To Find Shades of the Old Harlem, or a Jewish Sadr City, Look to Hebron

Hebron is not New York and Mazuz is not Giuliani. And, of course, the Avraham Avinu ghetto is not Harlem.

Once, before Rudolph Giuliani was the mayor of New York City, Harlem was a closed area, a ghetto. The police did not dare enter the main street, not to mention the alleyways, of the black neighborhood. A white person who came to this area by mistake was perhaps not in imminent threat of death, but could easily have suffered a heart attack from fear, or at least have lost his wallet or clothes. Harlem became an international symbol of wildness, hooliganism and danger.

Not any more. Harlem is no longer as it was. But similar neighborhoods exist in many places in the world. Sadr City, for example, is a neighborhood of fanatic Shi'ites in Baghdad that even the American army does not dare to enter. It is ruled by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, the isolationist Shi'ite who continues to threaten the sovereignty of the Iraqi government again and again.

There are no neighborhoods like this in Israel. But if someone wishes to find the old Harlem, or the Jewish Sadr City, he should go to the center of the city of Hebron, to the ghetto called Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Forefather). If this is too frightening, he can suffice with the television footage filmed on Wednesday, when the attorney general came to the ghetto. As in certain countries in South America and in Iraq, where attorneys general or district attorneys cannot travel without bodyguards, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz also arrived in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood surrounded by half an army. But the hooligans and rulers of the neighborhood long ago stopped being impressed by the state's army or its symbols of sovereignty. Like their Arab neighbors, they regard Israel as an enemy state - a state that is ready to surrender land and, in particular, does not allow them to take control of the entire city of Hebron.

And suddenly this state becomes impudent. The High Court of Justice, which is known for "preferring Arab rights to the lives of Jews," as the Hebron Jewish community's Web site explains, ordered that the Sharbati family's home should be returned to them. They were forced to leave this home in 2002 as a result of attacks by Hebron settlers. So, not only does the treacherous High Court send an Arab family into the heart of the Jewish ghetto, but even the attorney general comes to see with his own eyes that the order is executed.

Is the sovereignty of the Jewish ghetto getting weaker? Not very easily. Some 250 police officers and security personnel were required to form a protective wall around the Sharbati home, a policeman's arm was broken in scuffles and the Hebron police commander was injured. But this is a relatively inexpensive price. In Bolivia and Colombia, they kill the police. They did not harm the attorney general, only "incarcerated" him a bit, threatened and cursed.

In the end, a few "arrests" were made. Ah, arrests of settlers are an especially sensitive matter now. You can arrest an ordinary Jew for anything (there are separate rules for Arabs), but you have to be careful with settlers - after all, we are on the eve of evacuating the Gaza Strip, so we need to show sensitivity. And, indeed, why should arrests suddenly be made now, after 37 years in which the settlers were the ones to arrest the army and not the other way around?

When they asked Giuliani in September 1998 why he sent the police at 4:01 P.M. to disperse a march of black youths in the streets of Harlem, he explained that they had received a permit to march only between the hours of noon and 4:00 P.M. and that 4:01 was after the permitted time. Hebron is not New York and Mazuz is not Giuliani. And, of course, the Avraham Avinu ghetto is not Harlem - it is an independent state, established in honor of a synagogue.

Now the rulers of the ghetto face another minor hassle: To expel the Sharbati family again. This is no longer a question of purging the neighborhood of Arabs, but rather a matter of prestige. Surrendering to the High Court or the attorney general would be a sign of weakness, and this is something no neighborhood leader can permit himself.