Esther Minsky

Esther Minsky

by Esther Minsky, Resident of Alon Shvut 

WHEN WE came to live in Alon Shvut in the summer of 1983, there was a wire fence surrounding the yishuv and, although only 200 families lived here, every male householder had to do patrol duty at least twice a month.

The local Arab population entered freely into all the yishuvim in the area and many were employed by the local municipality as well as private businesses. I had a cleaning lady who worked for five families in Alon Shvut for more than 20 years. We were all very fond of Rasmere; she often minded my babies while I popped out to the local grocery store. When she became ill some years after she was no longer employed by us owing to security issues, all the families where she had been employed sent money so she could get medical care in an Israeli hospital.

My husband, who at that time was a builder, employed workers from one family for more than 15 years. They would come to our house to drink coffee, as he would in their homes. He even attended some of their weddings.

All of this changed during the Oslo accords, when daily horrific terror attacks struck almost every town in Israel as well as the yishuvim of Judea and Samaria. This was the beginning of the road blocks, fortified fences and security checks at the entrance to all Jewish yishuvim and kibbutzim in our area. No Arab could enter without a permit from the army and armed guards had to be posted outside every building, including private homes, while Arabs worked.

Many of our friends and neighbours lost loved ones at that time. My son, then 19, lost his best friend in a drive-by shooting – he  would have been 41 today. Over the years, and especially in recent times, these terror attacks have become increasingly virulent, stabbing, drive-by shootings and running down people at bus stops, have increased the need for ever more security in the region.

We were asked to contribute for the purchase of extra cameras placed around the perimeters of Alon Shvut. Not all families were able to do so and a benefactor from aboard gave a donation to cover the shortfall. We have an internal security company, which is funded by Alon Shvut residents via local taxes, but outside the yishuv a strong army presence is felt; soldiers now stand at all bus stops as well as at the junction of Gush Etzion.

Five months ago, the Rami Levi supermarket at the junction was teeming with both Jewish and Arab shoppers from the area, more than half of the workers and cashiers are local Arabs and there was always an atmosphere of co-operation and respect even on busy days such as erev chagim. I learned last Pesach that Arabs love matzah so much that by Chol Hamoed there weren’t any big boxes left!

Today it’s different. There is a quiet, almost gloomy, feel and the supermarket is so empty, even on a Friday morning when previously you would have waited up to half an hour just to park and get a trolley. Jewish residents still shop there but there are very few Arabs coming to shop.

Are we anxious? Of course. Are we afraid? No. Life goes on and we need to be more vigilant.

I call my three children and grandchildren who live in the Gush a bit more often than I call the other three who live in Jerusalem and the north of Israel. My older grandchildren only take the bus from inside the yishuv and not the main road.

When our neighbour Yacov Don was murdered while in his car just outside the gate, we all grieved. Yacov had taught some of my children in our local primary school several years ago. He was an outstanding educator and showed empathy, especially to pupils who had learning difficulties. Any victim of terror is like a family member to us; we all mourn together.

Unfortunately the current situation has brought forth a small minority of frustrated misguided youth who claim to represent the people of Judea and Samaria. They do not in any way reflect the type of Jewish education taught in our schools. We neither support their ideology nor their actions, just as we don’t celebrate the death of Arab terrorists or call for the death of all Arabs.

We live in a society where people have great emunah (faith), work hard and pay taxes, but still find time to pray, learn and show amazing chesed  (acts of kindness) to those in need. Surprisingly, despite the current situation there is still a high demand for housing with long waiting lists of families wishing to move to the area.

• Esther Minsky is a former Londoner who moved to Alon Shvut in 1983