What follows is an abridged transcript of an interview with three religious teenaged girls who were released from prison on Monday after sitting in jail for three weeks. Their crime: Attending an outpost-building ceremony outside Beit El and then refusing to identify themselves. The reason they refused: Unwillingness to recognize the authority of a Jewish court system that refuses to allow Jews to settle throughout the Land of Israel.
Following three weeks of harassment by the courts and prison systems, during which even some on the left called for the girls to be freed, they scored a victory in forcing their release without conditions or restrictions - and without identifying themselves.
The girls, all 9th and 10th graders in the Maaleh Levonah Ulpanah Girls High School near Shilo in Shomron, are not permitted to be identified in the media, as they are minors. They are known in this interview as Chana, Tchiyah (Revival), Herut (Freedom) and Yael.
Q. How did you feel when you learned of your release?
Yael: It was totally unexpected. We felt as if it came from G-d alone.
Herut: I had trouble believing we would ever get out. When they actually released us with no restrictions, we saw how G-d is all-powerful. Even things that are beyond all imagination can happen.
Q. After this long period, and the difficult experiences you went through, what do you have to say to the legal system about how they treated you?
Tchiyah: It doesn't matter what you try to do, G-d is King - and this is not just a slogan.
Yael: As with the Egyptians before the Exodus, the more you try to weaken us, the stronger we will become.
Asked about the harassment they underwent, one said, "One time, a few of us were falling asleep in our chairs, and the policemen kept waking us up, telling us we had no right to sleep... The officer in charge of the prisoners in the N'vei Tirtzah Women's Prison prevented visitors from coming, and did not give us phone cards. One time, when a lawyer from the Honenu [legal rights] organization came to visit us, the officer lied and told him that we were sleeping. This was very hard for us, because we had been waiting anxiously for that visit."
One girl said that their first night in jail was particularly difficult: "Border Guard policemen, Druze, spoke to us very not nicely and did very not nice things. Their behavior was very base." At one point, a male policemen interrupted a session in which they were being physically checked - a clear violation of their modesty. "They did it for no purpose, just to weaken us... But we have our faith, and we are strong. It was clear that it was only to weaken us."
Yael: When you see how they try to weaken us simply because they were afraid, that strengthened us.
In this connection it is worth noting that when their friends demonstrated outside the police station a few days after their arrest, the police were heard telling each other, "Whatever you do, don’t arrest them!"
Herut: This past Sabbath, after three girls were freed and we remained, it was hard for us that we stayed alone. But then we remembered that everything is from G-d...
Chana: The hardest part is that our friend, who recently turned 18, is still in prison, with no friends. She was arrested two months ago for trying to banish Arab olive-pickers from an area near Elon Moreh, and is being held until the end of the proceedings. She's freezing at night because they give her just one blanket, there is no plug for a heater, they stole her phone card, and they don't allow her to bring things in... We are out, but we have to remember that there is another girl who is still there, though she did nothing wrong. We have to yell about this, and we must not rest until she is freed.
Tchiyah: We spoke with the other prisoners at times, mostly about Judaism. Many of them said they knew that Judaism is the right way. It's precisely in the lowest places that one's true faith emerges. You can see that they understand that there is a G-d, and it is good for them."
Chana: There were some prisoners whom we taught to pray, and we brought them prayerbooks.
Herut: One of them said, 'Look at that, they're sitting for ideology, while I'm here for selling drugs.'
Yael: They appreciated that we were there because of our principles. Some of them said that they understand us, though they don't agree. Others really admired our dedication.
Asked if they weren't negatively influenced by their presence together with convicted prisoners, Herut answered simply, "We were doing the right thing, and G-d protected us."
Q. Wasn't it hard to be alone and detached from the outside world for so long?
Chana: We understood that this was our test and our task at that time. We decided that we would take this road, despite all the difficulties. It's important to emphasize that it wasn't easy, but we believed with perfect faith that we were supposed to be there. We knew that we could get out, and we just had to hold on until the test was over."
Q. Why do young girls like you have to take this mission upon yourselves?
Herut: You can always let things fall to other people; there are always excuses. But that's not how the Redemption will be brought. Everyone has to give up a little and give of himself, according to what he can. We don't have families to run, so we can take this mission on ourselves. The Hebrew word for youth is no'ar, which comes from the same root as hitna'arut, to arouse; if we don't do it, no one will.
Chana: The courts could have released us from the beginning; they knew our names. We shouldn't have remained in jail. It was the court's problem, and they just wanted to harass and abuse us. But we were strong."
Q. What was the principled stand behind your refusal to identify yourselves and cooperate with the legal system?
Tchiyah: We are in the Land of Israel. The Nation of Israel must be judged by Torah law. But instead of our true and just Torah, we have courts that judge according to Turkish and British law.
Yael: We felt that our public must wake up. The courts are leading the country, and the government also acts according to rulings set by the Supreme Court. The same law that kept us in prison is the same law that expelled Jews from their homes and left them with nothing. We wanted to show the public that everything is soiled and that we have to wake up from it."
Chana: When the Nation of Israel first arrived in the Land, we were commanded in the Torah to appoint a king. This is part of the process again, to build a regime that will run according to G-d's law.
Tchiyah: Just like we are forbidden to follow an illegal law, we are also not permitted to be judged in a court run by such laws.
Q. Do you truly believe that seven girls in jail will lead to a Torah regime in the State of Israel?
Yael: First our sector will wake up, and then the whole country will follow.
Tchiyah: Our entire history is full of examples of the few against the many - David and Goliath, Avraham on one side of the river as opposed to everyone else, the Maccabees, and more. Obviously we know the Sanhedrin won't be built in a month, but we have to start, and with G-d's help, if people change their way of thinking, it will be worth it."
Q. When you got out, did you feel that you had achieved something for being in jail so long?
Herut: It came out better than we thought. The whole public woke up and there was a great ripple. We see how the legal system is afraid of this, letting us out without having to identify ourselves. The truth won out.
Tchiyah: I think it might be less of a victory over the legal system and more of a feeling that G-d had confirmed that we were doing the right thing by refusing to have anything to do with the system.
Chana: It's between us and G-d. I felt complete with Him. We were educated according to Torah ways, and there is no reason why we shouldn't also be judged accordingly. The judges tried to re-educate us - as if the education that we received at home was not good enough... Sometimes the judges even admitted that they were leaving us jail another day in order to educate us - but in the end, they achieved exactly the opposite."
Q. How did your parents react? Some people said they should have had you out of there even against your will.
Chana: Our parents supported and strengthened us very much, even though it wasn't their decision for us to be there. It seems that it's harder to worry from the outside than to actually be inside... This is our opportunity to thank them very much. The thing is that according to Jewish Law, once a girl turns 12, she is Bat Mitzvah and is responsible for her own actions. So we made this decision - not lightly - and then our parents went along with what we did.
The girls also expressed thanks for those who helped in the media and from a legal standpoint, such as the Honenu organization. "Without such strong public support," they said, "our struggle would have been much harder. But when we saw how many people were standing outside each time we went to court, we understood that we were doing the right thing and this was everyone's war, not just ours. Many people began to understand that something is not right with our country and we must not sit on the sidelines. If everyone does something, we can bring the Redemption - or at least fix one small thing."
The girls said they received many thanks afterwards, together with some negative reactions as well. "But if we go only by the latter, we'll never get anywhere," one said.
Q. Will you continue to go to outposts even though you know you could be arrested again?
Yael: No one wants to sit in jail, but if we stop our advance on the Land of Israel, they will have won. We just continue to get stronger and stronger.