Thursday, December 28, 2006

Aliyah 2006 / Hitnatkut IV (the final post.)

Before I finish my Hitnatkut post, I'd like to welcome all of the new olim (immigrants) who arrived from the United States today, including Nefesh B'Nefesh's 10,000th oleh. Every year sees an even higher number of western olim, and this year was no exception. Way to go, Nefesh b'Nefesh. And, at least from the photos, it would seem this group has a preponderance of pretty young women. Again, way to go Nefesh B'Nefesh!

Credit for these pictures goes Jacob Richman, who posted them on his website.

Below is part 4 of my Hitnatkut post. For previous parts, click below:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

To the west stands Tel Tzion, several rows of massive, brand-new, urban-sized apartment blocks, groomed trees, and tight streets, amidst rocky outcroppings and ramshackle goat pens. It’s as if a chunk of Rechavia went wandering off into the desert and sat down here.
“It’s the Haredi [ultra-orthodox] neighborhood,” he explains. “It’s built on a hill of Kochav Yaakov. It’s still technically a neighborhood of ours, but they are eventually going to break off and form their own municipality.”
Past Tel Tzion, the spires of Arab northern Jerusalem and Ramallah point skyward. The Arab buildings closest to the settlement, about three quarters of a mile to the west, stand empty.
“They build the same as we do, using Saudi oil money, help from their friends. Nobody lives in those houses, they were built to stake a claim. We used to have good relations with Ramallah; I could drive in there, go grocery shopping, and leave my car door unlocked, but since the peace process it’s become too dangerous. [Late prime minister] Rabin built the bypass road,” he says, pointing to the black strip of asphalt wriggling through the desert east of the settlement, “in order to give away Ramallah, which the main road from Jerusalem passes through to get here. It was a part of the Oslo process, but it was also there to make us feel doomed, like we were next on his list so we had better clear out. But it’s had the opposite effect; the road shortened the commute time because it avoids the city, so now instead of taking forty minutes to get to Jerusalem it takes fifteen. Settlements that had been struggling for years with just a few trailers started growing with families who could now commute to their jobs in Jerusalem. So, we see, a thing of evil can be turned to serve the good.”
Piecing the map together, the strategy in building here becomes clear. In a row, north of us are Beit El and Psagot. To the south is Adom, and my own Jerusalem suburb of Pisgat Ze’ev. To the west of this living wall is Arab Ramallah and North Jerusalem. To the east, save for a couple of small Arab villages, large Jewish hilltop towns and smaller outposts, lies mostly empty desert clear through to Jordan. This axis of settlements was built to hold the line against the eastward expansion of Ramallah.
It’s a tactical move in a larger slow motion struggle not of tanks and troops, but bulldozers, cement mixers, and maternity wards. The timescale is measured not in days or months, but decades. After long experience with broken promises, betrayed international resolutions, and hollow military victories, Israel found that the only way to hold any piece of land was to build there permanently. So the legions of buildings face off against one another, row upon row of identical Jewish apartment blocks lined up as the soldiers of a proper western army standing at attention; the chaotic, organic mass of Arab Ramallah looking eerily like the ununiformed irregulars who attacked Israel from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt in 1948, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006.
Walking along the hilltop, Rabbi Feld tugs my arm to keep me from falling into an ancient, recently excavated olive press. The hill is alive with the evidence of early Jewish habitation. Cisterns, wells, mikvehs, the outlines of ancient homes, terraces, and burial caves carved out of the rock in every direction. Another gust of wind slaps me so hard I have to use my hand to pin my kippah on my head.
“You know,” I think out loud, “you could generate quite a bit of electricity if you were to put a wind turbine up here.””I must admit, I’ve thought about it myself. Would it pay to do?””You would have to do some research on average wind velocities over the course of a year,” now my brain is churning, “and you would have to anchor it, although this limestone is probably sufficient. You would need an inverter and some batteries to hold you over if there were no wind for a while. Think about it, if you had enough of them, you could generate enough power for the whole town.”Of course my mind is already envisoning vast fields of wind turbines across the open stretches of Samarian desert. “How do you get land here?”
“Look,” he explains, “there’s no way to own land here. Like anywhere in Israel, the government owns everything, so you can only lease it for like 199 years at a time. But we’re happy to let anyone use the land who wants to. See that house out there?” he asks, pointing to a small house and olive orchard off by itself, way, way beyond the fence, under the shadow of the Ramallah suburb of Jaba, “He’s a gardener with ten kids. The olive trees aren’t mature yet, but he’s hoping to retire on them eventually. We had another woman who wanted to build an amusement park on the hillside down there. She had approval and everything, but when the Oslo War…” that’s how settlers refer to the second Initifadah, linking it to the failed Oslo peace negotiations, “…started, she knew that nobody would be coming out there so she had to give it up. But there’s nothing stopping you.”
“How did this whole settlement get started?”
“In the eighties, the army built an antenna on this hilltop. Then, they sent a squad of soldiers to camp out and guard the antenna. At first the soldiers thought it was just a fun camping trip for a few weeks in the field, but then the army sent more soldiers. Later, they replaced the tents with trailers. Afterwards, the first of us civilians moved out here and replaced the soldiers. When I first moved here…” he starts off. I’ve heard this one from the old timers in every town, whether it’s on a Samarian hilltop or a sprawling Tel Aviv suburb. Stories of how there was no running water, no trees, no birds, no grass. It always starts off with nothing, “…there was nothing here. Today, thousands.”
It’s a very different story from isolated Elon Moreh, which was built by settlers and destroyed by the army seven times before the army finally relented. But this settlement is strategic, built not on the basis of faith but the strategy of stopping Ramallah from gobbling up the Judean desert. It’s the sort of project a hard-nosed irreligious general could get behind. But the people moved here didn’t come for strategic reasons, they arrived on faith. Strategic Israel is today in serious retreat, while the Israel of faith continues to advance. Kochav Ya’akov is now beyond the security fence, “out there,” outside the constantly contracting borders of strategic Israel, and therefore not worth the effort. The Hitnatkut was the first direct confrontation of strategic Israel against the Israel of faith, and it ended, at least in the short term, with a defeat for the Israel of faith. This defeat places a serious question mark over the future of Kochav Ya’akov. But it’s a question they’ve had to deal with from day one, and one to which they have an answer: build.

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