December 16, 2016

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Boca Raton? Nope. Ra'anana.  (photo credit:Brauner Properties) 
People in Israel tend to be polarized, be it religiously, politically, socially or culturally. So here we are, a Canadian family living in Ra’anana, a suburban town that resembles Boca Raton more than Israel. We have limited exposure to Hebrew media and thus live in a ‘bubble.’ People joke that Ra’anana is not even in Israel!

Last week, we were returning at night from a desert camping trip (not exactly a typical Ra’anana outing). We were hauling huge packs on our shoulders and were dusty and dirty.

Our next-door neighbor happened to pass us on the way to his car.
“Are you coming from Amona?” he asked.

My Hebrew is so bad, I thought he said Dimona, a city in the south. Only after the fact, my daughter turned to me and asked, “Why did he think we were in Amona?”

My jaw dropped. What? Because we are religious and we looked unkempt, we were instantly judged and labeled? (Amona is a settlement in Yehuda and Shomron that is right now on the verge of being evacuated as it has been deemed illegal by the court and the government.) A label.

Although we were not in Amona, we do have a connection to it. My daughter’s boyfriend’s sister Manya has been living there for 14 years. Before the community started, it was empty, unclaimed land and the government gave the green light to these people to legally live there. 

Someone then dug up some British documents about the ownership and discovered that several Arab families had claims to this land. What should have been done at the time, is to legally compensate the owners for their land. This is how land claims are settled in Tel Aviv and in other places around the world. Yet, land is a charged commodity here. 

With initial government permission, Manya and her family, along with eight other families from Amona, built homes here. After the claims began, nine homes were destroyed by Israeli army bulldozers, including hers. 

This was 11 years ago. Now she lives with her husband and children in two trailers. She loves her life and her community. 

She was interviewed by Dutch TV and I urge you to watch the whole interview below as it is enlightening.

The time has come for the settlement to be evacuated. The government has been in negotiations to come to an agreement. There is a lot of international pressure and many divisive opinions on the subject.

I haven’t been to Amona but what I learned from the interview (and you can do your own research), is that the issue was hashed by Jews pitted against Jews. Apparently left-wing groups with deep pockets and loud voices are stirring an already boiling pot. 

And because of this, Jewish policemen and Jewish soldiers will have to forcefully evict Jewish families from their homes. With so many enemies in this world, Jews fighting Jews is abhorrent.

Naftali Bennett from the Jewish Home party has been trying to negotiate a deal but was not successful. After his negotiations fell apart, a busload of Amona youth arrived outside Bennett’s house in Ra’anana and began shouting with loudspeakers.  They were obviously upset and had no one else to turn to.  But Bennett could not help. 

As it was such a cold night to be standing outside, my daughter walked over to the house with hot tea for her boyfriend’s young nephew who was part of the demonstration.

As he shyly accepted the tea, his friend pointed to Aviva and said, “Who is she?” If someone is surprised that a settlement person knows a Ra’anana person, it’s a sure sign that we live worlds apart. Another label.

Amona (photo credit:
Just last night, the government presented the community of Amona with an agreement. I read about this agreement in the news and was excited as it sounded as if the community was offered enough land for the 41 families close by. I thought they would agree to this and we could put the discord behind us.

But this is not what happened.  The adults stayed up most of the night debating what to do. Turns out the agreement only gave enough land for 11 families to live in one caravan each with no promise that they could receive more land. As the families are large, most need two caravans to live comfortably so land for 11 single caravans would not be enough. 

A community needs space to grow. The people of Amona really care for each other and do not want to be split up. They voted 58-20, rejecting the agreement, then went home to pack up.

So why did the government publicize to the media an agreement that was not the same as the one presented to the people of Amona? Was it because the government knew the people would reject this agreement?  And if the public assumed the agreement looked fair and was then rejected, the settlers would look like radicals and the government could look justified. Is this the idea? I just don’t know any more.

Right now, Aviva’s boyfriend is staying at his sister’s house to help them out. He is babysitting the anxious kids, giving the parents time to pull their lives together. Last night at 4am, with the children fast asleep, they all started to pack up the house. After there was no hope of an agreement, the people of Amona were sure the police and army would soon arrive.

They worked quickly. And then the power went out. With flashlights, feeling like fleeing, downcast vagrants, they packed up clothing, dishes and toys. Someone observed this was not the first time Jews had to pack up in the middle of the night to flee. Except this time it is different. They are not fleeing the Crusaders or the Cossacks or the Nazis. It is Jews.

The situation is heart wrenching for Jewish unity. If only we could see each other as people and not labels, we could start to empathize with the other.

Many Jewish youth who are not from Amona are now gathering in the village. They are frustrated with the government's actions and want to express this.  Although all want calm, people are afraid things could turn violent. Some Israelis would call them thugs. Another label. 

To ensure all act peacefully, the rabbi of Amona is running around speaking to the youth who are arriving. Yesterday he set up a speaker from his balcony that played a song with the sweet words: 
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
Love your neighbor as yourself.

The people of Amona are now inside their homes packing up their lives and their memories, saying goodbye to good neighbours. They do not want a fight. They simply want a home together.

As for the country, we desperately need to know when to put aside our egos, open our hearts, stop stirring an already boiling pot and know when to be quiet. We must talk with each other and strive for understanding and unity. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Photo credit: Arutz Sheva


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