I admit that there is a lot I don’t know, and don’t understand, about Hebron. But when you walk along the deserted Shuhada street, the former busy main road of Hebron which under occupation is renamed "King David" street, it makes you cringe.
The walking tour of Hebron included all the tiny Jewish settlements right in the heart of the old city. It was hard not to notice that the signs of the streets were written in Hebrew. Opposite Beit Hadassah settlement U saw steps with the name "The Steps of Hope."
There was very little hope in this tour, Palestinians are not allowed in those areas, and Hebron is just like a ghost town in an American Western. It is a desolate city where the streets are controlled by a strong man, a kind of self appointed sheriff aided by young loyal deputies.
The sheriff's name is Ofer Ohana, he lately became a household name when, among his other feats in Hebron, he was involved in the case of Elor Azaria, an IDF soldier that shot and killed a neutralized Palestinian terrorist. Ohana was the ambulance driver who was filmed kicking the knife toward the Palestinian terrorist, (allegedly to cover up for Azaria shooting an unarmed man) (Ynet June 26th)
I was in Hebron twice and in both times I saw Sheriff Ohana controlling the streets with his young deputies. Since most tours to Hebron are perceived by them as a threat, they were there to protest. They used mega phones, boom boxes with loud music, jumped in front of cameras, shouted, and mingled with the visitors holding big flags of Israel. It was clear that the show was orchestrated by Ohana and that the boys were there at his beck and call.
The Israeli police did not interfere and the soldiers who were there kept quiet. Nobody said anything to the boys who were harassing the visitors. Actually I read testimonies of soldiers who wrote that Ohana was very warm and hospitable toward them, and invited them over for Shabbat dinner. I wonder if this type of fraternization should be allowed. The soldiers in Hebron have an impossible assignment, surely by feeding them and making them feel at home, Ohana forms alliances in the army as he exploits the plight of those young soldiers to promote his political and ideological agenda.
Ohana is not only an ambulance driver in Hebron, he is also the head of the Gutnik visitor center next to the Cave of the Patriarchs. No doubt he is the face of the Jewish settlers in Hebron.
But on the walk back to the van, I was followed by another settler, a middle aged woman who kept filming me. Finally she said, “you haven’t heard our side of the story.” I told her that I was aware that there was more to the story, and that in my previous tour when we visited the hilltop Tel Rumeida (the most extremist settlement), a distressed older woman pushed me and threw water in my face. I wasn't angry because I found out that she was the widow of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, who was murdered in 1998 by a Palestinian terrorist.
The settler listened quietly and then said, “ this was my mother, Rabbi Shlomo Raanan was my father.”This is a losing proposition, even a powerful sheriff like Ofer Ohana could not protect his flock from thousands of imprisoned Palestinians who have nothing to lose. The murder of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan is just one example. The tragedies of recent days should finally convince our government to take responsibility and declare that the state of Israel should not allow its citizens to live in Hebron.
The essay appeared in the Times Of Israel