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Ascent to Eitam – A Journey of Hope

by Laura Ben-David
Last week, I embarked on a journey that united me not only with hundreds of neighbors and friends, but with the Jewish people of countless generations, filled with hope and a deep yearning for Zion. A journey that recognizes that our quest to reestablish our homeland did not end with the Balfour Declaration in 1917, or with the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 with its subsequent war and continued bloodshed, or with the Six-Day War in 1967. It certainly is not over now that our government has done deeds such as ripping away the homes of thousands in Gush Katif to make way for Hamastan, and now seems poised to facilitate the creation of another terror state in Judea and Samaria. It was a journey that seeks to rectify the past and fortify the future.

We were determined to act; to do our part to reverse the self-destructive path that Israel seems determined to take, contrary to reason. A path chosen despite the fact that further territorial concessions were proven highly detrimental, and the so-called security wall has been proven to cause more harm than good. We collectively said, “Enough!” as we prepared to march to Eitam Hill, the eighth hill of Efrat, to land that was zoned for housing more than twenty years ago; highly strategic land that is slated to be on the “other” side of the fence – effectively giving the land away, endangering all of Gush Etzion and Jerusalem.

We left the northern gates of Efrat under the early evening sun and entered beautiful, largely-untouched land. I felt a sense of adventure and purpose as we set forth. Over piles of boulders, down rocky mountain ledges, through wild fields, and ancient olive groves we climbed and crawled, we hiked and scrambled, none of my companions any the wiser of where we were, or just how far our destination lay. It would be an hour of this rough terrain before we stopped, just short of the spot where the most determined among us were to begin to build, and fight for, Eitam Hill. However, we saw and heard plenty throughout the journey.

All along the way, there were soldiers, border police, and Yassam (riot control) units. It seemed that each unit had its own tasks. Some were there to block us from going at all, while others, ironically, were there to protect us as we went. Still others were there to maintain order and to make arrests; and then there were those who seemed to be there for no reason other than to harass us.

People were coming and going. Early on, we met a distraught woman on her way back. She said that they had made it to the end and her husband was holding an Israeli flag. One soldier allegedly pushed her husband, and then it seemed to be open season on this man as a number of other soldiers jumped in to attack him, after which the man was arrested – all for holding an Israeli flag.

Moshe, a 15 year old from Chashmonaim, had a very difficult time. At the final hill of Eitam, a border policeman – whose name, ironically, was Arafat – started cursing and pushing the boy and his friends. The boys weren’t looking for a fight. They were speaking nicely with one of the Yassam officers when one of the men allegedly started to choke Moshe. Four Yassam officers reportedly joined in and threw the boy into a bus. Further attack ensued, despite Moshe yelling, “I surrender! I didn’t do anything!”

Though these reports seemed terrible, I was determined to try to see this event through the eyes of the soldiers and officers. I desperately wanted to understand. I therefore tried talking to many of the various security personnel on the scene. I wanted to know: Did it torment them to have to prevent their fellow Jews from their struggle to preserve the Jewish quality of the Land of Israel? Most were pretty tight-lipped. One of the border policemen put it this way: “This is a restricted area, no civilians are allowed. There are hostile villages here.”

“Yes,” I told him, “I understand. But how do you feel about doing this?”

“I don’t feel. I do my orders.”

I tried several other officers. One told me that he can’t speak to me while in uniform, that he has a job. I suggested that I speak to him later, when he is off duty, and he said, “Later, I just want to go home.”

I couldn’t help but wonder: Does the army consist solely of battalions, or of individuals, too? Must we lose our humanity to be part of the establishment?

The current “establishment” seems to have completely sold out the pioneers of Israel. What was Zionism, patriotism and nationalistic spirit, is now patently illegal. Our soldiers – our soldiers! – have been charged with stopping us in our tracks. Maybe even ordered to threaten us and hurt us. Sometimes, they do. But not always. Sometimes they’re our brothers, our fathers, our sons. But not always.

Eighteen-year-old Nahara of Efrat bemoaned the fact that the soldiers have forgotten the fact that we are all Jews. I wondered about it, and then I approached a female soldier posted nearby and asked her how she felt about this whole situation. She looked at me as if I fell from the moon. On a hunch, I asked her if she was Jewish.

“No, I’m Russian,” began her cold reply. “They told me to come, to do this. I come and I do this.”

Surprised, I approached another soldier. Turns out she was a non-Jew from Ethiopia. Upon further examination, we discovered Druze and even Arab soldiers.

Prior to the expulsion of Gush Katif we questioned how we can fight “brother against brother.” It seems that this reality is being deliberately circumvented; after all, in a land with such a Jewish majority, what chance is there of such a large proportion of soldiers not being Jewish? Yet, how can someone who is not Jewish, who has no feelings for the Land of Israel, truly fight for it? And were those soldiers – desperate to prevent this rag-tag group of people from settling an empty hilltop that has been zoned for this very purpose for more than twenty years – fighting for the Land of Israel or against it?

As it was already dark, I finally returned to Efrat with a number of youth in an armored army vehicle. It felt like a school trip out on a four-wheel-drive excursion. But truth be told, there are no youth like true, Zionist Israelis. Their drive and determination, their feelings, and their passion – it was palpable in that tense and bumpy ride after a tense and bumpy night. In fact, it was in such direct contrast to the impassive soldiers sitting and watching us with blank looks on their faces. The soldiers couldn’t care less.

The fact is that at every rally, demonstration and social action event, these young people show up in huge numbers to demonstrate, to show their allegiance and to protect their country. It was true Zionist youth like them who created our past and it is true Zionist youth like them who hold our hope for the future.

Who would you want fighting for your country?

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