This past Shabbat, my wife Jane and I had the occasion to stay in a friend’s 777 caravan on Hill above Itamar. Having seen so much about this locale in the media, I was totally taken aback by the reality. Most particularly, by its size, or lack thereof. For the entire community consists of thirteen families, period. Judging by the spotlight focused on the likes of Hill 777 by such organizations as Peace Now, I was expecting to find a fully-developed community, with dozens upon dozens of homes, shopping facilities, etc. To encounter 13 families, some in homes, some in caravans, no commercial facilities—no grocery stores, no newsstands, no public transportation—left us aghast.
The second chasm between perception and reality was the composition of the “populace.” Virtually every newspaper story, every television report, regarding settlements/settlers is accompanied by a photo of ultra-Orthodox men & women, the women with their hair covered, dressed modestly; the men with long side locks (peiyot), tzitzit worn outside the shirt. The reality? The majority of the families residing on Hill 777 are secular; the others are what I term Modern Orthodox—knit kippot, tzitzit worn inside the shirt, no long sideburns.
And perhaps most noteworthy of all regarding the residents of Hill 777—the fact that there was less than a quorum of religious men did not preclude there being Shabbat services both Friday evening and Saturday morning! There were twelve men, including myself, in the modest, makeshift synagogue on Saturday morning; meaning, there were almost as many secular men attending as observant ones! The age-old dream of what it means to be a part of “Am Yisrael” coming to fruition. The realization of the Talmudic concept—every Jew is responsible for every other Jew. I cannot recall ever sitting in a Beit Knesset with such a warm feeling in my heart.
And last, but definitely not least, the very use of the terms settlement and settlers, with all the negativity they are intended to project. Those against the settlement process, aided and abetted by the media, would have us believe that these people are intruders, strangers to the locale with no connections whatsoever to the land they “occupy” (another buzzword). No difference at all between the Bedouins in the Negev and the Jews on Hill 777–establishing communities on usurped land. As Shakespeare would put it so aptly—Pshaw!!
This widely-promoted canard was brought home to me during a walk we took Saturday afternoon. Shmuel, one of the earliest residents, took us to see his burgeoning vineyard (1000
(bottles last year).My wife and I have visited many boutique wineries, particularly on the Golan. The last place I would have expected to find one is on Hill 777. But there it was; as we walked with Shmuel through the rows of vines, carefully cultivated and nurtured, it was evident the pioneer spirit upon which this country was founded is alive and well.
As we continued walking, we came upon a small strip of land with a rudimentary cement-type coating on it. Square in shape, the edges sloped downward towards the center; in the center, a circular hole covered by a metal grating. Shmuel’s response to my query as to what we were looking at set off the proverbial light bulb in my head. He explained to us that there had been a vineyard at this very location during the time of the Second Temple some two millennia ago. What we were looking at was where they crushed the grapes, the grating catching most of the sedimentary material, as the juice ran down into the hole. After being fermented, the resultant wine was very likely transported to Jerusalem (less than a day’s travel, even in ancient times) for use as the wine libations in the Temple.
Bingo! I finally realized what had been irking me every time I encountered the terms “settlement” and settlers.” Hill 777 is not a settlement; it is a resettlement of a Jewish community which existed here for thousands of years! The residents of Hill 777 are NOT settlers; they are resettlers!
We are not carpetbaggers on someone else’s property; we are restoring our rights on our historic homeland. For thousands upon thousands of years, the people of Israel have had a homeland bordered by Lebanon to the North, Egypt to the South, the Jordan River to the East, and the Mediterranean to the West. The courageous souls resettling Hill 777 (as well as all those others throughout the Land of Israel reestablishing our presence in these locales), Shmuel’s replanting the vineyards—all deserve kudos for renewing our birthright over this land. Yiyasher Kochachem to all resettlers.