Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shomron Trip VI: The Hilltops of Itamar

As hostile political winds continue to blow against the existence of Jews beyond the 1949 armistice or "green" line, today's version of Czarist Russia's "Pale of Settlement," each settlement has to adopt its own strategy for survival. In the case of Itamar, not near the green line and far from the security fence, the strategy has focused on holding the line against encroachment from neighboring Beit Furik to the north and Awarta to the south by holding hilltops on the outer periphery of its jurisdictional area. This keeps the center clearly in Jewish hands for future growth. Ten kilometers to the east, an enormous distance by Israeli standards, lies the Jordan River Valley. Sparsely populated, ringed by cliffs capable of stopping any tank assault, the Jordan Valley has consistently been considered a "consensus area," i.e., an area which most Israelis believe should remain under Israeli control under any outcome. Itamar's strategy has been to spread eastward, building small outposts on hilltop after hilltop, to create a contiguous area of Jewish sovereignty all the way back to the Jordan Valley.

A map from Peace Now's list of outposts which it is demanding be destroyed. I've circled the chain of hilltops claimed by Itamar.

Hilltops appear on topographical maps as small "+" symbols followed by the elevation in meters. These elevations are used as temporary names for outposts. The first hilltop we will visit is at 851 meters, hence it's name "Hill 851."

Foreground: the more densely populated section of Itamar. Background: hilltop outposts.

"This road," Menachem, our resident guide tells us, "was built five or six times. We would sneak out here with the tractors at night. The next day the army would find it and destroy it. Then we'd build again, and they would destroy again. Eventually, they got tired of destroying it, and now they actually use it for patrols."

Our bus begins its ascent, weighted down with a full load of students, steel armor plating and bullet-proof glass, the motor begins overheating. But onward we go!

Chabad of Itamar, under construction.

Eventually we arrive at hill 851.

Some soldiers guarding hill 851.

I thought that was a pretty cool pic, so here's a zoomed-in version.

The outpost itself isn't much to write home about. A few ramshakle houses, mostly built up log-cabin type skins over trailer interiors. But hill 851 provides a strategic view over Shchem (Nablus,) which has always been a hotbed of terror.

A boychik soldier in his base. He was happy to pose for photographs.

Yours truly, looking from the bunker out over Beit Furik.

A trailer converted to a log cabin.
Scattered houses of Hill 851

While wandering around Hill 851, we find a modest shrine, labeled, "Tomb of Gidon the Judge."

"When we were building the outpost, there were a few stones stacked up on this spot. Nothing major. We accidentally bumped into them with a bulldozer and knocked them over. We didn't think much of it, but the woman who was driving the bulldozer had recurring nightmares that she had destroyed something important. When they didn't go away, we took her to some of the major kabbalists. They told her that she had demolished the grave of Gid'on Hashofet (Gideon the Judge, whose leadership in war is described in the book of Judges.) We built this little shrine for him. We don't have any external proof or long-standing traditions about this gravesite. Still, it's nice to have."

Menachem, Itamar resident, Mahon Meir graduate, and our guide.

"Tzedukkah (Charity) for Gid'on HaShofet"

The "Grave" of Gid'on HaShofet

Rav Listman, "This is ten times bigger than the trailers at my outpost."

Continuing along, we passed through several similar hilltop outposts, some more and some less developed.

Further up: It's a windy day at the Givot Olam outpost.

A tourist attraction out here in the middle of nowhere, the "Three Seas" tower. From the top of the tower, on a clear day, one can see the Mediterranean Sea, the Dead Sea, and the Sea of Galilee.

And more and more and more hilltops. Itamar seems to go on forever.

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