In one portrayal of the Titanic, the mighty and majestic ship that hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912 and sank in a little over two hours, we see the captain, the owner, the senior officers, pushing the ship to speed through the waters so as to break all previous records. Since it was the ship’s maiden voyage, traveling from Southampton, and then Queenstown, England, to New York, the crew of stokers, greasers, and firemen who worked in the engine room far below the luxury decks, understood that the ship should not exceed its abilities on its first time out. Their superiors had different ideas and went so far as to ignore all warnings of icebergs in the sea as they urged the ship on. The result was the loss of the ship, 1500 lives, many injured, and much suffering amongst the survivors. It is easy to see the comparison to the actions of Israel’s leaders today.
As the AFSI Chizuk group traveled around Israel this past October, it was apparent that the “little guys” understand the need to hold onto the land, and to fight for a “whole Israel,” while the “captain” and his “officers” played horrific games with Israel’s safety. What we saw was Arab arrogance, audacity, and terror that was completely out of control, while Israel’s Jews were being discriminated against, imprisoned, and treated like second-class citizens. The “captains” were busy releasing prisoners and talking “peace” and the “two-state solution” with the Arabs, while the “little guys” were putting the facts on the ground, regardless of the personal sacrifice required. Picture the Titanic crew in the belly of the ship working desperately to keep the ship moving, while the captain and his henchmen dined in the elegant dining rooms, ignoring warnings of disaster and pushing forward recklessly until the tragic collision with the iceberg that would sink the ship. That is the story of Israel today.
Chashmonaim, Modiin Illit, and Kiryat Sefer were our first stops, with David Jacobs acting as our host and guide. David pointed out that the population of these communities, 57,000, was the largest in Judea and Samaria. Being over the Green Line, they are on the negotiating table.
The Arab sprawl became apparent in Charasha, a non-authorized community. Standing on Mt. Choresh all we saw were Arab villages. As we drove through N’ariya we passed the Arab University of Bir Zeit on the outskirts of Ramalla, a breeding ground for terrorism. While we were driving on a road in Area C, we were surrounded by Area A – Arab areas that are all self-governing.
The brand new PA city of Rawabi, for which Israel gave the land, now boasts a huge PA flag. Being close to Ramallah, this city becomes another encroachment on Jerusalem.
Along the road to Psagot, a Jewish community of 200 families, we saw Arab cars parked with their owners picking olives. We also passed many Arab villages.
When settlers first arrived in Psagot, Ramallah was far in the distance. Now there are new homes abutting its fence.
After lunching in Ofra, we traveled to Amona. The sad sight of the caravans and the plots where destroyed homes once stood, underlined the absurdity of the government’s policy of destroying Jewish homes, but allowing illegal Arab buildings to flourish.
The Ashel HaShomron hotel in Ariel became our base for the first two nights. Lenny Goldberg, a long-time resident of Tapuach spoke to us about the many judicial issues and related that many young people feel the brunt of anti-Jewish discrimination.
Our next visit was to the Barkan Industrial Center where Jews and Arabs work side by side in 140 factories, earning the same salary and enjoying the same benefits. Even so, the businesses, the best bridge to peace, are under boycott by the PA and EU. The same is true of Ariel University, home to 15,000 students, with approximately 500-700 of them Arabs and 500 Ethiopians. They are under boycott from all Israeli universities, except for Bar Ilan.
Being in the Shomron, we had to visit Chavat Gilad, home of forty families. Excitement reigned there over the new mikvah for women that had begun to be built. Living without Israeli supplied water and fuel has placed a huge financial burden on the community. Yitzhar is also under financial stress and we promised to help raise funds for a new shul. We ended the day with a night-time tour of the biblical garden at the Ashel HaShomron hotel.
The next morning we traveled north. Our guide pointed out that we had to drive west before driving north because Israelis can’t drive through Arab villages, so the by-pass roads need new by-passes. Our first stop was Mitzpe Ilan, named for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. The forty families living there hope to increase their ranks, but they are experiencing “environmental terrorism.” The Arabs burn charcoal and by 6:00 p.m. every day, the air is so thick, the residents must stay locked up in their homes. There have been many cases of asthma and a few cases of cancer in the community. The Arab communities of Hadera and Pardeis are also affected, but the Arabs don’t seem to care. They have had some success in getting the burnings moved to Areas A and B, but the wind brings the carcinogens to Chavat Ilan and its surroundings.
Nazareth Illit was our next stop. It is supposed to be a Jewish community but the last election has thrown that off. It seems to be up to the Hesder Yeshiva there to strengthen the city – it is literally the “finger in the dike.”
The next day we began our descent in the Jordan Valley. B’rosh HaBiker, home to the recently murdered Sraya Ofer, was our first stop. Marc Prowisor of One Israel Fund greeted us there and explained how efforts were in progress to increase security; a Hesder Yeshiva had already moved in to establish a presence in this remote, failed, Jewish community.
The importance of Jewish shepherding was reinforced again in our visit to Rotem. Shira Amussai and her husband now graze their sheep on 3000 dunams and are hoping to bring in four caravans to lure other couples to shepherding. After a wonderful lunch at Café Rotem, we drove on to Yeshuv Adaat, near Shilo. The yishuv has 200 sheep on 8,000 dunam of land. The small community, led by Avichai and Eli Weiss, has plans for 150 homes. If they make it, it will help to prove the success story of shepherding.
Friday began with a visit to Shdema where Nadia Matar of Women in Green was waiting with trees ready for planting. We heard from Sarah Nachshon from Hebron and then joined with WIG and the people of Tekoa in a demonstration against Arab terrorism on the roads.
After a short visit to Kever Rachel, we drove south to Hebron passing the entrance to Kiryat Arba and continued further south into the Hebron Hills to visit the outpost of Avigail, near Sussia, where the families of Avner Segal and Elisha Medan, plus an additional 30 other families have created an outpost. Their purpose is to create a presence that will break any Arab continuity of land in the area. Then it was back to Kiryat Arba to get our room assignments in Yeshivat Nir and prepare for Shabbat Chayei Sarah. The group walked down to the Ma’arat HaMachpela, joining the throngs of white-shirted men and festively dressed women. We wished “Shabbat Shalom” to the many soldiers guarding the route down to Hebron, and enjoyed a beautiful and soulful Kabbalat Shabbat in the Isaac Hall, open to Jews only on rare occasions.
Shabbat morning was filled with prayers at the Ma’arat HaMachpela. We were thrilled to see the hundreds of tents and lean-to’s set up by the thousands of visitors to Hebron that Shabbat. Carlebach melodies could be heard filling the air, and groups of men danced joyously while reciting the prayers.
We joined the Hebron Fund at the Gutnick Center for kiddush, and then AFSI Board Member Ken Abramowitz gave a compelling and erudite talk on the threat to western civilization posed by the Arabs.
Sunday morning we began touring the disputed areas of Jerusalem with Arieh King, who was recently elected to the Jerusalem City Council on the slate of the United Jerusalem Party. He explained that the laws are enforced only against Jews, not Arabs. Only Jews need security guards. Building in Jerusalem for Jews is frozen. National park plans for the city have just been frozen. Arieh is hoping that Naftali Bennett, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, will be helpful in righting the many discriminatory policies against Jews in the holy city.
We drove to N. Jerusalem, to Atarot – an area that had once hosted an international airport, but is now closed as Arab squatters have taken over. Former Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was one of the first pioneers in Atarot. The land was bought by the JNF and it was a thriving area until 1948 when Arabs conquered the village and Jews were evacuated. In 1967 the Jews regained the airport, expanded it, and built an industrial area. The Jewish residents did not return, however. They were re-settled near Petach Tikva in B’nei Atarot. Today, Arab building goes on unchecked. The JNF does not want to interfere. They claim it is a political issue, even though the building is on proven Israeli owned land.
We looked out at the ugly security fence. Arieh explained that the area behind the wall, although fully Arab, is still in Jerusalem. The red signs warning Jews to stay out are put in place by the Israeli government. They are illegal. Jerusalem is the Jewish capital. Jews cannot be banned from it. We dared to drive our bus past the forbidding signs and through the Calandia checkpoint into the Arab section. We saw huge illegal billboards, owned by the sons of Mahmoud Abbas, carrying messages entirely in Arabic. We found ourselves on the Calandia-Jaba Road, built illegally, without Israel’s permission, by U.S. Aid. Taking this shortcut through the Arab areas, we were able to swing back past Pisgat Ze’ev and N’vei Yaakov, home to 70,000 Jews, in no time at all.
Arieh then took us to Beit Hanina, an Arab city in Jerusalem with one Jewish apartment complex. Chana Yichi greeted us at Beit HaSheva where she occupies one of seven apartments. Unfortunately, even in this one Jewish enclave, an Arab family has been allowed to move in. This will probably eventually bring in more Arabs, forcing the Jews to leave.
We drove to Kidmat Zion in eastern Jerusalem, with Dan Luria of Ateret Cohanim. He reminded us that 215,000 Jews live in eastern Jerusalem. There are plans for 300 families to be living in Kidmat Zion, and there are already 110 families living in Ma’aleh HaZaytim. Passing some of the nine gates of the Old City, we saw the Arab cemetery built outside Shaar HaRachamim. Since Moshiach is supposed to arrive through this gate, it is said that the Arabs have deliberately built the cemetery there to prevent his arrival.
After lunch we drove down to enter the Old City through the Flowers Gate, into the Muslim Quarter. Dan took us to the few Jewish homes and the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, which struggles to keep a foothold in the Old City. Children are escorted to and from school by security guards; playgrounds are on roof-tops. The effort to gain more Jewish areas is ongoing and overwhelming.
On our last day we visited with our Gush Katif refugee friends. Dror Vanunu, our long-time guide, friend, and former head of the Gush Katif Committee, met us in Amatzia with his new assistant, Shifra Shomron. Sixty-seven families now live there, but they are hoping to grow. Sadly, eight and a half years after the expulsion, there are still no buildings, only lots.
In B’nei Dekalim, the new community in Lachish which is scheduled to house 500 families, only fifteen families are currently settled, Eliezer Ohrbach explained.
And even here, in what is supposed to be uncontested Israel, we see the Arab town surrounding the area overlooking the southern Hebron hills. There is no escape.
We then went on to visit Shommeriya in the eastern Negev, formerly Atzmona, where Dudi Reich spoke to us. His story of displacement from Yamit in 1982, his move into Gush Katif in 1987, and then the 2005 deportation, followed by 200 days in the Emunah Industrial Park, is a heart-breaker. Dudi tells us that although Shommeriya is located in the middle of Israel proper, there are 100,000 Bedouins living near them between Kiryat Gat and Be’er Sheva.
Lunch was in Ashkelon so that we could participate in a demonstration at the Ofer prison, outside Jerusalem, protesting the release of the second group of 26 terrorist prisoners. Before lunch, members of the group bought oak tag, markers, and paint to make signs for the demonstration. The message was that freeing terrorists invites more terror – not only in Israel but worldwide. When there are no consequences for criminal activity, there are no restraints.
The hour was growing late and we still had to visit Gush Katif heroine, Anita Tucker at the new Netzer Hazani in Yesodot. What a joy it was to see the beautiful synagogue, so artistically designed with the furniture from Kibbutz Lavi. Anita proudly showed us the social hall and then the recreation hall built in memory of Yochanon Hilberg who was killed in Lebanon with eleven others. We drove away from Anita reluctantly, aware of the great miracles she and her colleagues had made happen in building their new community. As Anita stood in the doorway of the beautiful synagogue, she told us this was only temporary until they could return to Gush Katif.
The next AFSI Chizuk mission scheduled for May 4-13, 2014. Call the AFSI office, 212-828-2424 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, for further information.
About the Author: Helen Freedman is executive director of Americans For a Safe Israel/AFSI. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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