Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Challenge of Chomesh (very long)

Israel Independence Day. What better way to celebrate the existance of a Jewish state than to spend the day walking through the land with thousands of fellow lovers of Zion? When we heard about the walk to Chomesh, it was clear to the whole family that we'd be there. And it was GREAT.

I want to say at the outset that I'm deeply grateful we went, and that I don't regret a minute of it. Most of it wasn't physically difficult and I think that the whole family enjoyed most of the day. Nevertheless there were some major personal challenges, and of course the challenge the army presented us all.

We were scheduled to leave at 10 am, but we left late (standard operating procedure). We left about 10:20, I guess. We left Ma'aleh Adumim and took the Hizme road. We actually made a shortcut through Hizme, avoiding the traffic at the checkpoint of Pisgat Ze'ev. From there on Road 60, past the Sha'ar Binyamin industrial area, past Kochav Yaakov, past the turnoff to Michmas, Rimonim and Kochav HaShachar. We made a pit stop in Ofra. Then we continued on past Shilo, Eli, Hawara, turned off on the way to Yitzhar and then got very close to to the intersection of Zomet Jit. Our bus driver stopped. Buses in front of him were stopped. Smaller vehicles were still going forward but it was clear that we weren't. We got information that we had to get out and walk - and that it was only a kilometer. I think what they meant was it was only a kilometer to Zomet Jit. :) So we piled off the bus and started walking. It was about noon then, but for some reason I didn't think of lunch. I figured, we'll walk 15-20 minutes, get to Shavei Shomron, eat, and start our hike. Boy, was I wrong!

I'm not in wonderful shape, but I can walk for a couple of hours before my feet start hurting, especially if I do it at my own pace, which I did. I was walking with my two youngest kids (daughter age 3, son age 7). My youngest daughter was a real trooper. All the kids were, really. Anyway, we started walking to Zomet Jit and then towards Shavei Shomron. Some people did it in 60-90 minutes but it took me all of 2 hours. My husband went ahead with our oldest son (almost bar mitzvah) and our middle daughter (9). Our oldest daughter (almost 15) had already taken off with her friends. OK.

On the way, jeeps kept running up and down the road. Some of the young people would block the jeeps, singing away and just ignoring them. About 90 minutes after we started walking we came to a row of jeeps and LOTS of guys in black. Black jumpsuits that said "Zahal" on them, but surprise! No names. No ranks. There seemed to be a knot of men yelling, maybe pushing. Us and Them. The guys in black will ALWAYS be "them" to me. The summer war really restored the army for me in a big way, especially when a co-worker's son was killed. But the guys in black? Those guys are scary and threatening. I can't connect with them. Anyway, I digress.

So there was this knot of men yelling, then I saw the scariest guy in black jump at one of our guys, and two of our guys held off the man in black. Our guy was put in the back of a jeep. Someone was yelling, "Jews with cameras, come take pictures!" Drat! We forgot to bring the camera. What a mistake!

My son was especially freaked, and so was I. We had been walking near this really nice group of girls from the Ulpana in Shvut Rachel. They had a guitar and a harmonica and were singing and playing. When the fight started they all screamed and ran to the side. After we got passed the jeeps they started to play again, but much more subdued. My son noticed that. And he kept asking me, "What happened? What happened?"

Then my daughter called - a girl had been knocked down by a jeep. My daughter told me that the jeep came speeding along. A girl who couldn’t get out of the way fast enough received a glancing blow from the front wheel. Before she could recover she was also hit by the back wheel! My daughter didn’t know how badly the girl was hurt, or what happened to her, but was understandably upset.

Later, as we got closer to the Shavei Shomron intersection, some of our guys were screaming at the guys in black - really not nice stuff. Finally one of the younger guys in black gave a shove to our guy, but his fellow black jumpsuits pulled him away. Our guys were very provocative, though I can understand them. This also freaked us out a bit. Baruch Hashem we got passed that too. As we started down the hill to the Shavei Shomron intersection my feet were starting to hurt, and I was a little nervous about continuing, but we weren't sure what choice I had. As it was, it's a good thing I went on, even though I probably shouldn't have gone at all. Hubby met us as we came down, and we tried to decide what next. Chocolate break!

At the Shavei Shomron intersection we stopped for a snack. It was already after 2 pm but I didn't want to eat a big lunch. I figured we still had a 2 hour hike ahead of us through the fields, and it would be better to eat light. We had string cheese, and nuts (good energy food), and refilled our water bottles. At the intersection there were people selling shirts. In retrospect, I wish we'd bought shirts for all the kids. A momento would have been a good thing for them. Oh well. Everyone was in good spirits though my kids, especially my little son, were really concerned about what the guys in black were up to. After we ate, our oldest son decided to go on ahead without us - we were too slow. Our oldest daughter was long gone. She got there hours before us. Even our oldest son got there way before us!

So we started to hike. Eretz Yisrael yafa v'gam porachat. Such flowers, such greenery. Beautiful weather, cooling breezes, am yisrael beyachad. Yeshiva boys singing. It was great. Not a hard hike, no hard climbs. Our youngest walked and walked and walked. Hubby took charge of our youngest because I cannot carry her and I was concerned that she'd soon refuse to walk. I move ahead of him with middle daughter and youngest son. It was lovely. We enjoyed being together so much!

I chatted with a woman from Katif. On the one hand, she said that she would have prefered Katif First (the motto of the march was Chomesh First) but she expressed gratitude that the Katif community is still all together and that they are managing. She said that the community was so wonderful that she would have done it again even knowing that they would be expelled years later. It was worth it, she said, to have lived in Katif.

Not long after that we came upon Tzvi Katzover, one of the original Gush Emunim, talking about how many times they had to try before they succeeded in establishing Elon Moreh. He was really interesting. Gidon caught up to us there, and then stayed to daven mincha. I went on with the three youngest kids. At this point, my feet were REALLY killing me and I was starting to wonder what was going to be. I though we had maybe another hour to go, and I was wondering how I was going to manage. We kept on.

A nice lady stopped to point out to us the herb "shumar". When crushed it has a licorice smell so we stopped to make the blessing and enjoy. She also said it was good to eat but my kids didn't like it. :)

As we got to the asphalt road that leads to Chomesh from Sebastia, we found the way blocked by a pile of dirt, and men trying to pull it down. It was an army blockade of the path, but I'm not sure if it was put there against us or against arabs to prevent free movement. We started up the asphalt and someone pointed out the hill that Chomesh is on. It looked MUCH further than I expected, and I had forgotten how high it is. Walking was getting really tough, but we pushed on.

It was getting more difficult for me to enjoy the walk. Asphalt is not fields, not pretty. At one place there was a stretch with garbage piled all along the side of the road for many meters. Much too much to have been random stuff blown there, or thrown out windows. Gross! But people's spirits were up. People on bicycles were going by, people were starting to come down. It was between 4 and 5 o'clock. At this point, I stopped looking at my watch.

FINALLY we saw people going up a steep little path. Hey! Maybe this is the path to the Chomesh hill! I finally saw a rock that I could sit down on and rest. (Standing was harder than walking, and sitting on the ground was just not an option for me.)Gidon caught up with us there. He explained that all the people with strollers were staying on the road and that the people climbing the path would meet up with the road. Somehow I didn't get that I thought Chomesh was at the top of that path. I pushed myself up. It was the only time I was winded the whole walk (maybe I'm not in SUCH bad shape, just bad varicose veins.) But I was sure that we were close. We weren't. We had more than an hour ahead of us!

To make a long story short I made my way up to Chomesh, step by painful step. The closer we got to Chomesh, the more people were coming down. But still, everyone was happy and enjoying the outing. Feeling good, happy to be Jews in Israel. The view on the road was stunning. We could see the whole coastal plain spread out below us and the sea. People were trying to encourage us: "You're close! You're almost there!" Finally we could see the water tower in the distance.

As we walked between two signs that read "Sha'ar Chomesh" (Chomesh Gate) our oldest son came running up to greet us. There was still a hill to get up, and I just couldn't do it. Gidon moved on ahead with the kids, but once I was several meters "in" I just gave up and sat down. It was about 6:20. I spent over an hour sitting by the side of the road. I missed the Atzeret, the mangal, everything. I watched more and more people coming down. I saw Michael Puah of Manhigut Yehudit, and many people in Likud/Manhigut shirts. Young families, singles, kids, older people, non-religious, one guy in a long black coat and a round hat, with beautiful long curly peyos, and a wife who looked like a typical "Ulpanistit" with a mitpachat, peasant skirt, orange top. A few people stopped to ask if I needed help. My kids came down to collect the marshmellows and skewers from me. At around 7 Gidon came to say that he was looking for a ride for me to Shavei Shomron. He even tried to get me into an ambulance!

I was getting more and more nervous, tired and uncomfortable. The stunning sunset was also scary. Everyone seemed to be leaving. Where was my family? Finally they came and we started walking to where we hoped the shuttle buses would be. As you might have heard on the news, the army did not let the shuttle busses come up to just below Chomesh. They didn't even let them come to Shavei Shomron until about 11 pm! People started down the hill. We stayed where we were with 100s of other people with the idea that the army would HAVE to move us. Problem was, I couldn't stand, and there was nowhere to sit. Finally Gidon was able to get me into an army van that was bringing down sick and injured. I took Moriyah and skeddadled. In the van was Tzippy Shlissel of Chevron. What a woman! She was giving it to the two chayalim in the van, how she can't stand to see a uniform, how she had to move 5 times in 5 months because of the army telling them they could move into a place and then kicking them out. The chaylim were interesting too. At least one guy - he's from Kiryat Shemona and he was saying how in all the years of ketyushas (before Lebanon I) the settlers never came north. Or almost never. Whatever. I met a nice lady from Kochav Hashacher, and an older lady was telling Tzippi Shlissel about her experience with the Altelena. If I heard her correctly she was actually on the ship!

We thought the van was taking us to shavei shomron but it dropped us off back at zomet Shavei Shomron, where we'd started. And all the buses were at Zomet Jit! The good people of Shavei Shomron were shuttling walkers from the yishuv to zomet Jit. I had some hashgacha pratit when a van stopped in front of me and two people got out. A woman who had come down with me, and I, hopped in. At Zomet Jit I met neighbors who told me that the bus driver was nowhere to be found, and that they were getting on a bus to Jerusalem. We opted to join them, and a good thing. I was home by 11:10.

My day was not done. Hubby had organized the bus from Ma'aleh Adumim, and now his cell phone was failing and he was still at Chomesh. I became the command center, taking and making calls to all of our bus to make sure we knew where everyone was and that everyone knew where to meet the bus. My family got on a bus to go down to Shavei Shomron at around 11:30, or maybe 11:45. Coming down the mountain was slow because there were still many, many people walking on the road. Finally at 12:15, hubby got on the Ma'aleh Adumim bus with the kids at Shavei Shomron. It only took them an hour after that to get to Ma'aleh Adumim.

In conclusion, I believe it was the best possible way to spend Yom Ha'atmaut. The army's treatment of the marchers was contemptible and was totally political. Had they allowed the shuttle buses, the soldiers would have been able to finish much earlier. Instead the tired soldiers had to remain to protect the tired marchers in the dark. Less than ideal conditions! What lesson did they teach us? That we cannot rely on the army? It was very frustrating. In my opinion hating the army is hating ourselves. We cannot hate the army. But we can protest and condemn the political machine that forces us to harm ourselves.

I'm glad we went. I think it was very important that we went. I hope my kids will be glad they went - if not now then when they're older. We MUST walk this land, because that's how we show it's ours. Maybe I wouldn't do it again, but I'd certainly send my kids again.

Next year, may we all be marching to re-establish all the destroyed communities, and to establish new ones! Am yisrael, b'eretz yisrael, b'torat yisrael. Ani ma'amin!

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