Although it has become a tradition for right-wing Israelis and tourists to visit
communities in Judea and Samaria during Succot, this year residents were wooing
not only those who identify with their ideology, but also visitors from the left
side of the political spectrum.
Residents aimed to open their homes to
them and prove that they were not extremists, but ordinary folk concerned about
Israel’s security who form a bulwark to protect the coastal towns and
In the gracious bedroom community of Peduel, some 30 kilometers
from the Mediterranean, Gabi Ellinson took busload after busload of visitors out
to his back garden, which overlooks the panorama of the Coastal
“[Former prime minister Ariel] Sharon liked to call this the
balcony of Israel. He was a frequent visitor,” Ellinson told his guests, as he
produced a photograph of himself with Sharon and current Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu taken at that spot.
Ellinson was among the pioneers of Peduel
and has been living there for 26 years. He doesn’t know whether he will be able
to live there for the rest of his life. If Peduel becomes part of the new
Palestinian state, the 250 families who live there will have to move, unless
provision is made for them to stay on as Israeli citizens in an independent
state of Palestine.
“We hope that we’ll be seen as part of Ariel and
Barkan. We don’t know if this place will stay or be given back,” said
In the worst-case scenario, he said, the residents would not
fight the IDF, but would look for somewhere else to live.
He was hopeful
that Israel’s decision-makers would realize the strategic importance of
“Anyone who comes and sees this place will understand why we
should stay. If we give it to the Palestinians, the whole country will become
vulnerable, because they will be able to send missiles to Tel Aviv and Petah
At Eli – made famous by its heroes Maj. Ro’i Klein and
Maj. Eliraz Peretz, both deputy commanders in the Golani Brigade who were
killed in the line of duty – visitors were greeted by American-born Eliana
Passentin, 36, who explained that when she and her husband chose to live there,
it was because of the biblical history.
Their home overlooks Shilo, which
for 369 years was the site of the Tabernacle. All around them are places of
biblical significance, and on a clear day the view stretches from Jordan to
Passentin’s home and several others are in danger of being
demolished because the final authorization for their property has to be signed
by the defense minister, who has consistently held off even though all the
infrastructure in the area, according to Passentin, was paid for by the
government and the Jewish Agency.
The signing of the document is a mere
technicality, she said, but without it, the houses are considered illegal
structures. Peace Now took the State of Israel to court five years ago,
demanding that these houses be razed.
The case has dragged on, and at the
request of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the Supreme Court, it was put on hold
for six months following the death of Peretz, whose widow was pregnant at the
time and whose home is among those slated for demolition. But Supreme
Court President Dorit Beinisch has demanded a ruling by the beginning of next
For the people living in limbo until a decision is handed down,
this period is fraught with anxiety. None of them are settlers who snuck onto
the land in the middle of the night and set up an outpost, Passentin told the
visitors who gathered in her succa; they did everything legally and by the book,
but are now the victims of a political situation.
In Ariel, which has
been in the headlines lately due to a boycott announced by 31 Israeli
performers, construction of the cultural center due to open on November 8 has
been going on undisturbed despite the freeze.
Avi Zimmerman, director of
the Ariel Development Fund, explained that the freeze did not apply to public
buildings that already had foundations and a floor.
The building, which
is an extension of the Ariel Community Center, will be a regional center for the
performing arts and will include seating for 540 people, plus a conservatory,
drama school and restaurant.
The aim is to cultivate culture within the
region and to provide an outlet for talented individuals. The building is almost
complete, but the carpets still have to be laid down and the seats
Zimmerman paid tribute to Ariel’s Mayor Ron Nahman, who, when
he came to settle at the behest of the government 32 years ago, had a vision of
a city with schools, a university, a community center, a sports center, a
performing arts center and more.
At the time everyone thought he was
crazy, said Zimmerman, but everything that he said would be created in Ariel is
Ariel is now a vibrant pluralistic community with a population
of some 20,000 plus a student population (including Arabs) of 12,000 at
university center. The Nitzanim community, which moved into mobile homes
Ariel after its evacuation from Gaza five years ago, is still living
Unlike the residents of Eli, those of Ariel are not apprehensive
about the future.
“It is part of the national consensus,” said Zimmerman,
who was confident that Ariel was not in danger of being handed over to
Like all communities in Judea and Samaria, Ariel is in need
of both moral and financial support. With the opening of the performing
center on the immediate horizon, “what we need right now,” said
Zimmerman, “is a
Steinway grand piano."