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Secular Israeli Support for Hebron--No Media Coverage
Secular supporters convene in Hebron
by Judy Lash Balint
February 1, 2006

As reports of a compromise over the fate of the homes of nine Jewish families living in the old market area of Hebron were being denied by Attorney General Meni Mazuz, an astonishing event brought together two sectors of Israeli society who are generally portrayed by the media as being strongly antagonistic toward one another.

Several hundred kibbutz members, secular professors and members of secular Labor Zionist youth movements took part in a first-of-its-kind solidarity conference in Hebron yesterday. But this ground-breaking confluence of secular socialists and religious settlers took place with absolutely no media coverage. While politicians and rabbis constantly talk about the need for unity, no one pays any attention when it actually manifests itself.

The secular group that convened in Hebron is headed by Tsafrir Ronen a native of Kibbutz of Ein Harod (Me'uhad), who convened the Nahalal Conference to demonstrate that "there's no difference between our kind of settlement and what's happening here in Hebron."

Nahalal was the Biblical name of the first secular moshav in Israel, founded in 1920, Ronen adds. "We believe in the connection between the people and the land--what stronger connection is there than to Hebron?"

Residents of Hebron mingled with bare-headed men and women wearing pants in the Shalhevet Gate area of the city as speaker after speaker with impeccable secular socialist credentials rose to express their solidarity. Hebron pioneer, Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Kedumim mayor Daniella Weiss chatted warmly with secular student leader Liron Zeyden. Levinger hugged kibbutznik Yossi Tzur--a Ben Gurion look-alike.

Ronen, a former Rabin campaign advisor, respectfully asked Kiryat Arba/Hebron Rabbi Dov Lior to bestow his blessing on the meeting.

Speakers struggled to be heard over the loud call for evening prayer that rang out from the muezzin.

Moshe Peled from Kibbutz Beit Hashita recited the names of kibbutzim and moshavim founded in the early twentieth century and said his generation had been raised on the ethos of settlement.

Law professor, Dafna Netanyahu, sister-in-law of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, slammed the legal basis for declaring both the market property in Hebron and the Amona outposts as illegal. Netanyahu questioned why the same legal principles aren't being used to evict Beduin and Arabs from illegal buildings all over Israel.

I looked on in disbelief as Liron Zeyden, leader of the Orange student movement made up of mostly secular university students, told the crowd he was "looking for the extremists portrayed in the media. But all I see is people who love the land of Israel." Zeyden, who served in the IDF as a captain in the Golani, questioned whether acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert isn't the real extremist. "Olmert, who wasn't elected by anyone, hates the religious public and the settlers," Zeyden asserted. "He thinks he'll get votes by these evictions---we have to show him that he'll lose by throwing Jews off their land."

The student leader announced that his group had founded a Faculty of Zionism to impart Zionist history and values among Israeli students. "They have no idea who Hanna Szenesh was or what's the 29th of November."

Even nmore astonishing was the message from Rani Sneh, 18, a member of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement from Nahariya, who told the audience he had traveled to be in Hebron to declare that "anyone who weakens Hebron weakens us all." Sneh admitted that "it's not 'in' to be pro-Israel amongst my peers."

Other speakers from staunchly secular backgrounds included veteran kibbutznik, Yossi Tzur, a founder of Kibbutz Shuval in the Negev; Gen. (res) Moshe Leshem and Prof. Arieh Zaritsky of Ben Gurion University. A message of support was read by Likud Knesset candidate Natan Sharansky.

At the end of the evening, as the frozen participants piled back on their buses to Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after sitting side by side with their fellow settlers in Hebron for more than two hours, there was an overwhelming sense of strength and unity. Too bad that no one else took any notice.