Home to Tekoa

December 1, 2000
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Daniel Yossef

It’s past midnight and I’m still in the office at Sha-lom l’Dorot (Peace For Generations) reviewing official Palestinian TV (PBC) broadcasts. Worldwide, the networks are broadcasting the plight of Palestinian children, but what the networks do not reveal is the systematic and cynical exploitation of these children by their leaders. The Palestinian police force hides in the bushes, taking aim on Israeli soldiers and civilians while the children are sent ahead with stones and petrol bombs, entrapped in the crossfire. Moreover, for the last several years Arafat has planted seeds of violent hatred in the minds of the young, and they in turn are now ready to become holy martyrs.

These truths were exposed in a short video that Shalom l’Dorot produced, Jihad for Kids. At the time, minimal attention was given to this frightening document. True, the United States Senate cut off funds to the PBC, an incitement committee was established (and then disbanded), CNN, NBC and even Israeli TV showed clips from the film, but the bottom line was “we are busy making peace, don’t bother us with minor details.”

Seven weeks into the Intifada, I have to call Dabash. He is an amiable Arab taxi driver, and together we plan my journey home to Tekoa in northern Judea. Without Dabash I can’t get home, for it’s almost impossible to find a Jewish or Arab taxi driver willing to venture into the heart of Intifadaland. I chose Tekoa primarily because of the vision to build a community-village dedicated to Jewish unity. Tekoa is an oasis of harmony between religious and secular, black hats and ponytails, Sefardim and Ashkenazim, new immigrants and old-timers.

Our normal 25-minute route from Jerusalem can now take up to an hour and a half. Our regular route has been closed since Rosh Hashana because of intense daily gunfire from Beit Sahur. As well, Egged – Israel’s public transport cooperative – is finding it difficult to maintain its service to Tekoa and has cut back several lines including the late night bus. The basic task of getting my family to school and work requires precautions and careful planning.

I was in reserve duty near Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) in Bethlehem when the violence erupted. I was the only old timer among the young regulars in the paramedic team, and in between the shooting we would gather around the TV. Ironically, the most popular channel was the PBC. The young soldiers watched transfixed at the sequences of violent incitement – usually accompanied by frenzied music. The rage and fierce determination that the visuals conveyed were in sharp contrast to the expectations of these young soldiers who were just 13 when Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yasser Arafat. I couldn’t share their astonishment or confusion, but I felt the pain of failure for the writing was on the wall.

My involvement with Shalom l’Dorot began five years ago. We stand apart from other peace organizations dotting the Israeli landscape in our assessment of the Oslo accords. They argue “we are closer than ever before to the final status peace.” We contend “the Palestinian Authority is glorifying violence against Israel as never before.” They argue that “only after further territorial concessions are made will the hostility be replaced by reconciliation.” And we contend that “with our centers of population at risk today, we cannot continue gambling with the lives of our people.”

As we set off on our journey, I am too preoccupied to doze off; I must stay alert. There’s hardly a civilian car on the road as we speed into the dark. My handgun is ready, and my tired eyes scan the landscape. As we approach Arab Tekoa, we pass a memorial stone for Mordechai Lipkin, a fellow Tekoan who was killed on his way home in the first Intifada. I was the first to enter Mordechai’s home that night and can remember vividly the peaceful slumber of his children. Dabash and I exchange concerns and feelings. As we cover ground, I can’t help thinking that these four wheels of coexistence is an apt response to Arafat and all who deny our roots and rights in this land. However, coexistence will have to take a back seat to our need for survival. Our very existence here is challenged. The goal of peaceful coexistence remains steadfast, and I do not begrudge the Palestinian his flag, anthem, or freedom. However, the Palestinians are seeking to replace our flag, rewrite our anthem and deny our presence. Dabash reminds me that we should only be afraid of God. As I exit the car I don’t forget to wish him a safe journey home. He, in turn, sends regards to my wife and kids. Thank God they are sleeping soundly.

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Born in London after his parents left Egypt in 1956, Daniel Yossef lives in Tekoa. He is former Chairman of the National Union of Jewish Students in the U.K. and Executive Director of the World Union of Jewish Students.

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