From May 1968 until September 1971, the settlers were housed in the building of the Memshal in Hebron. This was a building built by the British during the Mandate to serve as a police station and there are buildings of a similar construction all over Israel. In Hebron it was situated on the top of a long very steep hill before one enters the city from the main road from Jerusalem.
When the settlers were moved to this building from the Park Hotel, they were allocated one wing of it. In this wing were a number of apartments. Each apartment consisted of two large rooms, an entrance lobby, a bathroom and a toilet. The toilet was an Arab-type toilet - in other words a hole in the ground surrounded with ceramic but without the conventional toilet bowl. Yes - fortunately it did have water to flush it. Although every apartment had a shower, there was only one apartment in which a boiler had been installed. For anyone who liked cold showers and in the winter they were indeed cold, there was no problem. But if one wanted a hot shower one had to go to this apartment for it.
Since there were more families than apartments, each family, some of whom had a number of children, were allocated one room, meaning that there were two families sharing each apartment. There was also one apartment for all the unmarried Yeshivah students. The unmarried girls were less fortunate. They were squashed in one room in an apartment - all 14 of them on double bunks. One of them Chana Meir (now Levi) related that once Rabbi Levinger came into this room and said jokingly that one could always add a third story to these bunks. Since there were school age children, it was necessary to set up a school and this was done in the second room of the Katzover family apartment, since Bina Katzover was the teacher of the pupils.
At that stage, eating was communal like in a kibbutz. In a wing adjoining the apartments was a kitchen, rather primitive and shabby, with just one sink. In the adjoining room was the dining hall. A number of the families had put their personal refrigerators in this kitchen. Such refrigerators are only designed for household use, and with this over-use they often needed the attention of a technician. When this kitchen finally became the Yeshivah kitchen, a large commercial type refrigerator was purchased. Someone commented at the time that it could only be opened from the outside and had someone been trapped inside, to say the least, he would be very cold indeed!
The person in charge of the kitchen was Dina, who later became my wife. When anything went wrong with the catering arrangements, irrespective of what might have caused it, or whatever might not have been delivered, she was the one to be blamed. One always has to have someone to blame and it is most convenient to blame the kitchen manager.
There was a courtyard in front of this wing. The section which was closest to the settlers’ apartments, was utilised by the settlers for hanging out washing and for playpens for the babies. The remainder of this courtyard was used by the army for its vehicles. There was also a trough in this courtyard, presumably for horses to drink, dating back to the days of the cavalry!
Soon after the settlers “took up residence” in the Memshal, the Government under pressure, began to build prefabricated buildings for them in the grounds of the Memshal; this was grandiosely called a “kirya.” This “kirya” all in all, comprised just two buildings each three stories high and each containing six apartments, thus making a total of twelve family apartments. Also included in this “kirya” were two dormitory blocks, one story high, and each containing five rooms plus a room which was to serve as a wash room, toilet and shower room for the Yeshivah students.
The exit from the apartments of the settlers in the Memshal building led into the courtyard of the Memshal, whereas the new buildings were on the opposite side of the Memshal building. In order to make an easy transit between all the families, the wall on the opposite side of the Memshal building was breached. This was done by taking a small area from one of the Memshal apartments. The unlucky family to lose part of their living room was the Magenis. Since they had not yet arrived, they couldn’t complain!
Some settlers got married before the additional buildings were finished - one could not delay their weddings because of this! But a place had to be immediately found for them to live. The Aviner family were the first of such families and they moved into the settlers’ office. When the Idels got married there was literally no room available. The army allowed them to move into the room where the army’s sewing was done. To get there one had to go down a deep dingy flight of steep stairs. One then appreciated what it was like going into a medieval dungeon!
At the time when the new buildings were finished, there were just enough apartments to accommodate the families. Twelve families moved to the new buildings and the unmarried Yeshivah students to the new dormitory block. But you can never please everybody. It was one of the students, Gershon Ellinson who commented “Why move to the new dormitory block? We are well settled in the old building!”
But time does not stand still. Within the next few months several settlers, including myself, got married. Again the problem arose where to accommodate them and it was decided to give each newly married family a room in the dormitory block. At the time there were no kitchen facilities for these families. The sink in the washroom was their joint kitchen sink. About nine months later, some other rooms in the dormitory block were converted into kitchens, two kitchens in each room.
At a later date, even this was not enough. When Meir Peretz got married, a small room was found for him and his wife near to the new Bet Hamedrash.
Once the families became “privitised” they needed somewhere to purchase their food and so a small shop was opened. Running it did not seem a very popular occupation, since it passed from manager to manager. At first it was in a room of the dormitory block and later, the end of the dining room was partitioned off for it. It order to “encourage” the settlers to patronise it, at one stage a threat was made that anyone not purchasing all his products there, could not use the shop at all. Since people needed to purchase bread and milk products almost daily, such coercion could have had teeth, but it was never enforced.
For a shop to put in orders, it requires a telephone. It is true that for thousands of years people got around without telephones - but even in the days of the Memshal, a telephone was a must. True to say, telephones were a premium in those days - there was an enormous waiting list! But we did immediately have one line in the Memshal. It went via the Arab Hebron exchange.
The telephone bills were sent in Arabic, and in Arabic even the numbers are written differently. I was present on one occasion when this bill arrived. We decided to return it with a note that we don’t understand Arabic. Soon after, we duly received it in Hebrew.
At first, the telephone numbers of Jews or Jewish organisations living in Hebron and Gush Etzion did not appear in the telephone book. We did however exist for the telephone bills! Naturally, all the Arabs with telephones in Hebron appeared - but not the settlers! A question was asked in the Knesset on this and as a result, the telephone people came to realise that we existed not only for paying!
At a later date, a public telephone was installed in the dining room. It was a radio telephone - namely, a telephone without wires - which went through the exchange in Jerusalem and not Hebron. On one occasion, a soldier tried to use it on Shabbat. One of the settlers tried to stop him and this led to blows and I believe even the police being called in. However, since the telephone was registered in the name of a private individual, the settler was within his rights to prevent the soldier from using it, and so no police action could be taken against him.
Whilst in the Memshal, one of the settlers Yitzchak Ben-Hevron had his own private telephone installed in his apartment. One day Gershon Ellinson decided to play a practical joke on him. He telephoned Ben-Hevron and said he was the telephone exchange checking the line and would he therefore immerse his telephone receiver in water. As a good conscientious telephone user, Ben-Hevron complied. Whether anything untoward occurred with this machine, I don’t know, but I do know that Ben-Hevron had the last laugh. In the middle of the night, he went with a bucket of water to the dormitory room where Gershon slept and threw the bucket of water over him. Maybe he said that this was from the telephone exchange. This was measure for measure - or more accurately, water for water.
In most places, when one wants water, one turns on the tap and out flows the water. This was not always so in the Memshal. The water came from Hebron and due to, amongst other reasons, great waste from leaking underground pipes, sometimes our taps were dry. There was fortunately a well in the Memshal and on these occasions we did, as our ancestors did, and drew water from the well.
This cessation of water was particularly hard when the kindergarten or school was in session. A wing of the Memshal, had been converted into these educational establishments, which of course included toilets and washrooms. In the courtyard in front of the kindergarten were swings and slides for the children. Next to the school, a new Bet Hamedrash was built - (this is described elsewhere).
When the new apartments were finished and the eating facilities were thus used just for the Yeshivah students, it was the turn of the kitchens and dining room to be completely renovated. During the period of this work, one of the Yeshivah dormitory rooms became their dining room and the washroom the kitchen.
It seems that the overall plan was to separate out as far as possible, the area of the settlers from the area of the army. To complete this separation, near to our new buildings, a separate entrance gate for us was constructed in the fence. But it remained a white elephant - it was never used.
So far, I have described the buildings. Buildings are made to be lived in by people. Even those living in Hebron wanted to get the various benefits of the Bituach Leumi (National Insurance). As with many other countries, Israel has a National Insurance system. All residents contribute monthly and in return they receive from the state old age pensions, maternity benefits, child allowances and so on. In the Memshal, it was Chana Idels who was in charge of arranging this for the settlers.
On one occasion, some technical problem arose with my own National Insurance - I don’t remember the nature of the problem, but it was sufficient for me to investigate. I got to their office in Jerusalem and I assume, as is usual in Israel, that I was shunted from room to room. They found my file and said that I was registered as a housewife! Another clerk called out, “But he is a man, how can he be a housewife?” They then sorted out my problem and I returned to Hebron.
I went straight to Chana Idels and said that she had made some big blunder with my registration. Her reply was that I had messed everything up. The only way to have registered people in the Memshal was as housewives! As usual, politics had raised its ugly head - this time in the matter of maternity benefits and child allowances.
Whether or not one was a “housewife” in Hebron, one was not exempt from catching germs. Fortunately, Rabbi Levinger had married a trained nurse Miriam and later we were joined by another, Shoshana Peretz. In addition, each week, some members of the Bikur Cholim hospital would come down and deal with the children’s illnesses.
Miriam told us that she had visited the hospitals in both Hebron and Bethlehem and she commented on how primitive they were, the Bethlehem one even more so. I expressed my surprise that Bethlehem’s hospital was worse than that of Hebron’s, since the former was a Christian city. To this Miriam concurred. We of course, did not utilise these hospitals, but sent our sick and maternity cases to Jerusalem. However, I believe that after the grenade attack in the Cave of Machpelah, some of the injured were first sent to a Hebron hospital.
On one occasion there was a cholera epidemic in Hebron. The Military Governor called all the settlers together and said as far as cholera was concerned the settlers and the army were one unit. Unlike soldiers who must distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, the cholera germs did not distinguish between a settler and a soldier. He noted that should cholera reach the Memshal, we would have to be quarantined, and another military camp build nearby. He then gave us various instructions on not buying local fruit and vegetables and various hygienic rules. I think it was afterwards pointed out to him, that fruit and vegetables purchased in Jerusalem could well be Arab produce. Fortunately, these cholera germs did not penetrate into the Memshal.
Talking of illness, one might well ask whether we had an ambulance. The answer is, sort of - we had a tender, one of whose functions was to double up as an ambulance. As soon as the Hebron settlement was established, it was realised that we needed to continually transport food and other materials from Jerusalem and other places to Hebron. We had no suitable, or indeed even unsuitable, vehicle for this. It was the Government Minister, Yigal Alon, who then came to our rescue and gave us a tender. For us it was multi-purpose, one of which was indeed our ambulance. On the front of the luggage rack on the roof, we attached a sign and painted on it in big black letters “Mitnachalei Hevron.”
On one occasion this tender nearly came to harm. Someone had delivered something to one of the dormitory blocks and must have forgotten to lock the brakes. Suddenly the tender stated moving forwards on its own towards the direction of the perimeter fence. Before this fence there was a steep incline. After it started moving, Gershon Ellinson who was standing nearby, pushed his hand through the open window and tried to close the brake, but unsuccessfully. The tender continued, went down the incline and stopped by the fence. Fortunately it did not turn over. The army was called and with their machinery were able to hoist it up again, safe and sound.
Whilst at the Memshal, this tender had many drivers. The first (or one of the first) was Shalom Goldman. In those days the road between Bethlehem and Gush Etzion was full of bends. Every one of them must have been etched in his mind, since one day I remember travelling back with him at breakneck speed.
Although this was prior to the days of stone throwing and shooting by Arabs at Jewish vehicles, there was the occasional throwing of grenades and there was the apprehension that a grenade might be thrown into the tender which was open at the back. It was therefore suggested that a door be put at the back of the tender. In this way if a grenade were to be thrown at it, it would bounce off and meanwhile the tender would be traveling forwards.
In fact, attacks on Jews in those days were rare. One could wander freely in Hebron, even unarmed. We would sometimes use the various Arab traders there. On one occasion I had my shoes repaired. Their methods were primitive, since the Arab shoe repairer used cardboard to fill up some area of my shoes!
I would speak to the Arabs in Hebron in Hebrew. They wanted our business and they made jolly sure they would not lose it by not knowing Hebrew. I myself would not learn Arabic at all. Hebrew is the language of Eretz Israel. I must admit however, that it did have disadvantages not being able to understand Arabic, since one did could not then know what they were saying about us. On one occasion I did a favour for an Arab and he called after me “shukran.” In Hebrew “shakran” means “lier” and I wondered why he was calling me a lier. Afterwards I learned that “shukran” is the Arabic for “thank you.”
For Arabs within the “green line” their schooling includes Hebrew as a compulsory subject. However Arabic is an official language in Israel and appears, for example on everyone’s identity card. In Arab areas in Israel, it also appears on the voting slips in both general and municipal elections.
It was in the autumn of 1969 that such elections took place in Israel. Just before the elections, a “Declaration to Voters” appeared in the various Israeli newspapers. It appealed “to voters to cast their votes only for those lists which explicitly support the policy” of settlement in the liberated areas. It was signed by a whole variety of people, listing their place of residence. I felt it was important that some residents of Hebron should also be included on this list and with this in mind, the names of Menachem Liebman and myself appeared on this Declaration.
For elections one needs polling stations. Would the Hebron settlers have to travel to “within the green line” to vote or would a polling station be set up at our Settlement? The answer was the latter and a polling station was set up in our dining room in the Memshal for the general election. Naturally the settlers had no municipal election. The election roll for our polling station included all settlers who had registered their address as Hebron. It also included an Arab woman who lived in Hebron. She was an Israeli Arab who had married someone from Hebron and come to live in that city.
On the night before the elections, Dina and I had to be in Jerusalem. We returned as early as possible the next morning, since I was interested to learn how they set up a polling station. It had been announced that on election day the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem via Talpiot would be closed and travellers would have to take the long winding road via Sur Bahir to get to Bethlehem.
We spent the night in Rehavia and on the way to get an Arab taxi to take us to Hebron saw a bus with Teddy Kollek’s name on the side bringing Arabs to vote. The Arabs of East Jerusalem, even though they were not Israeli citizens, could vote in the municipal election. For some reason polling stations were not arranged for them in East Jerusalem and they had to be brought to West Jerusalem to vote. At that period, they were not boycotting the election and Kollek saw them as a good source of votes for him and thus arranged their transport to the polling stations.
We got a taxi, which then went via Sur Bahir, but we later saw that in fact the road via Talpiot had not yet been closed off. Although we arrived at the Memshal after the official time for the opening of the poll, it was not yet open. The election committee were still unpacking all the material. I remember looking in the voting box to make sure in was empty. When they had finished arranging the room, the election committee took the instruction manual and started reading in. There were some voters waiting patiently, or by that time impatiently, to cast their votes and they told the committee that they should have read this manual the previous evening.
Who was on our Election Committee? There was someone from outside appointed by the Labour Party, Rabbi Waldman from the Mafdal, and Shalom Goldman from Gachal (today the Likud). Not only could Shalom Goldman not vote, he was even technically illegally in the country, since his visa had expired!
During the course of the afternoon, I saw Rabbi Waldman showing the Labour Party member around our settlement. I asked him what happens if someone tampers with the ballot box whilst they were out. He replied that they had locked up the polling booth!
By law, in settlements the size of ours, voting goes on without break until eight o’clock in the evening, unless everyone on the roll has voted. In fact they closed the poll before eight o’clock. I think that they had even finished counting by eight o’clock. Almost everybody had voted by the time they closed the poll. The Arab woman did not come to vote. I shudder to think what would have happened if a voter had turned up after they closed early - but fortunately no-one did!
That evening some of us went to watch the results come in on a television in the army’s lounge. The presentation was primitive compared with today’s showing of the results. Various films (not connected with elections) were being shown and, in between, the results as they were coming in. In result after result shown on the screen, the lion’s share of the votes were taken by the Labour Party. However, in the Government which was then formed, Gahal was part of the coalition. They however left as soon as the Government started talking about withdrawal from the liberated territories. How this party has now changed!
Although there were no municipal elections in the Memshal, the settlers had their own “municipal council.” Whereas in a city, it is highly impractical to have general meetings of all the inhabitants, this can be done in a very limited size body such as a kibbutz or a settlement such as ours. Indeed we did have such meetings. They went on for hours and hours and even more hours and looking back on them, they were, in my opinion, a complete waste of time. I suppose they looked good for “public relations.”
When we saw that the Government was dragging their feet to authorise the building of Kiryat Arba, we called a general meeting to discuss this matter. It was on the night before Rosh Hashanah 1969, and the meeting went on and on and even more on. It was decided that we would organise sit down strikes against the Government. A proviso was added that Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook had to give his agreement. Following this meeting we said the long Selichot for erev Rosh Hashanah and then finally “off to bed.” The bottom line was that Rabbi Kook was horrified at our decision and so it never materialised.
It was decided that we should have a constitution and a few settlers were given the job of drafting out one and bringing it before a general meeting. I understand the people involved in drafting it forgot all about it and it was only just before the general meeting that they quickly scribbled down something. If one wants a constitution, it must be properly and unambiguously worded. Due to the haste in which it was written, this was not the case. For example, it did not say at what age a settler could vote. I brought this point up at the meeting and said that according to the draft, Sa’adia Kahalani’s young son Eitan could vote! A minimum age was then added.
The settlers’ “Municipal Council” decided on a “municipal rates” of 30 lirot a month per family, which was a high sum in those days. Since many of the settlers and the married Yeshivah students received their salaries or stipends from the “Municipal Council,” the rates could, without any problem, be deducted at source, thus greatly avoiding the need to send in the “bailiffs.”
Since the “Municipal Council” was a public organisation making decisions and dealing with money, Shalom Goldman was insistent that we had to have a Control Committee. Finally, after a long period, such a Committee was elected, but it was a dead letter - it never operated!
Committees, meetings, elections, day to day living, buildings - unless one records them in some way, they will soon be forgotten. This was indeed the situation during the first six months at the Memshal - not many photographs were taken. Unlike today when everything has to not only photographed but even videod, in those days it was not so fashionable. It was only about November 1968, that photographs were taken of different aspects of the settlers’ lives.
There is a photograph of Rabbi Levinger giving a Shiur to a number of the settlers. When one studies this picture one sees that a settler on the right hand side of the picture sitting next to Baruch Nachshon is holding open one side of his book. The reason for this was that Baruch had his young son on his lap and we said this was not appropriate in such a photograph. His neighbour therefore opened his book to hide the child from the camera! Who said “the camera can’t lie?”
Another photograph taken that time shows as many settlers as we could assemble, standing in front of the pergola. Today we often use this picture to ask the younger generation how many settlers are they able to identify in this photograph. One immediately notices a lot of children in this photograph. I can say that, Baruch HaShem, the internal increase in the population of the settlers was one of the largest in the country.
When one looks back, a few incidents with these children immediately come to my mind. I recollect Sa’adia Kahalani teaching his son Eitan verses from the Torah sung in the traditional Taimani method.
It is said that sometimes small children are quicker than adults “in solving problems.” Whilst we were in the Memshal, a lot of construction work was done, including the laying of underground pipes. On one occasion, the workers had not returned a drain cover. It took me and someone else all our strength to replace this cover. Soon after, I saw to my amazement, that some children using a long pole as a lever had, or were succeeding, in lifting this cover!
There was an occasion when Eyal Heinman, then aged about six, started pulling on my tie! He didn’t succeed in strangling me - I’m still alive - but the incident was photographed and the picture has “pride of place” in both his and my photograph albums. I recently met his wife and she mentioned this incident. I was informed by her that Eyal regularly wears a tie and I look forward to meeting him when he is wearing it - I won’t say why! I also hope that a photographer will be on hand.
A favourite theme for photographers in the Memshal was the settlers being photographed beside the movable sign “Mitnachalei Hevron.” This sign - I wonder whether it still exists somewhere - appears in numerous photographs in different locations of the Memshal.
The higher lying areas in Israel such as Jerusalem, Hebron, parts of the Galilee, the Golan Heights have some snow most years. At the beginning of 1969 it fell in Hebron and there is a photograph of many of the settlers together with a snowman wearing a kipa in the courtyard of the Memshal. Dina is absent from this photograph and I would jokingly say that she was tucked up in a warm bed at the time. In fact she was on the way to Hebron in an army vehicle with the milk products for the settlers, since Tnuvah were not able to deliver that day, due to the snow bound roads.
After we became photograph conscious, from the autumn 1968 onwards, many hundreds if not thousands of photographs were taken in the Memshal. They generally speaking today, grace the family albums of the settlers. Some have been collected by or copied by our local public organisations and are often shown or reproduced when describing the history of the Memshal period.