I finally returned to Jericho after ten years. The last time I was there, guiding tourists, was just before the Oslo War broke out in October 2000.
I have been to the “City of Palms” or ‘The back door of Jerusalem” many times – when it was safe – before the Oslo “peace”. Since those Accords of 1993, when Israel rolled out the red carpet for Yasser Arafat and the PLO., we guides did not feel very comfortable guiding in Jericho and most scratched it off the touring map.
True, armed Arabs and posters of Arafat were not encouraging but I did continue to visit,
The charming ”Peace unto Israel” synagogue with it’s beautiful mosaic floor from the times of the Talmud, and the little yeshiva above where a handful of students “held down the fort” studying Torah were a must visit.
We would dance with the young idealist scholars encouraging them and they encouraged us. It was a bizarre situation. “Palestinian police” with assault rifles on the outer perimeter and nonuniform armed Israeli guards sitting on the porch eying each other suspiciously.
It was clear that this situation would not last. And so in October 2000 when Prime Minister Barak offered Arafat 97% of his demands including half of Jerusalem, the old terror chief gave the signal for a terror wave that eventually took thousands of Israeli lives. “Palestinian police” opened fire on their Israeli counterparts on their joint “peace” patrols. The weapons we gave them came in handy. Turns out it wasn’t about land after all.
Another causality of the Oslo war was the closing of the doors of the Oasis casino. Arafat, and it turns out, his Israeli partners ( the same person who was negotiating with Arafat about the future of the Land of Israel!) had to now manage with out the million dollars that bused in Israeli gamblers spent daily.
Since then Jericho is closed to Jewish visitors. Well, almost.
Every Rosh Chodesh (first of the month), a handful of dedicated Jews try to scrap together a minyan (quorum) for the joyous once a month prayers in the ancient, now forlorn little synagogue.
Leaving Jerusalem very early, we travel east through the Jude an Desert liberated in the 1967 Six Day War. This was to be a bitter sweet experience.
Twelve men and three women answered the call.
The plain mosaic stones, dusty and worn after 1500 years seemed to shine for us that early morning.
As I said, I have viewed these stones many times before, but this was different. Today I came to pray and keep them company – for a fleeting stolen moments. The little chipped red hearts on the floor seemed to burst with joy and achieve a color I had never noticed before. Our hearts beat together with the living stones on the floor. that Rosh Chodesh.
Before entering Jericho in our armored bus, we waited for our IDF escort. Five military vehicles accompanied the strange group of Jews who insist on not abandoning Jericho. They would simply not let go! The commander briefed us on how we must behave in the alien territory. “Operation Joshua”as he named it was about to be launched.
Operation? Were we behind enemy lines on some daring raid? It would seem so. What was a natural, simple activity years ago has become a complicated, risky military operation requiring special military and political preparations and permission.
Oy. What have we done to ourselves? This was the first city that Joshua conquered 3500 years ago. I wanted to apologize to the soil under my feet. I felt ashamed before Eretz Yisroel ( the Land of Israel), abandoned by her children for another.
Jewish presence was in self imposed exile Jericho welcomed her sons home again in 1967 but they chose to trade her away. Trade? No, Give her away. to strangers. Strangers? No, enemies – cruel enemies. The City of Palms, the City of Joshua is an Arab city. King David vanquished the Philistines and Israel’s leaders brought them back.
As I compare the city with the one I knew before the “peace process”, I see a new creation Large bill boards announcing foreign aid from the world over, especially the USA. Everyone is busy erasing any trace of Jewish life or sign in our Jericho, making sure it remains an orphan of Jewish History. . Ishmael and Esau have found their common goal.
We were escorted out of the city after the prayers and cleaning up the area as the little shul returned to its month of isolation and longing for her children.
I thought of the words of that Jericho native, Rachav, as she told Joshua’s two spies,.” We have all heard of the miracles of the Exodus and your victories. Our hearts have melted for your God is with you”(Joshua 2:10)
Would our leaders today only believe the words of that Jericho lady.