Actually, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been detained by the police.
One of my favorite visitors to Hebron is Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. I’ve known her for just about as long as I’ve been working here, close to 20 years. A frequent visitor to Ma’arat HaMachpela, she brings diverse groups of people, always interested in what’s going on. Her groups are also invariably spiritual. The Rebbetzin and her groups invest much time worshiping at Machpela.
Late this morning a small group, led by Rebbetzin Jungreis, left Jerusalem, stopping first at Rachel’s tomb and then continuing to Ma’arat HaMachpela in Hebron. We began with brief explanations outside the building. One significant point always made is the fact that for 700 years Jews and Christians were forbidden from entering this holy site. Only since our return in 1967 do we again have the right, and privilege to pray inside the huge, 2000 year old monument above the caves of Machpela.
When I’m asked why Jews live in Hebron, one of the answers deals specifically with this issue. Our neighbors make it quite clear that should they ever control this holy site, it will again be off-limits to anyone not of the Islamic faith.
Having related this information to the Jungreis group, we then proceeded to ascend the many stairs leading to the second floor of the building. We entered the first, outer room, and I continued, leading the way, into the original structure. However, to my surprise, a border policeman stood in the doorway and told me: Entrance Forbidden. You have to wait.
For what? The Muezzin, the Arab Moslem who operates the loud speakers which blast out their prayers, five times a day, was being escorted to the room from which the audio is operated. Until he was safely tucked away in that room, we couldn’t go in.
What, I asked, are be back in 1929? Because of an Arab, we can’t go inside?
On the 'Jewish side' of the building?
We have to wait? Where is our honor - the honor of Am Yisrael, the honor of Abraham? Let him wait for me. I have to wait for him?!?
The border policeman refused to relent and put his arms up, blocking my way. That notwithstanding, I did my best to get around, or under his outstretched arms. This, of course, brought other security forces running, police and border police officers. I was accused of ‘pushing’ the border policeman and ‘disturbing the peace.’
I finally convinced them to allow my group inside – their time was limited. But I was detained. An officer demanded that I ‘promise not to do it again.’ I refused. How can I describe to my group, that for 700 years, we had no access to this site, and now, in 2013, explain to them that we must wait for an Arab to walk the halls of this holy place before we can go in? It makes no sense.
A policeman who I’m usually friendly with, started reading me the riot act, how I was totally off-center, and now, was being, not arrested, but detained, but if I didn’t follow orders and walk quietly, like a good boy, to the police station, for interrogation, I would be arrested and it would be much much worse.
Seeing that some of the police were upset with the entire incident, and trying to find a way to ‘climb down from the tree,’ I offered partial repentance: ‘Ok, I shouldn’t have started with the border policeman at the entrance. He’s just following orders. This issue should be taken up with higher-ranking officers.’ But this wasn’t enough for the officer in charge. So I abandoned my group, and was marched to the nearby police station.
The border policeman who had been ‘attacked’ followed us down the stairs. He was visibly upset. Being religious and also realizing that I really hadn’t done anything wrong, he looked rather disgusted with the entire episode. But, he had been told by his superiors to relate his side of the story to the police, allowing them to then ‘deal with me’ – the bad guy.
I sat there for a while, sent out a whatsapp to my colleagues, informing them of my incarceration, and made a few phone calls to choice friends who could help alleviate the situation. About a half hour later I was
I could leave.
Thankfully my group hadn’t left yet. I had a chance to see them off. But I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to guide them at this so very special a site. Some of them didn’t realize what had transpired, and when I told them I’d been detained by the police, they couldn’t believe it. Well, some of them. Others, understanding a bit about what happens here, weren’t so surprised.
On the one hand I find it difficult to comprehend how we act so contemptibly towards ourselves. Where is our self pride? On the other hand, this is what happens on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, daily.
This is disgrace redux. A self-disdain, a conscious or unconscious unawareness of our most basic
right to live freely in our land.
Once it was the Turks and then the British. What excuse is their today?