THERE AND BACK

The first thing to describe is how did we, or for that matter any visitors, get to and from the Memshal? The overwhelming majority of the settlers did not own a car and consequently they had to use other methods of transport.

To full understand the problem, one needs a geography lesson on the roads in this part of Israel. Hebron lies between the major cities of Jerusalem and Beersheba. There is a main road from near the centre of Jerusalem which goes through the southern suburb of Jerusalem known as Talpiot and then on to Bethlehem and Hebron. Appropriately enough the name of this road in Jerusalem is “Derech Hebron.” After the War of Independence this road became partly in Israel and the remainder in the territory annexed by Jordan. It was therefore not possible to travel on this road from the Jordanian held portion of Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Instead it was necessary to travel along a long long narrow winding road which increased this distance at least three fold.

After the liberation of East Jerusalem together with Judea and Samaria in 1967, this entire road became part of Israel. Arab buses and transport were allowed to use this road when travelling to Bethlehem and beyond. There was however a notice which was hung up at the front of every Arab bus, that passengers could neither alight nor disembark between Shechem Gate and Mar Elias (which was just beyond Talpiot). This notice was in three languages, Arabic, English and Hebrew - note the order. My personal observations were that this was honoured more in the breach than in the observance.

After passing the Grave of Rachel, this road passed through the outskirts of Bethlehem. It then went by the pools of Solomon and then passed the junction for the Etzion Block. Further on was the town of Halhul and then Hebron.

There were a number of ways of travelling along this road between Jerusalem and Hebron. At first, there were very few Egged buses each day on this route. For some strange reason, most of these buses were not listed in the Egged bus timetables and inquiries at their information desks produced blank expressions. Some of these buses were travelling to Beersheba or Gaza via Hebron, whilst others went just as far as Hebron. Between Bethlehem and Hebron is the Etzion block and Egged buses would make a detour and enter this block. They would first enter the Military camp situated there, in order to let down or take up soldiers. The bus would then go to the Kfar Etzion kibbutz and stop at the kiosk. Some buses would wait for a few minutes at this kiosk to enable the passengers to purchase a drink. The bus would then return to the main Bethlehem-Hebron road and continue on its journey. At a later date, when another Kibbutz, Rosh Tzurim opened in the Etzion block, a few of the buses would also call there.

In the earlier days, when the buses arrived in Hebron, they would only stop at the bottom of the hill leading to the Memshal. We would then have to go up and down this steep hill by foot, unless one was fortunate to get a lift by some passing vehicle. Going down it by foot was not to bad - going up was good for the lungs but very hard work. At a later date, most of the buses came to the top of the hill.

The bus which came in the early afternoon to the kibbutzim in the Etzion block and to the Memshal would, in addition to passengers, bring a batch of the afternoon papers and drop them off in each place. On one occasion, the bus I was travelling on broke down on the way and so we had to wait in the road for the next bus. I transferred these newspapers to the new bus and we continued to Hebron. The second bus did not go up the hill to the Memshal, despite my request to the driver. When we got to the bottom of the hill, I took the newspapers off. I was already overloaded with parcels and therefore would not have been able to carry the newspapers as well. I did not want people to be “newsless” that day and so I waited at the bottom of the hill. By someone’s “law” (maybe Murphy’s) when one particularly needs a hitch-hike no-one passes. However, fortunately on this occasion, this law was breached and a few minutes later a vehicle came along which took me, my parcels and the newspapers up to the Memshal.

Another method of travelling was by Arab bus. After the liberation of Jerusalem it was found that there were about fifteen different Arab bus companies operating in Jerusalem! Each of these companies had relatively few buses. They were operating from a small bus station opposite Shechem Gate. There was so little room to manoeuvre in this bus station that one was always almost deafened by the hooting of impatient drivers! Egged also took over a section of this bus station, presumably making the situation worse. I read in the newspapers that the Arab bus companies wanted to take Egged to Court for occupying their bus station.

It was from this bus station that Arab buses would go to Hebron. These buses often looked as if they would fall to pieces any moment. Often, the cover over the engine would be missing and it was a common sight to see black smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe. Also these buses were not always too clean and the odour inside them not to pleasant. People, who before the Six Day War, used to grumble about the state and cleanliness of Egged buses, stopped after seeing the Arab buses.

The signs in this bus station were mainly in Arabic with a little bit of English thrown in, although, after a time, a few Hebrew words also appeared. I am sure that this was not for the love of Israel, but that they wanted Jewish business. On the actual buses themselves, the destination and bus number - 23 was the bus number for the route between Jerusalem and Hebron - was in Arabic and usually also English. However, even several years later, it was rare to find a bus which had added this information in Hebrew.

In Israel, in those days, people took all sorts of things on to buses and this was especially so on Arab buses. It was very common to find full sacks of, I prefer not to know what, on Arab buses. If it does not go inside the bus, then it goes on the roof. On one occasion when I was in the East Jerusalem bus station, I can recollect seeing an Arab woman with an enormous circular tray containing, I think pitot, balanced on her head. She then calmly climbed up a ladder placed against the side of the bus, the tray still balanced on her head, and then placed the tray on the roof of the bus.

The bus fare to Hebron on the Arab bus was about half that of an Egged bus. The writing on the tickets was in Arabic with a little English and, even several years after the Six Day War, the value on the ticket was marked in “fils” - the Jordanian unit of currency. During the course of a journey from Jerusalem to Hebron, which took about an hour by Arab bus, about four different inspectors would come on the bus to check the passengers’ tickets! Half their budget must have gone just to pay these inspectors! Naturally these Arab buses did not make the detour into the Etzion block or up to the Memshal in Hebron. However, there was an Arab bus stop at the bottom of the hill leading to the Memshal and there we would get off the bus.

The Arab bus would then continue into Hebron until it reached the Arab bus station. It was then situated on Jewish owned land belonging to Chabad. Several decades later the Arabs were moved out of this bus station to another location near the Cave of Machpelah.

We would sometimes order privately an Arab bus to take us, for example, to a wedding. We also ordered one on the afternoon of Tisha B’Av 1969, to take us to Jerusalem to pray Minchah at the Western Wall. We had hoped that the bus would be able to go right up to the Dung Gate, making the distance we would have to walk very short. However for some reason, even though the bus was privately hired, it had to follow the normal Hebron-Jerusalem bus route. We therefore parked outside Jaffa Gate and told the settlers to be back at the bus at a certain time. When this time arrived, we found that a couple of the girls had not returned to the bus. We waited and waited and finally they arrived. Their excuse was that they thought we had to assemble at Shechem Gate and they had originally gone there and waited. With all these delays, by the time we arrived back in Hebron on this Arab bus, the fast was almost over.

One could also travel to Hebron by Arab sherut taxi. In such a taxi, seven people will each pay for a seat. If you were the first person in this taxi, you would get a complete choice of where you wanted to sit but on the other hand, you would have to wait, sometimes as long as half an hour, for the taxi to fill up. On the other hand, if you are the last person you got no choice of seat but this was compensated by the fact that you would start off immediately.

These Arab sherut taxis began their journeys from near the Arab bus station. The price of a seat was about the same as the fare on an Egged bus. If one paid an extra one lira, the taxi would make a detour and come up the hill to the Memshal. As time progressed, they tried to raise their price to one and a half lirot and because some settlers were prepared to pay to pay this extra half lira, this new price became semi-accepted. This meant that other settlers had to enter into arguments with the taxi drivers and insist that the official price was one lira. On one occasion, when the driver was persisting that the price was one and a half lirot, I threatened to report him to the police for attempting to overcharge. He kept quiet after that.

Similarly, if one wanted to travel from Hebron to Jerusalem by sherut taxi, we would telephone the taxi office and ask them to send a taxi to the Memshal with the appropriate number of seats vacant.

On one occasion when I was on one of these sherut taxis, one of the passengers was an Arab woman very modestly dressed indeed, carrying a baby. During the journey she quite routinely started breast feeding her baby. This feeding was not limited to within the taxi. When we arrived in Jerusalem, another passenger needed to leave the taxi. To facilitate his exit, this woman went on to the street still quite happily feeding her baby. Modesty takes different forms in different parts of the world.

Finally, one could travel to Hebron by the method of hitch-hiking. This was the method most commonly used by soldiers who would be returning to their base in Hebron or the Etzion block. They were forbidden to go alone on the roads of these areas. On one occasion, I saw a soldier going on leave from the Gush Etzion military base, walk alone to the main road to get a hitch-hike. Just as he had found one and was about to enter the car, a senior army officer passed and, because he had walked alone, returned him to base. The most common place to stand and wait for a lift in Jerusalem was where the border had been prior to June 1967 - at the edge of Talpiot.

Prior to the Six Day War, the road from Jerusalem to Beersheba went through Hebron. The Israelis then built a road which would avoid the need of going through Hebron. A few kilometres before Hebron, just by the Park Hotel, this bypass road began. The building of it was naturally hard on the hitch-hikers. The reason for this being that many of the vehicles giving lifts, were on their way to Beersheba and would therefore drop their hitch-hikers at the junction of this bypass road. One would then have to find alternative transport to the Memshal.

In the opposite direction to Jerusalem is Beersheba. As one travels south from Hebron, the road goes through Adoraim, the Arab village of Dahariah and finally Beersheba. It was much more difficult to travel to Beersheba than to Jerusalem.

Far fewer Egged buses travelled in that direction and in fact the last bus to travel each day from Beersheba to Hebron was at ten o’clock in the morning! Since Hebron and Beersheba were on different sides of the border prior to 1967, there was no Arab bus service between these two cities and none had started up since the Six Day War.

There were some Arab sherut taxis from Gaza which travelled to Hebron via Beersheba. However the majority of these travelled to Hebron in the morning and from Hebron in the afternoon. As always happens in these matters - one wants to travel in the opposite direction to which the taxis were going at a particular hour. It thus seemed very difficult for anyone to travel from Beersheba to Hebron in the afternoon and on occasion when I had to make this journey, I travelled via Jerusalem - a very tedious process.

At a later date, I learned that there was an inter-city Israeli sherut service between Beersheba and Jerusalem and during the hours of daylight it would go via Hebron. These taxis travelled each hour and one would book a seat when paying for the ticket. Even if one was only going as far as Hebron, one had to pay the fare to Jerusalem, since it was most unlikely that they would pick up a new passenger at Hebron. However this service would allow anybody going to Hebron to travel at the reduced rate for soldiers. This taxi went along the new road which bypassed the city of Hebron and so it was necessary to disembark before the Memshal and walk the remainder of the distance.

During our last year or so at the Memshal, we had a further means of travel. One of the settlers was Yitzchak Ben-Hevron and whilst in the Memshal, he put in an application for a taxi license. Whilst his request was being processed, he joined Gershon Ellinson and myself, in our joint action against the Military Government, to allow chairs in the Cave of Machpelah. (This is later described in detail.) He then told us that the Military Governor had approached him saying that he wants a taxi license, yet at the same time wants to take the Military Government to Court. I think it was Rachel Liebman who asked him why there should be any connection between these two completely dissimilar things. He answered her that that’s politics in Israel! Sadly that was the case, especially in those days. However despite this, he did get his taxi license.

In addition to all the public transport, there were a few settlers who had their own cars and also there was the settlers’ tender but these vehicles could only be used during the daylight hours. At night the road from Jerusalem to Hebron was closed. There was a barrier on the outskirts of Jerusalem to enforce this ban on driving. However some of the settlers had found a loophole. If one went through the Arab village of Husan, one was able to circumvent this barrier. I was told it wasn’t an easy road to traverse - it went up and down but it was usable. The Military Governor would periodically reprimand us when he caught settlers travelling at night.

Despite the “dark time” travelling security restrictions, the reader has obviously noticed that in those days we would travel alone in these Arab buses or taxis, usually unarmed. One of the settlers, Zvi Segal worked in the post office in Jerusalem and left for work about five o’clock each morning travelling in an Arab bus. On the side of his brief case was painted “Mitnachalei Hevron” - perhaps to help him with any hitch-hiking he might have done. Each day someone would accompany him down the road to the bus - but on the bus he was a lone Jew. In today’s climate all this seems unbelievable!

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