The Sacred Right to Hitchhike in the Land of Israel

Apparently, hitching a risk-riddled ride has also become part of the arsenal of 'an appropriate Zionist response.'

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israelis hitchhiking at a 'trempiada' near the West Bank settlement of Ofra.
Israelis hitchhiking at a 'trempiada' near the West Bank settlement of Ofra. Credit: Eyal Warshavsky
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“We shall continue with our normal routine and keep hitchhiking, just like in any other city or area of the country,” clarified Malachi Levinger, the head of the Kiryat Arba local council, in response to claims that settlers and yeshiva students had been warned against hitching rides. Apparently, hitching a ride has also become part of the arsenal of “an appropriate Zionist response,” one more achievement that comes with the conquest of the Land of Israel.

All that is “abnormal” within the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders) is apparently quite normal in that other galaxy. Such hitchhiking is akin to settlers going on their life-endangering hikes through prohibited areas, marching under the slogan: “the Jewish border runs wherever a Jewish hiker walks.”

What about personal safety? Coordination with the army? Taking responsibility? “Dear travelers! The organizers cannot guarantee the personal safety of participants. We make all efforts to obtain the necessary permits but cannot promise that we get them,” says the website of “Trips by David and Ahikam,” a venture set up in memory of Ahikam Amichai and David Rubin, who were killed by Palestinian gunfire in 2007, while hiking in Nachal Telem in the West Bank.

“If you knew that this was the price of hiking in these areas, would you have any second thoughts?” Ynet correspondent Akiva Novik asked Ester Amichai, Ahikam’s mother, in 2011. “It’s not our decision who lives and who dies. It’s all in God’s hands. We know there is a price for living here and we’re willing to pay it,” she replied. The sanctity of the path, the rock, an ancient structure, hitchhiking, these are incomparably greater than the sanctity of life. This is the normalcy touted by Levinger, and if the result is a few Jewish shaheeds (Islamic martyrs) who fall by the wayside in sanctifying the right to hitchhike, so be it. The insurance policy is handled in the heavens. But who pays the premiums?

This is the galaxy in which the settlers dwell. There are those who go on extreme adventures such as climbing Mount Everest or sailing the oceans solo, and there are those who hitchhike in the West Bank or hike its trails for their pleasure.

This could all be acceptable if it were only they who ended up paying the price, as promised by Amichai, without involving the rest of the country, the army, and, yes, even millions of Palestinians. The problem is that each attack on these national hitchhikers, each shooting at hikers that are out to strengthen our hold on the sacred land, requires a national response. Every such hiker immediately acquires the status of “a soldier in defense of his country.” Each hiker in the desert becomes a representative of the nation.

It’s true that the state has to protect its citizens and settlements, even when they choose to live in areas in which their lives are in danger. When they are abducted, the state should make every effort and pay any price to get them back. However, there is an enormous gap between the desire to find the kidnapped youths and their abductors, and the portrayal of this kidnapping as a political earthquake that is threatening Israel’s very existence.

Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian civilians have been killed in actions of “a national character” taken by both sides. One can assume that if the three had not been kidnapped but rather killed by gunfire from an ambush, this would have been perceived as a great tragedy, but we would have been spared this phony diplomatic drama.

When the prime minister uses this kidnapping as proof that the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah has led to renewed terror, he is lying. He himself spoke of 30 abduction attempts in 2013, long before this reconciliation took place. When he argues that the kidnapping foils any chances for negotiating with the Palestinians, he is exploiting this tragedy as spin in the service of his own ideology. The personal tragedy of the families is awful, but it pales in comparison to the sweeping dividends raked in by the government and the “settlement project.” We, the shareholders, will obviously continue paying the premiums.

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