Guerrilla Theater of the Absurd in Hebron
by Ariel Natan Pasko
13 April 2004
The Israeli government wants to evacuate an outpost and the settlers don't want to let them, and so the drama unfolds.
For the last few
days, I've been attending the theater. Not the high and mighty halls of culture,
but the street theater of life. I've been attending the "guerilla theater"
-- i.e. political theater -- taking place in Hebron-Kiryat Arba. The Israeli
government wants to "evacuate" an "outpost" and the "settlers" don't want
to let them.
Like a carefully crafted work of art, choreographed in finest detail, each
side knows its part, its role, when to enter, when to exit stage right.
Soldiers mosey around watching, while the police direct the action. Juxtaposed
to them, the Jews living in the area, rabbis and community activists, and
lots and lots of children. There are little girls six and eight and ten years
old and little boys equally young. Teenagers are talking, police are standing
in place, while the mayor of Kiryat Arba, Tzvi Katzover, sits and shares
a sun umbrella with long-time political activist -- former under-ground fighter
in the pre-state days -- and former member of Knesset, Geula Cohen. Then
there's Elyakim HaEtzni, long-time political activist and another former
member of Knesset, sitting and later after the police order his spot "evacuated,"
walking around commenting on the events unfolding before his eyes.
It was strange to think, a few nights before, I had "davened" -- said my
evening prayers -- in a synagogue called Hazon David -- the vision of David
-- named after a victim of Arab Terror who was shot dead -- about 2
and a half years before -- 50 yards from that spot. The people of Hebron
set up the synagogue to memorialize him.
Now, Hazon David, an "illegal outpost" as it's called in international political
parlance, was being dismantled, for the express purpose to carry out Israel's
commitments in the Roadmap, and to further the "peace process."
The synagogue stood just across the street from the entrance to the town
-- in an empty lot -- bordered on both ends by Arab houses, and the Jewish
neighborhood of Givat Avot -- the hill of the fathers -- just up the short
-- 50 yard high -- hill. Interestingly, I was informed by one of the official
spokespersons of the Kiryat Arba Municipality, that the Arab owner of the
particular piece of land where the synagogue was built, had during the long
drawn-out legal battle to save the "outpost" from evacuation, submitted to
the courts an affidavit that he didn't mind the synagogue on his land. But
politics and theater are more important.
Well choreographed, the play unfolds. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
committed to forward political movement in the "peace process," and under
pressure from the American administration to dismantle the "outposts," sends
in the police and army.
Some political commentators -- from the left and right in Israel -- claim
that Sharon really isn't committed to the "peace process," but wants to distract
people -- including the Americans and "Palestinians" -- from his unfolding
problems, in the bribery scandal in which he and his sons are embroiled.
The scandal threatens to cause him to resign.
But back to the theater. After two nights and a day -- of dire warnings --
the army carries out the destruction order, tearing down the simple structure.
In what can only be described as a "political twilight zone," the destruction
of a defenseless synagogue in an empty field, owned by an Arab who doesn't
mind it there; and then it's torn down, in the name of some high political
idea, "peace." An idea that the Israeli government itself has repeatedly
said its "adversary-partner," the Palestinian Authority, doesn't want.
In any other country, such a destruction of a house of worship would raise
the ire of people; Jews and many others would accuse the authorities of anti-Semitism.
But in Israel, the Jewish homeland -- ostensibly created to fight anti-Semitism
after the Holocaust -- the destruction of a synagogue -- a memorial to a
victim of Arab terror -- has been cheered by much of the Israeli political
mainstream -- left and center -- for its contribution to the "peace process"
As the play unfolds, the actors take their positions. The synagogue -- a
modest structure with three-foot stonewalls and a tent-like covering for
a roof -- already has been broken down. But the "settlers" won't let it end
there. Not all Jews take lightly to synagogues being destroyed, even in the
Jewish State. So, even after the Israeli Army meticulously carried off the
prayer books and torah scroll, packed up the benches, tables, and chairs
onto a truck, and bulldozed the stone-wall structure, Jews have returned,
and returned, and returned, and vow to continue returning to re-build their
To this end, dozens of "settler" children carry rocks -- small stones for
a Jewish five-year-old, buckets or large boulders for a teen -- re-building
the broken walls. In the best tradition of "the absurd," minutes and hours
go by, children and adults building stone by stone in the baking sun, while
the police and army personnel sit around watching. Then they get up, organize,
talk to their commanding officers and stand attendant for any order. More
time passes, more stones are put in place, then a police commander shouts
into his bullhorn that "This is declared a 'closed military zone' and you
must leave, if you don't, we will expel you by force."
Everyone knows his part; everyone knows his place on stage. As the bullhorn
blares the evacuation order, all the children shout and jeer as loud as they
can, to drown out the policeman's command. In their young minds, if they
didn't "hear" the order, they needn't obey.
All of this is being captured for posterity on video and film, by more than
a dozen cameramen and women, from the Israeli and international media, the
"settlers," and the police. Each camera looking for the best angle, the best
shot, with which to tell the story. Everyone senses the high drama playing
out in this empty field, in between Hebron and Kiryat Arba, on the cutting
edge of the Israeli-Palestinian War.
But not all is what it seems to be, in the "theater." On day two of the "evacuation,"
after the usual declaration that this is a "closed military zone" by the
police, they swoop down onto the kids re-building, and start pushing and
shoving people, to force them out.
" ...We will expel you by force."
Sometimes, four or five policewomen might surround a girl, pick her up and
cart her off. At other times, the YASAM -- the special police unit whose
purpose in to bust up "settlers," i.e. crowd dispersal -- goes in kicking,
punching, and clubbing. That happened on day two, when a 14-year-old boy
was injured during one of the many "evacuations." Later that day and the
next, Israel radio and television, the Israeli and international press, variously
described it as, "he got kicked in the head," "pushed down," "hit by a rock,"
and in one article, "police officials claim the boy was hit by a rock thrown
by settlers. "
I spoke with the boy, eyewitnesses, and saw photos of the incident. Some photos can be seen here.
"Settlers" claimed police injured the boy using, what they called, excessive
force. According to the boy, who was "moderately injured" and evacuated by
ambulance for treatment at Hadassah Hospital, one YASAM policeman shoved
him, and then a second grabbed him, threw him against the stonewall and onto
the ground, then walked away. He was hurt on his back and the Magen David
Adom -- emergency ambulance service -- paramedic was concerned he might have
a broken rib or back injury. The boy asked, "If the police wanted to push
me out of the synagogue area, why throw me against the wall and the ground,
then walk away?" Several other people also testified to the undue force being
used by the YASAM that day. It seems that someone started to ad lib, or did
the police decide to change the script?
How did brutalizing a 14-year-old Jewish kid, help the "peace process?"
As long as everyone remembers that it's just a play, a big game, no one should
get hurt. But when everyone starts taking it too seriously, especially the
And so, the play goes on. The YASAM leave, the police move to the parameter,
and the "settlers" move in again. Kids bringing stones, adults helping and
supervising, offering prayers, occasionally singing and dancing, and the
police carefully biding their time till its their turn to enter the stage
and act out their part. This "theater of the absurd" is likely to run for
quite some time, given the determination shown by the actors, "settlers"
and police alike.
My guess is that in the end, the synagogue will still be there when Sharon leaves office.
Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. His articles can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko.
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