GETTING READY FOR THE
NEXT HEBRON MASSACRE
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Jewish residents of Hebron. I had been to Hebron before, but previously I tended to look at the city in terms of its symbolic importance: its status in ancient times as the first Jewish capital; the spiritual significance of the Cave of the Patriarchs; the idea of brave young Jews sacrificing material comforts in order to renew the city's historic Jewish presence.
This time, however, I realized that it is more than mere symbolism. There is a life-and-death security issue at stake in the negotiations over the city's future.
Among Hebron's striking features is its large number of mosques. There are no less than 50 mosques in the city. Hebron's Moslems are devout, and they take seriously the words they hear from their spiritual leaders in their Friday afternoon sermons. How long will it be before the appeal "Itbach al Yahud" ("slaughter the Jews") rings out again? How long before the war-cries of "Allah Akhbar" ("Allah is god") are heard in the streets of Hebron? How long before thousands of Arabs hurling rocks and firebombs come pouring out of Hebron's mosques and surging towards the city's Jewish neighborhoods?
No peace accord can persuade the Arabs of Hebron that Jews have a right to live in the city. And no piece of paper can convince Hebron's PLO policemen to abandon their lifelong belief that all the Jews in Hebron are "intruders" and "illegal settlers" who must eventually be forced to leave.
How will the Israeli Army respond if there is an Arab mob attack upon the Hebron Jewish community? Will the soldiers find their hands tied by timid political leaders who are afraid of what the New York Times will say? Is the Israeli government prepared to risk international censure and diplomatic repercussions if it permits soldiers to defend themselves?
The American, Israeli and Arab diplomats now negotiating the status of Hebron are putting together a time bomb that will explode, and probably sooner rather
than later. Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai recently acknowledged that the terms to which the Netanyahu government will agree are "basically the same" as those that Shimon Peres had privately accepted. There is "very little difference," Mordechai said, between the Peres plan and the Netanyahu plan.
What that means is a plan which strips Israel of its most important security needs: its ability to patrol the entire city, thus keeping terrorists at bay; its ability to gather intelligence throughout the city; its ability to pursue terrorists anywhere they flee; and its control of the hills that surround the Jewish neighborhoods. From those hills, a terrorist with a shoulder-launched rocket, or even an irate PLO policeman with an automatic rifle, can rain death down upon the Jewish homes below.
A senior Israeli government official recently told me that while Israel has no legal obligation to withdraw from any part of Hebron, it is going to pull out for "political reasons"--meaning, because it cannot stand up to the political pressure being exerted by Israel's enemies.
The time bomb is ticking. When it explodes, there will be blood on many hands: the hands of the Clinton administration, for obsessively pressing for a Hebron deal; the hands of Peres, for conceiving the disgrace; and the hands of Netanyahu, who is implementing it because he lacks the courage to say no when he knows he should.
Herbert Zweibon is Chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.