Searching for Sons on the Path of the Fathers

If you crane your neck while standing on our second-floor porch, you can see 250 yards in the distance, the “trampiada” —  hitchhiking station — where Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frankel, 19, took their fateful ride last Thursday night. The trampiada is frequented by school kids and adults trying to get from here to there in the pastoral setting of the Judean Hills. The station stands next to an Arab orchard whose owners sell their fruits and vegetables from a roadside shed across the street to both Arabs and Jews driving past.

Our community is on generally good and respectful terms with the Arabs of the immediate area, so much so that when Alon Shvut was being developed and the security fence built along its perimeter, the planners redirected the fence so as not to dislodge the Arab family living there. If a field has a history of being planted it is presumed to belong to the person who tends it, regardless of proof of title. We, the residents of Alon Shvut and Gush Etzion, have sought concord and pleasantness with the “stranger in our midst,” though last Motzoei Shabbat there was a group of teenagers walking from the trampiada to the major intersection, Gush Etzion Junction, yelling “Nekamah!” — a demand for revenge and retribution. Hopefully Hashem’s mighty Hand will find the perpetrators and all those associated with them and strike them mercilessly, while protecting the innocent and good among the Arabs, and things will return to a prevailing calm.

In numerous previous columns I have discussed my attempts over the three years we have lived in Alon Shvut to develop positive relations with neighbors and merchants along Route 60, known as Derekh Avot, the road that connects Yerushalayim to Chevron.

My dealings have been without exception respectful, positive and even cordial. Though I have been invited to several of their simchos I have not attended, preferring polite conversations over cups of strong Arabic coffee.

Today I returned to Route 60, Derekh Avot, needing to look the men I know, fathers all, in the eyes, see their faces and as best as our equally poor Hebrew would permit, discuss the kidnapping of the boys and ask, “Why?”

My first stop was a shop that was replacing fabric on our patio chairs. The work was excellent, quick and ridiculously inexpensive. The owner, Hamad*, as he always does, gave me a warm greeting when he saw me pull up; despite knowing he had nothing to do with the kidnappings, I could not muster the same for him. He noticed the change from my usual demeanor. I brought up the case of the three yeshivah boys. His mood then changed and he agreed it was an evil deed done by crazy and evil men.

His father, Abu Hamad (“Abu” in Arabic means “Father of…”), who was at the shop, described the situation in a more pragmatic way, decrying the ramifications it will have on us all and on his business. He called the kidnapping “senseless” and was most cynical about leadership on both sides, including Netanyahu in the same breath with Abbas and Hamas.

Our ability to communicate exhausted, we parted without my sharing my visceral sentiments that the Palestinians are far more prone to “senseless” acts and that the average man in the infamous “Arab Street” must do more than recognize the evil in leadership: he must confront it.

Heading towards home, satisfied with the work done on my chairs and unsatisfied with my conversation, I turned into the small grocery owned by my friend Abu Amar. I entered the shop and we exchanged greetings. He immediately knew what was troubling me, as I have no poker-face.

We began as best we could to discuss the tragedy. He decried those who perpetrated the kidnapping as majnoun, an Arabic equivalent of deranged or severely meshugga. He has nothing but disdain for Hamas and what is going on throughout the eternal benighted “Spring” of the Arab world, citing Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, clearly recognizing the condition(s) they are now in as Arab self-inflicted tragedies.

Abu Amar did not equivocate about both sides sharing blame, like the father at the fabric shop, or like Haaretz newspaper, Israel’s radical left-wing rag, stated explicitly in columns by their leading majnoun columnists. Abu Amar is a man of  perhaps 70, probably a great-grandfather. I have met his 19-year-old grandson Sayid who is studying in Bethlehem, of whom he is obviously quite proud. Abu Amar recognizes the intrinsic innocence of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, and sees them more as potential classmates of his grandson Sayid than as future soldiers patrolling Route 60 in front of his shop.

Abu Amar is the man in the Arab street whose humanity provides the moral clarity demanding he recognize the depravity in those who, without his consent, lead him and his people into peril. With him there can be a true peace and warm ties. With Abu Hamad, the father at the fabric shop, there can be a pragmatic peace of commerce and a respectful distance. I would gladly accept this.

When we made aliyah and chose to live in Alon Shvut, we were excited to be in the heart of Jewish history; we did not anticipate having our hearts cut out by the tragedies of Jewish history.

We chose to be part of the return to our ancient and G-d-given homeland, to walk in the footsteps of our holy Fathers and Mothers, literally living along the path they walked, Route 60, Derekh Avot.

In Chevron, the second holiest city in all of Judaism, the presumed area in which Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali are being held captive, amongst our Fathers and Mothers at eternal rest in the Cave of the Patriarchs, the only one missing is Rochel. She mourns in Bethlehem, the gateway to Gush Etzion, for her children taken captive, ripped from their homes.

May her tears and those of all Klal Yisrael be turned to tears of joys when our three sons, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, are returned home safely — v’shavu banim!

*As a precaution, all Arab names have been changed.

Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com.