By Helen Freedman

AFSI prides itself on showing its Chizuk participants the REAL ISRAEL. Although we have been leading these semi-annual trips for the past 22 years, nothing gets stale. As Israel grows and develops – as it creates roads, bridges, tunnels, light rails, trains, and the means to crisscross the country, engaging the extraordinary diversity of the landscape, so we embrace the land and its people. We re-visit people and places and discover new ones. Everywhere we go, bonds are created that become so strong that we are pulled back again and again.

We are grateful to Israel and its people for preserving this Land for us to explore.

November 7, 2017 was the beginning of the fall AFSI Chizuk mission. A beautiful view of the Mediterranean greeted the mission participants as we made our first stop in Palmachim. Having met at Ben Gurion just a short time before, greeting old friends and meeting new ones, our driver, Ami, brought us to this first destination. Moti met us as we disembarked the van, and after enjoying the lovely lunch set out for us, we were treated to a tour of Beit Miriam, a wonderful archaeological museum filled with local treasures. We enjoyed seeing the synagogue under construction, a sign of the special cooperation between the kibbutzniks and the Gush Katif refugees from Eli Sinai who have made Palmachim their new home.

Driving through the narrow streets of Tel Aviv, we arrived at ILTV, the TV station which was celebrating its second birthday. Dressed in our AFSI t-shirts, we surrounded Natasha, the anchor for the show, carrying balloons and singing happy birthday to this important news of Israel outlet. Afterward, we headed to Yerushalayim for our three-night stay at the Dan Panorama.

Wednesday, Nov. 8, began early as we went to the Temple Mount for our 7:30 AM meeting with Rabbi Yaakov Hayman, head of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation. As usual, our group had to submit passports and wait for the heavy Israeli police guard that accompanies us on every tour of Har HaBayit. It was a beautiful day, so we patiently waited to be admitted, enjoying the sunshine and the view of the Kotel below us. Yaakov gave us a wonderful tour, as always, and the feeling of holiness and spirituality that permeates the Mount was not diminished by the prodding of the police or the glares of the WAQF guards who followed our progress.

Dan Luria, Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim, met us at the conclusion of our Har HaBayit tour and guided us through the Old City. We stopped at a tiny store newly opened in the Muslim Quarter that houses a Jewish enterprise dealing with shatnes. This stop was a MUST as the store is owned by David Wiseman of Dallas and arranged by Arieh King. Racing up and down the stairs of the Old City, and climbing to rooftops for fantastic views of Yerushalayim, are all part of touring with Dan. We love it.

After a quick lunch in the Jewish Quarter, we boarded our van and traveled on to the Judean desert for a visit with Jeremy Gimpel of the Land of Israel Network. This was an extraordinary experience. Jeremy showed us the vast expanse of land, the building he and his team have constructed, and the plans in progress for a desert retreat. We were caught up in his energy and enthusiasm and agreed that this was a place to which we would have to return. Dinner that night was at Roza, in Gush Etzion. It has become a favorite of ours.

Thursday, Nov. 9, began with traveling to Eli in the Shomron for a visit with Gilad Ach and his Ad Kan team. We were told remarkable stories of how Ad Kan infiltrates Arab terror cells and exposes them. Using power point and personal anecdotes, we learned about the amazing work of this group. Once again, it was Aharon Pulver, of the Israel Independence Fund, who led us to this fascinating experience.

Remembering our Amona friends and their tragic expulsion from their homes, who are still living in dormitories in Ofra, we met Elad Ziv at their new construction site at Amichai, outside of Shilo. Happily, we can report that progress is being made on the infrastructure and the community is hoping to be in their new caravans by March 2018.

We then drove on to Har Gerizim for our meeting with Caleb Waller, whose father, Tommy, had started a very active Christian HaYovel project in the Shomron. Looking down from the Mt. to Shechem/Nablus, one sees a postage stamp of the congested Balata refugee camp, surrounded by the sprawling, wealthy city. Clearly, the refugees are kept there for PR purposes. They could easily be absorbed into the city.

We went on to Har Bracha with Caleb and met his twin brother, Joshua at their headquarters there. We enjoyed a stimulating talk about their pioneering work in Israel, and then said farewell and returned to Jerusalem.

Dinner that night was at the lovely Piccolino restaurant. Arieh King, Councilman of Jerusalem, joined us for an always stimulating talk. There is much debate in Israel about the situation in Jerusalem with the arrival of thousands of Arabs within the borders of the Municipality. There are those who fear the Arabs will become a large enough majority so that the possibility of a Muslim mayor might exist. Arieh is totally devoted to Jerusalem and is strongly against moving any borders that would shrink Jerusalem in size. Instead, he wants to expand the borders so that the outlying neighborhoods of Jerusalem would be incorporated into a greater Yerushalayim. We support this plan.

Friday, Nov. 10, began with an inspiring visit to Oz V’Gaon in Gush Etzion. This park, dedicated to the three boys killed in the area, Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, has been amazingly developed by Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover, along with a large team of volunteers. AFSI has been a supporter of the park from the beginning. We were welcomed warmly. Judy Kadish and I offered greetings from AFSI. Ken Abramowitz, AFSI Board member, was the keynote speaker, once again teaching us about how to save Western civilization. MK Yehuda Glick and MK Uri Ariel also spoke, concentrating on support for Sovereignty – the key effort of the Women in Green. We walked the new Zionism path in Oz V’Gaon, with signposts on either side, containing quotes from great Zionist leaders. This was a great way to mark the 120 years since the first Zionist Congress and 50 years since the liberation of Gush Etzion. We left reluctantly, promising to promote Sovereignty wherever and whenever possible.

Our next stop was Netiv Avot in Elazar. In the tradition of AFSI, to give Chizuk to threatened areas, we knew that a visit to the community was a must. The spokesman told us the tragic story of the decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to demolish their homes despite the fact that NO proof exists that their homes violate any true Arab entitlement. Once again, the Court sides with Arab claims over Jewish rights. We are praying that reason will prevail and the decision to destroy will be cancelled.

We drove on to Kiryat Arba/Hebron to settle into our Yeshivat Nir dormitory accommodations. Again, the weather was gorgeous, and walking down the hill to Hebron with thousands of Yeshiva students and families, was a great pleasure. Hebron was packed with 35,000 visitors, most camping out and enjoying the festive atmosphere. After Kabbalat Shabbat services, we walked to the home of Ora and David Wilder in Beit Hadassah, where the entire group had been invited for dinner. It was a wonderfully festive meal, with prayers, songs, good conversation and delicious food.

Shabbat morning we returned to Hebron for prayers at the Ma’arat HaMachpela, crowding into the Yitzchak hall which is open to Jews only a few times a year. Minyans were formed everywhere in the plaza and pup tents crowded every available space. Huge tents had been set up to feed the thousands with beautifully catered meals. We had Shabbat lunch with the Hebron Fund, a group we’ve enjoyed being with on past Chaye Sarah weekends.

The afternoon was filled with tours to Tel Rumeida, the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, and simply walking along the main street meeting old friends and enjoying the camaraderie of the day. Shalosh Seudot and Havdalah took place at the Gutnick Center. Shabbat was over and the exodus from Hebron began. The traffic was so congested that the police had to close entry completely. That gave us time to visit dear friends from the past, Yifat and Shalom Akobi. They are living in Beit Machpela, a reclaimed building in the heart of Hebron. Yifat took us to the roof of the building for a spectacular view of Hebron. It was an unforgettable sight on that beautiful night.

After returning to the Yeshiva, we packed up and drove to Arad for overnight. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore the city, which has many fascinating aspects to it.

Instead, we met Shulamit of the Har Hebron community and she guided us to our first stop – the Yatir winery. We had a fascinating tour of the winery, led by Etti Edri, the Assistant Manager. We enjoyed tasting some prize winning wines.

We drove on to Sussya where we gathered in a private home to hear about life in that community. We also met with Arye Odess, who told us of his transition from Gush Katif to Har Hebron. His nephew, Elisha Odess, is still in prison on false charges of participating in a “price- tag? arson attack in Duma. There is no evidence against him, but he continues to be held in solitary confinement. We believe this is an abomination.

An unusual and delightful lunch stop was at Café Ron’El in Mitzpe Yair. In addition to enjoying the wonderful home-made food while eating outdoors with a group of soldiers, overlooking the Hebron hills, we heard Ron’el’s story of her conversion to Judaism and her decision to live in one of the 18 communities that make up Har Hebron. Arabs surround these communities, so co- existence is primary. Rabbi Aaron Egeltqal had arranged the meeting for us and he was there to fill in the blanks about the area.

The afternoon was spent at the Israel Air Force museum in Hatserim, outside Beersheba. The tour was fascinating, instilling great pride in this branch of the military which has such an incredible history. One could not help but feel that despite the many warts we see in Israel, there is so much to celebrate.

Driving on to Ashkelon, we arrived at the Holiday Inn where our rooms all faced the sea, providing fabulous views. Dinner was at a new restaurant at the new dock in Ashkelon. We couldn’t help but marvel at the growth of the city, which has been expanded and been developed beautifully. The Gush Katif refugees who built their permanent homes there, have created an outstanding community.

Monday, Nov. 13, we made Sederot our first stop. Although we always hope to visit with our good friend, Mayor Alon Davidi, it wasn’t possible this time so Elad Kalimi, the Deputy Mayor, met us and guided us around. The city, known for its hundreds of rocket attacks and the Tzeva Adom – the red alert – has become a garden spot. A huge playground attracts children and adults from the entire area. We climbed the hill that enables one to see Gaza very close by. It’s a sobering sight.

Knowing that Sederot is a music center, we asked to be taken to a studio where we met a delightful musician. He played and sang some of his original songs. We enjoyed the experience immensely. Then we moved on to the Menorah candle factory where we saw the intricacies and equipment involved in producing candles. Of course, purchasing our Chanukah candles was a must.

Dror Vanunu, our longtime friend and representative of the Gush Katif communities, arranged our afternoon in Lachish. First we visited dear Gush Katif friends, Rachel and Moshe Saperstein in their beautiful new home in B’nai Dekalim. We then enjoyed picking grapes at a marvelous Lachish vineyard. Each of us filled our baskets to the top with delicious red seedless grapes, while eating some at the same time.

In Karmei Katif, we were shown the new synagogue under construction in memory of Tali Hatuel and her four daughters and unborn son, all murdered by terrorists in Gush Katif in 2004. David Hatuel, his new wife and six children now live in Karmei Katif – in a caravan, but will be moving into their new home shortly. We visited the family in their home and were greeted with great warmth and joy.

Before leaving the area, Dror took us into some amazing caves dating back to the Bar Kochba era. Awesome!! We returned to Ashkelon for dinner and packed up for our last day of the Mission.

Another brilliantly warm, sunny day greeted us on Tuesday, Nov. 14. We began our touring at the Aleh Negev Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village. We had been to the Aleh facility in Yerushalayim and had seen the severely handicapped residents. But here, in the Negev, with lots of land available, and a beautiful campus, the residents seemed to flourish. Being outdoors, integrating with a large staff, many volunteers, even prisoners who helped with the youngsters, the scene was much more uplifting.

We continued on to the Halutza communities of Shlomit, Neve, and B’nai Netzarim. All three are on the Egyptian border and seem to be isolated on the sands. The residents, however, greeted us with smiles and stories of the wonderful life they enjoy. At B’nai Netzarim, we took pleasure in seeing the synagogue, dedicated by the Moskowitz family. We couldn’t help but recall the beautiful synagogue in the original Netzarim in Gush Katif which we had seen being built. We watched this one from the beginning also, and are so pleased that it is such a beautiful structure.

We also enjoyed being taken to a greenhouse, such as the ones we visited in Gush Katif, where many varieties of bug free lettuce were being grown. The hydrophonic plantings were so perfect that they looked like flowers.

The drive to Ben Gurion airport, where farewells were exchanged, was filled with each participant speaking about the meaning of the trip to him/her. It was clear that each one saw himself as an Ambassador, equipped to describe the REAL ISRAEL to all who would listen.

Many who were with us will return for the special Yom HaAtzmaut trip scheduled for April 17-25. Others, who were not with us, have already reserved for this special time in Israeli history when the 70 years since the creation of the State will be celebrated. We look forward to it with great anticipation. All are invited to join us. Contact Judy at 212-828-2424 or write to judy@afsi.org.



The AFSI, November 2017 Mission to Israel, was timed to celebrate the amazing, miraculous victories of the Six Day War of 1967 where Israel regained the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria were restored, and Jerusalem was united. Israel was whole again. The speed with which the victories took place was unexpected and unprecedented. Israel had prepared 30,000 graves, in preparation for the worst. Instead, amidst the euphoria of victory was the bewilderment expressed by Israel’s PM Levi Eshkol – “What are we going to do with all of that?” It was that indecision and lack of preparedness for victory, which has led to the fifty years of “disputed” territories.
It is in these areas, in the Golan, in Judea and Samaria, in eastern Jerusalem, that AFSI has concentrated its efforts over the past 22 years when we have conducted our missions on a semi-annual basis. Now that the jubilation of the victories has been enjoyed, it is time for Israel to decide what it “will do with all that.” AFSI says it is time to proclaim victory, to declare sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, to make it clear that the Golan will never be relinquished, and to assert that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel, with the Temple Mount permanently “in our hands.”
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Helen Freedman

The AFSI, May 2017 Mission to Israel, was timed to celebrate the amazing, miraculous victories of the Six Day War of 1967 where Israel regained the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria were restored, and Jerusalem was united. Israel was whole again. The speed with which the victories took place was unexpected and unprecedented. Israel had prepared 30,000 graves, in preparation for the worst. Instead, amidst the euphoria of victory was the bewilderment expressed by Israel’s PM Levi Eshkol – “What are we going to do with all of that?” It was that indecision and lack of preparedness for victory, which has led to the fifty years of “disputed” territories.

It is in these areas, in the Golan, in Judea and Samaria, in eastern Jerusalem, that AFSI has concentrated its efforts over the past 22 years when we have conducted our missions on a semi-annual basis. Now that the jubilation of the victories has been enjoyed, it is time for Israel to decide what it “will do with all that.” AFSI says it is time to proclaim victory, to declare sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, to make it clear that the Golan will never be relinquished, and to assert that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel, with the Temple Mount permanently “in our hands.”

AFSI began the victory lap in the Golan, exploring the areas that had come under fire in 1967.

A visit to Nazareth Illit followed, where we learned that the city is threatened by Arab encroachment. A beautiful Shabbat was spent in Tsfat, and Sunday, eager to celebrate the restoration of Judea and Samaria to Israel in 1967, we began our visit to the Shomron with one of the first communities, Kedumim. We went on to Itamar, and then Yitzhar.

In Shilo we met Elad Ziv, from the expelled Amona community. We saw the barren hilltop in Shilo where promised new homes are supposed to be built, but where officials are killing the plans. The expelled families are living in two room dormitories in Ofra, without kitchens. This is a shameful situation.

The next stop was the city of Ariel, and then on to Yerushalayim. The next morning, we joined with Regavim to see the rampant illegal Arab building in the E1 corridor, connecting Yerushalayim with Maaleh Adumim.

We continued on to Maaleh Adumim, and then met Dan Luria of Ateret Cohanim. He drove with us through eastern Jerusalem, pointing out reclaimed properties. That evening we attended the always exciting Moskowitz Awards event at Sultan’s Pool.

On May 23, we made the mandatory 7 AM trip to the Temple Mount entrance to meet with Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Mount Institute. After experiencing the usual discriminatory practices against Jews, the group was allowed to enter the Mount.

Arieh King, Jerusalem Councilman, then met the entire group and drove with us to the Atarot and Kalandia areas of northern Yerushalayim. The explosion of Arab building there, much of it on JNF land given to the Arabs, seems out of control.

The newly opened Levi Eshkol museum had served as the home and official residence of Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, and Golda Meir from 1950-1974. Shavit Ben Arie arranged for us to meet with Professor Meron Medzini. He was the Director of the Israel Government Press Office in Jerusalem from 1962 to 1978. His first-hand report to us was fascinating, laying out the conditions prior to and following the 1967 war.

The Emek Tzurim Sifting project was our next stop, followed by a fun dinner at the lively, colorful, vibrant market place in Yerushalayim, Machane Yehudah.

YOM YERUSHALAYIM arrived and AFSI Board Member, Ken Abramowitz, known for his appearances on radio, TV, and in lecture halls, met us at the hotel for a talk on saving Western civilization.

Chaim Silberstein, head of Keep Jerusalem, joined us with a full busload of people for a tour of eastern Jerusalem. Most distressing is the separation fence which runs in and out of the Jerusalem Municipal border, wrapping the Shuafat Refugee Complex inside the border. Over 60% of Jerusalem’s residents live in eastern Jerusalem. Close to half of all of Jerusalem’s Jews live in the areas liberated in the Six Day war. Jerusalem must remain the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.

We drove through the crowded Jerusalem streets, already filling up with the Yom Yerushalayim celebrants, and disembarked at the Damascus gate to the Old City. Everyone was free to parade, march, dance, as he pleased until those who wished would gather again for the Ateret Cohanim dinner that evening at the Tayelet.

The Ateret Cohanim dinner honored Cherna Moskowitz and her daughter, Laurie, with unending praise for the work that they and Dr. Irving Moskowitz, z”l, did over so many years in redeeming Jewish homes in the Old City and eastern Yerushalayim.

The following day, May 25, was Yom Hebron – the day Rabbi Goren single-handedly liberated Hebron. Organized by David Wilder, we met in the Maarat HaMachpela with the heroes and heroines of the early days of the settling of Hebron. Noam Arnon, head of the community, introduced Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, Elyakim HaEtzni, Yehudit Katzover, and Sarah Nachshon. Each one told their remarkable story of how the “Mitnachalay Hebron” – the return to the land of one’s inheritance – Hebron – was begun at Pesach time in 1968. This was the continuation of the 4000 years of Hebron’s Jewish history.

Oz V’Gaon and Kfar Etzion were our next stops. We viewed the remarkable film about the bravery of the Gush Etzion settlers who fell on May 13, 1948, heroically defending the gateway to Jerusalem.  September 1967, their children and grandchildren returned. Today there are over 100,000 Jews living in Gush Etzion.

November 7-15, 2017 are the dates of our VIP Chaye Sarah in Hebron Mission.

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Glimpses of the AFSI Chizuk Mission: A Potpourri of Photos

The 2017 Spring AFSI Mission has just concluded, and even now, with it all fresh in their minds, AFSI travelers can look back at the past week in Israel, knowing it certainly was a special time to be in the Jewish homeland.

From the Golan, Tzfat and Haifa in the north, to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and to communities in Judea and Samaria, including the sacred city of Hebron, the group did and saw a lot, including celebrating Yom Yerushalayim and witnessing President Trump’s visit to Israel. Continue reading “Glimpses of the AFSI Chizuk Mission: A Potpourri of Photos”

Mixing Euphoria with Emergency Needs – A report on the AFSI Chizuk Nov. 10-16 Mission to Israel

Helen Freedman

Mixing Euphoria with Emergency Needs

A report on the AFSI Chizuk Nov. 10-16 Mission to Israel

By Helen Freedman, Co-Executive Director, AFSI

The November 2016 AFSI Chizuk mission began November 10 with the usual high expectations.  AFSI’s Co-Executive Directors, Helen and Judy, were once again leading the group, with Glenn Richter’s able assistance, and Ami Dadon, our beloved driver, at the wheel. We had many returnees, but also, a number of first-timers. The mix was terrific. The camaraderie and friendship continued throughout the trip.

We started in Beit Horon, meeting the extraordinary, courageous, soldier and emergency medical responder, Yehudit Tayar. We saw the ugly wall which supposedly protects Beit Horon from its unfriendly neighbors, but Yehudit showed us the memorials to many of the victims and told us the courageous stories of many of the residents. We were taken to the bee keeper’s special workshop and enjoyed some treats while we listened to the story about beekeeping in Beit Horon.

We then left to drive to the 9/11 memorial which Israel built in memory of the WTC terror attack in NYC. We were probably the first busload to arrive at night to view the memorial. Most Israelis we spoke to about it didn’t know it exists and had no idea how to find it. We trusted Ami to do the job for us. We drove over unpaved roads and arrived at the memorial, which, even in total darkness, was powerfully impressive. The names of all the victims are etched in bronze plaques surrounding the memorial.

Dinner that night was at the popular Piccolino restaurant in Jerusalem. Arieh King, our favorite Jerusalem Councilman and founder and Chairman of the Israel Land Fund, joined us for dinner and then spoke to the group. He was one of the Israelis we met who was amazed and delighted by the Trump win, believing that the restraints placed on Israeli building of Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem and throughout Israel, would now be lifted. He was opposed to Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat’s plans to build 7,000 more apartments for Arabs in Jerusalem while illegal Arab building has continued unabated. In 2014, Barkat had approved the building of 7,000 apartments for Arabs and King had appealed to the court to stop it. When asked why Barkat would initiate such anti-Israel actions, we were told to follow the money.

Friday, November 11

The day began with a visit to Oz V’Gaon in Gush Etzion. This park, created in memory of the three boys killed in June, 2014, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal, is one that AFSI has partnered with through its leaders, Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover. Ariel Kahane, political commentator for Makor Rishon, was the guest speaker. He, too, believes that Trump’s election has opened an incredible window of opportunity for

Israel. He urged the people to pressure Bibi to act now as the leader of a right wing government and to present a plan to Trump for Israel’s future.

Our next stop was the Efrat medical Center, a state-of-the-art facility established in 2001. Rabbi David Marcus guided us through the impressive center which is totally self-sustaining. Rabbi Marcus continued to tell us about the new, 80,000 square foot facility being built in Binyamin. It will be a dialysis center treating those with kidney failure. Since Arabs are susceptible to that, they will be treated at the center.

We then drove on to Aleh, an amazing treatment center for physically and mentally severely impaired children and adults. We were taken to see the special pool under construction for hydrotherapy treatment. Our good friend, Cherna Moskowitz, has made this one of her projects, and it is so rewarding. We were also taken to see some of the children, so badly damaged, but tenderly cared for by the staff at Aleh.

We returned to our hotel, the Leonardo Plaza, for Shabbat preparations. Dinner was in the dining room, and we were joined by NIra and Ken Abramowitz. Ken gave us a great talk on the threats to western civilization, and the remedies.

Shabbat, November 12

Following morning services at synagogues of one’s choosing, the group enjoyed Shabbat lunch at the hotel and then walked thru the shuk to the Kotel and our meeting place with our host for Shalosh Seudot. Barak Weinberg met us, as arranged by Dan Luria of Ateret Cohanim, and escorted us through the streets of the Old City. We stopped at Beit Har Nof, the latest acquisition, and climbed to the roof for an extraordinary view of the Old City. We then went to Barak’s home, Beit Zion, where we met his wife, Irit, and their eight children. They treated us to a beautiful shalosh seudot and havadalah and then escorted us back to the Kotel. We learned that both Barak and Irit had been expelled from Gush Katif. Despite the fact that they now live in a beautiful apartment in the holy city of Jerusalem, they both said they would return to Gush Katif if that were possible.

After returning to the hotel and wishing everyone a shavua tov, we got into taxis to take us to the Avraham Bernshtein Klezmer happening in a basement at 52 Yermiyahu Street. This was our third time there, and great fun, as always.

Sunday, November 13

We awakened early in order to make signs protesting the Amona expulsion. At 10 AM we joined the hundreds of children from Amona who had come to the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem with their parents to ask that their homes be spared from demolition. The scene was too reminiscent of the efforts made to stop the Gush Katif expulsion. We failed there. We pray these efforts will not be in vain and the severe decree, scheduled for Dec. 25, 2016, will be cancelled. As we were demonstrating, the Knesset was meeting to pass legislation that would replace demolition with compensation for the Arab claimants.

We left the demonstrators and went on to Beit-El to meet with Yehuda HaCohen. Yehuda is an “alternative peace activist.” While touring ancient Beit-El with him, he spoke to us of his new Zionist vision. This includes teaching children values and making them feel they are real characters in Jewish history. Independence from the U.S. would be another essential.

We then traveled to the caravan community of Amona, established in 1996, with 40 families and 200 children. We were greeted very hospitably by Elad Ziv and other activist leaders in the community who are working tirelessly to save Amona. They voiced appreciation for our support and we promised to help in every way possible. They, too, are looking at Trump’s election as a positive factor in their personal plight.

Continuing on to Ofra, we met Yoav Elitzur and Aharon Lipkin, community spokesmen. They explained that Ofra started under Peres in an abandoned Jordanian army base. Immigrants came from Ethiopia and many other countries. Aharon moved to Ofra in August of 2000, one month before the second intifada started. It was explained that nine homes, similar to so many of the homes in the lovely community, are scheduled for demolition. Ofra has joined with Amona in working for the compensation bill in the Knesset. Again, we promised our help.

It had grown dark, but we knew that Rabbi David Marcus, Eve Harrow, and Yael Weissman, with her one year old daughter, were waiting for us in Michmas at a new Pina Cham, a welcoming, warm place for soldiers. Yael, 23 years old, was widowed when her husband, Sgt. Tuvia Yanai Weissman, bravely confronted a terrorist at the Rami Levi grocery store on February 18, 2016, and was killed. The Pina Cham, although unfinished, looked as though it would be a very special place for the soldiers. We returned to our hotel and dinner, keenly aware of the bravery and determination of the Israelis we were meeting. Kol hakovod to them.

Monday, November 14

The day began with our 7AM departure for the Temple Mount, where, with the help of Aharon Pulver, head of the Israel Independence Fund, we were scheduled to meet our guide, Yaakov Hayman. We were anticipating the usual abusive treatment we had received in the past from some of the Israeli police in charge of giving permission to Jews wishing to ascend Har Habayit. To our great pleasure and surprise, we handed in our passports, were invited to proceed inside, had our passports returned, and were “free” to walk around the perimeter of the Mount. Of course, as always, we were escorted by Israeli police who prodded us along, as well as some members of the Islamic WAQF, who carefully watched us to ensure we were not praying. Despite being encircled by guards, this was one of our most pleasant experiences on the Mount. We understand that the Minister of the Interior, Gilad Erdan, is responsible for the improved situation. Motti, the policeman who was the most discriminating against the Jews, has been demoted to being a traffic policeman. We trust he’ll do a good job in that position.

We then drove on to Kiryat Arba/Hebron where Yehudit Tayar and Ayal Gelman took us into the Security Center where women doing community service monitored the TV screens. Ayal lost his brother and brother-in-law in terror attacks, but he spoke to us without bitterness and left us to join his wife who we learned gave birth that very night.

In Hebron, we visited Beit Shalom, which has a long history of court cases on ownership. Finally, the court decided the building did belong to the Jews and although it is in decrepit condition now, three families have moved in and made it their home. The Akobis and Gelmans are two of those families. The need to renovate the place is extreme and anyone interested in helping should contact AFSI.

We then joined our good friend and guide, David Wilder, for a tour of the Maarat HaMachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron. For many of us, this was a welcome return to a familiar and beloved location. For the newcomers it was eye-opening.

David then took us up to Tel Rumeida where Jews are living in double-decker caravans, side by side with ancient ruins tracing an almost continuous Jewish presence of 4,000 years. Anyone doubting the Jewish claim to the land of Israel need only visit these ancient ruins to learn the truth about Jewish history.

We continued on into the southern Hebron hills to the community of Otniel. The names of the many victims of terror,some very recent, like Daphna Meir and Mickey Mark, are on the wall of the Yeshiva as one enters the building. Rabbi Yaakov Nagen, the Rosh Yeshiva, greeted us and briefly explained the five year Hesder Yeshiva program which combines study with military service in the IDF. Otniel, and Rabbi Nagen, are promoting a program of love and peace based on living together with the Arabs and establishing interpersonal connections. To promote this, rabbis and sheiks meet regularly. The residents of Otniel, although suffering from the many personal losses, support the idea of learning to live with and even love their Arab neighbors. They believe that 80% of the Arabs want peace. Tragically, 20% are ready to commit terrorist acts. Learning to deal with this situation is a great challenge, but Rabbi Nagen believes a small group of people can change the world.

Moving along, we traveled to the Har Shemesh farm, run by Shushi and Moshe, their son, and son-in-law. The family started the farm 25 years ago under very difficult conditions. Arab thieves were a constant threat to their sheep. The Shomrim Hadash, begun by the Israel Independence Fund, under Aharon Pulver, has now been taken over by the JNF. Daniel Mitchell, an employee of JNF, explained that all the Shomrim are volunteers. They stay on the farms during the night to protect the sheep and allow the farmers to get some rest. Another such group operates in Judea and Samaria and again is supported by IIF. JNF will not go into the disputed areas so the Shomrim of J&S will not be receiving any financial help except that raised by IIF.

Tuesday, November 15

Our first stop was Sederot. Unfortunately for us, Mayor Alon Davidi was out of the country, but we were met by Daniel Berkley. He led us up a hilltop so that we had a commanding view of Gaza in the distance. We could easily see the smokestacks of the power center in Ashkelon which provides electricity to Gaza and Israel. We had predicted that this power plant would be targeted if Israel was forced out of Gush Katif. We were not surprised when rockets were launched against Ashkelon and came alarmingly close to the power center.

Sederot, built in the 1950’s with Olim primarily from Morocco and Iraq, was a community of 10,000. In the ‘80’s, Olim from Russia doubled the size. In 2001 rockets from Gaza became commonplace. To date, over 20,000 rockets have landed in Sederot. Although the city has grown wonderfully under the leadership of Mayor Davidi and the Hesder Yeshiva leader Rabbi Fendel, there are still so many adults and children traumatized. To ease this, teenagers volunteer to work with the children in public  shelters. Sapir College is growing, and with 300 Zionist families, the student village is invaluable.

Our meeting that afternoon with Josh Hasten, new director of Regavim, was filled with anticipation. We were to have the very special opportunity to go down into one of the tunnels that had been dug by Arab terrorists from Gaza into Israel. We met Josh at Kibbutz Ein HaShlosha, along with Rav Shatz (security head) Elan (Keith) Isaacson. Keith, whom we had met previously in a failed attempt to enter the tunnels, had arranged the event with the IDF. The army had closed off the portion of the tunnel coming from Gaza. We descended on steps created by the army. When we reached the bottom of the ladder, many feet underground, we saw the tunnel extending into the darkness. Keith advised us not to go further since the tunnel could collapse on us. Of course, we too his advice and happily returned to ground level and the warm, wonderful sunshine. One cannot begin to imagine what was involved in digging the tunnels. It’s a nightmare scenario. Shachar Butler, a Rav Shatz from a nearby community, Kibbutz Nir Oz, then guided us through the kibbutz, only 20 miles from Egypt, established in 1955. First he took us to a large field filled with creative sculptures made by residents of the kibbutz. Standing there, we heard periodic explosions coming from Egypt, and saw Israeli tanks stationed nearby. Despite the obvious dangers in living so close to the border, we saw a beautiful community with lovely trees and flowers, where we were told the people live traditional kibbutznik lives. What a tribute to the Israeli spirit.

Nightfall came early, as it does in November, but we had one more activity scheduled. At  the suggestions of Rabbi Alan Schwartz of Ohab Zedek in NYC, combined with the efforts of Glenn Richter, we met with Rabbi Shlomo Raanan in G’var Am,  a secular community near Ashkelon. There, amongst the hundreds of residents, there were a handful who wanted to have mezuzot on their doorposts. With the mezuzot Rabbi Schwartz had given us, we went to five homes, previously designated by Rabbi Raanan, and hammered mezuzot onto the doorposts while reciting the appropriate blessings. The experience was heartwarming for all involved.

Rabbi Raanan explained that his organization, Ayelet HaShachar, has 200 employees dedicated to helping secular and religious people  live together. Forty synagogues were built in five years, because, he explained, attitudes are gradually changing. Starting 25 years ago, younger people began bringing a new spirit to the communities. The soldiers in the army bases nearby needed synagogues. Sefer Torahs were beginning to be donated. Although the kibbutzniks are hard to convince, the Rabbi believes that a growing acceptance of religion will take place. That is his mission.

Wednesday, November 16

Unbelievably, we had come to the last day of our mission. Laurence Beziz, our dear friend from the former Gush Katif communities, met us at our hotel in Ashkelon and led us to the Shai Yemeni greenhouses in B’ar Ganim, outside of Ashkelon. Shai and his father had been farmers in Gadid, one of the 21 Gush Katif communities destroyed in the 2005 garush (expulsion). They are amongst the very few who had the courage and strength to start farming again after everything they had was destroyed. Shai proudly showed us his bug-free lettuce, sold under Alei Katif or Alim Yarokim. Shai explained the arduous work that goes into his farming, all under rabbinical supervision.

We were distressed to hear that tomatoes grown in Gaza were being brought into Israel by the IDF and sold in the Israeli markets while Israeli grown tomatoes would go unsold. Uri Ariel, Minister of Agriculture, was a great defender of the Gush Katif communities before their destruction. It’s hard to understand why he would support Gazan agriculture over the produce of the struggling former Gush Katif farmers. The subject bears investigation.

We then drove to Nitzan, a caravan community that once housed 600 families from the garush. Fortunately, in the eleven years that have passed, many of the families were able to move to permanent homes. Unfortunately, 200 families are still living in the caravans. The barren spaces where caravans have been removed, the sewer-pipe bomb shelters, and the air of despair that permeates the remaining areas is incredibly sad to see. The community leaders, like Dror Vanunu, are doing all they can to help the remaining families find new homes, so the blight of Nitzan can be removed.

However, the expellees do not want people to forget what happened to them in August 2005. Nor do they want to forget the beautiful and thriving communities that had been created. Therefore, in Nitzan, one can find the Gush Katif Heritage Center near the very entrance to the community. Laurence left us there in the care of Dror Vanunu, a leader of the Gush Katif community before during and after the garush.

The Heritage Center tells the story of the government sponsored settlement of Gush Katif, starting in 1969 under then Prime Minister Golda Meir. Prime Ministers Rabin and Sharon continued to encourage the growth and in the ‘80’s the twenty-one communities flourished. All of that ended on August 15, 2005. We saw films of the people resisting the expulsion, but refusing to raise arms against their own soldiers. The pain and suffering of the evacuees, as well as some of the soldiers who had to follow their orders, was difficult to watch.

Over the years, Dror has taken us to see the eleven new communities that have been created, as the Gush Katif expellees insisted on remaining together, attempting to re-create their community living. The unnatural edict against Gush Katif, proclaimed and enacted by PM Ariel Sharon, will forever be a stain on the history of the Jewish people in Israel.

After a sumptuous lunch at the Ulpana in Nitzan and meeting some of the teachers at the Ulpana, we drove to the new community of NETA, where expellees from Kfar Darom and Tel Katif are planning for 300 families. Riding in trucks over the area of Lachish, where 1000 caves remain from the Bar Kochbar era, we came to an overlook point. We saw the synagogue under construction and understood that monetary support is needed for its completion. We also saw the many Arab minarets and sprawling homes of the 100,000 Arabs surrounding NETA in this southern Hebron area. The need for co-existence, expressed by Rabbi Nagen of Otniel, and Yehuda Ha-Cohen of Beit-El, came to mind as one realizes the realities on the ground.

Our last visit of the day, and the mission, was with our dear friends, Rachel and Moshe Saperstein. Formerly residents of N’vei Dekalim, where they had a beautiful home and Rachel taught in the girls’ Ulpana, Rachel became the spokeswoman for the community in the days leading to the garush because of her good English and ability to speak for the people. She and Moshe now live in B’nei Dekalim, a developing community in the Lachish area, where once again we learned of the need for monetary support. AFSI has always worked with the Gush Katif expellees and will continue to do so to the extent possible. We thank the many participants in the AFSI Chizuk mission for their support over the years.

After our traditional farewell dinner, where appreciation was expressed for every participant in this Nov. 2016 mission, as well as for our always loyal and competent bus driver, Ami Dadon, we said our good-byes, knowing that many of us will be reunited in the May, 2017 mission. At that time we’ll be celebrating, with all Israelis, the 50th anniversary of the 1967 victory that brought the reunification of Jerusalem and the restoration to Israel of Judea, Samaria, and the Golan. Reservations are being taken now. Don’t miss out on a great experience. Call Judy at 212-828-2424; judy @afsi.org

‘We Saw a Wonderful Land, Great People, Failed Leadership’

Helen Freedman
The Shabbat following the conclusion of our Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI Chizuk mission was Shabbat Shlach, where the sin of the spies is revealed. We read that Moses picked twelve of the leaders of the tribes to enter the promised land and scout it out. Of these great leaders, only two, Joshua and Caleb, returned with a favorable report.

The other ten were filled with fear and saw themselves as grasshoppers in the eyes of the “giants” of Canaan. Despite the assurances of Caleb and Joshua, the people were persuaded that entering the promised land would be too dangerous for them. Their punishment for their lack of faith was forty years of wandering in the desert , until their generation died out.

On AFSI’s trip, we did not meet with “leaders,” but with the real people who, like Joshua and Caleb, celebrate the beauty of the land and are determined to settle it, farm it, own it. They do this despite the failure of the government to help them, and indeed to overcome the incredible obstacles placed in their way by the leadership.

Joshuas and Calebs

Who are the Joshuas and Calebs of today? Here is a partial list of those we met, with only a brief description of their remarkable work and efforts, in the face of government obstructionism:

Aharon Pulver, head of the Israel Independence Fund, who helps support the people and places about which few people know. He introduced us to May Golan, head of the citizens’ group in South Tel Aviv where the Jews are being subjected to daily rapes, stabbings and murders by infiltrators from Sudan and Eritrea, who now number over 80,000. The police look away from the crimes, abandoning the people.

Sarita and Dror Maoz, were expelled from Yamit, wounded in a terrorist attack, expelled from Gush Katif – lived with the Elei Sinai community in tents at the Yad Mordechai junction for a year, became wanderers, and now, almost ten years later, they are in their new home in Palmachim, working to get more homes and a synagogue built.

Chavat Kashuela is a farm in Gush Etzion where Arab thieves constantly threaten the sheep and goat herds. The volunteer ‘shomrim,’ or guards, of Judea and Samaria, devote hours of their time to relieve the farmers from standing guard duty every night. This is the only way to keep thousands of acres of land in Jewish hands.

Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover of Women in Green are heroines who responded to the terrorist murders of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali last year, by immediately establishing a visitors’ center in their names. Oz V’Gaon, in Gush Etzion, is near the scene of the murders. Thousands of people have responded by helping to clear the area and build it up to receive hundreds of visitors each week.

Synagogue in Rosh Pina

Feeling blessed

David Wilder is always ready to guide people through the marvels of the 4,000 year old Hevron. Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida, and the Cave of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs (Me’arat HaMachpela) are only some of the treasures retained in the 3% of Hevron’s area that is allotted to the Jews. Arab growth and industry in the remaining 97% spreads out as far as one can see.

Dan Luria and Mati Dan, leaders of Atret Cohanim, have devoted themselves to preserving Jewish life in the Old City of Jerusalem. Tamar and Asaf Weinrab and three other families hosted us on Shabbat in theirnew home, Beit Gavriel, in the Arab section of the Old City.

Despite needing guards for their children and themselves as they walk through the area, they feel blessed to be reviving Jewish presence in the pre-1948 area. Enjoying Havdalah with Mati Dan and his family in theirhome in the Christian area provided a perfect ending to a beautiful Jerusalem Shabbat.

Avraham Bernshtein and his Basement klezmer musicians were a delightful motzei Shabbat special treat.

Rabbi Chaim Richman, head of the Temple Mount Institute, led us on our traditional early morning visit to the Temple Mount. The usual discriminatory anti-Jewish practices were in place. Our group of 12 was surrounded by 12 Arab and Israeli guards as we were moved quickly along on our tour. Arabs photographing us and yelling at us continued from start to finish. No consequences existed for them. Instead, we were hurried away.

Local heroes

Jerusalem Councilman Aryeh King has become a hero for his outspoken demands that the law be applied equally to Jews and Arabs. He blames PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat for the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem. Despite rampant illegal building, Arabs are getting thousands of new apartments built for them while Jewish building is frozen. He calls for individuals to campaign against the leadership.

Ari Briggs of Regavim led us to the E1 corridor, connecting Jerusalem with its northern outskirt city of Maaleh Adumim. We saw an endless stream of Bedouin Arab huts put up illegally by the European Union. The EU flag was prominently displayed on plaques placed on the buildings. The government appears afraid to demolish the huts and establish its sovereignty for fear of being sued by the EU and being condemned by the international community.

Regavim is working to sue the government for failure to enforce Israeli law.

Self-sacrifice and betrayal

Moti Yeger and Rabbi Eyal Grayna lead the Tefahot Hesder Yeshiva in the Galilee, the finger in the dike, preserving Jewish life while it is surrounded by Arab and Druze villages. Jews are the minority today in the Galilee, where 70% of the children aged 0-3 are not Jewish. This can be attributed to governmental neglect of the Galilee.

The group outside the Steinberg Family Beit Midrash, Tefahot Yeshiva AFSI photo

Kibbutz El Rom, 40 miles from Damascus, specializes in dubbing for films. We viewed the amazing film about Avigdor Kahalani and his tank units battling overwhelming odds against the Syrian tanks in the ’73 war. It was a costly victory for Israel in the Valley of Tears and drove home, once again, the incredible bravery and self-sacrifice of Israel’s young men and women.

The Pardes Rimoni pre-military academy (or “mechina”) and Moti Peretz are closely united because the boys from the mechina help Motti to guard his animals from Bedouins who burned down his barn and try to steal his sheep. Presently he has 1,000 acres near Tzomet Golani and hopes that by being there he will help to stop the give-away of Jewish land to the Arabs.

We learned about JNF betrayal of their mandate. 4600 acres of JNF land in the Galilee may be leased to Arabs . In the new Arab city of Rawabi, JNF has donated countless trees purchased by Jews for Jews. This traitorous activity demands full accountability from the JNF.

The Emunah Sarah Herzog Children’s Center in Afula works with at-risk children ages 6-18. All the children become Bar and Bat Mitzvah and 83% go into the army. The Center is rightfully proud of its success rate.

Ayelet and Akiva Cohen, who established the hilltop community of Shalhevet Ya in Yitzhar, are enjoying watching their little community grow. There are now six houses and an almost completed synagogue. Their flour mill, once a small operation, has grown successfully. We are proud to be partners to a small extent in this success.

From Netzarim to Ariel

Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in Yitzhar has finally been returned to the Yeshiva boys. The army had commandeered the Yeshiva and left it a mess when they left. A broken water pipe needed repair and broken doors and windows, as well as piled up garbage, all required attention. However, it was exciting to see the students back at their desks and out of the caravans which had served as the temporary replacement for the Yeshiva. We pray they will not be tortured again by the military command of the area.

Netzer Ariel is the new community of homes being built in Ariel by the families expelled from Netzarim, in Gush Katif, and others who wish to join them. Touring the area with Yehoshua Rhinefeld, who joined the community as an outsider, we saw that it will be quite beautiful, but we also saw that construction was going very slowly. We pray that by August, the tenth anniversary of the expulsion from Gush Katif, that all the families will finally be in their permanent homes.

Michael Teplow from Honenu is a volunteer attorney working for the organization created in 2001 to protect Jews accused of nationalist crimes. Honenu has dealt with over 15,000 cases. Teplow was full of praise for the youth who suffered through the traumatic experiences of the expulsion from Gush Katif, the Amona demolitions, and the Beit Shalom lock-out in Hebron. The “crimes” of the youth were participating in protest rallies and building “illegal outposts.” For this they had to endure government orders to “break bones.” Teplow feels they are a stronger generation because of what they have endured and they will prevail over the failed leadership.

Memorial to Nimrod Segev, z”l, at Nimrod Lookout, Rosh Pina AFSI photo

Nimrod Segev was a soldier killed in the Second Lebanon War, along with five others from Rosh Piña. His father dedicates himself to telling his son’s heroic story, and that of two who were injured and two kidnapped from the same city. We visited the beautiful memorial garden which the community helped to build. It was deeply moving.

Gamla, rising like a camel’s back amongst the mountains, reminds us again of Jewish courage in the face of the enemy. When the Romans attacked just a few years before the destruction of the 2nd Temple the Jews put up a valiant fight, similar to that on Masada, until the tragic end. The sacrifices of our ancestors should give us pride and strength to fight today’s battles.

Gamla through a window AFSI photo

From Itamar to beit El

Itamar and the Hesder Yeshiva named after Udi Fogel, who was brutally murdered by Arab terrorists four years ago, along with his wife and three children, is a beacon of bravery. Led by Dorel Abramovitz, we visited the Fogel family house and then the thriving Yeshiva. From the lookout point at Gideon’s Tomb, we saw Shechem, the home of Joseph’s Tomb, now off limits to Jews, sprawling in the sunshine, lying between the Mounts of Blessing and Curses.

Givat Olam, the famous organic farm in Itamar, continues to host countless visitors and delights everyone with its dairy treats.

Kfar Tapuach, once strongly identified with Rav Meir Kahane, and home to his son Binyamin, before he and his wife were murdered, is growing into a desirable suburb of Ariel. Gone is the shepherd’s tent and the donkey that once inhabited the garden of Lenny Goldberg, one of the first residents of the community. Lenny took us outside the fence to visit the small synagogue on the hilltop. We talked about the sin of the spies.

Arutz Sheva offices in Beit El were our final stop of the mission. Founded in 1978 and forced to broadcast from a ship, the Internet has now freed them to reach into millions of homes. Their reporting, which does not depend on Arab reporters feeding their fallacious journalism to the wire services, has become one of the most important sources of information for proud Zionists.

Uzi Baruch, Editor in Chief, and Ari Soffer, Managing Editor, greeted us warmly. Eliran Aharon interviewed a few of us and put it right out for the readers to see and hear.

Please know that the above list only reflects some of the people and places visited on our 8-day June, 2015 mission. The list would be much longer if we included all the wonderful people and places visited over the past 20 years.


The AFSI Chizuk participants have been witnesses for over 20 years to the encroachment of Arabs into every area in Israel. We are appalled to see red signs, put up by the Israeli government, even in Jerusalem, warning “Israeli citizens” or Jews, not to enter PA territories for fear of threat to their lives and safety.

We are horrified to see US AID signs signifying US taxpayer money going to the Arabs. We are bewildered by the EU signs that accompany illegal Arab building. We cannot understand Israeli orders to demolish Jewish tents, homes, and structures. We do not understand the government tolerance for the continuing illegal Arab building everywhere in the land of Israel. We condemn the growing discrimination against Jews and the growing groveling to Arabs, the US, and the international community.

Just as the ten spies – great leaders of their tribes – were concerned about being seen as grasshoppers in the eyes of others, so today’s leadership seems concerned about how they are perceived. This is a serious mistake. Israel must take care of itself, its land, its people, and trust in the biblical promise. Turning to false gods can only lead to disaster.

Helen Freedman is Executive Director of Americans for a Safe Israel

Our recent AFSI trip to communities in Israel

Frederica Barlaz

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.

Frederica Barlaz’s report on her AFSI Chizuk trip this past May

Frederica Barlaz

The Israeli sector of my second AFSI (Americans for a Safe Israel) trip began on  Yom HaZicharon (Day of Remembrance) which was a Monday.. Our first stop was in south Tel Aviv where we learned first-hand about the illegal immigrant problem there. Eritreans and Sudanese have been crossing over the Egyptian border to claim refugee status in Israel, and a number have been committing crimes. The local people including legal Filipino workers have been the unfortunate victims. From Tel Aviv we went to Sderot, a town that has suffered tens of thousands of missile attacks since the 2005 evacuation of Gush Katif. We met with the mayor and took a tour of the town. The playgrounds are equipped with colorful pipes that serve as shelters during the attacks from Gaza. There are shelters throughout the town; the residents have 15 seconds to get into a shelter after the alarm sound. Next we drove to Nitzan where we visited the new visitors’ center/museum to commemorate Gush Katif. The exhibits are very moving and we also met with Shifra Shomron, a former resident of  the former Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif, who wrote Grains of Sand: The Fall of Neve Dekalim. I have read this beautifully written book  and highly recommend it.  Shifra vividly portrays the months, weeks, and days prior to the expulsion of the residents. On to Hebron for another briefing by David Wilder and a stop at the Cave of the Machpela where Avraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah are buried. This burial site was purchased by Abraham–it’s in the Bible.  We then drove to Jerusalem where we spent the night.

The following day was Yom Ha’atzmaut  Some menbers of my group ascended to the Temple Mount. Some of us slept in!  Mid-morning we went to visit Samuel’s tomb in the Givon Valley and then we proceeded to the site of King Hussein’s summer palace which was never completed due to the 1967 war. This is considered to be the most important archaeological site after the City of David in Jerusalem. Artifacts dating back to the Second Metal Period have been unearthed and it is believed to be the site of King Saul’s Palace. (Hussein built over it.) Our next stop was Ammunition Hill and its museum. Many Israeli families were visiting on this holiday and the atmosphere was very festive. Late afternoon we visited a new yeshiva outside the Flowers Gate to the Old City and also made visits within the present Arab Quarter.

On Wednesday we first visited Beit Orot Yeshiva(religious school) on Har Hatsofim(Mt. Scopus). Then northward to Ma’ale Adumim which was established in 1982 by Rabin as a city. He wanted to have a corridor to French Hill in Jerusalem.  A beautiful, exceptionally clean city with a population of 40,000, it is the largest Jewish city in Yehuda and the Shomron (West Bank). Due to a building freeze for the past three years there isn’t enough housing for all those who would like to live in Ma’ale.Adumim. The environs of Jericho were next. Jericho marks the beginning of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. We stopped at a spot by the Jordan River where it is believed that the Jews crossed into the land at the end of the exodus from Egypt. Gilgal is the area where the first Passover was celebrated. A visit to Beit Hogla (the name hasn’t changed in 3,000 years) where a woman named Erna grows and sells olives and pomegranates. A follow-up stop in Brosh where Sraya Ofer had been murdered to visit with the seven young Israelis who hope to develop the compound into a tourist/guesthouse attraction.  These men and women rotate guard duty every night.  At last, we reached the Ruth Rimonim hotel in Tsfat where we spent four nights.

The Hesder Yeshiva in Kiryat Shemona which is very close to the Lebanese border was our morning stop on Thursday. (A hesder yeshiva is where religious boys learn before and after their military service.) Some of the boys spoke to us and it was clear that this particular yeshiva is thought of quite highly. out of 150-200 applicants taking the test about 50 are chosen.  They start at age 18 and study Torah for 11 hours per day. There are 1 1/2  years of learning followed by 1 1/2  years of Army service followed by 3 more years of learning. There are over 60 such institutions in Israel. In addition to their studies the boys are actively involved in community service. In the afternoon we visited Kibbutz Misgav-Am which is right on the border and heard about the situation there; fortunately, it appears to be peaceful. Back to Tsfat for some art gallery hopping before they closed. After dinner we had a provocative presentation by Ken Abramowitz on the future of western civilization. (Incidentally, Ken is committed to giving 100 of these talks during this year at no charge.  He will travel within the US at his own expense. He can be contacted at ksabramowitz@msn.com)

Friday’s program began with a drive to Kibbutz Merom Golan from where we took jeep rides to the Israeli-Syrian border.  We saw and heard a great deal of bombing on the Syrian side. The kibbutz itself is very lush and flourishing. I recalled the name of this kibbutz from when I lived in Israel (1972-73)–there had been ads in the Jerusalem Post  inviting people to join. I sort of wondered what path my life might have taken had I gone up to the Golan and become a kibbutznik!  We then headed a bit south to visit Mechina Hespid, a yeshiva and technical college.  This institution accepts students(many immigrants) whose prior school records were not sterling and gives them the opportunity to learn valuable skills prior to joining the military. This ensures them good military positions and  future employment prospects. Some of the boys spoke with us and we were very impressed with the work this mechina is doing.  We also made a stop at Um El Kantir, an archaeological site. It had been destroyed in 749 by an earthquake and was first excavated in 2003. We attended Sabbath services inTsfat and had a traditional meal at our hotel.

On the Sabbath we attended services at local synagogues and had lunch at our hotel.  In the afternoon we had a talk by David Wilder who was spending the Sabbath with us.. He spoke in depth about living in Hebron. Later on we had a walking tour of Tsfat and went to ASCENT, a Chabad institution for learning, the third meal and havdalah, a service that marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the regular week.

We headed west on Sunday morning to  Kfar Vradim  where we enjoyed a home visit with Aharon and Susie Pulver.( Aharon is the head of the Israel Independence Fund which is involved in helping fund various Jewish communities and programs.) The mayor of nearby Ma’alot spoke to us in the Pulvers’ garden about his city. Some of you may recall that in 1974 three terrorists from Lebanon murdered 27 students who were asleep in a Ma’alot school. Ma’alot was established in 1957 by immigrants from Tunisia and Morocco and today has a population of 25,000. There are about 50 factories that provide local employment.  After his talk we visited the underground command center in Ma’alot and saw how it monitors the city. Impressive, but so sad that this is the reality. We also visited the Tefen Industrial Zone which provides a unique setting of sculpture  gardens to increase worker productivity. We were told that not one Israeli company has gone bankrupt due to boycotts and divestment efforts.. The sheer beauty of the North is breathtaking and we were all marveling at the scenery. As we drove we saw multitudes of unoccupied new multi-story villas and apartment buildings in  Arab villages for which building permits had not been obtained.  This is an effort to claim sovereignty over the land. Next stop was Rambam Hospital in Haifa where we were treated to the amazing new underground emergency 2,000 bed hospital. During normal times it is a colorful parking lot; in wartime, it converts to a fully functional hospital within 72 hours. They still need more hospital beds so if you’d like to donate…If anyone’s interested in statistics, about 25% of the Rambam staff is Arab, 30% of the patients are Arab, and the head of Nephrology is a female Muslim.  Dinner, a delightful dance performance , and overnight at our hotel in Ariel.

On Monday, our last day, on the way to Yitzhar we passed prosperous expansive Arab villages without fences. Yitzhar, in contrast,  is fenced in,  with an armed guard on duty, unpaved roads, small trailor homes.  One of the residents has been placed under house arrest for the crime of warning a neighbor that the IDF was going to demolish his home. The home was demolished by tractors because of pressure from the Arabs and the US on the grounds that he didn’t have the proper permits. (Leftist Israeli groups stir up local Arabs against the yishuvim–Jewish communities in the West Bank.) Our next stop was the community of Chavat Gilad.  Even though it was built on private land it is still subject to demolition.  Water and electricity are not supplied by the government. The trailer homes are very simple.  One member of our group had brought boxes of new clothing for the residents which were greatly appreciated. We then drove to  Ma’ale Rehavam in Gush Etzion Municipality where demolition of homes had taken place and more was scheduled. Just one more example of a double standard for Arabs and Jews. Our final stop was in Netzer with the Women in Green, a group that has been trying to halt illegal Arab building on state land between Jewish and Arab villages. (Under Israeli law , after 7 years of squatting by Arabs on state land, it becomes Arab private land.) We planted saplings on state land. Then it was time for our farewell dinner near Efrat.

AFSI is a remarkable organization giving both moral and financial support to worthy communities and causes  within Israel. I encourage you to join.

AFSI group visiting Israel – in Sderot, and with Ateret Cohanim

AFSI visited the new property that has been purchased by Ateret Cohanim which is an organization that is working to reclaim Jewish homes and other buildings in East Jerusalem. This building will house a mechina which is a school that students can attend for a year prior to entering the army. At the mechina they learn the more about the history and meaning of the land for which they will be fighting.

The AFSI group met with Benny Kashriel, mayor of Maaleh Adumim, on the outskirts of northern Jerusalem. The problems of the E1 corridor, connecting Jerusalem and the city, were discussed. U.S. surveillance of the area, and its intrusion into the decisions of the municipality, were revealed. We also spoke about the industrial zone which houses companies like Soda Stream, which are subjected to boycotts. The factories employ many Arab workers.

Mayor Alon Davidi, long-time friend of AFSI, greets the group on Yom HaZikaron in Sderot. He spoke to the group about the growth of the city, despite the ongoing shelling of Sderot by Hamas.

Daniella Weiss, former mayor of Kedumim and ongoing fighter for Israel has been one of the primary forces in the fight to keep the E1 corridor. Leon Szmedra, AFSI member and frequent mission participant has been doing all he can to help Daniella from his home in Rochester. AFSI is also a supporter of this vital cause.

The Titanic – a Metaphor for Israel today – AFSI Chizuk, Oct. 2013

Helen Freedman

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 Southhampton, 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 Israel today.

As the AFSI Chizuk group traveled around Israel on this Oct. 20-28, 2013 mission, it was apparent that the “little guys” understood 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 which we witnessed firsthand on our Chizuk mission.

Once again the AFSI Chizuk group gathered at Ben Gurion airport – our 36th time, traveling to the disputed areas of Israel, to give encouragement and support – Chizuk!

Hasmonean, Modiin Illit, and Kiryat Sefer were our first stops, with David Jacobs acting as our host and guide. Israel Danziger of Mishmeret Yesha joined us. David pointed out that the population of these communities, 57,000, was the largest in Judea and Samaria. Being ‘over the green line’ they were ‘on the table’ in the ‘peace talk’ negotiations.

The Arab sprawl became apparent as Danziger led us to Charasha, a non-authorized community. Standing on Mt. Choresh, and looking out over the area, 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. We realized we were driving on a road which was in Area C, but we were surrounded by A/Arab areas which 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, Arab cars were parked everywhere, their owners busy picking olives. We passed near Migron, a community that we had visited many times while it was threatened with being destroyed and transplanted. The threats were realized. We drove past Kochav Ya/akov and Tel Tzion, constantly viewing the Arab villages, identified by their Minarets and lack of fences. Our destination was Psagot, a Jewish community of 200 families. When the settlers first arrived, Ramallah was far in the distance. Now there are new homes abutting the Psagot fence. The recent infiltration by Arabs who shot young Noam Glick at her home in Psagot is clarified when one sees how close the Arab homes are to the community.

After lunching in Ofra, we tried to take the usual road to Amona. It had been destroyed by the Israelis. We were forced into a new, unpaved road, but thanks to our wonderful bus driver, Ami Dadon, we reached our destination. The sad sight of the caravans and the plots where destroyed homes once stood, underlined the absurdity of the Israeli government policy of destroying Jewish homes, but allowing illegal Arab buildings to flourish.

We completed the viewing of the Ramallah encroachment while visiting Bet-El. There, Baruch Gordon greeted us and explained the progression that took place with Arutz Sheva, now a very important internet news provider.

The Ashel HaShomron hotel in Ariel, where only AFSI Chizuk groups fear to tread, along with Christian Evangelicals, became our base for the first two nights. Lenny Goldberg, long-time resident of Tapuach and close friend to Binyamin & Talia Kahane, z”l, spoke to us about the many judicial issues in Israel, with the young people, especially, feeling the brunt of anti-Jewish discrimination.

Tuesday began with Avi Zimmerman of the Ariel Community guiding us 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 as their Jewish co-workers. Still, the businesses endure PA and EU boycotting, even though the industrial center represents the best bridge to peace.

At Ariel University, home to 15,000 students, with approximately 500-700 Arabs and 500 Ethiopians, we met Prof. Alex Bligh of the Middle East Studies Department. He explained that the biggest problem was that Ariel U is under official boycott by all Israeli universities, except for Bar Ilan. The situation seems ludicrous.  Israel boycotts its own people, professors, PHD candidates because the UN, U.S., and EU talk about a green line. This is shameful and self destructive. By doing so, they strengthen the Arab claim to the land and make cooperation between Ariel U. and U.S. universities much more difficult. In order to get academic recognition, they need an exchange of professors. We promised to do what we could to have this boycott ignored and encourage U.S. universities to partner with Ariel U. This is the path to peace, NOT the pretend promises of the PA.

Being in the Shomron, Samaria, we had to visit Chavat Gilad, home of forty families forgotten by the Israeli government, except to harass them. Our dear friend, Ileana Shimoni,  greeted us, full of excitement over the new mikvah for women they had begun to build. Living without Israeli supplied water and fuel has placed a huge financial burden on the community. We always wonder why there would be a world-wide outcry over Arabs being deprived of these necessities by Israel, but Israel’s own citizens earn no consideration. The discrimination against Jews cries out for correction!

Yitzhar – the home of Ayelet and Akiva HaCohen and their many young children, is a favorite stop. AFSI has “adopted” the family, helping them when Akiva was placed under administrative detention and put in prison for absurd reasons .The community, home also to Boaz Albert, who was tasered by the Israeli police, now needs a synagogue. We promised to help raise funds for that project. Although Boaz was in prison, his family was still trying to run the winery. We bought some wine and enjoyed it thoroughly.

We ended the day with a night-time tour of the biblical garden at the Ashel HaShomron hotel. Tuvia was our guide – the night was beautiful – the camaraderie was warm and inclusive, and as we walked through our biblical history we were able to forget, briefly, the threat of the Arab encroachment and takeover of Israeli land.

Ari Briggs of Regavim joined us on Wednesday, Oct. 23 to drive north. He 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. We reached Mitzpe Ilan, the first yishuv in the northern Shomron, named after Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. We noted the many Bedouin encampments along the way. The community was surrounded by Arab villages. The forty families living there hope to increase to 100, but there is one serious problem, that of “environmental terrorism.” The Arabs burn charcoal and by 6 PM 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 affected also, but the Arabs don’t seem to care. Regavim has taken them to court and succeeded in getting the burnings moved to Areas A & B, but the wind brings the carcinogenics to Chavat Ilan and its surroundings. If the situation isn’t remedied, the Jews will move out, rather than expand. The Arabs will have won again, forcing another Jewish land retreat.

Nazareth Illit was our next stop where we met Aharon Pulver of the Israel Independence Fund, and his colleague Doug Altabef, an Israel Independence Fund Board Member,  . The story repeats itself. Upper Nazareth is supposed to be Jewish as opposed to Muslim Nazareth; however it now has a majority of Arabs controlling the community as of the last elections. The wonderful Mayor, Shimon Gabso, was re-elected, but is under attack. If his enemies are successful,  he might lose his position. It seems to be up to the Hesder Yeshivot to strengthen the city, and the one at Nazareth Illit is one that AFSI and the IIF support whole-heartedly. They are literally the “finger in the dike.” May they persevere.

Chavat Emek Dotan, the Dotan Valley Farm, was established twelve years ago to create a presence in the northern Shomron. David Bitzer gave us an extensive talk on the care the six families on the farm must give to their 600 sheep who graze on thousands of dunams of land, thereby preventing Arab takeover. As it is, Umal Farham is a huge Arab village with homes built to both sides of Road 65, controlling the area.

That night, at Kibbutz Lavi, where so much of the beautiful synagogue furniture is created, Mendy Neeman spoke to us on Israeli Advocacy. Using many Arab sources, he was giving us facts to counter the false Arab claims to land ownership. Unfortunately, people seem unwilling to be confused by the facts, but Mendy’s arguments are valid to those willing to listen.

Ari Briggs continued to guide us on Thursday, Oct. 24, as 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 there against the non-stop incitement of hatred and killing in the Arab world. A Hesder Yeshiva group 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 once again captivated the group with her description of the origins of the community and her courageous one-woman effort to establish it. Shira and her husband now graze their sheep on 3000 dunams and are hoping to bring in 4 caravans to lure other couples to shepherding. After a wonderful lunch at Café Rotem, and some purchasing of fabulous herbal creams and oils, we drove on with Aharon Pulver and Doug Altabef to meet the Shomrim – guards – of Judea and Samaria in Yeshuv Adaat, near Shilo.

The Yishuv has 200 sheep on 8,000 dunam of land. Meir, the Director of the Shomrim of Judea and Samaria, explained that the Shomrim are prepared to guard the flocks from being stolen by Arabs. Theft is rampant and the Shomrim are necessary to enable the farmers to get some respite from their watch. The small community, led by Avichai and Eli Weiss, is planning for 150 homes. If they make it, it will help to prove the success story of shepherding.

It is always wonderful to return to Jerusalem, and that night, after checking into the King Solomon hotel, and enjoying a hearty dinner, many of the group went to Heichal David to participate in the Kahane Memorial Program. It was exciting to meet so many AFSI friends there, and to hear the crowd roar at the introduction of Arieh King, newly elected to the Jerusalem City Council.  The elections had taken place Oct. 22, and we were thrilled that in addition to Arieh King winning his seat, our good friend, Alon Davidi, was elected Mayor of Sderot. We wish them every success.

Friday, Oct. 25, began with an exciting visit to Shdema where Nadia Matar of Women in Green was waiting for us with a huge welcome sign, and trees ready for planting.  We then heard the remarkable Sarah Nachshon from Hebron tell her amazing stories about returning  the Jewish community to Hebron. Her personal contribution is immeasurable. We then joined with WIG and the people of Tekoa in a demonstration against Arab terrorism on the roads, where residents were stoned and terrorized daily.

Racing along because it was Friday, and the day always becomes too short, we drove to Kever Rachel where Chaim Silberstein of Keep Jerusalem met us. The small roadside grave, which is now a fortress, is another Jewish holy site threatened by Arab takeover. The Arab presence in Bethlehem, once a Christian city, makes it Judenrein. However, study and celebration continues at the Kever. We were pleased to see the beautiful K ibbutz Lavi furniture in the building. It takes some of the sting from the pain of losing our freedom there.

Driving south to Hebron, we passed 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, Elisha Medan, and 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. We wished them great success and promised a more leisurely return visit.

Then it was back to Kiryat Arba to get our room assignments in Yeshivat Nir and prepare for Shabbat Chaye Sarah. The group walked down to the Maarat HaMachpelah, joining the throngs of white-shirted men and festively dressed women. We wished “Shabbat Shalom” to the many soldiers gurarding the route down to Hebron, and enjoyed a beautiful and soulful Kabbalat Shabbat in the Isaac Hall, open to Jews only on rare occasions.

A joyful dinner took place back at the Yeshiva with Rav Waldman greeting us graciously, as he always does. After dinner we walked the short distance to the home of Yehudit Katzover, another Hebron heroine, who now chairs WIG with Nadia Matar. Yehudit always hosts MK’s and VIP’s at her home. She always graciously invites us to join them for dessert – and we always accept and enjoy a special experience.

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. Fortunately, the weather was perfect and the crowds seemed to be totally immersed in the joy of the Shabbat. Minyanim sprung up everywhere. 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. Ken is also President of the American Friends of Likud and on the Board of the Israel Independence Fund. His talk raised many issues and questions which kept the conversation going throughout the lovely lunch which followed.

People then divided into groups for the three tours arranged by the Hebron Fund. Rav Simcha Hochbacum, Noam Arnon, and David Wilder were the leaders, guiding people throughout the day, until it was time for shalosh seudot and havdalah.

Then there was the mad dash to pack up, get to the waiting cars and buses, to return home. Ami, our trusted driver, was there for us and soon we were back at the King Solomon in Jerusalem.  Jeff Daube, ZOA representative in Jerusalem, was waiting for us and gave us an excellent talk on so many critical issues in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. We marvel at his ability to keep all the balls in the air and wish him continued success.

Sunday, Oct. 27, The Temple Mount group arose early to meet Rabbi Chaim Richman at the entrance to Har Habayit before 7:30 AM. The usual humiliating and discriminatory practices against Jews were in effect, but even more so. This time, after waiting two hours in the hot morning sun, while hordes of Christians streamed past us, only ten in our group were allowed onto the Mount.  The new rule that only ten Jews at a time may be on the Mount, while hundreds of Christians, and untold numbers of Arabs are there, is so disgraceful as to be the height of anti-Semitism. This experience encapsulates the present state of affairs between Arabs and Jews in Israel today. The government doesn’t have the ability or the will to proclaim Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish state. Until this situation is remedied, the situation will only continue to deteriorate. How low can Israel go?

Eight of us who were unable to ascend the Mount turned away and returned to the King Solomon. Two who stayed were able to finally join another group for ten minutes before the Mount was closed to Jews at 10 AM. They told of having been harassed by Arabs the entire time they were there. The shame and humiliation is compounded because all this is happening under Jewish control in the Jewish state. How can it be?

The group re-united after this morning experience, and with Arieh King as our guide, we began touring the disputed areas of Jerusalem. Arieh, whose recent election to the Jerusalem City Council on the slate of the United Jerusalem Party, has been guiding AFSI groups for many years, and his new position did not keep him from guiding us again.  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, capital of the Jewish state, Jerusalem.

We drove to N. Jerusalem, to Atarot – an area that had once been an international airport. It is now closed. Arab squatters have taken over 2000 plots. Arieh and his colleagues have hopes to build a hotel and Jewish residential community on Jewish owned land in the area.

We learned that past PM 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, but 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 are still talking about Jerusalem: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.”

Dan Luria of Ateret Cohanim met us after Arieh’s time with us ended. He arrived on the bus loaded down with our picnic lunch fixings. As we drove to Kidmat Zion in eastern Jerusalem, Dan reminded us that 215,000 Jews live in eastern Jerusalem. Any plans to divide Jerusalem between east and west cannot succeed. 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 the Moshiach is supposed to arrive through this gate, the Arabs have deliberately built the cemetery there to prevent his arrival.

After our delightful picnic lunch, overlooking so much of Jerusalem, a great part of it Arab, we drove down to enter the Old City through the Flowers Gate, into the Muslim Quarter. Arabs were everywhere. Dan took us to the few Jewish homes and the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, which struggle to keep a foothold in the Old City. Children are escorted to and from school by security guards. Playgrounds are on roof-tops, NOT on the ground. The effort to gain more Jewish areas is ongoing and overwhelming. Without the cooperation of the Mayor and Municipal leadership, the struggle becomes too difficult.

Back at the hotel that evening, Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, addressed the group. Martin is a brilliant writer and speaker and it would be too difficult to summarize his message here. He left us with the thought that we must eliminate the impossible – which is the two state solution – and we are then left with the improbable, the willing transfer of the Arab population. Needless to say, the conversation was brisk.

Monday, Oct. 28, was our last day of the Chizuk mission. The trip, which seemed to have just begun, was now ending. AFSI Chizuk trips would be incomplete without visits to 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. They introduced us to Na’ama, formerly from Katif, who now lives in Amatzia. She pointed out the small building at the entrance to the community, built in memory the of Hatuel family members murdered by terrorists during the years of the protests against the expulsion. Sixty-seven families now live there, but they are hoping to grow with the influx of families from many of the destroyed GK communities. Sadly, 8-1/2 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, Eliezer Ohrbach explained that only 15 families are presently there. The plans are ambitious; however, our dear friend Moshe Saperstein, who is finally seeing some progress on his home, greeted us with the chilling words that “everything is worse than imagined” and “everything is a lie.”

The crime of the destruction of Gush Katif and the displacement of 10,000 people by order of the Sharon government in 2005, is one that can’t be forgiven or forgotten. Eight and one-half years later, we still see the suffering of the people. One can understand Moshe’s cynicism.

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. Israel seems to have given up on the Negev, ready to hand it over to the Arabs. We have reported previously about the Bedouin triangle of Arad, Dimona and Beersheva. Apparently the triangle also becomes a square and a rectangle.

We stopped to enjoy our gala farewell meal – this time lunch, NOT dinner, in Ashkelon. The reason for changing our schedule was our need to participate that evening in a huge demonstration at 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 invited more terror – not only in Israel but worldwide. When there are no consequences for criminal activity, there are no restraints. PM Netanyahu knows this. He has used these words himself. Nevertheless the terrorists were freed.

We still had some must visits to make so we headed for Bayer Ganim and the home of our dear friend, Laurence Beziz. The community is made up of expellees from seven different Gush Katif communities. Although this was the place promised to be built quickly by the government, Laurence and her family have just moved in and much of the area is a construction zone. There are only a few homes that have been built and there are NO community buildings like a synagogue or school or social hall. The residents who could afford to build homes are trying to help those whose compensation money has run out. The burdens are very heavy.

The hour was growing late and we still had to visit the 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 again 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. A people that still cries on Tisha B’Av about the destruction of two ancient temples can certainly continue to cry over the wanton and purposeless destruction by the Israeli government of the 21 thriving, beautiful Gush Katif communities. We have to tear our garments in mourning. No wonder our enemies rejoice at their victories. They are winning on so many fronts.

And then we drove to Ofer prison. We arrived there in the dark to see huge lights illuminating the grounds. We carried our signs, our AFSI banner, and our Israeli flags, and joined the thousands with their signs and banners – all deploring the release of the PA terrorists. Family members of victims of the terrorists being released cried out for justice. Every speaker denounced the release. Photographers and media were everywhere and many in our group were interviewed. Despite the crowd, the speeches, the signs, and all the effort, it seemed everyone knew that the protest would not avert the severe decree.

All these signs of Israel’s impotence lead to somber conclusions. The Arabs are winning the internal battle. Israel can successfully bomb weapons depots in Syria, but it appears unable to resolve the Arab take-over of the country. Is this willful neglect or inability to deal with the issues? Neither situation is acceptable.

The AFSI Chizuk group returned to the U.S. determined to spread this message to anyone willing to listen. Attention must be paid.

We will continue to visit these holy places on our next AFSI Chizuk mission scheduled for May 4-13, 2014. Call the AFSI office, 212-828-2424, or write: afsi@rcn.com, for further information and to make your reservations.

Thanks for the photos to professional photographer Frank Ritter who accompanied us on the Chizuk mission.

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