Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Three o’clock in the morning. October 6, 1946.
The Yom Kippur fast had ended joyously at sunset, and by 3:00 am the country was dark and deadly silent. About 400 young men and women, almost all of them new immigrants, were working feverishly. From several different locations, they piled equipment into a few aged and well-traveled pickups, filling them with a plow, basic building supplies, ready-made walls, mattresses and tanks of water. It’s cold in the desert on October nights, and many of them shivered as they climbed into the overloaded vehicles and headed out into the wilderness.
Their plan was simple and way beyond audacious: they were going to save the Negev Desert for Israel.
In all, eleven sets of pioneers set out that night – 30 to 40 to a group -- determined to build eleven new settlements in the vast unpopulated Negev. They all knew and appreciated the danger involved in openly flaunting the law. Great Britain had strictly forbidden any Jew to live in Israel’s south. They knew that they could be severely punished if caught.
It wasn’t Great Britain alone who wanted to keep Jews out of Israel. Worldwide, there was little support for a Jewish State at that time, and even less for including the Negev desert within the boundaries if such a state should at some time be granted. In fact, the July 1946 Morrison Grady plan for the division of Palestine took the Negev out of the borders of any proposed State, which is why the British were forbidding Jews from living there then. In anticipation that the Negev would be given to the Arabs, they wanted to keep out troublesome Jews.
But just like now, there were gutsy Jews then, Jews who knew and understood what was happening to their families all across Europe, and who, at this point, weren’t much interested in obeying foreign rulers of any variety.
Back them, it wasn’t just individual Jews who were involved in the settlement plan. It was all the nascent Jewish organizations – the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, the Haganah Defense Forces, and the Mekorot Water Company. They all banded together and decided to do their best to extend Jewish settlement in the Negev as far as they could. The goal was to create facts on the ground, existing settlements, to the end that the Negev would become part of any new Jewish State.
Everything had to be done in secret, but needed materials were scrounged from wherever they could be found, and on that one night, October 6, 1946, the pioneers created eleven new kibbutzim, eleven “Points of the Negev” as they came to be called:
Kedmah and Galon in the Lakish area, north and east of Beersheba;
Shoval and Mishmar ha-Negev a little further south but still to the east;
Nevatim and Hatzerim near Beersheba;
Urim to the west, near Gevulot;
And finally, four "Points" bordering Aza: Tekuma, Be'eri, Kefar Darom, and Nirim
As each group of pioneers arrived at their designated area, the first thing they did -- even before setting up their tents -- was to plow a furrow. Turkish law, in effect at the time, required that land, to be owned, be not only purchased, but that it must also be plowed. So first of all, the settlers plowed a furrow, thus completing the requirements of ownership.
And yes, if there are any doubters out there, the land they claimed was already owned by the Jewish Fund. Not a single Arab was driven from his home. Remember, this was still in the days that when you said “Palestinian” you were talking about a Jew. This was Jewish land, not only bought and paid for, but now, with the arrival of the pioneers and their plowing a furrow, it was fully claimed.
The news of the new settlements spread like prairie fire. The sheer audacity of the plan – not to mention the total success – astonished Jews the world over. As the story spread, it provided a much needed boost to lagging Jewish spirits. October of 1946 was one of the darkest times in Jewish history. Rarely had the fate of the whole Jewish nation been more endangered than it was at that moment. The brash and courageous creation of the new settlements offered a feeling of pride and hope at the moment when it was most desperately needed.
In the ensuing months, very little actual construction was done in any of the new settlements. Shortly after, the War of Independence broke out and the new settlers found themselves serving as the first line of defense against the Egyptian army.
But today, not only are all eleven communities still active and thriving, but it was largely thanks to them that the Negev -- where I live, so I take this very personally – was included within the State of Israel.
Today, once again, Israel finds itself seriously imperiled. This time the major protagonist isn’t Great Britain – although they’re certainly in the cheering section. This time, it’s the President of the United States who’s posing the most serious threat to Israel.
Here’s the thing: Israel’s biggest problem isn’t the Arabs, terrorists or otherwise. Israel can handle its Arab enemies just fine. What causes trouble is when the US throws its weight and support behind the Arab terrorists and their supporters. That constitutes a significant problem for Israel.
When the US funds terrorists, when it grants concessions to the countries that harbor them --- and then, at the same time -- ties Israel’s hands, refusing to allow us to defend ourselves, that’s when trouble sets in.
Today it’s the US that’s intent on cutting Israel down to size – literally. This time it’s not the Negev where our foreign “rulers” are refusing to allow us to live – this time it’s in the north and west, in Judea and Samaria, not to mention Jerusalem. Now we’re told that it’s Yesha that must be Judenrein in order to keep the Arabs happy.
But once again -- thank goodness -- we’ve got some gutsy Jews. You’ve probably seen it on the news elsewhere, but in direct defiance to the Community Organizer, as of today ELEVEN new settlements have been established in areas where he’s trying to forbid us to live.
The eleven are:
Inbalim (“bells”) – next to Maaleh Michmash in Binyamin
Oz Yonatan (“Jonathan’s Might”)– near Kochav Yaakov in Binyamin
Givat Egoz (“nut hill”) – near Talmon in Binyamin
Tzurya (“the Rock of G-d”) – near Avnei Hefetz in Samaria
Mitzpe Avichai (“Avichai’s lookout”) – near Kiryat Arba/Hevron
Netzer (“stem”) – near Efrat in Gush Etzion
Reches Sela (“boulder cliff”) – south of Shechem in Samaria
Gat Yosef (“Joseph’s winepress) – south of Shechem in Samaria
Nofei Yarden (“Jordan horizons”) – near Shilo in Samaria
Maalot Hevron (“Hevron heights”) – near Hevron
Havat HaRo'im (“shepherds' farm”) – near Susya in Judea
Today’s new settlements aren’t quite the same as those of 1946. Today, there’s no need to plow a furrow, so instead what the new pioneers do is to construct a building – any kind of building – and then occupy it.
Then, too, today’s pioneers don’t have quite the unified support the earlier pioneers had. Apparently to pacify the Community Organizer, the government has ordered the new settlements to be dismantled. The IDF has already pulled down two of the new settlements, which were immediately rebuilt, of course.
Interestingly enough, however, in some of the others – Tzurya and Avnei Hefetz – news reports say the IDF was preset but did nothing to stop the construction. At Tzurya, some 200 people of all ages were there to help build.
A flyer telling about the new settlements is posted all over the country. It reads:
“Just as then, so it is now. Building new communities throughout Judea and Samaria is the only way we can return the State of Israel to being independent, flourishing and growing, protect our national interests, and stand up to international pressure.”
At the same time as the building is going on, thousands more are in Jerusalem protesting the Community Organizer’s attempt to make himself the ruler of Israel as well as the United States.
Nothing changes so much as it remains the same.
The photo from 1946, above, is from the Kibbutz Galon website. A couple of years ago I wrote a longer piece on the history of Kibbutz Galon. Check here for the full story.