President Reuven Rivlin on Monday made his first official visit to the settlement of Kiryat Arba and the Jewish enclave in Hebron. He then visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs and attended a ceremony that opened a new visitors’ center in the city’s Beit Hadassah.
‘We are in an election season. We are permitted to disagree, but we must not degrade each other, not on the right and not on the left,” Rivlin said in an address in Kiryat Arba. “Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens are entitled to respect. We established a Jewish and democratic state here, a state that’s as committed to its Jewish principles as to its democratic ones. We are all equal and obligated by the law.”
Rivlin added, “Left-wing organizations asked me to boycott the Jewish community of Hebron, and on the right they asked me to boycott the Haaretz conference on democracy [because the New Israel Fund is one of its funders]. I didn’t cancel my visit to Hebron, just as I will not cancel my appearance at Haaretz’s conference on democracy.”
It was not the first visit by a president to the region. In 1998, Ezer Weizman made a tense condolence call to the family of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, who had been murdered by terrorists, and was greeted with a stream of invective from right-wing activist Baruch Marzel. For Rivlin, however, the residents of the settlement prepared an especially festive welcome; he was greeted by a group of first- and second-graders from Kiryat Arba and continued to a meeting with some 400 teenagers in the local cultural center before proceeding to the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
The visit was no surprise; Rivlin’s associates had made it clear when he was elected president that he would support the settlement enterprise, but would also express concern for the welfare of the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. They said at the time that he could be expected to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the one hand, while attending a memorial service for the massacre at Kafr Qasem on the other.
And indeed, in October Rivlin came to Kafr Qasem and was a guest of honor at the ceremony marking the 58th anniversary of the killing of 49 residents of the town by border policemen. Rivlin’s address there was considered a seminal speech. “The terrible killing at Kafr Qasem is an exceptional and dark chapter in the history of the relationship between us, the Arabs and Jews who live here. The State of Israel has recognized the crime that was committed here, and justifiably so, and properly apologized for it. Today I am here to reiterate – a terrible crime was committed here, an illegal order topped by a black flag was given here. It is our duty to squarely face what happened. We are obligated to teach the coming generations.”