Dear Friends, amv"sh
I so much wanted to once again join AFSI this year on their fabulous Chizuk Mission coinciding with Parashat Chayei Sarah. For various reasons, I was unable to do so. Helen Freedman's report is the next best thing to being on this mission. Please read this report in it's entirety. It is packed with places and people that are in the forefront in our struggle of keeping our Land. Each person is a gem. Each place has historical and religious significance. Every step of the way is an expression of love for the Land , love of the Torah and love of the People in Israel. I know because i was there last year. Thank you so much Helen for this fabulous report. We so missed you last year. As great as this report is, it still can't compare with being there and experiencing it yourself. I am sure Helen will agree.
My only wish and prayer is that the spirit of Hebron that drives AFSI will also be the guiding light for all Jews wherever we are, in order that we merit and be found worthy of keeping our precious Land.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, Dec 2, 2009 at 12:41 PM
Subject: THIS LAND IS NOT FOR STEAL -OR SALE-OR DEAL
To: Helen Freedman <email@example.com>
1751 Second Ave, New York, NY 10128
Contact: Helen Freedman, Executive Director
December 2, 2009
THIS LAND IS NOT FOR STEAL- or SALE - or DEAL
By: Helen Freedman
The ugly scar of a huge wall separating Bet Horon from the rest of Israel was our introduction to the Americans For a Safe Israel/AFSI-Manhigut Yehudit/MY Chizuk mission of Nov. 8-16, 2009. Our tour began when Yehudit Tayar took us around the 270 family community, not far from Ben Gurion airport, and told us the stories of the brave Golani youth from the community who were killed in the 2006 Lebanon war. She opened up our hearts to what was to come.
Israel Danziger of Mishmeret Yesha, brought us back to the Nachliel Yeshiva, struggling to stay alive to benefit difficult students. We inspected the trees we had planted on a previous visit and saw the makings of a carpentry shop that would be used to teach the students some useful trades. Always under pressure from the Israeli government, they are always under threat of being closed down.
We chose to visit Harasha on Mt. Horesh, the highest point in the area, because orders had been given by the Israeli government to destroy 8 brick buildings, plus all the temporary buildings in the yishuv. Rabbi Ori Stetner, head of the Yeshiva which boasts 45 students, gave us a moving talk about the power of Torah as a fence against foreign cultures. We pray that the government will rescind its orders to destroy the buildings.
In Psagot, one can see the encroachment of Ramallah, with the Mukata, which is headquarters for the PA. Ramallah, a sprawling city with its villas and apartment buildings, like all Arab cities, is not confined by a fence or a wall, and has grown to the point that it almost abuts Psagot. We met with Yossi Dayan, a resident of 28 years in the city, who proudly pointed out views of the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean which could be seen from Psagot's high point. Psagot, of course, a Jewish city, is fenced in and has huge concrete blocks placed strategically to protect against the shelling from Ramallah.
The large city of Ariel, boasting the University of Judea and Samaria with its 11,000 students, and home to 20,000, was our last stop for the day. Ari Zimmerman, our guide through the city, explained that Judea and Samaria contained blocs of communities, like Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim, and Ariel, and each of these was suffering from building freezes. This was before PM Netyanyahu announced the "real" ten month settlement freeze.Only one hundred units were permitted to be built last year although Ariel is scheduled for 60,000 residents. Inside the city we saw the small caravan (trailer) community in which 25 families of the original Gush Katif refugees from Netzarim are still living, four and one/half years since the expulsion. They have been joined by 25 additional families of refugees. They are the forgotten people, living in their refugee housing, a blight on the beauty of the city, but unable to get out of their situation. This is an ongoing accusation against the Israeli government that has allowed such deplorable conditions to exist.
Despite the size and accomplishments of Ariel, there are many who consider it to be "over the green line" and therefore subject to boycott. The Barkan winery, which had been located in the Barkan Industrial zone of Ariel, decided to move "inside the green line" when its sales were hit by EU boycotts. Ariel was also disqualified from the Madrid ecological conference because of its location in Samaria. It is because of its contested location, and the Ashel HaShomron hotel located there, whose business has been seriously affected, that we make it a point to stay overnight at the hotel and visit Ariel.
Ron Nachman, the Mayor of Ariel and long-time friend of AFSI, greeted us in his office and gave us a fascinating talk about the history of the city, established in November, 1977. He cited the Barkan Industrial Park, noting that it employed over 7,000 people. He is proud of the city's absorption of 9,000 Russian immigrants, its 7 schools and 25 kindergartens, and sees Ariel as a melting pot. After three decades of involvement in the growth of Ariel, Mayor Nachman made it very clear that he will continue to defend the city with all the grit and determination at his command.
Leaving Ariel the next morning, and joined by Shmuel Sackett of Manhigut Yehudit, we drove north along the Jordan Valley to Maskiot. Yossi Kazoot and Ron Allswang met us and explained that the community housed Gush Katif refugees from the former Shirat HaYam, a unique sea-side settlement on the Mediterranean. The expellees, who have relocated five times since the Gush Katif expulsion, chose to locate to the dry and hot Jordan Valley for ideological purposes. At present, they have a permit for only 20 permanent homes, but hope to increase to 100.
As we continued driving north through the Galilee, we observed what we had seen so many times, the unchecked proliferation of huge Arab homes, sprawling in the sunshine. Many of the homes were two and three stories tall with ample room between buildings. The contrast between the Jewish communities, frozen into tightly controlled areas by the Israeli government, and the unchecked legal or illegal building of the Arabs, couldn't have been in sharper contrast. We arrived at Pe'ekin, our destination, and were greeted by Aharon Pulver, head of the Israel Independence Fund. Guided by Bar-Nea Salavan, we explored the cave of Simeon Bar Yochai which dates back 2500 years to Mishna times, learning that the holy man had lived in the cave for 13 years, living on the fruit of the carob tree and the water from the spring. Since our visit there, we learned that the cave had been desecrated and a home being built by a Jew in the city had been burned down.
The problem of Arabs stealing land, produce and cattle, as well as threatening Jewish lives, is a very real one in this area of the Galilee, where there are 90%Arabs and 10% Jews. We were introduced to members of HaShomer HaHadash, the new guardians, an organization created to protect Jewish agriculture. They patrol the Jewish farms on horseback, hoping to prevent the pillage. We were told that the Arabs are well coordinated in their drive to take over Jewish land. The Shomrim described the front line as being everywhere. The hilltop outposts exist throughout the Galilee. Yoel Zilberman explained that there are 15 different kinds of regional councils who are afraid to act. The government does NOTHING to prevent the ongoing harassment of Jewish farmers. Situations were described to us where cows were killed, animal food stolen, fences cut, sheep stolen, and in some cases, farmers beaten almost to death. The motto of HaShomer HaHadash is, "Jewish land is not for steal." We believe this applies throughout the land of Israel.
Joel Busner, of B'ahavat Israel, reinforced what we had seen for ourselves when he spoke to us at Kibbutz Lavi about the Arab takeover of the Galilee. He attributed the seriousness of the problem to the fact that "this isn't a Jewish state." He believes the law validates lawlessness and cited the Shai Dromi story of the Jew forced to kill an Arab, who was arrested and exonerated after a costly trial. Unfortunately, Jews who try to defend themselves against Arab criminals and terrorists often become the accused, with the Israeli justice system weighted in favor of the Arabs. Busner's message was that "the Jew can do" – and efforts should be made to buy land and save the Galilee with Jews willing to work.
Driving south on Wednesday, we headed for Hermesh in the northern Shomron. As we drove past the border crossing, we noticed that the Israeli soldiers were in civilian clothes. This was an ominous sign to me, because I have a vivid recollection of the soldiers at Kever Yosef who guarded the grave site in their civvies so as not to offend the PA officers who strutted around in full uniform. We know what happened to Kever Yosef when it was turned over to the PA for "protection." It was almost totally destroyed. Seeing these soldiers out of uniform meant that it was only a matter of time before control would be turned over to the enemy, with G-d forbid, the same results. Pesach Reuben, an aeronautical engineer, met us and showed us around the peaceful looking bedroom community which had been established in 1983. Suffering from the same restrictions on growth that exist throughout Judea and Samaria, enforced by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, the community has only 60 families and is enclosed by a smart fence with patrol cameras. A bright red Area A, no Jews allowed sign greets one near the entrance to Hermesh. Despite these warning signals, Pesach Reuben explained that during the olive picking season, wild olive trees growing inside the fence are made accessible to Arab olive pickers. This struck me as incredibly trusting and foolhardy and so typical of the Jew. Alana Peleg, a jewelry maker, whose husband works in high-tech, explained that she loved the community and its proximity to the train station, only 20 minutes away in Binyamina. Tragically, a sister community, Mevo Dotan, which we didn't visit, has been in the news recently as the Israeli government sent in Arabs and Yassamnikim (special forces dressed in black) to destroy an agricultural development nearby. We pray Hermesh will not suffer the same fate.
We arrived in Yerushalayim and went directly to the Knesset for meetings that had been arranged by Manhigut Yehudit with Likud Knesset members. MK Ayoob Kara, a Druse, pointed out that more than 90% of Jordan is "Palestinian," and Amman is the legitimate capital of "Palestine." MK Danny Danon predicted that the settlement freeze would be turned down by Abu Mazen if there is a time limit on it. He called on us as Americans to put pressure on President Obama, asking him to stop pressuring Israel. MK Zev Elkin, who has the Russian spot in the Likud, lives near Herodian in a caravan. He is waiting for a building permit. It seems his wait will be even longer, now that the freeze is being implemented. On the subject of the Gush Katif expulsion, he confirmed that millions of shekels had been wasted on bad decisions regarding the refugees – and most are still homeless and without jobs.
Moshe Feiglin met with us that evening, emphasizing the importance of linking Jewish identity with Jewish holy places. When asked what his first action would be if he was elected Prime Minister of Israel, he said it would be to walk on the Temple Mount. Again, he stressed the need for Jewish leadership. He believes Israelis are suffering from loss of faith in the right to be in Israel. Of course, anyone who reads and believes in the Bible, sees the covenant between HaShem and the Jews repeated over and over again, asserting our biblical roadmap. We met with Moshe again in Hebron that Shabbat Chaye Sarah.
Ellen Horowitz and Avraham Liebler spoke to us after dinner. They run a group entitled Jewish Israel which concerns itself with what they believe is rampant missionary activity in Israel, with many Christians and Jews participating. The subject is a controversial one, providing for a great deal of thought and concern.
Thursday morning we woke up in Yerushalayim, with many of us ready to begin the day by ascending the Temple Mount. After following the necessary ritual preparations, we gathered at the Temple Mount entrance near the Kotel to meet our guide, Yitzchak Reuben, from the Temple Mount Institute. As hundreds of Christian tourists moved past us, simply going through the regular security screening, our group of Jews had to hand over our passports and wait an hour while our credentials were checked before finally being admitted. Once on the Har HaBayit, both Israeli and Arab guards followed us as we walked around the perimeter of the holy place, making sure that we did not pray and offend the Muslims. Clearly, the Arab boys playing soccer nearby were not violating any rules. The Christian groups were allowed to walk freely around the Mount. It was only the Jews, in the Jewish state of Israel, who were treated as unwanted outsiders. How did such a situation develop? How can it be reversed?
Exploring with Moti Dan and Elan, of Ateret Cohanim, was next on the agenda. Moti, who lives in the "Christian Quarter" of the Old City, greeted us at the ancient synagogue, Ohel Yitzchak, which has been beautifully restored by the Moskowitz family. Their good works were everywhere, as we went on to see the amazing growth in eastern Yerushalayim at Maaleh HaZaytim, overlooking the Mount of Olives and the walls of the Old City. It was the vision of Dr. Irving Moskowitz, and his wife, Cherna, that had turned what had been an abandoned shack into glistening, extensive housing units for Jews. Construction was continuing on the next phase of the development and we had the pleasure of being invited into a home so that we could see how lovely a place it was. We then drove along the narrow path, adjacent to the ugly, scarring, huge wall that runs through Yerushalayim. Passing the area of Abu Dis, designated as the HQ of the PA, we arrived at Kidmat Zion, a small Jewish enclave housing a few families. The view from the roof is amazing and sadly gives one endless views of illegally built Arab homes. However, there are also glorious views of the Old City, and so one's eyes try to focus on that.
A visit with Don Kates at the Yeshiva HaKotel, including a fabulous view from the rooftop, completed our time in the Old City.
Back at the hotel, Judy Balint, author of "Jerusalem Diaries," journalist, and friend, met us for a talk about her visits inside PA cities. She described the development in Nablus/Shechem as very extensive. We had seen this at a distance when looking out over Shechem from Har Greezim. One could easily see that the city was growing without restriction, boasting huge homes and towering minarets. Balint spoke about the 24 unrecognized Bedouin "villages" in the Negev where thousands of children, 65% of them under the age of 13, are being supported by Israel. As Israeli citizens, they are entitled to the same privileges as Jewish citizens of Israel; however, didn't we just learn about Bedouin thievery and criminal activity which was bedeviling Jewish landowners? And how does one account for the fact that where there had once been many Bedouin in the IDF, now only 2% serve in the army? The problems seem insurmountable.
Jeff Daube, ZOA's "man in Yerushalayim", then joined us for a talk. Jeff and I had spent a lot of time in Washington, DC before he made aliyah, in efforts to educate the Congress regarding the great myth of the "Palestinians" and the destructive path of the Oslo "Peace" Accord. Once again, Jeff pointed out various Congressional resolutions that we could support, such as the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 2009 which would supplant the one of 2005, doing away with the waivers which make implementation almost impossible. Listening to Judy and Jeff describing their activities in Israel, and remembering all the people we had met, drove home the fact that there was so much work to be done, and so many different ways of doing it – all in an effort to preserve our beloved biblical heritage.
Friday morning meant starting the day with a visit to Shdema, the contested area just outside of Yerushalayim, being safeguarded by those remarkable women, Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover, and their team of devoted workers. As our bus arrived at 9 AM, we were greeted with signs, flags, music, and hugs. We'd been to Shdema many times, knowing how important it was to lend our support to the preservation of this strategically important location. A former army base, located only 5 km. from the main road connecting Yerushalayim to Gush Etzion, it is located in Area C, meaning that it is under complete Israeli control. Despite this, and to America's shame, U.S. Aid money has gone to establish an Arab enclave there, as international organizations are working to take over the area. As a statement of ownership of the land, we planted little saplings, with the hope that we would see them grow into huge trees as Israel maintains control over its land. Unfortunately, we learned that the saplings were torn out shortly after we planted them. Women in Green will keep re-planting.
Israel Danziger then led us to a target practice area where we met three of the trainers who work for Mishmeret Yesha, the rapid response organization formed by Danziger. Sharon, the leader of the trio, and a good friend, told the group about the 200 killed by terrorists in 65 infiltrations into Jewish communities since 2001. He explained that rapid response within a community is the most complicated type of warfare. Friendly fire is a great concern, and Arabs usually attack on Friday and Saturday nights, knowing that families are together celebrating the Shabbat. Since it takes the IDF at least ½ hour to respond to news of an attack, Danziger has more requests for training than he can possibly fill. In addition to training the local men to be skilled first responders, he also creates and makes bullet proof vests that are specifically designed for them.
We then moved on to reach Rav Eliezer Waldman's Yeshivat Nir in Kiryat Arba in time to prepare for Shabbat Chaye Sarah. This was the cornerstone of our visit to Israel at this particular time in November. For years, AFSI has timed its Chizuk mission to Israel to coincide with the reading of the portion of the week, Chaye Sarah, in Hebron. Commemorating Abraham's purchase of the grave for Sarah in Hebron, thousands of Jews arrive in the city to participate in this event. Since there are no hotels in Hebron, camping out is very common. Israel Danziger and his wife, Wendy, set up a wonderful lean-to tent which served as our rest stop throughout Shabbat. We had our luxurious accommodations up the hill in Kiryat Arba at Rav Waldman's Yeshiva. Celia Ofer has always made the arrangements for us, and as usual, we were comfortably set up with our rooms and meals with the inspiring Hesder Yeshiva students (young men who combine their Torah study with service in the IDF) and their rabbis. We joined the streams of people marching down to the Maarat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, enjoyed a rousing Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) in the Yitzchak room, open to Jews only 10 days a year, and then climbed back up the hill to our Friday night meal at the Yeshiva. A few of us had the additional blessing of being rained upon when there was a sudden downpour. But no one complains of rain in Israel when water is such a necessary commodity. The rain was warm and wonderful, but required changing into a whole set of dry clothes before sitting down to dinner. The meal is always enhanced by the strong singing of the students as they joyfully welcome the Shabbat and dance energetically once the meal has ended.
But our day wasn't over. Through the efforts of Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, Return to Israel, arrangements had been made for B'nai Menashe, Jews from India, who traced their ancestry back 2700 years, to meet with us after dinner and tell us about their lives in Kiryat Arba where many had settled. Tzvi Khaute was my contact person, and I was on the lookout for him as we were reciting the Birkat HaMazon. To my astonishment, about 100 people appeared at the dining room door. Khaute had brought women, children, elders, and teenagers to meet with us. We quickly made room for everyone, clearing the tables in the dining room and rearranging the chairs, so that we could give them all our attention, and they had an opportunity to study us. Khaute emphasized their total identity with Judaism and members of the group spoke about the issues of adapting to their new land of Israel. It was an extraordinary experience for us, and perhaps also for them.
Shabbat morning meant prayers at the Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hebron, a visit with the Danzigers in their tent, a return to the Yeshiva for lunch, and an afternoon tour of Hebron with David Wilder, an indefatigable spokesman for Hebron. It was wonderful walking around the parts of the city open to Jews and seeing so many familiar faces. It was a special treat to meet Prof. Jerrold Auerbach and his son, Jeffrey. Auerbach has just written a remarkable book entitled, Hebron's Jews. It details the history of the holy city and the extraordinary Jews who have kept a portion of the city in Jewish hands despite the incredible difficulties presented by the Israeli government and terrorist Arabs. Some of the more energetic members of the group visited the Jewish cemetery in Hebron, and climbed the hill to Tel Rumeida, the caravan community which is part of the Jewish area of Hebron and site of the grave of Ruth and Jesse. Everyone eventually returned to Yeshivat Nir for Shalosh Seudot, and Havdalah. It was the end of another beautiful, spiritually uplifting Shabbat Chaye Sarah. Ami arrived with our bus, and we headed for Ashkelon, dinner there at a seaside restaurant, and much needed sleep, with visions of Shabbat Chaye Sarah running through our heads.
Sunday was the last day of our mission, and the last time the group would be together. We had bonded with each other, and there was a strong feeling of unity as we met Laurence Beziz, our guide for the day. Laurence is a good friend with whom I cried heartfelt tears during the expulsion from Neve Dekalim, in Gush Katif. Whenever we meet, the tears well up again. They just sit inside my chest, ready to erupt whenever the tragedy of the expulsion comes to mind. Laurence reminded us that the State Commission of Inquiry report confirmed that the government failed in the Gush Katif case and the Supreme Court even ruled that the "disengagement" was actually an expulsion!
Our first meeting was with Rav Rafi Peretz, a Lt. Colonel in the Israeli Air Force. He had been living in the Old City of Jerusalem with his eight children when he decided to move to Gush Katif and open a Mechina, or pre-army institute. He began with 28 students and now, in his temporary location, has close to 200. Five of his students were killed and many wounded when terrorists infiltrated the Mechina in 2002. During the 2005 expulsion he refused to leave willingly. We were shown a tragic film of the students packing up the Torah scrolls and books prior to the destruction of their school.
We continued on to Sderot, the city that had sustained over 8,000 rocket attacks in eight years. We've been there many times, beginning in 2001 and 2002 when the rockets had begun falling. Once the Gush Katif expulsion took place in August, 2005, the city was bombarded constantly, with the entire community traumatized. We have always visited with some of the citizens there, listening to their tragic stories, have enjoyed the huge growth of Rabbi Fendel's Hesder Yeshiva, admired the great work of Noam Bedein at the Sderot Media Center, and developed a special relationship with Alon Davidi of Ofek Chadash, the Sderot Defense Council. Lunch at Victor's restaurant was always a special treat. Victor had catered our meals at the Pagoda restaurant, on the beach in Gush Katif. We were looking forward to being with him again, but to our sorrow, learned that he had closed down. Laurence had arranged lunch for us at another restaurant on that sunny, tranquil afternoon, and so we feasted, shopped, and continued on our way.
We drove on to Yevul in the Negev where refugees from Netzarim are housed in temporary caravans while waiting to move to their permanent homes in Halutziot. The Halutz dunes region is adjacent to the Egyptian border and is therefore a very strategic area. Driving through this desert area, we realized that this must have been what Gush Katif looked like when the pioneers first went there in 1970. The first sign of greenery we saw was in Halutziot where there were some hothouses growing esrogim, carrots and potatoes. We visited Pinchas, a refugee from Netzarim who had been a security guard there and had been wounded in an Arab terrorist attack. He has started his farming once again.
The same problem we had been told about in the Galilee, of Druse and Bedouin theft of farm materials, fertilizer, and building materials is a nightly menace to the new residents of Halutza. In addition, Sudanese refugees arrive at night, crossing over the Egyptian border. Israel has a huge problem with absorption of these desperate people.
At B'nai Netzarim, a new community of caravan homes, we were told of the demand from the government that had to be met by those seeking permanent homes. They had to put up 100,000 shekel checks to prove their sincerity and desire to stay. The government would not supply the infrastructure until they had the guarantee money. There are now eleven couples living in caravans. Tehilla, our guide through the area, lives in one of them. She explained the interdependence of the families.
Anita Tucker, our dear friend from Netzer Hazani, was waiting for us at Yesodot, the site of their new community. We saw a busy scene of construction equipment, and again were told that the new residents had to pay millions of shekels for the land. Anita had a table of refreshments set up for us on the rocky hilltop and we said "shecheeyanu," celebrating the fact that we were the first group to arrive there by bus. The men in the group gathered to daven Mincha, the afternoon service, and it was a beautiful sight. May their prayers serve to hasten the completion of the project in record time and with full success.
We had to hurry on to Nitzan, another temporary caravan community, where Rachel and Moshe Saperstein were waiting for us, along with Miriam, Aliza and Ayalah, women who work with Rachel on her Operation Dignity project. The project helps so many people, including the 9 kindergartens and the 40 B'nai Menashe families who live there. Rachel told us that only 90 out of 500 families are building their permanent homes, with thirteen families who have actually moved into their homes. She thanked members of our group for their special donations to the community: Cheryl Jacobs Lewin, who arranged for a needed new piano, and "anonymous", who supplies toys and clothing, and silverware for brides- to- be from the former Gush Katif communities. We then descended on the "Orange Gallery", which houses a treasure trove of items hand made by the Gush Katif women artists. It was finally time to say shalom to our good friends, knowing that we would return as soon as possible.
Ami guided us back on the bus for our return to Ashkelon and our gala farewell dinner. It was hard to say goodbye to the friends with whom we had bonded so closely in our extraordinary week. Many thank you's were offered and ACTION plans were suggested as we enjoyed our last dinner together. The evening ended with the trip to the airport for those who were returning that night to the states, and the final stop back in Yerushalayim for those who were staying on.
How does one sum up the extraordinary impressions, sights, people, experiences that we had in the eight days we were together? Israel – such a beautiful country – seems to be slipping out of the grasp of Israelis who don't know who they are. One example is PM Netanyahu, who has announced a freeze on all "settlement" construction while Arab building continues non-stop. It is even aided by the U.S. and the international community, and such confused groups as the JNF, which, betraying their mandate, supplies trees to enhance new Arab cities. Fortunately, there are the Israelis who have such a strong sense of identity that they never finish sacrificing their safety, their money, their energy in order to hold onto the land of Israel. The slogan of the Shomrim - This Land is Not for Steal – or Deal – or Sale – is one we have to affirm in every way we possibly can. This is our pledge to ourselves.
Since we can never stop lending our support, plans are already being made for the May 9-17, 2010 Chizuk mission. It's never too early to put in your reservation. Just call the AFSI office, 212-828-2424; 1-800-235-3658; or write: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll add your name to the list. When you ask, "what can I do?", joining our mission is a partial answer. In addition, if you wish to contact any of the people and places named in this report, please call or write to me at the AFSI office and I will be happy to provide you with the information.
Helen Freedman is Executive Director of Americans For a Safe Israel/AFSI and organizer of the AFSI Chizuk missions. www.afsi.org