Whilst in the Park Hotel, the settlers took turns in guard duty in case of any attack by the Arabs. The Military Governor when asked by Rabbi Levinger to let them have guns, tore a strip of paper from the edge of the “Ma’ariv” newspaper he was reading at the time and wrote out an order telling the army to supply the settlers with guns! On moving to the Memshal, the guard duty was taken over by the Border Police, who had several watch-towers situated within the grounds of the Memshal.
A number of the settlers had purchased their own personal weapon by filling in a special application form which then had to be handed into the police. If the application was approved, the person would receive a permit to possess a particular type of gun. These people would then usually carry their guns with them when they went into town.
When the new buildings built specially for the settlers were completed in summer 1969, a sentry box was set up beside the outermost dormitory block. Soon after, a watch-tower was built on top of this building and a metal ladder was affixed to the side of the building to enable the guards to climb on to the roof to reach this watch-tower.
The watch-tower was not even a “one-star hotel.” It just consisted of a small square room with windows on the upper half of each wall. The furniture in this room consisted of two high metal stools fixed to the ground and it was on these stools that the guards sat and kept watch. Above the roof of this room was a projector with a powerful beam, which enabled one to see well beyond the barbed wire fence surrounding the grounds of the Memshal. This projector was connected to a hollow T-shaped handle in the centre of the room and by turning the handle one could rotate the projector through almost a complete circle. There was also a thick wire running through this hollow handle and by pulling this wire up and down one could alter the angle of the projector whilst it was in a certain position and hence see different positions beyond this fence.
It could be self-defeating were the Arabs to get an accurate position of this watch-tower at night, and thus the projector would not be kept on all the time. Also, from the practical point of view, the heat generated by the powerful bulb in the projector would cause it to burn out, were it to be left on for prolonged periods. Therefore affixed to the wall of this watch-tower was a switch with which one turned the projector on and off.
The procedure used during guard duty was, that every five or ten minutes, the guard would turn on the projector and rotate the T-shaped handle and pull on the thick wire in order to check that there were no Arabs hiding beyond the fence. Having ascertained this, the projector would be turned off again.
All this was acceptable for weekdays, but once every seven days is Shabbat. How might operate such a projector on Shabbat. We could hardly ask the Arabs to refrain from attacking us on these days! [The Egyptians and Syrians specially chose Yom Kippur to mount an attack on Israel.] We have a cardinal principle that the saving of life - however remote the possibility may be - overrides Shabbat. However if one is able to find a method of turning on and off the projector by some sort of time switch device, one should of course do so. One of our settlers who was an electrician installed such a device. Every ten minutes or so, the time-switch would turn on the projector for about three quarters of a minute and it would then automatically switch it off again. During these forty-five seconds, the guards would rotate the handle attached to the projector to check for possible lurking Arabs. Since this handle device was Muktzah, it had to be turned in an unusual way. I myself would use my arms instead of my hands. On Yom Tov, it was not Muktzah and could be turned normally.
In any household, there are numerous things that have to be attended to before each Shabbat. Anyone on guard duty that Shabbat, had an additional one to add to his list that week - going up to the watch-tower and turning on the time switch.
To save the trouble of having to turn the projector on and off every ten minutes, some of the more “lazy guards” would even utilise this time-switch throughout the week! As a result of this overuse, after a time the contacts on it wore out and had to be replaced.
In addition to the light from the projector, there were also lamp-posts every few metres along the barbed-wire fence and with all this light, it would have been very difficult for an Arab to have approached the Memshal unobserved. The electricity bill paid by the Memshal must of been astronomical! Unfortunately the Memshal was not an employee of the electric corporation, who could get an unlimited quantity of electricity completely free of charge!
Against the side of the watch-tower was a wooden ladder to enable one to climb on to the roof in order to change the bulb in the projector. As least we didn’t have to climb this ladder - this was the function of the Border Police.
There was also a two-way telephone between our watch-tower and the Border Police communications office in the main building of the Memshal. Before we would begin guard duty each night, we would collect the telephone, insert the batteries and connect it up in the watch-tower. Anyone used to telephones will have experienced the ghastly crackling sounds that one sometimes hears on the line, especially from those telephones which are repeatedly connected and disconnected. Therefore to make sure that there were no problems, we would after connecting it up, ring through on it to the switchboard to check the line. Likewise, occasionally, during the course of the night, the switch-board would telephone through to us to check that the line was still working. I hope that this was their objective and not that the switch-board operator was just bored stiff and such telephone calls broke the monotony! For Shabbat we would connect it up before Shabbat and check the line. I would at the same time request that the switch-board only telephone us on Shabbat in case of an emergency and not to just for routine checks.
One Friday night when I was on guard duty, we were told that the projectors were not working and we should use hand torches which we should then collect. I asked Shlomo Aviner what should we do and he answered that there was a full moon that night and so torches were superfluous. (I also have my doubts how effective a hand torch could have been!) In fact, it was my worrying which was superfluous. The projectors were working.
At first there was no door on the watch-tower and during the Hebron winter nights it could be extremely cold up there. To prevent ourselves freezing to death, we would close up the entrance using a large sheet of wood. At a later stage, a metal door was affixed to the entrance of the watch-tower.
Almost all the male settlers took part in the guard duty. This was arranged on a weekly basis from Sunday to Sunday. We also got paid for doing so and I understand Eddy managed to arrange that we got paid at the highest rate. How he managed this, I never asked - I, nor anybody else, had no objection to receiving the highest rate! Each night there would be two shifts, the first from six o’clock in the evening until midnight and the second from midnight to six o’clock in the morning. In Israel it gets dark in the winter at about five o’clock and in the summer at about seven o’clock - in those days there was no shifting of the clocks. Logically, one would expect the times of guard duty to follow the pattern of the hours of darkness. However, officialdom does not think in this way. Although they would slightly advance, but not by enough, the commencement of guard duty in the winter, it would never begin later than six o’clock even in the middle of the summer. This meant that during the summer, the first hour of guard-duty was superfluous and indeed, in practice, most of the guards wouldn’t go up to the watch-tower until about seven o’clock.
There was a similar effect in the morning. Whereas in the winter it was only just beginning to get light at six o’clock in the morning, in the summer it would be light at about four o’clock. Thus we would find that in the summer, the guards would start to disperse at about five o’clock.
Two guards would be on duty together for each shift, thus making four guards per night. I understand that originally, the Border Police wanted the pair of guards to consist of one settler and one border policeman but we opposed this idea since there would be very little in common for these two to talk about during the long nights of guard duty.
The person who was in charge of arranging the guard duty for the settlers and issuing them with weapons was Eddy Dribben. During the course of the week, Eddy would go around the settlers and find four who would be guards for the following week. On the Sunday afternoon, these four would go to Eddy’s apartment to collect their weapons - Uzi guns - together with a supply of bullets. Due to the tardiness by some people in returning their weapons at the end of the week, the procedure was altered, so that on collection of the weapons, one had to sign a register.
There were some settlers, myself included, who had never had weapons training and training to these people was given by Eddy. I remember when he taught me, he began by saying that one must treat a weapon with respect, just as with a Tenach or a physics book. After teaching me how to use the Uzi, he arranged target practice near the bunkers. Having gone through this training, I was able to receive a weapon for guard-duty.
What was the procedure for such guard duty? At a quarter to six each evening, there would be a parade and briefing by an officer of the border police, in front of the Memshal building. The four settlers who were guards for that night, together with the border police who were on guard duty at different parts of the grounds, would assemble there with their weapons and stand in two lines. The first line was meant for guards who were on the first shift and the back line for those in the second shift. (I recall that on one occasion on a very cold Hebron wintry day, the night was divided into three shifts of four hours each.) It sometimes happened that the four settlers who were to be the guards for that particular night were not all available at that time and so we would send someone else holding an Uzi to stand in the parade. This was of course contrary to regulations but we were never caught out at this. I doubt if the officer giving the briefing even knew the names of the settlers on that night’s guard duty.
At this parade we would be briefed with the secret password - which would be changed every week - and what to do if an Arab approached the fence. First try and make him stop by shouting “Stop” in either Hebrew or Arabic. If he doesn’t stop, shoot in the air. If he still doesn’t stop, shoot at his legs and if he still doesn’t stop shoot to kill. Usually these briefings only occupied a couple of minutes but I can recollect an officer, who when conducting this briefing, liked the sound of his voice and so went on and on and on. If it were raining at the time, we would not have to get soaked to the skin standing in the rain; the briefing would then be held indoors.
A question which arose, was, could one go to such a briefing on Shabbat carrying the Uzi. Since at that moment, one was not on guard duty, was it permitted to carry an object which was normally Muktzah? Shlomo Aviner informed us that the Army Rabbinate had ruled that on Shabbat one does not take one’s weapon to such a briefing. We acted according to this ruling. However on one occasion, the officer giving the briefing asked me why I did not have my Uzi with me. I explained the ruling of the Army Rabbinate but he started arguing that you are already on guard duty. It was his Druze superior who came to my “rescue” and told him not to be so extreme!
Another Shabbat question which arose was what to do with one’s weapon when one had finished one’s guard duty on Shabbat. The weapon reverted to a Muktzah state. It would be very dangerous and irresponsible just to leave it in the watch-tower until after Shabbat. The method I used was to prepare a big shopping bag before Shabbat in which I put some important non-Muktzah objects and I took this bag with me to the watch-tower. When I had finished guard duty, I put the Uzi in this bag and carried the whole lot down to my apartment.
Every night, the guard duty began with the two settlers who were on the first shift, going to check the area around the fence to see if any suspicious objects had been planted there. They would then climb up on to the roof and begin their long night of watching over the perimeter fence. Some of the guards would spend their time eating “garinim” and would scatter the shells all over the floor of the watch-tower, instead of putting them in the dustbin. I, myself could not bear to sit in untidy surroundings and so when it was my turn for guard duty, I would go up into the watch-tower with a broom, bucket and mop. I would first sweep out the garinim shells and afterwards wash the floor.
According to the regulations, one of the pair of guards had to be on lookout, whilst the second one could be resting inside the watch-tower. The word “resting” was given various interpretations by the guards. The most strict was that the second guard could close his eyes but he had to remain sitting on the high metal stool. This was followed by the school of thought that he could doze whilst sitting on a chair. However, the interpretation taken by most of the settlers was that he could put a mattress on the floor of the watch-tower and bring up blankets and a pillow and go to sleep. Eddy agreed with this last opinion.
I can recollect a situation when one of the pairs of guards took the very strict interpretation of resting, whereas the pair performing the other shift on the same night would sleep on the mattress. The first pair, not being content to keep their own opinion, whilst respecting the opinion of others, would on entering the watch-tower take the mattress and throw it over the side of the building onto the ground, which during the winter was often muddy. This then meant that when the second pair began their duty, they would have to cart up the by then damp mattress to the watch-tower.
To pass the time during the long hours of guard duty, the guards would often walk up and down on the roof of the building. Since the roof was covered with a layer of tar, as a result of this continual walking, the tar would get thinner and thinner. Those living in the rooms below this tar soon came to realise this fact, since, after a time, rain began to leak into their rooms. One of these rooms was my apartment and until the roof was re-tarred, my wife was continually moving the furniture about to avoid the rain-drops.
Sometimes, instead of the second guard sleeping or dozing off, he would study. Remember! - One is bidden to study Torah by both day and night. In order to study, one requires light and as I have already said, it was important not to illuminate the watch-tower. It was therefore necessary to construct devices which on the one hand gave sufficient light for studying and on the other hand could not be seen from the outside.
The usual device was a candle or candles which were wired or supported on a piece of wood under the metal stool. It was necessary to remember not to sit on that particular stool whilst the candle was underneath it! Anyone doing this would indeed find themselves standing for at least the next few days of their guard duty! Some guards would use a shaded electric bulb. The wires would pass through a window of the watch-tower and over the side of the building to be plugged into a socket in the room beneath. One guard tried to use a pencil like torch which gave a powerful beam over a small area.
Since these lights were officially against regulations, one had to quickly extinguish them if one heard a guard-duty supervisor approaching. On one occasion, I did not hear him coming and he was most annoyed when he observed the lights.
When we first begun guard duty, we were most particular that both guards remained in the watch-tower for every moment of their shift; as the proverb reads, “A new broom sweeps clean.” We would not even go down to have a drink, let alone a meal. It was therefore necessary for our wives to climb up on to the roof carrying a tray with our evening meal. It was surprising to see that most of the wives, even those well into pregnancy were able to climb up on to the roof and husbands, who thought that they were able to escape from their wives for a few hours, were to be sorely disappointed!
Seriously however, the children, some of them quite young, used to climb on to the roof when daddy was on duty and run around. At first, the roof was not fenced in and this gave us great anxiety that they might fall over the edge. By Halachah one is obliged to built a parapet around such a roof and there is even a special Berachah recited when one does so. I raised this question with the settlers. One of them suggested some loose netting. I pointed out that this would be even more dangerous. The fence must be strong enough to lean on. It was then suggested that a fence be built just around the area of the watch-tower - this was cheaper than fencing in the whole roof. However, finally a proper fence was built around the entire roof.
Even though such a fence should have been more conducive for the family to join the guard for an evening meal, we found that as time progressed, the guards would start going down in turns in order to eat their evening meal. Finally a state was reached when one of the guards might be missing for three quarters of an hour from the watch-tower.
The taking up of radios and record players was a common occurrence and one guard even took up a television into the watch-tower! The matter reached such a state that at a meeting of the settlers it was decided that all this must stop. It did for a short period - but then started again.
The usual procedure arranged between the pair of guards was for one to keep watch for an hour, whilst the second one rested and they would then reverse their roles. The change over point between the two shifts of guards was twelve o’clock and at about a quarter to twelve, one of the guards would go and wake up the second pair. Normally the pair of guards on the first shift one night would be on the second shift on the following night and so on. For obvious reasons, most guards preferred the first shift. This however was not the case on Friday night (Shabbat) and the majority of the guards then preferred the second shift. The reason for this was that they wanted to be able to eat their Shabbat meal together with their families, even though this meant that afterwards they would have to get up at midnight and begin their shift of guard duty. I, however, belonged to the minority and developed a method to be on the first shift and also eat my Shabbat meal with my family. I would arrange with someone who was on guard duty on a different week that after he had finished his Shabbat meal, he would stay for an hour or so in the watch-tower whilst I went down and ate my meal. When it was his turn for guard duty, I would perform the same service for him. By this arrangement, I knew that I could sleep soundly on Shabbat from midnight onwards.
Guns need regular cleaning - otherwise the bullets might well jam and this could prove fatal in combat - and Eddy saw that we did this cleaning. After having completed one’s week of guard duty, one would collect on Sunday afternoon from Eddy materials for cleaning the Uzi. We would take the gun to pieces, thoroughly grease and clean it and return it to him.
There was also the filling up of a form in order to receive payment for the guard duty. This was the “compensation” for the lost sleep and the whiling away of hour after hour. An interesting question which we discussed in the Yeshivah, was whether one could take money for doing guard duty on Shabbat. However, amongst the reasons we concluded that one could, was that some of the work of the guard duty of Shabbat could be done before Shabbat, such as checking around the fence and this indeed we did do. The only times in the year when the settlers did not do guard duty was the night of Yom Kippur and the first shift on Seder night. On these occasions Druze guards were utilised.
When I look back at my various numerous weeks of guard duty at the Memshal, interesting recollections come to mind. Usually I had a different partner for the various weeks I was a guard. Once my partner was Eddy and instead of an Uzi, he brought up a Kalachnikov (a Russian machine gun which had been captured during the Six Day War) which he mounted on a stand by the edge of the roof. When I was on duty with Zvi Segal, he would leave at four o’clock to go to work and I would have to be on guard duty on my own for the last few hours.
Our Sages tell us that the ideal time to pray Shacharit is to begin before sunrise, so that one says the Shema just before sunrise and the Amidah with the sunrise. Under normal circumstances, for most of the year most people don’t get up so early and so are praying after sunrise. However when one is on the second shift of guard duty, one has the ideal opportunity to pray at this ideal time and when I was on this shift, I would try my best to do this. It is quite an art to be able to exactly co-ordinate one’s praying to the minute. One tends to have one eye on the Siddur and the other on the clock. On one occasion whilst I was trying to do this, a border guard also in the middle of his prayers came rushing up on to the roof, looked at my watch and motioned to me to hurry up and start the Amidah.
The ninth month of the Moslem calendar is Ramadan. Each day during this month, Moslems should fast from dawn to dusk and only eat during the nights. Before dawn each morning, the Arabs would rise and eat their last meal before the fast. There would be a loud boom from a cannon to wake the Moslems up to eat and later another boom to tell them to stop eating. This cannon was situated I believe near the area of the Jewish cemetery, which, although it was some kilometres from the Memshal, we could clearly hear the sound of these booms when we were on guard duty.
The border police did not demand or even request from the settlers that they participate in the guard duty, since it was solely the responsibility of the former. It was at our request to show that the settlers were able to look after their own security. This certainly took the wind out the sails of the leftists who might scream that because of the settlers they had to do more guard duty.
Although we did guard duty during the hours of darkness, during the period of the Memshal we would walk in Hebron even alone, most of us without weapons, and even in the narrow streets of the Arab market (casba). We would send our school children to Jerusalem in an Arab taxi without any grown up accompanying them.
There were some very rare grenades or shooting incidents but no more than in any other part of the civilised world and far less than in the uncivilised world. On one occasion, a coach carrying Christian tourists was shot at near Hebron. The coach was brought to the Memshal and the members of the party, including one man with blood on his clothes came in. He asked to use our telephone and he contacted his community in America to tell them that his wife had been shot and they should pray for her. Unknown to him at the time, she had been killed, and she was then buried in a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem.
Fortunately incidents like were isolated and one could be almost one hundred per cent sure that an Arab would not try and stab you or grab your gun. One of our settlers, Menachem Felix, related that at that time he needed a new holder for his gun. He went to an Arab who worked at this trade in Hebron, told him what he wanted and left his gun with the Arab. He added that he did remove the bullets before handing the Arab the gun. The next day the Arab returned the gun together with the holder he had made. Anyone today doing what Menachem then did, would be arrested or, alternatively, be sent to a special department of Kupat Cholim!