Thursday, November 09, 2006

Elon Moreh

Jumping from my hitched ride in Elon Moreh, I am greeted by two baying donkeys, simultaneously mowing and fertilizing a lawn on the settlement. From an imposing structure down the street, kippa-wearing teenagers, their first sprouts of beard growth still a bit frizzy, approach clasping folding tables under their arms.

Soon, tables and chairs are unfolded as the first busses arrive. Registration forms flap in the breeze as Jewish pilgrims from all over the land of Israel come to Elon Moreh for parashat Lech Lecha, the yearly Torah reading where the biblical Abraham first pitches his tent in the Land of Israel, in Elon Moreh, after leaving his native Ur (Iraq.)

I call Sasha by cell phone, which doubles as a walkee talkee in this country. In seconds, he comes bounding over the hill to greet me and drags me into his house.

"We don't have a bed. We were going to put you on the couch but my friend Chaim wouldn't hear of it. You'll be staying at his place. You want to eat something? Drink something? Um... eat something?"
He sees me looking out the window, knee jittering, and gets the idea.
"You've been sitting down for an hour. Let's go for a walk."

Outside his window is a great ramp of layered rocks and scrub brush. He points to a small stone shrine, plopped on the summit of the mountain as if it were a cherry on a sundae, "This is mount Kabir. The Arabs named it after Kabir. He was an African Muslim, third in line after Mohammad. Actually, there are three or four other sites in Samaria which are also claimed to be the grave of Kabir." After some speculation as to which is the real Kabir, we hypothesize that perhaps they decided to share his remains. It's as good an answer as any.

In the book of Joshua, as my host explains, the Jews were instructed to cut down all the oak trees they found on the Samarian mountain tops after defeating the native Canaanites. The Canaanites had worshipped them as idols. The local Arabs still have a custom, forbidden by their religious clerics but still widely practiced, to plant oak trees next to graves on mountaintops. Traditions die hard in this part of the world.

On mount Kabir with Sasha. Note the oak tree next to the grave.
Cresting the peak, we reach the high ground, the valley of Tirtzah stretching before us.
An Israeli Army Base (the pentagon at center,) abandoned during the Oslo negotiations, now inhabited by Arabs, in the Tirtzah valley.

In the Torah, Tirtzah was the daughter of Zelephohad, a religious zealot, who, after seeing that the Jewish people had begun straying after receiving the Torah, so he violated it by collecting sticks on the Sabbath for a fire, and incurred the death penalty, making an example of himself.
Yours truly, at the shrine on Mount Kabir.
When the time came to apportion inheritance in the Land of Israel before entering, it was found that he had no male heirs. His daughters, among them Tirtzah, petitioned Mosheh (Moses,) and Tirtzah was given this valley as her portion, hence the name of the valley and the large town at its center.
Two Shabbat visitors on Mount Kabir.

Looking through a window in the grave of Kabir towards the village of Tirtzah.
Turning around 180 degrees, we see the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal. As the Jewish people entered the land under the command of the biblical Joshua, they were divided into two groups, one sent to the top of Mount Ebal to pronounce the curses on those who violate commandments, and the other to Mount Gerizim to pronounce blessings on those who observe them. Tucked between the mountains is the biblical city of Shechem, today a purely Arab city. In ancient times, after the Roman conquest, the city was destroyed and, in an attempt by the Roman emperors to eradicate the Jewish connection to the land, renamed "Neapolis" (New City,) and the Land of Israel was renamed "Palestina." Centuries later, the first nomadic Arabs passed through. Arabic not having the letter "P," the Arabs can not pronounce words such as, "Neapolis" or "Palestine," so today the city's name is pronounced "Nablus," and "Palestine," a name not spoken for eons until being revived by the British, is pronounced by the Arabs alternately as "Balestine" or "Falastin."
A Security Bunker on Mount Kabir, overlooking the town of Shechem (Nablus)

The tomb of Joseph, the biblical ancestor of the Jewish people who first went down into Egypt only on condition that his bones be returned to the Land of Israel, is located at the center of the city of Shechem. In 2000, at the outset of the second intifadah, rioters, backed by the well-armed Palestinian police force, attacked, killing one soldier and forcing a retreat. The Palestinian Authority desecrated the holy shrine, torching and demolishing it. Today it stands forlorn and unreachable, buried in garbage, a monument to the apparent impossibility of Jewish-Arab coexistence.

Standing on Mount Kabir, I drink in the panorama one last time. to the east, The valley of Tirtzah, and beyond, the Jordan Valley.

The Valley of Tirtzah

To the south, the rebuilt town of Elon Moreh.

Elon Moreh
And to the west, Shechem. Looking towards the Shechem overlook, I see Ezra, who had given me a ride that morning. As I wander off towards the defensive bunker, Ezra begins speaking to Sasha in a Hebrew that's faster than I can follow.

Ezra and friends at the overlook.
"Ephraim, come back!"
I wander back over as Ezra's car pulls up.
"Do you want to see a new Jewish outpost?" Sasha asks me, holding the door open.
Stay tuned for pictures...

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