In the market of this old city, burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a hundred Arab eyes watched the rabbi as he walked. He was thin and bearded, dressed in slacks and a checkered shirt, and he walked slowly through the crooked streets of the casbah, past the stalls and under the awnings that blocked the sun, walking as if a Jewish boy had not been killed on this very spot, as if some of the people watching him would not have wanted to do the same thing to him, as if he had not come here years ago to establish the first Jewish settlement and was not now casting a covetous eye on more. This was Rabbi Moshe Levinger, and where he walked, he would someday own.
Now he walked among the ghosts. Here was the old Jewish quarter of the city, abandond since the 1929 riots, in which the Arabs went on a rampage, killing 67 jews, forcing the others to flee. The former homes of Jews are stables and stalls and small factories.
"The Arabs will not live in them because they killed the Jews," Levinger syas. "They think there are ghosts in them."
Levinger walked around a corner. Here the passageway is very narrow and dark. A fetid smell hits the nostrils. Levinger walks into what was once a stone house. There are two cows inside.
"Here was the home of a rich Jewish woman," he says. "We know the family that lived here. She had many shops."
Levinger is the tail that wags the Israeli dog that in turn wags the United States. He is the personification of the settlement controversy, a zealot who takes orders from the Bible, certainly not from Menachem Begin or Jimmy Carter or Anwar Sadat. To levinger, even Begin, the tough-as-nails former terrorist, is weak.
"He is a weak man," the rabbi says. "I have said he is a weak man."
It was Levinger and his wife Miriam who after the 1967 war came down from Jerusalem to the occupied West Bank and settled in defiance of the law. They lived first in a hotel and then later in an army camp and then, eventually, in a $50 million settlement of 500 families overlooking the city of Hebron. Levinger is not the sort of man you can give an inch to.
Levinger and his wife came here because the Bible told them to, because this is the land of Samaria and Judea, because this, not Tel Aviv and the area on the sea, is the real heart of biblical Israel, because here walked Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here is the birthplace of David and here are the pools of Solomon and here, as late as 1929, was a Jewish community.
So a year ago, Levinger and his wife and some other families came down from their hill and moved into the old Hadassah clinic in the center of town. They live there now, protected by the Israeli army, which even supplies their water. From the Hadassah center, it is just a short walk to the old Jewish quarter. Let there be no doubt: Levinger wants it back.
There are now about 100 settlements in the occupied West Bank -- about 9,000 people. Some of the residents have come to escape the tight housing and high rents of the Jersulaem area, but most are convinced for religious or strategic or nationalistic reasons that Israel should hold on to the West Bank and its 1 million Arab residents.
In Levinger's case, religion and strategy coincide. He is the personification of the Israeli version of what used to be called Manifest Destiny in America. In some sense, this makes him similar to the people who founded this country. Moderates do not create nations out of whole cloth.
For this reason, there is a reservoir of sympathy for Levinger and his type. Settlements are how Jews populated and secured Israel. Tel Aviv, after all, was once a settlement.
But those days are over. There is something arrogant and militantly chauvinistic to assert that merely because Jews once lived somewhere in Biblical times, or even in the 1920, that they have some sort of right to return -- a right that takes precedence over the feelings (rights) of Arabs and the chances for peace. What the Rabbi Levingers of Israel would do is turn their country into a permanent occupying power, squandering Israel's moral mandate in the process.
All this is beyond Levinger. He talks, he does not listen. He has his own vision, his own timetable. To him, 1920 was a second ago and the Exodus last week. He measures time by Jewish history, but the rest of the world does not. More and more, it recognizes the rights of the Arabs, understands that they have their own sense of history, and disapproves of a nation held captived to its zealots.
None of this fazes Levinger. He is a man of enormous certainty. He walks in the casbah, certain that the Arabs would not harm him, certain, too, that the houses that once were Jewish will be Jewish again. To Levinger, the past is the future and to the Arabs who watch him and remember 1929, it is the same. In Israel, Arab and Jew can agree on one thing: History will repeat itself.