Jessica Montell And Mitchell Plitnick
The Jewish Week
July 11, 2008 - 2:51pm

Muhammad Abu Ayesha remembers his Jewish neighbors in Hebron fondly. They celebrated weddings together, and they comforted each other during times of mourning. In 1929 when some Arabs came to massacre the Jewish community, Muhammad's father sheltered Jews. His name has a place of pride in the "Book of Hebron," produced to commemorate the Jewish community.

After the surviving Jews left Hebron in the 1930s, Muhammad remembers going to Jerusalem with his father to visit his former Jewish neighbors. So when Jews returned to Hebron in 1968, Muhammad initially welcomed them with open arms. But it wasn't long before Muhammad wrote to his friends in Jerusalem in puzzlement. "Who are these people?" he asked. "They certainly don't act like Jews."

Today Muhammad, his children and grandchildren live inside a steel cage. In response to the constant harassment by his Jewish neighbors, who throw rocks and garbage, he covered his porch and windows with steel grates. His family lives in almost complete isolation, afraid to walk out their front door. In order to protect the nearby settlers, Israeli soldiers forbid visitors to the Abu Ayesha family. They also forbid the family from using their car; they must carry groceries and cooking gas and other supplies on their backs up the steep hill to their house.

This is what Nicholas Kristof saw when he went to Hebron with the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. He saw “two Israels”: a democracy which treasures the rule of law, of which B'Tselem is proud to be a part; and a small group of chauvinist extremists who openly state that they want to expel their neighbors and have intimidated the Israeli army into imprisoning Palestinians in their homes.

As Israel’s High Court has affirmed, Israel is legally responsible for all the people under its control in the West Bank. That means equal protection of all civilians, Jews or Arabs, in the West Bank. In Hebron, a city of great national, religious and historical importance to both Jews and Muslims, the need for protection of all residents is even more acute.From testimonies we have taken from soldiers who served in Hebron, B’Tselem knows the task before Israel is not a simple one. There are extremists on all sides.  Muhammad lives with steady harassment and harsh restrictions. The Jewish settlers in and around Hebron have lived with violence that escalated sharply in the second intifada.

B’Tselem is uncompromising in our commitment to ending all of these human rights violations, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or the victim. The Jews of Hebron, whatever their political status, have not lost their right to be protected, and this right is vigorously defended by B’Tselem - as is the right of Palestinians to equal protection.

B'Tselem's mission is to not only to protect victims of human rights violations, but to protect the Israeli democracy by strengthening Israeli civil society and respect for the rule of law. Our country has been embroiled in conflict since long before its creation. Under those circumstances, it is too easy to rely on the famous maxim by the Roman political theorist, Cicero, Inter arma enim silent leges, “in times of war, the law falls silent.” Today, we know how deadly that attitude can be. In fact, the international community formulated the laws of war in response to the horrors the Jewish people suffered in the Holocaust. We now have laws governing armed conflict to try to minimize the damage to innocents. Hebron today is an embodiment of Cicero’s cynicism. B’Tselem stands up and says “we can do better than that.” Ongoing conflict makes people, and countries, lose their moral center. B’Tselem is here to make sure that doesn’t happen to Israel.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017