It all began 50 years ago tonight. Around 100 Israelis changed the shape and image of their country. They posed as Swiss tourists and rented the Park Hotel in Hebron, in order to hold the seder and spend the Passover holiday there. They entered the hotel, and the settlers have remained in the occupied territories ever since. The 100 or so temporary guests turned into the approximately 650,000 Israelis who live on the other side of the Green Line (including East Jerusalem), critically harming any remaining chances of reaching a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 100 hotel guests also turned into the 800 or so settlers (including yeshiva students), who today live in Hebron — in a quarter from which a majority of the Palestinian residents fled in terror, in an involuntary population transfer.
No settlement exemplifies the Israeli apartheid in the territories better than the Jewish Quarter of Hebron. It is impossible for a principled person to go to the city and see the half-deserted neighborhood in the heart of the big Palestinian city, the shuttered storefronts and empty apartments, and not be dismayed.
The founding fathers were not only the handful of Israelis in Hebron or their predecessors in Kfar Etzion. Their accomplices sat in the government, led at the time by the Labor Party. The Gush Emunim movement had not yet been established and the components of today’s Likud did not even dream of controlling the government. Labor Alignment cabinet members — led by Education Minister Yigal Allon, who drafted a partition plan that called for Hebron to be part of Israel — were quick to facilitate the invasion of Hebron and to lend their support and encouragement.
As soon as the government allowed the first settlers to stake a claim in the occupied territories, a flood was released that no subsequent Israeli government has stopped. Six weeks after that first Passover, the group was moved into the building housing Israeli military headquarters in Hebron. Three years later, the settlement of Kiryat Arba was established. And an illegal beverage stand in Hebron, run by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, gave rise to the Jewish settlement in the city center.
The establishment of Hebron symbolizes the settlement enterprise. Perhaps one day the evacuation of the Jewish settlement in Hebron will herald the beginning of the end of the settlement enterprise.