Vox’s Max Fisher’s embarrassing errors about Hebron

June 21

Vox.com aims to give definitive analysis to various public policy issues, but it’s going to have to do better than this.  In discussing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Fisher discusses the five hundred Jewish Israelis living in Hebron.  Let me preface the rest of this post by pointing out that I think that Israelis should have never been permitted by their government to settle Hebron, because it creates tremendous security problems, unneeded frictions, because I don’t believe that every historical wrong needs to be, or can be righted, and even if they do and can, settlement doesn’t do anything for the actual historical victims.  But regardless of one’s views on the matter, one should get one’s basic facts right.

With that out of the way, here’s what Fisher says: “The 500 or so Israelis who live [in Hebron] are considered settlers by everyone but themselves. If you speak to them, they will tell you this: Jews consider Hebron a holy city (so do Muslims) and began moving here during the Zionist movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1929, a mob of Hebron’s native Arabs attacked the newcomers and killed about 65; most fled, and were barred from returning when Jordan conquered the West Bank in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, some Jews moved to Hebron, either to reclaim property they believed was rightfully theirs by family inheritance or because they want to control the city as Jewish holy land. The Israeli military put the city under occupation, and in 1997 the Hebron Agreement divided it, which the Israelis here believe was to keep them safe from Arab terrorists.”

No, they would not tell you that Jews began moving to Hebron as part of the Zionist movement.  Hebron had an ancient Jewish community that survived the Arab and Turkish conquests, a blood libel in 1775 and subsequent fine of the community, and poverty and conscription during World War I.  There were approximately  seven hundred Jews in Hebron in 1838, about the same number as in 1929 (there was, in other words, no sudden Zionist influx). The Jews living there in 1929 were overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox, drawn there by the city’s holiness in Judaism and a yeshiva. In short, it wasn’t “Zionist newcomers” who were massacred by local (Fisher uses the word “native,” as if the ancient Jewish community wasn’t native) Arabs in 1929, but the same traditional, non-Zionist Jews, including some foreign yeshiva students, who had been living mostly in peace but also through periodic Arab and Muslim persecutions for centuries.

I’m not writing “definitive” analyses for Vox, but I was aware of the basics of Jewish history in Hebron, which if nothing else are readily available on the Internet, and, I daresay, are well-known to anyone with a reasonably broad knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict, given the importance of the Hebron massacre in spurring Jews to create and expand self-defense organizations, and the importance of Hebron in the current situation.  If Fisher both doesn’t know such basics, and is too lazy to look them up, he has no business writing about the West Bank, period.

David Bernstein is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA.
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