Last month, I wrote an article about my coverage of the Jewish Underground for The Jewish Press in the 1980s. Era Rapaport – who later served as mayor of Shilo and wrote Letters from Tel Mond Prison (edited by the late Professor William Helmreich) – belonged to this group and was jailed for planting a bomb that blew off the feet of the mayor of Shechem, Bassam Shaka.
The Jewish Press: Why did you target Shaka?
Rapaport: At the time, for more than a year, the Arab mayors throughout Yesha had a plan to discourage more Jews from moving to the settlements. They encouraged terrorists to throw stones and shoot at Israeli vehicles traveling along the roads. The situation was very dangerous.
We appealed on numerous occasions to the government to provide more police and army protection, but nothing was done. We met with Ezer Weizman, who was Minister of Arab Affairs. He pompously told us that he knew how to deal with the Arabs far better than we did, and that was the end of that.
So, in order to protect our families, a group of us decided to act on our own. We resolved to attack six Arab leaders. Bassam Shaka, the mayor of Shechem, was particularly outspoken in his diatribes against the settlers, vowing that he would dance on Jewish graves.
I was part of the team that planted the bomb underneath his parked car. We wanted only to maim him, not kill him. Our Arab informers warned us that killing him could trigger a violent backlash against the settlements. By wounding him permanently, they advised, we would both get our message across and bring shame upon him, leaving him as a living sign that it doesn’t pay to mess with the Jews.
Did you seek halachic advice before you acted?
Yes. We spoke to certain rabbis. Obviously, the answer depends on whom you ask. It’s a complicated matter. Halevai, the Israeli government had acted in our stead – but it didn’t.
When the case broke open and arrests were made, you were in America.
Yes, my wife and I were on shlichut, working on bringing families to Yesha to explore the possibility of aliyah. The authorities in Israel contacted me, wanting me to return for the investigation, but they couldn’t extradite me because I was an American citizen. Then my mother developed cancer, and we decided to stay in New York to help her.
Three years later, she told us to go home. One of my brothers took over for me, and we flew back to Israel. I was arrested at the airport and tried.
I told the court I planted the bomb in self-defense. I received a sentence of 36 months. Six months were reduced because I came back to Israel voluntarily, and after a third of that time, I was released for good behavior.
How does a nice Jewish boy from New York, a graduate of Yeshiva University with a degree in social work, and a loving son, end up blowing off the legs of the mayor of Shechem?
Indeed, it wasn’t a natural outgrowth of my personality. The decision didn’t come easily. Until that time, I had basically earned my living as a social worker, mostly dealing with youth in distress. But the situation in Yesha was out of control. So I said to myself the teaching of our Sages, “In a place where there isn’t a man, be a man.”
What have you been doing since then, besides serving as mayor of Shilo?
Out of my love and enthusiasm for the Land of Israel, I became a tour guide. And a farmer. Over the years, I have planted and cultivated dozens of dunams of grape vineyards in the open fields around Shilo.
We sell our grapes to some of the wine companies that have been established in Yesha, to very commendable international success, I am pleased to say. And I am the proud father of 33 grandchildren and eight wonderful children, five of whom live in Shilo or its surrounding hilltops.
* * * * *
The Jewish Press spoke with two of Era’s children. Era’s daughter, Moriah, lives with her husband and children on the outpost of Adai Ad, five kilometers east of Shilo. Approximately 45 families live in this 30-year-old settlement, which is still without normal plumbing, regular Internet, or reliable electricity.
Moriah reports that a Supreme Court trial has been waged against the community for the past four years, with an evacuation order hanging over it. The plaintiffs are Arabs and an Israeli Civil Rights group with European funding. When not fighting for yishuv ha’aretz, Moriah works in the Ancient Shilo Tourist Park and with her father in a newly-planted vineyard along Nachal Shilo.
The Jewish Press: According to the Oslo Accords, the area around Shilo is “Area C,” which is supposed to be under complete Israeli control. What right do Arabs have to build there?
Moriah: They don’t have any right. But you have to understand that the Arabs have never recognized Areas A, B, and C. As far as they’re concerned, everything is theirs.
For the past 10 years, they have been carrying out what they call “The Shiad Plan.” They came to the conclusion that they couldn’t oust us from the settlements with terror alone, so they began their own settlement initiative with the goal of capturing more and more land adjacent to our communities in the hope of strangling our development.
They’ve been proceeding in an organized fashion, with foreign funding, glossy proposals, attractive sketches of housing projects, and video advertising. They even write that their goal is to prevent the expansion of Israeli settlement in “the ancient heartland of Palestine.”
Driving around Yesha, you can see signs in English stating that a new side road to some Arab village was funded by such-and-such European country. A road to the Arab village near us was paid for by the government of Japan.
When the “hilltop youth” erect a new outpost, it usually doesn’t take long before IDF bulldozers show up to demolish it. Why doesn’t the army do the same to illegal Arab outposts?
In my opinion, the main reason is that the government doesn’t really believe the Land of Israel is ours. Deep down, the secular Israeli feels we stole Palestine from the Palestinians.
A hundred years ago, when the pioneer spirit was strong, Zionist ideology boldly proclaimed that Eretz Yisrael belonged to the Jews – period! Post-Zionism has abandoned that once steadfast belief. The leftists aren’t the only ones who reject the righteousness of our cause. The same uncertainty pervades the political right.
Here and there, you can still find a true Betarnik, but amongst secular Jews, our rightful attachment to the full borders of Eretz Yisrael is a political bargaining chip, not an iron-clad covenant from Sinai.
This sad situation, coupled with international pressure, fear of the International Court in The Hague, and the age-old disease of wanting the goyim to love us leads to our putting false Palestinian claims ahead of our true rights over all of the land.
For example, a kilometer away from Adai Ad, on a hill overlooking our yishuv, within the outer border of Area B, Arabs have cleared a large area to build a new city, including roadways and infrastructure. From the windows of their proposed eight-story apartment buildings, they will be able to fire with snipers at our homes and playgrounds.
They could easily have chosen to build in an area far from our communities, but their plan is to force us to retreat inside the “Green Line.” This has led us to wage a campaign against their building project, which we are fighting via lobbying efforts in different Knesset committees and at the Civil Judea and Samaria Administration and the Ministry of Defense.
This Tu B’Shevat, we turned the traditional planting of trees into a demonstration against the new Arab construction near Adai Ad. In my opinion, our most effective weapon is to expand the boundaries of our existing settlements and to continue to build new outposts wherever we can. This is the most effective way of insuring that any so-called “peace plans” won’t be able to uproot us from our homeland.
If the new Arab building is situated in Area B, what legal grounds exist to stop it?
The Arabs were awarded civil control over Area B, but Israel still retains military control of it. That means that all matters affecting Israel’s security remain under the direct authority of Tzahal.
Obviously, the establishment of an Arab city in our very backyard presents us with a dangerous problem, especially when the Arabs constantly declare that they don’t recognize our right to be here.
* * * * *
For the last three years, Era Rapaport’s oldest son, Yisrael, 35, has lived with his wife and two young girls on a small farm he established by himself in the hills surrounding Shilo. Three months ago, the IDF forced him to evacuate the area.
He named the farm, Nof Av”i, in memory of his grandparents, Avraham and Yaffa Mintz, who were pioneers of the Gush Emunim settlement movement and co-founders of Elon Moreh. Before becoming a farmer, he lived in the well-established Yesha community of Ofra, which his parents helped start in 1975.
The Jewish Press: What made you decide to start a farm on an uninhabited hill?
Yisrael: My wife and I felt we could help Am Yisrael more by starting a new outpost. If Jews don’t settle the vast stretches of mountains and empty wilderness to the east of Shilo and Ofra, the Arabs will.
We need to put more “facts on the ground” that can curtail any peace plans based on the illusionary notion of land for peace.
While Israel considers the Gush Etzion Bloc non-negotiable because of its large population, the Shilo Bloc is much smaller in size. A leftist government could put it up on the chopping board without losing any sleep at night.
How large was your farm?
The main area around our caravan, where the sheep pens and a horse corral were located, was about six dunams. But when you are out on the deserted hills of Judea and Samaria, the sky is the limit.
Because my Abba came from New York, when I was growing up, we always hosted visitors from America. He would always try to convince them to make aliyah with the rest of the Jews in the United States. Often they would reply that there wasn’t enough room in Israel for them all. Abba would laugh in a friendly way and take them out to our terrace to see the view of open mountainsides and valleys.
Also from our mountaintop farm, you could gaze around in all directions and hardly see a building except for the Jewish outposts circling Shilo and Eli. You may not believe it, but there was a court decision concerning a land-ownership dispute in Shilo which the Israelis won by proving that sheep dung found along the contested border was from Jewish sheep.
Often, before we had to dismantle our farm and move to another location, I would graze my herd 10 kilometers from our residence in order to establish our right to the land – what’s known as squatter’s rights. That’s the way it works in the “Wild West Bank.”
For the same reason, we planted several vineyards a few kilometers away from the farm proper. According to old Turkish laws still in effect, any land you cultivate for several years running is yours. That’s the game the Arabs play, and we can play it too.
How do you guard a vineyard when it’s so far away?
We had volunteers who watched over the plantings. Mostly teenagers. At night they slept in tents. And we had a small security staff whom we paid to patrol the area in jeeps. On a few occasions, Arabs managed to uproot our plantings. You can’t be everywhere at the same time. But after someone ignited one of their vineyards in the vicinity, they understood the message and left our fields alone.
Why weren’t you allowed to stay where you were?
Arabs complained to the police, insisting the land belonged to them, even though no effort had ever been made to develop it. The police took their word for it without demanding to see a deed.
There is a double standard at work here. When Arabs or Bedouins act in a similar fashion, building, or planting, or herding flocks on a deserted site, the authorities turn a blind eye. But the minute a Jew does the very same thing, he’s breaking the law.
The leftists have several groups that keep a close eye on the settlements with generous funding from Europe and America. They report every movement we make. The police told us to evacuate the site or the Arabs would bring a lawsuit against us. They gave us a few warnings which we ignored, perfectly ready to take our case to court.
One day, about four months ago, the army showed up with a bulldozer and threatened to destroy the very sophisticated and costly sheep pens we installed if we didn’t dismantle them ourselves. We had no choice but to abandon the project.
Where did you move afterwards?
To another farm I started, this time on an empty plot of land near the city of Ariel in the Shomron. The city municipality asked me to come. The plot is located at the outer edge of the city’s boundaries, where Arabs were beginning to poach. Not far away is an Arab village that serves as a terrorist hideout.
This time, the local Israeli Civil Authority agreed to our enterprise. They allowed us to clear a dirt road to the site, and the city of Ariel ran a water pipe out to the farm. We haven’t been hooked up to electricity yet, so we rely on a generator.
We hope other families will join us. In the meantime, within the last month, Arab civil rights organizations, along with leftist Israeli groups, have held three protests on the site with media coverage from all over the world.
Even though our new farm is within Area C, the media readily accepts the claim that Israelis are illegally encroaching on Palestinian land. Ariel’s future plans include expanding several new neighborhoods in our direction. Right now, we’re holding down the fort.