Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Article in May's OUTPOST

OUTPOST is the magazine of AFSI.

Here's the official site.


For me, there is no more potent verse than Joshua 18:3: “How long will you be slack to go in to possess the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” It reverberates, today, in the hill country of Ephraim, Samaria and Judea, the spine of the Jewish heartland

After a few years of participating in the settlement movement Gush Emunim (including participating in its first settlement attempt at the Sebastia train station and volunteering in its English-language information department), my wife and I arrived in Shiloh on September 1, 1981. Our three daughters arrived the day before so as to be there for the opening of school. Our two-month old son came with us, having no choice in the matter. We were slack no longer.

As I tell the many visitors to my home and community, I am doing what I consider it normal for any Jew to do, just as any Frenchman or Englishman would do: to reside where his forefathers dwelled, his kings ruled, his prophets spoke and his priests served. My windows offer a 3,000 year-old unobstructed Jewish view. Looking east to the hills over the lower Jordan valley, there is not a “demographic problem” to be seen.

Shiloh was Israel’s first capital, where the Holy Tabernacle was set up. (Joshua 18:1) It was at Shiloh that Joshua divided the land into tribal portions and it was to Shiloh Elkanah made his pilgrimages. Hannah prayed here for a son and here her child Samuel grew up. Achiyah the Shiloni prophesied here. Jews lived in the hills of Judea and Samaria as shepherds and tribal chieftains as well as princes and religious leaders. We were conquered and forcibly dispersed and returned. We were again exiled but we returned over hundreds of centuries under the most difficult of political, religious and economic conditions. We insisted that as a people, an ethnic-religious community, we possessed a homeland, a territory that was by definition Jewish land as well as the land of, and for, the Jews. It was the land of Shiloh, of Hebron, Bethel and Jerusalem.

With my wife and children I have been living for more than a quarter of a century in a community whose destruction a former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, specifically demanded. Prime Minister Begin famously admonished Carter by pointing out the numerous locations in the United States named Shiloh he found in a geographical dictionary, where Jews are not prohibited from living. “How can I not allow Jews to live in the original Shiloh?” he said.

Our population at Shiloh has modestly but steadily increased. The construction of homes has never halted. Schools, the Yeshivah, religious institutions such as synagogues and mikvaot and industrial parks have been built. Agriculture flourishes. The brand-new olive press of Meshek Aviyah is producing some 7% of Israel’s olive oil. You can purchase wine, very good wine, grown in Shiloh’s fields and honey, too.

Shiloh’s facilities include health and dental clinics, an occupational therapy facility and emergency medical vehicles. We have a grocery store and a vegetable vendor, a library, three industrial areas, several clothing stores, a gift shop, and a cemetery. There’s also a pool and an outdoor sports complex including tennis, handball, basketball, and soccer as well as an indoor sports center. Does this sound like a town near you?

When Jews returned to Shiloh 29 years ago, circumstances demanded they assume the identity of an archeological excavation team. Official recognition of the community came only a year later. Archeology remains central to Shiloh. Digs by a Danish group in the 1920s and 30s unearthed Greek, Byzantine and early Islamic artifacts and two basilicas. Another dig from 1981 to 1984 found Late Bronze pottery associated with the period of the Judges. I have seen arrowheads, spear heads, pagan figurate and gold jewelry come out of the soil as well as World War I shell fragments. After all, on the hill-line above the Arab village of Sinjil, the British troops held positions for three months opposite the Turkish-German troops below. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was there, occasionally raiding the enemy defenses.

This last summer the magnificent mosaic floor of a third church was uncovered with many geometric designs as well as illustrations of fauna and flora. An inscription, dated to the late 4th century, was revealed which reads “Blessings to Seilun [Shiloh] and its Inhabitants.” This reminder from 1700 years ago of the sacredness of our land and the theological significance of our presence comes at a very important moment. At Shiloh, we have found and preserved Muslim and Christian sites. And now, because of our presence, Jewish artifacts are also preserved.

While the past is important for the modern-day residents of Shiloh, the future is even more critical. Despite all the calumny, the media bias, our own government’s treatment of Shiloh as a ‘whipping-boy’ to serve its political needs, Shiloh continues to flourish. Although we have lost seven residents to terror (a five-month old infant, Yehuda Shoham, four teenagers and a mother of seven children) and although we are far from, and on the wrong side of the security barrier, young couples, immigrants and others continue to arrive. The outpost communities surrounding Shiloh are also growing. Quite simply, there are still proud Jews in Israel, committed to Zionism.

My living in Shiloh is not a foreign, intrusive act. I am not some transient opportunistic “settler.” I am back where I belong. I am no more an “occupier,” and less a “colonizer” than the Arab in Jaffa or Um El-Fahm. While the term “settlement” is used by the international media as a term of opprobrium, for us “settling” is the most natural thing for a Jew to do: to reside where his forefathers dwelled. Does nobody recall that the Mandate awarded to Great Britain in 1922 by the League of Nations recognized the Jewish right to “close settlement” on the land?

We at Shiloh violate neither international law nor justice. We do not practice ethnic cleansing --although that has been the Arab practice from Tel Chai in 1920 to Kfar Etzion in 1948. We have founded our communities almost exclusively on unused and unpopulated hilltops. Arab terrorists and their supporters justify killing our children and women simply because we live here.

“Disengagement,” “realignment” or any other fanciful euphemism for banning Jews from the historic heartland of their patrimony will not bring peace. Fourteen years after the elaborate show on the White House lawn launching the Oslo Accords, most Israelis recognize the peace process was a terrible mistake. In practice it has led only to rampant murdering of civilians, mostly children, constant incitement to violence and hatred, the destruction of Jewish holy places — the destruction of the Temple Mount antiquities, the razing of Joseph’s Tomb, the torching of the Jericho synagogue. All these reveal the true intentions of the Arab leadership, should it gain full control of the “territories.”

A few months after my family and I moved to Shiloh, I witnessed a scene that no foreign news media has captured but which reflects the problems of land issues here. The government decided that a portion of land adjacent to Shiloh was needed for security purposes. In such cases the military government’s legal procedure required that the mukhtars of nearby Arab villages be notified so that anyone claiming private ownership rights could come forward. On the day and at the appointed hour, several Arabs stepped out, as requested, onto the area. They were then asked to stand on what each claimed as his private plot. Within minutes, a fight broke out between two villagers who insisted that each was the owner of a particularly fertile section. A minute later they were throwing stones at each other. With the claimants lacking any documents, tax receipts or maps to support their claim, the land was declared “state land” and assigned to its new use. All we could do was to stand amazed, experiencing yet another snippet of Middle East reality.

Shiloh of the Bible is rich in spiritual and national memories. Today, we fashion new memories, which we expect to be recalled for generations to come. In 1978, there was but one community here, started when eight families arrived at Shiloh for a “dig.” Today, the view from my hilltop residence takes in Eli, Maalaeh Levona, Shvut Rachel, Givat Achiyah, Givat Harel, Givat Haroeh, Esh Kodesh, Adei-Ad and Keidah with a new start planned for Kol-Tziyon. Over 1,000 families are home, proud of our past, living our present and working to assure our future.

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