Reflecting back on the experiences our AFSI Chizuk group shared on its 31st mission to Israel, opposing words, thoughts and images come to mind.
Israel was physically magnificent. The weather was perfect as we experienced the beauty of the Shomron mountains, the flatlands of the Golan, the stark moonscape of the Judean desert, the sparkle of the Mediterranean, the glories of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is luxurious. One can walk down King David Street, enjoy a drink poolside at the King David hotel, continue on to the lovely David Citadel with its magnificent veranda view of the Old City, and then on to the strikingly handsome, brand new Mamila hotel.
One strolls along Mamila past lovely artwork, enticing shops, appealing restaurants, and proceeds right through Jaffa Gate into the Old City. One leaves the new world of Jerusalem and is abruptly caught up in the traffic, smells, sights and sounds of the old city. This sharp contrast exemplified our stay in Israel.
Visiting our good friends from Gush Katif, expelled almost six years ago from their beautiful homes and communities, always gives us a sharp stab in the heart. Dror Vanunu, Rachel and Moshe Saperstein, Laurence Beziz, and Anita Tucker are so amazing in their determination to recreate their lost Gush Katif communities and lives.
We were pleased to visit with Alon Davidi in Sderot and see the soccer field donated by members of the AFSI Chizuk mission. We also enjoyed seeing the work of Ofek Chadash in trying to give services to the youth of the community.
What a treat it is to attend the Moskowitz awards ceremony at Ir David in Jerusalem, even though they are always interrupted by deliberately blaring sounds from the predominantly Arab Silwan, just across the valley.
Hebron, Israel’s second holiest city, and a contested one for that reason, is one of our must-visit places. David Wilder, the city spokesman, always generously gives of his time.
The agricultural intifada was explained to us by visits to Sussia, south of Hebron, and by Nadia Matar, co-chair of Women in Green with Yehudit Katzover. The battle between Jews and Arabs in Netzer, a piece of state-owned land between two Jewish communities, Alon Shvut and Elazar, is one example of the inch by inch attempt by Arabs to take over Jewish land. They do it through unchecked building and planting. When incidents occur between Jews and Arabs, it is usually the Jews who are given restraining orders, as was the case with Nadia Matar.
Our group participated in a festive Yom Yerushalayim event at Beit Orot, overlooking the Mount of Olives. We enjoyed the music, dancing, and dining, all the while aware of the Arab desecration of graves on the Mount, and their regular stoning of attendees and police.
We learned from Aryeh King, head of the Israel Land Fund, that Arabs are building a mosque on the graveyard. Though a cease-and-desist order has been given, the illegal building continues. King told us that there are 30,000 illegal Arab buildings in east Jerusalem and 2,000 illegal Arab buildings in the Jewish Quarter.
The Temple Mount in remains a mockery to Jews. Put under control of the wakfbut under guard of the Israeli police, the restrictions on Jewish entry to the Mount are humiliating and disgraceful. While we hate the ritual of being kept waiting for entry while non-Jews stream past us, we insist on being there with Rabbi Chaim Richman on every Chizuk visit.
Driving north from Jerusalem one sees the proliferation of Arab homes, many of them mansions. There is no need for fencing, since Jews are no threat to those communities. The Jewish communities, by contrast, are all fenced in, with special lighting, smart fencing, guards at the entrance, etc., and still there is need for groups of rapid response teams like those trained by Israel Danziger’s Mishmeret Yesha.
At Adei Ad, in the Shilo bloc, we found Jews living in buses. At Alei Ayin, close by, we found the Israeli police had destroyed the outpost just hours before our arrival. We viewed the rubble of a home, a car, a truck, agricultural equipment, and personal belongings. Was this another “sacrifice for peace”?
We went from there to visit the Fogel home in Itamar, where the massacre of five members of the family had been perpetrated by Arabs from nearby Awarta. Yedaya Shoham’s response to this was to immediately start a new outpost, Givat Aryeh, just outside Itamar. I’m proud to say that Jack Ross, an AFSI Chizuk member, has purchased a new Torah scroll we will dedicate at Givat Aryeh in November. That is the AFSI’s answer to murderous terrorism.