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The countdown is well underway here and the constant thought of all those gathered in this beautiful town on the shores of the Mediterranean is: When are they coming? The thought is a grotesque one. "They" are the ones that the children have come to fear. "They" are the ones that hundreds of Jews here have come to look upon as the threat. "They" are the Jewish soldiers of the army of Israel. It is a Kafkaesque tragedy.
We have finished fortifying the bomb shelter we seized Motzaei Shabbat, one of several we broke into. I sit in the now-comfortable, powerful structure and for the hundredth time try to comprehend. For the hundredth time I shake my head. I cannot. Memories of the past week keep running through my mind. Reflections. Reflections on the tragedy of Yamit. No, of the Jewish people.
I think of my arrival last week with a number of Kach members. It is Sunday, February 28. On Friday, just before going to synagogue, twenty minutes before the Sabbath, the radio announced that the Begin-Sharon government had sealed off the Yamit area to all non-residents. The juggernaut had begun its work down the road of elimination of the Jewish presence in the Sinai and the final retreat. People are shocked. I feel sorry for them, all the deluded (albeit willfully) who kept repeating the litany: Begin will never give up the settlements. He has something up his sleeve . . The Ibn Ezra's magnificent commentary comes to mind. Pharaoh's servants come to him and complain, after the seventh plague "Haterem tayda ki avda Mitzrayim?" (Exodus 10:7). The simple translation is "Do you not yet realize that Egypt is lost?" The Ibn Ezra, in a brilliant psychological insight, translates it differently: "Do you not yet WANT TO UNDERSTAND . . . ?" And, of course, that is the secret of our madness today. No one WANTS to understand. No one WANTS to believe the truth, the bitter truth. Begin, a physically and spiritually sick man, is determined to complete the insanity. In the very week that the Egyptian dictator, Mubarak, slaps Israel's face by refusing to come to Jerusalem - Begin orders the troops out. To seal the Sinai. To seal it off to Jews . . .
On Sunday, I set off for Yamit with four Kach people. The area is sealed off but one can always get through. A pinch of faith, imagination and ingenuity - that is the time-honored recipe.
We drive through the teritories, past Hebron, into Beersheba. There we rent an Avis car, the better to appear to be tourists. I am armed with a kova temble, the ubiquitous sun cap that covers the upper part of my face; dark sunglasses; an American passport, and a strong American-accented English. For 40 kilometers past Beersheba, the road is clear. We drive swiftly, turning past Netivot, Ofakim, up to the Magen junction where we turn - and there it is. Forty kilometers from Yamit, the first barrier. Tens of soldiers are milling about. I pull up, looking every bit the American tourist. The soldier asks where I am going. I smile stupidly (hoping to look like a tourist), and say that we are a party of Americans headed for a vacation in the Sinai. He does not understand English. Another soldier is called over. He is an American. He makes it clear that no cars are being allowed through. I smile; implore; threaten; wave the image of my friendship with the American ambassador - nothing works.
We turn around and pull over. The map shows a road to the left of us, running to Kibbutz Nahal Oz. There, it shows a vague road that clearly warns the traveller of less than first-rate driving. Never mind, we have no choice. We find the road, turn into the fields of Nahal Oz. We are pleasantly surprised. The road is a single lane, paved one that soon becomes a dirt path. But the dirt is packed hard and G-d is good to those who try.
We follow the sun, headed sometimes west, sometimes south west, depending on the vagaries of the roads, paths, gulleys, what-have-you. We drive through fields, orange groves, but we progress. After half an hour, we have gone some 15 kilometers in the general direction of Yamit. Not bad. We find ourselves back to the main road, well past the barrier. G-d is good.
From there it is fairly easy. The second barrier is overcome by saying that the first one let us through. Ditto the third. The fourth finds an officer who asks for my passport. I would rather that he not see "Meir Kahane," even in English, and so I tell him it is in Eilat where the travel agent sent it. At first, he is unwilling to allow us through, but a flood of swift, angry English persuades him. We pass. We are in the Yamit strip.
We decide to head first for Hatzar Adar, the new settlement, west of Yamit city, established mostly by Kach people in November. It is a half hour from Yamit and we arrive to find the settlement blocked off by a small contingent of soldiers. We ignore them and drive through. It is a monument to the self-sacrifice and faith of young Jews. Some twenty families are jammed into trailers, under primitive living conditions. One of the trailers serves as a dining room and we are greeted with shouts of joy (I have now taken off the absurd hat and glasses). The wife of Michael Ben-Horin, the leader and incomparable builder of the settlement, sits down next to me holding her infant child. She looks sad but, as always - filled with faith.
Meanwhile, it is decided to attempt to force the army to remove their barrier by blocking the road to all traffic. The road is the main one to El Arish and Egypt. Everyone is conscripted to work. A tractor, with wagon, is brought to the middle of the road. Mattresses, barbed wire, chairs, a myriad of materials. The road is now totally barricaded. Cars from both directions arrive. They stop. Lines begin to form. The soldiers and one policeman look. They make no effort to interfere. A report is relayed to the commander over the radio. The women and children are now in the middle of the mass of iron and metal. They sit, quietly, resignedly. An Israeli driver pulls right up to the barrier, gets out and begins to argue. All is well. More soldiers arrive. They do nothing.
Suddenly, from the west, two Egged buses pull up. They are filled with Israeli Jews, returning from a trip to Egypt. (It is nothing. By Passover, the land of the Pharaohs will be filled with Jews returning to slavery in their tens of thousands.)
The Israelis get out. A few begin to shout: "We have been in Egypt for two weeks. We are tired. Get the mess off the road." An effort is made to explain to them. They are not interested. "I don't care about this. It is your problem. I want to get home." The fruits of Israeli education, of "Zionism." Then it happens.
A group of fifteen of the Israelis walk over and begin to remove the barriers. The settlers, mostly youngsters and women, try to stop them. Scuffles break out. One of the Israeli tourists seizes an iron bar and waves it wildly. A young settler, a student at Merkaz Harav, is punched in the face. Jews are fighting and the Arabs in the taxis sit quietly and watch . . . The student is standing by the roadside weeping silently. It is not his face that hurts.
We head for Yamit, depressed. At the crossroads of the main highway and the road to the town, a large crowd, some 300 people are milling about. I spot Baruch Merzel, a Kach activist who has been down here for more than a year. He is one of the living legends of the area, giving of himself day and night to help stop the retreat. He is disgusted. He points in the direction of a crowd of people gathered about and says: "They are listening to Geula Cohen. She killed us today."
A number of other settlers standing by, nod grimly. Their point is a simple one. The Movement To Stop The Retreat, a predominantly Tchiya front, threatened, on Saturday night that if by 8 A.M. Sunday morning the barriers were not removed, they would take them down themselves. It is now 5 P.M. and the barriers are still there. Merzel says:
"We had a crowd of 2,000 people down here. They were fuming. They were psychologically ready to rip the barriers down and no one could have stopped them. Then Geula showed up with Hanan Porat (another Tchiya Knesset member and head of the Movement here). They persuaded the crowd to get Raful (the chief of staff, Rafael Eytan) down here. He came and told them that he could not promise them a thing, but that he would speak to Sharon. Everyone knows that he has no say. This is a political decision by Begin and Sharon. But Geula and Hanan jumped at the opportunity to escape having to tell the crowd to rush the barriers. I am disgusted."
I am more than that. I know that Yamit is now lost, G-d forbid. I know that the psychological moment - so precious - of an angry crowd prepared to charge the barriers, is forever gone. Their total anger has evaporated, and they will never reach that peak again. I think to myself how important that charge of the barriers would have been. Begin and Sharon took a calculated risk. They fear bloodshed or mass confrontation. Had, on the first day, the Movement To Stop the Retreat struck, Begin would have known that he was dealing with a dangerous group. He would have backed off; perhaps, hopefully, resigned. The failure of nerve by the Tchiya leadership has doomed Yamit. Everyone in Israel knows, today, that the opposition to retreat is a paper tiger. One who threatens, sets an ultimatum and backs off, is not to be feared.
I head for Yamit. Abraham Hershkowitz, early JDL activist, an Israeli resident for ten years, greets me. He, his wife Nancy and their seven golden, blue-eyed children, left their home in Rehovot last Hannukah and relocated here. They are living in the section of town known as the Motel. It was designed for visiting guests but, of course, has now been taken over by people like Avraham who came south to stop the retreat. I get myself a room in the Motel, a thin mattress, a hard floor, two covers and I am settled in.
On Monday, we awaken to the news that 23 settlers from Kiryat Arba broke through an army barricade during the night and were chased into the nearby settlement of Pri-El. The army is dragging them out. We rush to the place to find the operation over. The Israeli army has successfully completed its mission: the hunting down - by house-to-house search - of "illegal" Jews. They are arrested and taken to Ashkelon where they will be tried for illegal entry into the southern part of the Land of Israel. Shades of Ernest Bevin.
The press recognizes me. Is it true that I was in Hatzar Adar yesterday? What do I intend to do? What do I think of the line of settlers, not to fight the army? I answer the questions. All except those of Israel Television. Some may nominate Arafat as the most dangerous threat to Israel. I suggest that they consider Israel TV. Dominated by leftists opposed to nationalism and religion, they nightly poison the airwaves and minds of Israelis. They have not come to a Kach press conference in five years and refuse to have me on talk shows. The reporter walks over to me and asks if he can interview me. I say no. He looks at me, bewildered. No one refuses to be interviewed on Israeli TV. He follows me as I walk on, speaking to someone. He asks me a question as his microphone is ready to record. I ignore him. That evening, a million Israelis see my back.
The next day, there is a grand debate in the Knesset. Tchiya has decided to ask for a vote of non-confidence in the government. The move is doomed to failure but the hope is for a propaganda victory. It is a disastrous failure. Hanan Porat has been chosen to speak for Tchiya. He is a brilliant speaker but today, of necessity, fails miserably. His attacks on the government are met by Ariel Sharon (chosen to reply for the government) and by every other party speaker with one main argument: Israel is a democracy and the Knesset, representing the people, has voted to retreat. Who and what gives you the right to defy that will?
Of course, the answer is that it is the Law of G-d, the Torah that gives that right. That the Torah is the ultimate law of the people and that the action of the secular government of Israel in giving up a part of the Land of Israel is ITSELF A VIOLATION OF LAW. Of course, the answer is to throw back the question into the faces of all the parties: Who gave YOU the right to break the law?
But, of course, Hanan Porat cannot say that, as a spokesman for Tchiya which is a "neutral" (sic) party when it comes to religion. And so, Tchiya is attacked unmercifully by all the parties. And the hapless and shameless National Religious Party, joins in the condemnation. And Agudat Yisrael, which toppled the Rabin government over the fact that a military ceremony went fifteen minutes into the Sabbath, blithely ignores the massive violation of the Sabbath that occurred last Friday night when the army went out to put up roadblocks. It is amazing what money for yeshivas will do.
The interesting thing to me is the fact that every speaker warned of the presence of Kahane and Kach in the area. The lesson is clear: If Begin believed that he was dealing with thousands of Kach "madmen" he would think a hundred times before ordering in the army. But he knows he is dealing with "moderates." It is that which guarantees his lack of fear and the ultimate total retreat from the Sinai, G-d forbid.
The truth is that I am appalled at the lack of organization and policy here. The settlers simply do not know what to do. There is no definite line. When the soldiers come, what should the reaction be? Should people simply leave? Should they sit down and be dragged out? Should they fight? There are no directions from the leaders because they themselves are not sure.
The bomb shelters, which - if stored with food, water, lighting and other supplies - would be ideal fortresses that would take the army days to break into and pull out the settlers, are all locked. The settlers spend their time going to meeting after meeting, all of which end with ringing declarations that mean little, and a decision to meet again.
Sholom Oren meets me. He is the reporter for Israel Radio. What do I think of the situation? I tell him. What do I intend to do about it? I am forming a second command post which will advocate using COUNTER-force against any effort to drag Jews away by force. I make it clear that I am opposed to any force if the army does not use it but that the halacha is clear:
"If the king comes to violate a law of the Torah, we do not listen to him." (Hilchot Mlachim 3:9)
That night, the interview is broadcast on state radio. A debate develops in Yamit. Signs are placed around the town urging people to come to visit the command post, in Hershkowitz's home. A steady stream arrives. To each one I explain the halacha and add: "I respect anyone who refuses to lift a hand against the army. But let that person know that he will not stop the retreat. The army uses force and a Jew does not depend on miracles. Faith, yes, but along with it, the self-sacrifice needed. And the natural means that a Jew is enjoined to use."
A number of rabbis, notably those from Merkaz Harav, as well as Hanan Porat, are alarmed. They sense that many of the settlers are frustrated and want concrete answers. Some of the rabbis, including Rabbis Nerya and Aviner forbid any violence. Rabbi Nerya, head of yeshivot Bnei Akiva, is quoted in the papers as having told two of his students, now soldiers, that if the army orders them to drag away settlers, they must obey. I am appalled. The halacha is clearly the opposite. On Thursday night, General Chaim Erez, head of the Southern Command, arrives. He asks the rabbis to "calm the people." He suggests that they ask the residents to pack their bags when they receive advance notice, shut the gas and lights, and leave the doors open. He also says that he is looking for Meir Kahane.
Yamit - 20 Adar, March 15 - The days of Purim have come and gone, a schizophrenic, bittersweet holiday for Yamit. Now, it is the Ides of March and with them, the feeling that the delayed arrival of the army is soon at hand. I sit in the bunker we have named Mivtzar Kiddush Hashem (Fortress Sanctification). It is officially listed as bomb shelter number 41, one of the nearly 50 such shelters built in Yamit. We have seized it and turned it into the only serious place of resistance in town.
There is no doubt that the army - and government - are worried. This morning at 8:30., a helicopter, carrying Southern Command General Chaim Erez, swooped almost at rooftop level, photographing the shelter. The outer walls of the fortress are covered with verses from the Bible, sayings of the Rabbis and exhortations to the soldiers not to obey illegal orders involving the removal of Jews from a part of Eretz Yisrael.
At 9:30 A.M., Erez appeared again, this time with a convoy of high-level officers and police. They stood outside the area of the bunker, an area known as The Motel, originally built for guests and tourists. Now, it is populated by "illegals," those Jews who have smuggled themselves into the Yamit Strip in order to stop the retreat from Sinai.
It is obvious that the army is very worried about the bunker. The entire week, the police have attempted to find me. Once, they managed to see me and one of the detectives asked if I would be willing to come with him to the police station "for a talk." When told that I appreciated the invitation but would rather not come, efforts were made to see me daily. What is troubling them is the question: What do we have inside the bunker? Let them guess.
Indeed, that is what is piquing the curiosity of many people in the country. And that is, of course, what could have been the only serious card in the effort to stop the game of retreat. But more of that, later.
This morning, we heard of several other shelters that have been seized by settlers. It is clear that a change is taking place in Yamit, a change for the better. The question is whether it is not too late. Indeed, as I sit here, thinking of the events of the last two weeks and the non-events of the past months; as some 30 settlers from Hatzar Adar sit in Begin's prison in Ashkelon; as Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, rabbi of Yamit, sits with common criminals in Gaza; one thinks.
The campaign to stop the retreat went into full gear last Sukkot, escalating on Hanukah, and it succeeded in convincing tens of families to leave their homes in the north and move into the relatively difficult conditions of the town. Many people took leaves of absence from jobs while others left their wives and children and came only for Sabbaths. It was a moving display of self-sacrifice on the part of ordinary Jews who had been galvanized by the pledge: There will be no retreat.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the Stop The Retreat Movement had no coherent plan to seriously deal with the naked fact of Israeli army force. The elementary question of how to deal with the arrival of the army was simply ignored. Does one resist or simply give in to the soldiers with the guns, the gas and the strength? If one resists then the question remains - how? Does one physically fight the soldiers? No answers were given because the staff running the events here simply could not bring itself to face up to the basic fact: If there are no plans to physically fight the soldiers - then the retreat is assured because Begin and Sharon will have no fears or hesitations about moving in against people they know are not "dangerous." On the other hand, to state that soldiers should be confronted, is an act of courage that the largely Tchiya leadership simply could not bring itself to declare.
And so, candor and sheer truth must proclaim the fact that not only were the settlers who had been brought down on the promise of stopping the retreat left totally on the wings of illusion, but no concrete plans were made to fortify the settlers in places that would make their removal exceedingly difficult.
Thus, on my arrival, I noted the many air raid shelters, solid structures that were ideal places for fortified homes. Not a single one was occupied; almost all had no light, food, water, bedding and the elementary things needed for a siege. And, of course, this was so because the official staff had no intention of seriously confronting the army.
In speaking to one of the leaders, I was told: "We are not prepared to fight with the army." I told him that I could respect that stand but the question remained: Did he not feel a lack of honesty in urging people to leave their homes and to sacrifice so much, without telling them that they would not confront the army? Would not many people have logically concluded that what was being asked of them was a needless sacrifice? In addition, I complained about the false impression fed to American Jews that "thousands" of families were "streaming" into Yamit, when the truth was that no more than 200 new families - if that - had arrived, along with a few hundred singles.
How many hundreds of thousands of dollars had been raised in the United States on the glowing slogan: Stop the Retreat in the Sinai, when the fact was that no serious plan had really been drawn up? I understood, of course, that the leaders here had been counting on the influx of thousands of Jews during the last month, before the official day of retreat, April 26. But was anyone so obtuse as to believe that Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon were not aware of the same thought processes? Of course the government knew that people could not leave jobs or school, months in advance of the retreat date. Certainly, they, too, knew that the yeshivot would close on the first of Nissan (March 25) and that the Passover holidays would bring thousands of adults as well as foreigners who would stream into Yamit. Was there anyone in the official leadership who could have possibly believed that Begin and Sharon would wait until then to close off the roads and then remove the settlers? I felt a deep sense of grief for the so many settlers who had gone to Yamit with enormous sacrifices and who were really victims of an illusion.
When I arrived and told the news media that the answer was either determined resistance or guaranteed retreat, many Jews were angered, but many others - frustrated and hapless - agreed. Above all, for the first time, a red light flashed in the government's mind's eye.
For months, Begin - determined to blunder on to disastrous retreat - has lived in fear of a serious clash in Yamit between Jews. The man who lives with both eyes continually on his place in history, shrinks from the thought of a serious confrontation in Yamit. Begin is a clever man and he knows his opponents. He has no fear of Tchiya, a Geula Cohen or Hanan Porat. They are "moderates" who will be forcibly moved out with relatively little trouble. It was only the sudden arrival of Kach with its image of "extremism" that caused the pulse rate of the Prime Minister's office to quicken. The point is so clear and logical, that one almost wants to weep in frustration:
The way - the only way - to stop the Begin-Sharon steamroller is to have them believe that they are dealing with "fanatics," and "extremists" who may do anything.
Last week we seized the first shelter. No light; we put in light. No facilities - we found them and brought them in. Mattresses, blankets, food, large cans of water, a gas stove, a refrigerator. A welding machine was recruited and the heavy steel doors welded tight shut. A number of people were screened and allowed to be tenants, along with strict obligations and discipline. Regular shiurim, classes in Torah, were instituted, since the failure of Tchiya is its lack of ideology upon which to place a program. No non-Torah ideology can possibly be a permanent force for Judaism.
The people in the bunker, named Fortress Sanctification (Mivtzar Kiddush Hashem), are people steeped in ideology.
The outside walls of the bunker, as I said, are painted with verses from the Bible, sayings of the Rabbis, and slogans. The most striking includes the quotation from Maimonides (Hilchot Mlachim, 3:9), that a king who orders a Jew to violate a Torah law is not to be obeyed.
This point is one that I have driven home again and again in the classes that I give to settlers, in speeches and in the special Hebrew booklet I have printed, called "Law and Order in Israel."
Indeed, on Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath preceding the festival of Purim, I pointed out that while the Prophetic portion read on that day deals with King Saul's weakness in refusing to carry out G-d's will against the cruel Amalekites, it does not deal with the other side of the coin - his cruelty in ordering the murder of the priests of Nov, for helping David. "If one looks at that chapter" (Samuel I 22:17), I said, "one notes that Saul ordered his soldiers to take their swords and slay the priests. And the verse quietly says: 'And the soldiers refused ...'"
The lesson was clear and clearly needed. For two of the leading rabbis of the Stop the Retreat Movement, alleged "hawks" Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Nerya, head of yeshivot Bnei Akiva and Rabbi Chaim Druckman, had ruled that a religious soldier who was ordered to remove settlers must do so, despite the fact that the evacuation was contrary to halacha. The ruling, so clearly contrary to the clear ruling in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 49) and Maimonides (ibid.), led Yamit Rabbi Yisrael Ariel to run to Rabbi Nerya, who had been his rabbi at Kfar Haroeh, and to ask him for his halachic source. Rabbi Ariel, two weeks ago, pleaded with soldiers standing at the roadblocks to disobey orders to remove settlers. His words, based on the above-mentioned halacha, led to demands by leftists for his arrest. His consolation was that he stood by the Torah ruling. Now, with the incredible stand taken by Rabbis Nerya and Druckman, he looked wan and weary as he sat in his home and told me of a threat by a famous rabbi that he would ask that Rabbi Ariel be arrested!
I felt genuine pity for Rabbi Ariel whom I had come to know so well during the election campaign (he was number two on the Kach list). He is a true tzaddik, a man of sincerity and pure trust. As the rabbi of Yamit, he was the lone symbol of resistance against retreat long before Tchiya and rabbinical "hawks" came on the scene. To be betrayed by fellow rabbis, who have not the courage to expound the halachic truth was a profound blow for him. I write this, of course, four days after Rabbi Ariel was arrested when he took part in an abortive effort to resettle the settlement of Hatzar Adar, literally wiped off the face of the earth by the army, two weeks ago. He has been transferred from jail to jail, is at present in Gaza, and " outrageously " had been placed in a cell with Arab prisoners until angry protests forced his transfer. Today, he received a second four-day remand and we fear that he will not be free in the foreseeable future. Such are the wages of righteousness.
March 26, April 16, 1982
J.P., March 26, 1982, pp. 47, 48; April 16, 1982, pp. 28, 37
This dispatch was filed by Rabbi Meir Kahane from Yamit, on
Monday, March 8, 1982, on the Fast of Esther [Adar 13, 5742].
Thanks are due to Herb and Miki Sunshine, who sent it to us.
Herbert B. Sunshine is Professor of Law (US). He and his wife Miki
live in Jerusalem.
This dispatch was filed by Rabbi Meir Kahane from Yamit, on Monday, March 8, 1982, on the Fast of Esther [Adar 13, 5742].
Thanks are due to Herb and Miki Sunshine, who sent it to us. Herbert B. Sunshine is Professor of Law (US). He and his wife Miki live in Jerusalem.
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