50 supporters of Women In Green from Jerusalem, Kiryat Arba, and Gush Etzion arrived in Ofra this morning and were welcomed by Haim Shalem, a member of the esteemed 55th Parachute Brigade of Six-Day War fame and proud resident of Ofra – the first yishuv (Jewish settlement) of the Shomron, established 41 years ago with the blessing of the Israeli government including Shimon Peres. He even planted his own tree here!
4000 people strong, the tree-lined streets reveal red-roofed homes made of Jerusalem stone. Serving 750 families, colorful parks and nursery schools are everywhere. Boasting a diverse population of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Ofra, from its inception, was built up as a community. Like a big kibbutz, Haim explained to us. A strong yishuv with strong people. We arrived in the center of this place which felt, more or less, like any other place any one of us might live or visit in the course of a very normal life. Except that something very not normal is happening to the people here.
To hear of it in the news, there is a group of 9 extremely offensive houses that are causing all the problem – at a minimum they are keeping some Arab from rightfully claiming his inheritance and at a maximum they are standing in the way of Middle East peace. That is to hear of it in the news.
To hear of it in real life is to understand that there is no such thing as a group of offensive houses. There are homes. Families living inside those homes. We met one of these families today. Regular working people who had the support of the government when it came time to take a mortgage, who enjoy the government provided infrastructure (paved roads, children’s parks, basketball courts and soccer fields) and who, at this moment, are counting down until the high court’s expulsion date of February 6, 2017. Mothers and fathers with children are now living with the trauma of a pending evacuation for the purpose of making – for starters – a single street in the heart of this core community “Jew-Free”. There was no Arab here 41 years ago and so there is no Arab to which this land will be restored. Nevertheless, the high court has had a destructive eye on this group of nine houses for the past 8 years. In their ruling they explicitly stated they are not interested in finding a solution for any of the individual families – just in getting rid of this group of houses.
What next? One could only imagine the next street over and then the next. Except that the Jordanian law the high court has oddly chosen to uphold in this case would render most of our beloved country deserving of a similar fate. While Amona, our next stop, is actually officially part of Ofra, it has its own destruction order. Is Amona Built on “private Palestinian land?”, by Dr. Moshe Dann, is an absolute must-read to properly and fully understand the absurdity underlying both the Ofra and the Amona destruction orders.
We traveled the winding road up to the beautiful neighborhood of Amona. At 850 meters above sea level, standing atop the ruins of nine houses destroyed eleven years ago, we could see Jerusalem on one horizon, Jordan on the other. The neighboring Arab village of Tybeh-Aphram recalls the biblical origins of the place as one of the cities of Benyamin listed in the Book of Joshua (18:23). We happened upon the Bet Knesset and found it full of yeshiva boys learning Torah.
What started 21 years ago, with one line of houses, is now a fully functioning ecologically minded mini-Yishuv with a vineyard, trees of every variety and even hot houses for strawberry crops. There is a school, parks, a ritual bath, and a synagogue. Amona is tranquil and beautiful and yet somehow the court has decided a small part of it is on private land – land gifted by King Hussein during his rule – and that the whole area must be destroyed with nothing remaining. Sorting out the details of what is and what isn’t private land is not something the court has an interest in at this time, says the court.
As our gracious host, Tamar Nizri, explained to us the uncertainty facing Amona, she offered an optimistic outlook as she called upon our leaders to strengthen their resolve. She invited us to return in a year’s time to celebrate a seudat hoda’ah (a celebration of thanksgiving). If it seems as if a miracle is needed, take note of the date given for the destruction. The 25th of Kislev.
Our final destination was Netiv Avot in Elazar. We were welcomed by Hananya Nachliel, one of the founders. Here, in the absolute heart of Gush Etzion, where one can see clearly Neve Daniel, Beitar Illit, Efrat, Alon Shvut, Rosh Tzurim and even Kfar Etzion, while overlooking Derech Avot, the Path of the Forefathers, it is basically a twisted variation of the same story. Government support given and withdrawn. In this case the court even rejected efforts by the state to reach a solution that would avoid destruction. The end goal, as in Ofra, as in Amona, is to clear this portion of the land of Jews. 17 homes are slated for destruction. Two of them by the end of December. 15 more by March. Homes with families. There will be a big meeting in the Observation Post of Netiv Avot at 3:30pm on Wednesday, December 7. Everyone is welcome to come and give support. The Observation Post site is a memorial to Ezra Asher, Z’L and Emanuel Morano, Z’L, both IDF soldiers who died in Lebanon, and it is also slated for destruction.