An ancient road crosses the length of the Land of Israel , running from South to North. It starts at Be’er Sheva in the northern Negev, climbs up to the Hebron Hills and continues north, via Halhul and Bethlehem, to Jerusalem. The road continues to Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin, and reaches its end in the vicinity of Afula. The “Cross Israel Highway” of those days served Second Temple era pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem from Be’er Sheva and Hebron and is also known as “The Patriarchs’ Route,” named after the forefathers of the nation who traveled it.
Silent witnesses stand by the sides of the segment that passes through Gush Etzion, reminders of the bustling life in this area, over 2000 years ago.
Among these are two ritual baths, mikvahs, which were used by pilgrims on their way to the Temple, that were filled with water as in ancient times, following the heavy rains recently. Another example is the Roman milestone that lies to the side of the path, the kind of stone the Romans used to deploy along the roads in order to mark the distance from the destination.
“The Patriarchs’ Route” in Gush Etzion also passes through an area known as Netzer, located between the Elazar and Alon Shvut communities. The Netzer area is built on terraces that assemble a spectacularly beautiful, green mosaic; green grapes twining alongside old olive trees in plots of varying shapes and sizes, and in the pre-Spring season the Νetzer space looks like a Claude Monet masterpiece: the green background is spotted with the pink and white of the almond trees at the peak of their bloom. But this pastoral bubble bursts the moment we ‘zoom-in’ on the photo, then we discover a real battle for this land and the future of the country, with the innocent plants often standing in as soldiers on the frontline.
The Oslo Accords divided the Judea, Samaria and Gaza Strip areas into three types of area: Area ‘A,’ where the major Palestinian cities are located, under full Palestinian Authority civilian and security control; Area ‘B,’ under P.A. civilian control and Israeli security control; and Area ‘C,’ under full Israeli civilian and security control.
A strategic change occurred in the P.A.’s attitude towards this division in 2010: Salam Fayyad’s government decided to ignore it and focus its efforts on Area ‘C.’ The logic behind this move is clear – Areas ‘A’ and ‘B’ are already “in their pockets,” and Area ‘C’ territories are known to be of significant value. Not only do they present 60% of Judea and Samaria, they also serve as buffers between the Palestinian population concentrations. Palestinian presence in ‘C’ Territories could advance an Arab territorial continuity and drive a wedge between the Jewish community blocs.
Fayyad began making statements in the spirit of the new plan, saying that he “does not know how to read the letter ‘C,’” and that all of Judea and Samaria belong to the Palestinian State. Fayyad declared that “the greatest challenge against the occupation and the settlements is to increase the investment and agriculture on the land of area ‘C.’”
The P.A. Prime Minister does not just talk the talk: the Palestinians began diverting economic support to agricultural endeavors in area ‘C’ Territories, and their representatives pressured foreign countries and organizations, who were initially reluctant to support projects in the ‘C’ Territories, into aligning themselves with the new policy. The story of the new strategy from the Salam Fayyad “school of thought” was investigated by Makor Rishon’s Legal Magazine, B’Tze’dek and explained at great length in the past in by Gil Bringer in Makor Rishon (in an article from 13/3/2012).
The ongoing battle for the lands of Netzer, Gush Etzion, is the entire story in miniature. The choice of the location is no less than perfect for the realization of Fayyad’s vision: the land is in ‘C’ Territories, in the very center of Gush Etzion, in the buffer zone between the Elazar and Alon Shvut communities. An Arab takeover of the land will “suffocate” the nearby Jewish communities and prevent them from future growth and expansion. More importantly, it will disrupt the Jewish territorial continuity in Gush Etzion – which is known as “the heart of the consensus,” regarding the land which Israel will retain in any future agreement. The foreign funding for the Arabs’ efforts in Netzer is known, and is even recorded by a sign placed in one of the plots, depicting the “redemption” of 123 acres, courtesy of Holland.