"Shdemah Must Remain Jewish!"
Some 60 people, including a Knesset Member and local rabbis, took part in a meeting Friday morning aimed to keep Shdemah, just south of Jerusalem, in Jewish hands.
A new organization called "The Committee for a Jewish Shdemah" organized the session, which took place in the Gush Etzion Community Center in Alon Shvut.
At issue is a former army base named Shdemah, located near the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. The IDF abruptly abandoned the base about two years ago, and Jews living in nearby Gush Etzion later learned of the plan to hand it over to the Palestinian Authority for the construction of a new Arab neighborhood.
MKs Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) and Uri Ariel (National Union/National Religious Party) immediately objected. MK Ariel submitted an official Knesset query on the matter, which ultimately elicited a confirmation from Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai (Labor) that a new Arab town was definitely being considered for the site. Preliminary surveying work for the beginning of a new Arab town has begun.
"The establishment of a Palestinian neighborhood so close to our homes is liable to cause a security danger," Porush understated in an open letter he circulated at the time, "and the government's support of this senseless plan is totally irresponsible."
Protests Began Two Months Ago
Two months ago, a group of 150 Jewish Land of Israel loyalists held an active protest at the site, beginning initial activities to ready it for Jewish residence. They painted and cleaned up the three remaining structures, hung Israeli flags, and erected a large Magen David (Jewish star). The next day, another busload of pioneers returned to the site, though a guard standing there would not let the bus pass, and they had to walk up by foot.
At the most recent pro-Shdemah gathering, Friday morning, MK Ariel told the assembled that they must organize themselves to maintain a permanent Jewish presence at the site. This, he said, might be the only way to prevent the site - which is currently under full Israeli control - from turning Arab.
Jews to Man the Site
The notion was accepted, and the Gush Etzion Regional Council offered its help in enabling a 24/7 Jewish presence there. It was also resolved to begin efforts towards an official decision to create another Jewish community in the area, one that would connect Har Homa and Nokdim, Gush Etzion's northeastern-most community.
Dozens of Jews have signed up to be the first to begin the Jewish presence in Shdemah, this coming Monday. Many of them went to the site immediately after the meeting, to get to know the area.
"Amidst all the concessions and gestures that Israel continues to make to the PA," MK Porush has said, "including the removal of anti-terrorism checkpoints, bringing of hundreds of armed PA policemen into sensitive areas in Judea and Samaria, allowing huge amounts of weapons and the like into the PA, this agreement to turn the Shdemah base into an Arab town sets a new level of abandonment of Israel's basic security perceptions."
The Shdemah base overlooks the recently-opened highway leading from eastern Gush Etzion to Jerusalem. Gush Etzion residents say that the road is the only alternative to the Tunnels Highway, which is closed all-too-often because of security alerts and the like.
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein was present at the meeting, as were Nokdim's Rabbi Yaron Durani and Yeshiva Har Etzion Dean Rabbi Yaakov Meidan.
"There is more than enough room for development and construction in the areas already given to the Palestinian Authority," said MK Ariel, "and there is no need to reduce the Israeli area."