In her article, “The Shame of Shuhada Street
,” published in The Atlantic
on June 12, 2014, Ayelet Waldman demonstrates her dependency on testimony from “Breaking the Silence
,” and a conspicuous inability to report actual data concerning the realities of Jewish/Arab relations in Hebron. Egregious errors, distortions and omissions enable the author to ignore the Jewish history of Hebron while simultaneously presenting a distorted picture of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
“Breaking the Silence” is an Israeli NGO funded by British, Spanish and Dutch governments as well as EU organizations. According to their website
, they are “an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.”
Waldman visited Shuhada Street under the guidance of two representatives of this organization, which promotes stories of alleged IDF wrongdoing from anonymous and unsubstantiated sources
As is evident from her article, these stories have colored Waldman’s perception of reality.
Egregious Errors – The Water Libel
There are two errors in this piece that are perhaps the most egregious. The first has to do with Waldman’s assertion that in Hebron there is “racially differentiated access to water,” and that sometimes settlers “spray the ground with their hoses, taunting Palestinians who have severely limited access to water for drinking or cooking or bathing.”
This is nothing more than another variation of the old, well-worn water libel used for years by anti-Israel activists – an allegation that, in the case of Hebron, is particularly preposterous.
The Arab city of Hebron (or “H1” as it is designated by the “Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron
”) is one of the major cities in the disputed territories. In contrast to the significantly smaller Jewish section of the city, Arab Hebron is large, thriving, and growing, with factories, businesses, markets, and all expected elements of metropolitan life. It is ludicrous to suggest that the city’s size, continual growth and prosperity could exist without an adequate supply of one of the most basic of human needs, water.
Besides the fact that this water libel doesn’t even make sense, the reality is that Hebron – as well as almost every Arab town and village in PA territories – has a modern water supply, thanks to Israel. Israeli development in the territories has significantly increased the quality of life for Palestinians, particularly in relation to water. However, as this article
documents, the PA continues to perpetuate the water canard in its propaganda war against Israel.
During the period of Jordanian rule of the West Bank from 1948 to 1967, the water supply system from the time of the British Mandate and the preceding Ottoman Empire remained unchanged. This meant that only four out of 708 Palestinian towns and villages were connected to modern water supply systems and had running water.
When Israel gained control over this territory after the Six Day War in 1967, the situation changed dramatically. In the first five years of Israeli administration, deep wells were dug next to most large urban centers and were connected to them through a network of pipelines, increasing water supply to Palestinians by fifty percent.
In the late 1970’s and 1980’s, new Jewish settlements built in Judea and Samaria were provided with water by the Israeli National Water Carrier and Palestinian villages and towns located along the pipelines were connected to running water as well. As a result, the standard of living in those communities increased considerably.
By the time the Judea and Samaria Interim Agreement in the second Oslo Agreement was signed in 1995, 309 Palestinian communities had been connected to running water. And since 1995, it has only gotten better. According to the study, “The Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict: An Israeli Perspective
,” written by Haim Gvirtzman and published by The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in January 2012:
In 2000, the estimated percentage of Palestinians not connected to a water network was only 19 percent. Five years later, this figure had narrowed to about 10 percent according to data collected by the Palestinian Water Authority. More recently, in March 2010, 641 of 708 Palestinian communities, which include more than 96 percent of the Palestinian population, were found to be connected to a running water network.
As of 2012 when this study was published, water supply networks for an additional 16 villages (encompassing an additional 2.5 percent of the population) were under construction. This means that when that construction is completed, 98.5 percent of the Palestinian population will be serviced by the new water networks.
So, the water supply is there, and it is there as a result of Israeli construction of supply networks. Not only is the water supply there, but the quantity delivered to each Palestinian community is monitored under the 1995 requirements of Oslo II.
Data found on pages 13-14 of Gvirtzman’s study demonstrates that:
The exact quantities of water delivered to Palestinian villages and towns as part of Oslo II were monitored using standard meters, based on which monthly charges were paid according to the rate determined by the agreement (price protocol). Payment was made to Mekorot by the Government of Israel, using port taxes collected by Israel on behalf of the PA.
If there are problems with quantity of supply or access to that supply for Palestinians, the problem lies with the administration of that supply. As Gvirtzman’s study points out, following the signing of the Interim Agreement in 1995:
The management and maintenance of all Israeli water installations remained in the hands of Mekorot (Israel’s national water company) and the responsibility for all Palestinian installations was transferred to the PA. Installations that supplied water to both Israelis and Palestinians remained Israel’s responsibility.
Indeed, former water commissioner Professor Dan Zaslovsky “notes that the water supply to Hebron is more than adequate but the municipality has resisted repairing severely leaking water pipes.” As this author
suggests, “that reluctance to make repairs may be linked to the handsome living some city notables earn selling water to their neighbors.”
In any case, the executive summary of another study done by Professor Gvirtzman titled “The Truth Behind the Palestinian Water Libel,” demonstrates that allegations concerning Israel’s responsibility for water shortages faced by Palestinians is, as the title of his work says, simply a Palestinian water libel.
The summary of the study reads:
Water shortages in the Palestinian Authority are the result of Palestinian policies that deliberately waste water and destroy the regional water ecology. The Palestinians refuse to develop their own significant underground water resources, build a seawater desalination plant, fix massive leakage from their municipal water pipes, build sewage treatment plants, irrigate land with treated sewage effluents or modern water-saving devices, or bill their own citizens for consumer water usage, leading to enormous waste.
At the same time, they drill illegally into Israel’s water resources, and send their sewage flowing into the valleys and streams of central Israel. In short, the Palestinian Authority is using water as a weapon against the State of Israel. It is not interested in practical solutions to solve the Palestinian people’s water shortages, but rather perpetuation of the shortages and the besmirching of Israel.
What this study makes abundantly clear is that if Palestinians experience a water shortage, they have their own officials to blame.
And what both of Gvirtzman’s studies also make clear is that Waldman needs to check her facts before she indiscriminately repeats anti-Israel propaganda offered by an NGO that promotes unsubstantiated stories of alleged IDF – and by definition, Israeli – wrongdoing.
Egregious Errors – A Fabricated Quote
The second most egregious error in Waldman’s article is the use of a fabricated quote attributed to Moshe Ya’alon, the current defense minister and former army chief of staff from 2002-2005. Waldman states that her guides from “Breaking the Silence” told her that “their role, as described by Ya’alon…was to “sear the hearts and minds of the Palestinians.”
Since this quote sounds quite similar to a statement Ya’alon supposedly said in aninterview with Ari Shavit in HaaretzMagazine on August 30, 2002 – but has since been demonstrated to be bogus
– CAMERA contacted Waldman via Twitter to ask her for a source
for the quote. The only response
Waldman gave was “Nothing quite as pleasant as blocking an abusive bigot.”
Not only does her response to a legitimate question seem somewhat excessive, it suggests that Waldman does not have a source for the quote she attributed to Ya’alon. And indeed, it is not possible for her to have a source, because one does not exist. The statement Waldman repeats is essentially a do-over of a misquote
from the 2002 Haaretz interview, when Ya’alon was Israel’s chief of staff during the Second Intifada.
This is what Ya’alon answered
in response to a question from Shavit during that interview:
Shavit: “Do you have a definition of victory? Is it clear to you what Israel’s goal in this war is?
Ya’alon: “I defined it from the beginning of the confrontation: the very deep internalization by the Palestinians that terrorism and violencewill not defeat us, will not make us fold. If that deep internalization does not exist at the end of the confrontation, we will have a strategic problem with an existential threat to Israel. If that [lesson] is not burned into the Palestinian and Arab consciousness, there will be no end to their demands of us.”
Ya’alon repeated in the same interview:
The facts that are being determined in this confrontation — in terms of what will be burned into the Palestinian consciousness — are fateful. If we end the confrontation in a way that makes it clear to every Palestinian that terrorism does not lead to agreements, that will improve our strategic position.
What Ya’alon is saying is that Palestinians and Arabs need to internalize the understanding that terrorism would not defeat Israel and that terrorism does not lead to agreements. This understanding is essential if there is to be peace,because if that understanding is not burned into their consciousness, “there will be no end” to the demands that will be made of Israel. In other words, the conflict will continue and will represent “an existential threat to Israel.”
These statements were made in the midst of a five-year long offensive against Israel that was instigated by Palestinian leadership and characterized by deadly terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.
These statements were made by the man responsible for winning a de
finitive victory in the interest of achieving an end to terrorism for the purpose of enabling Israelis to live in peace and security.
These are appropriate goals for a military leader intent on defeating this “existential threat.” The emphasis and focus of Ya’alon’s words and actions is the protection of Israeli citizens. This is quite a contrast to the impression made by the fabricated quote repeated by Waldman, which suggests that Ya’alon’s goal was to subjugate a people.
The representatives from “Breaking the Silence” who gave Waldman the tour of Shuhada Street were either unaware that the quote they were repeating was bogus, or they were intentionally demonizing Israel. And the same can be said for Waldman.
Distortions and Omissions
In her piece, Waldman decides to break her “own silence” by contributing to the anti-Israel narrative through the emotionally laden lens of a mother who fears for the safety of two Palestinian boys who are about the same age as her own children. As she was on her tour of Shuhada Street, she observed the two boys as they attempted to enter the street.
She explains that her fear for the boys’ safety was based on the alleged shooting of two Palestinian teenagers by the IDF during a demonstration on Nakba Day in May, and the fact that the two boys had to face Israeli soldiers who were guarding the street on which it is forbidden for them to walk.
According to Waldman, the “shame of Shuhada Street” is that Palestinians have not been permitted to set foot on this street since 1994. Besides the fact that this assertion is belied by the caption on a picture accompanying the article, which says “a Jewish settler walks past a Palestinian on Shuhada Street,” this overly simplistic account distorts and omits, what is in reality, a more complex history in relation to this street.
Waldman states that “the Israel Defense Forces began clamping down on Shuhada Street” in 1994 “in response to a horrific massacre that left 29 people dead and 125 injured.” She writes:
The victims of the massacre that impelled the Israeli government to shutter Shuhada were not Jews. They were Palestinians—unarmed Palestinians gunned down as they prayed at the nearby Cave of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Jewish zealot with Israeli military training and a Galil assault rifle, who stopped firing only when he was overcome and killed by survivors of his attack. You can add Shuhada Street, and the vibrant urban life it once sustained and embodied, to the list of Goldstein’s victims.
However, this is not the whole story, and it is not the end of the story.
The Death of Palestinians is not the Whole Story
Waldman highlights the recent alleged shooting of two Palestinian teenagers during a Nakba Day demonstration, and the shooting of unarmed Palestinians by Baruch Goldstein in 1994. However, she neglects to mention any of the history of the murder of Jews by Arabs.
All that is relevant to Waldman is that two boys, who she can relate to in a maternal sense, are – according to her – “risk(ing) death for the sake of a liberty so rudimentary and fundamental that my own children are not even aware of its existence, or its importance, or its simple human beauty: the right to walk down the street.”
Unfortunately, this dreamy view of the situation does not take into account the realities the Jews of Hebron have dealt with on a daily basis for generations.
Particularly since the beginning of the British Mandate at the end of World War I, Arab animosity, accompanied by occasional waves of violence, towards Jews has been an ever-present reality. By 1929, tensions were especially exacerbated as the result of the impassioned incitement of Haj Amin-al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
False allegations that Jews intended to endanger Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount aroused followers of the Mufti throughout Palestine. After Muslim prayers on August 23, 1929, deadly clashes erupted in Jerusalem. That same afternoon, an Arab went to Hebron with distorted rumors that “the blood of Muslims was being shed like water.” (Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel, by Jerold S. Auerbach, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc 2009, p. 67)
As a result of this hysterical report, hundreds of Hebron Arabs, joined by Arabs from nearby villages stoned, raped, beheaded, mutilated, and massacred the Jews of Hebron – men, women and children. (For a detailed account of the events of August 23-24, 1929, see pp. 67-71 of Hebron Jews by Auerbach)
The assault was well planned and its aim was well defined: the elimination of the Jewish settlement of Hebron. The rioters did not spare women, children, or the aged; the British gave passive assent. Sixty-seven were killed, 60 wounded, the community was destroyed, synagogues razed, and Torah scrolls burned.
The trauma of this massacre has been seared into Jewish memory and is known as “Tarpat,” an acronym for its date of 5689 in the Hebrew calendar.
The massacre of the Jews of Hebron in 1929 is not the last time Jews have been killed in Hebron. Six Jews were murdered and twenty others wounded outside Beit Hadassah (a building built in Hebron by Jews in 1893) in 1980, Rabbi Ra’anan was mortally stabbed in his own home on August 21, 1998, and residents were subject to sniper attack following the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000.
In 2001, shootings of Jews occurred in adjacent Kiryat Arba, and outside Beit Hadassah. Jewish residents encountered stones, bottles and firebombs on a daily basis. On March 26, 2001, a ten month old girl was shot in the head by a sniper as her parents strolled with her through a playground.
nd these are just a few examples of Arab violence against the Jews of Hebron. On Shuhada Street itself, Jews have been stabbed to death and had acid thrown on them. And in 2003, a couple from Hebron was murdered by a suicide bomber. (See photo, right.)
Is it any wonder that Israeli soldiers strive to protect the Jews of Hebron and Shuhada Street as much as possible?
The Exclusion of Palestinians from Shuhada Street is not the Whole Story
In her obvious attempt to paint a distorted picture of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, Waldman also neglects to mention the disproportionate population of Arabs versus Jews. Hebron is currently home to approximately 250,000 Arabs, in contrast to some 700 Jews.
The size of the Arab and Jewish parts of the city is disproportionate as well. Since the signing of the Hebron Protocol in 1997, the city of Hebron has been divided into Arab and Jewish zones. The Israeli military was redeployed from more than 80 percent of the city, and Palestinian police were put in charge.
Furthermore, Arabs are free to travel between the two parts of the city, which means that– except for parts of Jewish Hebron like Shuhada Street – Arabs have access to 98% of Hebron. By way of contrast, Jews are forbidden from entering Arab Hebron, and Israelis presently have access to just 3% of the city.
The reality of the situation is that Jews living in or near Hebron have to go much further out of their way to avoid the Arab zone than Palestinians do to avoid the use of one street in the Jewish part of the city.
But even this much data does not tell the whole story of what life is like for the Jews of Hebron.
According to Auerbach on page 144 of Hebron Jews, after the signing of the Protocol:
The barricades and chain fences that separated 600 Israelis from more than 100,000 Palestinians proved no obstacle to stones, firebombs, and bullets. Israeli soldiers were under strict orders not to respond to Palestinian intrusions into the Jewish zone…while Palestinians were unrestrained by their police, the power of the Israeli army to protect Hebron Jews was severely circumscribed.
But Waldman not only fails to mention Arab violence against Jews, she ignores the vastly disproportionate size of the Arab zone and population of Hebron as well. And even though no Jews are permitted to live in the Arab zone – in spite of the presence of Jewish-owned property there – Arabs still outnumber Jews by a ratio of ten to one in the Jewish zone.
The Closing of the Street in 1994 is not the End of the Story
In the early 2000’s, Israeli courts required that Shuhada Street be reopened to Arab traffic. As a result, Arab taxis, municipal vehicles and pedestrian traffic was allowed on the entire road.
During this period of time, Israeli women were regularly accosted, physically and verbally, by Arab teenagers and young adults. Arab taxis filled the road, causing constant traffic issues. However the road remained open.
During the Second Intifada, Arab forces began shooting at the Jewish neighborhoods in Hebron from hills that were put under PA control as part of the Hebron Accords in January, 1997. As a result of this war – which was declared by the Palestinian Authority against Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza – Israel put security measures in place to protect citizens. The re-closing of Shuhada Street was one of these measures, and due to the continued Arab hostility towards Jews in Hebron, this street remains closed.
If the Second Intifada had not been waged, it is likely that Shuhada Street would have remained open, in spite of the traffic issues and the physical and verbal abuse experienced by Israeli women. It likely would have remained open to Arabs in spite of the fact that this street is the main road that runs through Jewish Hebron (or “H2”), and three of the four Israeli settlements of Hebron are located on this street.
At the very least, Waldman should acknowledge the fact that, in spite of the dangers, Israel attempted to re-open the primary street in the Jewish zone to Arabs. She should also acknowledge that this reality stands in sharp contrast to the fact that Jews are not allowed to walk anywhere in Arab Hebron.
But in her zeal to portray the IDF and Jews as murderers of unarmed Palestinians, Waldman leaves out the whole story, as well as the end of the story.
The Jewish History of Hebron and Shuhada Street
Waldman does not stop at portraying Jews as murderers and oppressors of Palestinians. She uses the examples she provides as evidence for her assertion that “it is the Palestinians who often need protection against settlers who, sure of support from the Netanyahu government, seek to make permanent their incursion into the city.”
This statement implies that the Jewish “settlers” who are attempting to “make permanent their incursion” into the city don’t belong there. For Waldman, it would seem that the ancient city of Hebron has a Palestinian history, but no Jewish history. So, in addition to all the rest of her charges, she insinuates that Jews are intruders as well.
However, Hebron is the site of the Cave of the Patriarchs, which according to Jewish (and Christian) belief, was purchased by Abraham as the burial site for his wife, Sarah. This cave became the final resting place for all of Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs with the exception of Rachel who is buried outside Bethlehem. Hebron is mentioned 87 times in the Bible and is one of Judaism’s four holy cities (the other threeare Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberius).
Indeed, with the exception of brief periods of time after the conquest of the city by the Crusaders in 1100 and the Ottoman Turks in 1517, Jews have inhabited Hebron continuously from biblical times through the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke and Ottoman periods. In 1929, Hebron became temporarily Judenrein as a result of the massacre mentioned above. But just two years later, 35 families from among the survivors resettled in Hebron and lived there until 1936, when the British evacuated them for the sake of their safety due to new Arab riots throughout Palestine.
After the State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, seven surrounding Arab nations immediately declared war for the purpose of annihilating the new state. When the
fighting ended, Hebron became part of the territory that became known as the West Bank of Jordan. As a result, Jews were barred from living there and from praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs.
It was not until after the Six Day War of 1967, when Israel gained the territory illegally occupied by Jordan since 1948, that Jews once again had an opportunity to return to the ancient Jewish city of Hebron.
In 1968, eighty-eight people celebrated Pesach in Hebron, and in 1969, the Jewish community was re-established permanently. Today the Jewish population of Hebron numbers approximately 700 (in comparison to 250,000 Palestinians), and an additional 6,650 Jews live in the adjacent community of Kiryat Arba.
Finally, it is interesting to note the significance of the names of the town and the street. “Hebron” is Hebrew, derived from the Hebrew word for “friend”, or haver, a common description of the Patriarch, Abraham. “Shuhada” is the name of the street given to it by Arab residents, but it is not the original name of the street.
In Arabic, Shuhada means “martyr,” and Shuhada Street was named in memory of “martyrs” who have attained that status because they have murdered Jews. However, the street’s original name is King David Street, named in honor of David, who was anointed king in Hebron, and reigned there for seven years before establishing his capital in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago.
So, Israeli Jews are not seeking “to make permanent their incursion into the city” as Waldman alleges. Jews are simply seeking to live in one of their four holy cities where Jews have lived almost continuously for over three thousand years.
The shame of Shuhada Street is not that Palestinians have limited access to the main thoroughfare through Jewish Hebron.
The true shame of Shuhada Street is that Palestinian access to the heart of Jewish Hebron must be limited in order to protect the lives of a small group of Jews who simply want to live in the most ancient of their holy cities.