THE EARLY Sunday morning sun was already strong when Tzvika Struk left his home in Eish Kodesh, a Jewish community a few miles east of Shilo in the Samarian hills, to check his vineyard. He had planted it four years ago, cultivated it carefully and waited patiently for the harvest when the restricted time according to Jewish law elapsed. The grapes were high quality and when sold would reward his efforts – and feed his family of six children.
It was the beginning of July. The grapes were almost ready. When he got to his field, however, instead of lush green vines he saw brown shriveled leaves. Two thousand grape vines had been destroyed on Friday night. The police and IDF found tracks that led to the nearby Arab village of Kusra.
It was not the first time Arabs from this village had attacked the fields of Eish Kodesh and other Jewish communities in the area. Dozens of times, they reported thefts and destruction, but the police and IDF were unwilling to arrest the perpetrators and risk a confrontation so there were no investigations. Nothing was done.
Strangely, the media (with the exception of radio station Arutz 7) refused to report the story, citing lack of time and interest. Their lack of concern, however, is difficult to comprehend since they often report Arab claims that Jews have destroyed their olive trees. Widespread theft of Jewish-owned livestock, arson and vandalism by Arabs is never reported.
According to Aaron Katsoff, a resident of Eish Kodesh and head of the Binyamin Fund, which helps Jewish communities and farmers, there is a struggle between Jews and Arabs over large areas of uninhabited and unused state land in Area C of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), in which all settlements are located. Arabs and Beduin are constantly encroaching, and in some cases claiming to own land, often supported by the IDF’s Civil Administration, the judicial authority in Judea and Samaria.
Recently, Struk planted grape vines in another area of Eish Kodesh. Arabs protested, claiming to own the land and the case was heard by an IDF military court. Although the court decided that there was no basis for the Arab claims, the Civil Administration forced Struk to uproot the vines anyway. He tried to replant nearby, but most were not successful and the disputed patch remains barren.
Because the IDF’s Civil Administration operates with the approval of the Israeli government, there is no way to remedy or appeal its decisions.
Struk’s dilemma highlights the struggle Katsoff describes where land use can be the basis for claims of ownership. Unfortunately, the government has no coherent policy and has left decisions to local IDF officers who are unequipped and untrained to deal with complex land disputes.
Several years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed a commission led by retired High Court Justice Edmond Levy and legal experts to resolve this problem. Their report was meant to provide a fair and equitable judicial administration; it has not, however, been brought to the government for discussion.
In an effort to prevent further intrusions and clashes, the IDF recently installed cameras in the area. The Binyamin Fund has established a special crowd-funding site to help the Struk family with losses estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Standing alone, Struk remembers the Haftara that is read on the second day of Rosh Hashana: “Yet again shall you plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria.” (Jeremiah 31) The prophecy and the promise amid uprooting and exile, the Jewish people are returning to their homeland, planting vineyards.
“Abba,” Struk hears the voice of 12-yearold Kinneret, his eldest child behind him, and then feels her hand grasping his.
“What happened?” Her eyes search his for an answer.
Tzvika tries to speak, but words are stuck inside, won’t come out. Walking slowly into the field, they step over bunches of not-yetripe purple grapes and broken vines. “Come,” he says, wiping his face with his sleeve. “Let’s see what we can save.”