As the semi-annual Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI) Chizuk Mission to Israel came to a close on May 1, the tour participants telling the media that, “Our beloved brethren living on settlements slated to be dismantled by the Israeli government are not alone. We stand with them and our mission will never cease until every Jew has the right to live in any part of Eretz Yisroel.” Having distinguished itself from other tours of Israel that focus exclusively on sights of historic interest, AFSI conducts a thorough exploration of the entire settlement movement; providing emotional and material support to these beleaguered communities.
Ranging from visits with Gush Katif evacuees now living near Ashkelon, to those in Hevron who have been evicted from their homes, to such settlements as Migron and Bet El/Ulpana where scheduled government demolitions are expected to take place, AFSI members devoted their time, energy and resources to assisting these courageous Jews in maintaining their rightful presence in their homes. “For these people, this is a dark moment in the Jewish history. Their future is fraught with arduous challenges and we are here to say that we are with them in the days, weeks and years ahead,” said one participant.
Commencing their trip with a visit to the new settlements of the Yesodot region near Ashkelon where the former Gush Katif evacuees are re-building their lives and communities, AFSI members were welcomed by Anita Tucker of the Gush Katif settlement of Nezzer Hazzani. With ebullience in her voice, Ms. Tucker said during an extensive tour of the community which is currently under construction, “Every day we come a step closer to re-establishing our lives. You can see the houses that are being built, along with the community center and synagogue and even though it’s not under construction as of yet, with G-d’s help, you will see our red and yellow playground for our children.”
Praising Ms. Tucker for her hospitality and dedication, Helen Freedman, executive director of AFSI declared, “Because we at AFSI have always maintained a close affinity with our dear friends in Gush Katif, our support to these extraordinary people who have embarked on the Herculean task of re-building their glorious communities continues unabated. We wish to recognize the dynamic work of Anita Tucker, Dror Vanunu, Yael Ellenberg and Moshe and Rochel Saperstein as well.”
As the residents of Hevron find their sovereignty under siege by the government of Israel, delegation members met with community leader David Wilder, who led an extensive tour of the city, including the recently purchased, occupied and now evacuated home known as Beit HaMachpela that has been at the center of a political storm. “Through a directive by the civil administration, the Jewish residents of Beit Hamachpela were ordered to leave their home. This eviction order was predicated on a statement by the Arab seller of the property that there was a “problem” with the documents of ownership, yet no concrete evidence buttressing his claim has been proven,” said Wilder.
Mr. Wilder also referenced the previously publicized case of Jews being forcibly extricated from Beit HaShalom, another building legally purchased by Jews on the spurious claim by the Arab seller that although he sold the property and received handsome compensation, he “changed his mind and gave the money back.” In court and in front of witnesses, the seller was unable to produce any material evidence of this alleged transaction. “If all this was not enough, most recently Jews were also evicted from Beit Zachariah. It is not difficult to reach the tragic conclusion that the Defense Ministry of Israel, under the leadership of Ehud Barak and other prominent members of the government do not believe that there should be a Jewish presence in the holy city of Hevron. With all the court wrangling, our legal expenses have reached astronomical proportions, but we will not relinquish our G-d given right to live here,” declared Wilder.
While standing only steps away from the Ma’arat HaMachpela, Mr. Wilder thanked AFSI for their unwavering support. It was at this juncture that AFSI members initiated a spontaneous demonstration for the Jewish right of sovereignty in Hevron when a Chilean government official who was accompanying the local Palestinian governor of the region told the AFSI assemblage that they had no right to pray there. Chants of “Hevron is Jewish!” could be heard as a heated exchange took place between them and the cadre of Palestinian apologists.
Also visiting the new Jewish settlement of Eitam, near Efrat, AFSI members planted trees with the help of “Women in Green” leader Nadia Matar. “The last time we planted trees here, the Arabs ripped them out, but this will not serve as a deterrent to our right to live here,” said Ms. Matar. Pointing to the illegal appropriation of land and wheat fields by Arabs, Ms. Matar expressed her gratitude to AFSI for making the journey to the rocky hilltop to express tangible support for a future Jewish presence there.
Guiding AFSI members through the cobblestone streets of the old city of Jerusalem was Dan Luria of Ateret Cohanim, the organization dedicated to reclaiming and restoring buildings and property originally owned by Jews and expropriated by Arabs throughout the last few centuries. “The miracles we saw after the liberation of the old city of Jerusalem after the 1967 war represented the second stage of our redemption,” Mr. Luria declared.
Telling the American delegation that today, “5000 Jews live in the old city of Jerusalem, and of that number 1000 live in areas outside of the Jewish quarter. It is our goal to see this number grow exponentially so that we may declare our rights to all of old Jerusalem. Explaining the fatal consequences that would most definitely befall an Arab who sold his house in the old city to a Jew, Mr. Luria said, “For the last 33 years, no Arab who works with Ateret Cohanim has ever been killed. We spirit them overseas to a safe destination.”
“The Torah is replete with references to the redemption of Jerusalem”, said Mr. Luria. “In sefer Shmuel Bet, Hashem tells Dovid HaMelech to buy Jerusalem and redeem it. The Ramban says that we suffered devastating plagues because we forgot Jerusalem. It is our sacred obligation to redeem all parts of the old city,” he explained.