Akiva Eldar
July 19, 2010 - 12:00am

Why is the government requiring only those seeking citizenship to have to declare their loyalty to a Jewish and democratic state? I want to do it too!

The time has come that all of us, irrespective of whether we are Jews or Muslims, ultra-Orthodox or secular, declare our loyalty to the only Jewish democracy in the world. On one condition: the declaration ceremony would take place in the courtyard of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, following a tour of the center of Hebron.

Every Israeli citizen will then know what his country is doing in his name in the city of the patriarchs. Every Hebrew mother will know "where the only democracy in the Middle East" is sending its sons. Those who like what they see will sign the declaration. Those who will not find in Hebron proof of Jewish values and principles of democracy will refuse.

Before embarking on an educational tour in the center of Hebron, we should take a refresher course: the Hebron Agreement, which was signed in 1997 between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinian Authority, divided Hebron into an Arab area controlled by the PA (H1 ), and a Jewish area controlled by the IDF (H2 ). In the Arab area live 120,000 Palestinians, and in the Jewish area, which includes the old city and the city's commercial center, there are 500 Jews and 30,000 Arabs. In order to prevent friction, Israel has imposed tough rules of physical separation between the two populations and harsh limits on the movement of the Palestinian population in most of H2.

A pack of panting dogs met us at the beginning of Shuhada Street, which cuts through the old quarter of Hebron toward the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The doors of the shops were shut and the market was empty.

Someone covered racist graffiti with smiling faces on a pink background.

A survey of the area around Jewish settlement in the city conducted by B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in late 2006 found that 1,829 Palestinian businesses (more than 75 percent of all businesses in the area surveyed ) had been closed in recent years. More than 1,000 housing units (42 percent ) in the area surveyed were abandoned.

Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, says that more than 40 percent of the Palestinian residents have left the area.

Bored soldiers peered at the visitors, and once they were sure that they were "ours" they moved on (perhaps for dance practice ). Even though the IDF told the High Court of Justice two years ago that the ban on Palestinians movement in the streets was lifted, they do not dare come close to this area.

They know that at every street corner they will be asked to show their identity cards and they will be searched. Eran Efrati, who served at the Abu Snuneh post in 2007, says that instructions in the briefing room contained an order to make the residents "feel persecuted."

In the Breaking the Silence database there are testimonies of soldiers who describe creative ways for creating such a feeling. For example, holding a population survey in the middle of the night (the IDF calls it "mapping" ), or banging on pots.

A skinny youth, fringes hanging from under his shirt, is galloping through a field on a white horse. At the bottom of Beit Hadassah, Shaul fixes his black kippa and points to the Palestinian girls' school.

He says that he has a video clip in his office which shows the customary way the neighboring Jewish kids kill their boredom over Shabbat, by throwing stones at the girls.

In an alley leading to the wholesale market, closed following the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in early 1994, a group of young Jews pushes a cart loaded with building materials. Behind the barred doors of the shops, under the noses of the soldiers, another small settlement is staring.

At the entrance to the Tomb of the Patriarchs our path was blocked by six Border Policemen. Their commander, who was rushed to meet us says that we had been barred from entering the site with Yehuda Shaul, because he belongs to a group with a "political character." The officer confirmed that one or two days earlier, Noam Arnon, the spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron, accompanied a group of visitors into the Tomb of the Patriarchs on behalf of the Foreign Ministry. The settlers in Hebron, as is well known, are a group without "political character."

The actions of the state in the city where the Patriarchs of the nation are buried, in Sheikh Jarrah, in the Jordan Valley and in the Gaza Strip, have nothing to do with Judaism or democracy. So long as this is the face of the Jewish democratic State, I refuse to declare my loyalty to it.


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