Approximately 150 citizens and public figures active in settlement gathered at the Oz veGaon nature reserve in Gush Etzion to mark the 25th anniversary of the Women in Green movement and the public activities of its leaders, Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar.
Attendees saluted the movement that started out as a group of women within the "Green Line" protesting the Oslo Accords, and in recent years has been leading the discourse over the vision of full Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
Originally called "Women for Israel's Tomorrow", the group sought to destroy media stereotypes of those opposing land concessions by showing mothers, housewives, and career women who could intelligently articulate Israel's cause.
Once the Oslo agreements were signed, the group realized Oslo would shrink Israel back to the Green Line. "So we decided to start a campaign: To dress in green hats and hold a weekly vigil on the Green Line with signs saying: 'Wake up Israel. This is where they want to shrink us back to! We won't agree to go back to the Green Line. All of Eretz Yisrael is green and is ours to keep.'
"Our first such vigil was near Shaar Hagai on the highway with Soviet refusenik Ida Nudel and Limor Livnat's participation in 1993."
Rare photographs were displayed at the gathering, documenting the years of the movement's activities including vigils and demonstrations, establishing outposts, and the Jewish concept of turning entire tracts of land into populated neighborhoods and communities. Many of those attending the gathering to commemorate the movement and its leaders found themselves in these photographs from the past that documented their activism in protest demonstrations against the Oslo Accords and in favor of strengthening settlement in the Land of Israel.
Nadia Matar was the first speaker at the event, dedicating the entire event to her mother-in-law, Ruth Matar, who, together with her husband Michael, founded the movement, together with other women who were residents of Jerusalem.
"Ruth taught all of us that we must not be silent and that when a Jew is in distress, you leave everything else aside and mobilize to help him; she taught us not be afraid to tell the truth and that loyalty is the highest virtue - loyalty to the People, to the Torah, to the Land, and to the family."
Matar described the movement's activities as having two parts: "avoid evil" and "do good": "Up until the expulsion from Gush Katif, the 'avoid evil' part dominated. It was a period of intensive activity to guard the honor of the People and the Land, and during this period weekly protest demonstrations were held, there was a radio program on Arutz Sheva, there were activities supporting IDF soldiers, demonstrations against Machsom Watch and their anti-IDF activities, obtaining hundreds of thousands of signatures against the Oslo Accords and more. The 'do good' part that took place after the expulsion from Gush Katif and Yehudit Katsover's joining the leadership of the movement focused on creating a positive vision by renouncing and rejecting the Oslo ideas. This was the phase of clinging to the Land and launching the campaign to lead the vision of sovereignty as the Right's policy and plan. We weren't the first to speak about it, but we were the first who set out on a campaign to explain it", she noted.
Matar's partner in leading Women in Green, Yehudit Katsover, continued in the same vein as Matar, saying "The goal is to guard the honor of the Land of Israel and there's no doubt that Women in Green has succeeded in raising consciousness about guarding the Land of Israel's interests," adding: "Imagine what would have been without the protests and demonstrations by Women in Green that raised consciousness about the Land of Israel…"
When she spoke, Katsover told of the days when she joined the movement about 13 years ago, immediately after the expulsion from Gush Katif, when she became impressed by the activities of the movement's founders and activists, activities that were motivated by pure ideology and not politics.
About the decision to hold an event marking the 25th year of the movement, she said: "I thought it was important to show the story of the people who went out into the streets and the public squares and cried with pain for the Land of Israel. We couldn't let it pass without some kind of commemoration", she said, and told of the boxes that had accumulated in preparation for the event with an enormous amount of material documenting their activities over the years.
Katsover continued, adding that despite her years of her joint leadership of the movement together with her friend and associate, Nadia Matar, she was unaware and surprised at the extent of the movement's activities in the years before she joined it, as revealed by the photographic documentation she saw. "I too, like many of those who came to the event, am amazed by the movement's extensive activity on behalf of the Land of Israel, that was carried out with such dedication, fearlessness, and humility. We are proud to be partners in this movement."
After Katsover spoke, a short film was screened about Eddy Driben, "one of the first Jews who settled in Kiryat Arba-Hevron, who was a special sort of character with a lot of natural national pride", in Katsover's words, "whose character was similar to that of Ari Fuld, Hy"d, who was murdered just a few weeks ago at Gush Etzion Junction by a terrorist: Ari was a partner to our activities," said Katsover; "He photographed and documented our activities out of a sense of total solidarity. May his memory stimulate a continuation of blessed, wide-range activity on behalf of the People and the Land."
Katsover and Matar expressed thanks to those attending the event, to the movement's activists for their volunteerism in various tasks, to donors from Israel and from abroad and among others, they noted the activists who have passed on over the years. "Without you and without them, none of this would have happened," they said.
Gush Etzion Council head Shlomo Ne'eman also spoke and told of how he first became acquainted with Women in Green's activities a short time after he came on aliya to Israel. Ne'eman brought up the fact that the name of the movement is similar to the name of a leftist movement, Women in Black, noting that while black is not a color, but rather the lack of light and the lack of color, Green is the color of life, "Women in Green is life itself," said Ne'eman.
Katsover and Matar sum up the entire event with words of gratitude to the attendees: "Many tasks still remain to be done, both in the realm of hasbara and in the practical realm and the political realm to promote the vision of sovereignty, which is the main thrust of our movement. The many supporters who came to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the movement's founding with us imbue us with spirit and confidence and with this spirit and confidence the People will bring about the change of direction that will restore the entire country to the most basic values of Zionism, the values of love for the entire Land, clinging to it and sovereignty over it."