It is almost two weeks now since we observed Tisha B’Av, marking the destruction of the Temples and a number of other tragedies that have befallen our people at this time on the calendar. We did the mourning: fasting… reading Eicha (Lamentations) while sitting on the floor…chanting of Kinot (dirges, sad poems).
I am circling back to this now because of a talk delivered in my synagogue that Shabbat by Rabbi Sam Shore. What he spoke about was the ability to look beyond tragedies, past and current, to see what good may yet be in the future. This is the ability to be visionary.
His message is exceedingly important for us these days, when we are struggling with so much. He addressed this theme in some detail, focusing on incidents in our history and our Torah text that I will not recount here.
But one thing he said was so powerful as metaphor that I did want to share it.
Remember, he said, when you see shadows, there is also light.
I call it “good news” in my postings. But what I am doing is looking for the light. Sometimes it’s hard to see, and sometimes I let my focus slide. But I keep trying.
Let’s start with Defense Minister Lieberman, who is providing some indication of a new policy of strength with regard to external security issues.
(Next posting we’ll look at his stated policy regarding the Palestinian Arabs, which is mixed.)
On Saturday night, a rocket was fired from Gaza into Sderot; it landed between two buildings and no one was injured. The Israeli response at first seemed to be no different from what Lieberman’s predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon, typically did. The Air Force would attack a target or two in Gaza (sometimes nothing more than a launching field) and stop.
But Sunday night, the situation shifted with the largest scale attack into Gaza that had been seen since the war in 2014: In total, some 50 targets were hit, with indications that some of the targets were of more significance to Hamas operationally than what the Air Force had typically been hitting. In other words, this was not merely a token show. Reportedly, the explosions could be heard throughout Gaza; the message was that any and all rocket fire would be met with a strong response.
How different from those times when what was called a “drizzle” of rocket fire was met with a very tepid response. Let’s hope it lasts.
And there’s more. While touring the Havat Hashomer IDF base in the north on Tuesday, the Defense Minister said that Israel will not “stand by” as Hamas rearms itself in Gaza.
Well, truth be told, it’s a bit late, as Hamas has been rearming since the last war two years ago. But here again is an attitudinal shift from the policy of Ya’alon – which was basically “quiet for quiet”: we didn’t interfere with what Hamas was doing as long as they didn’t launch rockets at us. Lieberman is now discussing the fact that it is unacceptable for Hamas to be allowed to siphon off funds intended for rehabilitation in order to develop its weaponry instead. He wants Israeli assistance for rehabilitation to be predicated upon the demilitarization of Hamas.
This comment, of course, falls short of a genuine policy. In the almost certain event that Hamas will not be demilitarizing, but will continue to draw from all sorts of funds intended for the civilian population – for which it cares not at all – to underwrite weaponry, further clarification will be necessary with regard to precisely how Israel would take action, so as to not be “standing by.”
But I mention this here because I do sense a shift of thinking that might play out dynamically over time. What we do know is that Hamas is decidedly unhappy with Lieberman, which I think is a good sign. And there is significant indication that when we do go to war against Hamas again – whenever this should be – if Lieberman is in charge, he will fight to win, not just to achieve a few years of deterrence.
On June 27, normalization of the relationship between Israel and Turkey was finalized. The reconciliation deal will involve full diplomatic ties and a host of other cooperative efforts in the spheres of military, intelligence, economy and energy. The possibility of developing a natural gas pipeline between Israel and Turkey that would lead to gas sales in Europe was clearly high on Netanyahu’s list of priorities in signing off on this deal.
However, I, along with many others, was underwhelmed by this. Turkey maintains an orientation that is Islamist; Turkish president Erdogan is hostile to Israel and protective of Hamas.
Israel had wanted Hamas out of Turkey as part of the arrangements, but that did not happen. Instead, Turkey is supposed to ensure that Hamas does not plan terror attacks from Turkish soil.
And precisely who is to monitor this?
Now, just a bit over a month after the reconciliation deal was finalized, Turkey’s foreign ministry released a statement about Israel’s actions in Gaza:
“Normalizing ties with Israel does not mean that we will keep silent in the face of attacks against the Palestinian people.”
To which Israel’s foreign ministry responded:
“The normalization of our relations with Turkey does not mean that we will remain silent in the face of its baseless condemnations…Turkey should think twice before criticizing the military actions of others.”
It’s going to be a cold, cold reconciliation.
On the other hand, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (pictured) – who was recently the first Egyptian foreign minister to visit Israel in nine years – told a group of students at the Egyptian foreign ministry that Israel’s actions against Palestinians do not constitute terrorism.
Israel’s history, he said, has made it very sensitive to security issues.
This enraged a Hamas representative.
According to an Egyptian diplomatic official, the Egyptian government realizes that Israel “is not the enemy” and is more willing to say so publicly.
That certain Egyptian officials are coming forward with more positive attitudes towards Israel is hardly indication, however, that this is the thinking across the board. It made considerable press recently when Egyptian judoka Islam el-Shehaby – in a serious breach of judo etiquette – refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent, Ori Sasson, at the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. Sasson – who had defeated el-Shehaby – said that before the match he heard him say “Alahu Akbar”: “It reminded me of what happens in Israel before terrorist attacks, with those shouts.”
Might we hope that Shoukry’s way of thinking represents the future?
In a series of positive moves, we see on-going outreach by Israel to a number of nations, Asian and African:
Last month, Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold went to Chad – a nation in Central Africa that is majority Muslim with a sizeable Christian minority – where he met with President Idriss Déby in his palace in the heart of the Saharan desert.
Credit: Foreign Ministry
While formal diplomatic relations have not yet been reestablished, the meeting signaled a step in that direction.
Imangali Nurgaliuly Tasmagametov, defense minister of Kazakhstan – a Muslim majority nation that is concerned about terror attacks – was here this week to strengthen the security relationship between the two countries.
Prime Minister Netanyahu – who will become the first Israeli sitting prime minister to travel to central Asia – is scheduled to visit the country in four months, immediately prior to Kazakhstan’s assumption of a two-year rotating seat on the UN Security Council.
Just a month ago, Israel re-established diplomatic ties with Guinea – also a Muslim majority nation. And this week Israeli Foreign Minister Director General Dore Gold travelled there to meet with Guinean President Alpha Conde (pictured) and 10 of his ministers.
Gold was in West Africa for three days. His ministry would not reveal the identity of all of the countries he visited, but there are reports that Gold paid a clandestine visit to a country that does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.
Just as Prime Minister Netanyahu met with leaders from seven nations primarily from East Africa (Zambia, in the south being the exception) at a counterterrorism summit in July, so is he eager to now meet with nations of West Africa.
The plan is participation in an annual summit of the 15 nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) scheduled to meet in Nigeria by the end of the year. When Marcel Alain de Souza, the commissioner of ECOWAS, was in Israel recently he invited Netanyahu to attend. But as it turns out, approval for Netanyahu’s participation must be unanimous and Nigeria has not signed off on this yet.
Some analysts find this bewildering, as a major focus of Israel’s meetings with African nations is terrorism and the ways to combat it. While the infamous terrorist group Boko Haram is headquartered in Nigeria. There seems more here than meets the eye. Stay tuned.
And then, lastly, there is this story about Saudi Arabia (emphasis added):
“Saudi Arabia has launched a media campaign to combat anti-Semitism, paving the way for public opinion to accept the kingdom’s burgeoning ties with Israel.
“Ehud Yaari, a senior analyst from Israel’s Channel 2 television station, said that a litany of recent articles by Saudi columnists and reporters demonstrate a shift in attitudes towards the Jewish state and Jews in general.”
No, the Saudis have not suddenly decided they love Jews. Their approach is pragmatic, because of a shared concern about Iran.
None the less, we are less and less a pariah nation and instead one greatly sought because of our expertise and our strength.
Last Thursday, NJ Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that prohibits the state’s public worker pension fund from investing in companies that engage in the boycott of Israel.
Following this lead, the California legislature passed an even more extensive bill that forbids all state bodies, including universities, from maintaining ties with organizations that support anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions activities.
An Israeli team of researchers – headed by Dr. Carmit Levy of the human molecular genetics and biochemistry department at the Tackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University – has unraveled the metastatic mechanism of melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer.
As the researchers have also found chemical substances that can stop the process, it is hoped that the cancer will become “nonthreatening and easily treatable.”
This is a very big Right on!
No Hurray! here. Not yet, because it’s all very tentative. But it seems worth reporting nonetheless:
”The IDF gave a nod in the direction of new Jewish building in Hebron when it gave the settlers there permission to plan infrastructure for permanent housing in a small compound near the city’s yeshiva.
”Six families now live in caravans in the ‘Metkanim’ compound, that is also used by the military…
“The possibility of building a 28-unit apartment project at the site, was raised in May 2014 by the Ministry of Construction and Housing…
“The land in question was formerly owned by Jewish residents of the city who fled after the 1929 massacre, explained former MK Orit Struck of the Bayit Yehudi party, who is a resident of Hebron.”
I think we need a bit of visionary thinking by the government and the Civil Administration. Especially is this the case because the State Department, as is their invariable practice, has already expressed “deep concern” about the plans, which they say represent “settlement expansion” inconsistent with a desire for a “two state solution.”
Let’s stop for an abbreviated but critical background on Hevron and the small Jewish community there.
Hevron is the second holiest city to the Jewish people, after Jerusalem.
It is home of the Machpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Our father Avraham purchased the field that contained the cave of Machpela as a burial place for Sara. This was at Mamre, which is associated with Hevron. Avraham would not accept a gift – he insisted on paying for the land, 400 shekels of silver. See Breishit (Genesis) 23.
For the first seven years of his reign, King David ruled from Hevron, before moving to Jerusalem.
Jumping ahead: For the 700 years during which the Ottomans controlled Hevron, Jews were not permitted into the Machpela. They were allowed no farther than the infamous “seventh step” leading up on the side of the structure.
Nonetheless, Jews lived in Hevron. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Jewish development took place, with establishment of yeshivas, synagogues, and homes. Great rabbis were associated with this place, as well. By way of example: Abraham Azulai, a kabbalistic author; Malkiel Ashkenazi, respected authority on Jewish law who founded the Avraham Avinu Synagogue; Eliyahu de Vidas, a disciple of Isaac Luria who wrote on Kabbalah.
In the 20th century, there was further revitalization under the British Mandate after WWI ended – until the horrendous Arab massacre in Hevron in 1929, which destroyed the community there.
After the War of Independence, the Jordanians occupied Hevron, along with the rest of Judea and Samaria. As was their pattern, they attempted to obliterate evidence of the Jewish community there. The ancient Avraham Aveinu synagogue, for example, was turned into a goat pen.
The situation changed with the victory of 1967, when Hevron came into Israeli hands. Revitalization, reconstruction, of what had long been a Jewish area was slow however, spearheaded by a very determined group of activists. The government permitted them to live in a portion of a building that housed the military administration. A yeshiva was established again, and some commercial enterprises, such as a carpentry shop, were opened. Ultimately a few additional buildings were put up as housing. And one step at a time the old Jewish neighborhoods were reestablished: the Avraham Aveinu synagogue was reconstructed, and Beit Hadassah – which had been a Hadassah clinic before 1929. The Tel Rumeida neighborhood was brought back. Chabad established a considerable presence. And a short walk from the ancient heart of Hevron, Kiryat Arba, which is today a thriving area, was established as a Jewish community adjacent to and having close ties with Hevron.
The situation changed again with the advent of the Oslo Accords. As a spin-off of the Interim Agreement of the Accords, which gave the PA control over Palestinian Arab cities, came the Hebron Agreement of 1997. Hevron was divided: 80% was to be placed under control of the PA, and 20% under control of Israel. The IDF redeployed.
This is where we are today. The Israeli area of Hevron contains the Machpela (maroon on the map above, very close to Kiryat Arba), which is under Israeli control, with a system of shared use by Jews and Arabs in place.
Still today, the Israeli government is reluctant to approve additional housing for Jews in the area of H2. Not infrequently, court battles are involved, with organizations such as Peace Now standing on the wrong side.
Beit Hashalom (House of Peace) shown below is an example of a building that Jews secured only after legal battle.
The brave people who live in the Jewish enclave of H2 – numbering only hundreds – are very clear about their mission. They know that if they were to be gone, Jewish access to the Machpela would again be denied, whatever might be written into an agreement. (There are painful historical precedents for this.)
They are the guardians of an ancient holy site of our people, and I applaud them. The conditions under which they live are difficult, and they have been subject to frequent terror attacks.
Thus do I find the “concerns” of the US government particularly galling. They refer to “settlement expansion” which is a huge joke. If the US government or anyone else thinks that Israel will withdraw from Hevron and leave it to the Arabs as part of a “peace” deal, they can think again. The projected housing compound that is under discussion now is within the Israeli part of Hevron. What “expansion”?
I think this is exquisitely appropriate: Chief IDF Cantor Shai Abramson and IDF Choir singing in front of the Machpela. (Tehilim) Psalm 27.
“May the All-present have mercy upon [the whole house of Israel] and bring them forth from trouble to enlargement, from darkness to light.”
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.