In light of the horrific tragedy in Har Nof last week and the recent spate of hate murders, this trip was even more significant in that we saw so clearly how the Arabs have no intention of peacefully coexisting with us.
We began our off-the-beaten-path trip with a visit to Nofim, a lovely diversified community in the lush, verdant Kana River Nature Reserve. Nofim is unique because the land is privately owned as opposed to state-owned. It was founded in 1986 by a couple that had purchased the land. There are approximately 165 families living there. A new building project has been halted by the Society for the Preservation of Nature which claimed that trees would be harmed although the builder promised that would not happen. The Municipal Council invested 7M for a clean sewerage project and the local Arabs were invited to use it but they refused, preferring to spill sewerage into the nature preserve. No repercussions.
We then proceeded to Kedumim, where we met its spokeswoman Rafaella Segal. This 39 year old community of over 1,000 families now has 10 different neighborhoods. 40 young couples are living in trailers awaiting permits to build. We visited B’nei Chai, a school for 120 boys from all over Israel with ADD. The school has been operating for 12 years without government help. Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, the principal, told us that the graduates have been successful in their endeavors.
Onward to Chavat Gilad built on private land purchased by Moshe Tzur whose son Gilad had been murdered by terrorists. In 12 years the people still have not received zoning rights to build and the very modest trailer homes are considered illegal. This is in sharp contrast to Arabs who have a great amount of freedom to build however they want under Israeli occupation. The homes in Chavat Gilad are not allowed to be hooked up to the water or electric supply and the people are in dire straits. AFSI has helped raise funds in the past to help with the water problem and on this visit donated clothing contributed by one of our members. Even during the Gaza war Israel didn’t cut water and power to Gaza, but will not provide them to Jews in the Shomron. As we traveled on the road from Chavat Gilad to Har Bracha we saw rock quarrying by Arabs with no attention to preservation of nature. On Har Bracha we met Caleb Walker of Ha Yovel, a Christian group from the US that harvest grapes and olives there and in Shilo. Approximately 250 volunteers come for 12 weeks.
Itamar which was established in 1984 was our next stop and we met with former mayor Moshe Goldsmith and were shown the beautiful new synagogue. Prior to now there were only temporary shuls. Of all the communities in the Shomron Itamar possesses the largest amount of land.
Our last visit on our first day was to Yitzhar where we met with Ayelet and Akiva HaCohen and were present for the new synagogue dedication at sunset and the placing of the mezuzot. From there we proceeded to dinner at our hotel in Ariel where we heard two outstanding speakers, Professor Ron Schleifer of the University of Ariel who spoke on the psychology of propaganda and Lenny Goldberg from Kfar Tapuach who stressed the need to follow the Torah.
On Tuesday we passed the infamous Tapuach Junction (site of many terrorist attacks especially after the checkpoint protocol eased) on our way to Kfar Tapuach. We passed red signs prohibiting Israelis from traveling on certain roads. No such signs prohibits Arabs from any roads. Tapuach is home to about 220 families and is growing on its north side. We passed the new sports center. Our first visit was to the home-based natural soap and cream factory of Adi and Oron Levi and then on to the Shmitta .Farm which has an olive grove of longstanding and a vineyard which memorializes the 3 boys kidnapped and murdered last summer. Drip irrigation is used for the olive grove. Orange boxes protect the grape vines from the gazelles. We then paid a visit to Avraham’s Tent. Avraham Hertzlich is a goat herder whose 400 goats were stolen 2 years ago. The tent was put up by his son-in-law, David HaIvri, who received a “stop work” order from the Civil Administration which is under the Ministry of Defense. David explained that Avraham(father of the murdered Talia Kahane) had herded goats for 15 years in this area and needs a place in which to receive visitors. He has to go back in a month for their decision.
On to historic Shilo where we toured the tel and heard about archeological finds and the many biblical references to this special place. Many soldiers were visiting and Naftali Bennett was also there but we didn’t get to meet him. We enjoyed lunch at Joe’s Place and then saw a film of ancient Shilo.
Back in Ariel we met with Tami, an amazing woman who along with her family had been expelled from Gush Katif in 2005. Ariel invited a number of those expelled to stay at the university while it wasn’t in use. Some of the families opted to remain in Ariel and we visited their “temporary” trailer park complete with synagogue. Finally, after over 9 years some of their permanent housing is almost ready. At the hotel former mayor of Kedumim, Daniella Weiss, spoke to us. Daniella had just received the news that she had to do months of factory labor as punishment for refusing to leave Beis HaShalom in Hebron in years past even though the court later ruled that its sale to Jews was legal.. Even this impending punishment left Daniella undeterred and she has great vision for the Jewish population of Judea and Samaria. At dinner Eli Shaviro, the new mayor of Ariel, shared with us his plans for his city including a close relationship between the citizenry and the university, creating a high tech hub on campus and more industrial parks for future employment, a regional medical center, and a center for young adults. There has been a building freeze over the last 20 years and the mayor hopes to make up for lost time. Of particular interest are the wine research projects being carried out at the university–270 strands of biblical grapes have been found!
Wednesday started with a tour of the port at Ashdod where we met old friends and former Gush Katif residents, Laurence Beziz and Shifra Shomron. Then on to Beit Reshet, a treatment center for youth at risk, where they practice horticultural, sport, and animal therapies.The dedication of the staff was very apparent. Our next visit was exceptionally meaningful as we visited Anita Tucker in her new home(after 9 years) in Netzer Hazani. We were treated to a massive lunch at her home and also saw Rachel and Moshe Saperstein, still awaiting completion of their new home. We could feel their pain. After a walk to the synagogue and clubhouse, we drove to meet Meir who guided us to a local cave. From there we went directly to our hotel in Ashkelon where we enjoyed seafront rooms.
We headed south on Thursday to moshav Netiv Asarah, the closest community to Gaza. Alfredo, our guide, acquainted us with the history of the moshav. From 1974-1982 they were 65 families living south of Gaza. After being evacuated in 1982 they spent 7-8 months at a soldiers’ resort in Ashkelon and then 80% of the families chose to relocate together to their present location which is now home to 140 families. Alfredo foresees that number climbing to 210 in the future. Netziv Asarah is now the “Silicon Valley of the Seeds” with its artificial insemination program for hybrid tomato, pepper, melon, and watermelon seeds, done by hand, not machine. One of the residents has decorated a security wall as a peace wall.
We then proceeded to Kibbutz Nirim situated 2 km from the border with Gaza. A tunnel between Nirim and Ein Hashlosha was discovered and destroyed last summer. Nirim has been a target of rocket attacks from Gaza for over 11 years; the attacks escalated in 2008 and in 2011 the government built safe rooms for every dwelling. This is done for all communities within 4 km of the border. People have 7 seconds to reach a safe room after the alarm sounds. In 2012 there was another round of violence and this past summer during the Gaza war the children were moved to Mishmar HaEmek for 61 days. We visited the spots where 2 men were killed and one lost both legs to rockets.
Farther south in Nave we visited the Otzem Mechina, a pre-military academy for religious boys. The aim is to nourish a nationalistic feeling, provide physical and mental preparation for army training, and to understand how everything is rooted in Torah. Nave is the mechina’s third location. It was originally in the Sinai and later in Gush Katif. Having survived 2 expulsions it now has 200 new students each year. Its graduates often rise to officer level in the military.
Our last stop of the day was to the southernmost point in the Halutza Dunes (Northern Negev) to visit a new synagogue. This is the end of the line for Jewish communities in this area. Enroute to our hotel we toured an Ashkelon community that is now home to 200 Gush Katif families. The streets are named after Gush Katif communities.
On Friday we awoke in our sea front rooms in Ashkelon and then traveled with Ari Briggs of Regavim to Kisufim close to Gaza. Regavim is an organization that works to stop the ceding of Israeli land to the Bedouins in the Negev. At the Gaza border we met Keith Isaacson, a leader of the ravshatzim, security officials who defend the yishuvim( the 32 Jewish communities near the Egyptian-Gazan border). Keith told us that Hamas intended to use the concrete terror tunnels with the terrorists dressed in Israel Defense Force uniforms, storm Jewish communities, take hostages, and bring them back to Gaza. Hamas had trained thousands of terrorists to synchronize their attacks on Rosh Hashanah. IDF uniforms, motorbikes, dynamite, food, formaldehyde, and ties were found in the tunnels which are 22-44 meters below the ground. These operations were being planned since 2000. Intelligence units found printed materials on these planned attacks and the evidence was shown to the UN, Obama, and Kerry. Does anyone recall any UN resolutions? Keith noted that Israel had emboldened Hamas by threatening and then not doing anything. Egypt has been creating its own corridor between Egypt and Gaza. It gave the Arabs 48 hours to get out of their homes, and then demolished them with no compensation. Not a word of condemnation from the international community. Imagine if Israel had done that.
We drove to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai where the Egyptian artillery headed for Tel Aviv during the 1948 war was stopped. The museum has an excellent exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto and its heroic defenders. There is a memorial to Mordechai Anielewicz. A very meaningful visit.
On to Sderot, to the Hesder Yeshiva where we would spend Shabbos and stay two nights. The highlights of this holy Shabbos were our dinner with Mayor Alon Davidi and Rabbi Dov Fendel, a walking tour of Sderot, the yeshiva boys dancing outdoors on Motzei Shabbos, and our meeting with Yifa Segal of Tazpit, which provides news services to various newspapers both in Israel and abroad.
Sunday morning we set off for Hebron. We first visited with Yifat Akobi to see the progress being made at Beit HaShalom. This building that was bought by Jews and contested in the courts was finally found to have been bought legally. It’s been a very upward battle. David Wilder then took us on a tour of the excavations at Tel Rumeida which was new for us! We also visited Nevei Avraham, a children’s treatment center in Kiryat Arba where David’s wife Ora works. They treated us to a lovely lunch.
After Hebron we visited the Women in Green. Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover took us around Oz V’Gaon Forest where a new tourist site in Gush Etzion is being developed as a memorial to Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal. They have grand plans for this site which they embarked upon as soon as they learned of the murders..A tremendous amount of cleanup of this formerly neglected area has already been done. The area is very beautiful and is a fitting memorial. The Women in Green put out an outstanding political journal called “Sovereignty” which is what they advocate for all of Israel.
Our last stop–also in Gush Etzion–was to Midreshet Hevron, a place of learning run by Shai Solomon for the many soldiers stationed in Hebron and Gush Etzion. This is on the former site of Massuat Yitzhak, a kibbutz until the 1948 war. We relaxed at the Army rest center created by Rafi Danan. He and his family host thousands of soldiers every month. There is a special coffee corner for them which is privately funded. These efforts reflect the love and support the people living in the area have for the soldiers. Captain Shlomi Cohen told us how the soldiers especially face provocation from foreign leftists on Fridays who try to incite the soldiers to use force on them and thus create an incident.
We then drove to our hotel in Jerusalem where we had our only free evening. Some of us headed for the kotel (Western Wall) and walked around the Old City.
Most of our group woke early on Monday to ascend the Temple Mount with Rabbi Richman. The visit coincided with the arrival of Rabbi Yehuda Glick’s son who was escorted by soldiers and had come to pray for his father who had been brutally attacked by an Arab. Rabbi Glick has advocated for equal rights for Jews on the Temple Mount. Only Muslims are allowed to pray there. Go figure.
Later we set out with Chaim Silberstein for the Goldman Promenade lookout with its spectacular vistas and then to the view point in Gilo on Rehov HaAnafa. We saw Beit Jala from where the Arabs had shot at Gilo during the last intifada. The protective wall is no longer in place. After a light lunch in Gilo we stopped at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and saw the statue of Mother Rachel.
Next we rendezvous’d with Jerusalem Council member Aryeh King. He spoke to us of the frequent terrorist attacks in the city. A “quiet day” means only 2-3 incidents or 2-3 Jews attacked. It is not unusual for there to be 13 incidents in a day. These attacks are not limited to East Jerusalem. The light rail is a frequent target. In Arab areas there is no police presence and Israeli laws concerning taxation and driving are not being enforced. This has been going on for many years. Aryeh first took us to the Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives where stonings have been occurring at least twice per week. We visited the Gerrer Chassidim section and were shocked by the desecration that has taken place. Some of our photos were on Arutz Sheva. Afterwards, we went to Ma’aleh HaZeitim, the community where the King family lives. They are subjected to stonings and firecrackers; the children’s play area is enclosed with wire, much like a chicken coop.
We enjoyed an amazing dinner at the Rimon Restaurant in Mamilla. Back at the hotel Shalom Pollack and Rabbi David Cohen spoke to us about Honenu which provides legal aid to Jews, both soldiers and civilians, who have been unjustly accused.
Our final day began with a briefing by Jeff Daube. He cited the teaching in the Palestinian schools and the preaching in the mosques as incitement to violence. He also discussed the stonings on the Mt. of Olives. As cars approach the cemetery, easily identifiable Jews are stoned to the point of lynching. The Arab merchants prevail upon the young people not to attack Christians who are visiting their holy sites down below or on the northern side, only Jews in the Jewish domain. On a positive note, the penal code will be modified: rocks will be considered lethal weapons, the penalty for throwing rocks at a vehicle will be up to 20 years in prison,and parents of youths will be held responsible for damages. Jeff also spoke of illegal Arab building and how the majority of Arabs neglect to pay for utilities with impunity.
Dan Luria of Ateret Cohanim whose goal is to keep Jerusalem in Jewish hands was our guide to Silwan, also known as the old Yemenite Quarter. Jews are finally coming back here, and we visited two recently purchased buildings, Beit Ovadia where we saw a mezuzah being placed and the House of Frumkin. We passed by the Honey House and Beit Yonatan, two Jewish homes. After walking out of Silwan we passed by Kever Zechariah and Absalom’s Tomb. With extra time to spare(an AFSI first?) we got to spend a few hours at Yad Vashem or Mt. Herzl prior to our farewell dinner at Darna, a beautiful Moroccan restaurant.
On this trip we were made aware of the best and worst in human behavior. There were terrorist attacks against innocent Jews during our stay, never letting us forget the hatred that is harbored against us, and only desirous of destroying. On the other hand, we met with so many wonderful people, heroes and heroines who have visions and want to create and build.
Israel nowadays feels especially isolated given the current US administration. It is imperative that all of us do whatever we can to make people aware of the true situation and to be supportive of Israel, the only free and diverse nation in the Middle East.