Violence? Rabbi Eliezer Waldman raises his eyebrows mildly at the mention of violence in the occupied West Bank.
"It is queer you should bring that up with us," he says. "What confusion one can get into when one considers Jewish families coming to dwell as something violent."
Waldman, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, has lived for 12 years in a town that he and a handful of families built from the ground up -- a town overlooking the valley of Hebron, the one place he would rather live than anywhere else, a town now charged with tensions that threaten to explode into violence between two peoples who passionately claim the land as their own.
For him the issue is simple, obvious.
"What could be more natural than Jews returning to Hebron?" he asks. "Hebron is the second-holiest city next to Jerusalem. David went to Hebron before he went to Jerusalem. We saw it as a further stage of redemption of our country. We have a historical right to this land.
"When the Arabs see we're here to stay they'll accept it. And we are here to stay."
"Let me tell you something," says Shulamit Aloni, lowering her thick, deep voice. "At the end of the 20th century you cannot just kill or send back one-and-a-half million Arabs. They are there. No miracle will come to take them away. And as long as they are there, they will struggle for their rights."
She has been delivering the same message to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, for the last 12 years. One of only eight women in the 120-member body, she is chief spokesperson for human rights.
She is an outspoken critic of the right-wing religious settlers, of the Begin government, of an Israeli society in which, in her words, "women are second-class citizens."
"One of the founders of the [ultra-right] Gush Emunim says women and Arabs don't need rights," she says, pausing and shrugging. "Okay. I hope women and Arabs don't agree to it."
They come from opposite extremes of the turbulent Israeli political scene -- he, the right-winger, believes the West Bank should be ruled by the Jewish people; she, the human-rights activist, believes the Jewish people have no authority to take from the Arabs living there the right to self-determination.
They argue with the same conviction, hail from the same generation, live in the same Israel, and this week toured the same country, both passing through Washington, missing each other in time by a day and in philosophy by entire mindsets. They are not well acquainted personally, but they know each other's allies.
In Israel's fractionalized political spectrum, they both represent forces to be reckoned with. Aloni quit the Labor Party while in the Knesset and came back with a Citizens' Rights Movement that made an unprecedented win, for a new party, of three Knesset seats in the general election in December 1973.
Waldman is among the most fervent of the Israeli pioneers, settling in an area of the occupied West Bank that had not been settled since the massacre of Jews in 1929.
"We are friends as far as we can have coffee and talk about a book," says Aloni. "That's fine. But politics? It's another language."
"I want to stress," says Rabbi Waldman, "that Arabs have more than 20 countries. This is our only country. This was recognized. It is only through needs for oil that governments are pressuring us [to withdraw from the settlements]."
He is a member of the Gush Emunim, the ultra-nationalists, the Faithful Bloc, which is what the title means. He has lived for years on a hilltop in Israel in the town of Kiryat Arba, overlooking what only some think is the Promised Land -- a land whose cost in blood has only made it dearer to him.
The settlers live in the shadow of a violent past in Hebron. In 1929, rioting Arabs killed 67 Jews there -- eliminating the entire Jewish community. It was one of the worst massacres of the 30-year British mandate in Palestine.
Waldman, who is head of the Kiryat Arba yeshiva (religious school), will also head the branch of that yeshiva planned for Hebron. The approval of the Hebron yeshiva by the Israeli cabinet elicited alarm worldwide from leaders who feel it will only exacerbate an already extremely tense situation.
Spurts of violence have racked Hebron for the last year. In March 1979, two Arab students -- one a 17-year-old girl -- were shot to death during a melee with Israeli settlers. Militant residents of Kiryat Arba have broken into Arabs homes and beaten up people living there. Arabs have stoned Jewish school buses and assaulted Israelis visiting Hebron. In February a 23-year-old yeshiva student was shot to death at point-blank range by an Arab.
But for Waldman, it comes down to this: it is his homeland, and it is his "obligation and privilege" to rebuild it.
"We've come to bring this message," he says calmly. "This supposed peace process -- these Camp David accords -- are something to take our rights away. It is endangering our very existence. Our government has conceded too much and gotten nothing in return. For the appeasement of Arabs, Americans are selling as . . .," he pauses, smiling slightly as he tries to remember the idiom, "down the drain.
"There are people in Israel who won't have it," he says. "There is a strong counterbalance to the Peace Now movement."
He radiates the confidence of a man who has explained his views many times before. Walking through the small, cozy law office of a friend, he greets people with "shalom" and a smile. Interruptions do not perturb his serene calm. A lawyer who accidentally stumbles upon Waldman in an interview is graciously invited to stay around and listen if he would like.
Outside, late for an appointment at the Executive Office Building, Waldman and the woman who is to drive him there discover her car has been booted. There is some discussion of what to do. Rabbi Waldman frowns curiously. "What is this?" he asks, not realizing that the boot means the car cannot be moved. He is told that; and he nods. He inquires about what can be done. He is told the driver must pay a fine, notify the police, and wait for them to come.
"Oy," he says matter-of-factly, raising his eyebrows.
He waits calmly until a decision is made by all involved to take a taxi.
He is hardly the image of the angry, passionate Israelis who make up much of the Gush Emunim. The passion is there inside, emerging only in the words he speaks, not in the way he speaks them. He is a rabbi, after all, a teacher. He folds his hands in his lap and keeps them there for most of the interview.
He is 43, with yarmulke pinned in place and a long, graying beard he sometimes stokes. He was born in Israel, moved to Brooklyn at age 3 with his Czech-born parents, attended Brooklyn College for one year. At 19, he returned to Israel and has never left again, except for political and educational excursions and to make speeches.
Since 1968, he has lived in Kiryat Arba. He and a group of families rented an entire hotel near there until they could move into houses. "Our land," he says, "stems from the hills of Judea and Hebron, not just Tel Aviv."
It is all in the Bible:
"So all the elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron; and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the Lord: and they anointed David king over Israel." The Book of Samuel, Chapter 5:3.
"They [the Arabs] have no historic rights to rule the land," Waldman says. "Certainly Arabs can continue living there -- if they are loyal to the government. If autonomy means a general administrative body, that would bring about a PLO state. Who would prevent them from proclaiming they were a PLO state? It would come up in a vote in the U.N., and the Arabs would vote for it, maybe the U.S. would abstain . . ."
And there, he believes, would go the security of Israel. "The PLO's proclaimed goal is to destroy Jewish independence -- not just proclaimed," he says, "practiced. And not just since '67. We haven't had a quiet day since 1948."
And so, he and his party persist in settling on the West Bank. He fears no violence, he says, as a result of the plans for the new yeshiva in Hebron.
"It will be no problem," he says casually. "I've been living with these Arabs for 12 years -- most are peaceful, interested in making a living. If they were not aroused by the PLO, it would be fine." Defiance and Resolution
Her speech is over but the real talk has just begun during the question-and-answer period before the audience -- members of the Washington Hebrew Congregation.
"Who else agrees to reorganize the world because that's the way it was 5,000 years ago?" Shulamit Aloni demands of the group. ("I do," murmurs one woman in the audience.)
"We have to recognize there were people there [in the West Bank] from the seventh century," she continues. "Now we -- whose rights have been abused for so long -- say, 'No, we are Jews, the chosen people, we have the right to take the land.' We can come in and say, 'What's yours is mine and what's mine is mine, because we are the chosen people.'"
They are taking all this fairly well, listening carefully. Then the question comes: "How can we give back land and be secure?"
She answers: "Why do we have to interfere in their lives, sit in their towns and universities and tell them how to live?"
The questioner persists, saying Aloni didn't answer the question. She tries again:
"The Army would stay until the moment we are sure of security."
It doesn't go over -- the skeptical voices rise in a chorus of "Awww . . .
"It will take years," Aloni says over them, "after we have common enterprises . . .".
It is time for her to leave, and they give her a firm round of applause, some standing. She has made her point.
She has also upset some of them. "That's good," she says later. "They will think."
She has been upsetting people for years -- not just with her political views. In 1965, she wore a sleeveless dress, baring her arms, to a Knesset meeting, and angered members of two strict religious parties.
"We have fanatic, nationalistic religious groups who believe the land given by God is more important than the history of changes," she says. "That's a very dangerous philosophy.
"It's true that we rebuilt the deserts and the swamps," she says. "But the moment you come to the land and find people who say. 'My great-great-grandfather built this house,' what do you say? 'Well, my great-great-great-grandfather was here before that'?"
Her words come tumbling out, strong and purposeful. Her hair is a mass of blond curls. She smokes almost constantly. She scrambles from one hour-long speaking engagement to the next, but each time the same argument seems to come out fresh.
She is 50, a mother of three, a lawyer since the '50s. She and 12 other people manage a free legal-advice and counseling service in Tel Aviv, under the Office for Public Affairs for Human Rights. Constantly she stresses that she is a humanist, "fighting for human rights."
In 1973 she campaigned hard, emphasizing women's rights and consumer protection. About a month after she won, her husband, Reuven Aloni, was quoted as saying: "I think my wife's political activity is important. It makes our marriage all the more interesting and helps the country."
She is straightforward if a bit awkward in speech, apologizing before an interview that she is not good at small talk. Perhaps because of that, she immediately hands a reporter a flyer on her Citizens' Rights Movement and a postcard with a cartoon showing a woman locked in a box with a rabbi standing outside holding a key. "This is the status of women," she says matter-of-factly, before launching into an eloquent statement on women in Israel.
When she speaks, she is relaxed and impassioned at the same time. During the speech to the Washington Hebrew Congregation, she mentioned a passage in the Bible -- quoting part of it in Hebrew -- to make a point. The audience members took out their Bibles, groping for the passage. She told them the chapter and verse, but it was the wrong one. More groping.
Finally, pages still rustling around the room, she waved at them to stop all the activity. "Put your Bibles away," she said, brushing off the formality of it all."I'll tell you the story." A Biblical Mandate
"I am strongly against [a Jewish presence in Hebron], she says bluntly. "To survive in the Middle East as an Israeli state with minorities and not fight all the time, as long as the Palestinian issue is not settled, we have nothing to do in Hebron.
"The moment they say Hebron is like Jerusalem," says Aloni, "is when the U.N. says, 'Fine, Jerusalem is like Hebron.' Only the people who say Hebron is as important as Jerusalem brought the U.N. resolution on. Those fanatic people who want everything brought this on."
She is referring to last month's U.N. resolution, which lumped East Jerusalem with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, places where the U.S. has opposed Israeli settlement. Of course, President Carter later said the U.S. mistakenly voted for the resolution.
Aloni ideally would like to see the military administration pulled out of the West Bank and an army presence kept there only for security. If peace were negotiated, she says, "we can visit. It's not a question of ownership. We can go and visit, and Arabs can come to Israel. But to go there with arms, to expropriate land because today we have arms -- I think that is against the Bible. What I'm ready to accept from the Bible today is the moral spirit of the prophets."
In the end, among the "People of the Book," both sides can come back to the Bible.