Reminiscences of a Pioneer 1981 - 1983

In the centre of Hebron are situated many Jewish owned buildings. After the Jewish community had been forced to leave Hebron in the period of the British Mandate, Arab squatters took over these buildings. These buildings include Bet Hadassah, Bet Romano, Bet Schneersohn, and the Avraham Avinu complex.

Sadly, with the liberation of Hebron, the Israeli Government did nothing to return these buildings to the Jews. Any action to reclaim them had to be done, over the opposition of the Israeli Government, by individuals “taking the law into their own hands.”

It was soon after Pesach 1979 that a group of women in the dead of night “broke into” Bet Hadassah and set up residence. The Government put a siege on the place but the women stuck fast. Gradually the siege was lifted.

On the morning of the First Day of Rosh Hashanah 1979, a Minyan had been held in Bet Hadassah and in the afternoon, a message was sent to Kiryat Arba that people should come on the following day to strengthen the Minyan. I went along. At the time they had no Aron Hakodesh and the Sefer Torah was kept in a recess in the back wall.

For Yom Kippur, I, together with Meir Peretz converted a big wooden carton into an ark by lining it with a sheet. The guard at the gate of Bet Hadassah allowed us to take it in; in those days, one could not be sure what would happen! After my meal before Yom Kippur, I hurried down to Bet Hadassah. I arrived about five minutes before the start of the Fast and they asked me whether I wanted a drink but I declined. An hour or so later I was sorry; all the running down there from Kiryat Arba had taken its toll. All this added to the affliction which is the Mitzvah of Yom Kippur.

The following morning I again went to Bet Hadassah, first going into the Cave of Machpelah to say some Tehillim. I spent the whole day in Bet Hadassah. During the break between Mussaf and Minchah, Rabbi Levinger brought some mattresses for people to rest on. After Yom Kippur, I asked someone to loan me some money, in the hope that I would find an Arab taxi to return me to Kiryat Arba. Fortunately, I soon found such a taxi.

I had wanted to join the pioneers in Bet Hadassah, but there was then a problem. The eating was communal and the Shemitta year was just starting and they were utilising the “Heter Mechira” which I did not use. However in the summer of 1981, when the products were no longer Shemitta produce, I was able to realise this ambition. It was on Lag B’Omer, a Friday, that there was the consecration of the rebuilt Avraham Avinu Synagogue and on the same day the Levinger family moved from Bet Hadassah to a refurbished house next to this Synagogue. Two days later my family moved to Bet Hadassah.

That day, I asked Chai Sa’adia, who had a small van whether he could take our effects to Bet Hadassah. He told us that by coincidence his family were also moving there that day. He accordingly took the effects of both families there. Bet Hadassah became my family’s dwelling place for nearly two years. I shall now briefly describe a few of the incidents during this period which come into my mind,

My family received a room which was situated on the top floor - the far room on the left hand side. The room already had internal brick wall partitions and was internally divided into three rooms. When one entered the main door of the room one came to a narrow room - about 2 metres in width, which extended along the whole length of the room. Off this room were two squarish rooms which we utilised as bedrooms - one for Dina and myself and the other for the children, who then numbered six. A few months later the seventh was born. The latter room was filled with beds, a double bunk and cots. When we first received this area, the narrow room was filled with all sorts of furniture and junk and we spent some time clearing it and sorting it out.

Several families were living on the two floors of this building, each of them having received one room. The corridor of the lower floor was used as the communal dining room. One room on the upper floor served as the Bet Hamedrash. Every facility involving water was confined to the front area of the building.

In the city of Hebron, there were often water stoppages. In such cases, the army would bring along water in big tankards and from them fill our tanks. In 1982, Rosh Hashanah was on Thursday and Friday, meaning that there would be three days, when if there were stoppages of water, we would not be able to call on the army. We accordingly asked, Rabbi Lior, if on Yom-Tov we could get the Arab Hebron Municipality to fill our tanks from their tankards. I was told that he gave permission for Yom-Tov but added that such permission did not extend to Shabbat. In fact all this was fortunately unnecessary, since the army instructed the Hebron Municipality to ensure that the water to Bet Hadassah would not be cut off during these three days.

During the period I was in Bet Hadassah, we managed to gain possession of other Jewish property in Hebron such as Bet Schneersohn and Bet Harokeach. As soon as we gained possession, we immediately “created facts” and transferred families there. The Sa’adia family went to Bet Rokeach and the Oriel family to Bet Schneerson. In the latter there was a problem. One of the rooms there prior to 1929 had been used as a Synagogue and the question arose whether one could now use it as a living room.

However the major building which we regained possession of, was Bet Romano. This was a very large building owned by the Lubavitch. Up to that period, the Arabs were using it as a school. On the same day as we gained possession, Rabbi Levinger told us to go there and take out all the furniture. This was not a simple job. In any school there is a mass of school desks and other equipment. We moved most of it into the grounds at the back until it was chock-a-block with furniture. At a later date, the Hebron Arab Municipality took away the furniture. To make as much use as possible of the place, we immediately opened a Bet Hamedrash there in place of that at Bet Hadassah. Within a few weeks a Yeshivah, Shavei Hevron was opened there.

The Religious Council of Kiryat Arba extended the Eruv to incorporate all these buildings. I was asked to check each week that the wire near Bet Hadassah was still intact.

When my family first went to live there, we took only a limited amount of furniture but as time progressed we took down more things. In the beginning we would eat in the communal dining room, but after several months, we decided we would install our own private kitchen in our room. We therefore employed a plumber to install a sink together with a draining board and cupboards underneath it. Since the source of water and the drainage was at the opposite side of the building, we had to install extensive piping. We also brought over our refrigerator and gas cooker from Kiryat Arba.

However one cannot live without problems. One such problem was a fight with Ampa to service our refrigerator which had stopped working whilst we were at Bet Hadassah. This is discussed in detail at the end of this chapter.

On Sukkot, a big Sukkah was built in the grounds of Bet Hadassah. In addition, on the two Sukkot when I was there, I arranged for Chai Sa’adia to bring the sections of my Sukkah to Bet Hadassah. On one evening during Chol Hamoed, I went to a Simchat Bet Hashoeva out of town. I returned to Kiryat Arba in someone’s car at about midnight. I then walked alone in the dead of night unarmed to Bet Hadassah. Then only sounds I could hear on the way were dogs barking.

The second Purim I was there, occurred on Motzoei Shabbat. The Ulpana at Kiryat Arba had asked me to read the Megillah for them that evening - my “unique style” of reading it was very popular - and it was arranged that they would collect me by car immediately after Shabbat. However, no-one knows what the weather will be like and that Shabbat it snowed; by the end of Shabbat the roads were blocked. I therefore ended up hearing the Megillah in Bet Romano.

On one occasion, the Israeli television came to film how we were living and at a later date I saw the programme. My daughter Hadassah was an expert in getting in front of the camera! She would conveniently appear several times wheeling a pram backwards and forwards and again “conveniently” appear to lay cutlery on the table.

The Bet Hadassah building was in a poor state of preservation, We lived on the top floor and we could see the metal girders in the roof which were very rusty and, as we learned towards the end of our stay there, very dangerous. It was on one Motzoei Shabbat that I was in my room, when I heard a loud bang. A sizeable chunk of the metal girder had fallen off hitting the fluorescent light during its descent. Fortunately, I was not in direct line of the projectile!

We then saw that we could not continue living in that particular room, and we moved to a room on the lower floor. Since this room was much smaller, we also partitioned off a part of the adjacent corridor. Soon after, the Government agreed to completely renovate Bet Hadassah and it was thus necessary for all the families to vacate it. We therefore returned to Kiryat Arba in time for Pesach 1983. We had been pioneering there for almost two years and thus had made our contribution to the resettlement of Jews in the heart of Hebron.

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My fight with “Ampa”

A few months after my family went to Bet Hadassah, we transported our “Amcor” refrigerator there from Kiryat Arba. I wrote a letter to Ampa (who were the servicing agents for “Amcor” appliances) notifying them of my change of address (letter apparently no longer extant).

After the initial one year guarantee on such an appliance expires, one can take out a service contract with the company by virtue of which they have to come within a certain number of days and repair such an appliance when it breaks down. In Israel, this is in fact a statutory requirement. However, as I soon learned, when I was in Bet Hadassah, this statutory requirement at that period did not include Judea and Samaria, although Ampa did come to Kiryat Arba.

I must have heard from other people living in Bet Hadassah that Ampa refused to come to Bet Hadassah. Although my refrigerator was then in working order, towards the end of October 1981, I telephoned to Ampa and they informed me that people owning Ampa appliances who lived in Hebron did not qualify to receive the service set out in the service contract, even though they had paid the premium. To get service they had to bring the appliances to Kiryat Arba. I wrote them a letter asking them to let me know in writing whether this information was correct or, maybe I had misunderstood Ampa during my telephone conversation with them.

One should remember here that one is not dealing with a small portable appliance such as a toaster, but a very large heavy refrigerator, and what is more, transporting it from place to place to can cause further damage.

When I eventually received a reply from Ampa, after having having sent them a reminder, they proudly stated that they were the first company to give service over the “green line”. However they quickly added that there was a limitation – they only gave it to Jewish settlements.

I passed this letter over to the lawyer Elyakim Haetzni, and he immediately wrote to Ampa. In his letter, Haetzni argued in three ways. The first was the public and moral angle. He asked why a large company should “punish” pioneers. “Is this how you encourage the return of the Jewish people to the city of Hebron?” he asked and furthermore asked whether Ampa wanted their conduct to be be publicised in the media.

He then continued with the logical angle asking what disqualification is there in Hebron and whether it was the presence of Arabs. If so, argued Haetzni, then you should also disqualify Acre, Haifa, Ramla and Lod and he also asked whether they gave service to the wholly Arba cities of Nazareth, Shafaram, Taibe, etc.

Haetzni’s final angle was the legal one. He expanded on Ampa’s refusal to give service to the Jews of Hebron by asking whether there were Arabs in Hebron who had service contracts with Ampa and whether distinguishing between Jews and Arabs would stand up in court.

He concluded his letter by asking them to reconsider the matter.

Ampa answered Haetzni that they were not prepared to enter into a political dialogue. They pointed out that they do not give service in “Arab settlements in these places” adding that the reason is not to endanger their technicians. They concluded that in my specific case, my permanent abode was Kiryat Arba and they will be happy to answer my requests for service there.

At the period of the above correspondence I had no need for service from Ampa. However, there is a saying that one should not open one’s mouth for the Satan.

It was during Chol Hamoed Pesach of that year that my refrigerator without warning suddenly stopped working. Fortunately, there was a very big communal refrigerator in Bet Hadassah and my family transferred all our food there.

Despite the fact that Ampa had informed us that they did not give service to the Jews of Hebron, on 16 April 1982 I telephoned Ampa and ordered service for my refrigerator. The telephonist informed me that their technician does not come to Bet Hadassah and that I should bring my refrigerator to Kiryat Arba. I asked her what clause in the service contract enabled them not to come but she declined to argue. I told her that I would put the matter in other hands.

A few days later, I telephoned the Ministry of Commerce and explained to a clerk called Chezi what was happening. Chezi told me to write to his office enclosing copies of the service contract, and my notification of change in address. I explained the urgency of the matter since it was the summer season and I was without a refrigerator and he promised to contact Ampa straight away.

In my letter to Chezi, I gave the background to my problem and continued that Ampa had “informed me that the technician was under no circumstances prepared to travel to my house, something which was in clear breach of my contract with them and contempt towards a citizen who had paid for a service which was not being provided when needed.” I added that this was not an isolated case. I concluded pointing out the urgency of the case and requesting their speedily action. I enclosed copies of both my refrigerator and washing machine service contracts and a copy of the letter notifying them of my change of address to Bet Hadassah.

Two days later my wife spoke to Chezi and he explained that there was not yet a law in force Ampa to give service over the “green line”, but despite this he would try.

The office of the Ministry of Commerce investigated my complaint and informed me that Ampa had told them that they were not prepared to give service at Bet Hadassah but if I brought the refrigerator to Kiryat Arba they would service it there. The letter continued that the Israeli law did not yet apply over the “green line” and therefore they could not obligate Ampa to give me service in Bet Hadassah.

I then decided that the time had come to write the newspapers on this matter. Here is my letter written in June 1982 which I sent to many Israeli newspapers:

“Ampa performs repairs on Amcor appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, etc.) for customers who have taken out the annual service policy. According to the terms of this policy, repairs are carried out at the customer’s home. Also, anyone who changes his address during the period of this policy need only notify Ampa of this change and the policy continues automatically at the new address.
”I took out this service policy for my Amcor appliances. After I moved to Bet Hadassah, which is situated in the re-established Jewish (Habad) Quarter of Hebron, I notified Ampa in writing of my change of address. When my refrigerator ceased functioning, I requested service from Ampa but they informed me that they refused to come to my home and if I wanted service I would have to bring my refrigerator to Kiryat Arba or Jerusalem!
“In my opinion, this is a fragrant breach of the terms of the service policy. It is also manifestly absurd – we are talking about a refrigerator, not a portable radio or cassette recorder! To move a refrigerator requires a large truck, together with porters, not to mention the fact that further damage may likely result during transit.
“Sadly, my experience with Ampa is not an isolated incident. All my neighbours in Bet Hadassah who have requested service from Ampa have received the same response.
“I would like to know how a major Israeli corporation is permitted to accept my premiums for a service policy and then refuse to grant me the required service.”

I know that at least the newspaper “Hatzofe” published my letter and what is more, in its entirety. I also know that “Ma’ariv”, “Yediot Aharonot” and “Davar” asked Ampa for their comments.

Ampa replied to these newspapers by enclosing a copy of the letter they had sent to Haetzni adding that their stand in this matter had not changed. Ampa argued that I had paid my premium on the basis of my Kiryat Arba address and that if I request they will cancel my service contract with them and refund my money.

I immediately replied to these newspapers answering the arguments put forward by Ampa. I pointed out that Ampa was not doing a favour by giving service – it was a legal obligation, and that a change in address does not nullify the service contract. Ampa had argued that it was dangerous for their technicians to come to Hebron. In reply, I said that such a statement was very strange. They were prepared to send a technician all the way from Jerusalem to Kiryat Arba, a journey which goes via many Arab locations, and this was far more dangerous than the short journey from Kiryat Arba to Hebron. Several months earlier the Kiryat Arba Municipal Council stated that they were prepared to give a security escort for their technicians but Ampa had not even given any response to this offer.

A day earlier “Yediot Aharonot” had written a longish article headed “Who is afraid to repair a refrigerator in Hebron” in which they summarized what had occurred up to date in this matter.

It was at the same period that the Ministry of Commerce wrote to me informing me that the regulations requiring the giving of service over the “green line” had not yet been promulgated and so they could therefore not obligate Ampa to give me service in Hebron.

I therefore then wrote a letter to the Yesha Council to put them in the picture. I pointed out that all that was preventing the solution to this problem was the signature of the Minister of Commerce and Industry on the regulations to give service over the “green line” and they should exert pressure on the Minister and on Knesset Members so that the Minister will sign these regulations.

At the beginning of August 1982, the renewal of my service contract with Ampa became due and I notified Ampa in writing that my address was Bet Hadassah. Thus their argument that when I paid my premium my address was Kiryat Arba was no longer valid. Furthermore they took my money and made no comment that my address was now Bet Hadassah. Yet Ampa still refused to give me service. I telephoned Chezi at the Ministry of Commerce but he replied which a very strange and unacceptable answer that he did not consider it sufficient just to write my change of address but I need to get a definite agreement of Ampa to such a change in address.

I did not accept this answer of Chezi’s and I wrote to the Ministry of Commerce a further letter but received a negative reply. I replied reiterating that when I paid my current premium I gave my address as Bet Hadassah. I have no record of any further correspondence with him.

When just before the following Pesach I returned to Kiryat Arba since we had to vacate Bet Hadassah since the Israeli Government had agreed to completely refurbish the place. I took my refrigerator to Kiryat Arba where Ampa immediately repaired it – the entire motor had to be replaced.

However I had to pay a considerable sum to the porters and for the transport of my refrigerator and washing machine from Bet Hadassah to Kiryat Arba – a sum of one thousand (old) Shekalim. I wrote to Ampa pointing out that they had told me to bring it to Kiryat Arba for repairs and they should refund me the thousand shekels. Ampa replied that this transport was nothing to do with them. I replied to Ampa that I had informed them of my change in address and they had even recorded my address as Bet Hadassah on their computer. They replied admitting that I had notified them of my change of address adding that they had recorded this change without paying attention to it. They thus agreed that under these circumstances they had to pay the transport costs and they enclosed a cheque for one thousand shekels.

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