to bring Torah scrolls to the Western Wall or blow the shofar there, or to ascend beyond the seventh step on the stairs leading to the Cave of the Patriarchs edifice.

When Ehud Barak, in the dying days of his ill-fated government, offered Yasser Arafat control of the Temple Mount in the Camp David negotiations without arousing a storm of protest in Israel, this affirmed that preserving and maintaining access to Jewish holy sites was not very high on some Israelis' priority list.

Where does this cavalier attitude toward Jewish holy sites, expressed by so many Israelis, come from? It is true that many of these Israelis are secular, and some even are atheist. But why this lack of respect for the religious citizens of Israel and the places they hold sacred, while showing proper respect for the Muslim and Christian holy sites? There seems to be something almost perverse here, possibly in need of psychological analysis. The dislike that many Israelis, especially those on the left, have for the religious Jewish community may very well be at the root of this phenomenon.

When it comes to the small Jewish community in Hebron, the fury shown by some Israelis has no bounds. They claim the Hebron community should never have been permitted to settle there in the first place; that once they were there, they should have been forcibly evicted; and that this should now be done at the first opportunity. Now that the community has acquired the halfway house between Kiryat Arba and the Cave of the Patriarchs, the drums are being beaten again: Under no circumstances should they be allowed to occupy this structure. Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the entire Labor Party, supported by Meretz, are now pledging to ensure that they do not.

It is true that the thuggish behavior of many in that community is intolerable. Left to their own devices and protected by the Israel Defense Forces, they insult Hebron's Arab residents, throw rocks and damage property. Their unruly behavior shames many Israelis, religious and secular, who value the historic and religious importance of the Cave of the Patriarchs and do not want the 1929 massacre of Hebron's Jewish community to remain history's final verdict. However, the neglect of Israeli governments and the absence of a clear policy has left this small band of zealots with the task of assuring access to one of the holiest sites in Judaism. As things stand now, if they were not there, Jews would not be able to get even to the seventh step. Let's think again before we decide to throw them out of the halfway house. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.