There is no such thing as a “Palestinian people.” Conventional wisdom about the demographics of the Arab and Israeli birthrates in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are wrong. And a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the best choice. David Wilder knew he’d be fighting an uphill battle in getting those statements accepted in San Francisco, but on May 18, that’s what he was saying in a talk at Congregation Adath Israel in the city’s Sunset District.
Wilder, since 1994 the official spokesman for the Jewish settler community of Hebron, located in the Judean Hills in the West Bank, addressed a sympathetic crowd of about 40 people. He was in the United States on a speaking tour sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America.
In Hebron, the New Jersey–born Wilder conducts English-language tours of the local sacred and historic sites for foreign dignitaries, journalists and tourists. He began his 40-minute talk at Adath Israel with stories about Hebron’s history as a Jewish community, weaving the tales together with the common theme of the town as “a place of miracles.”
Wilder described the lengthy Jewish presence in Hebron, documented by archaeological evidence and filled with a rich collection of heroic figures of past, present and legend. The Torah describes Abraham’s purchase of the cave at Machpelah (the Cave of the Patriarchs) as the final resting place for himself and his wife, Sarah. King David was anointed in Hebron and ruled from there for years. In Hebron, said Wilder, are “the roots of Judaism and monotheism.”
He went on to tell of a group of Jewish exiles from Spain who re-established a small community in Hebron in the early 1500s, and described a “miracle” in 1619 when a mysterious figure, said to have been Abraham himself, appeared to complete a minyan. He spoke of the 1929 Hebron massacre, when Arab rioters killed 67 Jews and wounded 70 more. And he described a “another miracle” in 1967, when Israeli forces liberated Jerusalem from Arab control and the Israel Defense Forces’ chief military rabbi, Shlomo Goren, became the first Jew in generations to enter the Cave of Machpelah.
The Jewish community in Hebron today remains small and beleaguered, Wilder said, some 850 Jews living in the middle of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Wilder said the community warned the Netanyahu government in 1997, upon the signing of the Hebron agreement, which ceded control of most of the city to the Palestinians, that “they would be shooting at us from the hills.”
Newspaper coverage over the last few months has detailed a Jewish man killed by gunfire in his car on the way to a seder in Hebron, in an assault that wounded his pregnant wife and young son. In another incident, dozens of rioting Palestinians attacked an IDF outpost. Growth in the Jewish community is almost impossible, Wilder said, because the Israeli government restricts building permits and Arab leaders have made selling to Jews “a capital crime.” Muslim authorities control Jewish access to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and other holy sites. Youth from both sides throw rocks at one another.
“Our children are very honest,” Wilder said. “If someone throws a rock, they return it in the way it was given to them.”
Yet Wilder said he maintains cordial relations in a kind of rapprochement with the local sheikh, Farid al-Jabari. He said he respects Jabari for stopping incidents of Arab defacement of Jewish property and for his honesty in publicly denouncing a two-state solution as impracticable.
“The two-state solution is dead,” Wilder stated in his talk.
Wilder advocates a single Jewish state, with Arabs in the West Bank given the chance to apply for permanent resident status and possible full citizenship. He bases the argument partly on demographics. In an interview after his talk, Wilder said recent research debunks the high figures for Palestinian birthrates originally published by Palestinian statisticians in the 1990s and accepted by the international community. He cited Israeli columnist Caroline Glick’s writings on comparative Jewish-Arab demographics and the one-state solution, noting that they are gaining traction in the Jewish press.
“There are 6 million Jews and 2 million Arabs [in Israel today],” Wilder said. And perhaps another 1.5 million Arabs in “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank).
He said that, with high settler birthrates and influxes of new Jewish immigrants from the diaspora, the demographic time- bomb analogy used by advocates to demonstrate the urgency of a two-state solution has no basis in fact. A lowered Arab birthrate means “they’ll never catch up.”
Wilder is equally dismissive of the notion of a “Palestinian people,” which he said originated with Arab nationalists in the 1920s and ’30s based on the Roman name “Palestina” that was co-opted by British authorities. “My [Jewish] mother-in-law,” Wilder said, born in 1924 and with documents issued by British Mandate of Palestine, “could be considered a Palestinian.”
Almost every Jew in Hebron knows someone injured or killed by terrorism, Wilder said, which makes cordiality with Arabs neighbors almost nonexistent. The Jewish settlers “know what the situation is now, that there’s no rational, logical way things are going to change in the near future … There’s no love lost.
“Most would prefer to have more positive interactions with the Arabs in Hebron,” he said. “It’s a two-way street: You cannot have positive interactions with people not interested in having positive interactions with you.”
David Wilder writes “The Wilder Way” for the Jerusalem Post. He oversees the Hebron Jewish community’s YouTube channel and his writings are at www.davidwilderbooks.blogspot.com.