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Op-Ed: In Defense

In honor of Chanan Porat, the great dreamer of religious Zionism, one year after his passing. Some of his dreams came true, and it is our task to fulfill the remaining ones.
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 11:55 AM


We call them the "flocks": long-sidelocked, scraggly-bearded young men and woolen-cloaked, long-sleeved young women, better known as the hilltop youth. Some come in couples, some even with babies, some of whose mothers are barely eighteen. Many of them impress me with the vocabulary and analytic skill that characterize their discussions.

Once I asked their leader, former Kedumim mayor Daniella Weiss, why they bother building temporary structures on hilltops in Judea and Samaria. “They [the government, ed.] just take them down every time! Everyone thinks you’re not for real, that it’s not possible to build anything permanent this way.”

Weiss sees things differently, and her view comes with the credibility of the woman whose political acumen brought Kedumim, the thriving Shomron city twenty minutes from Kfar Saba, to its present, huge size. She explained the enterprise in terms of a logic unfamiliar to those accustomed to permanent, conventional communities.

First, she said, the temporary housing constructed by the hilltop youth (most are really young adults) prevents the Palestinians from taking over the land. The proof is in the pudding: the youth often suffer rocks and blows from Arabs who are thwarted when trying to usurp the state-owned, but barren, land.

Second, “if we weren’t there, they would move on to destroying the major outposts and sites in the communities on the Talya Sasson list [of communities to be destroyed. This is the list of 'illegal' construction that the Levy Report, proving that it was legal to build in Judea and Samaria,  put to rest, ed.]. This way, when the authorities go before the High Court, they say their first priority is to deal with us.”

Weiss is right. What she said has been intimated by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the man responsible for recent destruction of outpost Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

When I met Barak recently at a memorial service for a shared acquaintance, I asked him the following question:

“Ehud, now that you’ve split off from Labor and you don’t need to appease its members who are hostile to us, give us a break.”

He replied, “you don’t understand,” and hinted at his reason.

After that exchange, I was approached by a veteran activist whose views are considered to be on the far right of the spectrum. He asked me what I had discussed with Barak, and I told him.

“Okay, I can understand that he feels he needs to show he’s doing something,” said the activist, “but why with such brutality? Why with blows?”

Now that we have mounted a defense of the hilltop youth’s activity, here is something to consider in defense of Barak and his associates: the harder the hilltop youth are beaten and the louder their screams are, the less difficulty the government has deflecting pressure from the judicial system and the media to go after other communities.

Barak can point at his “accomplishments” and his demolition of illegal building … and in the meantime, the real building continues.


We will even attempt to find something to say in defense of the Israeli left, in the tradition of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev...
The hilltop youth are the decoy targets of the Jews living in Judea and Samaria, whether the latter like it or not. The hilltop youth pay the price for it, too, sometimes including justified or unjustified condemnations by the local establishment. On the occasion of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, let this much be said in their defense.

Now, we will even attempt to find something to say in defense of the Israeli left, in the tradition of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who would strive to find any possible source of merit for the Jewish people in the New Year.

This particular argument is based on that of Yigal Kutai, an actor and former musician in the band of the IDF Home Front Command who became religious, moved to Kiryat Arba near Hevron, served as manager of the cultural center there for many years and has a unique view of his former colleagues on the left.

Since the redemption of Israel is a gradual and natural process, and natural processes take time, it is important for outside enemies to give us a break sometimes.

Who’s to convince them to do that? The Israeli left. Every single part of the people of Israel has a function, and the historical role that God gave the Israeli left is that of misleading the enemy. When enemies see the collaborators among us, they assume that these are an accurate reflection of the country and it’s only a matter of time until Israel gives in and surrenders. With that, they calm down and temporarily leave us alone.

In the meantime, we gain time and can continue building up ourselves and our land.

Some would say that this is scant comfort, and serves only to justify failure and weakness. And there is what to say in the defense of these people as well. They are in a rush to see our problems solved here and now, because they—including the writer of these lines—know that they are getting older and feel the time flying by.

So, for those who want practical, proactive solutions now, let me say this: there are indeed such projects underway. Here I give the example of the very practical activist/scholar Yehuda Etzion:

Etzion is a very practical man. He founded the community of Ofra with Chanan Porat and my brother Yossi Indor back in 1973. Rachel Yana’it Ben-Tzvi, the wife of the late president Yitzchak Ben-Tzvi, who stood at the helm of the Movement for Greater Israel alongside poet Nathan Alterman, suggested to Chanan to rebuild a Jordanian army camp where Ofra now stands.

The camp would be rehabilitated as a work camp similar to those constructed by the early pioneers, to house workers who would participate in the construction of the IDF communications base on adjacent Mount Hatzor. Etzion adopted the project and pushed it through.

Since then, the work camp has become a large community that is home to hundreds of families. (About half the staff of Makor Rishon - and Besheva -lives near the erstwhile work camp. It has been said that the other half lives in the adjacent hills.)

Etzion also was responsible for bringing 80,000 Jews from the Soviet Union to Israel after the fall of the Iron Curtain, working with veteran Gush Emunim activist Ina Viyanski and Member of Knesset Uri Ariel to circumvent the clogged routes out of the USSR and bring the Jews out when we had the chance. Etzion also had a major part in engineering the aliya from Ethiopia.

Today Etzion is busy creating a new master plan for Jerusalem, including the Third Temple, working together with landscape architects, economists, and others. He has his ideas for what to do with the mosque, but this is not the place to discuss details.

The point is that Etzion has found a way to raise this important topic out of our prayers and place it as well on the practical agenda

There are those who would sneer at such a plan. It must be noted, though, that it is very much in the tradition of Chanan Porat. When he received the Moskowitz Prize for his work, none of it went into his wallet. One part went to social projects, and the other went to the plan on which Etzion is hard at work.

It was exactly a year ago that Chanan passed away. He was a person who brought together prayer and action, song and deed, who lived the song of his prayers in the most practical way.

I remember how he described his prayers for the restoration of Zion after he had become ill. “Do you know what it means to say, ‘May our eyes see when You return to Zion with mercy,’ what this prayer means to me since I became sick?” asked the dreamer-seer of Zion, his eyes and his entire body longing to see the redemption.

I told him about my tack on the Palestinian issue, and spoke of the need for a public relations campaign against the political and security dangers posed by the creation of a Palestinian state.

Chanan thundered back at me, “Meir, I’m going for the whole pot! The Land of Israel is ours even without those dangers. Enough excuses!”

I started saying that Benny Begin had told me in his father’s name that the public relations line has to be built on the two foundations of our right to the land and security dangers, but Chanan wouldn’t countenance the insult to our land. He simply repeated again and again, “the Land of Israel is ours.”

The Rosh Hashannah before he died, I went to visit Chanan at his home. He was connected to machines and an intravenous drip, and his family was at his side singing. I sang Chanan a niggun [tune] of Gur hassidim of which he was fond, which I had taught him on a long trip from Yamit when we were working against the Israeli retreat from the Sinai:

“King David of Israel is alive and enduring.” “David melech Yisra’el chai vekayam …”

Originally published in Makor Rishon (Hebrew daily), September 2012, sent to Arutz Sheva by the writer.