When I first started on the road to observant Judaism, one of my main motivators was the concept of Ahavat Yisrael. Love of a fellow Jew. I was so impressed with the way my Chabad rabbi spread his love and joy to the people around him, I felt like I had to be a part of it.

So, when I arrived for my second visit to Beit Hashalom, the disputed house in Hebron, I was surprised to immediately feel what seemed like Ahavat Yisrael. I expected to see the same frustrated, upset faces from my first visit. Instead, there were looks of hope and happiness surrounding me. The settlers were full of a vibrant energy, as if they could accomplish anything.

As soon as I arrived, I heard the sound of someone playing the guitar. As I searched it out, I came upon a group of four settlers sitting down and singing together inside of the house. Hanging out as if it were a normal day, they played different Jewish songs about peace and togetherness. About Ahavat Yisrael. It reminded me of a spontaneous jam session when I was in college.

As time passed, more and more settlers streamed into the room and danced and sang together. Within moments, it turned from a small jam session into a full dance party. People brought out more instruments, danced in circles, and sang songs out to the world. Soon, everyone streamed outside, and the party truly exploded.

Love was in the air.

The next day was no different. It started with the entire group settlers praying together in the study hall they had constructed in the house. Even a soldier came in and prayed with them. Seeing them all praying together in their tefillin was a powerful reminder of the power of prayer and its ability to connect Jews together.

As the day progressed, the settlers came outside and spent the day playing soccer and relaxing. What was really fascinating to me was how everyone there got into the spirit. The journalists would kick the ball back to the settlers if the ball ever came to them. The mood was infectious.

I spent the rest of the day talking to and interviewing some of the leaders of the Beit Hashalom community. They talked proudly of their accomplishments, and gave clear, concise responses to every question. It soon became obvious as journalists and photographers surrounded the house that the leaders had now become quite proficient at being interviewed. They were veterans.

It seemed like any other day in Israel, except with a few more journalists around. The feeling of Ahavat Yisrael was in the air. Everything was cool.

Until we started to hear screaming.

It Begins

After my first visit to Beit Hashalom, the sound of people screaming there didn't bother me as much. Usually it just meant that some people were arguing with a soldier.

It was only when I saw someone running past me that I started to get worried. It wasn't the fact that he was running that worried me, it was his face. He looked like he was running for his life.

Before I had a moment to react, two vans screeched to a halt in front of the house, followed by dozens of soldiers. The soldiers, in less than a few seconds, formed into a line and linked arms. Immediately following them came a large group of riot police, dressed in blue armor and holding huge shields. If any settler, such as the boys who had been playing basketball and soccer, happened to be unlucky enough to be in their way, they were shoved violently into the group of soldiers and then shoved again outside of the linked group soldiers so that they could not interfere with the evacuation.

Because everyone was so surprised by the evacuation, most people were easily taken from the building. The first people to emerge from the house were two girls, both crying and holding each other. At first, it seemed like most people would leave like they were. Upset, but hopeless.

But as more people filed out, more and more began to resist. Eventually, it was clear that this would not be a simple evacuation.

I remember reading after I returned home that the evacuation was "swift" and "relatively painless." The truth is, the police and soldiers were able to remove most of the people quickly, but that was when the difficulty truly began.

As the young settlers were taken away from the home and set outside the "arena of operations," they began to notice that there were still people that had managed to barricade themselves in the house. The families. As soon as the settlers saw this, and saw the riot police sawing through the door, protecting themselves with their shields like Romans, they fought – from behind the police – with renewed energy and anger.

Every few minutes, a settler would begin counting down.

"Sheva! Shesh! Chamesh! Arbah! Shalosh! Shtayim! ECHAD!" ("Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! ONE!")

On "echad" the settlers all ran at once into the riot police. With wild abandon, they ran straight into the shields, straight into the batons that the police struck at them. As the settlers kept pressing forward, a policeman would sometimes lose control of himself and start hitting someone particularly hard and begin yelling at him. Person after person was either arrested or beaten.

As the beatings continued, something like a chant seemed to happen. Every time a soldier attacked a settler, settlers would all come to help the person and scream, "Al tigah boh/bah!" ("Don't touch him/her!")

As I watched this all in shock, trying to take as many pictures as I could, I suddenly felt myself being grabbed and thrown to the ground. A policeman looked at me and yelled, "Get out of here! Go away!"

I screamed back that I was working. But the very thing that let me come close to the settlers was what made the police attack me. They thought I was a settler. And so, I began to accept that I would be treated like one.

It was around this time that I saw the girls suddenly start crying. Their faces went from defiant and full of force to red and puffy. Then I felt myself crying, as if something had gotten into my eyes. And then it started to hurt. That's when I realized the soldiers had shot tear gas somewhere. Journalists and settlers ran. Some settlers passed out onions to combat the tear gas and kept fighting.

As I tried to take more pictures, a soldier came up to me and began yelling. He pushed me with all his force and screamed at me to get further away from the house. As I moved away, I spotted a boy, fifteen or sixteen, laying on the ground, his hand covering the side of his head. A friend of his lay over him whispering to him. As I came closer, I saw the boy raise his hand for a moment for a moment, and noticed blood. Some people and I screamed for an ambulance for him.

A paramedic came up to him. Someone asked how he was.

"It doesn't look good."

On the street below me, I saw one girl, clearly one of the main instigators, screaming at a soldier.

"How can you do this to Jews?!"

The soldier pushed her. She kept repeating her screams.

As I took more and more pictures of settlers resisting, being dragged, beaten, and yelled at by the soldiers, a soldier came up to me and started yelling at me. Every time I stopped to take a picture, every time I stood still this process repeated.

At one point, a soldier threw a flash grenade at me. It hit me on the leg and bounced a foot away. I and the settlers around me ran. I jumped as I heard a huge explosion behind me.

I joined a crowd of settlers who had been rounded up by the soldiers, and finally thought I was safe. We were probably the only group standing peacefully.

At that moment, I suddenly heard a soldier scream at the whole group, telling us to move back. He and another soldier took out their wooden batons and started pushing us further away from Beit Hashalom. I tried to move, but since I was at the front of the group, I couldn't move forward without hurting someone else. So, the soldiers started hitting me and the other people at the front with their batons. The group ran.

As we stood on the road, waiting to see what would happen, about a dozen soldiers came and linked arms together, blocking the entire road off, so that no one could get back to Beit Hashalom. Settlers that had been resisting the soldiers at Beit Hashalom were dragged and thrown in with us. It soon became clear that the soldiers intended to keep us here as prisoners. Instead of bars, we were kept hostage by other Jews.

At first, the spirit of the settlers was high. They fought over and over to get through the chain of soldiers. Again and again someone would begin a countdown to rush the soldiers.

"Shalosh! Shtayim! ECHAD!"

Every time, the soldiers held their ground. And every time, someone was injured. Person after person fell to ground. Medic after medic came to help them. Some people were hit with batons, their arms broken, some fell to the ground, hitting their heads. Some fell to the ground and cried after a flash grenade exploded by them.

Yells of "Al tigah boh!" rained down throughout the day.

With each rush at the soldiers, the soldiers pushed us further and further down the road. As I moved down away from the soldiers' batons, I heard a crack, like I had heard earlier. Confused, I looked around.

And then I heard someone yell, "The Arabs! They are throwing rocks!"

Looking up, I saw Palestinians standing on their roofs looking down at us.

A soldier ran up and threw a flash grenade on the roof.

As time passed, the Palestinians would again come out and throw more rocks at us. With each push by the soldiers, we came closer to the rocks.

A thought flashed through my mind "This is a war".

This thought made me suddenly wake up. I was so busy recording everything, that I hadn't taken a moment to really take everything in. I started to notice little details I had missed from earlier. I saw girls all around me, sitting on the side crying. I saw a soldier all the way on the side of the other soldiers, holding back tears as he talked to a settler. I saw a soldier that looked as if he had just turned eighteen, no taller than five feet, linked with the others. I heard settler after settler ask the same question I had heard before.

"How can you do this to Jews?!"

Some soldiers were clearly very disturbed by the question and reacted angrily.

"We're more Jewish than you will ever be!"

"You're pathetic."

"Shut up."

Some soldiers just stood there and tried not to cry.

More soldiers came and put a stop to the rock throwing.

But this did not stop the settlers. They rushed the soldiers over and over again.

Flash grenade explosions, yells of "Al tigah boh!", and soldiers screaming back at the settlers became routine. Every time a settler was taken away by an ambulance, more were brought from Beit Hashalom. Eventually, I no longer jumped when a grenade exploded near me. I no longer reacted when rocks fell from the sky. The only thing that still brought tears to my eyes was when I saw person after person get injured.

Finally, hours later, as less and less people were being brought over to our group, and more and more people were injured, people began to lose energy. And the ones that hadn't lost energy realized that it was hopeless to fight the soldiers, so they ran the opposite way. For some reason, the soldiers hadn't blocked the settlers from escaping into Arab-populated Hebron.

I began to wonder how long the soldiers planned to keep us here. My friend and I asked around, trying to figure out how we could leave Hebron. The only option, apparently, was to go through Hebron.

We sat and waited. As our nerves cooled a bit, no longer feeling in survival mode, my friend and I sat together and comforted each other. We hugged, happy to have someone near us to give us comfort. It was probably the only time since the evacuation that I had felt any sort of love from anybody.

What ever happened to the love?

At a certain point we noticed that the soldiers were letting civilian cars through, and realized that if we could get a ride, the soldiers might let us leave. This seemed to be the only other choice we had, other than being arrested, injured or walking through Hebron.

Luckily, many Jews were leaving the area because of the chaos, so we were easily able to find a ride out of Hebron.

When we finally left the town, I felt my entire body shake. A day's worth of chaotic tension slowly left my body. I tried to hold back tears.

For the last year and a half, since I had begun becoming observant in Judaism, I had always felt as if Jews inherently had a connection to each other. Would inherently treat each other with dignity. Would be able to see the humanity within each other. To see that they were brothers.

On December fourth, the seventh of Kislev, that vision disappeared. I saw Jews beating each other, yelling at each other. I saw Jews telling each other that they weren't Jews.

At a certain point, my camera had run out of memory, so I had to go through my old photos and delete them. Every time that I had to do this, I would look at my old life. I would see moments of when I visited home, of my parents, of my old girlfriend. Pictures of when my fellow students and I went on a Shabbaton to Santa Barbara. Of Jews dancing and smiling together.

And with every picture of a Jew beating another Jew or a Jew yelling at another Jew, I deleted them. It seemed that my old life, my old way of looking at humanity, and at Jews, was disappearing before my eyes.

Before taking the bus back to Jerusalem from Kiryat Arba, my friend and I stopped at a sandwich shop to eat something. We were starving.

As we ate our sandwiches at a shop that was close to the border of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, we began to realize that most of the people around us had been at Beit Hashalom. Either settlers or soldiers.

Settlers and soldiers. Eating together. Talking together. Smiling together. The same exact people who had just yelled at each other, hit each other, fought with each other.

I still don't quite know what to make of that. Most of the settlers seemed so calm after something so intense. As if this was day to day life.

I guess that's what it has become. I guess that's why the soldiers and settlers in Israel are able to take this chaos with such stride. Just as flash grenades, stones and bullets no longer scared me as time passed, the people of Israel, unfortunately, see chaos and anger as a normal part of daily life.

But, on some level, no matter how extreme their feelings, many seem to acknowledge that, in the end, we are all connected. Our fates are intertwined. Just like our souls.

Yesterday, I saw people acting uglier than I've ever seen. I will never forget the children crying, the people injured on the ground. The chaos that spilled into the city.

But I will also never forget that last hour in Kiryat Arba. The tiny, pathetically small sliver of Ahavat Yisrael that still hung on by a thread.

It is up to us to pull on that thread. To pull it and realize that beyond it is the infinite love that we are unaware of. It is up to us to us to not allow the darkness of the last week to overshadow the reality behind it all. We are Jews. We share the same soul.

We are one.