Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Israeli heroes of the Hilltop Youth

Who are Hilltop Youth "settlers", what they fight for & why?
Written by a former Chicagoan , now a graduate student in Israel. Events transpired Jan.4 2014 in Samaria.

Why are you chasing us?

Eliezer BenGershon
Shabbos at Netzach Binyamin, Hill 904. There’s nothing quite like it. The hilltop consists of a few old stone buildings built centuries ago which now serve as homes for young Jewish pioneers. We have mattresses and a few pillows and there are only four of us so we manage to fit in the ten meter building. It’s dark and it’s cold inside yet no one seems to care at all, it’s not like we’ll be getting much sleep anyway….
                This is a new, highly contentious hilltop and therefore nighttime means that we must take turns guarding. From who? Obviously from the Arab villages a few hundred meters away…. Nope. Sadly not. It’s Friday night and we’re on the lookout for jeeps- army, police, Shabak (Israeli Security Services), you name it. Any jeep is a sign that we need to run.
                Earlier on Friday three youths were arrested near the hill after the police chased and cornered them in a nearby vineyard. They were released in Jerusalem less than an hour before Shabbat. Why were they arrested? Officially the police made up some story, but unofficially it’s understood that they wanted to make sure that the hill was Judenrein for Shabbat.  Unfortunately for them, we only came later so they didn’t catch us on their first trip to the hill. Nonetheless, we know that they’ll be back.
                We spotted the first jeep Friday night. After eating at a family in nearby Amona we began to head out towards the hill. The jeep was waiting for us at the entrance to Amona. We ran away. They followed but didn’t manage to find us among the hillside and the houses. The cat and mouse game continued for about an hour until eventually the jeep left Amona after failing to catch us.
                We made our way to the hill, well aware that more jeeps would come at some point, so we took turns guarding. There were four shifts between 11PM-7AM; I had from 1AM-3AM. Fortunately nobody came throughout the night, so we managed to get some sleep. In the morning we headed to Shabbat davening at the shul in Amona. After eating lunch at another family’s house we returned to the shul where we were told that three jeeps were seen driving on the hilltop.
                After finishing the afternoon prayers at the shul we headed back to the hill. We had gotten lazy and didn’t bother having anyone on lookout rather we all sat chatting and joking inside the stone building. Suddenly, out of the entrance we spotted a jeep driving towards the hill. Everyone quickly got in line ready to run out of the building and out to the valley. The guy standing at the front of the line finally shouted “run!” and we all scattered towards the valley as the jeep circled towards the other side of the hill. We reached the valley and waited. Nothing happened, so we started to head back up towards the hill. As I headed up the hill and approached the dirt road the jeep came into view. I shouted back to everyone “it’s here!” and we all scrambled back down to the valley. The jeep stopped and the soldiers steeped out of the vehicle. They quickly realized that we had a big head start and that they weren’t going to be able to catch us with all the equipment on their backs.
                We waited in the valley for a while and then me and one of the other guys started to head back up towards the hill to see if the jeep had left yet. We made it up and didn’t see the jeep anywhere nearby so we headed back down to the valley to call the other guys to come up. As they came up we crossed the dirt road and started heading towards the buildings. From behind we heard a whistling noise and saw one of the guys waving for us to come back towards the valley. I bolted back across the road and straight down the side of the hill as fast as I could. When we made it back down he said that the jeep was making its way back up to the hill.
                It was starting to get late and we knew that these games could only go on so long. We ran to Amona and slipped into one of the houses without being seen. We stayed in Amona until Shabbos ended and planned what to do next. Our bags were still on the hill so we had to try to go back.
                As we made our way up the road leading to the hill one of the guys started putting stones in the road just in case a jeep came while we were there. This way at least we would have more time as they would have to get out and remove the blockade. We chatted and joked as we walked up the hill. As we approached a curve in the road one of the guys spotted a flashing yellow light. “Jeep!” he warned. We ran away from the road straight towards the hillside. Apparently the soldiers had heard us and the jeep started descending down the road. A second jeep came into view and descended as well. Heaven smiled on us and the jeeps were forced to stop at the makeshift barrier we had created minutes earlier. This gave us time to get back to Amona and into one of the houses.
                We gave up… We wouldn’t be getting our bags tonight. We asked a friend in Amona to go in the morning and bring the bags to his house where we would pick them up in the morning. Sunday morning, I and another friend arrived back in Amona and got our bags. There were still a few other things left on the hill so we figured we would go up and get them. As we began the hike up the hill I suddenly spotted a jeep coming down. We ran quickly back to Amona. Again we cut our losses and decided to leave with just our bags.
                Five times within 40 hours they came to try to catch us and five times they failed. They harassed us throughout Shabbos but in the end we won. For at least one more Shabbos there was a Jewish presence on the hill. Sunday night I read online that three youths were arrested at the nearby the Oz Tzion outpost and were ‘suspected of being in a closed military zone’- a euphemism for ‘the police decided that they don’t want Jews in a certain area so they got the army to issue a bogus order.’
                So now, dear Mr. Policeman and honorable Israeli government, now you know where we were and how we managed to escape you.  Now I want to know, “why are you chasing us?” Are there suddenly no terrorists and murderers trying to kill every Jew they can? Are the reports of stones being thrown at Jewish cars on the road just a few kilometers from where we are not true?  Are there no students being harassed at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus ? I didn’t realize you solved all of those problems and that it is suddenly a high priority to make sure ancient ruins remain uninhabited…. or at least uninhabited by Jews.
Perhaps you are just lovers of history and want to make sure that the ancient stone buildings remain in perfect condition. If so, I’d recommend you start by learning from history and recognizing that giving the land of the Arabs will not solve any part of the conflict.
                Perhaps you’re afraid of what the US , EU and a host of other bodies with acronyms will say if you allow a Jewish presence on a new hill in Judea and Samaria . Don’t worry, we’re here to comfort you, the king of kings is on our side and we need not worry what others say. If you still cannot get over it just tell them that some crazy kids are living in some old ancient ruins and that you don’t have enough police forces to deal with them. After all, you honestly don’t seem to have enough police forces to deal with the threats I mentioned earlier so you obviously don’t have time for some crazy kids in an old stone building.
                So the question remains, “why are you chasing us?” I don’t want to hate you. I’d love to serve in your army and help defend a Jewish state in our ancient homeland, but I am not willing to become the one in the jeep that chases fellow Jews from a hill in the middle of Shabbos. I want to help you grow and develop and create an economy that will be a reason for Jews from around the world to move here and not a reason to avoid doing so. I want to help you so much! You see how I’m willing to suffer outside in the cold and the dark and how I’m willing to stay up at night guarding this holy land. I would love to put that same dedication towards helping you in this endeavor to rebuild Jewish civilization here in this land.
Yet I don’t understand why you are chasing me? Do you not want us to reclaim our ancient homeland? Did you not teach me about the pioneers who suffered in this land draining the swamps and whose sole inspiration was the idea of creating a Jewish state? Have you lost your pioneering spirit? Maybe you’ve gotten older, tired, and perhaps even lazy. That’s fine. I imagine when I’m older I also won’t want to stay up guarding outside in the cold. However, if that’s the case, it’s time you pass the baton to the next generation. It’s time you leave and retire to your fancy houses in Tel Aviv, Raanana and Petach Tikvah where you slept outside in the cold when you were my age. Now it’s my turn and you have to go. Your time in the spotlight is up and it’s my turn to reclaim a part of our homeland. 
 Eliezer ben Avraham 
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