The Shabbat following the conclusion of our Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI Chizuk mission was Shabbat Shlach, where the sin of the spies is revealed. We read that Moses picked twelve of the leaders of the tribes to enter the promised land and scout it out. Of these great leaders, only two, Joshua and Caleb, returned with a favorable report.
The other ten were filled with fear and saw themselves as grasshoppers in the eyes of the "giants" of Canaan. Despite the assurances of Caleb and Joshua, the people were persuaded that entering the promised land would be too dangerous for them. Their punishment for their lack of faith was forty years of wandering in the desert , until their generation died out.
On AFSI's trip, we did not meet with "leaders,” but with the real people who, like Joshua and Caleb, celebrate the beauty of the land and are determined to settle it, farm it, own it. They do this despite the failure of the government to help them, and indeed to overcome the incredible obstacles placed in their way by the leadership.
Joshuas and Calebs
Who are the Joshuas and Calebs of today? Here is a partial list of those we met, with only a brief description of their remarkable work and efforts, in the face of government obstructionism:
Sarita and Dror Maoz, were expelled from Yamit, wounded in a terrorist attack, expelled from Gush Katif – lived with the Elei Sinai community in tents at the Yad Mordechai junction for a year, became wanderers, and now, almost ten years later, they are in their new home in Palmachim, working to get more homes and a synagogue built.
Chavat Kashuela is a farm in Gush Etzion where Arab thieves constantly threaten the sheep and goat herds. The volunteer 'shomrim,' or guards, of Judea and Samaria, devote hours of their time to relieve the farmers from standing guard duty every night. This is the only way to keep thousands of acres of land in Jewish hands.
Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover of Women in Green are heroines who responded to the terrorist murders of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali last year, by immediately establishing a visitors' center in their names. Oz V'Gaon, in Gush Etzion, is near the scene of the murders. Thousands of people have responded by helping to clear the area and build it up to receive hundreds of visitors each week.
David Wilder is always ready to guide people through the marvels of the 4,000 year old Hevron. Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida, and the Cave of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs (Me'arat HaMachpela) are only some of the treasures retained in the 3% of Hevron's area that is allotted to the Jews. Arab growth and industry in the remaining 97% spreads out as far as one can see.
Dan Luria and Mati Dan, leaders of Atret Cohanim, have devoted themselves to preserving Jewish life in the Old City of Jerusalem. Tamar and Asaf Weinrab and three other families hosted us on Shabbat in their new home, Beit Gavriel, in the Arab section of the Old City.
Despite needing guards for their children and themselves as they walk through the area, they feel blessed to be reviving Jewish presence in the pre-1948 area. Enjoying Havdalah with Mati Dan and his family in their home in the Christian area provided a perfect ending to a beautiful Jerusalem Shabbat.
Avraham Bernshtein and his Basement klezmer musicians were a delightful motzei Shabbat special treat.
Rabbi Chaim Richman, head of the Temple Mount Institute, led us on our traditional early morning visit to the Temple Mount. The usual discriminatory anti-Jewish practices were in place. Our group of 12 was surrounded by 12 Arab and Israeli guards as we were moved quickly along on our tour. Arabs photographing us and yelling at us continued from start to finish. No consequences existed for them. Instead, we were hurried away.
Jerusalem Councilman Aryeh King has become a hero for his outspoken demands that the law be applied equally to Jews and Arabs. He blames PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat for the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem. Despite rampant illegal building, Arabs are getting thousands of new apartments built for them while Jewish building is frozen. He calls for individuals to campaign against the leadership.
Ari Briggs of Regavim led us to the E1 corridor, connecting Jerusalem with its northern outskirt city of Maaleh Adumim. We saw an endless stream of Bedouin Arab huts put up illegally by the European Union. The EU flag was prominently displayed on plaques placed on the buildings. The government appears afraid to demolish the huts and establish its sovereignty for fear of being sued by the EU and being condemned by the international community.
Regavim is working to sue the government for failure to enforce Israeli law.
Self-sacrifice and betrayal
Moti Yeger and Rabbi Eyal Grayna lead the Tefahot Hesder Yeshiva in the Galilee, the finger in the dike, preserving Jewish life while it is surrounded by Arab and Druze villages. Jews are the minority today in the Galilee, where 70% of the children aged 0-3 are not Jewish. This can be attributed to governmental neglect of the Galilee.
Kibbutz El Rom, 40 miles from Damascus, specializes in dubbing for films. We viewed the amazing film about Avigdor Kahalani and his tank units battling overwhelming odds against the Syrian tanks in the '73 war. It was a costly victory for Israel in the Valley of Tears and drove home, once again, the incredible bravery and self-sacrifice of Israel's young men and women.
The Pardes Rimoni pre-military academy (or “mechina”) and Moti Peretz are closely united because the boys from the mechina help Motti to guard his animals from Bedouins who burned down his barn and try to steal his sheep. Presently he has 1,000 acres near Tzomet Golani and hopes that by being there he will help to stop the give-away of Jewish land to the Arabs.
We learned about JNF betrayal of their mandate. 4600 acres of JNF land in the Galilee may be leased to Arabs . In the new Arab city of Rawabi, JNF has donated countless trees purchased by Jews for Jews. This traitorous activity demands full accountability from the JNF.
The Emunah Sarah Herzog Children's Center in Afula works with at-risk children ages 6-18. All the children become Bar and Bat Mitzvah and 83% go into the army. The Center is rightfully proud of its success rate.
Ayelet and Akiva Cohen, who established the hilltop community of Shalhevet Ya in Yitzhar, are enjoying watching their little community grow. There are now six houses and an almost completed synagogue. Their flour mill, once a small operation, has grown successfully. We are proud to be partners to a small extent in this success.
From Netzarim to Ariel
Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in Yitzhar has finally been returned to the Yeshiva boys. The army had commandeered the Yeshiva and left it a mess when they left. A broken water pipe needed repair and broken doors and windows, as well as piled up garbage, all required attention. However, it was exciting to see the students back at their desks and out of the caravans which had served as the temporary replacement for the Yeshiva. We pray they will not be tortured again by the military command of the area.
Netzer Ariel is the new community of homes being built in Ariel by the families expelled from Netzarim, in Gush Katif, and others who wish to join them. Touring the area with Yehoshua Rhinefeld, who joined the community as an outsider, we saw that it will be quite beautiful, but we also saw that construction was going very slowly. We pray that by August, the tenth anniversary of the expulsion from Gush Katif, that all the families will finally be in their permanent homes.
Michael Teplow from Honenu is a volunteer attorney working for the organization created in 2001 to protect Jews accused of nationalist crimes. Honenu has dealt with over 15,000 cases. Teplow was full of praise for the youth who suffered through the traumatic experiences of the expulsion from Gush Katif, the Amona demolitions, and the Beit Shalom lock-out in Hebron. The "crimes" of the youth were participating in protest rallies and building "illegal outposts.” For this they had to endure government orders to "break bones." Teplow feels they are a stronger generation because of what they have endured and they will prevail over the failed leadership.
Nimrod Segev was a soldier killed in the Second Lebanon War, along with five others from Rosh Piña. His father dedicates himself to telling his son's heroic story, and that of two who were injured and two kidnapped from the same city. We visited the beautiful memorial garden which the community helped to build. It was deeply moving.
Gamla, rising like a camel's back amongst the mountains, reminds us again of Jewish courage in the face of the enemy. When the Romans attacked just a few years before the destruction of the 2nd Temple the Jews put up a valiant fight, similar to that on Masada, until the tragic end. The sacrifices of our ancestors should give us pride and strength to fight today's battles.
From Itamar to beit El
Itamar and the Hesder Yeshiva named after Udi Fogel, who was brutally murdered by Arab terrorists four years ago, along with his wife and three children, is a beacon of bravery. Led by Dorel Abramovitz, we visited the Fogel family house and then the thriving Yeshiva. From the lookout point at Gideon's Tomb, we saw Shechem, the home of Joseph's Tomb, now off limits to Jews, sprawling in the sunshine, lying between the Mounts of Blessing and Curses.
Givat Olam, the famous organic farm in Itamar, continues to host countless visitors and delights everyone with its dairy treats.
Kfar Tapuach, once strongly identified with Rav Meir Kahane, and home to his son Binyamin, before he and his wife were murdered, is growing into a desirable suburb of Ariel. Gone is the shepherd's tent and the donkey that once inhabited the garden of Lenny Goldberg, one of the first residents of the community. Lenny took us outside the fence to visit the small synagogue on the hilltop. We talked about the sin of the spies.
Arutz Sheva offices in Beit El were our final stop of the mission. Founded in 1978 and forced to broadcast from a ship, the Internet has now freed them to reach into millions of homes. Their reporting, which does not depend on Arab reporters feeding their fallacious journalism to the wire services, has become one of the most important sources of information for proud Zionists.
Uzi Baruch, Editor in Chief, and Ari Soffer, Managing Editor, greeted us warmly. Eliran Aharon interviewed a few of us and put it right out for the readers to see and hear.
Please know that the above list only reflects some of the people and places visited on our 8-day June, 2015 mission. The list would be much longer if we included all the wonderful people and places visited over the past 20 years.
The AFSI Chizuk participants have been witnesses for over 20 years to the encroachment of Arabs into every area in Israel. We are appalled to see red signs, put up by the Israeli government, even in Jerusalem, warning "Israeli citizens" or Jews, not to enter PA territories for fear of threat to their lives and safety.
We are horrified to see US AID signs signifying US taxpayer money going to the Arabs. We are bewildered by the EU signs that accompany illegal Arab building. We cannot understand Israeli orders to demolish Jewish tents, homes, and structures. We do not understand the government tolerance for the continuing illegal Arab building everywhere in the land of Israel. We condemn the growing discrimination against Jews and the growing groveling to Arabs, the US, and the international community.
Just as the ten spies – great leaders of their tribes – were concerned about being seen as grasshoppers in the eyes of others, so today's leadership seems concerned about how they are perceived. This is a serious mistake. Israel must take care of itself, its land, its people, and trust in the biblical promise. Turning to false gods can only lead to disaster.