This is one “settler’s” impromptu responses to David Newman’s piece on “How the Settler Suburbs Grew” (New York Times, 21 May 2002).
I am a resident of Alon Shevut in Gush Etzion, a “settlement,” really a town of 5,000 Jews located about 20 minutes south of Jerusalem.
Alon Shevut was established in 1970 by a group of young Yeshiva students and their families associated with what became the world famous Har Etzion Yeshiva run by Rabbis Amital and Liechtenstein. Alon Shevut, like Kfar Etzion, Rosh Tzurim, Migdal Oz, Neve Daniel and Bat Ayin are built on land that was bought and paid for by the Jewish People long before the Jewish State was formed in 1948.
Its original inhabitants, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, and some of whom were members of the left-wing pioneering movement, Hashomer Ha-tzair, were attacked by Palestinian irregulars and the Transjordanian Arab Legion in the months that preceded the establishment of the State of Israel in May, 1948.
Kfar Etzion was captured by Arab forces on May 14, 1948, the day before the State was declared and the major part of its 200 defenders were gunned down in cold blood after surrendering to Arab forces. The remaining inhabitants and defenders of the “settlements” of Gush Etzion were taken into capitivity in Jordan and were released only in 1950.
After the capture of the “settlements” of Gush Etzion, the Arabs systematically destroyed every trace of Jewish life here, including uprooting thousands of fruit trees planted by the “settlers” who had reclaimed the barren hills and established a viable agricultural economy. In their place, the Jordanian army built an army base and various encampments that for 19 years had a commanding view of the entire Israeli coast from Ashkelon to Hadera.
For 19 years Jews were not allowed to set foot on their land and were left to viewing it from what became known as the John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem. On other portions of the Jewish land in Gush Etzion, the Jordanians built a Palestinian refugee camp, Daheisha; it is to this day registered in the name of the Jewish National Fund. The Jordanians proceeded to annex the entire “West Bank” (a euphemism invented by the Hashemite regime to describe its newly annexed province and what had theretofore been known throughout time immemorial as Judea and Samaria).
The Jordanian annexation was condemned by the entire international community, save the UK and Pakistan, and the entire Arab world and was consequently, illegal ab initio. No Palestinian Arab state in the area was ever established or proclaimed as the Arab world had rejected the 1947 UN General Assembly partition resolution (No. 181), electing instead to invade the Palestinian mandate and destroy the nascent Jewish State and its “settlements” from the Galilee to the Negev.
In 1967 after being attacked without provocation by Jordanian troops in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the “West Bank,” Israeli troops acting in self-defense re-entered Gush Etzion and other areas of Judea and Samaria and expelled the Jordanian forces. Three months after Judea and Samaria were liberated, the children of the original inhabitants of Kfar Etzion petitioned the Government of Israel to return to the site of their kibbutz in Gush Etzion and received permission. Thus began the restoration of Jewish life in Gush Etzion.
Today, there are some 15 communities in the “Gush” administered by a Regional Council. In addition there is a sizeable town called Efrat founded by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in the 1980s that numbers some 10,000 souls and the soon to be city of Beitar Illit with some 20,000 inhabitants. To the south of Gush Etzion is the town of Kiryat Arba with some 10,000 residents adjacent to the city of Hebron which too has seen its ancient Jewish community restored after repeated attempts by the Arabs to destroy it before 1948.
To give you some historical perspective, the modern Jewish communities of Gush Etzion are themselves successors to a virtually unbroken chain of Jewish “settlement” in Judea that began in the time of Abraham, two thousand years before the first Arab settled here. The Jewish village of Tekoa, established in 1977 adjacent to the Arab village of the same name and the home of the prophet Amos (“and they build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof’ They shall make gardeof their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy G-d”). Towering high over Tekoa is the ancient Hasmonean and Herodian citadel known as Herodion with its magnificent archeolgical excavations. From the top of the Herodion one can see clearly the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab, now in Jordan. One can also see a vast plain dotted today by dozens of Arab villages, none of which existed before 1967. These Arab “settlements” were established (without international protest) when Bedouin nomads attracted by the economic boom generated by the return of Jewish life to Gush Etzion decided to “settle” down and earn good livings from the construction trade and related businesses. Just east of the Herodion on a site adjacent to the Dead Sea, there is a place called Qumran where the first of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, written by Jewish “settlers” some 2000 years ago, were discovere d by one of those Arab Bedouins in 1947. Just to the west of Herodion, a few meters outside modern Tekoa is another cave, where 13-year old Kobi Mandell and his friend, were brutally murdered and mutilated last year by a descendant of the same Arab Bedouin “settlers” who now populate the plain below Herodion. And just around the bend from there was where my friend and fellow immigrant Aharon Gurov was gunned down in cold blood just a few weeks ago.
We have a custom here in Gush Etzion to climb up to the Herodion every year on the Ninth of Ab and commemorate that solemn day with prayers under candlelight from the ancient synagogue there. On that very site and on that very day in the year 70CE those other earlier Jewish “settlers” of Gush Etzion watched with horror as the Second Temple was engulfed by flames and reduced to rubble by Roman armies in Jerusalem just a few hilltops away.
Further to the west in Gush Etzion, just a few hundred meters from my home in Alon Shevut, there is a road leading to the newest of Gush Etzion communities at Bat Ayin built on or near the site of the pre-1948 kibbutz of Ma’asuot Yitzhak, named after the late Chief Rabbi of Israel and former Irish Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak Herzog (father of Israeli President Chaim Herzog).
In 1990 when the first Jewish pioneers returned to that site, I used to do guard duty throughout the night to help the new “settlers” get started and helped them make their first prayer minyanim. Today there are probably 100 families living there in homes they built with their own hands. When the Jews of Bat Ayin were building the road that would link them to Kfar Etzion and the rest of the Gush, they stumbled upon some stones that appeared to have a deeper significance. After a few days of excavation by the regional archeological team, they found the remains of another Jewish “settlement” built during the time of the Second Temple. In this ancient Jewish town, they found a mikva, or ritual bath, and at the bottom, a rusted key… of the same type known to have been used by the Jews of another ancient Jewish “settlement” known as Jerusalem.
Indeed, it now appears that some of the residents of this ancient Jewish town in Gush Etzion were refugees from the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 CE. One of them brought with him or her, this momento from their former home, which is today just a 20 minute drive north by car. In 1990 the newest Jewish residents of this spot brought with them another “momento,” the Torah scroll that was taken into Jordanian captivity by their predecessors when the Gush fell to the Arabs in 1948.
Forgive me for having taken so much of your time to read these few lines. But I wanted to give you a perspective that the articulate and well-known left-wing activist David Newman saw fit to overlook. The Jews of Gush Etzion are not interlopers or trespassers; just as their counterparts all over Judea, Samaria and Gaza are not. They are the “Indians” (Native Americans) who have returned to their ancient home. They are part of the long and unending chain of Jewish “settlers” who have been part of this landscape since the time of Abraham to this very day.
Some day I might relate to you the story of Judah Maccabee’s connection with Alon Shevut and the battle that King Jehosophat fought in the valley below Kfar Etzion, just outside my window. Even the name of our people, the Jews, is taken from the tribe, region, province, Kingdom of Yehuda (Judah/Judea), whose heartland encompassed these very hills of Gush Etzion and Hebron for millenia. So it goes on and on and on….
It is therefore with amazement that I read David Newman’s piece and hundreds of others like it as well as the statements of some (but not most) of my own countrymen who look upon these no longer barren hills and these fluorishing Jewish villages, towns and cities in ancient Judea and Samaria as “colonies” and “obstacles.” I ask myself what kind of peace can there be if the Jews cannot live and build in Judea. Has the world gone completely mad when it sees the descendants of the Jews of ancient Tekoa and Hebron and that newly discovered Jewish Second Temple period town in Gush Etzion as “trespassers?” I say to the world that if you deny the legitimacy of our habitations in the hills of Gush Etzion and Judea (and Samaria and Gaza), you deny the legitimacy of the entire Jewish State… more than that: you deny our very legitimacy as a People on this G-d given Earth. Understand this and you will understand why the Arabs of Eretz Israel are relentless in their campaign to expunge the “West Bank” and Gaza of its Jews; to make Judea “Judenrein.” Understand this and you will understand why David Newman and his ideological soulmates are tragically wrong.