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Terror At The Tunnels

Terror At The Tunnels

An American-born Torah scholar takes a wrong turn, and is nearly lynched to death by a Palestinian mob. His wife tells about it.

by Miriam Brovender

We live in Jerusalem but my husband, Rabbi Chaim Brovender, is dean of Yeshivat Givat Hamivtar in Efrat. To get home every day, he drives through the tunnels that lead from the Etzion Bloc into the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.

One afternoon, my husband called on his cell phone to say that the tunnels were closed because Palestinians was shooting there. He's telling me that he's following a convoy of private cars that have made a detour. It was already dark, but he could see that these other cars had Israeli license plates, so he followed them.

In the middle of talking to him I heard him go -- "Aagh" -- and then the line went dead. At that moment I started re-calling the cell phone, but I just kept getting a busy signal. I didn't suspect anything wrong because people often go behind a mountain or something and the cellular service is interrupted.

Anyway, I kept getting a busy signal, and then after 20 minutes an Arab answered. I started yelling into the phone, "Mi zeh -- who is this?" And he just said, "Wrong number," and hung up.

Well, at that moment, you could imagine, my fear was indescribable. When I think of the lynching in Ramallah, my heart pours out to the wife who called the cell phone and the Arab said: "We just murdered your husband."

My mind raced. If my husband was in an Arab village someplace, how would we ever find him? I called the army dispatch in Efrat and asked if they knew of anyone who'd taken a detour. He took whatever information I had, and told me, "Don't worry. We'll be in touch with you."

The dispatcher then called my husband's cell phone, and the Arab answered immediately. The dispatcher asked him: "Where is the owner of the vehicle?" And the Arab replied: "He's dead." I only found out about this conversation many hours later...

Anyway, during all this, I was home with my daughters who were hysterical. What did we do? We started to cry out to the Almighty to save my husband. To be very close to God you just have to cry out. There is nothing else to do but cry out.

And the words of the Torah jumped out at me: Banim atem la'Shem Elokechem -- we are the Almighty's children and He's not going to forsake us. He's going to protect us. And I kept saying that over and over again. I just kept saying it over and over and over.

During all this, we didn't eat. We just prayed. Every time the phone rang we jumped to pick it up. Three hours after this started the phone rang and it was my husband's voice. I said, "Chaim, how are you?" And he said, "I'm alive in Bethlehem." Then he hung up.

I later found out that when I lost contact with him on the cell phone, that the cars he’d been following -- though they had Israeli license plates -- they were Israeli Arabs. Before he knew it, he was in the Arab village of Beit Jallah, and Palestinian policemen were banging on his windshield with their guns, forcing him to get out. He would have turned around but there was no way.

The uniformed Palestinian police pulled him out of his car and threw him against the side of a building. They spoke no English or Hebrew. Then they must have made a cellular call, because within two minutes a lynch mob of about 30 people came.

They started to lynch, pounding and kicking him with their army boots. My husband said it was like a scene from the Holocaust. He thought they were going to finish him off.

After five minutes of vicious beating, they backed off and he realized they weren't going to kill him. The Palestinian police (who had stayed to watch the beating) pushed him into a van and drove around 10 minutes to a compound in Bethlehem. Apparently they had decided to let him go, and wanted a doctor clean him up a bit.

Then, while my husband was waiting to get into the doctors office, another mob beat him up. Another five minutes of near-fatal blows.

He got into the doctor. He wasn't a pretty sight to see. He was bleeding from all over. The doctor wiped him off a bit and said, "You see, we are very civilized. If you had been an Arab, and the mob was Israelis, you’d have been long gone.”

Unbelievable, just unbelievable.

Then they put him into a cell.

An hour later, one of the Palestinian guards was talking to someone dressed as an Israeli soldier. The soldier gave my husband a phone to make a call. That's when he called me for a brief moment to say, "I'm alive." He wasn't sure if it was really an Israeli soldier, or if they had dressed someone up to look that way. That's why he didn't want to talk with me on the phone.

As he was leaving, the Palestinians gave my husband back his briefcase that they'd taken out of the car. My husband has designated a special place in his wallet for a tzedakah (charity) fund that he distributes in memory of an uncle who lost his entire family in the Holocaust, and was himself imprisoned for 15 years in Siberia. There had been 4,000 Shekels (1,000 U.S. dollars) in the wallet, which the Arabs stole, but I really think that my husband was saved in the merit of this tzedakah money.

The Israeli soldier immediately got my husband medical attention. He had a punctured lung and could barely breathe. His face was gray. The doctors did an emergency procedure and miraculously the lung healed within 24 hours.

How did he survive? There's no way to explain it. If you would have seen him when he came into the hospital, you could not imagine that a person could have survived such beatings to tell about it. One look at his battered face and body and people would burst out crying.

We don't know why they stopped the lynch. I feel the Almighty sent angels down with pillows to protect my husband. He has led a yeshiva for close to 30 years, and the Almighty must have drawn on the merit of having helped all those young Jews learn to appreciate their heritage. That, the tzedakah fund, and our prayers. There's no other way to explain it.

The Almighty sent a tremendous salvation for our family. We pray that He speedily send a salvation for all of Israel.

Published: December 31, 1969


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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Aviva Russello, March 6, 2007 12:27 PM

Baseless hatred and/or ancient sibling rivalry from Yishmael and Essav?

I was one of the first women students at Michlelet Bruria and remember Rabbi Chaim Brovender very clearly for his divrai torah. He was one of the most brilliant Torah thinkers that I have ever heard. I was sorrowed to hear of his attack in the year 2000. I would very much like to know, how he can stop, not hate? When I hear things like this,I must actively discipline myself from hating; it is very hard. I have lost friends in similar situations in Israel. My heart is in a constant battle which is about forgiveness, peace seeking and yet the very reality that Amalek will never give up, just as a leopard can never change its spots nor an Ethiopian the colour of their skin.

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