MK Oren Hazan could have attended any number of plantings taking place in Israel on Tu B’Shevat. Thousands were taking place all over the country, many of them well publicized and covered extensively by media, which would seem to be the place to be during election season.
But, Hazan explained “this one seemed to have the most purpose to me personally”. After years of struggle and watching the heart wrenching stories of the evacuation and destruction of Amona, Ofra, Netiv HaAvot, and Kfar Tapuach, “it was important to finally participate in something positive for these communities” said Hazan in his speech to a modest crowd at the entrance to Amichai.
72 trees were planted, each representing Jewish homes that were demolished in Amona, Ofra, Netiv HaAvot, and Kfar Tapuach. The families were honored for their sacrifice, and for their continued struggle for the land of Israel. Memorial signs were placed at the site naming each of the displaced families by name.
The event was organized by my husband and I (Dr. Jack and Shannon Nuszen) in honor of our youngest daughter, Zipporah’s, bat mitzvah. Our family became involved with the evacuations just after we made Aliyah from Houston, TX in 2015, and we have remained close to the residents of these communities ever since.
The planting was an effort to inspire the residents to replant themselves, and establish roots in their new community. As Manya Hillel, an Amona resident explained in her speech, this isn’t such an easy task after setting such deep roots and living in Amona for 20 years, only to be violently ripped from the land they loved so dearly.
Amichai made its name in Israel’s history as being the first government approved community in 25 years to be build in Judea and Samaria. It was established for the residents of Amona who had been evacuated from their homes, and the community destroyed, over a land dispute in February of 2017.
The decision to demolish the homes came quickly, but the solution of where to move the 42 displaced families took a lot more time. For over a year later, the families of Amona were still living in cramped one room dorms of a high school in Ofra, turned into a shelter that Prime Minister Netanyahu promised would be temporary, no longer than 3 weeks. A plot of land with caravans had been promised, but took more than a year to come to fruition.
In March of 2018, the residents of Amona finally left the shelter in Ofra and moved into caravans placed on the hilltop of Amichai, just east of Shiloh. However, the struggle did not end there. Foreign NGO’s continued to fight the establishment of the new community filing dozens of lawsuits, slowing the residents ability to move into the homes and stopping all hopes of construction.
On October 10, 2018, a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the resident of Amona, turned the family’s fate in a positive direction. The ruling confirmed that the disputed property was in fact state land, and that no legitimate claims of ownership existed. All stop-orders on construction had been lifted and the residents are now permitted to build.
Although this was a tremendous victory for the families, the momentum to build has been slow. “The residents are exhausted, and weary from years of constant battles. The financial drain to fight the bombardment of legal claims, and physical and emotional drain of living so long in temporary shelters has literally take the wind out of this courageous community.” said Elad Ziv, a former resident of Amona.
Residents from Ofra, Netiv HaAvot, and Kfar Tapuach joined the planting. They each faced similar struggles in their own communities, and understood the significance in the days event. David Den Heigier and the Bar Lev family of Netiv HaAvot know first hand the difficulty each family faces in this attempt to rebuild. The trauma of what’s been lost is still fresh, and the pain very real.
“We’re all family,” said Den Heijer, a resident of Netiv HaAvot whose home was recently destroyed for the sake of a meter of disputed space. Heijer and Bar Lev arrived early, and stayed late simply planting tree after tree. They avoided the cameras and quietly went immediately to the task at hand, even before the crowd was invited to join.
The act of digging deep into the rocky soil to firmly plant these roots seemed to mimic the depth of thought they were in throughout the event. The hard labor seemed therapeutic for all of the displaced families. Gently, one tree at a time, hope was being restored.
Those who came to support each had their own connection and reason for participating. A couple who recently made Aliyah to Israel from South Africa, Raziel and Chaya Baruch, described the event as their own personal act of setting down roots in their new home, eretz Israel.
Yeshiva boys from the nearby town of Beit El saw the event on a whatapp message and decided to drop what they were doing and join the planting. When asked why they chose to come out, they said they understood from the invitation that this was more than just planting trees, and that the meaning behind it was not something they could ignore. “We felt that it was important that we come, so we did.”. The boys stayed until every tree had been planted.
The new community of Amichai delivered a moving speech to our family, in English, through Manya Hillel a resident of Amona, now Amichai. The speech expressed the community’s appreciation for the forceful push of the Nuszen family to rebuild and plant new roots. She ended saying that she hoped Zipporah Nuszen would come to the “Nuszen Park” in Amichai with her children and grandchildren and explain to them that for her bat mitzvah project she chose to build this tired community and restore hope, and that it was because of this act that the community of Amichai was rejuvenated and inspired to plant permanent roots in the Shomron hilltop.