Op-Ed: What Really Happened at Eish Kodesh
Rabbi Chaim RichmanRabbi Chaim Richman is the Director of the International Department of The Temple Institute in Jerusalem.
It is an absolute miracle that none of the hikers were killed. They suffered horrible beatings.
I have not made any entries or updates to my personal Facebook page for several months, and was not planning on doing so. I am simply too busy, and anyone who wants to reach me can always do so by email or through the Temple Institute's Facebook page. But after what transpired this past week concerning the tiny community of Eish Kodesh, and in the face of the lies that are being perpetrated in the media, I cannot remain silent. Of even greater concern is the complacency and prejudice of the general public, even among those who identify ideologically with the settlement movement.
Eish Kodesh is a growing, vibrant young community in the hills of the Benjamin region of Samaria, the heartland of the Land of Israel. The land upon which the community sits, by all accounts and even according to the maps of the extrem
The residents of Eish Kodesh are young and idealistic. Among its members are farmers, army officers, computer experts and other professionals, a variety of self-employed businessmen, and of course, Torah scholars and teachers. The community has grown to over 30 families with at least 100 children between them, the oldest of which is not yet bar mitzvah.
We are knowledgeable about all this from first-hand experience because we have two married daughters living there. Like all the young families who live at Eish Kodesh, our children have decided to live there and raise their children there at great personal cost and self-sacrifice…they truly live the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, and their very presence in this place is a constant sanctification of G-d's name.
The presence of the settlement of Eish Kodesh is begrudgingly acknowledged by the State of Israel, which considers its legal status – despite the universal recognition of the community having been established on uncontested land – as dubious. Because of the politicization of the settlement issue in general, pressure from the United States and the European Union, efforts made by the Israeli Left-dominated media to demonize and delegitimize the settlers, and constant Palestinian terror, encroachment, thievery, violence, harassment and intimidation, the lives of these young families are fraught with challenges that most of us cannot even imagine.
But Eish Kodesh's residents are deeply rooted in faith in G-d and their Jewish heritage, and their love for the Land of Israel knows no bounds, so they rise to these challenges with bravery, integrity and aplomb.
Many incidents and instances of gross injustice, governmental duplicity and police brutality have been inflicted upon the families of Eish Kodesh, but the incidents of this past week are so horrific that all past experience pales.
On Tuesday, January 7th, large and numerous forces of police and army arrived at Eish Kodesh and destroyed the vineyards and orchards belonging to two of the residents of Eish Kodesh. The Palestinians of the adjacent village of Kusrah, who continually instigate violent confrontation with the Eish Kodesh residents, were emboldened by the State action against the settlers, and with a phalanx of police to 'protect' them they gleefully 'reclaimed' these lands immediately and within moments, ploughed the earth and declared their ownership.
In addition to the destruction of the orchards and vineyards, the police also confiscated and/or destroyed privately owned farming equipment belonging to two of the residents, who together sustained over 80,000 NIS in damages and financial loss.
The feeling in the community, in the face of this government-sponsored pogrom, was one of abandonment and betrayal. This act of destruction, carried about by the government of Israel, was ordered by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.
MK Moshe Feiglin (who donated 600 new trees to Eish Kodesh in solidarity) addressed the incident in the Knesset and questioned the massive action's legality, and the strange, cruel and wanton way in which the destruction was carried out.
When word of the police action that was taking place in Eish Kodesh began to spread throughout the settlement communities, residents of other communities and many young people began to converge on Eish Kodesh to show their support and express their outrage in a universally-recognized democratic fashion.
The Palestinian locals were greatly emboldened by seeing the way in which the Jews of Eish Kodesh were treated by their own security forces. A large group of Jews, led by a resident of Eish Kodesh, decided to hike through the adjacent hills in order to show that they consider this area to be their home, they will not stop living here or live in fear. A number of weeks earlier, a similar hike had taken place along the same route without incident.
The hike was peaceful. The entire group was completely unarmed. The purpose of the walk was to declare: We live here. We will not be afraid. The participants in this hike had no intention whatsoever to commit any "price tag" act of revenge or intimidation against the local Palestinians. They did not walk to the village of Kusrah and had no intention whatsoever of entering the village.
Near the outskirts of the village the group was ambushed by a mob of hundreds of Arabs who blocked their way and set upon them. This mob forced the group into an unfinished building outside the village, where they bound them and proceeded to beat them with their fists as well as with clubs and pipes. One of the Jewish men lost consciousness (and was subsequently hospitalized…and arrested!). After 40 minutes, soldiers of the IDF arrived and 'convinced' the mob to release the group; until they were released the beatings continued under the noses of the soldiers, who did nothing to stop them.
Some of the Jews were arrested; none of the members of the Arab mob were arrested, though they kidnapped and beat the Jewish group.
It is an absolute miracle that none of the hikers were killed. They suffered horrible beatings. Photographs of the bloodied and broken Jews, bound and prostrate, proudly taken and displayed by members of the Arab mob on their Facebook pages have been widely circulated.
Certain cynical, self-serving and manipulative Israeli politicians, quick to promote their own agenda and ever-ready to vilify the settlers, announced that the group was "from Eish Kodesh" and were "on their way to commit an act of 'price-tag' vandalism; " why else would they enter into the Palestinian village of Kusrah?
But the young people in the group were not from Eish Kodesh, where the youngest child is still below bar-mitvah; they had no intention of committing any violence whatsoever, but wanted to demonstrate their presence in the Land; they did not intend entering into the village, but were kidnapped and imprisoned there, where they were savagely beaten; the same hike route had been taken only a few weeks earlier.
It pains us greatly to see how the true version of these events is barely reported and is not widely believed. Those elements that have an anti-settler agenda are seizing this opportunity to besmirch Eish Kodesh and its residents; it pains us even more to see that many good people blindly believe what the media tells them. Indeed, if we did not have children there, how would we know the truth?
These same element who are attempting to put forward their agenda regarding the dismantlement of Eish Kodesh, on the grounds that its residents commit violence against its Arab neighbors, would scream "injustice!" from every rooftop if such a suggestion was made against truly hostile and dangerous Arab villages.
The radical, rabid "Peace Now" movement has called for the community of Eish Kodesh to be dismantled – even though Peace Now itself admits that their land is not Palestinian – on the grounds that its members commit "price tag" vandalism. But nothing can be further from the truth, and the members of this community are themselves the victims of a concerted attack against their legitimacy and basic human rights.
The needs of Eish Kodesh are great. You can show your solidarity and support by donating money to the community which is desperately needed for the development of the settlement as well as for legal defense. If you are interested in donating to Eish Kodesh (a US tax 501-C-3 tax deduction is available) contact me privately for details.
In addition to financial support you can help Eish Kodesh by speaking up and spreading the truth. Please repost this note and participate in forums and talk-backs that are engaged in spreading falsehood. And please write to members of the Israeli Knesset and register your outrage at the manner in which this community is treated.