Three Mountains, Different Views

The Hour

Silent Tribute: Israelis and tourists in Jerusalem observe two minutes of silence on May 9 as a siren wails across the country marking Remembrance Day for fallen Israeli soldiers.
Getty Images
Silent Tribute: Israelis and tourists in Jerusalem observe two minutes of silence on May 9 as a siren wails across the country marking Remembrance Day for fallen Israeli soldiers.

By Leonard Fein

Published May 10, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Jerusalem’s Har HaZikaron, or the Mount of Rememberance, where Yad Vashem, Israel’s principal Holocaust museum, is situated, is the venue for the annual formal state ceremony that marks the beginning of Yom HaShoah V’Hagvurah — Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. Holocaust survivors, families of Righteous Gentiles; some thousands of soldiers, and diverse groups of citizens, dignitaries, tourists, all by invitation only, having passed through painstaking security controls, fill the large plaza. The annual ceremony begins with a speech by the president and another by the prime minister. They are followed, after an appropriate musical interlude, by six survivors, each introduced by a video of photos of his or her childhood years, culminating with film of their families — children, grandchildren — and then by each lighting a torch. Heartbreak at their stories of loss, comfort in their reclaimed lives.

But most years, and surely this year, the evening is hardly so straightforwardly evocative. There are the words of the president and prime minister to weigh, as well as an address on behalf of the survivors. And these carry a particular message, alas, as does the psalm recited by Israel’s chief rabbi as the ceremony concludes.

The occasion calls for rhetoric rather than policy, and President Shimon Peres obliges. First, some poignant references to the Holocaust; then, the by-now obligatory reference to perfidious Iran; then, these words: “We, the Jewish people, were victims of racism, persecution and discrimination, but we never neglected the commandment to respect every person. Because every person, according to our tradition, is created in the image of God…. Every citizen of Israel, regardless of religion or race, knows that Israel is, and will be, the most anti-racist country in the world.” Stirring words, without a doubt. But the inflation that proposes that “Israel is… the most anti-racist country in the world” is, even given the occasion, perhaps especially because of the occasion, inexcusable. (See the story of two other mountains, below.)

And then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who decisively prefers particularism to Peres’s universalism: The world was indifferent then, it remains largely indifferent; anti-Semitism continues, now in the form of anti-Israelism; we have only ourselves to depend on. And, throughout, Iran. It is likely that fewer people are paying close attention by the time the chief rabbi recites Psalm 83, a recitation, I am informed, that is the same each year: “O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still. See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish. ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.’ With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against you…. Make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm. Cover their faces with shame so that men will seek your name, O Lord. May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace…. ” At dinner a few nights later, a guest defends the propriety of reading Psalm 83 on Yom HaShoah. When else would be more appropriate? he asks. To which the obvious answer is, “Never.” Bloody revenge is a theme best left to freeze in deep, deep storage.

The takeaway from the ceremonial evening is surely the stories of the survivors, as is entirely proper. But the rhetorical context is more than a little disquieting.

Another mountain: “We Refuse To Be Enemies” is the slogan of the Tent of Nations, located on a 100-acre hilltop 9 kilometers southwest of Bethlehem. The farm and caves of which the Tent of Nations is part have been owned by the Palestinian Christian Nassar family since 1916, back in the Ottoman days — and the family has the original registration documents. Not incidentally, the farm is essentially surrounded by the Jewish settlements of the Etzion Bloc; unlike those settlements, the Nassar farm has no running water, nor is it connected to the electrical grid. It collects water in cisterns and uses generators and solar panels for its power needs.

In 1991, the entire area was declared Israeli state property — meaning, inter alia, the confiscation of the Nassar family lands. But the Nassars took the case to court, and there it has been for 20 years. The Nassars have no intention of moving, even though their olive trees are periodically uprooted and other acts of vandalism against them are not uncommon. Instead, they invite people of all faiths and races, young people in particular, to help plant trees; to take part in workshops; help harvest the grapes, almonds and olives the farm cultivates, and learn about sustainable agriculture. From the farm’s peak, 3,000 feet above sea level and well inland, you can watch the sun set over (and into) the Mediterranean.

The city of Hebron is located in the Hebron Hills — basically, the southern end of the Judean Mountain range. The population of Hebron is somewhat more than 150,000 Palestinians and roughly 500 Jews. The city is divided into two sections, one of which — “H2” — is administered by the Israeli military. In this area, which includes roughly 20% of Hebron, there are about 35,000 Palestinians and 400 Jews. Movement of Palestinians within the area is severely restricted, and one feels this especially on Shuhada Street, formerly the main street of Hebron’s commercial area. There the shops have all been padlocked shut. My Palestinian guide ducks down in the car as we drive down Shuhada Street; he is not permitted in this area. Cars are useless to Palestinians who live here, owing to the checkpoints and restrictions on movement. So one sees Palestinians trudging up the steep hills with their groceries — and, for the braver among them, with their cameras, prepared to document the acts of arrogance and violence for which the Jewish settlers of Hebron, along with many of their neighbors in the abutting settlement of Kiryat Arba (population 6,000 plus) are well known

It is doubtful that the Palestinian residents of Hebron sympathize with the Tent of Nations slogan, “We refuse to be enemies.” It is, however, evident every day that the Jewish settlers here actively reject the slogan.

The head spins. The air is too thin, the issues too dense.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.