Occupied West Bank - Rising harshly out of the softly rolling Judean hills, Kiryat Arba looks like a redoubt - a Jewish fortress that seems shaped by the 1929 massacre of pious Jews in Hebron and the bloody Arab attack in 1948 on nearby Kfar Etzion.
Surrounded by barbed-wire fences and prison-like watchtowers, the 11-year-old Israeli settlement looks impenetrable. The windows of its squat, bunker-like apartment buildings are narrow slits that seem to squint distrustfully at surrounding Arab farm-houses whose peach-colored stone walls glow and amid lush vineyards and olive groves on the terraced hillside.
The pastoral sounds of the valley - hraying donkeys and bleating sheeps - mingle with the clank of an earth-mover scraping a hillock flat for expansion of the settlement.
Combat-uniformed soldiers carrying submachine guns block the entrances to Kiryat Arba, screening visitors and taking note of departing residents, particularly if their cars turn left out of the gate toward Hebron, about a mile distant by road and light years removed culturally, spiritually and politically.
While a right turn out of the gate leads about 20 miles to Jerusalem, where most Kiryat Arba settlers work and shop, more cars than before are turning left these days. The settlers of Kiryat Arba have decided to reJudeaize ancient Hebron, which has not had a Jewish resident for a half a century.
For three weeks, they have been squatting - with the tacit approval of the Israeli government - in a derelict building in downtown Hebron that 50 years ago used to be a Hadassah clinic. Now, the occupants say, it is the first of what will be many Jewish settlements inside the exclusively Arab city.
The first tentative probe being made in downtown Hebron is almost an exact replay of how Kiryat Arba was founded in defiance of government policy to keep Arabs and Jews separated in densely populated areas of the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River.
Shortly after the 1967 six-day war, in which Israel seized the West Bank of the Jordan River, Rabbi Moshe Levinger and some of his followers of the Greater Israel Movement drove from Jerusalem to Hebron and, posing as Swiss tourists, checked into the Park Hotel.
Once there, they refused to leave until the government of then prime minister Levi Eshkol, conscious of divided public opinion on whether to evict the squatters, allowed them to settle "temporarily" in a nearby military government compound.
Having established a de facto presence on the outskirts of Hebron the squatters wrung one compromise after another from the ambivalent Labor Party government until more than $50 million in public funds was sunk into development of the sprawling settlement, which now houses approximately 500 families and is ringed by light industrial plants.
Levinger, who stills lives in Kiryat Arba and is spearheading the Greater Israeli Movement's attempt to install a Jewish presence in downtown Hebron makes no attempt to mask his motive with the same claims of "security" needs that usually are advanced by founders of illegal settlements.
Sitting in his plain three-room apartment, where he lives with his wife and 10 children, Levinger recently said with disarming frankness, "Security doesn't have anything to do with it. Hebron is Eretz Israel [biblical land of Israel] and Jews are entitled to have it."
There is no talk of civilian observers being needed as an early warning system for the security of Israel against an Arab invasion, and no rationalization about the artificiality of partition or about the spuriousness of Jordan's claim to sovereignty over the West Bank. There is no belittlement of the Palestinians penchant for rejecting compromise and no tirades about the children who have been maimed by terrorists bombs.
The Greater Israel Movement makes no bones about its territorial designs on Hebron, the heartland of the ancient kingdom of Judah and Israel, the first capital of King David and the legendary burial place of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.
"Abraham did not live near Hebron. Isaac did not live near Hebron. Jacob did not live near Hebron.David did not begin his kingdom near Hebron," Levinger intoned with a smile of satisfaction at the cadence.
Levinger is a household word in Israel, the man who repeatedly has forced his will over the governments usually halfhearted objections to illegal "temporary" settlements in the West Bank that always gain legitimacy with the passage of time.
He is the gadfly of the ultranationalist movement, forcing Palestinian youths at gunpoint to remove stone roadblocks and then winning an acquittal in a highly publicized trial; appearing on television to support creation of a Jewish militia to escort settlers through hostile Palestinian towns in the West Bank; forcing his way into the Haram al-Khalil Mosque in Hebron to lead other ultrationalists in prayer amid resentful Arabs.
The mosque is built above the site where tradition holds that Abraham, Issac and Jacob and their wives are buried and both Moslems and Jews venerate their memory.
But Levinger bristled at the suggestion that he is anti-Arab and stops short of the proposal of another Kirkyat Arba resident, Rabbi Meir Kahane of the Jewish Defense League, that all the 70,000 Arabs in the West Bank be expelled by force.
"The problem is not an Arab problem. It is a Jewish problem. The jewish people have to understand that Judea and Samaria [the biblical names for the West Bank] are not needed for security. God gave it to us," Levinger said.
If Arabs are willing to help Jews, to enlist in the Israeli army and defend the Jewish state against outside Arab aggression, Levinger said, somewhat incongruously, then "they can live here if they want. They can live here or another place, I don't care."
The Arabs can stay in Hebron. Levinger says, "as long as they understand it is a Jewish city, that it belongs to the Jewish people."
Levinger rummages through a wrinkled manila envelope and waves a sheaf of papers that he said justifies the takeover of the old Hadassah clinic. One is a photocopy of what appears to be a deed, written in Arabic, and purportedly proving Jewish ownership of the building. Another, written in Hebrew, gives the owners' permission to the Greater Israel Movement to occupy the site.
"It's a Jewish house. We have the right to this house. I have the papers," Levinger said. "Do you know what happened in that house during the 1929 massacre? They came in and put out an old man's eyes, and did unpleasant things to a daughter before killing her."
In the 1929 pogrom, 60 Jews were killed and 200 wounded before the British evacuated Hebron, ending centuries of a continuous presence or a small community of pious Jews there.
"Is this not a Jewish house?" Levinger asked. "The owners gave me permission to enter this house. Why should the government deny Jews the right to live in Eretz Israel?"
The old Hadassah clinic, sitting unobtrusively on a narrow street filled with Arab shops, shows its years of disguise. Arab shopkeepers sell shoes and bedclothes in stalls cut into its sides, and its windows are barred with rusting wrought iron. The bars have been replaced by the Army recently, ostensibly to protect the squatters inside.
Several Israeli soldiers patrol the rear of the building, where some of the 14 Kiryat Arab women and their two dozen children have been squatting for three weeks.
Over the protests of the soldiers, who said they are not allowed to permit interviews, Levinger's wife Miriam came to the second-floor window and began talking anyway.
She seemed the antithesis of her intense, dark-eyed husband, with aa warm, outgoing personality. She smiled constantly and joked in an unmistakably New York accent.
"So, who counts how many children we have here?" she asked. "King David counted the Jews, and look what happened." But her tone becomes serious when she talks about the aspirations of the Jews in Hebron, and suddenly Rabbi Levinger's polemics are pouring from the window.
"The government keeps announcing the right of Jews to settle in all parts of Eretz Israel," she said. "Isn't this part of Eretz Israel? This house belongs us. We have a right to be here."
The women and children will never willingly leave the old clinic, she said.If they are carried out by the soldiers, they will sit down wherever the Army places them - in the street or in the military government's compound. Her voice carried a determination that cannot help but recall the origins of Kiryat Arba 11 years ago.
For three weeks, the "Hadassah squatters," as they have become known, have outlasted government threats of forcible eviction, and proclamations by Prime Minister Menachem Begin that "in this country there will be no squatting and seizing houses in Hebron, and there will be none in Tel Aviv either."
Miriam Levinger shouted from the window that she interprets the government's inaction as a "sign of weakness," and said she is confident that Kiryat Arba residents will successfully occupy "this house and dozens like it."
No mind that Arab residents resent it and have refused to sell their wares to Kiryat Arba residents Miriam Levinger said that little Arab children occasionally join the squatters in singing Jewish nationalistic songs, and she insisted that Hebron is "no more dangerous than the streets of New York."
On the other side of the Hadassah clinic, out of sight of the Kiryat Arba women as they lean out of the window talking with a reporter, a khaki painted water tanker of the Israeli Army was pumping fresh water into the house, and soldiers were helping Kiryat Arba residents pass mattresses, suitcases and bags of food through the gate to the squatters.
Occasionally, an Arab passerby would stop and watch the soldiers for a while before walking away, as if wondering over the seriousness of the Israeli government's warnings to the Kiryat Arba women. CAPTION: Picture 1, Rabbi Moshe Levinger; Picture 2, Jews at right who are occupying the former Hadassah clinic in West Bank city of Hebron. Carol Gootter for The Washington Post