We’ve decided to dedicate the bar mitzva of our second son to life in the communities of Judea and Samaria, with guests and family from Hebron, Itamar, Eli, Gush Etzion, Har Bracha. I have led a number of unforgettable Taglit-Birthright trips. They were inspirational, fun and historically comprehensive, except for one glaring omission. The young Americans never saw the burial place of Abraham in Hebron, the ancient ruins of the Tabernacle in Shiloh, the fantastic mausoleum ruins of Herodian, or the beautiful and picturesque winery at Psagot.
All these things and more, contained in the ancient biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, are off-limits to Birthright trips and not one of its 25-odd providers crosses the Green Line.
That is, except when this policy is brazenly violated by every single Birthright trip when it visits the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall – a contradiction which is conveniently overlooked.
This refusal to allow young Jewish Americans to witness the smiling children and inspired lives of these sunlit communities in the desert reinforces the fraudulent notion that they are mere settlements, lacking permanence, when many are highly developed and well-integrated towns, with every amenity, including very established educational institutions.
Our family is blessed with six daughters and three sons. We’ve had five bat mitzvot already, but this weekend will be only our second bar mitzva, that of our son Yosef Yitzchak, named after the sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch. And we’ve decided to dedicate the bar mitzva to highlighting Jewish life in the communities of Judea and Samaria, from visiting, with guests and family, Hebron, Itamar, Eli, Gush Etzion, Har Bracha and more. All these communities are beginning to feel the pressure of yet another “peace” deal, which puts them squarely in the cross-hairs as the principal obstacles to said peace.
US Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Israel on a near-weekly basis to foster an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The principal focus of this deal is Israel’s retreat from the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank. Call it Gush Katif redux.
But just as the withdrawal of Gaza has led to war and eight years of rocket and terror attacks against civilians, Israel’s withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would have much more serious consequences.
Every obituary of Ariel Sharon, whose passing we mourn this week, must of necessity include two themes.
First, that he fought like a lion throughout his life to advance Israel’s security and second, that the final act of his life involved a massive retreat.
I vividly remember the communities of Gush Katif that he dismantled, having taken my children there twice just prior to their 2005 destruction.
Our children were among the last to plant trees in Gush Katif on the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, and we did so amid great rejoicing – even though we knew they might be uprooted a few months hence.
The communities of Gush Katif were miraculous, growing green peppers out of the sand dunes of Gaza and sporting a well-stocked zoo to distract the children from the daily horrors that Jewish life in Gaza entailed.
Every tour given to us by a resident involved tragedy. There was hardly a family that had not had a member or friend murdered by Palestinian terrorists, who treated the Jewish residents of Gaza as target practice. To be sure, the IDF responded, and sometimes ferociously. But for all that, the people of Gush Katif, with their beautiful synagogues and scholarly yeshivot, accepted that they were sitting ducks, bringing a civilizing element, agriculture and budding industry to one of the most destitute areas in the world.
They never could have guessed that their sacrifice would be rewarded with the literal destruction of their communities, their forcible removal by the very army designated to protect them, and the dislodging of even the bones of the victims of terror from their cemeteries.
Their tree-lined avenues and sparkling homes were a far cry from the misery and poverty I witnessed on the part of my Palestinian brothers in Gaza City, just a few miles away and a few years earlier, when I visited with Al Sharpton in 2001. The rampant corruption of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, which treated international aid as a personal piggy bank for the enrichment of his cronies, and the channeling of what remained into rockets and bullets against Israel, rather than the building of hospitals and roads, created squalor and wretchedness on a vast scale.
Since then it has only gotten worse, with Hamas, one of the most brutal regimes on earth, imposing its draconian religious fanaticism on the Palestinians in the form of honor killings of young women, the lynching of gay men on trumped-up charges of collaborating with Israel, and the recruiting of children and teenagers as suicide bombers to murder Israelis.
Sharon was an Israeli hero whose decisive action in the 1973 Yom Kippur War to cross the Suez Canal and encircle Egypt’s Third Army was in large measure responsible for Israel’s eventual triumph. But nothing can undo the incessant rocket attacks that Israel has suffered at the hands of a Hamas regime that Sharon’s actions involuntarily created.
The same simply cannot be allowed to happen in Judea and Samaria, a region where so many of the Bible’s greatest stories took place and where the Jewish nation, after Joshua’s conquest of the land 3,300 years ago, began to take shape.
It is my hope that my son, in spending a week in these areas with his siblings and in celebrating his bar mitzva first at the Western Wall and then at Psagot in Binyamin, will also be shaped by the ruggedness of both the landscape and the brave residents who have carved out a Jewish life under the most trying circumstances.
About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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