January 07, 2006

Joseph: The Second Betrayal

It was during the summer of 1995 that a fateful encounter took place in the Knesset, outside the office of then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. His government was putting the final touches on the second Oslo agreement that was to hand over a further tranche of West Bank towns to the new Palestinian Authority. This included Bethlehem, site of Rachel’s tomb, at which Jews have prayed for thousands of years. National Religious Party member Hanan Porat realised that the tomb was slated to fall into 'Area A', that is, under full Arab civil and military control. He decided that he must speak with Rabin and try to change his mind.

Another MK, Aguda’s Rabbi Menachem Porush, happened to walk by and saw his friend standing outside the PM’s office carrying a large aerial photograph of the tomb compound and the Bethlehem-Gilo border. "What are you doing here?" asked Porush. "I have come to lobby for Rachel's tomb," Porat responded. Porush asked if he could join him at the meeting and Porat agreed. For the greater part of the meeting, Porush sat in silence. He listened to Porat, who drew lines on the aerial photograph and illustrated how short was the distance and shooting range between Gilo and Bethlehem. Porat also asked Rabin if he would be willing to give the Palestinians the grave of Ben Gurion or that of his Palmah commander Yigal Allon. Rabin was preparing to respond when Porush stood up, approached Rabin, embraced him and burst into tears, shouting and sobbing, "Reb Yitzchak. We are talking about Mama Ruchi. How can you give away her grave?"

"It was beyond words," Porat recalled in a later interview. "Reb Menachem sobbed, crying real tears onto the prime minister's shirt, and Rabin begged him, `Reb Menachem, please calm down.’ Reb Menachem retorted: `How can I calm down? You are planning to give away Mama Ruchi's grave. The Jewish people will never forgive you if you abandon Mama's tomb.'" With G-d's help, Rabin relented and promised the two Knesset members that he would re-examine the issue. Just a few days later, the 463 meters separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem were restored to their Area C status under complete Israel security and civil control. The Palestinians agreed to be compensated with other territories.

A few months later, Rabin was assassinated. It happened on the eve of Rachel's Yahrzeit, according to Jewish tradition, the 11th of Heshvan. When asked where they had been on the night of Rabin's assassination, almost all the National Religious Party's leaders and other religious-Zionist public figures answered: “We were in the traffic jam on the way to Rachel's tomb."

At this time of the year, the weekly Torah readings are about the story of Rachel’s son Joseph and how his envious brothers threw him into a pit and sold him to the Arabs. About how, miraculously, he emerged from the pit to become the most powerful man in Egypt and kingdoms far beyond which sought his salvation in the seven years of famine. We also read about his dying wish not to be abandoned in Egypt and how he foreswore his children to carry his bones into Israel to be buried in a part of Shechem which his father Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor for 100 pieces of silver.

Three-and-a-half thousand years later we stand ashamed for once again selling out our esteemed brother Joseph to the Arabs. The children of Israel, now at their most powerful in all of Jewish history - a nuclear power with satellites in space and the most feared army and air force in the region – stands guilty of again abandoning their brother Joseph to a mob of Arabs.

This is exactly what happened on October 7th 2000, just five years after the ‘rescue’ of his mother’s tomb. These were the opening weeks of the last Intifada and after persistent rioting near Joseph’s tomb, the small IDF garrison was withdrawn in exchange for Arafat’s promise to protect the site. Within hours our patriarch’s tomb was overrun by a rioting mob that attacked it with pickaxes and jackhammers and set it ablaze. When the fire finally burned out, the cheering Arabs daubed what was left of the dome in green paint and declared it as a Moslem shrine.

Whatever our blood-soaked misgivings over Oslo, the 1995 accords clearly reserved the right of Jewish access to – and the obligation for Arab respect and protection of – the holy sites, and specifically Joseph’s tomb. That we could not trust the Arabs at their word was no surprise. That our own leaders shrank from their responsibilities to enforce and defend that position is unforgivable. This was not merely a travesty of Oslo, but a blatant breach of a 3,000-year-old covenant.

If we have learned anything – not least from the Bible Codes - it is that the Torah does not waste words; every letter and sentence serves a purpose. The question is often asked: Why did the Torah need to record how much Jacob paid for the land and to whom? Perhaps it was because Shechem would one day become Nablus and a new entity calling themselves Palestinians would claim it as their own. That its leaders would seek to deny the very existence of Jewish life in Israel with the same callous conviction as their denial of our millions of dead in the Holocaust.

Strikingly there is another place where the Torah goes out of its way to record the precise terms of a similar contract. That is Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpela as a burial place for Sara. It is clearly written that the Hebron field and the cave within it were bought from Ephron the Hittite for 400 silver shekels. Interesting that Hebron is another place claimed by those same Palestinians, denying any Jewish rights in the area.

The Torah’s message is particularly appropriate to our generation of Jews in this epoch of disengagement. It is that, whatever others may say, our claims are legitimate, written and recorded. It gives us the means to discredit those who seek to deny our rights to Eretz Yisrael. Those who seek to rewrite history by saying that the favoured son of the Akeda was not Isaac but Yishmael. Those who hack away daily in the vaults of the Temple Mount seeking to erase any remnant of Jewish presence. Those who do not acknowledge our existence other than to rejoice over our dead and injured or to libel and demonise us for all the world’s problems.

The lesson of Rachel’s Tomb is clear to see. The happenstance meeting of a Rabbi and a Prime Minister transformed a speck on a map into something worth saving, something of tremendous significance to our people. Clearly Rabin did not appreciate its importance, any more than Barak appreciated the importance of Joseph’s tomb when he withdrew his troops under cover of darkness. Ironically this was to be the first of many retreats under fire that have so weakened us and emboldened our enemies in recent years.

But whatever our complaints about Rabin and Barak, no Israeli government has emboldened our enemies more than the present. It has given freely of our land, for nothing in return. It has cheapened the blood of our citizens by freeing hundreds of terrorists from our jails and shelling empty buildings in retaliation for suicide bombings. It has cheapened the blood of our soldiers by freeing terrorists they risked their lives to apprehend and abandoning vital defence lines like Philadelphi for which so many of our tank crews paid the ultimate price.

Then they gave Egypt the keys to Sinai after 30 years of demilitarisation. And for what purpose? To control arms smuggling through the Rafah tunnels? Hardly. These tunnels are no longer needed. Thanks to our defence minister’s feeble capitulation to the Quartet on so many security issues, the guns and missiles are now being transported on the open road with little right of challenge by the IDF. After the implementation of Condoleeza Rice’s latest easements, it is arguable that American police will have more security control over the New Jersey Turnpike than our security forces will have over the Gaza-Samaria corridor. When one remembers all the fuss that was created over the capture of the Karine-A, the current weight of arms shipments between Palestinian areas might well sink a whole fleet of Karines.

Then there was the disengagement, in which for the very first time turned a Jewish army against its own people. And again, for what purpose? Well, there were various explanations most of which have since been totally discredited. Instead of a peaceful and more secure border, Israel is under even stronger and deeper attack than before, with Kassams now falling in Ashkelon not just Sderot. And they are being launched from fields we once cultivated with prize-winning tomatoes in the thriving settlements of Northern Gaza. The only remaining justification for disengagement is supposed to be demographic; that by seceding from Gaza we will postpone the day when Jews will become a minority in their own country. It has always been my understanding that demographics have to do with the location of living people. But the process of disengagement has emboldened those who seek to rid the area of living Jewish people. From the closer range we have gifted them, their rockets are targeted to kill our men, women and children. I say that, like common charity, demography begins at home. Protect our people from being massacred and the demographic problem will take care of itself. With stronger leadership and a government that is more committed to the welfare of our own people than confidence-building measures for our sworn enemies, Israel will surely boost its own Jewish population through greater Aliyah.

Perhaps the most telling thing is that no one pressed us to abandon Gaza and Northern Samaria. Not the Quartet or even the Palestinians. Even George Bush was said to have been surprised by our unilateral offer. Who would have thought that the territorial depth secured by Israel in a bold pre-emptive strike in 1967 would be so easily given up by one of its most brilliant generals in a new strategy of pre-emptive surrender?

As a by-product of disengagement, and despite the discrediting of any security dividend, our most powerful neighbour Egypt has regained a foothold in the Sinai. The lukewarm peace we have enjoyed with Cairo since the murder of Sadat has never stopped their canal-crossing war games or slowed the massive build-up of their military with the help of $1.3 billion in annual US aid. How can this be justified for a country which is supposed to be at peace with its only powerful neighbour? And when that aid figure is not much less than Israel’s own military stipend as a nation surrounded on all sides by powerful foes? And when Cairo is still the world headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood; ultimate holding company of Al Qaeda? Al Qaeda have already shown their hand in Sharm-el-Sheikh with a series of bombings and it is only a question of time before they destabilise the government in Cairo. The same goes for our other neighbour Jordan. In the face of this kind of future, can there be any sense in thinning our borders?

But our leftist leaders appear to ignore all this. Now our Egyptian friends no longer need to practice with pontoon bridges in Alexandria. We have given them the keys to the Sinai in another feat of pre-emptive surrender.

Which brings us up to the present day and to the ultimate farce: the Palestinian elections. Mahmoud Abbas, the non-existent peace partner for whom we granted all these concessions, is on the verge of collapse. Why? Well it’s not just about the popularity of Hamas. Once again you need to look inside Israel for the source of this problem. To an Israeli jail cell from which five-times lifer Marwan Barghouti, leader of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, has been allowed by our government to run a campaign for the PA leadership. Is this not totally absurd? And is it not also obscene in the eyes of the dozens of families which have been bereaved by Al Aksa and seen their loved ones maimed for life? Yossi Beilin campaigns loudest for Barghouti’s immediate release from jail. Very significantly he has also committed his Meretz party as a future coalition partner with Kadima.

So, what does this and the current election in Israel all have to do with the story of Joseph and his tomb we abandoned in Nablus? The answer is: Everything. In the same process as we plead guilty to selling out our brother for a second time to the Arabs we must realise that we are also continuing to sell out our own people to them. Whether you call it Oslo 1, Oslo 2 or disengagement, it is about a 21st century exodus from our own homeland, an inexorable process of dispossession for us and empowerment of our enemies to press for even greater concessions under a threat of terrorism that, our leaders have clearly shown, pays out in spades.

Much of the forthcoming election campaign will be about Jerusalem and Kadima’s ominous silence on the true extent of future concessions on land and sovereignty. Like the sobbing Rabbi we must declare, before it is too late, that this land is important to us, that we shall not yield it to our enemies either in a bloody war or for a phoney peace. As a vital first step, we need to immediately demand restoration of our rights of access to Joseph’s tomb. If our leaders do not have the guts to enforce the few legal rights we still have under discredited accords, they cannot be given the mandate to sign away one further inch of Eretz Yisrael ■

This first appeared as a front page essay in the American Jewish Press
For further information on Joseph's Tomb with pictures click HERE


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