Until the last year I was in Liverpool, there was a left wing government in Israel. During this time there were major fights by Jews to be allowed to settle in Judea and Samaria - the “West Bank.” The Jewish press in Britain both on a national and local level supported left wing policies. In the time available to me, I tried to actively counteract this left wing publicity, especially in my latter years in Liverpool.
My first article, which was entitled “Personal Recollections of a Hebron Pioneer,” appeared in the British Jewish newspaper “Zionist Standard” and it described why I went to Hebron in 1968, my life and living conditions in the Military Compound where I lived for three years and how I fought for Jewish rights in the Cave of Machpelah. [A full account of my reminiscences of that period can be found in my book “Three Years in a Military Compound.”]
I was very concerned that the world erroneously believed, that in international law, the “West Bank” was sovereign Jordanian territory recognised as such by the family of nations and that Israel was just occupying it. I knew this to be incorrect but I wanted to show the correct situation in a scholarly manner. I began my research at the beginning of 1974, by ordering reprints of articles and studies which had been published on this subject since the Six Day War. I wrote away to Universities and individuals in Britain, the United States, Israel and Australia. Usually the people sent me the material free of charge, although sometimes they asked for payment. Professor Julius Stone even wrote a personal dedication on all the material he sent me.
After collecting all the materials, I wrote my paper and my conclusions were:
1. Jordan at no time had any title to the West Bank nor Egypt to the Gaza Strip.
2. Israel has a better title to the West Bank and Gaza Strip than anyone else in the world.
3. No country in the world except Britain and Pakistan recognised Jordan’s unilateral annexation of the West Bank.
4. Anyone not recognising Israel’s right to Hebron, Shechem, Jericho because they were ‘taken from the Arabs’ (in the 1967 war) must, by the same logic not recognise Israel’s right to Beersheba, Ramla, Nazareth because they were also ‘taken from the Arabs’ (in the 1948 war).
This paper of mine was first published in the “Zionist Standard” of September 1974 and afterwards in the Childwall Synagogue magazine “The Record” of Passover 1975.
From 1976, I began to write letters to the press on a regular basis, particularly to the “Jewish Chronicle” answering their left-wing views and often what I saw as distortions. It was often “Ben Azai,” whom we now know to be Chaim Bermant, who wrote these articles. The majority of my letters were not published by the paper.
In one column, “Ben Azai” was critical of Jews trying to convert an abandoned Hebron warehouse into a synagogue. I pointed out in an unpublished letter that this so-called “warehouse” was the Chesed LeAvraham Synagogue which had served the Jewish community of Hebron for two hundred years, until as a result of the brutal Arab massacres, the Jews were forced to abandon Hebron.
A few weeks later, a letter of mine was published in the “Jewish Chronicle.” I had taken Ben Azai to task for his column and I wrote, “It is now impossible for a week to pass without Ben Azai making an attack on Jewish settlement on the West Bank. In a recent contribution, he decides that Israel is aware that were she to annex the West Bank, it would alienate her not only from Western support but also from an important part of the Jewish world.” I went on to summarise our religious, historical and international rights to the West Bank.
Following the publication of this letter of mine, a correspondent wrote a letter to this paper in which he said, “My eye was caught first by Rabbi Simons’ sturdy justification of settlement on the West Bank; I wasn’t really surprised to find that the letter had been written, not from Kaddum, or even Tel Aviv, but from Liverpool.”
I could have answered this correspondent via the letter columns of the “Jewish Chronicle” but I decided instead to make a private telephone call to him and explain I had been one of the Hebron settlers for three years and I was temporarily in Liverpool on a Jewish education mission.
In November 1976, a letter was published in “The [Sunday] Observer” in which the writer alleged that the primary insult felt by Christian and Muslim Arabs is the “continued Israeli occupation of their holy places” in Jerusalem. I wrote a letter in reply to “The Observer” and they published it in a shortened form as follows:
... In fact, under the Israelis, every religion has unrestricted access to and complete autonomy over their holy places in Jerusalem.
Contrast this with the situation under the Jordanian rule, when not only were Jews denied access to their holy places, but Jewish holy places were destroyed and desecrated.
At this period, an article entitled “What right to a Greater Israel?” appeared in the “Jewish Chronicle” together with a big picture and the caption “The Torah comes to Kiryat Arba.” I appeared prominently in this photograph and a number of my pupils and other acquaintances in Liverpool asked whether it was in fact me.
Also about this period, there appeared a letter in the “Jewish Chronicle” in which the writer said that on a visit to Israel he was “given an official tour of Kiryat Arba led by a young man from there, an authorised guide and representative of the community.” The writer was very critical of the guide’s comments about Jewish settlement in Hebron and described him as “our sick child and until we can cure him we must take responsibility for preventing the damage he can do to others, Jew and Arab alike.”
Reading this letter, I guessed he must be referring to my old friend Chaim Mageni. I therefore immediately sent him a copy of this letter and suggested he answer it. An answer from him would be far better than a letter from me and the “Jewish Chronicle” would be more or less bound to publish it.
Chaim Mageni sent a reply saying that “it is most probable that I am the ‘sick child’ to whom your correspondent ... refers.” He then went on to answer and refute in a masterly manner each of the points made by the correspondent. The “Jewish Chronicle” published this letter in its entirety, and I know this since he sent me a copy of his typed letter.
I also answered the anti Gush Emunim comments made by “Ombudsman” (the “Ben Azai” of Liverpool) in the “Liverpool Jewish Gazette” and they published my letter in full. I wrote:
Ombudsman’s first section in your October issue is based more on fiction than fact and would be more appropriate as an Arab propaganda article than a contribution (if one can use that word) in a Jewish newspaper.
He states in connection with the destruction of Sifrei Torah by the Arabs that ‘the first act of aggression was caused by Kiryat Arba residents.’ In fact no evidence has been produced to show that any Jew, let alone the Kiryat Arba residents, have desecrated any Moslem books or appurtenances.
I then gave a brief history of our rights to Eretz Israel and examples of Jewish settlement in the 19th and 20th centuries. I continued:
A group such as Gush Emunim should be unnecessary in a Jewish State. This would be the case if the Government of Israel would encourage Jewish settlement throughout Eretz Israel. Instead it persistently drives out Jewish settlers and hence the establishment of Gush Emunim has become a necessity.
Instead of West Bank settlement he suggests settlement in the Galilee. Has Ombudsman forgotten the Arab riots which took place earlier this year when the Government of Israel brought out its plans for Jewish settlement in the Galilee? The truth is, the only place the Arabs accept for Jewish settlement is the sea!
In reply, Ombudsman described my reply as “causeless enmity.” I wrote a further letter which was not published stressing this time the security angle; that “military considerations would make any withdrawal complete madness and irresponsibility.” I pointed out that if Israel withdrew from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Arafat’s men would use it as a “launching pad to try and eliminate the State of Israel and replace it by a ‘single democratic state over the whole of Palestine.’ These are not my words but those of the Arabs in their own Palestinian National Covenant and their other pronouncements... which give their openly stated aim as the destruction of Israel.”
Over the course of the next year or so, I wrote a number of letters to various newspapers such as “The Economist,” “Jewish Chronicle,” “The Daily Telegraph” and “The Observer,” which were not published. I had found a typist to type these letters and had managed to borrow an old typewriter from a Jewish organisation in Liverpool. Whilst I was in the course of writing these letters, this Organisation suddenly decided that they needed this old typewriter. I don’t know if the timing was by design or by accident! I sincerely hope the latter.
I also submitted letters in Hebrew to the Israeli newspapers “Ma’ariv” and “Yediot Acharonot” expressing my shock at the Israeli Government driving out Jews who wanted to settle in Jericho. I pointed out that there were many families who wanted to make Aliyah and live in Judea and Samaria and that such actions by the Israeli Government will surely harm potential Olim. “Ma’ariv” published my letter.
From the beginning of 1977, I worked at trying to establish “Friends of Gush Emunim” groups in the North of England. In January 1977, Professor and Mrs. Chen from the Kaddum settlement in Samaria came to visit Liverpool. In the morning Mrs. Chen gave a talk at the King David High School and for that evening I arranged a parlour meeting in my house. I borrowed chairs from the Childwall Synagogue and indeed my “parlour” was crowded.
Professor Chen explained that Gush Emunim contains people from all walks of life and that settlements such as Kaddum brought together all these people, who are the pioneers of today, to work on a common cause, namely the building up and settling of the Land of Israel. At the end of this meeting, a Liverpool Friends of Gush Emunim was inaugurated. The meeting was reported in the “Liverpool Jewish Gazette.”
Notepaper was printed and I was invited to give a number of talks on Gush Emunim by various groups in Liverpool during 1977. These included the Liverpool Zionist Society, the Joint Israel Appeal and Bnei Akiva.
In February 1977, I went to Manchester and gave a talk at a parlour meeting on “The Truth About Gush Emunim.” Following the meeting, which was reported in the “Manchester Jewish Telegraph,” a Manchester Friends of Gush Emunim” was formed. A few months later I happened to be in Leeds. I wanted to speak there, but unfortunately it could not be arranged.
Later that year there was a General Election in Israel, and for the first time in the State of Israel’s history, a right wing Government came to power. This enabled settlements to be set up all over the West Bank.