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Guerrilla theater of the absurd in Hebron

By Ariel Natan Pasko
web posted April 19, 2004

For the last few days, I've been attending the theater. Not the high and mighty halls of culture, but the street theater of life. I've been attending the "guerilla theater" -- i.e. political theater -- taking place in Hebron-Kiryat Arba. The Israeli government wants to "evacuate" an "outpost" and the "settlers" don't want to let them.

Like a carefully crafted work of art, choreographed in finest detail, each side knows it's part, it's role, when to enter, when to exit stage right.

Soldiers mosey around watching, while the police direct the action. Juxtaposed to them, the Jews living in the area, rabbis and community activists, and lots and lots of children. There are little girls six and eight and ten years old and little boys equally young. Teenagers are talking, police are standing in place, while the mayor of Kiryat Arba, Tzvi Katzover, sits and shares a sun umbrella with long-time political activist -- former under-ground fighter in the pre-state days -- and former member of Knesset, Geula Cohen. Then there's Elyakim HaEtzni, long-time political activist and another former member of Knesset, sitting and later after the police order his spot "evacuated," walking around commenting on the events unfolding before his eyes.

It was strange to think, a few nights before, I had "davened" -- said my evening prayers -- in a synagogue called Hazon David -- the vision of David -- named after a victim of Arab Terror who was shot dead -- about 2 and a half years before -- 50 yards from that spot. The people of Hebron set up the synagogue to memorialize him.

Now, Hazon David, an "illegal outpost" as it's called in international political parlance, was being dismantled, for the express purpose to carry out Israel's commitments in the Roadmap, and to further the "peace process".

The synagogue stood just across the street from the entrance to the town -- in an empty lot -- bordered on both ends by Arab houses, and the Jewish neighborhood of Givat Avot -- the hill of the fathers -- just up the short -- 50 yard high -- hill. Interestingly, I was informed by one of the official spokespersons of the Kiryat Arba Municipality, that the Arab owner of the particular piece of land where the synagogue was built, had during the long drawn-out legal battle to save the "outpost" from evacuation, submitted to the courts an affidavit that he didn't mind the synagogue on his land. But politics and theater are more important.

Well choreographed, the play unfolds. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, committed to forward political movement in the "peace process," and under pressure from the American administration to dismantle the "outposts," sends in the police and army.

Some political commentators -- from the left and right in Israel -- claim that Sharon really isn't committed to the "peace process," but wants to distract people -- including the Americans and "Palestinians" -- from his unfolding problems, in the bribery scandal he and his sons are embroiled. The scandal threatens to cause him to resign.

A Jewish settler holds a Talmud book as he speaks with an Israeli border police officer, at the Hazon David outpost in the southern West Bank Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, adjacent to the city of Hebron on April 15A Jewish settler holds a Talmud book as he speaks with an Israeli border police officer, at the Hazon David outpost in the southern West Bank Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, adjacent to the city of Hebron on April 15

But back to the theater. After two nights and a day -- of dire warnings -- the army carries out the destruction order, tearing down the simple structure. In what can only be described as a "political twilight zone," the destruction of a defenseless synagogue in an empty field, owned by an Arab who doesn't mind it there; and then it's torn down, in the name of some high political idea, "peace". An idea that the Israeli government itself has repeatedly said its "adversary-partner," the Palestinian Authority, doesn't want.

In any other country, such a destruction of a house of worship would raise the ire of people; Jews and many others would accuse the authorities of anti-Semitism. But in Israel, the Jewish homeland -- ostensibly created to fight anti-Semitism after the Holocaust -- the destruction of a synagogue -- a memorial to a victim of Arab terror -- has been cheered by much of the Israeli political mainstream -- left and center -- for its contribution to the "peace process" that isn't.

As the play unfolds, the actors take their positions. The synagogue -- a modest structure with three-foot stonewalls and a tent-like covering for a roof -- already has been broken down. But the "settlers" won't let it end there. Not all Jews take lightly to synagogues being destroyed, even in the Jewish State. So, even after the Israeli Army meticulously carried off the prayer books and torah scroll, packed up the benches, tables, and chairs onto a truck, and bulldozed the stone-wall structure, Jews have returned, and returned, and returned, and vow to continue returning to re-build their synagogue.

Israeli settlers' children carry stones to rebuild the wildcat outpost known as Hazon David, just outside the Jewish settlement of Kiryat ArbaTo this end, dozens of "settler" children carry rocks -- small stones for a Jewish five-year-old, buckets or large boulders for a teen -- re-building the broken walls. In the best tradition of "the absurd," minutes and hours go by, children and adults building stone by stone in the baking sun, while the police and army personnel sit around watching. Then they get up, organize, talk to their commanding officers and stand attendant for any order. More time passes, more stones are put in place, then a police commander shouts into his bullhorn that "This is declared a 'closed military zone' and you must leave, if you don't, we will expel you by force."

Everyone knows his part; everyone knows his place on stage. As the bullhorn blares the evacuation order, all the children shout and jeer as loud as they can, to drown out the policeman's command. In their young minds, if they didn't "hear" the order, they needn't obey.

All of this is being captured for posterity on video and film, by more than a dozen cameramen and women, from the Israeli and international media, the "settlers," and the police. Each camera looking for the best angle, the best shot, with which to tell the story. Everyone senses the high drama playing out in this empty field, in between Hebron and Kiryat Arba, on the cutting edge of the Israeli-Palestinian War.

But not all is what it seems to be, in the "theater". On day two of the "evacuation," after the usual declaration that this is a "closed military zone" by the police, they swoop down onto the kids re-building, and start pushing and shoving people, to force them out.

" ...We will expel you by force."

Sometimes, four or five policewomen might surround a girl, pick her up and cart her off. At other times, the YASAM -- the special police unit whose purpose in to bust up "settlers," i.e. crowd dispersal -- goes in kicking, punching, and clubbing. That happened on day two, when a 14-year-old boy was injured during one of the many "evacuations". Later that day and the next, Israel radio and television, the Israeli and international press, variously described it as, "he got kicked in the head," "pushed down," "hit by a rock," and in one article, "police officials claim the boy was hit by a rock thrown by settlers. "

I spoke with the boy, eyewitnesses, and saw photos of the incident. Some photos can be seen at http://www.hebron.com/news/hdviolence.htm.

"Settlers" claimed police injured the boy using, what they called, excessive force. According to the boy, who was "moderately injured" and evacuated by ambulance for treatment at Hadassah Hospital, one YASAM policeman shoved him, and then a second grabbed him, threw him against the stonewall and onto the ground, then walked away. He was hurt on his back and the Magen David Adom -- emergency ambulance service -- paramedic was concerned he might have a broken rib or back injury. The boy asked, "If the police wanted to push me out of the synagogue area, why throw me against the wall and the ground, then walk away?" Several other people also testified to the undue force being used by the YASAM that day. It seems that someone started to ad lib, or did the police decide to change the script?

How did brutalizing a 14-year-old Jewish kid, help the "peace process"?

As long as everyone remembers that it's just a play, a big game, no one should get hurt. But when everyone starts taking it too seriously, especially the police...

And so, the play goes on. The YASAM leave, the police move to the parameter, and the "settlers" move in again. Kids bringing stones, adults helping and supervising, offering prayers, occasionally singing and dancing, and the police carefully biding their time till its their turn to enter the stage and act out their part. This "theater of the absurd" is likely to run for quite some time, given the determination shown by the actors, "settlers" and police alike.

My guess is that in the end, the synagogue will still be there when Sharon leaves office.

Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites, in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko (c) 2004/5764 Pasko

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