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Hebron’s Jews Take Solace in Tale of Persian Jews’ Defeat of Haman

February 27, 2002
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Regaled by a singing duo on a slow-moving tractor, most of the 700-strong Jewish community here danced and sang and waved flags past barricaded Arab storefronts in a colorful and noisy Purim parade with a distinctly political message.

Only as dusk fell and Jews returned from the communal meal celebrating the ancient Jewish victory over Haman did Hebron return to “normality”: Shots rang out from the hills overlooking the tiny Jewish enclave, and Israeli soldiers returned fire.

Tuesday’s shots came a day after a local Jewish teen-ager was shot through the chest and injured. Two other Israelis were shot dead, and a pregnant woman was injured, while driving near a settlement between Hebron and Jerusalem.

Immediately after Tuesday’s shooting, Hebron’s Jewish leadership called on the government to take stern security measures.

“Start acting like Mordechai the Jew,” the community statement urged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “Face your enemies and strike them down. Before more Jews are hurt!”

The statement complained that Israeli troops are not being sent to take up positions in the hills overlooking the city’s Jewish enclave, despite promises after past attacks that the army would reoccupy the hills if the Palestinians didn’t honor a local cease-fire.

Still, the security situation didn’t stop members of this embattled community — endangered by Palestinian attacks, and reviled by many left-wing Israelis as provocateurs and fanatics — from celebrating the holiday.

Masks and spoof announcements in the parade drove home a Purim message to the government from the small Jewish community. Jews began to return to the city in 1971 after the community that had existed here for centuries was massacred and the remnant driven out in an Arab pogrom in 1929.

While many religious Zionists read great significance into the Jewish return to Hebron — site of King David’s first capital — much of the Israeli left considers the settlers in Hebron and neighboring Kiryat Arba extremists who don’t deserve the sizable army contingent needed to protect them.

Only in a Purimspiel, perhaps, would dovish Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announce that he was coming to live in Hebron.

In another skit, a masked Peres with a rope around his neck is led by a Hamas terrorist, his face concealed by a balaclava, who holds a pistol to Peres’ head.

“For what he has done to us, he should be hanged,” the man in the Peres mask told JTA.

Settlers here feel the community is being denied sufficient political backing — despite Sharon’s guest “appearance” and speech in the Purim parade.

While the Jews paraded, Arabs who live near the Jewish enclave were obliged to stay inside their homes and not open their shops. That was a temporary confinement because of shooting incidents earlier in the week, but the city’s Jewish community would like to see more permanent security measures.

The community statement pointed out that for the nearly 18 months of the Palestinian intifada, Jews here have lived under threat of attack from snipers in the surrounding hills. After some shooting last September, the Israeli army retook the hills for 12 days, only to withdraw again.

The Purim story clearly heartens the settlers here, since they feel a kinship with the ancient Persian Jews threatened by Haman’s “terrorist” forces. Then, God “nullified” the anti-Semites’ “counsel, frustrated their intention and caused their design to turn upon their own heads,” in the words of the Purim prayer that is said three times during the holiday.

Earlier, on Monday evening, around 100 people celebrated Purim by dancing and singing outside a cafe in Kiryat Arba, a modern Jewish suburb of Hebron.

Close by the revelers was the gravestone and monument of Baruch Goldstein, the American-born doctor who, on Purim morning 1994, shot and killed 29 Arabs as they prayed inside Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs. Goldstein was then overpowered and killed.

A handful of Jews on the Purim march defended Goldstein’s actions.

David, an 18-year-old in a cast-off army helmet inscribed with the words “Born to Kill,” defended Goldstein’s rampage.

“We had to show support for a good Jew who was willing to be tough and teach the Arabs a lesson,” he said. “We hopefully will have the same sort of salvation as happened on the first Purim.”

David moved with his family from the United States to Hebron six years ago, growing up in increasingly dangerous surroundings.

Last year, Palestinian snipers shot dead Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old girl, in the pathway where Jewish youth regularly play. Shalhevet’s picture and details of her death are inscribed on the wall where she fell, as well as in the playground, the community center and the stone-faced apartment blocks near the Avraham Avinu Synagogue.

The bullet that killed Shalhevet grazed a 12-year-old girl, who has begun writing a gripping, violence-filled novel drawing on the community’s experiences.

The girl lingers on Hebron street corners with friends, looking for opportunities to pelt passing Arabs with stones. That’s entertainment for Sabbath afternoons while the youths’ parents are eating, learning or sleeping. Sometimes they tip over sacks of grain in front of Arab shops.

The soldiers try to stop them, but have orders not to treat the children too roughly. Israeli police are much firmer, an attitude that has brought them into confrontation with the Jewish community.

On Friday, for instance they beat up a boy they claimed was among a group of troublemakers.

Community leaders claim police are under orders to frustrate Hebron’s Jews and favor the Arabs, community spokesman David Wilder said. It’s part of a longstanding left-wing effort, he says, to get the settlers to leave the West Bank.

Wilder believes Hebron’s Jews have been misunderstood and maligned, but that Purim puts it all into perspective.

“We can celebrate and try to be optimistic today, knowing we are doing the right thing,” he said.

He denied that extreme actions like Goldstein’s had any substantial support.

“If people believed that was the way, you would not have had one Baruch Goldstein, you would have had tens of them,” Wilder said. “He represented nobody but himself, and was condemned by all leaders here — but on the” Palestinian “side, when they kill, their leaders call them saints.”

Wilder said the Jewish presence in Hebron is not shrinking, as more people moved in during the past year, despite the violence. New building finally has been permitted to replace and expand what are now a series of caravan homes on the hillside where King David’s first fortress stood.

“We have no intention of leaving here,” Wilder said. “Just as I do not expect Jews to flee from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Hadera, I don’t expect anyone to flee from Hebron. Jews in Hebron should be protected by the security forces here, just as anywhere else in Israel.”

Wilder strongly defended the Jewish presence in Hebron in the midst of a hostile Arab majority.

“I live an ideal. I am living in a city where we have no problems with the youth, with drugs or prostitution,” he said. “We are not extremists. We are living what we believe, just as the pioneers who came here in the early 1900s lived what they believed.”

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