Regardless of one’s level of religious observance, Shabbat in the Jewish State of Israel is a nationwide day of rest. Whether your custom is to spend time visiting with family and friends, lying on the beach, taking in a game of football, or attending services and eating the traditional festive meals, there is no doubt that Shabbat is a much needed day in this country for our populace to recharge their batteries.
But for the 16 proud Zionistic pioneer families living in the southern Hebron Hills community of Mitzpe Yair, just two kilometers east of Sussiya, over the past several months instead of being a day of rest, Shabbat has become a day of angst, tension and confrontation.
According to local residents, dozens of Arabs from the surrounding villages, with the encouragement, support and coordination of extreme left-wing Israeli groups, along with college-age Europeans – have been hosting vociferous demonstrations on the outskirts of the community, demanding that the residents be evacuated and their land turned over to Arab control.
“Every Shabbat they start up with us, getting closer and closer to our homes,” says Mordechai Doitch who along with his wife Michal and their eight children have lived in the community since 2000. “They shout out nasty threats, saying things like ‘go back to Poland’ and ‘you were already evicted by the Romans, what are you doing back here.’” Doitch says that while the IDF is quick to respond, on a weekly basis, to prevent the mob from infiltrating this fence-less community and to back away the demonstrators, community members are forced to leave the synagogue, many times in the middle of Shabbat morning prayers, to stand up and defend their mere presence.
“Firstly,” he says, “we are afraid for our lives and the lives of our families [when the mob shows up]. And if we don’t show ourselves, and stand up for our right to be here, there would be a vacuum, and no doubt, the Arabs would claim this area as theirs.”
According to Doitch, who along with Michal are organic vegetable farmers who moved to Mitzpe Yair from Gush Katif, the community was established in 1998, and is built on 100 percent state-owned land.
Originally known as the “Magen David Farm,” the community was renamed in 2001 in memory of local shepherd Yair Har-Sinai, 51, father of nine children, who was murdered by Arab terrorists with ties to Hamas, while tending to his flock in a nearby field.
Standing on the lush green hills outside his home, Doitch scans the horizon and notices an Arab’s flock of sheep on a hill just several valleys over. “Look at that brown hill where the sheep are” he points out. “The Arabs are creating a desert, while everywhere the Jews live here, the land in green.”
Doitch says that the local Arabs are in actuality using sheep to get closer and closer and attempt to enclose his community.
“Those sheep are not really grazing there, it’s all brown. Not only is what they’re doing bad for the land but it is not healthy for the flock which is clearly overpopulated and isn’t being cared for properly.”
In the foreground, on the hillside just a few meters from where we’re standing are the Doitch family greenhouses.
He says he grows organic celery, parsley, broccoli, fennel, lettuce and a wide variety of other vegetables and sells them to his wide customer base, mostly in the Jerusalem area.
While Doitch is adamant that Mitzpe Yair is built totally on state land, he says the authorities “don’t want to officially authorize the community, since they are against building in this area.” He’s hopeful that the recent publication of the Levy Report, calling on the state to recognize unauthorized communities as legal, will assist in upgrading his area’s status.
Seated in the Doitch family dining room with some of the most spectacular views in all of Israel pouring through their floor-to-ceiling porch doors and windows, Michal gives further details about the identities of the weekly protestors.
“These are not just regular leftists,” she says, “these people are anarchists.” Michal says that because of the Israelis themselves the group is extremely organized, using the Internet and social media outlets to coordinate their activities.
She also cites a conversation with one of the European college students who took part in a recent Shabbat confrontation, who she says admitted to her that “he didn’t even really know too much about the conflict.”
According to Michal, the student said he came to Israel after being offered a free sight-seeing trip by one of the Israeli leftist organizations. Only once in the country was the group told by their hosts that in addition to seeing the sites they would be given the opportunity to do some important work “in the name of peace” and were thus brought in to protest.
Michal, who discloses that two of her sons are currently proudly serving in IDF combat units, with one of them already a commander, says what is most disturbing and frightening about the demonstrations is the fact that the demonstrators know her family by name.
“When they come out on Shabbat and scream at us by name, the fact that they make it personal makes it feel like it’s a danger where you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Avidan Ophir, who serves as one of the community’s administrative officials, says the army should take a harder stance and not put up with the weekly provocations.
“It’s all an act, like a play,” he says. “The demonstrators come on Shabbat and the army shows up week after week with 10 jeeps and 80 soldiers and forms a wall, but instead of solving the issue, they let this provocation continue, which just pushes off the problem.
There needs to be solution once and for all.”
Both Ophir and the Doitchs say that sometimes when the army is diverted and forced to focus its attention on Mitzpe Yair, the protestors then seize the opportunity to disturb life at other communities in the area, including Avigail, a community just to the North, as well as several other area farms.
Stepping out on Doitchs’ porch one can clearly see the city of Arad to the southeast, the Jordanian mountains to the east, and Jordan Valley just beyond the Judean desert below. While from a security perspective is it no mystery why this community and their neighbors in the area are of utmost importance to the wellbeing of the entire country, for Michal living in Mitzpe Yair is so much more.
“There are no words to describe this place,” she says.
“‘Love’ isn’t a strong enough word to describe how special we find that it is to be living here. We came here so that we could have a larger living space, and where we could farm. We have a neighbor who is a bee farmer, another who is running a winery and a third who is starting a dairy farm; it is such a special community.”
Despite the protestors, the intentions of some of her Arab neighbors, and issues Mitzpe Yair has with the High Court over full legalization of the community and disputes with regard to surrounding agricultural areas, Michal says that she is not worried about the future of her home. The key, though, she says, “is that the Jews have to start believing that this is our land.”
The writer is a media expert, freelance journalist, and host of Reality Bytes Radio, on www.israelnationalradio.com.