Published by The Freeman Center

The Maccabean Online

Political Analysis and Commentary
on Israeli and Jewish Affairs

"For Zion's sake I shall not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I shall not rest."

Here We Are Building Tourism

by Orly Goldklang

Mekor Rishon

5 September, 2014

Translated into English by Women in Green

It's hard to miss the tourist sign leading to Givat Oz veGaon, if only

because of the picture of the three kidnapped youths that it bears and

that causes a twinge in your heart. As soon as you leave your car, the

smell of a Bnei Akiva camp fills the air, the smell of youth, summer,

and everything that was taken from those three, as if it comes to

compensate those who remain here.


This was a Monday, Tammuz 2 [June 30], the last day of the past school

year. At eight that night the official announcement was received about

the finding of the missing youths' bodies. At eight and one minute

Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar were already on the way to the Gush

Etzion junction with sleeping bags and an inexhaustible amount of

ambition. The objective was the nearby hill, but on the way they came

across a spontaneous assembly of Gush Etzion residents close to the

hitchhiking station where the kidnapping took place, and they joined

the crying and prayers there. Later that night they came to the site

reinforced by many supporters, and began to prepare the hill, that is

named after the three youths: Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali. Nine and a

half weeks later, it's hard to believe that not long ago this was a

bare, rocky hill, not to mention - a garbage heap, with an abandoned

and filthy Jordanian structure.

Nadia and Yehudit know their work. There is nothing makeshift or

temporary here. There are signs, there is order, there is

organization. The Jordanian structure was spit-and-polished that very

night, trails were prepared, along with a not inconsiderable number of

hearts and minds. The first generator arrived, and after it a steel

door and windows were purchased. They say that they find Divine

Providence everywhere there. For example, on the first night, when

they discovered a well with water that proved helpful in scrubbing the

place, or, for instance, the dozens of volunteers who spent this

summer building the sites, or the donations of food, trees for

planting, and wood for furniture.

This is not going to be a yishuv ("settlement'). We are not talking

about Tekoa E or Bat Ayin D, of blessed memory. The establishment of

yishuvim has become a dirty word, and at any rate, the time has come

to advance a bit. A ramified tourist corner is situated here, one that

is taking its first steps with impressive speed. The full vision of

the two Women in Green includes guest rooms and a museum, a visitors'

center, and even a hotel. Nature has provided the rich forest, they

plan to mobilize the rest.

A New Kitchen and Mosaic Paving

They met during the struggle against the disengagement, two women

infused with faith and charm, who are twenty years apart in age.

Somehow, the older woman of vision and the younger, temperamental one

became best friends. Which one is the actual leader of all this?

Depends who you ask. If you ask Nadia, it is clear to her that Yehudit

is the leader. If you ask Yehudit - you guessed right - Nadia is the

one who leads. They shared a tent at the site during the first three

weeks of setting up. Two women who already have grandchildren, one of

them is approaching seventy, set up shop in the heart of the forest

and continued working.


After years of major struggles, they no longer believe in petitions or

calls for protest. "If you collected ten thousand signatures and you

succeeded in making noise," Nadia says, "so what? Without a presence

on the ground, it doesn't work."

The ground, in this case, is the heart of the matter. When the south

was in flames and the north suffered from a dearth of visitors, this

natural tourist pearl succeeded in attracting many scores of youth and

adults who are the farthest away from the hilltop youth that can be

imagined. A Canadian Jewish National Fund delegation worked here and

prepared paths, youth from Ezra and Bnei Akiva who came from

throughout Israel planted, cleaned, developed. Groups from Bat Yam and

Petah Tikvah built wooden tables and pergolas. And alongside this, the

weekly activity of Women in Green (Women for Israel's Tomorrow, to be

precise) moved to here.


Surprise - this doesn't anger the army. To the contrary. When we begin

the local tour, we are joined by a group in uniform. As they draw

nearer, we see among them the deputy commander of the Etzion

Battalion, Eitan Picard, and Safi, the Druze ordinance officer, who

immediately gives out tips on the right way to plant medicinal herbs.

Whatever you need, Picard says, just ask. The Etzion Battalion

commander, Amit Yamin, visited here that same day together with the

[Gush Etzion Local] Council head. "He was all white and filthy, after

18 days of searching," Nadia relates. "This, our presence here,

caused him to smile after the long, tense days." Like him, politicians

who visited here, too, have already given their blessing.

Our tour passes alongside ecological toilets. Yes, the color green has

several meanings here. Toilets with sawdust, water recycling, recycled

materials. An ecological hill? I ask, doubtful, and the two give up

and admit: This is the thing of the young people, they brought it. The

young are the forest guardians, headed by the Kimhe couple and their

outdoors baby who manages to charm everyone  here. The cute one

year-old baby, who in the first days was afraid to step on the stones

here, now confidently runs between the children's corner and the

social coffee house (five shekels for a cup, for those interested)

that was opened in the Jordanian house, and which now boasts a new

kitchen and impressive mosaic paving.

In addition to the Kimhe family, we also find staying in the spacious

(separate) tent area Efraim and his group. A young man with a heavy

Russian accent, a student in Rabbi Neeman's Zionist Midrasha, who set

up here together with other Midrasha graduates. Nadia and Yehudit beam

with pleasure. The two hard-working directors have nothing but

admiration for the young generation that has joined together with

them, and for the 75-year-old Orbach from Alon Shvut who directs the

construction work.

Historical Leap

The barbecue and zula hangout are already set up. But don't let all

this deceive you. "People come here to work," Nadia says. "Parents

came to us with tears in their eyes, and explained what this place did

for their children. They don't move at home, but here, all of a

sudden, they want to show their parents the wonderful thing that they

built with the own two hands."

Along with the high-profile memorial service for the three youths, and

the trees that were planted in their memory, several celebrations have

already been held here. There was already a brit (circumcision) and a

sheva berakhot here, and a seventieth birthday party for a grandmother

in whose honor a fig tree was planted. If you're considering a

celebration in the area, don't wait too long. Several additional

events are already signed up - from bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs to

weddings, and other events. Not to mention the Sukkot events that are


The finely cared for hill still isn't ready for a young woman in high

heels, but every day that passes here, another path is prepared and

another part of the place is brought to life. Anyone who came this

week will not recognize it in another month. But as Nadia promised,

Yehudit looks far ahead. "This will be a rural area in the style of

Neve Ativ in the Golan. A small place that preserves a rich and

pampering tourist area." And when she says small place, she obviously

looks out at the nearby hill and the nearby target, for it should be

mentioned: "Under no conditions will any tree, plant, or branch be cut

from it, just as we are adamant in the current area."

Where does the strength to dream come from, I ask Yehudit, one of the

thirteen women from [Beit] Hadassah [in Hebron], who have been engaged

in settlement activities already for decades. "If you stand still for

a moment, you go backwards," Yehudit says. "You have to think and plan

ahead all the time."

The evening hour of the month of Elul, the air of Gush Etzion begins

to be cool. What will be in the winter, I ask them, but they aren't

getting excited. "Don't ask what will be in the winter," Yehudit says.

"Come. Give your support. It will be a fine winter here. Nahshon son

of Aminadav did not ask what will be in the winter when he leaped into

the sea. He did not wonder what was the temperature of the water or

whether it was cold."

A moment after that historic leap into the water, the gates of the Red

Sea opened and the Children of Israel passed through on dry ground. Oz

veGaon has already succeeded in opening the southern gate of Migdal Oz

and in renewing the Jewish presence on the road leading to it. When

Nadia and Yehudit stand as a wall on their right and on their left,

dozens of young people and adults already pass along the way,

preparing it for the next generation. Of them, and perhaps of the

State, as well.