Israelis heard the news early Monday morning, June 30. The search was over. Yes, the search was over, but the boys were dead.
The response throughout the land was palpable: the air of hope and unity was punctured, replaced by raw anguish.
But by 2:00 the following morning, some Israeli women responded by taking action. Their action was not one of vigilantism, nor was it to raise their fists at the intractable enemy.
Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar, the indefatibable Women in Green, along with a group of supporters, went to a lovely little hill just off from the Gush Etzion Junction - the site of such despair - and began clearing the area.
Since July 1, Kassover and Matar have been joined by dozens and dozens of Israelis and of visitors. They are reclaiming a bit of land that has been set aside (the site has long had official approval for tourism development), and are developing it as a functioning and vibrant tourist site.
They also renamed the hill. Previously the site was known as Givat Oz (Hill of Strength). The new name incorporates the initials of the three boys who were kidnapped and murdered - Gilad, Eyal and Naftali - and the acronym created also happens to mean great wisdom. The site is now known as Givat Oz v'Gaon.
Nadia Matar, that steadfast soldier in the war to reclaim the land, spoke with The Jewish Press about the new site.
"This is a Zionist response of the Jewish people to the incomprehensible act of killing our boys," Matar said. "Our enemies think they will scare us away with their acts of terrorism, but they are wrong. We cling to the land ever more strongly in response to their efforts."
The area is being cleared by hand. People show up on a daily basis to help move the rocks, clean the lone remaining stone building, and set up picnic tables for meals and chairs for lectures and services.
"This will be a camping site," Matar says. "This past weekend, the first of Givat Oz v'Gaon, we had already 70 or 80 people who brought tents to spend Shabbat here. The residents of the nearby kibbutz Migdal Oz came to join us for seudat shlishit (a meal before evening services) and swelled the crowd to between 200 and 300 people."
The residents of Migdal Oz came by a road that connects the back of the kibbutz to the Gush Etzion junction. This is also significant, Matar explains, because for quite a long time the kibbutzniks did not use the road as there had been frequent attacks by Arabs from nearby towns.
"Now, with a strong Jewish presence between the kibbutz and the Gush junction, this road is also being 'reclaimed' as our response to terrorism," Matar shared with a sense of satisfaction.
Ruthie Lieberman lives in nearby Alon Shvut. Her home was used by people who participated in the searches for the boys; she and her family lived through it with great intensity.
"The families got up from shiva yesterday," Lieberman said. "And I found myself on this site today, helping to clear the land, to plant new trees - the ultimate act of positive Zionism."
Lieberman and her daughter, Merav, planted one of the three trees planted in memory of the three boys.
"My daughter Merav and I planted this tree in memory of Eyal Yifrach," Lieberman told The Jewish Press.
"We planted the tree, said shehechiyahu (the prayer recited when something significant happens for the first time "Blessed are you our God and creator of time and space, who has supported us, protected us and brought us to this moment"). And then we cried.
Matar explained that the site is perfect as it is near already established communities and yeshivot, and there is 1000s of years of Jewish history within walking distance.
What Matar seemed most excited about was the rush of people who came, immediately, to become a part of this new site. Women in Green purchased a generator and water tanks and a caravan for the tourism literature and seminars.
"Olim chadashim (new immigrants), secular Israelis from Tel Aviv, a contingent from a Zionist community which emigrated from Kiev, a family from Brooklyn, others from Rishon Lezion, a young couple with a one month old baby - they all came to be a part of this positive response to a terrible tragedy," Matar explained with great enthusiasm and pride.
"We were so excited to call the local sanitation office and tell them we needed receptacles, and we were even more excited to call them again to say we needed them to empty those receptacles because they were all full!"
And then Matar's voice grew quiet. "I must tell you, I saw a group of young girls working hard, helping with the clearing and the cleaning. When they began to leave, one girl came over to me, and quietly thanked me. Thank me? I said, I have to thank you for your help," Matar continued.
"And then she told me she was Eyal Yifrach's cousin. She was so appreciative. She said to me, 'this is so uplifting.' Can you imagine how that made me feel? I knew, even if I didn't know before, this was the right response."
The effort will continue until the site is fully operational. Givat Oz v'Gaon has the full support of the local Gush Etzion council. Even the IDF have been helping to coordinate steps with Matar and Kassover.
If readers want to participate in reclaiming some land to honor the memory of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, they should contact Women in Green.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus
Article courtesy of Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar
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