Settling a Score

What happens to a Jewish convert who sets up a farm among settlers? Court orders, threats and anything but a quiet pastoral life.

Yohanan Sharet, 46, a German-born convert to Judaism, managed to annoy the settlers in the area of the Har Hebron Regional Council. So much so, in fact, that they turned to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, which issued an order for him to evacuate the Magen David farm where he has been living for 10 years with his wife Yael (also a convert ), their daughter Hadas-Shalva, a few sheep, a handful of chickens and four cows that answer to the names Steak, Tivon, Hamburger and Cheeseburger - all designated for home slaughter.

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Alon Hilu, Yohanan Sharet
Moti Milrod

According to the decision written by Judge Carmi Mossek, Sharet has less than a month - until July 1 - to pack up his portable trailer, which is connected to an illegal permanent structure, to fold up the cheese-making equipment and the wind turbine for producing electricity, return his settlers' kit to the settlers' recruitment base, and to scram. All on condition, of course, that his appeal to the Jerusalem District Court - on which he is now pinning all his hopes - is not accepted.

What will you do if you lose the appeal? Where will you go?

"Where do I have to go? I don't have family here. I'd like to see them evacuate me by force. I'll call Der Spiegel."

To be on the safe side Sharet also hung up an iron sign with the letters of God's name, which he hopes nobody will dare to uproot.

Sharet, sporting Crocs, round glasses and an occasionally amusing German accent, commands a view from the heights of his farm of about 70 dunams of a rocky hill and a twisting wadi. He claims that, for a long time, he has been suffering from harassment by his neighbors. No, not the Arabs, with whom he actually gets along ("Sometimes I sit with them over a cup of coffee" ), but from the members of the nearby settlement of Sussia, who sued him and won a sweeping victory, including the repayment of legal fees to the tune of NIS 10,000, which includes interest until the day of actual payment.

During ordinary times Sharet earned a living from producing organic cheeses, desert cosmetics such as soaps and scents, and sheepherding, out of a desire to live an idyllic and pastoral Old Testament lifestyle, which he had dreamed about in the Protestant home where he grew up in Germany.

"My aspiration in my life in Israel is to live according to the Bible," he says. "You have to come close to the truth. Just don't get close to the dog near the sheep," he warns me at the last moment, "it's a Belgian Shepherd that used to be a police dog, and experienced a lot, including violence, until he came to me. He decides who the enemy is, without any relation to reality."

Sharet arrived at the farm 11 years ago full of ideals and motivation, and joined its first three founders. "I started to do a lot of things here - cheeses, cosmetics, aid to youth in distress - but the settlers destroyed everything. They cut me off from the electricity. They tore the fence. A hothouse and field crops. Everything went, because I have to guard the farm 24 hours a day, not because of Arab theft but because of religious Jews who come to destroy."

Today everything has gone down the drain - not only the trough in which he feeds the sheep with grade B Telma cornflakes, but also the legal and financial situation. "The settlers harass me because I'm not one of them," Sharet says, "because I'm a convert. Because I took over a nice place and they want to take it for themselves. They're cowards and they want only to profit, to build 250 luxury residential units here, to earn money. Every home costs them NIS 150,000, they sell it for NIS 800,000 and all the money goes to the Amana settlement movement."

According to Sharet, the tensions with his settler neighbors have been ongoing for several years, because of Sussia's desire to expand at the expense of his agricultural farm, which was built legally in accordance with Ehud Barak's 1999 outpost agreement. The final straw for the settlers was apparently the affair of senior police officer Dan Shacham, who lived nearby at the illegal outpost Mitzpe Yair. Shacham was in dispute with Sharet over the boundary between the farm and the outpost, with Sharet filing a lawsuit against Shacham for trespassing. Someone - Sharet says it wasn't him - involved Peace Now in the story, and the bottom line is that Shacham was forced to leave Mitzpe Yair and Sharet gained the reputation of being a collaborator with the left.

Aren't you supposed to get into fights with Arabs? Why are you quarreling with settlers?

"In general the conflict really is with the Arabs, but not here. I broke all the stigmas. I'm peaceful, I don't fight against the Arabs. Why persecute someone who didn't do anything to me? Does that help me in any way?"

And what's the story with the leftists?

"Even within the same family, not everyone likes the same food. Disagreeing is allowed, but hairpulling isn't. That's forbidden. If we're talking about a normal argument, without pulling hair and without biting, then it's all right. Here with the settlers you're not allowed to be different. If you're not of the same opinion, you're an enemy. They call me Enemy No.1 of the settlement movement."

Unwilling to move

Who said there are no laws in the Wild East? Even in a place where violence is increasing (Sharet's neighbor, Yair Har-Sinai, was murdered by Arabs a few years ago when they stabbed him with a knife ), there is law and order. The Israeli courts can keep track, for example, of the series of owners of the bare and rocky hills, and even force an evacuation of land if necessary.

According to the court decision, the custodian of abandoned property in the West Bank area allocated the land on which the farm stands to the World Zionist Organization, which granted a permit for use of the land to Sussia, a cooperative agricultural association. Sussia allowed Sharet to gain possession of part of the area, but the members changed their minds and, in July 2008, demanded he return the land. But that's the problem: Sharet is unwilling to move.

Here's the question: What will be done to a person who settled among the settlers? Sharet removes his cowboy hat and exposes a dark spot that he claims is a blood spot, the result of an injury caused by the stone-throwing of a shepherd belonging to the neighbors, whose sheep, if we're being honest, are nothing special - grade C, even grade D; that is obvious from the fat between the ribs. "Look at my guys," Sharet says proudly, "one male for 12 females."

What about the views of the Sussians who want to see Sharet evacuated from the land? Here's what their representative, attorney Amit Fisher, had to say in response to Yohanan Sharet's allegations: "Let me state in advance that in the context of the legal proceedings Mr. Sharet raised a long series of complaints regarding rights that he presumably has on the land, which in court proved to be baseless. It should also be noted that in addition to Mr. Sharet's illegal squatting on the site, Mr. Sharet illegally connected to the water and electricity infrastructures, thereby causing great damage, and endangering himself and all those living with him on the farm.

"Mr. Sharet was obligated to pay my client sums of money in a series of legal decisions (in addition to the present one ), but to this day he has not paid a cent. For over a year there have been two files pending in the Jerusalem Bailiff's Office against Mr. Sharet, one for his debts to my client (NIS 6,387 ) and one because of debts to the regional council (NIS 3,880 ).

"In light of the above I suggest that you treat Mr. Sharet's claims with the necessary skepticism. To date his baseless claims have helped him to delay the clarification of the evacuation order, which was submitted in 2008, for three years, and he seems to be trying now to apply pressure against my client by raising false claims of the type described in your request.

"And to the heart of the matter:

a ) To the best of my client's knowledge, the claims spelled out in this clause have no basis in reality.

b ) In the settlement of Sussia there are many families of converts who were received with great love as members of the settlement and the cooperative association. If my client had a problem with his being a convert - and anyone who knows my client's representatives can testify as to how bizarre and contrary to reality this claim is - why didn't my client ask to evacuate him after he discovered his arrival at the site? As far as the claims of anticipated "profit" - there is no approved construction plan at the site, so that claim has no basis in reality.

c ) My client knows nothing about [stone-throwing]. If there is truth to the claim, it would be a good idea to ask him to present you with the complaint that he filed with the police against that shepherd for the alleged attack. If a complaint was submitted, its fate should be clarified with the Israel Police. Mr. Sharet has been making false claims for years, and we can reasonably assume that this is once again a baseless claim, which is designed to portray him as a victim instead of a squatter and a thief.

d ) My client never granted Mr. Sharet permission to use the land. After attempts at bridging with the help of public figures failed, my client was forced to demand that he evacuate the site."

In light of all the difficulties with the Arab neighbors and more specifically the settlers, it's not clear how Yohanan Sharet copes. Or what, in fact, motivated him in the first place to leave a comfortable life in a Protestant village at the foot of the German Alps and join the Jewish people and set up camp in what, at a superficial glance, looks like the craziest district of the occupied territories. "The illness of this era is depression," he replies, "because there are no longer any goals. You can't develop. You live in a concrete cube, see asphalt and vehicles, pursue dreams on television. That causes depression."

Do you have a television?

"Yes, but we don't get Channel 1 or 2, only Arab channels. So I don't watch, because the films in Arabic bore me. You know at the beginning how it will end."