After mobilizing for a Jewish presence at the Shdema camp and at the
Adorayim camp, Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar are dedicating
themselves to a new challenge: saving state lands in the heart of Gush
Etzion. Following past precedents, they have a basis for their optimism
On the top of a hill in the heart of Gush Etzion, between Elazar, Alon
Shvut, and Efrat, a ceremony inaugurating a lookout point was held on
Tuesday. The small ceremony, attended mainly by the relatives and
friends of the late Sarah Spiegel, after whom this unique panoramic
lookout point is named, was carefully organized. The answer to the
question of who could succeed in decorating with planters "just
another" point at the top of a hill to which no normal road leads,is
apparently only Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar.
Nadia Matar is known as being the head of the right-wing "Women in
Green" organization. Yehudit Katsover, the wife of the former head of
the Kiriat Arba Council, Zvi Katsover, too, has an impressive record
of accomplishments. Already in '79 she was one of the mothers who
settled with their children in Beit Hadassah in Hebron and lived there
for months under harsh conditions, with the aim of persuading the
government to permit Jews to live in the City of the Patriarchs.
Five years ago the two met in Gush Katif, where both had moved with
their families in the attempt to fight the uprooting, and since then
they have joined forces for shared activity. Their accomplishments are
One of the first major projects on which they worked together was the
Shdema camp. About two and a half years ago they read a report by
Hagai Huberman in Mekor Rishon stating that the Palestinians wanted to
establish a city in the area of the Shdema camp, that is located about
five kilometers to the south of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa
and overlooks the Tekoa-Jerusalem road. The army camp that had been
situated there was abandoned in 2006, and upon its abandonment leftist
activists from abroad began to conduct activities there, together with
Palestinians from the nearby Beit Sahur.
"As soon as we heard about this,we went up there," Katsover
reconstructed it this week. "We still managed to see the bulldozers
leveling the area after the dismantling of the camp. We understood
that if the Arabs were to take control of the area this would be
dangerous for those driving on the road below, and it would endanger
the settlement continuity between eastern Gush Etzion and Jerusalem."
They decided that a permanent Jewish presence must be established
there. Together with a group of activists who aided in the effort,
mainly from the nearby communities of Tekoa and Nokdim, and also from
the Har Homa neighborhood, the "Committee for a Jewish Shdema" was
founded, under the leadership of Rabbi Yaron Durani, the rabbi of the
community of Nokdim.
A totally original way of struggle was decided upon then: the
establishment of a cultural center. Every Thursday or Friday,lectures,
Torah classes, panels, concerts, or exhibitions were held there. Gush
Etzion residents, along with additional supporters, were invited to
come and demonstrate a presence. "There was a very harsh struggle
there with the anarchists and the Arabs, who were certain that the
area was already in their hands," Katsover says. When they arrived for
the activities they frequently discovered that the walls of the
structures, that they had taken care to whitewash and paint, were
covered by hostile graffiti, and that all the equipment that had been
left there was destroyed.
Nonetheless, after almost two years of continuous cultural activity at
Shdema, which was accompanied all the time by informational activity
and political persuasion attempts, the two can chalk up a considerable
achievement. About ten months ago the Etzion Brigade Commander
informed them that a permanent army post will be set up there.
Katsover told Makor Rishon then: "Admittedly, this is not a civilian
presence, but we have still not lost hope for that. In any event, we
continue to be active, because Shdema is not only Shdema. This is a
struggle for all Eretz Israel."
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein, who participated
then in the event marking this achievement, told those present: "The
positioning of an outpost at Shdema is a sign that, with G-d's help,
Shdema will become a flourishing community, thanks to the resolute and
constant activity of the Committee for a Jewish Shdema."
Trees Instead of Facebook
Not even two months passed, and a new challenge arose. The two learned
that the army camp at Adorayim in the Hebron hills was abandoned - a
few months after the camp made the news following the unfurling of the
sign: "Nahshon, Too, Is Not Expelled," on the roof of one of the
structures in the camp - and they resolved to repeat the same format
"Besides Adorayim being a strategic location, no place in Eretz Israel
is abandoned," Katsover explained at the beginning of the activity.
When they first arrived at the abandoned camp, they were met by
terrible destruction and the looting of everything that could be taken
away. In the meantime, the Friday morning cultural activities are
conducted there as well, and the schedule of lectures for the coming
month is already closed and planned.
"The Arabs have their eyes on the state lands," Katsover says. "While
for years this had been done slowly, in the last two years they are
quickly taking over [lands]. From our point of view, they are clearly
intending to choke the communities"
In recent months they are concentrating on activity in a valley in
the heart of the consensus, between the communities of Alon Shvut and
Elazar in Gush Etzion. In one of the places there, a me'ahaz [outpost
settlement] named Netzer was founded by local residents after the
uprooting from Gush Katif. Until now, the me'ahaz has been destroyed
by the security forces and rebuilt eight times.
After clarifying which lands in the vicinity of Netzer are state
lands, Katsover and Matar began the activities to guard the land, one
of the central of which is the planting of trees. With the help of two
farmers from northern Israel who come every week to assist, and the
contributions that were collected, mainly olive and pomegranate trees
and grape vines have been planted.
"Last summer, during the Nine Days, we held a summer camp here for
youth from the vicinity. We took them away from Twitter and Facebook,
and we brought them to plant trees," they describe. "The boys planted
olive trees, and the girls, grape vines. A plot was also planted in
memory of the couple Yitzhak and Talia Imes of Beit Haggai, who were
shot and murdered in a terrorist attack."
Matar answers the question of who actually gave them permission to use
the land that belongs to the state: "The state is supposed to guard
state lands, but it doesn't do this, and the Arabs are taking over the
land reserves of the communities. Now, in the entire area, there are
signs by foreign organizations, and even by foreign governments, that
announce the economic aid that they are giving to the so-called
'unfortunate' Palestinian farmers. The Arabs are receiving millions to
take control of the State of Israel's lands."
It should be mentioned that the phenomenon that the two describe has
been seen recently throughout Judea and Samaria, and constitutes part
of the plan by the Palestinian Salam Fayyad to build a state in
actuality on the ground.
The activity at Netzer was met with hostile reactions by Arabs from
the area. "We didn't have any problems until last Sukkot," Matar
describes the situation, "but then one time we came and we saw that
they had burned the irrigation pipe that had been laid by us to water
the plots. Uri, the farmer who aids us, repaired it, and then the
uprootings of plantings began, as well." After the Arabs uprooted our
plantings several times, it was decided to bring mature olive trees,
the donation of farmers in the north. The Palestinians tried to uproot
the trees, too. According to them, the times when the police was
called by the sides, it was proven each time that these are indeed
state lands to which the Palestinians have no rights.
Routine and Expulsion
The somewhat romantic lookout point at Netzer that was inaugurated
this week contains a sort of wood deck, half of which is paved with
boards. The other half of the boards was recently confiscated by the
security forces, on the grounds that the floor was built without a
permit. "We are now in legal proceedings, and we hope that people will
be able to come and enjoy the amazing sunsets and sunrises visible
from here," Katsover told visitors this week.
She added to us that "it is painful that at times we have to act as if
we were living in the time of the [British] Mandate. We have to hide
tree saplings because of the Civil Administration. Evacuation orders
were hung here precisely at the time that we were all at the funerals
of those from Beit Haggai who were murdered in the terrorist attack."
It is important for her to emphasize that they receive "a lot of help
from a lot of good people from the entire area. The subject of Netzer,
for example, is headed by Rabbi Gideon Perl, the regional rabbi, and
many people who live in the communities in the vicinity participate
in the activity. It can be said that Gush Etzion is mobilized for the
critical issue of guarding state lands. The interest taken and
sympathy are great. People are more aware now of what is happening
beyond the fences of their settlement."
Matar adds: "People tend not to believe in their power, but history
proves that citizens have the power to change decrees. The women at
Beit Hadassah proved this thirty years ago. We proved this at the
Dagan Hill in Efrat, and also at Shdema. The Palestinian plans for
Shdema were already on the desk of the Defense Minister, and we said
that this was inconceivable. Government decrees cannot be accepted as
self-understood, and we have the power to effect change. The Hebrew
words for expulsion and routine [gerush, shigrah] contain the same
letters. We cannot sink into the routine, so that we will not come to
expulsion. If we weren't successful at Gush Katif, this time we will
be more active, and we will ensure that this will not happen again."