29 September '16..
With the passing of Shimon Peres, I feel the need to reminisce about him, specifically in relation to the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria (without, of course, minimizing the extremely harmful role he played in advancing the "Oslo Accords"), as someone who had the privilege of helping to found the community of Ofra.
I will always remember that Ofra was established as a Defense Ministry "labor base." We received that title because a small group of us, led by the late Hanan Porat, called the construction contractor who at that time was building the army base on Mount Hazor, and pressured him to subcontract the base's fencing. As it was, every day for six months, the "labor platoon" would make the drive from Jerusalem to Mount Hazor. During that time, we would gaze longingly at an abandoned Jordanian army base (today Ofra) as a good place to establish a community. On April 20, 1975, we decided that upon finishing the fencing job, instead of returning to Jerusalem, we would simply stay in Ofra.
During that entire time, of course, then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres' office and Gush Emunim representatives were in contact. Indeed, that night the army received the order not to evict us. It is hard today to appreciate the immense significance of that decision. Before Ofra was founded, there was no Jewish civilian presence between Afula and Jerusalem.
Then, half a year later in Sebastia, Peres struck a deal between Gush Emunim and the Israeli government, which allowed 30 families to settle and establish Kedumim. There are those who say Peres made the deal to undermine then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but I believe this is not the case. It is true, meanwhile, that as a young community leader I requested a meeting with Rabin in the hope that he would recognize us as a legal settlement, but his bureau chief, Eli Mizrahi, told me: "You are Peres' baby; there is nothing for you to find here."
To understand the spirit of the times, we must remember that prominent members of the Ma'arach party (later the Labor party) were also members of the Movement for Greater Israel. And to a certain degree, in those years Peres was farther to the right than Rabin. From the outset, he came to visit and planted trees, and Defense Ministry officials even ordered ladders for the Kfir fighter jets from Ofra's welding workshop, to provide employment for the people living there. Moreover, when Peres turned 80, at his behest a BBC crew came to Ofra to document his part in the community's foundation.
I remember another event I took part in when Peres demonstrated national responsibility. Immediately following the Oslo agreement, when Ramallah fell under Area A of the Palestinian Authority, the road to the school in Beit El was blocked off to the children from the community of Dolev. I was forced to order the construction of a new road to bypass Ramallah to facilitate civilian and student traffic between Beit El and Dolev. When the army found out, the order was given to block the road and not to allow the schoolchildren to pass. I decided to fast at the site until the permit to open the road for traffic was issued.
This was after Rabin's murder, when Peres was acting prime minister ahead of elections. The atmosphere in the media and society was hostile toward settlers, who were seen as complicit in Rabin's murder. On the third day of my fast, it was agreed with GOC Central Command that the problem would be presented to Peres and his decision would be accepted. To my great joy, he examined the matter professionally and objectively, and ordered the army to open that road to civilian traffic.
May his memory be a blessing.
Pinchas Wallerstein is a former head of the Yesha Council.
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