Return to Jericho

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.