By Michael Gottlieb
December 15, 2010
Two events happened in Israel last week, both of which may have long term ramifications for the Jewish state and her people. One grabbed the headlines while the other wasn't reported on at all. The former, of course, was the front-page news of the horrendous conflagration on Mount Carmel. 42 innocent lives lost. A third of the forest gone. Gross government negligence exposed. The latter was less dramatic, but perhaps, equally significant.
Last Sunday evening, several hundred Land of Israel faithful trudged up a dusty dirt road leading to a desolate hilltop in Samaria. Knapsack toting boys with large kippot and long side curls, young modestly clad religious mothers with little children in tow and senior citizens bent over but determined to make the climb all ascended. The event was a gathering of the people, just simple folk, at the Shvut Ami outpost in Western Samaria. They came not only to light the fourth Chanukah candle, but also, like the Maccabees, to kindle the soul of a nation they see as lost and beaten down by modern day Greeks. Billed as a "Central Assembly" to exercise their age-old Jewish right to settle the Holy Land, it was at once a protest of the Israeli government's policy to contain settlement growth, a declaration of their right to build anywhere on the Land, and an act of defiance against a world which thinks they shouldn't have been there.
Shvut Ami, which means "Return of my People", is just a barren hilltop save for a few signs of life of its inhabitants. Situated on state land, it was founded three years ago by those controversial, die-hard "guardians" of the Homeland, the so-called hilltop youth. Shvut Ami began as a satellite outpost of the Samarian settlement of Kedumim. Over time, though, it has evolved into a symbol for the struggle to keep Samaria in Jewish hands. Since its founding, these defiant adolescents have doggedly maintained a permanent Jewish presence on this spot, despite all attempts by the security forces to uproot them.
The hilltop youth and their supporters' deep love of and connection to the Land of Israel stands in stark contrast to what they see as the ailment afflicting Israelis today: their countrymen's rejection of, or at best, indifference to the Judean and Samarian heartland. Too many Israelis, they lament, spurn their Patrimony, vilify the settlers and condemn the "occupation". The government of Israel is on the verge of abandoning a huge chunk of Eretz Yisrael to the enemy, and for what, they ask, a worthless piece of paper? How can such a thing be possible? Where is the hue and cry?
The gory details of the fire and the havoc it wrought are now well known. But perhaps more important than what happened is why it happened. The media correctly blamed juvenile recklessness and government unpreparedness for the disaster. But what the newspapers print is not necessarily the complete story. Sometimes the bigger meaning remains concealed in between the lines, eluding us. Traditional Jewish thought holds that there are no coincidences and that the Divine is always operating behind the scenes. Natural disasters are considered to be expressions of the Almighty and meant to convey a message. Our challenge is to discern that message.
The Carmel and Samaria regions are similar. Both are integral parts of the Homeland of the Jews and both are intertwined with their history. They are contiguous, verdant hill country with breathtaking views. Ask any Land of Israel faithful why the Carmel burned. Ask about the unprecedented wrath of the flames, reminiscent of Old Testament fire-and-brimstone fury, which suddenly and utterly consumed 42 lives in an instant. Inquire if this act of G-d might in some way be a reaction to our disloyalty to the Land. There is a well-founded rabbinic idea, based on Biblical exegesis, that if we forsake the Land, the Land will forsake us. Accordingly, our snubbing of one part of Eretz Yisrael – Judea and Samaria – is at some level linked to the fire which displaced us from another part of our land, the Carmel. Is this provable? Of course not. Even the mere suggestion is controversial. But it does make one wonder.
The significance of that humble hilltop gathering should not be underestimated. Anytime the people rise up for what they believe in, it's important. Each day those kids hold onto that piece of land, they create "facts on the ground". But what made that rally to redeem one part of the Land of Israel so significant was its poignant juxtaposition with an event so destructive to another part.
The Carmel Conflagration and the Shvut Ami Assembly. Just two discrete events or somehow interrelated metaphysically? We'll never know for sure. But if indeed our abandonment of Judea and Samaria led to the Carmel inferno, as some claim, then we are guilty. Shvut Ami, symbolic of the people's return, is our expiation.
The writer, an oleh from New York and former Wall Street professional, lives with his family in Samaria. He is the author of the Shomron Central blog which can be view at http://shomroncentral.blogspot.com/ .