Three weeks ago, Palestinian terrorists kidnapped three teenage Israeli boys from a bus stop near their school in Gush Etzion, a settlement just outside Jerusalem in the southern West Bank, as they were heading home. The Jewish nation held its collective breath for their safe return, but after intensive searching by its armed forces —which rounded up hundreds of Hamas affiliates for questioning, some of them terrorists who had been released from prison in recent rounds of U.S.-moderated talks with the PLO— the teens’ bodies were found, partially buried, in a field not far from where they were abducted. This satanic act was horrifying enough as a Jew, as a settler, as a father. What made it worse was the knowledge that, in certain Palestinian circles, the kidnapping was celebrated by people waving three fingers in the air and handing out candies.
So why, if it is so dangerous, do hundreds of thousands of Israelis insist on making their homes in what is known to us as Judea and Samaria and to others as the West Bank? The Palestinians obviously despise us. (Hamas and Fatah bicker constantly but agree on at least one thing: They revile Israel and its Jews.) Nobody expects their children to become targets, but, yes, terrorism is always a danger: My wife’s sister Tali and her husband, Binyamin, were gunned down in a terrorist ambush on an open road on their way home from Jerusalem. (Since the 1993 Oslo Accords brought the Palestine Liberation Organization from exile, many of my closest friends have died from acts of terrorism. We worry about the safety of our children on the way to and from school. And in the background, there is never-ending international pressure on Israel’s government to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians and give them sovereignty over the land we now inhabit. Land-for-peace, the central principle of the “peace process,” would render my family homeless. At times it feels like a precarious existence.
What motivates my wife and me to choose this place to raise our children (some the same age as the murdered boys from Gush Etzion) in spite of it all? Why do we disregard direct threats of terror and overcome all the challenges of living in small isolated towns, far from Israel’s main cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem?
To us, that’s no different from the question all Israelis face: Why live here instead of in Los Angeles or in Australia? Zionism is the national hope of the Jewish people. It promises a return to the national homeland from which our ancestors were expelled 2,000 years ago. At the core of Zionism is the historical connection of the Jewish people to this land. And not only do we see Judea and Samaria as part of Israel, but they are the heart of that national homeland. In the time of the Bible, our fathers dwelt on these hills. The cities of Shechem (also known as Nablus), Shilo, Beit El, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron are all situated along Route 60, the Road of the Patriarchs, which in biblical times was the main route taken by pilgrims to our capital, Jerusalem. In short, living here is a major part of our patriotism. By building our homes and raising our children here, we are reviving the historical connection of our people with our land. That is what Zionism is all about.
In our eyes — 40 percent of the Jewish residents in the Shomron (Samaria) are Orthodox Jews like us — the return of this land to the Jewish people during the Six-Day War of June 1967 was the fulfillment of the words of the prophets of the Bible, who declared that the sons of our people would return to rebuild the cities of Judea and replant the vineyards of the Shomron. But the secular Jews here share the nationalistic value of living on the land of our fathers, too. Although they don’t observe all of Jewish law, they are patriotic Israelis who believe that Israel should maintain control over the regions of Judea and Samaria. And we all enjoy the esprit de corps, the award-winning educational system and the weather in the hills (far more agreeable than the scorching summers of the Tel Aviv area, where most Israelis live in highly populated neighborhoods). Judea and Samaria is a good choice for many who prefer private homes, suburbs and small towns. Within the communities, there is a safe environment to raise children.
Still, one crisis regularly bleeds into another. Islamist militants took over northern Iraq while the boys were missing. In Israel, some prayer vigils for the fallen boys — candles, sad songs — gave way to angry voices calling for revenge. An Arab youth from Jerusalem was abducted and killed in what may have been an ordinary homicide or an act of vengeance (police say they are still investigating). But here in the Shomron, I, like many members of our community, oppose anarchy, vandalism and random acts of violence, because these subvert the normal and safe environment we’re trying to maintain for our children and neighbors — Jewish and Arab. We expect the government and its police and security agencies to apprehend the murderers and terrorists and to bring them to justice.
Even with all the hardships, we are glad to be back in the heartland of Israel. As the people of Israel mourn with the families of the three slain boys, we realize that their legacy is the same as that left by the three fathers of our nation — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — the inspiration to be fruitful and prosper in the land. For them, we will continue to celebrate life here by building our homes, planting our vines and teaching our children to love this land, the heartland of Israel. For us, living here is an expression of our national identity that is worth the threats involved in exercising it.