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HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTLAND IS By Jonina Pritzker

There is a famous story in Jewish tradition about two women who are fighting over a baby, each claiming that the baby belongs to her. They appear before King Solomon, whose wisdom was legendary, to have the king decide between them as to which woman was the real mother. King Solomon’s solution was to cut the baby in half, awarding half the child to each woman. At that point, the true mother stepped forward, heartbroken at the thought of taking a knife to the child, and begged the king not to harm her son. By this act, King Solomon recognized that this was the real mother, and he entrusted the infant back to his mother’s loving care.

This story comes to mind as I watch with outrage the current deliberations over the Land of Israel, as strong voices urge Israel to relinquish land that has borne the name and history of the Jewish people for four millennia

Perennial adversaries of the Jewish people, and even traditional allies, have all aligned themselves with the chopping block, ready to slice up the Jewish homeland. Every excuse is given; every threat of dire circumstances, that will be the result if Israel does not agree to cut out its own heart, is articulated.

All the while, self-professed “friends” of the Jewish people have the indecency to say that this is “for Israel’s own good.”

Hearing besieged Israelis and beleaguered Jews around the world being forced under this attack to defend the importance and centrality of different pieces of the Land of Israel is much like watching a person trying to explain why both his legs and his heart are indispensible.

Pieces of the Jewish homeland have become the fodder for international debate, the heart and limbs callously severed and bandied about by those who clearly do not understand the significance that Yehuda V’Shomron, Judea and Samaria, have for the Jewish people, the significance that the Jewish soul – which we call Jerusalem – has for the Jewish people. The deepest roots a Jew can have are found in these places.

There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the Land of Israel from ancient times until today, and this Jewish presence began in Judea and Samaria; this is the birthplace of the Jewish nation.

In the days of the Patriarchs, we read of our Biblical families in Shechem which is in Samaria. “Abram passed into the land as far as the site of Shechem, until the Plain of Moreh…G-d appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.’ ”(Genesis 12:6-7).

In the third generation, the Patriarch Jacob purchases land in Shechem, at the site where his son Joseph would ultimately be buried. “Jacob arrived…at the city of Shechem…He bought the parcel of land…for one hundred kesitahs.” (Genesis 33:18-19).

During the time of Joshua, the nation of Israel gathered at Shechem to renew their covenant with G-d. “Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem…Joshua made a covenant with the people that day…in Shechem.” (Joshua 24:1-25).

Shechem was the place where King Solomon’s son Rechoboam chose to be enthroned. ”Rechoboam went to Shechem, for all of Israel had come to Shechem to make him king (I Kings 12:1). With the subsequent division of the kingdom, Jeroboam established Shechem as his capital in the northern kingdom. “Jeroboam built (up) Shechem in the Mountain of Ephraim and dwelled in it…” (I Kings 12:25).

The roots of the Jewish people are found throughout Judea and Samaria, each city and holy site reflecting the history of the people of Israel in the land of Israel.

The Matriarch Rachel was buried in Bethlehem, a city in Judea. “Thus Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrat, which is Bethlehem. Jacob set up a monument over her grave; it is the monument of Rachel’s grave until this day.” (Genesis 35:19-20).

Centuries later, Boaz would meet Ruth in Bethlehem; she would later give birth to the line of the Davidic monarchy. King David was their great grandson. G-d instructed the prophet Samuel, “Fill your horn with oil and go forth – I shall send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have seen a king for Myself among his sons.”(I Samuel 16:1).

Jews have prayed in Bethlehem at the holy site of Kever Rachel, Rachel’s Tomb, through the centuries. Rachel is seen as a source of comfort and solace; shedding tears on behalf of her children: ”Rachel weeps for her children; she refuses to be consoled…”(Jeremiah 31:14).

In 1830 the Turks issued a royal decree recognizing Jewish rights at this Jewish holy site. The governor of Damascus instructed the Mufti of Jerusalem that “the tomb of esteemed Rachel…they (the Jews) are accustomed to visit it from ancient days; and no one is permitted to prevent them or oppose them (from doing) this.”

This decree was a necessary response to the harassment that Jews had endured in trying to visit Rachel’s Tomb. At times, they were physically attacked; they often had to pay extortion money to the local Arabs to ensure free passage and to protect the holy site from vandalism.

In 1841, Sir Moses Montefiore was granted permission to build a room onto Rachel’s Tomb; this was to protect both the grave and those visiting it.

Bethel, another city within these regions of Judea and Samaria, was called by the Patriarch Jacob “the gate of heaven.” It was here that Jacob dreamt of a ladder reaching to heaven. It was in Bethel that G-d gave Jacob a second name and made to Jacob the covenantal promise of the land of Israel and the people of Israel. “Then G-d said to him, ‘Your name shall not always be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name…a nation…shall descend from you, and kings shall issue from your lions. The land that I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, I will give to you; and to your offspring after you, I will give the land.’” (Genesis 35:10-12).

During the time of the Judges, Deborah would sit pronouncing judgments near Bethel on Mount Ephraim.

After the Israelites re-entered the Land of Israel under the leadership of Joshua, they lived according to tribe. If anyone has ever ridden on a bus in Tel Aviv, the Dan bus line is a reminder that the tribe of Dan was situated in the area of modern-day Tel Aviv, along the coast of the Mediterranean.

The tribes of Israel lived throughout the land of Israel, and they lived on both sides of the Jordan River. On the eastern bank of the Jordan River lived the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasheh.

All of the tribes of Israel would gather in Shiloh located in Samaria. Shiloh was the city of Priests where the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was kept before it was brought to Jerusalem. Shiloh was the spiritual center of Israel for centuries. “The entire assembly of the Children of Israel gathered at Shiloh and erected the Tent of Meeting there…”(Joshua 18:1).

It was in Shiloh that Hannah prayed for a son and was answered, later giving birth to the prophet Samuel.

 

And then there is Hebron in Judea. It would be difficult to find another place with more Jewish history than that which we find in the city of Hebron. Hebron was the very first place acquired by the first Jew, the Patriarch Abraham. He purchased Ma’arat HaMachpela, the cave of Machpela, in order to bury his wife Sarah. “And Abraham weighed out to Ephron…400 silver shekels…And afterwards Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre, which is in Hebron…” (Genesis 23:16-19).

The Cave of Machpelah in Hebron is the burial place for all of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs except for Rachel.

Hebron was the first capital of the kingdom of David, where David ruled for seven and a half years before then establishing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Hebron was an important city for King Hezekiah, when the Assyrians were the world’s aggressors. Hebron was also a critical military area, both at the time of the Maccabees, and during the time of Bar Kochba.

 

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the modern State of Israel said, “Three cities hold a great and unique place in the ancient history of our people: Shechem, Hebron, and Jerusalem…Hebron is worthy to be Jerusalem’s sister.”

In a complete affront to its millennia-long roots in Hebron, the Jewish community of Hebron was forcibly removed from there, after the massacre of 1929 and the subsequent Arab riots. In August of 1929, the Jews of Hebron, men, women, and children, were brutally massacred. The slaughter was bloody and frenzied; parents were murdered in front of their children; neither the old nor the young were spared. The Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini had been inciting the Arabs, using the pretext that Muslim holy places were under attack. Then, employing another tactic that was used then as it is today, he challenged the Jewish connection to the Kotel, the Western Wall that sits adjacent to the holy Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.

Despite the fact that The Supreme Muslim Council itself issued a guide to the Temple Mount in 1925 which clearly states, “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute,” there has been an ongoing attempt to obscure and deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. We are still seeing this ploy today, as those who want to destroy all evidence of Israel’s connection to the land bulldoze the archaeological remains of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, this most sacred Jewish site.  These uprooted and destroyed pieces of history are regularly discarded into the valley next to the sacred Temple Mount, from which dedicated groups and individuals work to salvage these desecrated remains.

What was the British response to the horrific massacre of 1929, as well as, to the subsequent Arab riots of 1936-39, the British, who, at the unanimous direction of the League of Nations, were tasked at that time with reconstituting the Jewish people in their historic homeland? The British reaction was not to defend the remaining Jews. Their reaction was not to affirm the ancient, historical connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, the connection which was recognized and ratified by all the nations of the world only a few years earlier in the Mandate that the League of Nations had entrusted to Great Britain to facilitate. On the contrary, the British response was to evacuate this ancient Jewish community and tear the Jews from their roots because England refused to stand up for the truth and confront the Arab aggression.

We see this same rejection and subversion of Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria today. In fact, despite the Jewish roots that go back to the very beginning of Jewish history, these are the regions that are consistently put on the chopping block in any current discussion about Israel.

Furthermore, those Jews who live in Judea and Samaria, who simply refuse to abandon the Jewish home, history, and heritage, are regularly vilified and are the victims of verbal, economic, and even mortal assaults.

Talia and Yitzchak Ames, Avishai Schindler, and Kochava Even-Haim were massacred by Arab terrorists near Hebron in 2010. Talia and Yitchak’s six children were left as orphans, as their pregnant mother and their father were murdered for the “crime” of being Jews. These Jews were vilified for refusing to leave their home and for wanting to live near the ancient Jewish city of Hebron where a Jew purchased property nearly 4000 years ago. Avishai Schindler was a yeshiva student who had just been married. Kochava Even-Haim was a teacher who left behind an eight-year-old daughter.

We see violence perpetrated against the Jews of Samaria, as well. When Jews want to visit Joseph’s Tomb in the city of Shechem, they go under the cover of night and watchful eyes of the Israel Defense Forces, since attacks on Jews visiting the site are common.

Joseph’s bones, which the Children of Israel had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Shechem, in the portion of the field that Jacob acquired…for a hundred kesitahs; and it became a heritage for the children of Joseph.”(Joshua 24:32).

After all of the assurances that the Arab authorities supervising the area would respect this holy site, in October of 2000, the tomb of Joseph was, nonetheless, desecrated, along with the Yeshiva Od Yosef Chai, the Jewish house of study, which stood next to the tomb. The holy site was ransacked and burned. Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, one of the founders of the Yeshiva, was slain as he attempted to save the sacred site and its holy items from destruction.

In 2011, 24-year-old father of four Ben Yoseph Livnat was shot and killed as he and other Breslav Hasidim attempted to visit the tomb.

Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem has been subjected to unceasing acts of vandalism, desecration, and arson. Jews trying to visit and pray at this sacred place are repeatedly met with violence.

In Samaria, near the city of Shechem, the towns of Elon Moreh, Har Bracha, Yitzhar, and Itamar were founded. These modern communities are nestled in the hill country, with Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal towering above, “And all Israel and its elders and officers and its judges stood on this side and that of the Ark opposite the Kohanim, the Levites, bearers of the Ark of the Covenant…half of them on the slope of Mount Gerizim and half of them on the slope of Mount Ebal.”(Joshua 8:33).

The town of Itamar was named for Itamar HaKohen (Priest), son of Aaron the Priest. “The labor of the Levites was under the authority of Itamar, son of Aaron the Kohen.” (Exodus 38:21).

In March of 2011, on a Sabbath evening, Udi Fogel, 36, his wife Ruth, 35, and three of their children, Yoav, 11, Eldad, 4, and Hadas, 3 months, were brutally murdered in their home in Itamar by Arab terrorists from a neighboring town.

They were killed for the “crime” of being Jews who would not leave their home, Jews who wanted to live in the birthplace of the Jewish people.

The rejection and subversion of Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria, and the violence perpetrated against the Jews in these regions, are unrelenting.

The ongoing attempt to obscure the Jewish Biblical, spiritual, historical, and legal rights to Judea and Samaria is extended further by the deceitful claim that Jews are “occupiers” in this land. Given the fact that the Land of Israel was never the sovereign country of any nation but the Jewish one, Jews cannot be deemed “occupiers” in their own land, a fact affirmed by international law.

 

The historical and religious rights of the Jewish people to the land of Israel were affirmed and codified in international law at the San Remo Conference of 1920, a meeting of the Principal Allied Powers of WWI to determine the future of the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. At this conference, where international agreement was also reached regarding the establishment of other countries in the region, such as Syria, and Iraq, a binding agreement was reached between these world powers “to reconstitute the ancient Jewish State within its historic borders.”

Recognizing the ancient and continuous, historical and spiritual connection between the nation of Israel and the land of Israel, the San Remo Resolution specifically included this spiritual heartland of Samaria and Judea as part of the area designated for reestablishing the Jewish National Homeland, along with all the land that is between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, all the land that currently comprises the country of Jordan, as well as, the Golan Heights and Gaza.

 

This mandate, which was then ratified by a unanimous vote of The League of Nations, affirmed the Jewish right to settle anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which is where these regions of Samaria and Judea are found. This right is enshrined to this day in international law.

The San Remo Conference, along with various treaties following World War I, succeeded in establishing independent countries sought by the Arab nationalists; Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan were all established out of what had been provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

Yet, when it came to similarly recognizing the rights of the Jewish nation to the Jewish homeland, there were those who consistently sought to prevent Jewish self-determination and sovereignty in the Jewish homeland of Israel. This was despite the fact that the world clearly recognized, by international law and treaty, the right of the Jewish nation to reestablish the Jewish National Homeland.

We continue to see this same rejection of Jewish rights to the land of Israel today. We continue to hear the persistent demand that Jews give up their homeland. And we hear the unremitting vilification of those Jews who are unwilling to do so.

About the Author
Yonina Pritzker is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr Yisrael in Newton, Massachusetts. In addition to her congregational and community work, she has worked at The David Project on curricula related to Israel, and at CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) as a Research Analyst.
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