Yaakov Schwartz, Hamodia’s military correspondent, on the latest political, security and defense developments in Israel, written by Gavriel Meir
When you’re hit with a rock while driving, you freeze,” says Elkana Tzan’ani, an Egged bus driver in Yehudah and Shomron. “You calm the frightened passengers, and try to act like you’re in control of the situation, but inside you’re butter. If there are children on the bus, it’s a nightmare. They begin screaming and crying. All you want to do is run away, but there’s nowhere to run.”
Buses are considered a relatively safe mode of public transportation. But in the wild west known as Yehudah and Shomron, they are targets for terrorism, and they can become death traps in a moment.
“A bus driver was hit two months ago by a barrage of stones and lost control,” Elkana recalls. “Fortunately, he was driving slowly and ran into a safety barrier. If he had overturned, it would have been a tragedy, as the bus was completely full. The driver, an Arab, was a true hero. He was full of cuts from the shattered windshield, and managed to drive far enough to get the bus out of danger. Many drivers freeze in these situations. You have to understand that everything happens in a matter of seconds. If you don’t get a hold of yourself it can cost you your life and the lives of your passengers.”
Bus stonings are nothing new. It’s been many years since terrorists began identifying large vehicles filled with Jewish passengers as targets. But things appear to be getting worse. According to figures provided by Ichud Hatzolah, since June 2021 some 100 buses in the Maaleh Adumim and Givat Zeev areas were hit by stones; 81 in Gush Etzion.
And this is just a small part of what’s happening on the roads of Yehudah and Shomron.
“The throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at buses in Yehudah and Shomron has become a plague,” says Eliyahu Libman, head of the Kiryat Arba local council. “To my regret, deterrence is insufficient due to a lack of Israeli governance. There is very little attention paid to the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails. This is despite the fact that we’ve seen tragedies caused by stonings of buses and cars. I call on the security forces to tackle the problem and impose more serious punishments.”
Fifty-five years have passed since Yehudah and Shomron was liberated. Political disagreements within the country notwithstanding, the Jewish population of the area stands at half a million. The Binyamin Regional Council, headed by Yisrael Gantz, is not just the largest in Yehudah and Shomron but in all of Israel.
Gantz, 44, completed his studies in Dayanus, a rigorous 10-year program, with excellence. He has also earned academic degrees in economics and public policy. In his capacity as council head, to which he was elected four years ago, he maintains close contacts with government ministers and Knesset members.
Anyone following the news in Israel knows that settlements feature prominently on the political agenda and any policy shifts in this area draw a lot of attention, even in the U.S. administration.
For this reason, Gantz has been leading a lobby to promote ties between Jewish residents of Yehudah and Shomron and senior American officials. Just last week, four senior Democratic members of Congress visited his home in Psagot (in between meetings with the PA chairman in Ramallah and President Yitzchak Herzog in Yerushalayim).
“It was the first time that such senior people with fixed views on Yehudah and Shomron met with us,” Gantz told Hamodia. “I felt that we succeeded in changing the underlying assumptions they arrived with. Suddenly, they understood that I am the solution, not the problem. I told them how much I try to bring development and infrastructure … and that instead of receiving assistance from the American administration, we receive resistance. I think that the officials returned to the United States with a lot of homework to do.”
This wasn’t the first visit of this nature. Half a year ago, 10 Congressional Democrats visited the Gantz family home and the offices of the Binyamin Regional Council. Gantz travels every few months to the United States to meet with senators and House members, as well as with senior figures in the Jewish community.
The most significant challenge for residents of Yehudah and Shomron are the daily attacks on the roads. Every day there are terror incidents involving stonings of cars that endanger lives. Residents are hit and wounded, but according to Gantz, “the diplomatic echelons don’t give a clear order to the security forces to put an end to these disturbances.”
At the heart of this failure to take firm action lies a deeper problem. “Today’s leadership isn’t convinced as to the righteousness of our Jewish path,” he says. “There is not enough faith that we are here as a result of a Divine promise to Avraham Avinu. That’s why there’s no iron fist policy against terrorists.”
Another matter of concern, which Gantz discussed in his last visit to Congress, is the illegal seizure of land by Arabs throughout Yehudah and Shomron. The Palestinian Authority is quietly annexing swathes of land, with the cooperation and financing of the European Union. Millions of dollars are being invested in this program and the authorities in Israel aren’t lifting a finger to stop it.
“Every day that passes, the Arabs seize more and more of Yehudah and Shomron without any diplomatic agreement having been signed and without firing a shot,” explains Gantz. “They are choking off Jewish settlements and closing off main travel arteries. They are working to break up Jewish settlement blocs and establish Arab territorial contiguity between Be’er Sheva in the south and the Jezreel Valley area in the north, and from there to connect with Arab Israelis in the Galil all the way up to Lebanon.
“This might sound delusional, but these are their plans. And the Israeli leadership chooses to close its eyes to what’s happening. It is only when Jews try to establish new settlement points that the government responds by sending in large forces of soldiers and police to evacuate women and children from tents.”
Here, too, Gantz says the problem is confused values. “The diplomatic echelon has given up [on Eretz Yisrael],” he says, “but we aren’t surrendering. The land belongs to previous generations and future generations… It all comes down to faith and values. To my regret, these are things that the current leadership is lacking. I hope and daven that a truly nationalist government will arise and act urgently on these matters.”
In the past few decades, the government has not invested sufficiently in development and public infrastructure in Yehudah and Shomron. As a result, residents of the area — both Jews and Arabs — are driving on roads that were paved three or four decades ago. The number of cars on the road has increased dramatically and the infrastructure hasn’t kept up.
The Binyamin Regional Council has submitted a comprehensive infrastructure plan to the government, and there is some slight progress. But settlement leaders say an emergency program is needed to close the gaps that are costing lives.
Despite the problems, life in Yehudah and Shomron is blossoming. “We are investing a lot to ensure that residents of Binyamin will have services no less good than residents of Tel Aviv. We’ve made giant strides in recent years.”
Gantz is particularly enthusiastic about a medical center he initiated to serve Jews and Arabs. “We embarked on this project after we understood that lives depend on it. To our profound sorrow, a young man was killed in a terror attack a few years ago because we lacked an emergency medical center here. The doctors in Yerushalayim told us that had he gotten care 10 minutes earlier he could have lived.
“B’ezrat Hashem, in the not-too-distant future, the residents of Binyamin and of north Yerushalayim will be receiving advanced medical care close to home. We’ll be able to offer the most advanced services except for hospitalization and complex surgeries.”
The center is being built with the help of donors from the United States, and Gantz is working hard to raise the funds needed to complete it.
In response to the claims raised in this article, the IDF says it takes stone-throwing seriously, especially when it involves cars.
Every report of a car being stoned is designated a “hot hammer” — in other words a terror attack — and forces are dispatched to pursue the terrorists, the spokesman said, adding that only last week, a gang was arrested following intensive intelligence work.
“The IDF invests major efforts to mitigate the incidents of stonings and acts to shut them down,” the spokesman stressed. “Soldiers are deployed in accordance with security assessments and use an array of means — in keeping with open-fire orders — against those trying to harm the security of citizens. The IDF will continue to act against incidents of this type, openly and under cover — in an effort to ensure the security of citizens.”
Afraid to Act
By Joel Rebibo
Elchanan Wolf has had recent experience with Arab stone-throwings that sheds light on the problem — why it’s only getting worse.
Two weeks ago, on a Friday morning, he was driving home to Kochav Hashachar on what is known as the Alon Road. Wolf, an American immigrant (and the grandson of the legendary Rabbi Ronnie Greenwald, z”l), suddenly came upon a large group of Arab men who were blocking the road.
“I decided to get off the road and drive along the shoulder. I never imagined that they’d throw stones at me but they threw a boulder from a distance of less than a yard at my windshield.”
Fortunately, Wolf, who has a construction company, was driving a large, strong vehicle that could withstand the blow. That car could have run over a good number of his attackers. He also had a gun. But, in hindsight, he’s grateful he didn’t use either of them in self defense.
“When I got to the police station, I discovered a cop who was a friend. At first, he screamed at me, ‘What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you run them over? You would have stopped their stone-throwing!’ But then he calmed down and said, ‘As a friend, it’s a good thing you didn’t run them over. Otherwise, you’d be in jail now, under investigation.’”
It’s not just Wolf, as a civilian — worse still, a settler — whose hands are tied. Soldiers are also afraid to fire on Arab rioters. In fact, a hundred yards past the stone-throwing incident, Wolf saw a jeep with five soldiers who had seen the rioting and the stones and didn’t do anything about it. They didn’t even ask how he was, simply waving him on and urging him to keep going..
“I don’t know politics,” Wolf said, “but I know what I see, what I hear, what I experience. A soldier asks himself, Should I shoot, or shouldn’t I shoot? What will happen to my family?”
Wolf stresses that the Arabs who attacked him weren’t looking to ruin his car. They were out to kill him. It was attempted murder, plain and simple. “There is no other reason you throw a boulder at a fast-moving car from close range. If I’d have been driving my wife’s smaller car, I’d be dead.”
And if he had run over the perpetrators or used his gun, he’d be locked up, jeopardizing his family’s financial and emotional well-being.
Wolf points out that when Jews demonstrated after this incident to protest the lawlessness, there were 30 or 40 soldiers sent to control them. But when 100 Arabs were out on the road with rocks, there were five soldiers assigned to the scene who were too frightened to respond.
When soldiers are afraid to take action, and armed civilians are afraid to act in self defense, is it any wonder that the rock-throwings continue?
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