The siege of Hebron Scenes from a novel

April 08, 1994|By Tova Reich

THE Jewish War," a recently completed novel from which the following excerpt is adapted, is set in the near future, after the Israeli government has announced its decision to withdraw from Hebron and other West Bank cities.

In response, Hebron's Jewish settlers have established the Kingdom of Judea and Samaria, seceding from Israel and anointing as their king Yehudi HaGoel, formerly Jerry Goldberg of the Bronx.

As this excerpt begins, nearly a thousand settlers are gathered in their cluster of buildings in central Hebron that they call the Forefathers' Compound.

Below the compound, in anticipation of a siege by the Israeli Army, they have secretly burrowed tunnels leading to underground living spaces adjoining the nearby burial site of the first Jews, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives. The site is called in the Bible, and known to Jews, as the Cave of Machpelah. Above the cave is the building known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

AT HIS headquarters in the army base on a hilltop overlooking Hebron, General Uri Lapidot walked over to the window, took out his high-powered binoculars and trained them on the city of Hebron stretching out below, focusing on the Forefathers' Compound at its very heart.

The putative Kingdom of Judea and Samaria! People were milling about the central courtyard, looking disarmingly normal and reasonable from this distance, moving in and out of the complex of buildings; at the moment, no significant or unusual activity seemed to be taking place.

Yehudi HaGoel was no doubt somewhere within his royal chambers, cracking a hard-boiled egg, brewing mayhem, snatching a woman out of her bath and claiming her.

The complex itself was densely surrounded by troops, Lapidot noted with satisfaction, and helicopters circled overhead. Access to the Machpelah, exactly as he had prescribed, was cut off by trucks, Jeeps and even tanks.

It was only a matter of time before the order would have to be given to move in efficiently and decisively to extrude this band of zealots; the question was when and how to do this in such a way that the threatened calamity could at least be minimized if not averted entirely.

Lapidot pictured himself the immortalized hero of an immaculate, surgical, Entebbe-like commando operation -- swoop in, pluck them out, spirit them away -- that would stun the world and go down in the history books as the paradigm of high military art.

While Lapidot believed in principle that Jews should be free to dwell openly in any portion of the biblical homeland, he nevertheless supported the government's decision to call a halt to further intrusions into the territories, to dismantle all existing 22 settlements that possessed no intrinsic defense or strategic value, and to evacuate the settlers from such cities as Hebron and Nablus, where the Jewish presence was unnecessarily inflammatory.

The State of Israel could not survive alone in a hostile world, bereft of the support and good will of its mighty American patron, and peace, after all, was not a prize to be spurned, even the cold, niggardly, ungenerous peace that was being held out like a miserable stick for a well-trained, well-beaten old dog to fetch.

Lapidot stood for a long time at the open window, breathing heavily, peering through his binoculars. The lousy fanatics! He was straining hard not to hate them.

It was an element of his Zionist creed not to detest his fellow Jews no matter how obdurate, ungrateful, manipulative, disdainful, and uncivilized he found them to be, especially the ones who were consumed by religion, so bloody pious and righteous.

Who made them the sole guardians of the Bible and Jewish history?

These were Lapidot's estate, too. He, too, was a Jew, in no measure less than they. Hitler would not have discriminated. The tragic and exhilarating legacy of Jewish survival was at the core of his being and his life's mission as well.

And today, down there in Hebron, the city of his forefathers, too, this aberration was holding down the fort, this breed of religious Jews who, unlike the black-hatted ultra-Orthodox, did not disdain the army -- far from it, they enlisted willingly, trained diligently, fought enthusiastically, they knew all the tricks -- a lethal mixture, as Lapidot saw it, of messianic religious zeal and rabid nationalism.

And where did all of this lead? To this sickly mutation, this rotting fossil, this so-called Kingdom of Judea and Samaria, deposited right in the heart of this hotbed of Arab fever and extremism.

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