Friday, June 10, 2005

Column: Back From Jewish Gaza and Northern Shomron

I arrived back home in Safed yesterday after a week long trip to Jewish Gaza, the Northern Shomron, Hebron, the grave of Rachel in Beit Lechem, and finally Jerusalem for Shabbat and Jerusalem Day celebrations. I joined a group of 45 Americans who came from New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia Beach, Houston, St. Louis and Hawaii who were on the Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI) / Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) tour led by Helen Freedman and Rabbi Bruce Rudolf.

Among the speakers that addressed the group were; MK Aryeh Eldad, Anita Tucker, a farmer and 30 year resident of Gush Katif, Dror Vanunu, spokesman for Jewish Gaza, Nadia Matar of Women in Green who has moved down to Gush Katif, Yoram Ettinger -- who served as Minister for Congressional Affairs at Israel’s Embassy in Washington (with a rank of an Ambassador), Israel’s Consul General in Houston and Director of Israel’s Government Press Office, David Bedein, frequent contributor to Arutz 7, Prof. Israel Hanukoglu of the College of Judea and Samaria, and from Hebron, spokesman David Wilder and activist Noam Federman who is under administrative house arrest. In Sanur in the Northern Shomron, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, dean of the Yeshiva of Kiryat Arba who has recently moved to Sanur spoke to us.

The group planted olive trees in the Shomron and observed the training of rapid response teams to deal with terrorist intrusions into settlements. The settlers themselves make up the teams and are being trained in coordination with the army. Funding comes through private donations to Mishemret Yesha.

From a high spot in Chomesh, one of the four Northern Shomron communities slated for expulsion, we looked down on the whole coastline of Israel. Although it was a fairly hazy day, the skyline of Tel Aviv was visible in the south, the chimneys of the Hadera electrical plant were due west and to the north the Carmel Mountain of Haifa was within sight. On a clear day we were told by our guide, Izzy Danzinger of Efrat, that the electrical plant of Ashkelon, just north of Gaza, is visible as well.

Later on in Jerusalem David Bedein said something to the group that rang true to all of us who had been to Chomesh. He said that the media and government focus on Jewish Gaza is in his opinion a diversion tactic to take attention away from the greater threat that the withdrawal from the Northern Shomron represents. Many of us had come to that same conclusion ourselves after actually seeing the vulnerability of the coastal plain -- where 70 percent of the Israeli population lives – to what would become a Fatahland three times the size of the Gaza Strip.

Bedein also gave practical advice to the group about how Americans can help by contacting their Congressmen – the subject of an article of his that can be found on Arutz 7. Yoram Ettinger also spoke of the contribution that Americans can make in stopping the expulsion by contacting Congress. AFSI is working on a plan to coordinate phone calls and inundate Congress one day a week to show opposition to the expulsion plan.

The group handed out Garfield dolls to happy and grateful children all over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The children were delighted to received their orange colored dolls – the color of opposition to the expulsion – and it seemed that the word had spread from community to community about this wonderful busload of Americans who showered the children with the orange cat that stays put as children came out to meet the bus as we went from place to place.

One of the great surprises of the trip was the meeting with Prof. Israel Hanukoglu of the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel. We had gone to see the professor with the expectation of hearing about the College and its new status as a University which was recently approved. What we received was the most interesting account of the arrest of the professor for standing at a street corner near his home in Rishon L’Tzion with and anti-disengagement sign. The professor spoke about the threats and intimidation leveled towards him by the police for refusing to identify himself – he wanted to see how the police treat citizens and not professors – including breaking his hands and towing his car. He also spoke of the tremendous privilege he felt to be among those arrested. He was inspired by the spirit and faith of both the young and old who he found himself incarcerated with for some 24 hours. He also had prepared for us a slide show showing maps of Israel and the threat of disengagement and discussed at length a subject which I have addressed here numerous times – the anti-democratic forces that are operating in Israel to push forward the “disengagement.”

He outlined the forces at play including non representative government where MK loyalty is to the party and not to the constituents, the media, and the Supreme Court – a subject I have spoken about a number of times.

Some of the group stayed on to join NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind who has returned to visit the communities of Jewish Gaza with some 100 people to give yet more support to the communities and to be inspired by their spirit and faith as well.


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