The Gush Etzion region south of Jerusalem has been hit extremely hard by the current terror war by Palestinian Arabs. Tzomet HaGush, the main junction on road 60 that connects Jerusalem with Hebron, has been the scene of numerous knife attacks and the nearby Jewish village of Alon Svut witnessed several vehicular attacks and a kidnapping that took the lives of three Jewish boys last year.
Only last week, three people were murdered by a Palestinian Arab terrorist in the area. The terrorist first shot at five Israeli cars and later rammed his car into an Israeli vehicle close to Alon Svut. An 18-year-old American yeshiva student was among those killed in the horrific attack.
On Sunday this tragedy was followed by a new deadly stabbing attack at Tzomet HaGush that took the life of the 21-year-old Jewish woman Hadar Buchris who studied at a Midrasha in the nearby village of Bat Ayin.
Since then, the area has been turned into a war-zone. Hundreds of IDF soldiers are guarding bus stops, hitch-hiking posts, parking lots, roads and shopping centers. At bus stops and hitch-hiking posts giant concrete blocks are placed between the road and the sidewalks to prevent vehicular attacks.
On the Tzomet HaGush junction, a new fence has been erected that aims to keep Arabs away from Jewish travelers. It didn’t prevent the murder of Hadar Buchris, however.
Soldiers are now checking Palestinian cars at temporary checkpoints at the entrances of the junction and the IDF conducts searches in nearby Palestinian villages during the night.
Even during the Second Intifada a situation like this never existed in Gush Etzion (Bloc of Etzion).
At the time, Palestinian Arabs only had a very limited access to the main roads in Judea and Samaria. The IDF had closed off many Palestinian villages. It proved to be a measure that contributed significantly to the security of Israelis traveling through the region.
Until now the IDF has refrained from reinstalling this type of measures but the pressure to do so from residents and community leaders is increasing.
On Sunday, residents of Gush Etzion held a vigil for Hadar Buchris and a demonstration at Tzomet HaGush during which they demanded a ban on Palestinian traffic on road 60 and other roads in the area. The roads are still open to Palestinian traffic, but Arab workers from nearby Palestinian villages and towns are not allowed into the Jewish communities in Gush Etzion anymore, Israel Radio Reshet Beth reported on Monday.
The measure illustrates the severity of the situation. Gush Etzion has always been an area where a relatively high level of co-existence between Jews and Arabs existed. For example, Shlomo Riskin – the chief rabbi of Efrat the largest town in the region – promoted co-existence between Jews and Arabs for a long time. He ran several co-existence projects aimed at the youth in Efrat and the Arab villages until the Second Intifada killed the project.
Even now there are places like the local garage and the Rami Levy supermarket in the commercial center of Tzomet HaGush where Arabs from Hebron and Bethlehem are working together with Jews from the Gush Etzion communities.
In general, however, the mood in the Jewish communities of the Etzion Bloc has changed under influence of the current string of attacks and the horrific murders of the three young Jewish boys that were kidnapped by a Hamas terror gang in the summer of 2014. Many Jews in Gush Etzion have come to realize that the idea of real co-existence with the Arabs was a pipe dream. Some of them say that Arabs have nothing more to do in Gush Etzion and that Israel must step up the war on Palestinian terror.
It is no coincidence that the Arab terrorists have singled out Gush Etzion for the most horrific attacks in the current terror war. The roughly 70,000 Jews living in the area succeeded in building some of Israel’s finest cities and villages. The Gush residents improved the quality of life in their communities under often difficult circumstances and have turned Gush Etzion into a modern-day Zionist success story.
Ten years after the end of the Second Intifada the place is growing and blossoming. A mall with a modern supermarket has been built adjacent to Tzomet HaGush and will be expanded soon, several restaurants and coffee shops have been opened and even a first class winery now operates in the area.
The goal of the terrorists is to destroy the fabric of life in Gush Etzion and to turn the place in a warzone. Until now they have not succeeded in their goal but, when I visited the area again this week I noticed that the terrorists are succeeding in disrupting life in the region.
Even the most popular restaurant in the area – Gavne near the Bat Ayin community at the outskirts of Gush Etzion- has now been closed. A message at the entrance of the restaurant notifies customers that the establishment has been closed indefinitely “due to the security situation.”
Emek HaBracha, a winery near Tzomet HaGush that also houses a diary restaurant, seemed to be business as usual when I visited. The restaurant was full of guests and everything seemed quiet until the barman suddenly grabbed his pistol and started running towards the junction after receiving a security update.
The man, who turned out to be a volunteer medic with Magen David Adom (Israeli Red Cross), returned after a couple of minutes and notified the customers that they could relax. Arabs had only thrown rocks at an Israeli car, he said.
The incident showed how Palestinian terror has become the ‘new normal’ in daily life, not only in Gush Etzion but in large parts of Israel.