On Friday, I joined the Women in Green for a lecture at Adurayim, an abandoned military base in the south Hebron hills. The Women in Green, as you may recall from my earlier post, is a Land of Israel activist movement which supports further settlement in the territories and opposes partition of the land.
When the Israeli army withdrew from Adurayim earlier this year, they bulldozed the entire base and left a single building standing, the remnants of an old Jordanian outpost. Soon after, the Women in Green began organizing regular lectures and religious events there in an effort to keep the land in Jewish hands. The lecture which I attended was given by Dr Gideon Ehrlich, who spoke about his experiences with the Israeli and international media. He pointed out many instances where he found that stories were fabricated or distorted by journalists, often to press an anti-rightist agenda. He also spoke about the frequent misuse and misquotes of biblical passages by leftist groups. I had a very difficult time following most of the lecture as it was entirely in very rapid Hebrew, but was given the play-by-play by one of the event organizers.
After the talk, the group joined a march and vigil in memory of the four people murdered last Tuesday night by Palestinian gunmen while driving home to Beit Haggai. Since this initial shooting, there have been at least three other attacks on Jews throughout the West Bank in which several have been seriously injured. The attacks have taken place while talks have been taking place in Washington between Prime Minister Netanyahu, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah, and US President Barack Obama.
The marches left from three different locations near Hebron and all met at the roadside where they were killed. The crowd of about 200 people listened to eulogies and speeches given by several area rabbis, again all in Hebrew. I did not catch most of them, but repeating themes included calls to Prime Minister Netanyahu to remember that violent threats to Jewish life still exist in Yehudah and Shomron, and that the people to whom he is responsible are not in Washington but in Israel.
The banner pictured above which reads: “Shakhror m’khablim = piguim” meaning “Releasing Terrorists = Terrorist Attacks” is indicative of another element of conflict in this land. One of the main themes of negotiations, both between Israeli and the PA and in quiet negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit, has been the release of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinians demand their release as a matter of national pride while Israel denies their release for obvious security prerogatives. Both sides see imprisoned terrorists as bargaining chips. However, many in Israel are unwilling to achieve temporary, often illusory diplomatic gains at the risk that released prisoners will return to terrorism, as many have in the past, costing even more lives.
While the speeches were being given, there was also some commotion in the hills. I was told that Beit Haggai has been suffering an extreme water shortage recently, even worse than would be expected from the current drought. It was discovered that Palestinians have been illegally rerouting water from the main pipes to irrigate their orchards and fields. One man found one of these rerouting pipes and, with the help of a few others, was digging it out of the hillside and closing the bypass. Several police looked on while this was happening but did not actively intervene. Those digging up the hoses told the police that if they were doing their job, i.e. pulling the pipes out themselves, the settlers would not have to do it.
This incident on its own focuses attention on one of the many complex issues which underlie the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: control of water. Palestinians often charge that Jewish settlers are given unfair and disproportionate access to water while they must pay considerably for such access. At the basic level, this argument is correct, but ignores the fact that all Israelis, settlers included, pay very high rates for water usage which rival and in many cases exceed those charges paid by Palestinians.
Of course, the Palestinians argue that the water is theirs in the first place, so that Israelis should receive any of it, or that they should have to pay for it, are both considered illegitimate from the outset. To give a truly fair reading of this particular incident, one would have to know how much Israelis are paying for the water access, if Palestinians have similar access, if Palestinian access is restricted by a limited supply from Israel or the Palestinian Authority or if they simply refuse to pay either body, and, indeed, where the water source itself is found. Lacking all this information, let us suffice to say that the issue is complex and unresolved.
From here, I made my way back to Jerusalem for Shabbat. On the way, I had many interesting conversations with members of the Women in Green about the security situation and Jewish connections to the land. Hopefully after the chaggim (holidays), I will time to set up proper interviews with the group’s leadership. In the meantime, I certainly learned and experienced quite a lot. It was a very busy day to cap off a very busy week.