An uphill trek

The line of Jews making their way through the wilderness evoked images of the Exodus from Egypt.

Homesh climb 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Homesh climb 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Six kilometers from Homesh, our bus stopped on the side of the road. "The army won't let us drive any further, so we will have to walk the rest of the way," our group leader said. Guides were waiting to take us on the uphill trek to the former West Bank settlement of Homesh, where nearly 2,500 protesters, most of them Orthodox, hoped to reestablish the abandoned community. For one night, I was one of them. With Pessah quickly approaching, the line of Jews making their way through the wilderness pushing baby carriages and pulling suitcases evoked images of the Exodus from Egypt, but instead of fleeing from an army, we were walking toward one. When we reached Homesh, it was possible to see that a town had once stood there, but a bit of rubble was all that remained of its structures. Some protesters grabbed bricks and branches to build makeshift shelters while others set up tents they had carried up the hill. The unprepared, myself included, had to make due with sleeping under the stars on the windy hilltop. The IDF, which set up a temporary base in Homesh on Sunday, would not allow any civilian vehicles to drive along the road to the former settlement, so supplies were scarce. Some protesters used donkeys to carry food and tools the six kilometers up the winding road, but most only had what they carried on their back and by Tuesday morning food was scarce. Some activists, despite the lack of supplies, planned on remaining in Homesh to rebuild the town. "I am here to correct a mistake, I am here to rebuild Homesh," said one protester who asked to remain anonymous. As darkness covered the hill, I found myself sitting around a fire with a group of young Israelis. These yeshiva students have a nonchalant attitude toward the prospect of being forcibly removed or arrested by the IDF. "I am not afraid," said Yossi Onaknin, a 19-year-old from Beit Shemesh. "I hope that there will be no conflict, but what will be will be." Late into the night, the protesters remained active. Rabbis spoke to a crowd about the importance of the movement to resettle not only Homesh, but the Sinai, Ganim, Gush Katif and other abandoned settlements, while a small group of men gathered to discuss strategies to avoid being arrested by the IDF. As the adults conversed, several young boys lit a box of fireworks, sending balls of light shooting out to the chilly night sky and bringing cheers from across the hilltop. The night passed without any incidents between IDF soldiers and the protesters. As the sun began to rise, I shared a cigarette with Yakov, a soldier from Ashkelon. Yakov, who is secular, was sympathetic to the right-wing religious activists. "It is not okay to remove people from their homes. I know that, but it is dangerous for them to stay here. There are many Arab villages here and they could be killed," he said. As the first army bus arrived to take protesters down from the hill, my stay in Homesh ended. Yoel Darvan, a yeshiva student from Beit Shemesh who shared a seat with me, expressed frustration with the world's view of the conflict between the religious right and the IDF. "The whole world looks at us like a show. This is like the theater and we are the players," he said. I can only hope that this drama ends before either side takes their role too far.