Monday, January 24, 2011

They make facts on the Ground

Rivki Goldfinger

Their jeep dauntlessly sweeps across the hills and dirt roads
throughout Gush Etzion and the Hebron hills, and not a single dunam of
land escapes their eyes. For five years Nadia Matar and Yehudit
Katsover have been struggling for Jewish possession of the area, while
keeping track of the worrisome Arab takeover. In the battle for the
land, they want, first of all, to "establish facts on the ground". The
strategy: hundreds of plantings of new trees throughout the year that
will establish who are the owners of the land. Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover, the leaders of the Women in Green
movement, devote their time to "the war over home," as they define
this. They fear no one. Speeding in a white jeep throughout Gush
Etzion, spreading out maps and examining every new development on the
ground. This week I joined them for a patrol. They take me to the edge
of the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour, where we encountered trucks,
going about their business as if they belonged there, leveling areas
at the foot of the hill, close to the Shdema military outpost. Yehudit
Katsover makes a call to the commander of the Etzion Brigade, to
update him.

Under the Aegis of the Dutch Government

We continue toward our second stop: the Netzer Hill, that is situated
between Elazar and Alon Shvut. Nadia cruises in her vehicle up on the
rocky hill. Arab and Jewish agricultural plots are scattered around,
all mixed together. Nadia and Yehudit go into the field almost every
day, and it's obvious that they are totally familiar with the area. To
the right, close to the fence of the community of Elazar, is an
agricultural plot that an Arab has taken over. "He planted grape vines
here," Katsover says, and explains that by taking over the lands
adjoining the fence, the Arabs hope to prevent the expansion of the
communities. Nadia hands me an up-to-date contour map. "In this region
there are hundreds of dunams that are defined as state lands. In the
past two years the Arabs, who are financed by international bodies,
have been accelerating the takeover of the land. They are acting at an
insane pace in order to prevent Jewish settlement continuity between
Elazar, Alon Shvut, and Efrat. A stubborn struggle is being waged here
for every piece of land," Nadia says, and points to a metal sign
proudly standing in one of the plots, teaching that the Dutch
government is financing and aiding the Arab residents in the area to
steal their land.

The initial activity at Netzer began as the private initiative of a
number of families from the community of Elazar, who felt that they
cannot remain apathetic in light of the reality of the theft of more
and more state lands. With their meager resources they went out into
the field and began to build and plant grape vines and olive trees.
"They understood that it was impossible to stand by and wait for the
state to be so good as to do something about this, for precious time
was passing, and there is no reality of a vacuum here. It;'s either us
or them," Katsover states and wants to expand on the Palestinian
method of the takeover of state lands. "They plant olive trees, and
after ten years, in accordance with the law, claim ownership of the
land. We have the Defense Minister closing his eyes here. When we try
to build houses here, they destroyed them eight times. When we planted
trees, we received endless [Civil Administration] orders. There is a
distorted reality here, in which the political echelon, together with
the Civil Administration, do not defend the state lands."

"A lack of any response on our part invited further takeovers of state
[land] areas," Nadia explains. "The Arabs, without any doubt, keenly
smell weakness. It seems that in the end the responsibility for
guarding Israel's lands will fall, as usual, on the shoulders of the
little citizen. This is our message. When the government doesn't do,
then we, the 'little people,'must arise and act. It definitely is
possible to change. We call to everyone to join the struggle and aid
us in taking these hills."

Galilee on Behalf of Gush Etzion

"The beginning at Netzer was not at all simple," Nadia sighs, and
describes how, for many weeks, a stormy conflict was waged between the
Arabs and the Jewish inhabitants. The Arabs uprooted the dozens of
grape vines that had been planted by Women in Green activists. In
response, the Jewish activists planted a number of mature olive trees
that were donated by farmers from the north. Already the next day the
Arabs uprooted the trees, but the activists came back at night and
replanted them.

After a number of days, about ten Arabs came to the area, equipped
with axes and electric saws, and they began to very violently cut down
the olive trees. The Jewish residents of the area quickly ran toward
the plot, and physically defended the trees. "Since then, there has
been damage to the trees or to the irrigation pipes here and there. In
the last two years the Arabs, with extensive international funding,
have noticeably intensified the seizure of state lands. In order to
try and prevent the Arabs from taking over the lands, we plant more
and more olive trees and grape vines. What a wonderful feeling it is
to plant a tree in Eretz Israel. To feel the land with the palms of
your hands. With G-d's help, in this way we have already redeemed
dozens of dunams of state lands," Nadia states with satisfaction.

The professional assistance for the maintenance and nurturing of the
plants at Netzer is given, on a volunteer basis, by Uri Plasse from
the moshav of Sdeh Yaakov in Galilee. "Uri harnessed himself to the
mission with outstanding dedication," Katsover says, with esteem. "
Once or twice a week he leaves his large and flourishing farm in
Galilee and comes here to work in the field." Plasse, for his part,
relates to this totally naturally. "As far as I am concerned, this is
the natural continuation of Zionism and settlement in Eretz Israel.
Zionism is not a product with an expiration date, it rather continues
to this very day," he says, during the last preparations for the
coming plantings in the area, that will be conducted this week in
public in honor of Tu bi-Shevat.

A number of weeks ago, during a planting on Route 60, between the Gush
Etzion junction and Efrat, Nadia and Yehudit spotted a Palestinian
Authority police car driving freely. They couldn't believe their eyes.
Nadia quickly pulled out a camera and documented it. When the
Palestinian police spotted her, they unhesitatingly responded with a
"V" victory sign. "We rubbed our eyes. The Palestinian police is
traveling among us, with no problems, and in such a challenging way.
We immediately called the army to determine how this was possible.
This is a change in policy," Nadia notes, and explains that until
recently the Palestinian police were forbidden from leaving the bounds
of Area A, and in the transit points between one area and another they
were required to have coordination and an escort of IDF soldiers. "The
concessions granted to the Palestinian police are unreasonable, and we
must not become accustomed to this,"she states decisively.

An additional expression of the lack of Israeli rule in the field is
what the two call the "greenhouse intifada." Anyone who traveled in
the past two months in the Judea region could not help noting that
many dozens of large and brand-new agricultural greenhouses that were
built for the Arab inhabitants have sprung up like mushrooms after the
rain in Areas B and C. Within a short period, many dozens of
greenhouses have been erected. It should be clear - this is not by
chance. This is a new intifada - the greenhouse intifada, and this is
totally orchestrated and organized," Nadia Matar warns. "When I travel
on the road between Efrat and Tekoa, or in the southern Hebron hills
between Kiriat Arba and Otniel, wherever I look I see greenhouses.
They've surrounded the Adorayim camp, too, with a lot of greenhouses.
They're really choking the camp. This is an unacceptable situation,"
Matar says.

The Civilians Who Brought Back the IDF

Nadia, the mother of six and a resident of Efrat, was born in Antwerp,
Belgium. She came to Israel as an olah at the age of 18. She studied
education and Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
where she met her husband, Dr. David Matar. Together with her
mother-in-law Ruth, some 18 years ago, she established the Women in
Green organization. Matar, who gained fame in the past by her
conspicuous presence at demonstrations of the right, changed her
strategy over the years. Now she advocates focusing on action and on
establishing facts on the ground. "I reached the conclusion that in a
country like ours demonstrations alone are a waste of energy. It's
more effective to establish facts on the ground. To build, to plant,
to settle. True, the struggle for the lands is intensive and daily,
but we will triumph only if we demonstrate constancy and
determination. Quiet and organized demonstrations are not enough. The
whole world must understand that we are determined in the struggle for
Eretz Israel," Nadia says, with Katsover nodding her head in

Katzover (63), the wife of Zvi Katzover, the former head of the Kiriat
Arba Council, came to Israel as an olah from Transylvania, as a girl.
She has been living in Kiriat Arba "from the Kiriah's first day," and
was one of the women who settled with their children in Beit Hadassah
in Hebron in 1979 and lived there about a year, under extremely
difficult conditions. At present Katsover is the director of the
teaching program in the Kiriat Arba-Hebron College.

They began their shared path during the time of the upheaval that
followed the expulsion from Gush Katif, and since then they see eye to
eye in the diverse range of their activities.

The first struggle together was for the opening of the Zaatra bypass
road that connects eastern Gush Etzion with Har Homa and Jerusalem.
"The road was open for Arabs. Unlike them, the Jews had to travel via
Efrat and the tunnels road. Instead of a trip of approximately 6
minutes, they had to travel roundabout, for a trip of almost an hour."
After an extended struggle, together with many activists, the road was
opened to traffic.

Immediately afterwards the two geared up for the abandoned military
camp of Shdema in eastern Gush Etzion. Completely by chance, they
learned of the intent to annex the camp's lands to the town of Beit
Sahour. "We read a report in Hatzofeh that within the context of the
gestures [i.e., to the Palestinians], the Olmert government agreed to
transfer the location, that is a five minute drive from Har Homa, a
place which is the Israeli Area C, to the Palestinian Authority in
order to build an Arab hospital. The site was used as an IDF base
until it was abandoned two years earlier, in 2006," Nadia relates
about the beginning of the struggle for Jewish possession of Shdema.
"We took out maps, and we realized that this was an extremely
strategic location. We understood that if this camp were to be handed
over, it would endanger the Har Homa neighborhood and choke Gush
Etzion. Obviously, this is secondary to the fact that this is the land
of Eretz Israel, and it is absolutely forbidden to hand it over," she

"We unquestionably had divine help," Katsover observes. "We arrived at
the place the following day, and we found an Arab bulldozer already
working to prepare the land. We understood that we had to act, the
faster the better. The 'Committee for a Jewish Shdema' action
committee was founded, that devoted itself to this issue with all its
strength," Katsover says and quotes the words of Rabbi Harlap, who
says that Eretz Israel is the central point in our generation. "It
isn't enough to know these things theoretically," she adds, "rather,
they must be translated into deeds. To take possession of and to
expand in Eretz Israel."

The Palestinians asked to receive the camp at the top of the hill,
claiming that they want to establish there an orthopedic hospital and
a large playground. The site was even officially inaugurated in a
highly impressive ceremony in which the Palestinian Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad was present. Anarchists, leftists, and international
bodies came to the assistance of the Arabs. In order to remove Shdema
from Jewish hands, colossal budgets flowed from various sources in the
world. "They didn't really want to establish a hospital there, but
they understood that Israel could not say 'No' to such a humanitarian
request. Beit Sahour has dozens of dunams of land in their town, why
did they insist on receiving Shdema, specifically?" Katsover asks, and
explains that the camp controls Har Homa and the Tekoa-Jerusalem road.
"That's why they wanted it. It came to the stage that all that was
needed was the approval of the political echelon in order to finally
turn over the camp. Only a single signature of Defense Minister Ehud
Barak would have been enough for us to lose the struggle. We didn't
agree to just give up. We saw the struggle for Shdema as the struggle
for Jerusalem," she emphasizes.

The Power of an Additional Tree

In order to ensure the camp's future, a diverse range of lectures,
classes, and exhibitions were conducted at the site on weekends.
Hundreds arrived from all over the country to participate in the
activity, and thereby lend a hand to maintaining a Jewish presence at
Shdema. At the same time, a lobby was formed of Knesset members who
were involved in this matter. From the other side, much pressure was
exerted from the direction of European and American organizations and
the Palestinian Authority, with the intent of advancing the handing
over of the area. The Jewish presence there, along with attempts by
leftist activists, anarchists, and Palestinians to take control of the
area, often led to harsh confrontations between the sides.

After a stubborn two-year struggle, it was decided that the IDF would
reestablish the military camp at Shdema. Nadia and Yehudit warmly
praise the decision. We go to visit the soldiers serving at the base.
The IDF soldiers staying there receive us very nicely, and are
completely unaware of the lengthy struggle over the future of their
base, which was replete with international interests, that was waged
until recently.

During the course of the patrol, I am witness to a telephone call from
the residents of the Har Homa neighborhood who want to urgently report
about Arab tractors engaged in earthmoving close to the fence of their
neighborhood. A quick check reveals that this is indeed state land,
and the message by Nadia and Yehudit is clear: "Go into the field as
quickly as possible, and establish facts on the ground." "We have to
be aware of what's happening here," Katsover says. "The struggle for
the land is being waged everywhere. We have to leave behind our
apathy. We have to be alert. Another tree and another flower can
change reality."

Women For Israel's Tomorrow (Women in Green)
POB 7352, Jerusalem 91072, Israel
Tel: 972-2-624-9887 Fax: 972-2-624-5380

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