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The Arabs declared war against the new State of Israel in 1947. Transjordan captured Samaria and Judea and a piece of Jerusalem. She renamed them the West Bank. Some of the natives, those that were Jews, were either killed outright or expelled. Egypt took over the Gaza Strip.
In 1967, the neighboring Arab countries again tried to kill Israel off. Israel took the Old City of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Sinai peninsula, Samaria, Judea and Gaza. She declared the reunited Jerusalem the capital of Israel. She annexed the Golan Heights and gave the Sinai up as part of the peace treaty with Egypt. She occupied Samaria, Judea and Gaza, hoping to barter them for a genuine peace with the Arab countries. It didn't happen.
Israelis with devotion to Torah and Jewish history -- known to the world as religious fanatics -- began resettling the land. Others came because housing was attractive and affordable. With admirable but unpraised scruples, not one of these settlements displaced an Arab village.
The Israeli government, whether Labor or Likud, didn't much care that when Abraham came into the Land of Israel, he came to Shechem-Elon Moreh; that Abraham and Sarah are buried in Hebron and David was crowned there, making Hebron the first capital of the Jewish Kingdom; that Joshua brought the Ark of the Covenant to Shilo, where it remained for 369 years; that Gaza is the land apportioned to the tribe of Judah. But it did recognize that the Jews in the area could act as an early-warning system, should their friendly Arab neighbors attack again. So it began an ambivalent relationship with the settlers, sometimes encouraging them, sometimes actively trying to kick them out.
The resident Arabs started calling themselves Palestinian Arabs, and more recently, Palestinians. Israel took care of their medical and job needs. The UN educated many of them. Local mini-despots governed them in almost independent fiefdoms, both in and out of the refugee camps. Conditions were good enough to attract immigrants from neighboring Arab countries. In 1993, Israel imported Arafat from Tunisia to run the territory and act as "peace partner," figuring he was experienced enough a thug to control the others.
Arab countries realized the Palestinians could be used for more than winning world sympathy as refugees. The Palestinians became an instant people, portrayed as trying to regain their ancient land. Focus on the Israeli occupation warded off having to make peace with Israel.
The argument over the settlements continues. The Palestinian Arabs, supported by the UN and the European Union (EU), call for an end to the settlements. The Israeli Jews, as usual, are divided. As are high officials in the US government.
I submit that the future of the settlements is a non-issue.
In all the arguments pro and con, there is only one fact that counts: the Arabs have made it clear that they are out to destroy Israel, not to gain control of a small state. So say their leaders. And their followers agree. They are, by a large majority, for the Oslo War. Arab mothers are proud of their suicide-bomber children. Four-year old children are taught to hate Jews. As they grow, their ambition is to destroy Jews. These aren't just mouthings. Hate and blood lust have become part of the Palestinian Arab psyche.
This makes arguments for or against Jewish settlements irrelevent. It doesn't matter whether you think Israel should give up the settlements or keep them as is or expand them. What matters is that the Arabs want to kill off Israel. Bribes and talk and reason and threats won't change their minds.
What does this mean for Israel? It means that, unless Israel revises its current react-minimally-and-reluctantly and hope-for-the-best policy, unless she takes control of her destiny instead of trying to please the world, it doesn't matter whether Israel retains the settlements or not. She will have neither the peace she longs for or the security she needs.
While arguments about the Jewish settlements are meaningless for the future of the Israeli state, the settlers themselves are not.
I have recently returned from a tour of Jewish settlements in Samaria, Judea, East Jerusalem and Gaza, conducted by Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI). Throughout the land, I felt we were in the midst of new life. The settlers, re-settlers actually, are brave, gutsy and full of life. They don't cower. They live. They laugh. They educate their children. They suffer horribly from Arab attacks. They grieve when a terrorist succeeds. They comfort each other. They beautify their homes, even when the home is an isolated caravan surrounded by hostile Arabs. They are truly the new Israel. It's Zionism all over again, except that this time it's Jewish Zionism, not Communism or Socialism, that is the inspiration.
Monday, October 28, 2002.
We arrived in Israel early in the morning, soggy with sleep. We climb aboard our bullet-proof bus and start on our mission immediately. We hope to give aid and comfort in small ways to the settlers in Yesha -- the Jewish communities in Samaria, Judea and Gaza are collectively know as Yesha. Samaria is the land north of Jerusalem; Judea is the land south of Jerusalem and the Gaza strip is on the Mediterranian. We drove through Tel Aviv next to the new railroad track, past construction of new office buildings, looking down on dusty cars and small unwashed vans -- the rain is coming late this year. On the way to Netanya and the Park Hotel, we pick up our guide, Ira, a transplant from Brooklyn. He is passionate about the Shomron (Samaria) and proud of each new building, each new olive tree. He walks tall and carries a rifle casually. It swings at his side.
The Park Hotel is on a long street of pretty buildings. It has palm trees and a view of the Mediterranian. It suffered a devastating terrorist bombing last Pesach, while some 200 people were holding a seder. 29 were killed and 130 were injured.
Eric Cohen, the manager, described the scene for us, while standing in the hall where it happened. Around him, workmen were snaking electrical cables and plastering walls and running drills. He has marked off the site, memorialized it with a plaque and poster and has a gripping tale to tell. Perhaps it was instinctive with him, but this is how rememberance is given form and becomes history.
We left and drove east along Israel's latest bad idea: the start of an electronic fence that is to separate Israel proper from the Arabs. In the guise of defense, it will cut Yesha off from the rest of Israel. It's funny (and I don't mean amusing) that the Israeli Leftists have become the new Kahaneites, wanting a defined separation between Jews and Arabs. Of course, the fence isn't for defense at all. It is intended by these folk as a de facto boundary between Israel and some forthcoming Palestinian Arab state.
We head for Samaria. Some 10 miles past Netanya, we passed by the Arab town of Tul Karem, a large town with large and beautiful houses. On the left is Taiybe, another Arab town. Both have sheltered terrorists. The murderer responsible for the Netanya Passover massacre came from Tul Karem.
We come to a checkpoint, manned by soldiers with rifles and sandbags. A couple of the women run out with cookies for the soldiers. We will repeat this often during the trip at other checkpoints and outposts. One soldier quipped that if he got any more cookies, he'd need a dentist. He grinned as he said it. He was pleased with our offering.
Ira Rapaport, our guide, talks about the olive trees. The latest way to flay Israel is to accuse the Jews of stealing Arab olives and/or, for no reason at all, preventing the poor Arabs from getting to their trees. The same media people that have won sympathy for the Arab ignore how many of the trees weren't Arab to begin with. In Itamar, which was just attacked, Arabs hid in olive groves within the town borders while they cased the town.
When I return home, I read in Arutz-7 that just before we came to Israel, shots were fired at a Jewish town from a group of Arab "olive pickers." And elsewhere two bombs were found near a fence, left there by Arab olive pickers to be used later against Jews. And while we are here, a terrorist disguised as an olive picker shoots a soldier driving by in a jeep. I don't see that stopping their access to groves near Jewish villages or cutting trees that provide cover for deadly attacks is excessive. I suspect we'd be much more harsh, and feel much less guilty, in the States.
As we drive, we begin to see patterns. Where the land hasn't been developed, it is stone and sand and olive tree, and probably looks like Israel did in the 1700's and 1800's and up till the time the Jews came in large numbers to reclaim the land. Between the empty spaces are settlements. If it has large houses, at least one cylindrical spire topping a mosque and very little greenery, it's Arab. If it has lots of greenery and small houses, it's Jewish.
On Route 60, the main North-South route in this part of the world, between Kedumim and Yitzhar, we pass a monument to Gilad Zar, one of the founders of Itamar, who was shot to death here in an Arab ambush in May, 2001. The gunmen shot through the windshield, causing the car to overturn. They then walked over and shot Zar in the head at point blank range and escaped to Nablus (Shechem). All along the road there are monuments to people who have been murdered while traveling on this road.
Another roadblock and checkpoint. Arabs need to dismount, walk a short distance and then take other transportation to Shechem. Israeli Leftists have used the inconvenience they suffer at checkpoints as a major reason for being indignantly pro-Arab.
We stop in Itamar for the funeral of a young soldier, Matan Zagron, aged 22, a re-settler, the son of a prominent family, who yesterday threw himself at a suicide bomber, saving many other lives, but losing his own. The village itself and the roads around it have often been attacked. Cars coming to the town are stopped by a heavy sliding gate; we will see these gates guarding entrances all over Yesha. We watched as thousands streamed down the hill, surrounding an army truck carrying the boy's body. The truck moves so slowly, it seems to be keeping step with the walkers. I see no camera men from CNN or BBC, maybe because a Jewish funeral is boring. No one burns tires. No one wildly waves a flag. No one shakes his fists and yells for revenge. It was just a quiet crowd, soldiers and civilians, some in tears, some praying, some wheeling carriages, some carrying rifles, some talking, all walking solemnly, quietly, slowly down the long hill, accompanying Matan to his final resting place. The picture I missed taking but will never forget was of a soldier sitting on a rock, his gun at his side pointing up, his face lifted up, his eyes looking steadily up to the mountains. Sitting very still. So very still.
We drive to the town of Elon Moreh, which sits near both Mt. Grizim and Mt. Ebal in the Eastern part of Samaria. It was founded in 1975, the first in the Shomrom, as close as the settlers could come to the original site. It is now a town of some 200 families, with schools from preschool on up to the Yeshiva Birkat Yosef, where they educate their children and children from neighboring Itamar, Yitzhar and Bracha.
While we eat lunch, Rav Menachem Felix greets us and points out that you can see most of Israel from Mt Grizim. He reminds us that when Abraham came into the Land of Israel some four thousand years ago, he came to Shechem, to Elon Moreh. This is where he built his first altar. This is where his descendants, we Jews, were promised the Land. Jacob bought land here, and it became his son Joseph's burial place. The Romans renamed the town Neapolis (New Town) and the name degenerated to Nablus, which is what the Arabs call it.
I remember coming to Nablus in 1968, not long after Israel had captured it. We visited Joseph's Tomb. We bought rather smelly sheepskins in the marketplace. We walked around freely. The Oslo War changed all that. The Arabs destroyed the Tomb in 2000, ripping hundreds of prayer books, setting fires and using crowbars to break through the stone dome of the tomb. And the residents of Elon Moreh suffer terribly from attacks coming from Shehem. As I write this account in the middle of November, the terrorists have struck again, throwing explosives at motorists passing by Elon Moreh.
Zev Safer and Pincus Fuchs spoke of the history of Elon Moreh. There are three pieces of land to which we have deeds that are written about in the Torah: Abraham bought the Ma'arat Machepelah (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) in Hebron to bury Sarah, David bought the area of Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) in Jerusalem, and Jacob bought a field here in Shechem (the Tomb of Joseph). "It is these areas the Arabs fight the most to take over. Perhaps," Safer speculated, "because they know these are our roots. After the long journey from Egypt and after crossing the Jordon and coming into Jericho, on the same day, the Jews came here to Mt. Grizim and Mt. Ebal. This is where they became a nation, because this is where they acquired land."
Some years ago, an archeologist, Adam Zertal, saw a pile of stones on Mt. Ebal, and found what he thought was a house, with ashes in the middle. It proved to be an altar, and was dubbed Joshua's altar by its discoverer. Although it is 1000 years older, it is structured exactly like the Second Temple in Jerusalem, as described in the Mishnah, Tractate Middot. Zertal writes: "The altar there is an archetype of all later sacrificial altars, and it furnishes incontrovertible proof of religious and national consolidation at so early an era." (c.f., adam zertal, http://www.shechem.org/machon/engevala.html)
In the middle of the altar, he found a scarab seal that may have been owned by someone who'd left Egypt with it, had it at Mt Sinai, had listened to the giving of the Torah, had come to Shechem and lost it here. (Only five scarabs like this one exist: one is from Egypt, three are from Israel and one is from Cyprus.) It transformed his life; he'd started as a radical secularist from Hashomar Hatzair.
Lunch is a gift from them to us. The gift we give them in return is that we are there. We care. We appreciate what they are doing for all the Jews. It seems so little. It doesn't balance the hostility they face from the Arabs and often from their own Government. But, as in a drought, even a little rain is welcome.
After lunch, we tour the neighborhoods of Elon Moreh by bus, on a road that rises steeply and seems to keep on rising. We stop at a lookout at the top of the hill. In front of us is a stark scene. Some soldiers are sitting around. They look like they were close to bar mitzvah age. There's a box-like structure draped in khaki schmattahs; the wind is blowing and makes the coverings flap to its beat. This is the living room and rec hall. And there's a tent. Hammacher Schlemmer would sneer at its flimsiness. A boy sits on a drinks cooler, cooking. No videos. No laptops. Just rocks and sand and sand-dusted bushes. And a view of Shechem. And the knowledge that if the jolly folk of Shechem can figure how to do it, they'll not leave any of these soldiers alive. We talk a while to the soldiers, and then drive back down again.
The town needs emergency generators, night vision binoculars, bullet-proofing for their vans and bullet-proof vests. They need books for their schoolrooms. They need to equip their Emergency Trauma Center. If you'd like to help, you can send a check to: American Friends of Elon Moreh, Box 5435, Passaic Park, N.J., 07055-5435. It's tax-deductible. In fact, all the towns in Yesha need such equipment. They desperately need armored patrol vehicles, where each one costs $36,000. You can help all the settlements by contributing to the umbrella group of the Yesha communities. Write to: One Israel Fund, 136 East 39th Street, 4th Floor, New York, New York 10016. Or go to their website: http://www.oneisraelfund.org. You can donate directly to their bullet-proof vehicle fund at http://www.oneisraelfund.org/donations/vehicle_fund.php.
Back on the bus, bullet-proof but not bomb-proof, we traveled past one Arab village, then past another. They are built high on the hill and overlook the narrow road we travel. I see no one but I'm not reassured. Shooting at Jews traveling the road is a favorite Arab pastime.
Near a checkpoint, we pass a couple of dozen people, Europeans probably, with backpacks and heavy boots, marching in a ragged line. They are here to help the Arabs gather their crops, the poverty-stricken desperate Arabs who live in the big houses on the hills.
We travel south to Havat Gilad, Gilad Farm, a new settlement set on a steep hilltop some 3 km from Shechem. Chana Goffer speaks for the settlers. She pointed out that Gilad Farm dominates the road terrorists take from Taiybe and Shechem -- where they manufacture and assemble explosives -- to the coastal plain, to get to Netanya and to blow up buses.
In a heavy-handed theatrical show of force staged by Ben-Eliezer, the Defense Minister, some 1700 soldiers and police attacked the Farm a little over a week ago, on a Shabbos, the 19th of October. They destroyed the settlers' property, leaving some ragged tents and large heaps of destroyed clothes, broken furniture, utensils and no longer usable equipment. Plastic white lawn chairs, the kind you buy cheap in the States, are everywhere, some overturned, some arranged in ordinary-looking groupings around plank tables. Army trucks are still here.
The deed to the farm was bought 20 years ago by Moshe Zar, father of Gilad Zar of Itamar, the man who'd been shot while driving on the road between Kedumim and Yitzhar. Zar and Sharon had fought in the 101st Brigade together in the 1950's against Arab terrorists and were friends. Each of Zar's nine children lives somewhere in Yesha. After his son's death, Moshe decided to make this plot on the top of the hill overlooking the spot where the murder took place into a farm and named it after his dead son. His son Itai and Itai's wife Batsie came to farm here, together with some teenagers.
Then, in early October, on the 8th, the farm was scheduled to be dismantled as part of a general plan to dismantle a couple of dozen `illegal' outposts.
On Wednesday, the 16th of October, hearing that the army was to dismantle the farm, some 1000 people showed up. An agreement was reached with the security officials that the Zars could farm the land during the day but would live elsewhere.
So what was the Farm's offense? The sale had long since been sanctioned by Jordan. Zar then needed to transfer the deed to Israel's jurisdiction. But Israel had farbled and procrastinated for years and a final bureaucratic signature was still missing -- as Chana Goffer put it, "Some Bolshevik clerk hadn't signed." It doesn't really matter because Zar has the right, as a private citizen, to farm his land. But there was this technical illegality. It gave Ben-Eliezer the opportunity to bolster his standing as a Labor party dove by destroying an outpost. To really show what a great guy he is, he scheduled the attack on a Sabbath, when it is a firm rule that troops aren't called out on Shabbos, except for a life-saving emergency, which this certainly was not.
To cap his performance, Ben-Eliezer didn't stop at calling the settlers rebellious, he made them responsible for the Government's inadequate defense against Arab terrorists. On Monday, Oct 21, there was a bomb attack on a bus near Pardess Hanna, in which 14 people were burned to death and 65 were seriously injured. As the Jerusalem Post reported on October 22nd:
"... unnamed officials close to Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) partially blamed the settlers at Gilad Farm for the terrorist attack. `If the soldiers are not busy removing outposts, they can be used to defend the country,' one official said. 'The IDF (the Israeli Army) should be dealing with the crucial task of protecting the state and not wasting forces on marginal tasks it is forced into, like the outposts.'"
On October 19th, soldiers arrived at the Farm while it was still Shabbos. They came without weapons, but were prepared to demolish the settlement. Responding to rumors that the soldiers were coming back, the settlers and some friends had stayed over Shabbos. They were joined by some 600 or more people, even though roadblocks forced some of them to walk a considerable distance.
Throughout the night, the soldiers worked at dismantling the farm. As described in a News By Teens account (www.newsbyteens.com/articles/view.asp?ArticleID=244)
"Often one of the residents would stop and embrace his or her friend that was on the other side. The friendship between the soldiers and the residents was apparent in other ways as well...they even were sharing water... An overall sense of being used was in the air, the soldiers who had been forced into desecrating Shabbos and the residents who had been granted permission to farm Havat Gilad."
Then the police came and subdued the crowd aggressively. Moshe Zar, who is around 70 years old, was beaten unconscious. Kids who fought back were poked in the eye and choked until they fainted. You can see pictures of the police being attacked on any TV channel. You can see pictures of how the police handled these children and teenagers on www.israel.destiny.co.il.
When the settlers talked about this to us, the adults seem uneasy about the kids fighting the police. They are indignant that the Government broke its promise that they could farm during the day, but they believe in the rule of law. They resent that the Government doesn't apply the same rules of law and legality to the Arabs who build in Yesha and in the rest of Israel without permit and without reprimand. Zar himself owns a piece of land on which the Arabs have built illegally and the police ignore his requests to get them out.
So now Ben-Eliezer has destroyed a synagogue and a caravan and shacks and personal property, reneged on a compromise whereby the farmers would farm in the day and leave at night, caused the IDF to desecrate the Sabbath, a very serious matter for those in the Army who are observant, destroyed the unquestioning confidence of the troops in orders issued by their commanders, manhandled children and slandered Yesha. That should gain him a considerable number of Arab votes in the upcoming election. (For a brilliant analysis of Gilad Farm in the context of the Oslo Agreements, read Caroline Glick's Tale of Two Realities, reprinted from the Jerusalem Post in this issue.)
By Sunday, the soldiers had completed their job and demolished the buildings. Hundreds of teenagers stayed the night. The IDF sealed the roads to prevent others from joining them. On Monday, the settlers partly resurrected the synagogue and started setting up the tents and pup tents we see scattered over the site. In the corner, some horses graze.
We meet the criminals: the son of the owner and his wife and their two children, one a baby, the other not yet 3 years old. I doubt that the combined ages of the family come to much more than 40. They live in a tent, very open. The weather has gotten chilly and I wonder what they'll do as winter comes. They have no possessions. They have no refrigerator to store food, no furniture. The army destroyed almost everything.
A friend from another settlement has brought her children and is visiting. The grownups smile and chat with us. The children have no toys but they aren't bored. They run around, they play with the dog, they jump on and off our bus. They are having a wonderful time exploring. Surprisingly, there is an army tank on the hilltop. If they are here to guard the settlers, they will leave soon. They guard only during the daytime.
Sunset comes, beautifully streaky. Lights come on from Shalhavet, an output of the nearby Jewish village of Yitzhar. We bid the Zars and the teenagers goodbye, leaving them to face the cold, the night and their bestial Arab neighbors, with two barking dogs, a couple of rifles, a small generator and their courage for protection.
A few hours after we left, the Army again forced the people off the farm.
On to Immanuel, where an articulate, attractive lady in her 40's, Meryl Dalvin, tells us about the village. She's the prototypic fanatic: an educated immigrant from Brooklyn, the mother of 11. Beaming, she tells us her daughter had a daughter early this morning, making her a grandmother for the seventh time. Immanuel is considered an ultra-orthodox settlement, composed of the religious, all shades of the religious: Sephardim, Bratslever, Chabadniks. "And," she smiles, "18 different synagogues."
The neighboring villages were settled by people imbued by the need to keep our Jewish roots safe from the Arabs, who -- as at the Temple Mount and Joseph's Tomb and the ancient synagogue at Jericho -- destroy any stone or artifact that speaks of a Jewish connection to the land. Itamar and Elon Moreh are growing. But in Immanuel, now some 20 years old, most people came for economic reasons. And many have left. They are 400 families, some 2500 people, down from 700 families 4 years ago. They don't have the idealism that inspires Itamar, where women wear guns and are activists. Some here believe prayer is sufficient. Others still believe in diplomacy.
They have had two bus massacres in the last seven months. One bus was bullet-proof. They Arabs shot and disabled it. People on the bus called for help for about 20 min. No one came. So the Arabs stood on the roof of the bus, broke the windows and shot down at babies, at grandmothers, at pregnant women, at young boys, picking them off, one by one. They listened to the screams and prayers of the Jews and kept on killing. Anyone who stood up to shoot back was killed. Only those shielded by other people lived.
She points out that, in what has become a typical Israeli bus bombing, the victims come from all over the country, even the world. Here, those slaughtered were all from the same small village, so everyone in the village was affected. They all lost parents, children, school mates, neighbors. And they have the injured and the maimed to take care of.
Finally we reach Ariel, which has a lovely hotel, Hotel Eshel Hashomron, with a well-designed dining room and a large swiming pool, and, of course, beautiful flowers. Gilad Farm is the beginning from which towns such as Ariel grow. All it takes is back-breaking work, determination and a little luck fending off Arabs and often their own government.
We were at Ariel in the early 90's, when it was already a bustling community, but now it has grown to some 20,000 people. Some 20 miles east of Tel Aviv, it was from the beginning a secular community, but inspired by the knowledge that if Ariel weren't where it is, the Arabs wouldn't need long-range weapons to shell Tel Aviv. Just yesterday a suicide bombing at the local gas station killed three soldiers and wounded twenty. The terrorist came from neighboring Shechem. One of the soldiers was Matan Zagrom, whose funeral procession we witnessed this afternoon. The owner of the hotel, Menahem, was one of those injured and has just undergone a prolonged operation. The Government had recently eased security measures in the neighboring Arab towns, and, of course, such an action is almost always followed by another bombing or shooting.
We met with Ron Nachman, the mayor, and Dinah Shalit, his assistant. Dinah's hair has turned blond, Ron has gained a bit of weight. But otherwise, they haven't changed. He feels the Oslo Agreement was a disaster for Israel and said so from the beginning. He has noticed that each successful suicide bombing is repeated. Hadera. Hadera. Apula. Apula. Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv. So after the hotel, which is close to the gas station, was invaded some months ago, he begged for funds to put a fence around the area, including the gas station that was struck yesterday, where Matan Zagron lost his life. "Arabs understand one language. If you're strong, they respect you. If you're weak, they spit on you, they kill you. But on TV, they keep saying Islam is a peace seeker." He shakes his head in disbelief.
I fell asleep instantly, but I woke at three, thinking about all we'd already seen: the Park Hotel, Gilad Zar's memorial, the Itamar funeral, Gilad Farm. And this was just the first day of the trip.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002.
Early morning we're at the Barkun Industrial Park near Ariel, first the winery, with giant tanks and fragrant smells that aren't really welcome so early in the day, and then the TipTop toy factory, where we buy buckets of construction thingees. Ed Zaltsberg gave us the tour of the winery. At the toy factory, they let us loose at the open boxes of toy pieces. These are more flexible than legos and have lots of connecting slots. Virginia makes a tractor, Jerry a camera, Gene a sort of a truck, Margo a futuristic 4-wheeler, Charlotte, uh, an abstract.
We are back on the road, route 60, the north south road. It will be another intense day talking to moshav peoples and kibbutzniks and people living in caravans, all of whom have suffered tragedy.
We pass the spot near Alei Zahav where Rabbi Shapira from Peduel was murdered. Ira, our guide, recites Tehillim haDerach (prayers for the traveler).
We are soon at Peduel, which sits on a hill, across the valley from the Arab town of Dir Ballut. We are at the Eretz Hatzvi Hesder Yeshiva. Through the fence that surrounds the Yeshiva, we can see the entire coastal plain -- some 12-15 miles away. Were these normal circumstances, this would be a suburb of Tel Aviv. We listen to Jonathan ben David, a chazan, an engineer, an American, who has made aliyah. "Sharon," he says, "a younger and slimmer Sharon -- before his body was snatched -- understood the strategic importance of these settlements. They defended this hill from the terrorists, who were then called 'fedaheen'."
They'd had an Palestinian Arab caretaker from a neighboring village. He worked at the Yeshiva, his children went to university. Arabs like him were overwhelmed by the Palestinians that came from Tunisia to be Israel's peace partners. The newly-arrived group demanded information from him so they could attack Peduel. As usual, the NY Times shook the wrong end of the stick: they felt it was awful that the villagers weren't allowed to pick their olives because of the curfew. "[He] is sitting in a prison. His family is living in terrible poverty. Friendships with Jews have been crushed. When we wanted to help his family, his wife said it causes them trouble." The NY Times writer was beautifully handled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and he didn't have a clue to what was really going on: middle-class Arabs have been terrorized; their town's basic infrastructure has been destroyed; and the PA is more interested in killing than farming.
Inside the Yeshiva, in a large sunny room, young boys are studying. Religious boys can study in what's called a mechina for 1.5 years and then go into the Army for 3 years. The alternative, the one this Yeshiva offers, is hesder, a 5 year program, where boys study for 1.5 years, go into the army for 1.5 years, then study here again for 2 years. Hesder has the advantage that the older students are role models for the younger ones.
Rabbi Elitzur Lilenthal sits in a wheelchair. His legs are stretched out in front of him, pinned in metal cages.
He was in the car with Rabbi Elimelech Shapira, director of the Yeshiva, last July 25th, on their way to a study group, when they were ambushed by Arabs from a nearby village. It was 3:30 in the morning. He had been asleep and woke up to gun shots. Rabbi Shapira was already dead. "God put my hand on the steering wheel and Rabbi Shapira's foot on the gas pedal and that's how we kept the car going for a couple of miles till we got to the main road."
We're stopped at another roadblock just outside of Peduel. Cement blocks painted in green and white triangles look like nursery school blocks, only bigger. The soldiers and sandbags are regulation size.
We pass a group of Arabs picking olives and stop to talk. The father holds his daughter. At first I think it's dirt, but it's a fanciful grid decoration across both her cheeks from her nose to her ears. Another child has a brownish streak down one side of his face that looks like a birthmark of some sort. The man's wife is in the group that has spread a canvas under a tree and they shake the olives loose. Others are clipping branches. Ira asks in Hebrew how many liters of oil they get from a tree. We find out later that Ira is interested because his town plants olive trees.
Rocks, rocks and more rocks. And sand. We pass an Arab village. Ira is on about olive trees again: the Arabs don't water them so the crop is smaller. We drive south, along the narrow road.
We stop at another roadside memorial, this one to Lt. Yair Nebenzahl, from the nearby town of Neve Tzuf, who was killed here in May 2001 at the age of 22 in a roadside ambush. I've just looked up his picture on the Gamla website (http://www.gamla.org.il/english/memorial/eindex5.htm). He was a good-looking boy, with a happy smile. The stone reads: "The land should not cover the blood of its people."
We are traveling south in the Shilo area, still on Rte 60. We pass caravans, then army trucks, then some box houses. The road climbs. An empty vehicle is parked on the side of the road. Our driver stops and checks it. We are driving through Maccabee country. We go past an Arab town. Judging from the large houses and terrace after terrace of olive trees, this is a well-to-do town. Ira says there was a girl's seminary here when Israel came back in 1967. "The thought was that if we educated the Arabs, they'd love us. The Seminary became Birzeit University, to which over the years Israel contributed a hundred million shekels."
I know Birzeit University only because it's associated with one of my favorite quotes. A couple of years ago, Edward Said was indignant about a speech given there by a French politician, "On his visit to Birzeit University, Lionel Jospin had the gall to speak of the Hizbullah fighters as terrorists, ..."
We stop at an ancient lookout -- a milnunah -- said to be some 2800 years old and dating from the First Temple period. It sits high up on the hill. Most of the group climbs up for the view. The rest of us, including the bus driver, wait by the bus. A truckload of soldiers on road patrol pass by and ask, 'beseder?' We tell them everything is fine, but they check the bus and examine the shrubbery on both sides of the road anyways. Then they wait with us, chatting with the bus driver, until the others come back. They tell the driver it's spread overnight that a Jewish group came and actually stayed overnight. Christian groups come and stay. Jews come for the day and head back to Jerusalem.
We are half way between Shilo and Ofra, near the part of the road where so many Jews have been murdered. On the left, we see a stone, a memorial to Sarah Leisha, a favorite sports teacher at the local girls' school, who, together with two soldiers, was killed at this spot just about two years ago. There is a moving account of this "incident" by a mother, whose daughter was one of Sarah's student, in http://www.aish.com/Israel/articles/Shilo_A_Mothers_Diary.asp
Lunch is in Ofra, at a girl's Ulpana, where one of the building is decorated with Chagall-like dancing figures. The snack bar, decorated with 1940's coca cola ads, checkered vinyl table clothes and an open fuse box on the wall, serves felafel and fries. We backtrack towards Shilo. Had Arafat deigned to take Barak's offer a couple of years back, there'd be no way to get from Ofra to the nearby settlements of Shilo, Eli and Ma'aleh Levonah without going through Arab control. But Oslo's Peace is dead, at least until the UN and/or EU and/or USA try to put it back on artificial respiration, and we drive around freely.
Back on the road we pause at a bus stop where teenagers are waiting for a bus, just outside a place with a high fence. It had been an old British post, and, more recently, Israeli soldiers were killed there by snipers using high-powered rifles from Syria. Two soldier were shot immediately. Then the commander came out and was shot. They couldn't tell where the shooting was coming from because of the echo. The head of security from Shilo was the first one to arrive. He was shot through his trachea, but lived. He even got his voice back.
We pass the Arab town where Sirhan Sirhan who assassinated Bobby Kennedy was born.
On the outskirts of Shilo, the bus climbs the narrow road up a steep hill. We eventually see a farm with horses in the corral. This is the road to Givat Adai Ad, which is incorporated as part of the village of Shilo. We are in the middle of rock-strewn nowhere, with the Samarian Desert, touted as the smallest desert in the world, as faraway backdrop.
It is an amazing thing to see a single, isolated house, or a couple of caravans -- sometimes a single caravan -- settled into a rocky area among unstable neighbors. These Jewish pioneers come with their kids and some farming equipment and little else. They are isolated from friends and creature comforts. They are surrounded by nutters who spend their time and energy polishing techniques to kill Jews. Their Government flapdoodles: one minute the settlements protect the roads from Arab terrorists, the next they are an encumberance to peace. They are the nucleus of a village that will contribute strength and self-respect to Israel, and they know it.
We stop at a family farm in Gevat Adai Ad. It's like the small farms I'd see in New England as a child, where people coaxed a bunch of different foodstuffs from a small patch of rocky soil. A woman is standing in the doorway talking on her mobile. She's with three kids and lots of farmyard animals. We obviously haven't alarmed her. She keeps talking but smiles when David hands her a bag full of goodies for her children. The oldest, a 6-7 year old girl, stares at us and holds onto her mother's skirt, until her mother gives her the job of putting down a plate of food for the chickens. She carries the plate very carefully. We chat while her younger brothers toddle around among the tall plants, munching candy, and the chickens and a cat feed from the plate of food.
Back home while writing this account, I came across a wonderful article entitled We are the Emissaries of the People of Israel, except the People of Israel Don't Realize it by Nadav Haetzni, a reporter for Maariv. It appeared August 7, 1998. It talks about a visit he made to Itamar and Yitzhar and Bracha, where he met the same kind of people we've seen here yesterday and today. They struggle to survive and are determined to flourish. Talking about the second generation of settlers, he says:
"To a great extent, this wild, agricultural type of settlement is a certain adaptation by the younger generation of the rules of the game as played by the Arabs, one closely connected to the struggle over land. The way in which they settle on the hills of Yitzhar and Itamar doesn't require big budgets or a lot of people. All you need to do is what the Arabs do -- put up two shacks, graze a flock of sheep, and plant trees. This is how borders are established and it provides a new challenge in the competition over land. Contrary to the public image, they're not involved here with revenge and redemption of blood, but with redemption of land."
You can read his article in full on the Women in Green website: http://www.womeningreen.org/judea/jm64.htm or at http://www.shechem.org/itamar/ehist.html.
Back on the road, still on Rte 60, we come to Shilo. Shilo has new housing and new plantings and it has old archeological finds at Tel Shilo. Its new synagogue, designed to resemble the Tabernacle, uses stone outside, wood inside. The Yeshiva at the top of a hill is an odd-looking building, with multiple small domes; it's nicknamed the Taj Mahal. We drive around some of the older neighborhoods. The houses are individual, the views are fabulous. We stop at Ira's house. We see the new vineyards up towards the top of the mountain. We pass baby olive trees, each supported by a wooden pole. At the bottom of the hill the olive trees are protected by individual oil cans. The road climbs past some box houses, where some newcomers are living. The village of Eli is now in sight. Eli has some 500 families, and, like ancient Rome, is stretched across a row of hills. We pass by the Jewish village of Ma'aleh Levonah. It is very near the Arab village that sits on the site where Judah HaMaccabee fought his first battle against the Greeks.
We stop next to an empty house a couple of feet from the road. There's been 20 different shootings from here. Terrorists killed a mother and father driving by. Soldiers arrived before they killed their babies in the back seat. The community has asked that the house be demolished but nothing has been done.
We are nearing the village of Rechalim, which was started to memorialize Rachel Druck. In 1991, 3 buses left Shilo going to Tel Aviv to protest the Madrid convention. The second bus was ambushed and two people, Rachel Druck of Shilo, a mother of 7, and Yitzchak Rofeh, the bus driver and father of 4, were murdered. Neighboring settlers brought in two caravans. Women from the area chained themselves to the caravans to prevent them from being carted away. Rechalim now stands where their murder took place. Early living conditions were hard. Families with small children lived in tents covered with wood. Additional cabins were built.
The entrance to Rechalim has cement blocks that force entering vehicles to do S-shaped curves. It slows us down, as they intended. There is also a guard with a rifle.
After 10 years, Rechalim's 25 families now have both caravans and red-roofed permanent homes. Children play on very nice playground equipment. This could be a playground in the States, except that even the young girls wear dresses. Nearby, soldiers, some of whom are in civies, are pushing a basketball. We give the children some of the construction thingees we'd bought in the Barkan toy factory. The soldiers get cookies. They are polite about it.
We pass one of the original housing units -- a very ugly structure. And the watch tower still stands. Early on, the soldiers were as hostile to the civilians as they are now at Gilad Farm. Then the settlers decided they had to reach out to the soldiers. Over the years, the soldiers has become an integral part of the community. They davven together on Shabbos. They celebrate the holidays together. We drive past the kindergarden, a perfectly ordinary building, except that it is surrounded by concrete slab fencing. The village fears the long-range snipers from the nearby Arab town of Yotama.
AFSI has been coming back here year after year, and has seen this settlement grow. Bruce talks with affection of the early days, when the AFSI group had to walk through shoe-ruining mud and the houses were shanties at best. They very much need a bullet-proof van, an agricultural tractor, a minizoo for the kids, a mikvah. If you'd like to help, send an email to email@example.com.
We are coming to the Tapuach junction, where the road intersects the east west road. It's after four. The sun is starting to set by the time we reach Kfar Tapuach.
Baruch Marzel -- a large man with giant enthusiasm and a great love of Israel, an activist from and for the Jews of Hebron -- joined us in Shilo and has come with us to Kfar Tapuach. He's the guy to see for a Sabbath meal when you visit Hebron. We congregate around him in front of a large cage which holds the attack dog that is the settlement's latest aid against terrorists. The dog's handler and an 'infiltrator' wearing arm protectors demonstrate how the dog grabs and holds on. "A larger settlements like Itamar needs many dogs, not just one, to patrol the border, and dogs cost. A lot," Baruch says. Standing near us is one of the settlers, one hand holds his cell phone, the other holds his small daughter's hand. She pays no attention to the dog or to us strangers. She is watching the large noisy crane in the background, busy depositing top soil next to a tree. We learn that some dogs are attack dogs, while other dogs are sniffers; they can smell an Arab. The handler thinks it's because the Arabs eat different foods and sweat differently. Every house now has a dog.
A few days after I come home, I learn that Baruch Marzel has been arrested and accused of rioting when Gilad Farm was forcibly evacuated. He has been banned from returning to his home in Hebron for six months. If you'd like to contribute to his defense, contact Ken Heller by email at KJHNHA@aol.com.
Back to Ariel for an enthusiastic talk by Prof. Israel Hanukoglu, the head of the College of Samaria and Judea, which is situated in Ariel. Dr Hanukoglu, a molecular biologist, is delighted with the College's growth. It has grown from 300 students to over 6000, despite -- he is now angry -- the Government's long-term freeze on building.
It reminded me that when we were here in the early 90's, the Government wouldn't let Ariel complete some half-built houses. If that wasn't enough, the Arabs blocked them from expanding out by planting a few olive trees on land owned by Ariel. The UN people, using an old Turkish law, would then keep busy driving around to make sure the Jews didn't uproot the stripling trees. Going to the Golan the same trip, we saw more UN'ers, all of them partisans of the Arabs. I think that if Sharon allows UN inspectors in, it will be a clear sign he has Alzheimer's disease.
Vice-President Zilla Sinuany-Stern, a mathematician, tells us it is now the biggest college (not university) in Israel. She gives us the breakdown of how many students are in what programs. There are joint programs with yeshivot in neighboring communities. There's a new program in meditronics -- a combination of electronics, chemical engineering, computers and medicine. And they are starting some innovative research projects. I am surprised at the range. I had expected them to focus on the Associate of Arts degree. The room we are in should have warned me. The furniture is low-grade utilitarian. The large-sized prints are copies of serious paintings.
Moshe Feiglin has come to the Ariel hotel to talk to us. He is a factor in the coming elections because he controls a small but solidly united block in Likud's Central Committee. He feels the central conflict for the Jews is their collective identity, not the external dangers. The majority wants a Jewish state. The minority, some 4-6% of the population, a strong minority with much power -- it controls the media, the justice system and the military -- wants to erase Jewish identity in Israel. He says Labor and Likud basically both want a non-Jewish secular state, a state of Jews, not a Jewish state. In 1996, Peres said `Peace and Security', Netanyahu said `Security and Peace'. Sharon said `only Sharon will bring peace'. No one has said to Israel: "You are Jews. Let's fight for your identity."
"Our real enemy is ourselves. The problem we have outside is a reflection of a disease we have inside. When we solve the problem of what is the basic identity of this State, then we'll be able to build our relations with our neighbors."
Ken says "I don't see the strength of Begin and the once-upon-a-time Sharon anymore. When they -- Netanyahu, Sharon -- get into power, they compromise and the State is hurt."
Feiglin's response surprises me. He doesn't think it's a personality problem that makes them compromise. "It's easy to be a general when someone like Menachem Begin is above you to take responsibility. When you get to the top, you feel small compared to America. You never see yourself smaller than when you become a prime minister."
He is a thoughtful man. He believes we have to live by Jewish norms and perceptions. "Once we incorporate the Jewish way, our other problems can be handled because we will have our ballast, our own way of looking at things." His ideas seem simple, but not simplistic. It is as if he's gone past adding epicycles to a non-working theory that the sun goes around the earth and has come to the simple idea that the earth travels around the sun. I have no idea whether his ideas will work but, when he enunciates them, they have the simplicity of the right answer, the exact solution. He has the air of having evolved his ideas after much thought and after rejecting many possibilities.
He doesn't believe in a religious theocracy. He advocates a parliament based on Jewish law. He sees Judaism as something much more than 'religion'. "Christianity is a religion. Mohammadinism is a religion. Judaism is wider than that. The problem is that running a state isn't dealt with in the Yeshivas. When I'm asked, I say: what is the halacha on driving on a red light? Does it have to be red? Will another color do? A Jewish state will combine Torah with reality." I begin to get a glimmer of what he means. If a Torah-based parliament is to do the right thing, then the individual members must have incorporated a Jewish way of looking at the world -- which is what he said at the beginning of his talk.
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
News of our arrival in the Shomron has spread. People, we are told, gain strength just knowing we are here. We raised morale just by coming here. I feel like a World War 2 singer entertaining the troops. They carry the burden, we flit in and out. We hand out cookies at check points. We hug people. We listen to them. We smile at the children. We feel despair, as we did yesterday, when we learned that soon after we left on Monday, the Army again invaded Gilad Farm and demolished the tents and evacuated the Jews. What a government! They bully the Jews and make nice to the Arabs. But this morning was a high. Gilad Farm was again occupied. The tents were raised. And this evening, Sharon is shorn of his Labor party cabinet members, Peres and Ben-Eliezer. This is good news, but will it really change anything?
Some of the group have obviously made this trip several times over. For others, like me, this is the first time we've gone on an AFSI trip to Israel. Yet the group has quickly bonded. One of us is a guy with a trimmed white beard, his tzitzis dangling over his dungarees. We chatted at breakfast time. He said he'd been a construction worker in Saudia Arabia. I was surprised. I didn't think they let Jews into Saudi Arabia. 'Well,' he drawled, 'I didn't know I was Jewish at the time.' He discovered he was a few years ago when his uncle traced the family's geneology. It led him to a formal conversion, just to be sure. He met his wife at Torah class. She had also slowly found her way to orthodoxy.
Today we are travelling from Jerusalem north to Safad. We come eventually to the east side of the Shomron Mountains, where we can look down on the Jordan Valley and again see the Samarian Desert, which stays sand, even when the surrounding land is green. We wait while an Arab and his flock of sheep go across the road. Around here, the Arabs' flocks have destroyed Jewish fields with impunity.
We come to Moshav Mechora, a village of 30-35 families, which has mostly first generation settlers that have come from all over. The three speakers -- it's apparently a very Left-wing group -- affected all of us. We all talked about it later. The first speaker and translator is a good-looking man, late 20's, early 30's, quiet, poised, serious. Speaking of the terrorist attack, he says, "I believe most of the Arabs have nothing to do with terrorism, but there's always some religious radicals who stir them up."
The black-haired women, Iris Yihye, talked of her daughter, Yafir Herentein, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the settlement, leaving two very small children and a husband, who is still in the hospital recovering from his wounds, months later. The Arabs came from a village some ten miles from here. One cut the security fence and broke into the house and opened fire. The Fatah al-Aqsa Brigade has claimed responsibility. Iris has slowly become more right-wing.
The man who translates for her is a centrist, who would give up the settlement for peace, even though he doubts there will be peace. He has gone no further in his thinking than that.
Charlotte asks him a loaded question: "Don't you think that Meretz and Labor are responsible for all the killing that's going on by trying to appease the Arabs?" He says, "The reality is that they have so many poor people, they have nothing to do. If they had jobs, they wouldn't kill." Charlotte snaps back, "That's not why they're killing Jews all over the country. They want to destroy the country. And the Leftists want to give it to them."
The second woman, a redhead, is in Meretz, which is far Left. Under the two-state plan, this moshav would be on the wrong side of the boundary. She believes in the two-state solution. She's willing to give up her home and a 25-year investment in the moshav, for some kind of peace.
I ask the man why they didn't kick out the Arabs who prey on them and keep the land. He answered that they -- the USA and European Union -- wouldn't permit it. He could be right. On the other hand, some Israelis seem to use the USA as the Ukranians do their Communist government -- as an excuse for inactivity. The government is always to blame, no matter what happens, and the people can do nothing. In Uman in the Ukraine, I heard a flat tire and a faulty generator blamed on the Communists. Here, the moshavniks can't act in their own interest, because America won't let them. It's out of their hands, so why try.
Cognitive dissonance theory says that when reality and personal philosophy clash, people are driven to reexamine their assumptions. I'm beginning to wonder if it's all that good an explanation. These folks believe strongly in the goodness of all people. Their Arab neighbors are (literally) gunning for them and will not be dissuaded. This hasn't caused them to rethink their beliefs.
On a more practical level, the Moshav knows it needs defenses. It needs night vision binoculars. You can contribute to this moshav or to other Israeli groups by sending a tax-deductible donation to PEF Israel Endowment Funds, 317 Madison Avenue, Suite 607, New York, NY 10017. The organization was started in Palestine before there was a State of Israel. You can designate that your money go to a specific group; 100% of your money will go there. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are at the Hemdat Yehuda mechina. Matan Zagron, the man killed at Ariel, whose funeral we attended two days ago, studied here. The mechina overlooks the Jordan River valley. We are standing outside, at the edge of the slope, looking across the river to the Jordanian side of the Valley. Here the river has become a stream. The Jordanian side is wider and fertile. It is a quilt of rectangles in different colors, each a rich agricultural plot. Ira says the land on our side is in general more fertile. "Their side is better for raising sheep and goats. We give them water as part of the Oslo giveaway. And there," he points, "is the Yarmuk River, where Yaacov and Esau met up with each other."
Hemdat is one place that the Government is encouraging a Jewish presence. In the valley across the river in Jordan, Palestinian refugees have a camp and the use of very fertile land. The chumminess between the refugees in Jordan and the Arabs in Jenin on this side of the river is a real problem for Israel. Hemdat is strategically placed in that it sits between the two groups.
Inside the Mechina, we are grateful for the cold drinks and cookies. The students, we are told, have formal lesson in Torah, but the Yeshiva doesn't emphasize formal secular studies. The point is to prepare them for army life. And that's what they do. Students keep up the place themselves; they do guard duty; they practice with weapons; they even cook -- under supervision. They are in a new place, with different people, different views. They are here to become more mature, to strengthen their personalities.
Still traveling north, we pass Beit Shean, with its Roman amphitheatre, where gladiators fought. We see the crusader fortress at Belvoir. We stop at a banana grove. Ira has a wonderful story of why the fishponds in Israel are in trouble. It's the birds. A very large number of birds migrating to and from Europe and Asia fly over Israel..... Laughing, we fill in the blanks. At the Southern tip of the Kinneret, we pass hothouses and wild pink and lavender flowering bushes.
Safad is one of the four holy cities as well as being a center for artists and art galleries. Some of us go to see the Ari synagogue, others to the street of the art galleries. Both areas are depressed and depressing. Safad was always jammed with tourists. Not today. Tourists aren't coming. It isn't safe. I doubt that papering things over and starting another peace process would help. It wouldn't last long.
The long-awaited rain came pouring down, just about the time we got back to Jerusalem.
Thursday October 31, 2002.
Thursday is sunny again. We drive down Rambam Street, past the Variety Center, to a Costco-style warehouse, where Yossi Kaufman tells us about Yad Eliezer, a charity that packages monthly food staples for 6000 Jewish families every month around the country. It is an unfortunate fact that one out of every 5 Israelis Jews live below the poverty line, and that includes a half million children. Considering the Israeli economy, things can only get worse. They provide Simalac for infants. They have volunteers at the Hadassah hospital working with the cancer patients. They pay for weddings. They sponsor career training from hair dressing to computer programming. And they encourage kids to donate their bar and bas mitzvah money. It was started by a 12 year old. Her party money supported 650 families in Jerusalem for a month.
We packed well over 100 boxes of food staples and were rewarded by coffee, danish and a sense of having done some tangible good. It's interesting how quickly we rediscovered assembly line techniques: some of the men walked cases of single items by us and we packers grabbed the correct number of cartons and cans. In our part of the lineup, we quickly rearranged our boxes: one woman pushed her 4 boxes out slightly from the reference line, the next pushed her 4 boxes in, to quickly differentiate whose were whose.
You can help feed poor Jewish children all over Israel by sending money in the USA to American Friends of Yad Eliezer, 1102 East 26th St., Brooklyn, NY 11210 or in Israel to Yad Eliezer, P.O. Box 41175, Jerusalem. You can also make a donation directly from their website: http://www.yadeliezer.com.
From Yad Eliezer, we went on to the Old City, entering through the Zion gate. We walked the streets of the Cardo. As in Safad, many of the stores were closed. I took pictures of a group of soldiers, boys and girls, carrying their heavy duffle bags. We stood for a moment on the steps to the Kotel, just looking at the people praying. Across from us in the distance sits the ancient cemetery of the Mount of Olives.
For some obscure reason, the Ministry of Tourism has sent a camera man and his assistant to tag along with us for the afternoon. They are there as we try to push our way up the stairs to the Temple Mount. The young soldiers pushed us back. They are doing their thing. We are doing ours. Bruce reads tehillim while the soldiers watch. The soldiers got tired of this and started to push. I was closest to the soldiers. Suddenly, I was seriously angry and indignantly told them to show respect. I tried hard not to add to their vocabulary of idiomatic English but I was furious that they let Arabs up to our Temple Mount, but won't allow Jews. One nice thing: Helen got one of the soldiers to take an AFSI button.
The camera man photographed our mild and mannerly storming of the steps and followed our group to the Kotel, where they interviewed several of the women while the men davvened. Helen Freedman, Executive Director of AFSI, talked a bit about our itinerary. She said what we all felt:
"We are filled with pride and joy that we are able to be here to celebrate this remarkable place. We pray the Israeli Government will have the good sense to keep this land for the Jewish people and prevent it from becoming just a place among the nations."As we walk out to the bus, I notice they've closed the gate. Now no one could go up this way to the Temple Mount. I'm still stewing; the Mount should be as free for all visitors as is the Kotel. We drive to East Jerusalem.
Once upon a time, Jews lived everywhere in Jerusalem. In 1948, when Jordan conquered East Jerusalem, she cleaned out the Jews, destroyed the yeshivot and synagogues, and got rid of Jewish artifacts. I have a picture I took in 1968 that shows Jewish gravestones that had been used to pave the path to the latrine. It is sick humor that the Arabs claim Yesha and East Jerusalem in large part because they are in the majority there. It is the Orphan's Defense. You know the one. The boy kills his mother and father and then asks for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan. Jordan kicked out all the Jews from East Jerusalem and Samaria and Judea in 1948. And now the Arabs claim these areas because there were no Jews there when Israel conquered it in 1967.
Unfortunately, when Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, the government did little to restore Jewish property. They allowed Arabs to continue to squat in Jewish-owned houses. They turned a blind eye to illegal Arab expansion.
East Jerusalem today is the site of a quiet war between the Jews and the Arabs. Jews are trying to reclaim land that is historically theirs -- biblical Jerusalem -- and to take back property that belonged to Jews. They want to change the demographics, to increase the number of Jews living there, to again give a Jewish character to biblical Jerusalem. Publically, the Arabs protest they are only trying to maintain their static neighborhoods. Privately, they have a sophisticated operation going on. They buy land, especially in places where they can prevent Jewish neighborhoods from expanding. Using Saudi and Jordanian money they buy land and they build, legally or illegally. They bring in people from outside Israel to live here; in just one year, in 1996, some 50,000 Arabs came to visit and never left. (c.f., Christian Action for Israel, Jan 1998.) They encourage Arab squatters to continue living in Jewish property, while paying no taxes. Just outside the city limits, they are encircling Jerusalem so that Jewish Jerusalem can't expand. They want to connect Arab neighborhoods north to south from Ramallah to Bethlehem. They yell `unfair' whenever a Jew moves into the Eastern part of Jerusalem.
The Jews want to enter Arab enclaves in the Old City and expand Jewish neighborhoods. The Arabs want to link up Arab neighborhoods and to expand Arab holdings.
We can argue that all of Jerusalem is Jewish by history, by right of conquest, even by right of return. But what it really amounts to is commitment. Successive Israeli governments have talked a good line about a United Jerusalem but have avoided regaining their historic property in order to avoid world condemnation, knowing that the media and the UN reflexively side with the Arabs. As a result, the Eastern part of Jerusalem is as much in need of reclamation as Yesha. And as much under Arab siege.
The bus took us from the Kotel to East Jerusalem, to the Mount of Olives, to the Beit Orot Hesder Yeshiva. The Mount of Olives is where King David would go to meditate. The Mount of Olives was the first place they lit a bonfire to spread the word that a new month was beginning. Today, there are 300,000 Jews on the Mount, but, as Chaim Silberstein, Director of the Beit Orot Yeshiva, says wryly, "they are all dead." There are only 150 live Jews here -- those in the Yeshiva.
We are sitting in their large backyard, taking turns to give blood. We sit under a frame of metal ribs that once supported a canvas canopy, when the backyard served as a social hall for weddings and bar mitzvahs. "The Meretz people in City Hall sued us and we were forced to take down our tent. Instead of putting their energies into evacuating illegal homes and buildings, our tent had to be broken down. In Jewish Jerusalem, if you try to built a balcony that isn't exactly to code, it's destroyed or you're fined."
He isn't exaggerating. The mayor of Jerusalem said much the same -- infringements in the Jewish areas are small-scale, "as opposed to building whole houses on land slated for public use or in green areas." (Jerusalem Post, Feb 2, 2002). As of a year ago, the then minister for Jerusalem affairs said some 20,000 building violations in Arab East Jerusalem have been recorded by the municipality since 1967. And around 2/3 of all their construction has been done without a permit, which they can obtain more easily than Jews can. In 1998, an aerial survey estimated 19,000 illegally-built new homes were ready to house some 100,000 occupants (Christian Action for Israel, January, 1998). And in January 2002, Natan Sharansky said that in recent years Arabs have illegally built at least 40,000 homes in Jerusalem, many of which are empty. City Hall has dealt with about 1% of this illegal housing. Camera (Fall, 1995) cited the then Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem:
"Meron Benvenisti wrote of `unprecedented building activity' by the Arabs in their drive to lay claim to the land. Thus, occasional demolishing of non-permit structures is, contrary to media photographs and hyperbole, a relative rarity, and has not deterred the striking advance of Arab building."
It would seem the only group of people the government can bully without repercussions are the Jewish settlers in Yesha and East Jerusalem. So they do. It's very reminiscent of what we saw at Gilad Farm.
Silberstein is part of a group that buys property to house Jews in East Jerusalem. In many cases, they have bought property that really belonged to Jews, where Arabs have been squatting for years. They have also started suing in the courts to kick out the squatters. But this has to be done building by building, a very slow process. Too slow, I should think, to counter all the illegal building the Arabs have been doing -- systematically accumulating property in particular places to make 'facts on the ground' to back up their assertion that Jerusalem is the capital of a Palestinian state.
At one point I asked why the government didn't institute a differential tax structure in favor of the Jews. He looked at me like I was crazy. "The Justice system is Leftist. The Left would yell."
We went to inspect a new apartment house being build in Ras-al-Amud. Our guide is Aryeh King of Ateret Cohanim's Jerusalem Reclamation Project, which focuses on expanding Jewish presence in the Kotel Quarter (the Muslim and Christian Quarters) of the Old City. It has sixty Jewish families already living in the Muslim Quarters. We climb six flights, muttering words of caution to each other in the dark -- the elevators aren't in yet. The view from the roof is spectacular.
In 1995, the Yossi Beilin-Abu Mazen plan proposed a road that would enable Arabs in East Jerusalem to come to the Mosque without passing through any Jewish neighborhood; indeed, Arabs could come from Saudi Arabia and Iran without going through Jewish neighborhoods. Ateret Cohanim had put up apartment houses and bought property to block such a road. Actually, the road was never built. It was a casualty of Arafat's rejection of Barak's giveaway of most of Yesha.
King tells us that in one house they bought, they found the floor was made of tombstones from Jewish graves. There were two families living there, who swore they'd been there forever. I take a picture of the large, multi-winged house owned by Arafat's cousins, illegally built of course, but no bureaucrat will raise the issue. Ateret Cohanim has three buildings finished and seven underway. This doesn't seem much, considering that the Arabs are building illegally all over. He points to Abu Dis and el-Azaria, which are outside of Jerusalem. Among all the low buildings, there's a twelve story building, from whose roof you can see (and shoot) all over Jerusalem.
Do the Arabs view this simply as an ethnic takeover of the sort we see all the time in cities in the States, one group displacing another? Hardly. They see it as the converse of their own plans. This is a report on Jewish building in Ras Al-Amud dated May, 2000, from the website of the Orient House, which on its front page proclaims itself the National Headquarters of the Palestinian People in Jerusalem.
"Strategically, the new settlement [sic] will aid in preventing Palestinian territorial continuity in Jerusalem. [Notice, the Arabs are working to link their neighborhoods inside and around Jerusalem.] The contiguity between the Ras Al-Amud settlement, the expanded Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, the expanded Jewish Quarter in the Old City and the Israeli settlements in Silwan have formed an inner ring around the Old City, separating Palestinian population areas in the east from other Palestinian communities inside Jerusalem. The Ras Al Amud settlement also lies alongside the main artery used by Palestinians to enter Jerusalem from the east, including access for Palestinians from Abu Dis, Azzeria and Anata."
We're back on the bus, driving through East Jerusalem, headed to the Simon Hatzadik Kollel. We pass houses, many with satellite dishes, then an ugly area of workshops, stores selling building materials and car garages, the Wadi al-Joz section, which, between 1948 and 1967, was 'settled' by Arab refugees from West Jerusalem and rural migrants. Jews no longer come here to shop, so the Arabs are having economic difficulties. We pass property owned by the Israeli government, where all the residents are illegal squatters. It is part of the Shimon Hatzadik Park, which contains the Shrine of Shimon Hatzadik, the High Priest in the time of the Second Temple. Ateret Cohanim wants to clean the park up. The area becomes elegant: we pass several hotels and consulates -- Turkish, British, Swedish, Greek, Swiss. The Mt. Scopus Hotel welcomes you to Palestine on its website. Another, the El-Rashid, was redone for the Pope's visit in 2000. It is partly owned by Hanan Ashrawi's family, who have offered to sell it to Cohanim Ateret for three times what it's worth.
The Tomb and some of the surrounding land were purchased in 1890 by a Sephardic philanthropic association. Forty Jewish families lived here until 1948. They were evicted without compensation and Jordan put in Arab squatters, who are still there. Chaim's group is in the process of redeeming the neighborhood. "You have two ways to get rid of protected tenants: pay them off or sue." His group does both.
They have successfully evicted fifteen families from this neighborhood through the courts. The Arabs had squatters rights, but they are supposed to pay taxes and rent to the real owners, which they usually don't, so there were legal grounds for eviction. These aren't American-style squatters, living in condemned buildings. Here they live in ordinary houses that don't belong to them. In one instance, when the Arabs knew they'd be evicted, they brought in 300 girls from a girls' school and put them in the apartments and invited the media and human rights groups, in the hopes that when the Jewish police came, it would make great publicity: Jewish police harassing and beating up young Arab girls. In an unusual display of smarts, the Jews got an earlier eviction notice, arrived when they weren't expected and had a quiet eviction.
It's getting dark by the time we get to the Shimon Hatzadik Kollel in Abu Dis, which is smack in the middle of lots of Arab houses. As usual, Jordan in 1948 kicked out the Jewish families who lived here, without compensation. Three families of the Kollel are housed in a building previously lived in by a squatter. In this case, they paid him off.
Squatters aren't supposed to renovate the property, but often they do. In another case, in 1998, the Jewish group saw that an Arab squatter had begun illegal reconstruction. He had started breaking down the front carving. It had been a synagogue. Rabbi Ovadiah Yossef had his bar mitzvah here in 1933. Chaim Silberstein jokes, "You can tell it was a synagogue because there's an inscription in the stone above the front door; it's the equivalent of a modern donor plaque." Chaim's group paid him off.
The wife of one of the Kollel students, Tahel Ellinson, comes over, carrying her child. She invites us in. They and their 3 children have 2 bedrooms; this is the 'big apartment' She tells us that they were living in a kibbutz but when this intifada started, they moved here. It was clear she didn't have to do this -- to live in small quarters with few friends, surrounded by Arabs. Her husband's father is a NYC lawyer. She comes from Raanana. She is here because she and her husband felt they wanted to do something more for all the Jews, something important, so, even though they were somewhat scared, they came.
You can support the Jerusalem Reclamation Project by sending donations to American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, 3 West 16th St, NY NY 10011. Donations to Yeshiva Beit Orot to help it reclaim East Jerusalem can be made to American Friends of Beit Orot, 162 Cedar Lane, Teaneck NJ 07666.
In the evening, MK Michael Kleiner of the Herut Party came to the Kings Hotel to talk to us. He makes sense and is eminently quotable. He feels that now is a golden opportunity to reverse the pointless commitments and concessions Israel has been making. "But even with a Right-wing government, the pattern continues. The head of Intelligence told Netanyahu in September 1996 that the killing of 16 IDF soldiers was sufficient reason to abrogate the Oslo Agreements. He didn't and we had the Wye agreement. Sharon, when he came to power, goes to Latrun and says to the Palestinians: The Turks didn't give you a state. The Jordanians didn't give you a state. I, Ariel Sharon, will give you a State."
"If there will be a Palestinian State, there will be no Israel."
"This could be an opportunity to open Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) and destroy illegal Arab settlements and stop the waste of 2-3 billion shekels on the electric fence, which can't prevent missiles. They can tunnel under it or jump over it. 95% of the homicidal attacks are done by terrorists who come in by car through the gates with Israeli plates."
"Today we live quietly in a Jewish state where every Israeli can go to Har haBayit, providing he's a Moslem. If it happened in France, Jews would be demonstrating."
"The main issue now is to win the war against terrorism. We can't win the war by attrition. If we find cells of terror, we shouldn't endanger our soldiers as we did in Jenin; we should send up planes and bomb the terror centers. And if the cells of terror are located among the civilian population, it's their responsibility.... When 100,000 people go to the funeral of a terrorist, are those people innocent, when they identify themselves with his acts?"
Herut is the only party that doesn't accept the white lie that most Israeli Arabs are loyal. "They say it everytime they find a new terrorist cell. 95% of the Israeli Arabs want Israel to disappear. They define themselves as Palestinians."
He thinks encouraging individual Arabs to leave is insufficient if it is proposed only for the Arabs in Samaria and Judea. There's still the demographic problem of the excessively high breeding rates among Israeli Arabs. He suggests giving a basket of emmigration to individual Arabs to leave. "It would go a long way in a low GNP arab country -- they can live as millionaires." His idea is to give them a month to change their minds -- and return the money -- and then out forever. Loyalty should be a condition for citizenship."
"We have to start educating people why a Palestinian state will be a mortal danger for Israel and what the real history is. 120 years ago, we had some 100,000 nomadic tribal Bedouins who wandered here among the swamps and the ruins and the malaria. Only when the Jews came did there start to be a permanent Arab presence here. There was never a Palestinian state. How many times did the Arab League demand a Palestinian state when Jordan held the land?"
Friday November 01, 2002
We tour through the Kotel area with Dan Luria from the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, which is located on HaGai Street in the Old City, just opposite the Temple Mount. The Yeshiva was built in 1886, when it was called Torath Chaim Yeshiva. It was reestablished in 1978 after Jerusalem was reunified. This Yeshiva was the only one out of about 80 synagogues and yeshivot that wasn't destroyed, defaced or defiled by the Jordanians. They didn't know about it. The Arab caretaker had sealed up the entrance and had thus preserved it.
As we saw yesterday, the group is dedicated to their Jerusalem Reclamation Project. They are determined to reestablish a strong Jewish presence throughout the Old City of Jerusalem, the way it was before Jordan took control in 1948. This infuriates the Arabs, who are increasing their holdings in East Jerusalem and are trying to keep it free of Jews, the way it was in the 19 years that Jordan had control.
We returned to the Kings Hotel for a quick lunch and to pack a bag for our trip to Hebron, situated in ancient Judea. As Lew and I walked to Supersol to buy lunch makings and water and snacks, we saw women sitting in the square, wearing black T shirts. I asked a man passing by who they were. "They are Women in Black," he said with approval. "They are against the occupation." "Me too," I said, "I am against the Arabs occupying our land. You know of course there's no such thing as a Palestinian people?" He got visibly angry and said, "You have your history. I have mine." Fancy that. History is deconstructable and relative. Facts don't count. I got a bit of satisfaction giving the women the finger on the way back.
We drive out of Jerusalem, heading south to Hebron. As we drive, we are uneasily aware that the Army evacuated most of Hebron last weekend, despite warnings that Hebron would again become a safe haven for terrorists. Michael Kleiner, who spoke to us last night, bluntly accused Ben-Eliezer, the defense minister, of playing politics. Prophetically, he said: "Each time the IDF leaves Area A (areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority), it costs Israel in blood."
We stop at Kever Rochel (Rachel's Grave) in Bethelem. It looks a lot bigger than when I saw it in 1968, just after the War. Then, it was the Arabs who were afraid. They were afraid the Jews would act like Arabs. Instead, the Jews left the Jewish Holy sites in Arab hands. In Arab-think, that meant the Jews were weak and stupid. In 1968, the Arabs petitioned just to be allowed to go to the Mosques on the Temple Mount. Given control, they now refuse to have Jews there and are busy destroying all archeologically-important artifacts that show Jewish origin. In 1968, Rachel's Tomb didn't need to be guarded. Now, some 35 years later, because Arabs take potshots, the bus is driven to an inside area before it's safe to dismount.
Inside, we see items saved from Joseph's Tomb in Shechem when it was ransacked by the Arabs. They wait here, waiting to be returned home.
And finally we come to Kiryat Arba-Hebron. Kiryat Arba, all Jewish, is really the extension of Hebron, which is almost all Arab, except for a small Jewish enclave. We sleep at Yeshivat Nir in Kiryat Arba, three in a room, dorm style, all male or all female.
There is a long steep slope that starts a couple of blocks from the Yeshiva. It leads from Kiryat Arba down to the Ma'arat HaMachpelah (The Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron. Some of our group walked down there to pray.
Lew and Miriam and I just sat and watched the crowd go down the long hill and turn to the Machpelah. The teenage girls are for the most part slim and stylishly dressed in a very different style than American girls. Dresses are long, A-line skirts, often worn over harem pants or bellbottom pants or petticoats. Shoulders are covered. Materials are often beautiful. The boys wear tzitzis under white shirts, which usually hang out over wash pants or baggy pants. I think I saw maybe three suits the whole time we sat there. 25,000 people came to Hebron today from all over Israel to celebrate the reading of Chaye Sarah, which describes Abraham's purchase in Hebron of a grave site for his wife Sarah and himself (and later for Isaac, Rivka, Jacob and Leah). I don't know where these kids slept or what they ate. Someone said the kids often sleep in the park on such occasions and bring their own food.
When it got dark we went back to the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva has no elevators. We climbed the four flights to the dining room. There's still another couple of flights up to the top floor synagogue. So the boys need no exercise machines to stay fit. Like Lucerne in Switzerland, the area is all hills, steep hills, and you can often come into a building on ground level from one side or come in on a much higher level from another side.
We ate in the communal dining room, at a separate table, but with the Yeshiva boys. The Yeshiva boys seem less lout-like than most teen age boys. I wonder why. I think maybe I've been influenced by guilt -- we have taken their beds -- but Shirley thinks it's because they have more responsibilities than most boys that age. They come together in a circle. I haven't seen such joyous singing and dancing since my daughter got married in what was the first orthodox wedding I'd ever seen. Next door, separated just by glass windows, there is a wedding party having one of their Sheva Bruchah meals.
Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, Rosh Yeshiva, talks. I learn some of his history from the group. He was a paratrooper in the IDF. It says something of the mentality of the Israeli Government, then and now, that when Israel took Judea in 1968, Rabbi Waldman had to enter Hebron by subterfuge. He requested permission to bring his family and come for Pesach. They stayed. The week turned into a month, the month into a year. Kiryat Arba put a fence around itself, and that was a mistake: it can't expand because the Arabs built down to the fence.
The Yeshiva boys, who gave up their rooms for us, bed down on exercise pads in the hall. Actually, the same exercise pads serve as mattresses on our beds. The furniture is sparse, the room is clean, and the linen just ironed. I am so tired I could have slept on the bare floor.
Shabbos. November 2, 2002
I bunk with two women, both of whom have been to Israel with AFSI several times before this. By the time I wake, Margo has gone to davven. I chat with Virginia. She amazes me with her knowledge of Israel. She has been to Israel some forty or more times and has a large number of friends here. Not Jewish, she unselfconsciously participates in all the events. Around my age, she walked down to the Machpeleh Friday night and again later today, which is more than I can do.
They served lunch at 10 in the morning. Then most everyone went down to the Machpelah, where they spent the day, touring Hebron. It is a beautiful day, warm but not hot. The sun is shining and everything is flowering and beautiful. We watch the people parade in their Shabbos clothes. They walk happily across the square going toward the Machpelah or just chatting with friends. When we left Washington, they had just captured the two Beltway snipers that had paralyzed Maryland, DC and Virginia for a couple of weeks. People were apprehensive and made nervous motions as they checked out every place. Here, where the Arabs take potshots daily, people walked as if they didn't have a care in the world. It was Shabbos, Chaye Sarah was the Torah portion, and they were going to davven at Sarah's tomb. Why spoil the joy? Yes, we did hear one burst of gunshot while we sat. But it wasn't close. A couple of soldiers standing across the street didn't move. So we figured it wasn't serious.
If the groupings we saw mean anything, the Sephardim, Ashkenazim and Ethiopean Jews are integrated. The boys and girls walk in separate groups. One bunch of six to eight girls has a dominant white girl, another cluster is obviously led by a black girl, all of them dressed in the same modest style. We noticed around 80 to 100 people who looked oriental but the boys wore tzitzis and yarmulkes. I though maybe they were Thai, but our guide had said the Thai had their own religion and Israel respects it. These are the B'nei Menashe from India and Burma. One boy, around five, wearing kippah and tzitzis, was surrounded by his sisters. He spotted his father in the crowd, and shouted happily, 'Abba, abba,' as he ran to him. They look comfortable but don't yet mingle with everyone else. Give them another couple of years.
We had a wonderful afternoon, just watching the crowds. At dusk, the AFSI group returned. David Wilder, head of the Hebron community, had told them stories of Hebron. One was about a young woman named Sarah Nachshon, who lost her son when he was just a few months old. She said she was going to bury him in the cemetery in Hebron, last used to bury Jews massacred in the 1929 riots. She was refused permission. Can't incite the Arabs, you know. She started walking, holding her child. She kept walking. She stared the soldiers down. Finally, she was stopped by a senior officer. She refused to turn back. She said, 'Abraham buried his wife Sarah here. I, Sarah, will bury my son Abraham here.' The officer called the Prime Minister and said, "If you want to stop her, you come here and stop her." The story spoke to me. From what I've seen, it is authentic. The Jewish settlers are quiet but resolved. They will continue to do what is the right thing to do, whether it suits the Government's mentality or not. And whether the world frowns or not.
Two weeks from now, on Friday, November 15th, there is a massacre of people walking back to Kiryat Arba after prayers, just as they do this evening. 12 are killed, 15 wounded, and hundreds terrified. Only then, too late for the murdered soldiers and civilians, will the Army come back to Hebron.
You can support the Hebron Community by contributing to The Hebron Fund, 1760 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11230, USA (Attn: Judy). In Israel, write to The Jewish Community of Hebron, PO Box 105 Kiryat Arba, 90100, Israel (Attn: David). Or contribute directly using their website: http://www.hebron.org.il/contrib.htm.
We make Havdaleh, and head back to Jerusalem.
This is our only free evening. Most of the group troop to Ben Yehuda Street. Till and Regina and Avi and Lew and I walk to Rosemary's Restaurant. The onion-cheese pie is as good as I remember it. We share a bottle of wine and chat comfortably as if we've known each other forever.
Sunday, November 3 2002.
We left for Gaza at 7:45 in the morning. We couldn't be late because we needed to meet our convoy escort at 10. We are again in a bullet proof bus.
Two hours to Gaza and the biggest surprise of the trip. I had expected bleak and miserable. Gaza is beautiful! Well, it's beautiful in spots. The Arabs have impressively large houses. The Jews have created green havens. I can't remember who it was, some newspaper person, who called Gaza the armpit of the world and felt Israel should be happy giving it up. He should be ashamed of his slander.
There's another tour bus traveling with us. In Gaza, bus convoys with military escort are a very good idea. Both buses stop at Netzarim. Netzarim is a community of some 55 families. Leftists complain that it takes a lot of soldiers to guard it. The settlers answer that before Oslo, they had only two guards per watch. Both are right.
We pass the place where Mohammad al-Dura, the famous child, was killed, supposedly by the IDF, while his father tried to shield him from the Israelis. I'd always thought you shield a child by covering him with your body. But Mohammad's Dad left the child exposed to the Arab shooters. Poor move. Eventually, a German group figured out from geometry and from where everyone was positioned that the bullet must have come from the Arab side.
Netzarim, in the north in Gaza, has suffered terribly from the start of the Oslo War. The Arabs threw bombs and explosives so often, that, for a couple of weeks, the people here couldn't use this road. They had to go out by heliocopter.
Netzarim was established in 1972. It is beautiful. If a community can bustle and be laid back simultaneously, Netzarim has figured out how to do it. We tour the synagogue, red-roofed with a large menorah on its roof. The interior of the synagogue is slowly being built up. They started planning the synagogue eight years ago -- Gush Katif helped design it -- and started the construction five years ago. It's a do-it-yourself but not at all amateurish. They tell us with pride that in the South they don't know how to build like this; it's what you'd expect to see in Jerusalem or Hebron. One man tells us they couldn't get workmen to come to do the roof. So he and another man learned to do it themselves. The people have had to learn to do carpentry and run electric wires and work with aluminum.
Dina, an English-speaking member of the community, brings us to the school. There's a special monument, like a giant dogtag broken in two, in front of the concrete slab wall that guards the school. The children have decorated the slabs with paintings of fish and assorted sea life. The monument is a memorial for Rehavam 'Ghandi' Zeevi, the Minister of Tourism, who was assassinated in a Jerusalem hotel around a year ago. He was a special friend of the settlement.
Rachel Meshulami, the headmistress, was among the first five families to settle here. She lived with her growing family for seven years in a caravan. They call her M16 -- she has sixteen kids. Unbelievable. I've seen women with two kids looking more harried. She doesn't look rushed at all. She is calm and pleasant. When they started the school five years ago, there were twenty-three kids, all from Netzarim and now there's a hundred. After 8th grade, kids go to sleep away schools. Asked why they came to this particular spot, she points out that Netzarim is important because it is near the water and it is close to the city of Aza. It sits between Aza and the local refugee camp.
Ariel Sharon agrees with her. In an interview with Ari Shavit of Ha'aretz last April, he said
"... Netzarim has strategic importance. It was established as part of a conception that a buffer should be created between Khan Yunis and Gaza City and that we should have access from the Green Line to the coast. In the future Netzarim will enable us to ensure that no heavy war equipment is being unloaded at the port of Gaza. After all, it is no coincidence that the port of Gaza is being built next to Netzarim. So Netzarim has tremendous security importance. It is vital."
Avichai Sheli, the winner of the International Bible contest this year is visiting and says hello to us. Auburn-haired and freckle-faced, he's a celebrity, as awesome a personage as a rock star in the States. He smiles and looks down. It is a while before I realize he is blind, and, I find out later, mostly deaf. Wednesday, he goes into the Army, into Intelligence.
The school looks colorful and friendly. But the windows have inch-thick steel shutters, the glass is superstrong. Everything has to be built with one eye on the heavy shooting and bombing from their neighbors. The Arabs have a particular fondness for shooting at the young children. School bus explosions are a specialty. Hitting at children makes human rights groups like Amnesty International very angry. But only when it's an Arab child who has been injured.
They have arts and crafts and computers. We see a class of 8-year olds. Beautiful children. Friendly. Normal looking. I expected them to look visibly freaked out, given the sniper attacks they face on a daily basis. They are just very nice children.
Nearby on the road, we can see the twin towers where the PA police live. They live well.
Yitzchak Vadani of Netzarim tells us the people here know that what they are doing is important. He was shot by terrorists. He was in the hospital for a month. While he was in intensive care, on the first day, a journalist from Kol Israel came and asked him: was it was worth living in Netzarim, considering what he went through? He told the journalist he shouldn't look at Netzarim as a small place. "Behind us is the nation. And behind them is the Diaspora. And in back of that is the history of 4000 years."
One of the soldiers, Leonardo, comes on the bus with us. We ask if the soldiers think it worthwhile defending Netzarim. He says very seriously that he wants us to know that even though it is in so-called PA territory, it is part of Israel. The citizens here has the same right as in Tel Aviv to be secure. There are three groups of soldiers stationed here: those that defend the community, those that defend the road between here and Karnei and those that patrol the road. The hardest thing for them is defending the community because of their Arab neighbors, who are constantly trying to infiltrate. Eight months ago, a terrorist did get in.
We come to the entrance to Gaza, where people can leave their cars and travel in bullet-proof buses into Gaza. Trucks are lined up with goods to and from the PA. Each has to be checked. It takes time. And there are railway cars. Gaza City is in the background.
I realize once again how much Gaza is part of Israel when we see the power lines. The large power station that supplies electricity to Askelon is just 5 km from Gaza; it's less than 1 km from the green line. Evacuating the Jews here from Gaza would just leave Askelon more exposed to Arab terrorism. Our guide jokes about (G)aza: lech l'azazel (go to the devil). Aza isn't in hell, it's here, right here where we are, near the settlements that together are the Northern bloc: Dugit, a fishing village, Nesanit and Elei Sinai.
We pass Merchavim. And there is Ofakim. We pass what I think of as coming-to-the-beach land: sand and scraggly bushes that take whatever nourishment the mostly dry weather provides. They definitely haven't been fed designer water.
We are at Gush Katif, the name given to the group of settlements in the southern Gaza strip. From the road, we see tanks, cars, huts, army trucks. All are exposed to the passing traffic. Some of the soldiers come to chat with the driver. Our local guide will go back to school for his doctorate when he finishes his duty tour here. He points out there has been two historical episodes of sustained assassinations. The original Muslim assassins were stopped when the Mongols came in and stopped the assassinations by killing off all the assassins. And the USA didn't negotiate with the Japanese kamikazes.
I see my first refugee camp ever. It really does look awful, with rows of ratty looking tents, with propane tanks, boxes and unidentifiable heaps in front of them. High sticks, irregularly-placed, seem to mark off empty space. Are they small trees? Do they mark off corrals? There's some permanent buildings here and there. A boy walks confidently down one lane. Bruce exclaims, " Squalor at last!" He's right. Until now, we have only seen Arab villages with nice-looking houses, paved streets and many new-looking cars. "No, no," says our guide. "This is Bedouin. It's not a camp."
The bus keeps moving. On the other side of the road, through some bushy high trees, I can see the Mediterranian. Through the trees we can see a large building in the shape of a Magan David. We see rows of long, narrow hothouses. And in the sand, there are palm trees in different sizes. I assume they've been imported. The place looks so different than what I assume is the natural Gazan look: sand and scruffy bushes. I see buildings and big storage tanks. We are at Neve Dekalim. "The town has everything," says our guide. "Even basketball." It even has the same protective concrete slabs we've seen all over Yesha. The people here live as normally as they can, while the diplomats play their silly games gerrymandering the land between Jew and Arab and recalculating population figures. 'I'll give you this dunam and raise you five.' They ignore the reality that the Arabs don't need land; they need an internal makeover, not a cosmetic one, and a strong kick out of their medieval system of honor killings that feeds their blood lust.
We pause for a moment to see the Cultural Center of Gush Katif. Across from it, a kilometer away, are the houses of Khan Yunis. Snipers shoot from there. They run back there after a successful infiltration. Children riding in buses are in constant danger.
Neve Dekalim has a girl's school for around 250 girls from the Gush Katif area. A lady was introduced as Rochelle Saperstein. It took a while before I figured out she was the Rochelle I'd been reading about in the wonderful stories written by her husband, Moshe Saperstein, and published in the ongoing Jerusalem Diary. In fact, we included one of his recent articles in this issue of Think-Israel.
There's a picture behind her of Miriam Amitai, who was the geography teacher here. She was killed in an explosion on the bus carrying children from Kfar Darom to school.
Rochelle has written a pamphlet, My 15 Steps, to help people cope with a terrorist attack on a family member. When your husband, wife, child, is in the hospital, in rehab, etc, etc, etc. It's the Israeli version of self-help. I doubt it will fly on Ophrah.
The old dorm isn't safe from snipers. Rochelle is urgently trying to raise money for a new dorm that will be safer. I wonder what it's like trying to live normally when nutters are taking potshots at you. Day after day. These girls laugh and they enjoy seeing friendly strangers. I peek into another class. They get excited and wave.
You can reach Rochelle Saperstein for the self-help pamphlets or to contribute to the building of a safer dormatory at email@example.com.
At lunch, Eran Steinberg talks to us about the Jewish attachment to Gaza. "The real answer to terror is not to give up, but to continue to manage our lives, to send our children to school, to maintain our houses and have people like you come."
The synagogue, the building that houses the Yeshiva Yamit, is unique. It is in the shape of a Magen Dovid. It is authentic Israeli. Its concept is soul-satisfying. And it is good to look at. Inside, space is used well -- there's a versatile arrangement of nooks and crannies where people can sit and read the Holy texts. There are ranks of grouped tables and there are study alcoves, seemingly casually scattered. I've gotten used to derivative and glitzy in Israel. This is different. Is this a new phase, where design and architecture come from the Jewish soul? I hope so.
The display in the foyer is a panorama, a 3D memorial to the original Yeshiva that was in Yamit in the Sinai. There's a small model of that Yamit -- its synagogue, its cultural center. On the left side, white plaster people stand on white plaster buildings, whose windows have been broken. They stand in protest at withdrawing from Yamit. One sculpture is a memorial for the soldiers killed in the Sinai campaign. In one scene is a child standing on an irregular slab that looks about to topple. Our guide remembered visiting the Sinai as a child of 5-6 before Begin gave it back to Egypt in 1978 in return for the absence of outright war.
Sand bags safeguard the shul's windows on the outside. The landscaping surrounding the synagogue is beautiful. Back in the bus, we pass small attractive red-roofed houses, nicely landscaped. As in Samaria, the government arbitrarily stopped them from being completed for years. They are now all occupied. We pass the Ashkenazic synagogue on the left and the Sephardic one on the right.
Across the road past a field of sand are the red-domed houses of the Arab village of Khan Yunis, where terrorists come from and run back to. I see cars, radio towers, American-style lamp posts.
We pass the hothouses that belong to Gadid, row after row after row.
In Rafiach Yam, a pretty town right on the Mediterranian, with sloping red roofed houses and caravans, and lots and lots of sandy paths, we walk over to the border of Israel and Egypt. In the nearby Arab town of Rafah, the Arabs have been digging tunnels from Egypt. Bruce quips that if they dug tunnels here, they'd be in a Jewish house. They wouldn't have so far to go to blow themselves up.
It turns out the IDF Bedouin Brigade has a knack for finding the tunnels the Arabs dig to deliver weapons and terrorists from Egypt. The irony of a Bedouin IDF'er is that throughout the Middle Ages and until recently, only the Bedouin was regarded as pure Arab. (See A Fraudulent History Of Palestine in the September-October articles.) A few days after I return home, I read in Arutz Sheva:
"IDF Bedouin tracker Sgt.-Maj. Madin Grifat, 23, who was killed yesterday in a bomb attack near Netzarim, ... was laid to rest this afternoon in his hometown Beit-Zarzir cemetery. He was the 28th soldier from the town to fall in battle. Grifat's unit had been patrolling in the Netzarim area when Arabs detonated a powerful roadside charge that killed him and moderately wounded another soldier. The Islamic Jihad terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the attack. Grifat is survived by his parents and nine siblings. He is the fourth Bedouin tracker from his town to die in 2002."
Now we do see a refugee camp. I don't see tents. It's a village, with small houses that look substantial. I see cars -- a man wearing a kuffiyeh is sitting in one. I see power lines, paved roads, and many, many Israeli-styled hothouses. The camp is in Egypt behind the fence that marks the border.
If you are orthodox, how do you condition your children so they can serve in the army (that's comparatively easy) and not suffer culture shock when encountering secular Jews? That's harder. As we saw in Samaria and in the Jordan Valley and at Neve Dekalim, one way is to train high-school grads in a mechina or a hesder before they enter the army. Right now, we are near the village of Morag. The mechina we are visiting is an unusual one.
Next to the mechina is the SLAV Yishuv (settlement). It looks like a refugee camp, with its small white huts -- shacks really -- and army-style buildings. Only here the roads are unpaved. All of the residents are officers from elite IDF combat units. Itzchak talks to us in Hebrew and Bruce translates. The place had been used as a temporary residence by different settlement groups, but with the support of the mechina at Atzmona, they are building a permanent community here. These officers are the nucleus of the new community. They will use what they learned in the Mechina of living by Torah as they establish their community.
In NYTimes-speak, it's just another manned outpost. But next year there will be a permananent settlement for the graduates of the Mechina. Right now, besides the normal problems of starting a community -- sewage, flies, water, flies, electricity, flies -- there's the security problems. The hothouses on the south and east sides that belong to other communities have many Arab workers. The Government drags its feet about letting the villages import workers from Thailand. So Arabs are still employed, despite the dangers in using them. Some of them have killed Jews. And they continue to kill Jews. This report was in Arutz Sheva on November 10th, the same day it reported the death of the Bedouin tracker.
PLO violence continues in Gaza. Several Arab-launched mortar shells landed in the Gush Katif community of Kfar Darom earlier this morning. No injuries or damage was reported. A number of mortar shells were also fired at Gush Katif communities on Friday night. IDF forces operating near the community of Morag this morning discovered several roadside charges ready for use in attacks on soldiers and civilians. The area was cleared as sappers safely dismantled the devices. Arab gunmen opened fire on IDF troops near the community of Gadid. Soldiers returned fire.
Despite the sustained terrorism, the Yesha communities are gaining people, not losing them -- except by terrorist attacks, attacks the Israeli government continues to tolerate.
On the bus, Ken points out that every place we've been needs our help. I am beginning to think maybe someone should start an Adopt-A-Yesha-Community project, where American groups could adopt Israeli settlements. Any takers?
We drive by another Arab town. Many small houses, many big ones. Someone asks why don't they get rid of the houses the terrorists are using. The policy is that you have to prove that the particular house is a safe house for terrorists. Meanwhile, the terrorists shift from one house to another. The normal response would be to destroy the village, a known danger, in less time than it now takes to get permission to demolish a single house. But that's not how it works. Not in Israel.
We come to Kfar Darom, a settlement built in the area where Abraham and Jacob once lived. The community has 50 families, up from 35 families last year. We met with Rabbi Ofir Cohen and his wife, Noga.
Rabbi Cohen tells us about the village. The original Kfar Darom was established in 1946 by Ben Gurion, as one of the 11 settlements built in the Negev (which is close nearby). In 1948, the 40-50 young settlers of Kfar Darom helped beat back the Egyptian soldiers. During one assault, lacking grenades, they filled their tefillim bags with TNT and threw them at the invaders. They had to leave as part of the peace treaty with Egypt. Ten families came here about thirteen years ago to rebuild Kfar Darom. The area has biblical associations. The Rabbi says: "We believe in what we're doing. We're doing it for the whole nation. So it has another meaning."
Then Mrs Cohen talks to us. She looks like Julia Roberts, if Julia Roberts wore a hat and modest clothes. She is here with two of her children, one in her arms and a little one who runs around. Three of her older children lost limbs when Arabs threw a bomb into their school bus when they were on the way to school, 7:30 in the morning. One lost two legs, the other two children lost half a leg a piece. Every morning they went in the bus. Every morning she was afraid of a bus bombing. She lost two friends from Kfar Darom in the bus bombing. One was a father of six children and the other was Miriam Amitai, the geography teacher, whose picture we saw in Neve Dekalim.
She spoke in a low, sweet voice. She said the children gave them courage to go on. While they were in the hospital in rehab, she asked her children again and again whether they were sure they wanted to return to their home. Would they like to leave and live somewhere else, somewhere safer? The children said they wanted to come back. It can happen anywhere, in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. They said they had small troubles, not like the children who lost parents. "Those children have big troubles." They came back here three months ago. Their mother is bemused, "We don't know how the children can live like that, with boom boom boom every night. It's not normal. But here it is normal. It can happen anytime."
She's asked if she keeps a gun. She says yes, but she doesn't know if it would help if an Arab came. "It is sad that we have to have guns and put plastic on the windows. It's our Land, but we have to be so afraid. We don't understand why the Government doesn't decide to finish the job. We're waiting."
She's asked how the children are reacting now that they are back home. "They are happy to be back with their friends. They have a big emunah. Better than us. They are wonderful. They give us the power and energy, " says their mother. "Sometimes they have dreams. They have dreams," she repeats.
"If you are Jewish and you live in Israel, you have to believe. If you don't believe, why stay? If we weren't here, who knows what will happen [to Israel]. They'll just go closer to Tel Aviv."
It was a moment we all shared with her. We all felt strengthened.
For me, this trip has been like no other trip I have ever taken to Israel. On the way back to Jerusalem, we talk about the trip and what we got out of it. The positive attitude of the settlers is astonishing; it's so much at variance with the timidity and cowardice of the politicians. We know we have to try to undo the distorted history of the Land of Israel that the media promulgate. More than that, we know we have to share with others what we've seen, this new type of Israeli, the settlers of Yesha, that most of the media, including the Israeli media, ignore or demonize. We see the need for physical contact with the settlers. It's not enough to just send money, though that too is needed. Jack saw the soul of the Jew in the kids dancing at Ma'arat Machpelah. Alan talks about the two images that struck him most vividly:
"The mother from Mehora who described the brutal murder of her daughter and was unable to continue. Virginia went over and hugged her. And then Ken. Even if they didn't share our politics. The other image was listening to Mrs Cohen. While she was talking, the baby in her husband's arms gave a big yawn. Despite the horror and the tragedy, the baby did what babies do. She yawned. Life goes on."
In the evening at our farewell dinner, we have guests: family that live in Israel. Tatyana's daughter is here with her two little girls; Alan's nephew has come with us to Hebron; Rifka's niece is here. I'm disappointed that I didn't get to see my cousin Ruthie this trip, but tonight she is attending a memorial service for her Rabbi's son. Israel Medad, Executive Director of Media Watch, reminds us, "the past two years haven't been easy. You've been where Jewish history is being made."
MK Benny Elon spoke briefly. His party encourages the transfer of the Arabs in Yesha using financial incentives and international agreement. He points out that a Palestinian state isn't just an impossibility for the Jews.
"There is no way Arafat or any of the Abu's can accept a independent Palestinian state according to the American vision -- a State that is a divided State. Gaza is disconnected -- there is no territorial connection to Judea from Samaria. Jerusalem divides Judea from Samaria. And the settlements -- Ariel and Maaleh Adumim -- further divide the land. No one is ready to give these to the Arabs."
"America should take the three billion it gives Israel each year and use it to settle the Arabs now in refugee camps in some part of Arabia. The camps will be dismantled. It would be better for everyone. Arabs who remain in Yesha will become citizens of Jordan-Palestine (JP). Israeli Arabs will be offered citizenship in JP. Jews in Yesha are citizens of Israel."
We started dinner late, so we rush to get to the airport in time for our midnight flight. The lines move very slowly; a machine has broken down.
On the plane home, I chat with people from a Christian group that had toured the hospitals. They brought toys for the children wounded by suicide bombers. Arab terrorists have a real feel for maximizing damage; they put rusty nails in their suicide bombs. Margie, one of the group, told me that the doctors had removed enough rusty nails from one child to fill a cup. I went back to my seat thinking about what contrasts I've seen. And here was another: In Jerusalem, Jewish women who call themselves Women in Black demonstrated for the Arabs, who are inconvenienced at checkpoints, while Christians from America went around the hospitals giving blood for the Jews severely wounded by these very same Arabs.
The newspaper and TV media tend to feature big terrorist attacks in the major cities. But it is in Yesha, where there are daily attacks, constant hostility, joy in killing babies in their mothers' arms, explosions in children's school buses, ambushes of passing cars, wild celebrations in the towns, the desire of the young to be suicidal martyrs for the sake of being martyrs, that you can read true intent. The Arabs are going for broke. All of Israel or nothing.
What's the best thing you can do for Israel right now? Come to Yesha. You can contact Helen Freedman of AFSI, 1623 Third Ave., Suite 205, New York, N.Y. 10128; 212-828-2424 (firstname.lastname@example.org) for advice and information. They have been coming year after year to Yesha. Or you can write to GKTIV@netvision.net.il for information on buses and guides. Or contact email@example.com of Arutz Sheva. Dan Lourie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about tours of the Old City in Jerusalem. The second best thing you can do is to send money. As we said before, contact One Israel Fund, 136 East 39th Street, 4th Floor, New York, New York 10016, (website: http://www.oneisraelfund.org) for one-stop donating to Yesha. You can find out what emergency equipment and supplies the different communities in Yesha need from the interactive map at http://www.helpingisrael.com -- click on Samaria, Judea, Jerusalem or Gaza; each has a listing of the communities in that area and what kind of help they need. Then send your money directly to that community. You can get additional information by sending an email to email@example.com. There are links to many of the communities through http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/yishuvim.htm, where you can read descriptions of these communities and find the names of contact people. Don't just send money. When you contact a group or donate, please send them a message of support; and tell them how to reach you if they don't have email. Perhaps your children would like to write to their children.
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