Hillel Schenker

Ban hitchhiking in the West Bank?

It’s now the 9th day since the three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank.   As a parent of a son who was a teenager only a few years ago, I sincerely hope that the three teenagers will be able to return to their families, alive and well.

But I can’t help but wonder why the parents allowed their teenage children to use hitchhiking as means of getting around in clearly dangerous circumstances.

Memories of hitchhiking

This led me to reflect on my own views of hitchhiking.  During my days in the IDF reserves, I frequently hitched from my military base in the Golan Heights or the West Bank.  It was the only way of getting around.  But we were also required to carry a gun when in uniform in the Occupied Territories, to protect ourselves.  And I can recall a specific instance on my way back to my kibbutz, when a car coming from Jenin area in the West Bank carrying four males hailed me, a lone soldier, at the Megiddo Junction.   My self-preservation instinct led me to refuse the ride, and to raise my gun slightly.  If my assumption was correct, the four men in the car didn’t see a peace activist standing on the side of the road, but an Israeli soldier with a gun, a legitimate target for their anger and frustrations living under occupation.

I can also reflect back on the wild 60s and 70s, when I used to hitch together with international volunteers from the kibbutz, to go to see the “big city of Tel Aviv”, or the nearby Alexander River, to go rowing.  I even remember one volunteer, Andrea, who told me that her technique down south in the Negev and Sinai was to go topless on the side of the road, and when the tempted driver slowed down to pick her up, her male partner would suddenly appear from behind a rock or tree, and the driver would have to take both of them.

Don’t the parents understand the dangers?

But these are different days. Don’t the parents realize that there are frustrated Palestinians who for various reasons, anger at the occupation or the settlers who are usurping their land, identification with the Palestinian prisoner’s hunger strike,  an attempt to undermine the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, or the belief that only “resistance” will end the occupation, who might be tempted to kidnap vulnerable hitchhikers?

We hear such justifications as “We shall continue with our normal routine and hitchhiking, just like in any other city or area of the country”, the statement made to by Malachi Levinger, head of the Kiryat Arba Regional Council.  And what’s worse, there was the comment “It’s not our decision who lives and who dies.  It’s all in God’s hands.  We know there is a price for living here and we’re willing to pay it,” which was said by  Esther Amichai, whose son was killed while hiking in the West Bank in 2011.

And I’m not alone in questioning this attitude.   Mass circulation daily Yediot Ahronot has a daily question that is debated by two authors.   A recent one – should hitchhiking be banned in the West Bank, was debated by settler Chagai Segal, a convicted member of the Jewish Underground  (No)  and Tel Aviv journalist Merav Batito (Yes).  The readers were also asked to vote yes or no, and 54% agreed with Batito that they should be banned, while 46% agreed with Segal.

“Brother’s Keeper” and “Sons Return”

The name of the IDF operation to try to find and rescue the three teenagers is in English “Brother’s Keeper”.  In Hebrew, the name is Shuvu Banim – “Sons Return (Home)”.  On the daily satirical page in the other tabloid daily Ma’ariv, one sharp wag suggested, why just the three teenagers?.  Why not have all the settlers return home (to the State of Israel)?

This of course leads us to the fundamental point underlying the situation. If there were no settlements or settlers in the West Bank, there would be no teenagers at risk of being kidnapped.   Or to be more realistic, if there was an agreed upon resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based upon a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem alongside the State of Israel, accompanied by mutually agreed upon border rectifications, which would enable about 80% of the settlers to remain within the legitimate internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel, the danger and motivation for such kidnappings would be seriously reduced.

On the wall next to my computer in Tel Aviv I pasted a wonderful image by Haaretz award-winning cartoonist Amos Biderman, titled “Two states for two peoples”, which depicts the State of Tel Aviv and the State of the Settlers, showing them hurling social media missives at each other, around the kidnapping issue.   Facebook is alive with the sound of mutual venom.

“We shall overcome”

In this atmosphere, it was a relief on Thursday night to go to a performance in Tel Aviv of “Green Fields” (Sadot Yerukim), an Israeli trio who sang “American songs that made aliya to Israel”.   Lead singer Susie Miller described how she used to go to protests against the Vietnam War and sing along with Joan Baez, while wearing a flower in her hair.  “Make love not war” she urged, as the group sang “If I had a hammer”, “Where have all the flowers gone?”, “California Dreaming” and “If you’re going to San Francisco”.  There was something very moving, at this particular moment in time, to have an entire Tel Aviv audience singing together with the group “We shall overcome/…I do believe/we shall live in peace someday.”   The performance ended with an encore of two songs,  “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, and finally “Blowing in the Wind,” with the immortal words – “How many ears must one man have/Before he can hear people cry…and “How many years must some people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free?”


Where have all the flowers gone?

Leaving the Einav Center behind the Tel Aviv Municipality where “Green Fields” performed, walking by the steps where the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli, I went over to the displays of Hebrew Book Week, to seek, find and buy one book, “Axis of Curiosity” (Tzir Sakranot, Tzoment Vada’ut), by the late Dr. Ron Pundak which tells the story of his Zionist family, with a particular focus on his older brother Uri, who was killed in the Yom Kippur War.   Ron died recently  at the age of only 59, but his children, and all of his friends and colleagues, have vowed to continue the struggle for peace, to do what ever is possible to end the struggle between the Israeli and Palestinian people, for the sake of the children and youth in both communities.

Dr. Ron Pundak – all of his family, friends and colleagues have vowed to continue the struggle for peace



About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv
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