I have led a number of unforgettable Taglit-Birthright trips. They were
inspirational, fun and historically comprehensive, except for one glaring
omission. The young Americans never saw the burial place of Abraham in Hebron,
the ancient ruins of the Tabernacle in Shiloh, the fantastic mausoleum ruins of
Herodian, or the beautiful and picturesque winery at Psagot.
things and more, contained in the ancient biblical heartland of Judea and
Samaria, are off-limits to Birthright trips and not one of its 25-odd providers
crosses the Green Line.
That is, except when this policy is brazenly
violated by every single Birthright trip when it visits the Old City of
Jerusalem and the Western Wall – a contradiction which is conveniently
This refusal to allow young Jewish Americans to witness the
smiling children and inspired lives of these sunlit communities in the desert
reinforces the fraudulent notion that they are mere settlements, lacking
permanence, when many are highly developed and well-integrated towns, with every
amenity, including very established educational institutions.
is blessed with six daughters and three sons. We’ve had five bat mitzvot
already, but this weekend will be only our second bar mitzva, that of our son
Yosef Yitzchak, named after the sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch. And we’ve decided to
dedicate the bar mitzva to highlighting Jewish life in the communities of Judea
and Samaria, from visiting, with guests and family, Hebron, Itamar, Eli, Gush
Etzion, Har Bracha and more. All these communities are beginning to feel the
pressure of yet another “peace” deal, which puts them squarely in the cross-hairs
as the principal obstacles to said peace.
US Secretary of State John
Kerry travels to Israel on a near-weekly basis to foster an agreement between
Israel and the Palestinians. The principal focus of this deal is Israel’s
retreat from the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank. Call it
Gush Katif redux.
But just as the withdrawal of Gaza has led to war and
eight years of rocket and terror attacks against civilians, Israel’s withdrawal
from Judea and Samaria would have much more serious consequences.
obituary of Ariel Sharon, whose passing we mourn this week, must of necessity
include two themes.
First, that he fought like a lion throughout his life
to advance Israel’s security and second, that the final act of his life involved
a massive retreat.
I vividly remember the communities of Gush Katif that
he dismantled, having taken my children there twice just prior to their 2005
Our children were among the last to plant trees in Gush
Katif on the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, and we did so amid great rejoicing –
even though we knew they might be uprooted a few months hence.
communities of Gush Katif were miraculous, growing green peppers out of the sand
dunes of Gaza and sporting a well-stocked zoo to distract the children from the
daily horrors that Jewish life in Gaza entailed.
Every tour given to us
by a resident involved tragedy. There was hardly a family that had not had a
member or friend murdered by Palestinian terrorists, who treated the Jewish
residents of Gaza as target practice. To be sure, the IDF responded, and
sometimes ferociously. But for all that, the people of Gush Katif, with their
beautiful synagogues and scholarly yeshivot, accepted that they were sitting
ducks, bringing a civilizing element, agriculture and budding industry to one of
the most destitute areas in the world.
They never could have guessed that
their sacrifice would be rewarded with the literal destruction of their
communities, their forcible removal by the very army designated to protect them,
and the dislodging of even the bones of the victims of terror from their
Their tree-lined avenues and sparkling homes were a far cry
from the misery and poverty I witnessed on the part of my Palestinian brothers
in Gaza City, just a few miles away and a few years earlier, when I visited with
Al Sharpton in 2001. The rampant corruption of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian
Authority, which treated international aid as a personal piggy bank for the
enrichment of his cronies, and the channeling of what remained into rockets and
bullets against Israel, rather than the building of hospitals and roads, created
squalor and wretchedness on a vast scale.
Since then it has only gotten
worse, with Hamas, one of the most brutal regimes on earth, imposing its
draconian religious fanaticism on the Palestinians in the form of honor killings
of young women, the lynching of gay men on trumped-up charges of collaborating
with Israel, and the recruiting of children and teenagers as suicide bombers to
Sharon was an Israeli hero whose decisive action in the
1973 Yom Kippur War to cross the Suez Canal and encircle Egypt’s Third Army was
in large measure responsible for Israel’s eventual triumph. But nothing can undo
the incessant rocket attacks that Israel has suffered at the hands of a Hamas
regime that Sharon’s actions involuntarily created.
The same simply
cannot be allowed to happen in Judea and Samaria, a region where so many of the
Bible’s greatest stories took place and where the Jewish nation, after Joshua’s
conquest of the land 3,300 years ago, began to take shape.
It is my hope
that my son, in spending a week in these areas with his siblings and in
celebrating his bar mitzva first at the Western Wall and then at Psagot in
Binyamin, will also be shaped by the ruggedness of both the landscape and the
brave residents who have carved out a Jewish life under the most trying
The author, whom The Washington Post calls “the most
famous rabbi in America,” will shortly publish Kosher Lust: Love Is Not the
Answer. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiShmuley; and “like” Rabbi Shmuley’s