It was not chance that Rehavam (Gandhi) Ze?evi?s last political step, resignation from the government, was due to the IDF retreat from the hills surrounding the Jewish community of Hebron.

With such joy, and even a bit of pride, he called me at midnight during Succot, following the shooting and wounding of two Jewish women in a crowd of thousands outside Ma'arat HaMachpela, informing me that he'd succeeded in returning the army to the hills. It's not difficult to imagine his pain and disappointment at the decision to remove the IDF from those hills and replace them with the terrorists of Jibril Rajoub, placing Hebron's security in his hands. As a result, he took the final political act of his life, leaving the government, which in his opinion had abandoned Hebron, both its residents and the multitude of tourists who visit the city.

He didn't have an easy time belonging to the government. During conversations with him, it was possible to sense the many frustrations he was forced to deal with. It was a Sisyphean struggle, simultaneously suffering criticism from his friends and colleagues, while attempting to influence from "inside." He withstood the numerous ordeals, except one: what he saw as desertion of Hebron's Jews, abandonment of their security and a returning of the hills to murderers.

Gandhi visited Hebron numerous times as an officer, as a private citizen, as a Knesset member and as a minister. He knew the city intimately - its history and its populace. Sometimes, his voluminous knowledge of the historical details of Hebron surprised even us. During his tenure as Commander of the Central Region he had researched Ma'arat HaMachpela. He even hinted to me about secrets that he had revealed. Yet his connection to Hebron was not new. The Ze'evi family has deep roots in Hebron, starting generations ago. Gandhi's ancestors included Hebron rabbis. He frequently related that his father was sent by the Director of the National Committee, Yitzhak ben Tzvi, to investigate Hebron's condition following the 1929 massacre, which included the desecration of the cemetery and ancient Jewish quarter.

A few years ago he excitedly sought me out, informing me of the revelation of a lost archive of pictures from the 1929 massacre in Hebron. There were pictures of the victims, their homes, the wounded and the survivors. He decided to print the pictures in a book, calling it, not by chance, "The Hebron Massacre." He invested major efforts, raised capital and published the book, which was only one of dozens of books he edited and published. This book was of primary importance to him. Many times, at public events in Hebron, he himself, together with his wife Yael, may she live and be well for many years to come, would set up a stand and sell the book, personally handing it to whoever purchased it.

Gandhi stood by Hebron constantly. During every crisis or problem he would arrive, to encourage and support, and during celebrations in Hebron he was happy to take part. There was not one letter sent to him from the community that he did not relate to and deal with. He shared Hebron's pain and joy and assisted with every problem, including many tribulations with the police and prosecutor's office. He refused to participate in the Netanyahu government when Netanyahu refused to void the Hebron accords, preferring to "lessen the damage." "If so," Gandhi decided, "I will not join them." He accompanied every stage of progress in Hebron and participated in every struggle, linking the renewed Jewish community of Hebron with historical Eretz Yisrael.

During his last visit to Hebron in the midst of Succot festivities, he was happy to see an Israeli flag flying over the hills. As always, he insisted upon going everywhere, conversing with each soldier and officer, reveling in the details. We sat together in the Succah and toasted 'L'Chaim' in honor of the holiday and in honor of Israel's proud return to its homeland. Who could have imagined that it would be his final visit?

While together with him, it was possible to sense a deep and unwavering awareness of Jewish roots and rootedness. He fell sanctifying G-d's name, our People and our Land, murdered by despicable terrorists, the same terrorists he spent his life battling. His departure creates a deep vacuum. I feel, as do many others, that a pillar has collapsed.

His legacy is, as he was wont to say, "to eliminate the Palestinian evil." Whoever wishes to remain faithful to his deeds and memory, to follow in his footsteps, will place this ethical, national mission in the center of his life. The Hebron community, as an integral element in the stand against Arab terror, will, with G-d's help, continue forward, renewed. Gandhi's name, Rechavam Amikam Ze'evi, joins the annals of Hebron's heroes.


Noam Arnon is a spokesman for the Jewish community of Hevron.