Some cities are too holy for their own good. Hebron is one such sacred place. Revered by persons of the Mosaic faith as the 2nd-holiest locale, folks believe that no fewer than 7 biblical primogenitors are buried in a place called the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Now also a mosque built atop the site of what had been an ancient synagogue and then subsequently a church, the current site is at the crux of perhaps the hottest conflict between the warring parties in the Holy Land.
Hebron is a disaster. Hebron is on the front lines. Hebron leads me to believe that this nonsense about making hierarchical lists of the holiness of cities ultimately results in absurdly excessive attachments to purportedly sacred spots. When groups seek to justify fanatical behavior, they rattle off what position a site occupies on their reified list. These rankings morph truly abstract concepts of sanctity and spiritual value into excuses for the most disgusting reactions to the challenges of everyday life. If life isn't going well, then hell, I might as well go dig up my faith's holiness list to find one to go defend before it is conquered by the infidels. Today, I think it's about time to fight for #4. Perhaps by the time tomorrow rolls around, #2 will be so endangered that it will deserve my utmost jihadi attitude.
Folks in Hebron justify the most incredidly incidious form of segregation by means of their sacred link to the site where their antecedents are eternally entombed. I personally am in favor of there being a limited Jewish presence in this city due to the irrefutable importance of the site. However, it seems that these holiness rankings drive people to utter insanity. Such rankings need to be struck down by the world's secular and reasonable folk. Israelites in Hebron attack the Palestinian population with impunity. The IDF has no power to restrain them. 20k Arabs have left the H2 sector to escape the injustice that transpires there.
When I traveled to Hebron, I traveled as a nonpartisan observer but I was accompanied by Muslim folks. Therefore, I had access to the sort of experience that would not necessarily be available to folks who travel to this city to be protected by the occupational forces. We encountered a livid IDF chum who, while merely doing his job, demanded that we speedily remove ourselves from H2 so as not to be a menace to the settler presence there. He came at us with his gun half-drawn, and this was no pretty sight. It's not terribly pleasant to be opposite an M-16 in Hebron. Nonetheless, I was able to "pass" as a Muslim and gain access to the Ibrahimi mosque with my Turkish and Palestinian acquaintances. Jews are currently only allowed to access this part of the revered Tomb of the Patriarchs 20 days a year, due to a bloodbath that Baruch Goldstein unleashed in 1996. Maybe the Jews in the area see that event as part of some sort of historical justice that remedied a horrendous massacre of Jews in 1929. Either way, the Jews who current live in Hebron (al-Khalil) do not deserve to cause the sort of harm that they exact on a daily basis.
Remove these extremists now. Replace them with sane stewards who can keep the Jewish holy sites intact and allow Jewish access to them. Do not remove these people so that the policy of segregation can be perfected, but remove them because they have lost their right to claim holiness. They ostensibly occupy the 2nd rung on this ranking of holy cities. But their behavior puts them on the list of ridiculous offenders of human sensibility. The Islamically-motivated folks who erupted in furious rage upon the Israeli digging near the Mugrabi gate are no better. They seek to justify violent provocation on the basis of Jerusalem's status as #3 on the Muslim list. Sanctity is not supposed to be commensurable. Religiosity shall not be broken down into quantifiable units. Deconstruct the shallow faith of these disingenuous believers. They believe. They believe in causing trouble. They believe in the power of the rock and the legitimacy of religiously-based violence. The Hebron settlers have got to go. The Muslim radicals of the Temple Mount must go as well. These sites should both be under the stewardship of some internationally sovereign body and under the religious supervision of the respective religious authorities. Do not allow these folks to hold the rest of us hostage.
Sites cannot be holy when they are militarized. The particularities of sectarian conflict are shocking to peace-loving idealists such as myself. Nonetheless, I understand the cyclically intractable nature of the conflict. The same day that I obseved Hebron's uber-tense situation, I visited a refugee camp of 9,000 Palestinians north of Hebron called Arroub. We visitors were holed up in an NGO office just off the main street as tear gas began to pour into the main street. Palestinian youngsters were doing what they do best. They were slingshotting rocks at the soldiers who stand by the watchtower at the front end of the camp. We got to experience what folks in the camp see every day.
Tear gas, rock, and rubber bullets are ordinary. My first exposure to tear gas was accompanied by the embittered words of one of my Palestinian hosts, who invited me to spend time in Israeli security prisons after I asked him what he would do if rocks were thrown in his direction. Though it is indeed important not to get bogged down in the details of the occupation, the fundamentally and viscerally violent reaction on the part of the Palestinians has not allowed for resolution to this conflict. If all of these rebel yells and renegade youths instead put down their slingshots and simply marched peacefully towards Israel, the occupation would be discredited in several minutes. The fact that intransigently violent characters are blocking the path towards peace means that strict military control and vigilance will continue to be in place. Palestinian parents need to teach their children that there are more viable ways of building a state. Israeli leaders need to tell their ideological settlers that they will not allow the Israeli nation to be held hostage to the hypocrisies of the fundamentalist crusade.
In a final peace deal, Hebron's Palestinians should be under Arab rule. However, the Jewish holy site should have a limited number of sane stewards who can ensure that Jewish religious observance is permissible. Enough of this living in cages.