Remembering Gush Etzion

Telling the story of Kfar Etzion through romance

Not only did Politis create a captivating romantic tale, but she also succeeded in capturing the heart and soul of the Gush.

Written by Atara Beck, Jewish Tribune Canada 

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

TORONTO-PARDES HANNA Israel – The Lonely Tree, movingly written by rising author Yael Politis, is an important contribution to Jewish and Zionist literature. A work of fiction, it tells the history of Kfar Etzion – a kibbutz in the Etzion Bloc (Gush Etzion, in Hebrew) – in the Judean Hills, between Jerusalem and Hebron. Initially built in the 1920s, it was destroyed after Israel’s War of Independence and subsequently rebuilt after the land was liberated in 1967.

Because of its strategically important location, the area is also known as the southern gateway to Jerusalem.

After the Six Day War, the return to Gush Etzion (the Etzion Bloc) was led by many orphans whose fathers had been killed defending it two decades earlier.

The Gush, as it is commonly known, originally included four kibbutzim (communal settlements). Today it boasts 18 communities and a population of about 40,000. Replete with biblical history, it is considered by many to be, along with Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the Jewish state.

Not only did Politis create a captivating romantic tale, but she also succeeded in capturing the heart and soul of the Gush.

“When I came to live in Israel in 1973, one of the first places I lived was Kibbutz Ein Tzurim,” Politis told the Jewish Tribune. “The kibbutz was originally part of the Etzion Bloc…but after the fall of the Etzion Bloc, Ein Tzurim was re-established at its current location, between Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi [in southern Israel]. Almost every home in Ein Tzurim had books, pictures, letters…regarding the siege and fall of the Etzion Bloc. Many of its members had been in the original kibbutz, taken part in the battles, and been released from captivity in Jordan. So this was how I came to be well-aqcuainted with the events there. 

“Years later I began writing fiction,” she explained. “By that time I was living in Neve Dekalim in the Gush Katif bloc of settlements in the Gaza Strip. Neve Dekalim was very near the large Arab city of Khan Yunis, with which we once had friendly enough relations. I can remember taking my children there to buy shoes, a thought that is surreal today. But the first Intifada had begun and a Jew could no longer venture into Khan Yunis and expect to come back alive. I could hear the rioting there, but I felt safe knowing the IDF was there to protect us. That was when it really sunk in – how Israel’s pioneers had gone to live in places like Neve Dekalim, or Kfar Etzion, with no Israeli army to protect them – just some young kids with hardly any weapons and ammunition. I found it hard to imagine what that would have been like, and that was when I started thinking of trying to tell the story of Kfar Etzion. I didn’t want to write a history lesson, however, and so made the events in Kfar Etzion the backdrop for a love story.”

The characters in the novel – all passionate – reflect political diversity.  

At one point, arguing the merits of founding a kibbutz in the Judean hills, with its tough living conditions and fallow land, Joseph declared: “Our forefathers lived mainly in the hill regions. Before the destruction of the Second Temple, there were three or four million Jews in Eretz Israel, most of them in the Judean Hills, Samaria and the hills of Galilee….

“Judea is the heart of Eretz Israel…. I don’t believe David and Solomon ever had the pleasure of a visit to Tel Aviv.”

According to Politis, Joseph is “an accurate reflection of the views of most of Israel’s pioneers. Whether or not they were observant Jews, they knew their Scriptures. His views regarding Judea and Samaria having been the heartland of the original kingdom of Israel are, of course, simple fact.”

Although there is no lack of history books, Politis believes there should be more fictional works and films to reach a wider audience. “There are many stories as compelling as that of Kfar Etzion, and I hope they will be told.”

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 July 2010 )

Source: Jewish Tribune Canada

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