Sharon Must Make Immediate Changes
Interview by Shai Gefen

Benny Katzover, resident of Alon Moreh and one of the founders of Gush Emunim, who spent hours upon hours with Sharon in the movement to settle Yesha, in his first interview after the elections, speaks about his expectations of the new Prime Minister. Throughout the interview he expresses hope on the one hand and doubts on the other. In a special interview with Beis Moshiach, Katzover speaks about the problems of the settlers due to the war these last five months, the needs of the settlers, and the way to win this war.
 

BIO
Benny Katzoverís involvement with settling Yesha began when he was a student. On Chol HaMoed Pesach 5720 he joined the settlers of Chevron in the Park Hotel. From there he settled in the government military building.

In 5734 he was the leader and one of the initiators of the Alon Moreh nucleus and one of the founders of Gush Emunim. Katzover led the settler movementís great battles in the period of its establishment. After the Yom Kippur War, he blazed the path to the settling of Shomron.

Benny Katzover is one of the founders of many settlements in Shomron, as well as Alon Moreh, where he lives. For over 13 years, from 5740 to 5753, he served as council leader of the Shomron.

In his public roles, Katzover had a warm relationship with the Rebbe MH"M and received the Rebbeís brachos. When he was injured in a car accident in 5748, the Rebbe continuously asked about him and conveyed his blessings through many people. Katzover credits his recovery to the Rebbeís brachos. Today Katzover continues his work building and expanding the settlements in Yesha.

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Mr. Katzover, how do you see the situation at present? Over five months have passed since the outbreak of Intifada El Aksa, and the situation just seems to be getting worse.

Reality has yet to set in for some of our people. They still donít understand that the more Israel demonstrates weakness in the form of concessions to the Arabs, the more we are broken in two ways Ė in regard to morality and in regard to security. Unfortunately, segments of Israeli society still donít get it.

You see how they continue to play with opening and closing the blockade, opening and closing the airport. They display weakness, to put it mildly, which enables the Arabs to feel they can continue with their acts of terror. The bottom line is that nothing really happens to the Arabs; they donít lose out by perpetrating acts of terror. On the contrary, the world is so very concerned about the "unfortunate Arab victims," forgetting that they brought their troubles on themselves. Look at the results.

What are the results?

The Arabs began using missiles against our tanks, as well as grenade launchers. These are weapons we enabled them to smuggle into the area under their jurisdiction. Arafat smuggles arms in his Mercedes and in his weekly flights that ultimately are used against us.

People speak of the Lebanon-izing of the area. What do you think?

The problem is that we have been allowing them to wage this war of attrition against us, unlike Lebanon, where we called most of the shots. Itís similar to Lebanon in that Israel allows them to drag us into not reacting Ė into a sort of status quo Ė a situation in which we always lose.

The Palestinian Authority allows itself to make a mockery of its citizens, while we canít.

Actually, lately there has been talk about a collapse of the Authority, about the utter anarchy there, about rising unemployment and a faltering economy. Perhaps Israel is actually taking steps to dismantle it?

I donít think itís a planned initiative on Israelís part. The most serious blow to the Arab sector is that Jews are not employing them. This leads to fewer "greenbacks" in the area of the Authorityís jurisdiction. Additionally, Israel is withholding money from them for what they owe us for electricity and water. They are allowed not to pay, but the Israelis must pay.

These are the two main elements that affect the Authority economically. On the other hand, the blockade that we keep opening and closing is worthless.

Have you noticed any differences due to the change in government and Ariel Sharonís rise to power?

Almost none. Here and there the I.D.F. is a bit more independent. We feel that theyíre not as restricted.

In what ways?

Theyíve renewed retaliation against terrorists.

Is that what is known as "political liquidation?"

I donít think thatís the right term. These are basic acts of war against murderers. The I.D.F. goes into Arab villages more frequently and makes arrests, but itís minimal. We certainly have hope with Sharon, but at the same time we have grave concerns.

What are your expectations from a Sharon government as soon as it is established?

We expect a complete change in strategy. We donít want any more ridiculous Oslo Accords, which were built on the assumption that the Arabs would no longer engage in terror and violence. Not only have they continued on this path, but it has become their strategy. Therefore, there is no justification at all for what is called the Palestinian Authority. I expect that Sharon, as a man who I know understands good and well what is going on here, will gradually dismantle the P.A., the very monstrous creation which endangers our existence here.

Are you suggesting something that may not be practical?

Iím talking about a gradual dismantling, to begin doing it in stages: to capture areas from where they shoot and take it back. Also, to wage all-out war against the incitement in their media. To go back to those areas from which we were chased out, like Kever Yosef and the Shalom al Yisroel Shul in Yericho. Also to slowly chip away at the P.A.ís standing. This has to be our strategy. To use all means at our disposal to make the P.A. a thing of the past.

What else?

To continue attacking the leaders until we reach Arafat himself. Politically, we canít get to Arafat at first. But as long as they continue shooting, theyíll give us opportunities to get to him, and I hope we do this courageously before the whole world, explaining that we will not tolerate attacks on Jews in a sovereign state, especially when we supplied them Ė in our innocence Ė for I donít want to say in our stupidity, with all the means to fight us. We allowed them to build cities of refuge and exit bases and amass weapons, and under the circumstances, Israel must stop the negative use of all these resources.

I hope this will be Sharonís strategy, but I am very concerned that the situation will be just the opposite, and I am certainly preparing myself for other eventualities.

Do you think Sharon wants the Nobel Peace prize?

I simply donít know. Sharon has the potential to present himself as a proud Jew, yet he also has the potential to undermine everything for the sake of a second Nobel Prize.

Considering his most recent moves, which way do you think he leans?

If the Arabs would be quiet, I would be even more skeptical of Sharon. Since I donít think they will be, they might ignite the Jewish flame in Sharonís heart. I donít think Sharon can take more than one or two attempts on their part to use us as a doormat.

Sharon initiated the founding of many settlements in Yesha. You worked alongside him for years.

Yesha, which consists of 140 settlements and 200,000 Jews, is to Sharonís credit in large measure. The association of Sharon and Gush Emunim is a heavenly association, which led to the building of this incredible settling of the land.

Are you afraid that the man who established it will be the man who destroys part of it?

In light of past experience, I cannot be certain. I think he will make a great effort to prevent the uprooting of any settlement. The Left tries to cover up the destruction of settlements by calling it kinus yishuvim, a military term in which a number of bases are consolidated. That is how Barak on the eve of the elections tried to manipulate public opinion regarding uprooting isolated settlements.

The word obfuscates the true intentions, which are to take a Jew and uproot him from his house after he has lived there for twenty or thirty years! Iíd like to see one Jewish leader suggest that this be done to one Arab settlement. How would the Israeli media react to that? Yet for Jews itís considered legitimate, as though itís obvious. They speak about isolated political settlements, and instead of expressing admiration for the people living there for being willing to live on the front, they say these settlements should be the first to go. What is meant by an isolated place? These are the toughest places, the ones preventing the terrorists from entering the center of the country!

Why are you speaking of Barak, who lost the elections?

The media tries to draw Sharon into the whirlwind. It wants to establish the same norms for Sharonís staff. Thereís no question that it will be harder for them now to do so, since Sharon is someone who knows how to appreciate the value of each settlement, as well as the basic value of holding on to the land.

I must say that twenty years ago, Sharon explained to us how to prepare ourselves on the ground, since the day would come when Yesha would revert back to the era of the War of Independence... Sharon always told us to hold on to the land as strongly as possible, and where to establish settlements. So I really hope that Sharon, who rose to power with a clear majority, wonít make the same mistakes.

What connection did you have with Sharon?

My first connection with him began after he left the army. Sharon, to our surprise, accepted us warmly and offered his help in everything the settlement movement needed. He asked us not to stop bothering him. I was with my friend, Menachem Felix, at the time that we were the young bloods of the nucleus in Alon Moreh. We were afraid that Sharon would throw us down the steps, but he definitely greeted us warmly, and thatís when Sharon began his relationship with what was called the leadership of Gush Emunim, a connection that proved to be quite fruitful.

When the Jewish settlements began to establish themselves, Arik visited dozens, even hundreds of times. He served as agricultural minister and chairman of the ministersí committee for settlements at the time. He led, and made sure to guide and make suggestions, and of course acted. He planned the establishment of the settlements based on his fears for the future Ė an Arab attack. He spoke openly with us, perhaps because he knew us for so long.

But then there was a long period of time when there was a split between the settlers and Sharon. Did something go wrong in more recent years?

I donít know about a split, but there were serious disagreements. I personally spent time with him on the farm once or twice a week, during the Yamit period, too. During the period of the Wye Agreement, there was great tension with him after he was the one who legitimized Wye under Bibiís government. Thatís where the split feelings about Sharon come from. On the one hand, thereís great hope since Sharon is a proud Jew. But on the other hand, thereís fear in light of past experience, especially based on the new one-sided plans publicized in his name.

Are you referring to plans publicized by General Ben in HaAretz?

Iím referring to plans we knew about even before that. We asked some people close to us to verify what we heard, so we knew something was doing. In Sharonís plans, he intends on transforming all of Area B to Area A, i.e., to be under full Palestinian authority, which will enable them to attack all of Israel in a way incomparably worse than today. Today they have an exit base near the center of the country, thanks to Kalkilia. If Sharonís plans are implemented, the entire line will be open to them. Gilo is under fire today from Beit Jala in the south, but with the implementation of these plans, all of northern Jerusalem will be under fire.

Perhaps Sharon is only presenting this plan to show that he, too, has a plan.

I know Sharon and I know that he always likes having a plan to show the other side. Heís done that in the past and heís doing it now too, in order to pressure the other side. Maybe the idea is to hope that the other side doesnít act accordingly.

There is no one who knows the area better than Sharon. Thereís definitely fear that as soon as thereís a plan, it wonít be possible to know how it will all work out.

Thereís talk of a unity government. What do you think about it from the security perspective?

A national unity government is justified for only one reason. Half a year ago, Barak gave orders to the army to prepare for war Ė and there is information that as a result of the present situation, there will be war. That being a given, thereís logic to having a national unity government. But if that doesnít happen, a national unity government will halt anything associated with settling Yesha, and will impose a Leftist atmosphere on the Israeli Right.

Perhaps with the collapse of the Labor party after the Right won by so much, the people have actually woken up to reality, and a unity government would be helpful?

That would definitely be the case if it were possible to do things differently politically than had been done before. What will be absurd is Ė and this is what Iím afraid of Ė that despite these facts, and although the people unequivocally said they donít want a road that leads to tragedy, the Leftist spirit will continue to reign and will greatly influence the process. This is a very serious concern of mine and I donít hide it.

How do you see the peopleís voting as a reflection of the current governmentís policies?

There were two elements at work here. First of all the people know this road leads to tragedy. Secondly, that was Barakís pride, that no human being could possibly beat him. Maybe itís direct elections that cause people to lose all sense of proportion, that led Barak and Netanyahu to cut ties with all their friends by making rash decisions.

Would you tell Sharon to watch out and not follow in the path of Barak, despite the huge margin by which he won?

I would tell him more. I would say, "If you conduct yourself as a proud Jew, you will succeed. But if, G-d forbid, you go against the interests of the Jewish people, you will fall. From Heaven they will make you fall, just like all the previous leaders who fell, one after the other, after they harmed Eretz Yisroel. Not only did they fall, but the amount of time their government lasted got shorter and shorter, while the rate of turnover became faster and faster."

What should Sharon do in order not to fall?

The political strategy must be exactly the opposite. Sharon must use this opportunity to change the map in the areas where the Arabs are trying to uproot us. The only way to avert their plans is by hundreds of thousands of Jews streaming there. All talk about freezing settlements and not allowing new settlements is very painful. Thereís no question that this is the way to get us out of trouble. If Sharon wonít establish new settlements, we didnít accomplish anything. One day a Leftist government may be in power and may continue the process of destruction.

You read and hear about the ground rules of the unity government. Are you satisfied?

Iíve learned from experience that ground rules are not determinant. You can do anything under the ground rules, both positive and negative. The only thing that will determine it for me is what actually takes place. The actions on the ground will be Sharontrue test, and my greatest fear about a unity government is that it will stop Sharon from fortifying Jewish settlement in Yesha.

Wonít it be enough if Sharon stops the concessions and doesnít continue them?

Life goes on and sooner or later a Leftist government will be in power. If Sharon doesnít implement immediate changes and wonít allow the settlements to develop in Yesha, there will be a withdrawal. The demands for the formation of a Palestinian state will only continue, and the world will interpret our lack of action in Yesha as acknowledgment that this land doesnít belong to us, and the pressure to get out of Yesha will start again. Even from an educational standpoint, the younger generation will understand it this way.

I have expectations of Sharon, as I said earlier, for two reasons: for his Jewish pride and because of the evil of the gentiles, who will push him to change the situation.

We heard the Chief of Staff speak at a meeting of the foreign policy and security committee very strongly against the Palestinians, defining the situation as all-out war. He also spoke against uprooting settlements. Perhaps there is a change in the atmosphere after all?

I also heard the commanders speaking like this. Thereís no question that the Israeli army is not removed from politics and it senses the political change, which is why they are speaking more forcefully. I say let the I.D.F. win, but at the same time, let the government be more Jewish. If the army wins, but the government doesnít do what it needs to do, we didnít accomplish anything.

Whatís happening in Yesha? Itís been five months of war, thousands of shooting incidents, explosives, bombs. How are you dealing with all this?

The situation is very tense. The ongoing situation hasnít gotten any easier, but people are hanging in there. This in itself arouses great admiration for the settlers. Today, any traveling you do is a story in itself. You constantly wonder when theyíll shoot at you or whether youíre about to blow up. But still, not only do people continue to reside there, they continue to travel and live.

Are settlers leaving?

Hardly any. Iím not surprised by this, though. The leaders and settlers of the settlements seek all means by which to strengthen themselves from within, and it helps.

But there are reports about the purchase of armored vehicles and the like.

We do everything to protect ourselves, as well as attack. We demonstrate at the junctions and block Arab traffic after every incident. In this complicated situation, we are not paralyzed, and thatís whatís most important.

How long can you continue living like this?

The people living in the Jordan Valley were attacked by both the Syrians and the Jordanians, and they have held out for over two years. It really depends on how much the nation is behind us.

Do you feel more public support these days?

Iím not one of those who used to think everybody was against us, but I definitely feel a greater sympathy. I meet people from the Left who say that theyíve gotten to know us and now they understand that if we wouldnít be there, it would all explode in their face. There is definitely an awakening among broad segments of the nation.

Could it be that you are not giving enough publicity to the terrible situation in which you live?

That could be our weakness, and we have to do more, but you have to understand that in recent years there has been a weakening in education, especially after Netanyahu joined the Left when he said there was no choice about giving away land. Netanyahu said that itís impossible to hold on to all of Yesha. Iím not even talking about his actually giving away Chevron, and the Wye Accords. He caused that part of the nation, which was more traditional, to weaken.

I expect Sharon to say that there is no such thing as a country conceding its homeland. Moreover, the Jewish nation cannot concede a gift from G-d. Likewise, there is no nation willing to abandon the gravesite of one of its national fathers. Words such as these will strengthen and deepen the identity of the younger generation with its ancient heritage.

Deputy Chief of Staff Bogy Yaalon spoke two weeks ago against abandoning Kever Yosef.

Heís someone who clarified the entire situation and spoke about the danger to the Jewish people. I recall only one other commander of his rank who spoke so boldly, and that is Major General Nechemia Tamri, zíl. Donít err Ė Yaalon is not from the Right, but his Jewish heart beats within him. He understands that if the Jewish nation flees, it doesnít stand a chance against the enemy.

What do you think Sharonís first test is?

Security. Life. He must clarify to the other side that any attempt to murder Jews will cost them dearly. What theyíve done until now is not considered a price. Even their dead are not considered a price. Arabs care about land. Our policy should be that the land from which Jews are attacked should be taken away from the Arabs. This is an example of something that will hurt them and cause them to think twice before any shooting.

As I said, the strategy has to be to dismantle the P.A. and to rule over more and more of Area A. Every piece of land we gave them helps them establish terror. Now we have to work on expanding the settlements and adding to the settlements in Yesha. We must establish settlements along the road, since settlements are, naturally, security. The politicians must change their thinking, and instead of thinking of it as conquered territory, think about it as part of Eretz Yisroel. I hope that Sharon will do things so that we can build and expand settlements.

How do you see the situation among the people? Are they confused? In despair?

I wouldnít call it despair, but there is great confusion. People donít know where theyíre going. They are just beginning to get the idea of Jewishness, and are putting less trust in democracy, with all its political trickery. If you look closely, you see Jewish pride rising up more and more above the surface, and the recent elections proved that.

Altogether, I think that more and more Jews are beginning to search for their roots, and this is after many years of telling us that there are good Arabs, who are the Israeli Arabs. Suddenly people are beginning to catch on that there are Jews, and there are Arabs and there is no difference between an Arab from Nazareth and an Arab from Shíchem. Itís becoming more clear, and this is the most central point that offers a lot of hope.

What should we be doing now?

One main thing Ė strive to change the atmosphere in the street in a positive direction. Instead of withdrawals and destruction and building up the enemy, we must create an atmosphere of building and go in a completely different direction. I anticipate a large number of Jews moving to Yesha, and whoever canít, should come visit. Now is the time to bring about the change, because who knows what will be in the months to come.

What do you have to say about the numbers of settlers?

Itís an incredible miracle, considering whatís going on. In the Ď80ís, when they spoke about 100,000 settlers, the media created a tumult, and many saw that as nothing more than a fantasy. Today there are 200,000 people.

Unfortunately, in recent years, all the governments, including those of the Right, were involved in disrupting the settlement movement. Thereís no question that Sharonís era in the Ď80ís was a good one. Even Shamir at the end of his reign prevented the establishment of new settlements, along with Defense Minister Moshe Arens. Sharon told us then that most of the government ministers didnít understand the importance of building up the settlements. I hope that in his new position he will help us build and expand throughout Yesha.

   

Benny Katzover

 

 

We certainly have hope with Sharon, but at the same time we have grave concerns.

 

 

 

 

Sharon has the potential to present himself as a proud Jew, yet he also has the potential to undermine everything for the sake of a second Nobel Prize.

 

 

 

The Arabs began using missiles against our tanks, as well as grenade launchers. These are weapons we enabled them to smuggle into the area under their jurisdiction.

 

 

 

 

"Sharon, if you conduct yourself as a proud Jew, you will succeed. But if, G-d forbid, you go against the interests of the Jewish people, you will fall like all the previous leaders who fell after they harmed Eretz Yisroel."


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