In Hebron, Death and Life
By JUNE LEAVITT
EBRON, West Bank — After almost two years of the second intifada, after the murders of 600 Israelis and the crippling and wounding of thousands more, existence in Israel has become painfully surreal. Without our willing it or wanting it, at every moment, the unexpected comes.
And so it was with the funeral of Elazar Leibovich, who was shot and killed last Friday by terrorists as he was driving his friends, a newly married couple, around the Hebron hills.
Before he died, Elazar, a friend of my sons, tried to shoot at the terrorist who was firing from the roadside. Nerry Ben Yitzhak, married for two days, with his young bride sitting in the back seat, pushed Elazar aside and took over the wheel. As Nerry sped for help, a car with two parents and their children came down the road from the opposite direction on their way to a peaceful Sabbath at the settlement of Maon. Nerry signaled at the father to stop. But not understanding Nerry's motions, the father drove into the ambush; the parents and one son were killed, with nine children orphaned.
Sunday at noon, Elazar's flag-draped body was laid before the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron where our forebears — Abraham and Sarah, Issac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah — are buried. Up the hill is the Jewish cemetery and the pit was waiting for Elazar. My daughters and I had been to many funerals there, friends and neighbors all murdered by terrorists: Rafael killed on the Hebron-Beersheba Road; Yigor the Russian immigrant who was on guard duty at a construction site when he was killed by Arabs; Mordecai and Shalom, father and son gunned down at the gate of Qiryat Arba; little Shalhevet Pas, the infant shot to death in Hebron last year as her parents pushed her in her stroller.
After the rabbi of Qiryat Arba delivered his eulogy, Elazar's friends grabbed the podium. "No more eulogies. Elazar's last will and testament is revenge!" they said. "Kill innocent Arabs! So that our innocent people shouldn't die."
When Elazar's brother approached the microphone, we expected him to ask people to control themselves. We all understood the anger: at God for still killing us off after the Holocaust, even in our own country; at the world for its rising wave of anti-Semitism, for believing there is just cause for our being killed; at the leftist Israeli government that had given rifles to the Arabs; at the Arabs for using them against us.
But Elazar's brother shocked us when he cried out: "My brother knew his blood would be spilt. He said, `When I'm killed don't stand by my body and cry!' He didn't want talk and tears. He wanted song and revenge!"
The bereaved are forbidden to hear music for a year; one never sees musical instruments at religious Jewish funerals. Yet in an act of defiance, a young guitarist took the microphone, singing a verse from Psalms, "the ground will be renewed." Some in the crowd became angry and impassioned. Elazar's body was then put in the military ambulance (Elazar was a soldier though not on duty when he was killed) and thousands of mourners walked slowly behind it through the streets of Hebron to the cemetery on the hilltop where King David first had his kingdom. The rocks that the Arabs hurled from nearby rooftops on the funeral procession fell like sparks on a keg of gasoline.
Young settlers responded to the rock throwing by exploding through lines of Israeli soldiers, swinging punches, grabbing at their helmets, converging on Arab houses, tearing off doors and climbing up to rooftops to crumple satellite dishes. Many of us stood frightened and angry. A man shouted: "If you don't like revenge, this funeral is not for you."
A friend said to me: "A new generation. They know of their deaths. They plan their funerals. Shouldn't we respect the wishes of the murdered? Shall we try to get to the graveyard?"
There, I expected to see people crying, and I did. But I did not expect to hear a cry louder than the lamenting — "The police are arresting Jews! To the streets!" People raced around the tombs and out the gate to lie down in protest so that the police could not get through. The screams, the blood-soaked clothing of soldiers and settlers, this was all different.
And then I heard the rumor that an Arab girl had been killed in the rioting, though I did not hear any shooting. The city of our forefather Abraham was writhing, the ground boiling; Elazar's family, in a gesture of mourning that I had never seen, came barefoot down the searing pavement of the street. "Maybe something will come out of this," his father said. "The ground will be renewed."
A few hours later, my daughters and I met again at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. In the silence, a girl in a white, ankle-length gown rested her head against one monumental wall. King David's Psalms in her hand, she prayed.
"Why do you look so surprised?" my younger daughter said to me. "Happy things come unexpectedly too. That's Tertza. Another bride. She's getting married tonight."
June Leavitt is author of the forthcoming ``Storm of Terror: A Hebron Mother's Diary.''