On Monday morning, a group of settler leaders met in front of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to pray for a Trump victory. “May He who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon, bless the good name Donald John, son of Fred Trump who took it upon himself to preserve and strengthen the People of Israel, the State of Israel and the Land of Israel,” Rabbi Hillel Horowitz, head of the Hebron Jewish community, recited.
He was preceded by a number of West Bank mayors who each recited a portion of Psalms. Behind them was a large poster listing all of Trump’s accomplishments on behalf of the settlements: moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, extending legal recognition to the settlements, lifting restrictions on support for academic institutions in the Palestinian territories, slashing funds for the Palestinian Authority and recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights.
“We’ve gathered here to bless President Trump and first of all to thank the Lord for President Trump and for a presidency that made such important changes,” the event’s emcee said. This was not the first prayer session of its kind; in recent weeks there have been similar prayers in some settlement synagogues and a number of religious Zionist rabbis signed a letter urging people to vote for Trump.
The event was held outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, believed to be Abraham’s burial place, in an homage to the Abraham Accords. The attendees all wore masks and joked about what Trump would make of that. There was no mention of Trump’s “deal of the century” and the promise of annexation that was taken off the table. But Trump’s tenure has still been notable for massive construction in the settlements.
“All the building plans I had ready were advanced, including retroactive authorization of outposts. Under Obama, we never dreamed of anything like this,” said Shlomo Ne’eman, head of the Gush Etzion council. “Not only did we receive approval, there was no condemnation either! In the past, this was the ritual – whenever something was approved, we’d get pounced on,” he added.
According to Peace Now, in 2020, the construction of 12,159 housing units in the settlements was advanced, the largest number since 2012.
Yohai Damari, the Mount Hebron council head, agreed: “Obama believed in two states for two peoples and that Judea and Samaria don’t belong to the Jews. When the view is that there’s a connection between the land of the Bible and the people of Israel, you can see the difference.” The other participants were Binyamin council head Yisrael Gantz and Kiryat Arba council head Eliahu Liebman.
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Held after American voters in Israel have already sent in their votes, the prayer session was mainly aimed at voters in America, specifically pro-Israel evangelicals who are among Trump’s biggest supporters, and one of the pressure groups that helped bring about many of the positive developments from the settlers’ point of view.
“There’s been an increase in Christian visitors to the Tomb of the Patriarchs since Trump has been in office, about a third of the visitors are Christians,” says Noam Arnon, spokesman for the Hebron settlement. In the past year, plans were approved to make the Tomb accessible and the planning process has begun for a new Jewish neighborhood in the wholesale market building.
“I guess when there’s no opposition from the American administration, it’s easier for the decision-makers in Israel to make such decisions,” Arnon said, though he also expressed disappointment at the pace of development in the Hebron settlement.
The admiration for Trump was echoed by others at the site. Avihai, from the Mitzpe Eshtamoa outpost, who was attending a brit mila at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, said, “Every trailer that we’ve added on happened under Trump. Trump is good for the Jews!” A worshipper from Beitar Illit said she supports Trump because of his pardon of Chabad adherent Sholom Rubashkin, who was convicted of bank fraud.
Mark Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, blew the shofar at the end of the service. He noted with great satisfaction that the U.S. just lifted restrictions on funding scientific research in the settlements. “That’s something I worked on for 20 years! It’s just amazing,” he beamed. He says the largest concentrations of Trump voters in Israel are in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, as well as in Karnei Shomron, Efrat, Alon Shvut and Tekoa.
At the end of the prayer session, the attendees all stood to sing Hatikvah. Then Zell and Arnon sang the American national anthem. As that was ending, the call of the muezzin began to emanate from the mosque and for a moment the singers seemed to be trying to drown each other out. When the song was over, Arnon shouted, “Hebron is the land of the free!” and the gathering dispersed.