A7 Exclusive: My week with the 'settlers': Visiting northern Samaria
A7 Exclusive: My week with the 'settlers': Visiting northern Samaria

I visited Amona before its destruction ordered by the Supreme Court and met Elad Ziv. He welcomed us into his wooden house. “I’ve lived here for 18 years. Amona was established during the Oslo period to preserve Ofra. Ehud Barak in person told us to come and live here. They gave us the road, electricity. From here you see the Dead Sea, Jordan, everything.

"When we were in Europe non Jews betrayed us, killed us. In world history, only the Jewish people has been expelled from its homeland and returned. Here the Maccabees defeated the Greeks. Here we are back after two thousand years of exile.” I visited this extraordinary place, overlooking Jerusalem, with Professor Hillel Weiss, who said: “The G-d of Israel strengthens His nation. In the end, all kinds of rejections lead to the settlement of the entire Land of Israel.”

Northern Samaria is a “survivor.” Up here, in 2005, Ariel Sharon dismantled four Jewish communities: Sanur, Homesh, Kadim, Ganim. The three left behind, stuck in the middle of a narrow and hostile valley, escaped the “disengagement.” I met Elhanan, who heads the security squad of Shavei Shomron. “Here 200 families live and 20 of us volunteer to be in charge of the community's security. It is not easy to live here, you cannot take a car and go somewhere at a whim. You always have to think about what to do in order to travel. There are women who do not want to drive on their own outside the gates. There are people who do not want to drive at night.” Elhanan is a resident of Shavei Shomron. “My kids live here, this is my land. I’m not here to protect and be the first line of defense for the Israelis on the coast, but because I have the right to live here.”

Einav is a 'settlement' located adjacent to territory under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction. There are Palestinian Arab villages all around it: Ramin east, Anabta north, Beit Lid south, Kuft Albad west. During the Intifada, the women of Einav often wore bullet-proof vests: you could rent one for 25 dollars. Shmuel Elad, head of the community, opened the door of his office for me: “When I came here there was nothing, we were eight families with an electrical power generator. Today we are 200 families. During the first Intifada it was impossible to live here and many left. To reach Netanya, on the coast, you had to pass through Tulkarem and every day there were attacks. Our cars were reinforced with metal pieces. After the Intifada they built a new road skirting Arab towns." 

"I had a friend at the time who drove up to the Green Line, called me and asked to be brought here. He was afraid. During the Second Intifada we lost friends along the road”. Elad tells us why Israel wanted Jews to be here. “They wanted were some sort of Jewish presence between the cities of Tulkarem, Taibeh and Tira, breaking the Palestinian Authority continuity. We had to be a civilian fence. Today my community is not allowed to expand because, perhaps, the government thinks we should leave.

"I’m not ashamed to say I’m a ‘settler’, indeed, I’m proud of it. 60 families want to come to live here within the coming year. Ariel Sharon wanted to include us in the evacuation plan, handing to the Palestinians a great region stretching from Jenin to Ramallah, which in fact is now Jüdenrein, it is without Jews”. Elad is not discouraged: “The first American who told us to leave was James Baker. We’re still here. I’m proud of what I’ve created. My children, being useful to my country: the sense of a life with meaning.”

In Ganim and Kadim the evacuation in 2005 began before the arrival of the IDF to take away the Jews. Reaching these two communities from Einav once  took twenty minutes. After the 'disengagement,' it takes an hour. We returned to Netanya, then turned north and returned to the road inside the 'territories.' During the Intifada, the Israeli army created an “SSZ”, a special security area of ​​four hundred meters around the Jewish communities most at risk. The first to obtain it were Mevo Dotan and Hermesh, which we visit. They lie in a deadly triangle including the Arab cities of Jenin, Tulkarem and Nablus.

Mevo Dotan today is the nothern and most isolated Jewish town in Samaria. When we got there, there was only one guard wielding a machine gun at the entrance. At the height of the Second Intifada, Mevo Dotan was left with just 29 families. Three inhabitants of the settlement were killed and most of the residents packed their bags. Here even ambulances refused to approach. Hermesh is a Jewish town between the Palestinian Arab villages of Baka al Garbiyeh and Baka al Sharkiyeh. During the Intifada, when venturing up here was risky, 40 families left. Nobody left the settlement without a military escort. In 1991, Ariel Sharon visited the community and said: “The 'settlements' are an obstacle to war, not peace”. Fifteen years later, Sharon came back to those hills to dismantle four settlements. Mevo Dotan survived.

In Hermesh I met Boaz Meleth, a brave farmer and father of eight children, who is building a wooden house for guests. “We came here to live after Ariel Sharon's 'disengagement', because northern Samaria was in grave danger. There were only 20 families left here. Out of 100 buildings, 80 were empty. People were afraid and left. Two girls were killed here. People were terrified. Every night, the Israeli army had to carry out a raid in Jenin to keep terrorists from all of the country, not just for us. Today we have returned to 90 families. We are succeeding in keeping this community alive. When Israel retreated from here, in 2005, the army abandoned a large military base. Today, to make an arrest, the IDF must take a very long ride. The retreat has a price even for the army. I do not trust the Palestinian Authority, it is a terrorist organization that pays salaries to terrorists.”

“The checkpoints are gone in Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian Arabs are perfectly free to move inside their areas, they are checked only at the Green Line,” Boaz Haetzni, who works for the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council, told me. He is the son of the cultured Elyakim Haetzni, one of those Jews who renewed Jewish life in Gush Etzion after 1967.

“After the Oslo Accords, when Rabin gave the Palestinians control of their cities, Peres said: ‘The occupation is over.’” It took only a few years until the IDF, under PM Ariel Sharon, was forced to return to controlling the cities' security in order to try to stop the suicide bombers and other terrorists who killed over 1000 Israelis in what is known locally as the Oslo War, aka the Second Intifada.

Peduel is the community offering the most amazing view of the coast. “You see everything here on the palm of your hand: Tel Aviv, Hadera, Petah Tikva, Ramat Gan, Jerusalem, Ramallah, the mountains of Hevron. When Hamas launches a missile from Gaza, it does not know where it is going to land. If Hamas ever gets this hill, it would not only be able to aim accurately, it could throw stones on aircraft departing from Tel Aviv”.

79 Israelis have been killed in Samaria, as have 18 soldiers. In no other area of ​​Israel there have been so many victims. We stop at Rechelim, a small and isolated 'settlement' named after two young Israeli women killed by terrorists in deadly ambushes. We visit the winery of Tura, elegant and successful, which exports all over the world, especially in New York. It is owned by the family of Vered Ben Saadan, who converted to Judaism. “We came home," Vered told me. “In the land of the fathers, I can live in peace with the Palestinians, but they must choose between peace and terror. This will be my home forever.”  

We take road 60: “It goes from Beersheba in the south to Nazareth in the north,” Boaz told me. “90 percent of the Bible took place here”. In Itamar we visit the farm of Avri Ran, the founder of Itamar. “I want to connect Itamar with the Jordan Valley," Ran told me, going back to the routes of biblical times. And this is the best we can extract from his mouth. We climb to the most secluded area of ​​Itamar, “the Arnon hill,”  founded by Shmuel Barak, who says: “I’ve lived here since 1998. We were a group of farmers who wanted to change our lives, I worked for Rafael, the security company. I came here to give a different kind of security to Israel. It was not a choice of the head, but of my heart. I hope to serve my people.”

Five soldiers are based here to defend these families. “We are here to keep the Jordan Valley and the road that leads to Netanya in our hands,” Shmuel explained to me. “Ariel Sharon asked us to come up here to protect the road from Jordan to the coast. Peace with Amman is beautiful, but what if King Hussein fell and ISIS or other terrorists take over? In that case we are here, together with the army.”

On the road to Elon Moreh we passed the place where the Henkins were killed. It was the attack on the couple driving home with their four children that started the Third Intifada. Two Israeli flags are placed in their memory. Elon Moreh’s houses are the most eastern in Judea and Samaria, the most isolated and exposed. We went up to Mount Kabir. I saw the Tirzah valley. “Here, all you see is a valley without the presence of a single Jew,” Boaz told me. “The army and the intelligence services call it ‘Fatah Land’ and ‘Jihad Land’, because many terrorists come here. There is no Israeli presence, they can move freely, and the army operates with great difficulty. This valley is a huge security problem for Israel.”

At Har Bracha I met Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the leader of this very successful community. “All the places in Samaria are sacred," Rav Melamed told me. “From up here you can even see Syria. Without the biblical rights, Israel has no meaning. Many Israelis now understand that quite well and see us positively. They do not want another Arab terrorist state. Go to kindergarten and see the children, they are our most important thing/” 

In Mitzpe Yitzhar I met Itzik Sandroi, a rabbi with the submachine gun. “We are here with the military to protect this place. We are two hundred meters from Hawara and we risk our lives. Every Friday Sandroi brings coffee and prayers to the soldiers in these mountains. “The more places we are in, the more we’ll be safe,” said Sandroi. “We do not touch private Arab land, but the rest is ours.” 

On the way home, we cross Kedumim, one of the oldest 'settlement.' It has no barbed wire. Boaz tells me: “The unfenced 'settlements' are the least affected by the terrorists.” Why? “Behind a fence you sleep too deeply.”

The lights of Tel Aviv, where Jews can sleep much more peacefully thanks to those very same much-maligned 'settlements,' appear as a sad promise when viewed from the Biblical mountains. It is the darkness beyond the Israeli fence.

After one week, I left with one lesson: for historical and security reasons, the State of Israel and the Jewish people could not survive without Judea and Samaria.