Rabbi Meir Kahane was a very gifted writer. He could have stayed in America and written talkbacks and letters to the editor all day long. But he chose to make aliyah and personally participate in the rebuilding of the nation in Israel, rather than just writing about it from the sidelines.
Since thousands of Jews will be visiting Hevron this Shabbat for the Torah portion of “Chaya Sarah,” we thought it fitting to conclude the Rabbi Meir Kahane Legacy Memorial Week with a story from his inspiring biography about his involvement in the resettlement of the city of Hevron.
THE RIGHT TO RETURN TO HEVRON
(Excerpted from the biography, “Rabbi Meir Kahane - His Life and Thought” Vol.1, written by his wife, Libby Kahane.)
At the same time, Meir embarked on a campaign for the right of Jews to return to Hebron, which was historically Jewish. Over 3,000 years ago it was King David’s capital. Only recently, in 1929, Jews abandoned Hebron’s old Jewish quarter after a bloody riot in which Arabs massacred sixty-seven Jews and wounded many others. Arabs now occupied the homes of the eight hundred Jews who had lived there. After the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel recaptured Hebron, a group of Jews went to settle there. They were housed in the Israeli military compound until 1971, when a new Jewish town bordering on Hebron, Kiryat Arba, was built. But Jews were not permitted to live in Hebron itself. Meir believed Jews should have the elementary right to return to the Jewish homes in Hebron and live there.
His first step was to send a telegram to the mayor of Hebron, Sheikh Mohammed Ali Ja’abari. He informed Ja’abari that he and his followers would arrive in Hebron on Sunday morning, August 27, to begin arrangements for the return of Jews to their homes and for the return of their property. Of course, he also sent copies of the telegram to the media.
Mayor Ja’abari, who claimed to support co-existence between Arabs and Jews, appealed to the Israeli government to prevent Meir’s arrival, declaring that he would not be able to prevent violent demonstrations by the Arabs of Hebron. To avoid Arab unrest, minister of defense Moshe Dayan issued an order keeping Meir and his followers out of Hebron. However, they succeeded in circumventing the army’s roadblocks. Some went by car early in the morning, when the main roadblock on the southern outskirts of Bethlehem was manned by only one soldier. Others went by Arab buses and taxis, and some spent Shabbat in Hebron. Meir drove through the roadblock by pretending to be an American tourist. He donned sunglasses and a baseball hat, and when he was stopped, he asked in English,
“Is this the way to Beersheba?” The soldier waved him through.
David Fisch recalled:
“Meir had three of us, including me, dress as American tourists – floppy rainbow hats, dangling cameras, Bermuda shorts, really ridiculous stuff – and take a ride to Hebron on an Arab bus line. We did. We got into the city, really close to Ja’abari’s house (i.e., just short of the front door), and handed a letter to the guy guarding the door. I don’t know what was in the envelope, but it got the guy really frenzied. There were a million soldiers, and they seized us and put us on a bus out of Hebron.”
The letter that was presented to Ja’abari was in English. It said:
To the Honorable Sheikh Ja’abari, Mayor of Hebron, City of the Patriarchs: We are here to discuss repatriation of the former Jewish residents to the Jewish city of Hebron, whose Jewishness dates back to Abraham our father. We are also interested in receiving your reply to the ugly rumors concerning your participation in the Hebron riots of 1929, in which scores of Jews were massacred, as well as the part you played in the slaughter at Gush Etzion [the Etzion Bloc] in 1948. [signed] Yitzhak Ben Avrahamת Hebron Chapter Chairman.
About 60 Liga [Jewish Defense League] members assembled in the plaza outside the Cave of the Patriarchs. A photo in Yedioth Ahronoth shows Meir with Yosef Schneider and other supporters, singing and clapping hands. In a Ma’ariv photo, Meir stands with several supporters at the top of a hill, the houses of Hebron spread out below them.
Reporters who came to cover the story asked Meir if Liga members could live together with the Arabs of Hebron. Meir promptly replied, “What a question! The Arabs couldn’t wish for better neighbors!”
Referring to the historic Jewish quarter of Hebron, Meir told the reporters: “There’s a Jewish quarter here, but no Jews yet. Ask the leftists who think the Arabs should return to Biram and Ikrit why they aren’t demanding the return of the Jews to Hebron!”
Army officers approached Meir quietly and invited him for a talk in the nearby Settlers’ Restaurant. There he received orders to leave Hebron with his followers. Back in Jerusalem he held a press conference. He maintained that expelling him from Hebron was a violation of his civil rights. He announced that he would apply for a court order that very day to allow his group into the Jewish quarter of Hebron. Attorney Meir Schechter immediately applied to the High Court of Justice for an order nisi calling on the defense minister to show cause why Meir should not be allowed to “tour” the old Jewish quarter of Hebron. Justice Moshe Etzioni’s decision, given the next day, denied Meir’s request. But Meir had succeeded in making the Hebron issue an important news story. His demand for the return of Jews to Hebron and the restoration of their property was carried by all the Israeli media. Ma’ariv carried this insightful commentary by Yizhar Arnon:
“The Hebron massacre took place when I was a child. I have vague memories of postcards with the pictures of the victims, but in later years there were no reminders of the massacre. In grade school and in high school there was no mention of it, and in the course of the years it was forgotten by most of the population.
“When Hebron was liberated in the Six Day War I thought to myself, ‘Now the victims of the massacre will see justice done.’ But after 43 years they were forgotten, and there were even many who were opposed to ‘stealing’ Hebron from the Arabs. Rabbi Meir Kahane has done us a favor by reminding us that Hebron is not only an Arab city, it is first a Jewish city.
“Try as I can, I cannot think of when anyone, in the past 40 years, has raised the subject of the Jews who were massacred in Hebron. It is not enough to write about them in the weekend newspaper, when the reader is drinking a cup of tea and nodding off. Rabbi Kahane is to be praised for putting the massacre at the top of the news.
Meir’s campaign in Hebron made waves. A letter to the editor in Ma’ariv asked, “Why can’t Mayor Ja’abari be interviewed about his past? Why can Mayor Kollek be interviewed but not Mayor Ja’abari?”
Meir continued his campaign for a Jewish Hebron. He called a prayer meeting for 10 A.M. on the eve of Yom Kippur, September 17, in Hebron, calling on the public to join him in prayers for the return of the refugees to Hebron. In mid-September, flyers asked witnesses to come forward to testify at a public trial against Ja’abari to be held September 28 at Beit Agron in Jerusalem. The flyer featured a 1948 photo of the sheikh reviewing a line of soldiers of the Arab Legion. In order to seek out witnesses for the trial, Avraham Hershkowitz and others went to Hebron, where they were detained by soldiers.
On September 22, in an unusual step, the government issued an injunction ordering Meir and 19 other members of the Liga to stay out of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The purpose of the order was to prevent them from carrying out “any activities liable to disrupt order or endanger security in those areas.” The Ja’abari trial was “postponed,” because the Association of Journalists, whose headquarters was Beit Agron, refused to rent the hall to the Liga, but Meir had made his point. He declared:
“I say that Hebron is not the real issue, but rather the right of Jews to create a Jewish state in THEIR Eretz Yisrael is the real issue. The Arab has NO RIGHT to Haifa and Jews DO have right to Hebron because it is part of Eretz Yisrael.”
May his memory be a blessing and inspiration to all. And may his murder be speedily avenged in our time.