Main Hevron Road to be Opened to Arab Traffic
(IsraelNN.com) The Jewish Community of Hevron – 500 Jews keeping the flame of Jewish presence alive in the City of the Patriarchs – is bracing for the opening to Arab traffic of a critical artery.
The road in question, known as Tzir Tzion, or Zion Route, is the main route connecting Kiryat Arba with Hevron, and is used by thousands of Jewish pedestrians and motorists each week.
Two Jews were murdered in one day in 2001 along this route, and Jewish residents demanded that checkpoints be placed there. The checkpoints were ultimately placed, but now the army plans to remove them.
Yehudit Katzover, wife of former Kiryat Arba mayor Tzvi Katzover, said that "many Jews have been murdered along this route," and warned of more victims if the IDF allows Palestinian Authority Arabs access to the road.
"Israel has witnessed a new type of terror in the past year," states the Hevron website, "utilizing moving vehicles. Reopening [the Zion Route] is a sure recipe for continued terror aimed at Hevron-Kiryat Arba residents and the hundreds of thousands of visitors who tour the city annually." The fear is that Arabs will drive past groups of Jewish pedestrians dozens of times each day, posing a serious risk.
The residents are not only furious at the decision to open the road to Arab traffic, they are also upset at the way in which the army has gone about it. Kiryat Arba Mayor Malachi Levinger and other local leaders met with IDF Central District Commander Gen. Gadi Shamni last week, and walked away feeling "tricked."
The residents told Shamni that they were originally informed that they could raise their objections before a final decision would be made, yet at the meeting they realized that they were simply being informed that the decision had already been finalized.
They told Gen. Shamni that since this is the only route to the Machpelah Cave, "the terrorists have always viewed it as a preferred target for attacks, as proven by the number of attacks there. The tremendous national importance of the Machpelah Cave, where our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, means that safety on its access road must receive higher priority than convenient traffic arrangements for the Arabs who live nearby."
"Quality of life for local Arabs can under no circumstances be more important than the actual lives of Jews… Jews are not allowed to walk in the Arab areas; there is no reason to turn the small areas permitted for Jews into areas that Arabs can attack them more easily."
It is not yet known on which day next week exactly the road will be opened. Arab cars with permits will be allowed to travel along the road and into an area close to the Machpelah Cave, one of the holiest – and most-visited - sites in Judaism.
The army will take over Beit HaShalom (Peace House), the contested four-story building located on the road, as a lookout point and base. The building was purchased by Jews from its Arab builder and owner, as proven by video, audio and written evidence, but it was confiscated from them last year after the Arab contested the sale.
Approximately 100 Jews gathered last month near Beit HaShalom to protest the decision, and another protest is expected next week.
Wilder said that in addition to the security dangers, "which cannot be understated, there is also the fear of a snowball effect. For instance, more army forces will be here at first, but as in the past, they are likely to be removed after a while because of budget constraints. This will leave a security vacuum that was not there before."
"In addition," he said, "if the Arabs happen to get smart and refrain from attacking us for a few months, then pressure will begin upon us to open up more roads and areas, not only in Hevron, but elsewhere in Judea and Samaria. I don't think [Prime Minister] Netanyahu wants to give in, but the pressure will be so great that something will have to give. There is no reason to change the status quo."
The decision was originally announced by defense sources just days after the last election, when it appeared clear that Defense Minister Ehud Barak – whose Labor party suffered a major electoral defeat – would soon be out of office. However, Israeli politics being what they are, Barak retains his position in the new Netanyahu government, and apparently seeks to continue his policy of removing anti-terrorism checkpoints throughout Judea and Samaria.
"The reckless policy promoted by Barak, of removing checkpoints in Judea and Samaria over the last several months, is resulting in one disaster after another," a Hevron resident said, referring to recent attacks and attempted attacks.Most of Hevron's roads are closed to Jews and are used exclusively by PA Arabs. In the Jewish quarter, the main road is open to Arab pedestrians as well as local Jews.