JERUSALEM - The demonstrators surged forward threateningly, chanting and megaphones blaring, “Free Palestine” between shouts of “Two capitals for two nations.” The police struggled to keep them at a reasonable distance, to create a perimeter. Dov Hikind, New York Assemblyman and activist on behalf of Israel, and Danny Danon, Knesset member and Chairman of the World Likud, accompanied by a hundred supporters, gathered to dedicate a cornerstone for a project to build 125 new apartments in the Nof Tzion section of Jerusalem. Nof Tzion is immediately adjacent to the Arab neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.
The construction is planned as an addition to an already existing complex in Nof Tzion and is expected to grow to over 400 units. It will ultimately include a synagogue, social hall, and a shopping area. The controversy was further exacerbated by President Obama’s previous day pronouncement in opposition to any new construction in the predominantly Jewish Gilo section of Jerusalem. Despite the demonstrator’s, primarily from Peace Now, disturbing cacophony of megaphones, the police did manage to keep matters at a relatively even keel. The next day many of Gilo’s 30,000 residents, enraged at Peace Now’s actions, displayed banners accusing them of outwardly bringing harm upon Israel and specifically for these latest developments.
The dedication was the culmination of an intense 3-day mission thru Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem led by Mr. Hikind and joined by 50 American Jews. The mission’s primary objective was to emphasize the inalienable right of Jews to reside anywhere within the land of Israel. The plan was to meet with families already living within these areas, to offer encouragement, and to evaluate real estate opportunities. The hope was to find a suitable home or caravan (mobile home) for purchase and to utilize it as either a permanent or vacation home, or offer it as a rental for a new young family looking to move into the area...
The mission’s initial focus was the centrally located city of Ariel. Together with Maale Adumim and the Gush Etzion block, Ariel is one of the three settlement blocks that successive Israeli governments have viewed as sacrosanct. That is, these are areas Israel will never relinquish to be part of a proposed Palestinian state. Israel’s current government is of the understanding that the Bush administration’s commitment to Israel’s retention of these three blocks is binding upon future American governments. The Obama administration disclaims this arrangement.
Ariel is a thriving city with a mixed religious, non-religious population of 20,000. Magnificently situated on a series of scenic rolling hills located just beyond the Green Line, it is approximately 25 minutes from downtown Tel Aviv. It contains the College of Judea and Samaria, which serves 11,000 students, 85% of which reside west of the green line, as well as 500 Arab students. Ariel includes a vibrant industrial area, with 3000 Arab employees, and houses the newly transported Gush Katif community of Netzer Ariel. These former Jewish Gaza evacuees related how it was only the city of Ariel that immediately welcomed them warmly, provided land upon which to live, and further offered every manner of support.
Ariel’s founder and mayor, Ron Nachman personally greeted each member of the Delegation. Also present was the legendary Yaakov Katz, affectionately known as Katzelle, and the young, new, and dynamic Knesset member, Tzippi Hotovelli, Mayor Nachman spoke of the strategic importance of Ariel in protecting Tel Aviv. “Without Ariel” he said, “Israel would be barely 8 miles wide at that point and virtually indefensible to a ground assault from the east.” He restated his commitment that he would never leave Ariel, and was effusive in his expression of appreciation for the Delegation’s visit. So much so, he related with great sadness, that this was the only organized American group to visit Ariel in many years, despite invitations to numerous American Jewish organizations.
The drive the next day was north, high onto the mountains of Samaria. An armored bus was provided, the kind used here to transport children to and from school. The armor adds multiple thousand pounds, costs about $130,000 to complete, and slows the bus dramatically uphill. The first stop, as was that of the biblical Abraham’s upon entering the holy land was Elon Moreh. High in the hills overlooking panoramic expansive valleys, the modern community was founded in 1973 by Benny Katzover and 200 determined people. Benny later related that “they began building the settlement 8 times and it was destroyed 7 times. Now 3000 people call it home. Agriculture, particularly olive orchards, farming, and light industry are their mainstays. People were friendly and very much committed to growing their community.
Given the world’s media portrayal of Settlers, much maligned as “Occupiers”, “Usurpers,” and as “Obstacles to peace,” it was important to meet these people and gain a deeper understanding as to who they are. It was essential to understand their motivations, and to see how they conduct themselves in pursuit of their ideals. To visit the hilltop settlements, to meet so-called Hilltop Youth in their own environment was much anticipated.
At each community visited, the Delegation was heartedly greeted. Both by veteran residents and young enthusiastic parents of, often large, families, most religious but many traditional in their observance. The communities were topographically elevated, some high on hilltops, as a means of enhancing security in so difficult a neighborhood. Some, particularly the older communities, such as Shilo and Tekoa were the more heavily populated each with thousands of residents. They too were intent on establishing a presence in the surrounding hills, as an added security measure against the scourge of terrorism that has caused them such devastation. The smaller communities visited, Itamar, Havat Gilead, Karnei Shomron, Ofra, Amona, Psagot, and tiny Adai Ad, with only 20 families, each offered a unique history and individual perspectives. Hearing their stories and dedication to the land of Israel was inspirational.
The Settlers maintain their connection and right to this land surpasses all others. It is rooted, they believe, in three thousand years of Jewish history and Jewish residency on this land. For the religiously guided, it is biblically mandated, and for both the religious and nationally guided, it is essential for the security of the state. They categorically reject accusations of illegal occupancy, stating their position that the area was never legally part of any modern state, and that their legal claim is as strong, indeed stronger, than all others. They are ready to live side by side and in peace with their fellow Arab residents.
Historically, subsequent to Israel’s 1967 resounding victory in the Six Day War, a movement began, known then as Gush Emonim, for Jewish settlement in the newly liberated Judea and Samaria. Affectionately referred to as Israel’s ancient heartland, religious, nationalistic, and security minded Israelis, with the encouragement of successive Israeli governments, began building settlements throughout the area. The United Nations resolution that brought about the establishment of Israel in 1948 partitioned this area for an Arab, ostensibly Palestinian, state. The Arabs however rejected the partition, declared war on Israel with the intent of destroying it, and were defeated. This prompted the state of Transjordan to invade without any legal justification, occupy and annex the area. Accordingly, they then changed the name of their country to Jordan. Again, in 1967 still intent upon destroying Israel, they declared war against Israel, and again were promptly defeated, this time in 6 days. They no longer were in control of Judea and Samaria, and not long thereafter, they disavowed any connection to it.
The Settlers, for the most part, live a Spartan lifestyle, most give up more lucrative opportunities to fulfill their ideals. They are fully cognizant of the personal risk they and their families face on a daily basis, as danger lurks every night and behind ever turn on the road. They believe their destiny is to settle the land and in the process provide Israel with a level of security unattainable in any other manner. They recognize world opinion is aligned against them, and that much Israeli, particularly Leftist opinion is vociferously against them. Though their numbers now exceed 300,000, they are nevertheless denigrated as extremists, often because of the misguided actions of a miniscule few. They see themselves, as part of a continuum with modern day Israel’s first pioneers of the 1880’s who were instrumental in building the foundation for the creation of the state. Indeed, they have been dubbed Israel’s modern day pioneers.
Back in Jerusalem, the evening prior to the cornerstone dedication, the planned celebration that turned into a confrontation, General Benzy Gruber, Deputy Commander of the Armored Division and responsible for the lives of 20,000 soldiers, addressed the Delegation. The General outlined the objectives and strategy employed in Operation Cast Lead this past year in Gaza. He stated definitively that, given the complexities of an asymmetrical war where the enemy, in this instance Hamas, hid behind its civilian population, the IDF conducted itself in a highly moral fashion, oftentimes at the risk of its own soldiers. He further stated that Israel did not use white phosphorous, as accused in the much publicized Goldstone Report. He said the majority of Goldstone’s accusations were completely fraudulent. His concluding comments demonstrated the durability of the Jewish people. As a case in point, he spoke with much poignancy of his mother, who with her twin sister survived Auchwitz and the notorious experiments of Dr. Mengele. She began life anew in Israel, saw the country grow, and her children become major contributors to the success of her beloved Jewish state.
The final evening, Uzi Landau, Minister of Infrastructures and Knesset member, expressed his sincere appreciation to the Delegation for its efforts on behalf of Israel. He especially thanked Dov Hikind for his courageous leadership, concern for the welfare of Israel and the Jewish people, and for his readiness to come to Israel to fight for the pressing issues of the day. The battle this time, the inalienable right of Jews to live anywhere within the land of Israel.