Menachem's Writings

A Taxi Ride From Hevron to Yerushalayim
or smuggling Jews into the Holy City

Back in 1976, when I was learning at Yeshivat Nir in Kiryat Arba, there were only five buses a day from Jerusalem to Kiryat Arba/Hevron. The first bus departed from the Kirya at 5:45 a.m. and the same driver returned the same bus each night, setting out from the Central Bus Station at 10:30 p.m. On a good night, we would arrive "home" as the news on the bus radio chimed midnight. The driver could not have been getting more than five hours sleep a night -- I suppose he had another bed at the bus company offices. Wouldn't be allowed today, I hope.

To make matters worse for Hevronites, Egged bus number 34 also served Gush Etzion. Travelling north from Hevron, half way to its destination, the bus would turn west at the Mickey Mouse intersection and perform a ten minute circuit of the three villages of Gush Etzion, before returning to the main highway. Often no-one got on or off at the kibbutzim. The Gush Etzion detour repeated itself travelling south from Yerushalayim.

The last bus of the day, the 10:30 from Jerusalem, received a military escort on leaving the Gush. One, sometimes two, command cars would be waiting just south of the intersection, to accompany our stage coach through "Indian" territory. For extra safety, we closed the glass windows.

Sometimes the army's support jeeps were not there when the bus arrived. The passengers had to wait. After a few days of waiting, the driver just left without his protectors. On realising he had escaped without them, the cavalry would come chasing after him. They were no match for Yosef's driving agility -- nor I assume, for his desire for his bed. They invariably caught us at the first or second bus stop inside the Kirya.

Even when the escort departed with the bus, if the leading jeep's driver was a little slow on the curvey winding road, Yosef would attempt an overtaking manoeuvre, a challenge at which he sometime succeeded. Given the blocking tactics taken by the military driver, and the contour of the road, this was indeed an achievement. And we poor earthlings always seemed to arrive home, alive.

So it was natural to look for alternatives, both to save time and to travel at more convenient hours.

Unfortunately back then, a majority of the Kirya's residents did not own a private vehicle, and of course Jerusalem taxis did not venture this far (about 40 kilometres) south. A number of people travelled to work daily in Jerusalem in an Arab taxi. Many people used Ali, a Hevron taxi driver, with an enormous black handlebar moustache, and glistening glassy polished pate (he shaved his head well before it became fashionable) sharply contrasting his jet black shirt. He drove a bright red stretch Mercedes, with a huge black plume blowing in the wind above his radiator. On these trips, originating in Kiryat Arab, all his passengers were Jewish, each having booked their seat earlier. On the morning return trip, he returned with the Yesivah's rabbis and staff who did not yet reside in the area.

Ali, or for that matter, any other cab driver, Jewish or Arab, would not leave their departure point until seven passengers filled all the available seats. Five or six of you could convince the driver to depart by paying for the empty seats . . . but if an additional passenger appeared on the way out of town, Ali would put him into the car, take a full fare from him, and not always refund the others. You could always take the bus . . . .

As I have previously written, in the days before the 1980 murder of Yehoshua Saloma in the Hevron Casba markets, we wandered around the [Judenrein] city of Hebron without weapons, without fear. The fear in those long lost days was with the Arabs.

One day, my friend and compatriot, DannyO (that's really what we called him in Oz), and I were a bit bored with our lessons -- it didn't happen often but today was warm, slow, sluggish day -- the yeshivah study hall (asbestos shack) had no airconditioning.

We decided to hit the big smoke, Jerusalem. There was a bigger variety of felafel there (the kirya had but one small felafel stand). Off we went to the town exit to await a hitch. Not too many people travelling north at that time of day. After perhaps half an hour (but more like ten minutes), "We gotta get out of here, but we're going nowhere fast. Let's go down to Hevron and take a cab. Even old Ali isn't prowling around the Kirya at this time of day. We could be here of hours."

So we walk down to Hevron. The Arab bus terminus stood atop the ruins of the Habad quarter of Hevron, vandalised and taken over by the local population following the 1929 massacre of 67 Hevron Jews and the subsequent expulsion of the remaining Jewish population by His Majesty's Mandatory Government "for their own safety". The taxi stand was across the road, in the shade of the cemetery wall, the rears of the cabs parked perpendicularly to the curb.

We determine the next taxi to Yerushalayim. Only the driver and one passenger, seated beside him. We hop into the back row of seats. After about fifteen minutes, the taxi, with is manifest of two Jews and six Moslems inches out of its berth, its stinky diesel engine roaring, spewing black smoke onto the uncaring cemetery residents.

A mere forty minutes and we arrive at the entrance to Jerusalem, onto the appropriately named wide avenue of Derech Hevron, The Hebron Way. The cab is headed to Sha'ar Sh'chem, the Damascus Gate of the Old City. We indicate to the driver that we will alight adjacent to the railway station (then, and for eighty years before, Jerusalem's only station, a magnificent Turkish building). Suddenly . . . 

 . . . there's a roadblock a kilometre into the city. Back then, before the intifada Arab uprising, there were no permanent checkpoints in any direction coming into Jersualem (other than, believe it not, on the main highway coming up from Tel Aviv. From Hevron, Bethlehem, Ramalah, Jericho, you just drive straight in; please, be my guest -- I have not trusted a Tel Avivite since). But there was always the "risk" of a random roadblock. And here we were, being stopped by our brother soldiers. They simply waved Jews cars on. But we weren't a Jewish vehicle. Instead of the identifying yellow Israeli plates, our car bore blue Jordanian plates (for the past nine years issued by the Israeli Military Government) with a green appendage bearing the letter "heth" for Hevron.

"Everyone exit the vehicle please [our soldiers are so polite] and present your i.d. cards for inspection." The Arabs dutifully step out, holding their orange covered identification papers, the colour indicating that they live in the liberated territories, rather than the blue covered cards of the Jewish population, also carried by liberated Arab non-citizens residing in the Holy City.

Satisfied by their six orange cards, the soldiers allowed the Arabs to return to their seats, one by one. "What about you two?" We didn't have any i.d., no passport, no credit card, no drivers license, no nothin'.

"Well I'm sorry, you may not enter Yerushalayim". He indicates to the driver that he may continue his journey as the final "permited" passenger was climbing back into his seat. "What, the soldiers won't allow to continue your journey?" They were actually genuinely upset for us. "We're Jewish! We learn in the Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba!" It fell on deaf ears. "We're Jewish!", we scream, "you can't stop us from entering Jerusalem." Really?

In desperation, Danny lifts up his shirt and starts waving around his tzitzith. "We're Jewish! Look!! Tzitzith"

I'm not sure why, but that was the clincher. "OK, get back in the cab -- but don't ever, ever come back to Yerushalayim without identification papers."


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