A few weeks ago, the leaders of the Jewish community of Hebron, Israel got an invitation to an Iftar celebration — the traditional Muslim nightly feast at the end of each day of the month-long Ramadan daytime fast — in the Jabari section of Arab-run Hebron. The location was not surprising to us since we have been working for years with the host, Sheikh Ashraf Jabari, a businessman, and a local clan chieftain. Many groups that have come to see the Jewish section of Hebron have also been brought to Sheikh Jabari’s house to learn about Arab-Jewish cooperation.
However, attending the first fully catered Kosher Iftar meal honoring Jewish guests in Arab Hebron was definitely an exciting proposal.
A Small-Time Terrorist Repents
As we approached the Jabari house for the Iftar, we could tell that the atmosphere was going to be festive. Yet one thing was glaring: This event was super-secured — not by a team of Israeli sharpshooters, but by dozens of Jabari’s Arab private security guards.
And there was good reason to be cautious. A few years back, another Hebron Arab, Muhammad Jabber, went out on a limb for peace and suffered as a result. Jabber (not to be confused with Jabari) was once a small-time terrorist identified with Hamas. He had planned an operation to blow up soldiers in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva but was caught before it was implemented. In Israeli prison, Jabber began to have doubts about how evil Israel really was. He saw the treatment of his fellow inmates and then later, after his release, he witnessed the decency with which Israeli soldiers treated Palestinian-Arab children. This was not the Israeli devil he had been taught to hate for so long.
Jabber’s world-view began to change, and so did his religion. In prison, he became an Ahmadiyyan, adhering to a more moderate sect of Islam, and began to preach a doctrine of tolerance towards Israel and Jews. He ultimately went public with his views on Israeli TV and began hosting visiting groups of Jews and non-Jews at his house.
The Fateful Tweet
During Ramadan two years ago, an Israeli parliamentarian, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, came to break bread with Jabber at his Iftar meal. The two posed for a “selfie”, and Glick posted it to his Twitter feed, where it was widely retweeted and even covered in the press. Yet soon after the happy gathering, Jabber was ominously summoned by the Palestinian Authority (PA) for a “talk.” He arrived at the PA offices in Hebron and was immediately arrested. Apparently, the photo of Glick and Jabber at the Iftar was the last straw for the PA.
The charge against Jabber? Acting against the Palestinian-Arab national interest.
Jabber was taken to prison in Jericho. We at the Jewish community of Hebron, along with Rabbi Glick, immediately sprung to action to help free him. We reached out to the TV station that covered his story, but they were not interested. We called the Israeli military governor who is in touch with the Palestinian-Arab police — nothing. We contacted the U.S. ambassador and he certainly tried. But no one seemed able to get Jabber out of the PA jail in which he sat for the mere “crime” of being not-anti-Israel.
Meanwhile, the “two-state solution” cartel was totally indifferent to Muhammad Jabber’s plight.
Finally, after 40 days, Jabber was released from PA jail. But he wouldn’t talk. He had been publicly humiliated — the PA barred him from working in Hebron, his children were told that their father was a cursed collaborator, and there were rumors that he had been tortured while in Jericho prison. Jabber no longer hosts any groups, — he lays low now. He and any Hebron Arab who harbor pro-Israel sentiments got the message loud and clear: Tolerance will not be tolerated and there will be no joint Iftars with the Jews.
The Great-Grandson of an Arab Nazi
Yet here we were still going to a Kosher Iftar in Hebron. Unlike Jabber, Sheikh Jabari can be openly pro-Israel. Commanding a clan of forty-thousand — he does not feel himself beholden to the PA. The event at his house was even co-hosted by the “settlers” — the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a joint Israeli-Palestinian group working to strengthen economic ties between Palestinian-Arabs and Jews in Judea and Samaria (i.e., the “West Bank”). Jabari is a founding member.
The Jerusalem Post, who had a reporter present, quoted Jabari’s talk at the historic Iftar: “This meal is meant to reinforce the growing trend in which economic/business connections can strengthen relations and friendship, by way of leading people to a more positive place. Breaking the fast together, at a joint meal in the city of Hebron, clearly symbolizes our ability to bridge any type of gaps.”
And Jabari was not alone in his belief. One of the notable Palestinian-Arab representatives at the dinner was Khaldun Husseini, whose great-grandfather, the notorious Nazi collaborator Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin el Husseini, spurred the infamous 1929 jihadist riot in Hebron in which 67 Jews were slaughtered and the Jewish presence in Hebron was ended until 1967.
But Khaldun told me he wants no part in his great-grandfather’s dark infamy — he wants a healthy, normal life, good business, and good relations with Israel.
The Progressives’ War on Peace
At the end of the evening, we gathered for a group photo. Uri Karzen, the director general of the Jewish community of Hebron, tweeted the picture along with words: “First #Iftar in #Hebron with Kosher food. We are laying the groundwork for peace between people and economic prosperity for all.”
Within a few hours, this tweet was retweeted by Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s Middle East-centric special representative for international negotiations, who added: “Groundwork for peace indeed! A wonderful example of what could be possible.”
Beautiful stuff, right? “Settlers” and Palestinian-Arabs breaking bread and working for a better future — you would think that the whole pro-peace camp would be smiling and cheering us on.
Nope. The Palestinian Authority junta and its “liberal” supporters had a different take altogether. The story of the Kosher Iftar threatened a pillar of their narrative: That the religious “settlers” are irredeemably violent and bigoted against Arabs — and that the only way forward is to extract the Jews from Judea and Samaria to enable a “two-state solution.”
And so the hard-Left immediately set out to delegitimize the Kosher Iftar and the American support of it.
First, Yehuda Shaul, co-founder of the controversial far-left Breaking the Silence NGO, opined in the UK’s Guardian: “Though Greenblatt uses a joint settler-Palestinian iftar to claim that we are on our path towards peace, that is meaningless when Palestinians still cannot walk on major roads in their biggest West Bank city.”
Then, Issa Amro, the founder of Youth Against Settlements, and a darling of the Left, railed in the Forward: “This explains Greenblatt’s tweet. Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Greenblatt are looking for any Palestinian willing to accept their Peace Plan, devoid as it is of human rights.”
Accepting an Invitation to Bahrain
On the 22nd of May, the Associated Press (AP) published an article featuring a picture of Jabari and Ambassador David Friedman entitled, “Rejecting taboos, Palestinian businessman welcomes US plan”
Indeed, Ashraf Jabari is the only Palestinian-Arab to have accepted the Trump administration’s invitation to an economic summit in Bahrain — and while Jabari will attend merely as a Palestinian-Arab business leader — he has crossed the PA, which has rejected any overtures from the Trump administration and has refused to attend the summit.
In the same article, Ahmed Majdalani, a senior PA official, speaking about Jabari, said that any Palestinian-Arab who participates in the Bahrain conference “is no more than a collaborator for the Americans and Israel.”
In the Middle East, a “collaborator” is a traitor — and a traitor won’t last long. Indeed, one of the sheikh’s assistants told me that known terrorists have called to tell Jabari he’s a dead man.
In contrast, Greenblatt tweeted out the AP article along with hopeful words: “Thank you Ashraf Jabari for your open-minded approach to our upcoming econ workshop. Couldn’t agree more w you: ‘What have we gained from bloodshed & separation? Nothing…We need to look at what went wrong & do something different so we can make it right.’”
Not Your Grandpa’s Hebron
The ancient city of Hebron is at a crossroads. While the pro-peace camp rails against efforts at normalization, and the PA bullies anyone who tries it, there are thousands of people in the city, Jews and Arabs alike, who are seeking new leaders and a new path.
At the Iftar, speaker after speaker made the point that Hebron is home to the Tomb of the Biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs, which includes the tomb of Abraham. The Bible records how Abraham was buried by his two sons together — Isaac and Ishmael, and how the two brothers were able to make peace, despite years of tension over the inheritance of Abraham’s birthright. If Jews and Arabs can come together to honor their joint father, then maybe Hebron, a place of tension and conflict, can be the place where a brighter future can be created for the next generation.
Or at least it can be a place where common ground can be found — even if only at a Kosher Iftar.
Yishai Fleisher is the International Spokesman for the Jewish Community of Hebron.