Printed in the Jewish Press – Nov. 28, 2008
A professor from Bar Ilan University, an expert on ancient affairs, investigated the value of silver thousands of years ago. He concluded that the price our Patriarch Abraham paid for Ma’arat HaMachpela, four hundred silver shekels , the caves where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, is worth, in today’s terms, some $750,000. That’s just a little less than what Morris Abraham and his father Mickey paid for Beit HaShalom in Hebron.
Beit HaShalom, (the “Peace house” in English) is a huge, 40,000 square foot structure, just above the main road leading from Hebron to Kiryat Arba. When it became known that the Arab owner of the building, some five years ago, was putting it up for sale, and the Abraham family heard about it, it was a done deal.
Well, not quite. It took a few years to actually complete the transaction. Jews purchasing property from Arabs in Hebron is not an everyday occurrence, and is not easily accomplished. It is a task which requires, among other things, a tremendous amount of money, fine attorneys, much time, nerves of platinum, and most of all, a huge quantity of Divine assistance.
Thank G-d, it all came together, and about 20 months ago, having received a green light from the lawyers, residents from Hebron’s Jewish community moved in.
It wasn’t easy. From literally the moment we moved in, there was someone trying to have us removed. There were those who claimed that we ‘stole the building’ from the Arab owner. There were others who said, ‘we don’t care if they bought it legally. Jews shouldn’t be in Hebron, period. Throw them out!”
However, we had a lot going for us. First of all, the building was purchased legally. At one point the community released a film of the Arab counting the cash he received. (When he later denied the sale during a police investigation, and the police showed him the video, he exclaimed, “I later cancelled the deal and gave them the money back!”)
Hebron’s commanding IDF officer was ecstatic about the purchase, being that the building is located at a very strategic position, overlooking all of Kiryat Arba, just across the road, and most of Hebron. And an initial police investigation of the documents was positive. The documents were authentic.
But facts don’t necessarily mean much in Israel. A court ruled that there was enough seeming evidence to prevent us from being evicted, but too many question marks to allow ‘life as usual.’ So a status quo was ordered. We could stay, but without making any major changes in the building. That meant, for example, that windows could not be installed in the empty spaces in the walls. Nor could the building be hooked up the Hebron electric grid. So, as winter approached, the people inside were a little cold. A small generator was running, providing minimum electricity to keep the heaters running. But a building without windows, in a snow storm, is quite a bit to weather. Big sheets of plastic in place of glass don’t really do the trick.
Finally, in the middle of a snow storm, and as a result of massive public pressure, cabinet ministers started pounding on Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s desk, demanding that the government allow windows to be immediately installed. The pressure worked, and finally windows were brought in. They refused to allow window shades or shutters; that was too much. But glass windows were okayed.
But the left refused to give up and intensified efforts to have the Jews residents expelled from the building. Police suddenly decided that many of the sale documents were counterfeit, but refused to reveal which ones were faked. Finally the court forced them to allow the community an opportunity to defend itself and they had no choice but to divulge which papers were suspect. The community, via a former police officer, an expert on such affairs, was able to easily dispel the doubts as to the authenticity of the documents.
At a recent Supreme Court hearing, the judges, (two of the most left-wing members of the court together with an Arab judge, hearing the case), accused the community of ‘taking the building by force’ from its Arab owner. In response the community gave the court new, startling evidence: an audio recording of the Arab owners saying, in plain language, that he sold the place and received full compensation for the building. He also declared that he had come under great pressure from Palestinian authority intelligence forces to ‘change his story.’
Last week the Supreme Court announced its decision. The decided to ignore the facts in the case, not letting them get in the way of their own political biases. They announced that they would not get involved in the previous government decision to expel the building’s residents until the question of ownership was decided in a lower court. They gave the people living there 72 hours to leave of their own accord. If they did not voluntarily evict themselves, the government would then have legal permission to expel them.
As of this writing, new families and many youth are moving into Beit HaShalom, in order to reinforce Jewish presence at that building , which clearly belongs to Hebron’s Jewish community. One family, Nahum and Revital Almagor and their 15 year old daughter came from Brooklyn to participate in the struggle for the building.
Last week, a retired judge, Uri Struzman, harshly criticized the Supreme Court ruling, calling it political and a sham. Another retired Supreme Court judge, Ya’akov Turkal, said that the Supreme Court decision did not demand that the families be removed from the building, rather that the government could remove them, if they so desired. In other words, the decision of expulsion is in the hands of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
At the moment, the building’s many families: men, women and children, are willing to put up with a cold winter; (we expect that the cost to heat Beit HaShalom this winter at over $150,000 â€“ money which the community does not presently have;) but they have no intentions of leaving their beloved home, Beit HaShalom, the building that Morris Abraham gave to the Jewish people of Hebron. A representative council of men and women from Hebron and Kiryat Arba, and other activists, has announced that the group will not initiate any violent acts against Israeli security forces, but should those forces attempt to expel them, there will be fierce resistance. However, the level of violence will be determined by the expulsion forces. MK Uri Ariel, speaking at an emergency community meeting last week, with over 1,000 people present, clearly stated that should those in the building be attacked and beaten, that they have a right to defend themselves.
Last Shabbat close to 25,000 people visited Hebron, hearing the Torah tell how Avraham Avinu purchased the Caves of Machpela some 3,800 years ago. Many of those people also visited Beit HaShalom, showing their support and encouragement. How fitting that a family named Abraham should buy a building for almost the same price Avraham Avinu paid for Ma’arat HaMachpela, a piece of property just five minutes from the first Jewish-owned land in Eretz Yisrael.