Once every few hours in recent days, Army Radio has been broadcasting commercials calling on Israeli citizens to visit the Gush Etzion area during the Sukkoth holiday to enjoy the various festivities being held there, such as treading grapes, a kite festival and jeep safaris.
And all this, the commercial says, is just 55 minutes from Tel Aviv and 15 minutes from Jerusalem.
During these pleasure tours over the holidays, participants will get a chance to see to what extent settlements and outposts have expanded (some illegally) in recent years.
What participants will not hear from organizers is how the settlements were expanded; the methods by which lands were expropriated from Palestinian Arabs; the expansion orders given by the Israeli civilian administration and the seizing of private Palestinian land by settlers in the dark of night.
But they will not see the olive groves and the vines of the village of Hussan uprooted by bulldozers so that Beitar Elite could be expanded. They won't see the private plots of land belonging to the residents of Bethlehem and Beit Jala that were fenced off by settlers. Because the organizers aren't interested in showing their guests from Tel Aviv the dark side of Israeli existence in Gush Etzion.
Over the years we have become accustomed to ignoring the injustices going on in the Territories; we suppress them and go on as usual. For example, the new report published by Peace Now this week regarding expansion of outposts: For a few hours the topic was discussed on a radio program, and then it seemingly disappeared into a state of oblivion.
The settlers' claim that the report was false and exaggerated helped calm the consciences of Israelis eager for balance.
The facts published in the report, however, are hard to conceal: Since the beginning of the year the government has issued tenders for building 952 housing units in the Territories – four times as many compared to the same period last year; not only were the illegal outposts not removed, building there was accelerated, roads were broken through and land was prepared for construction.
Expansion under cover of war
Peace Now argued that expansion of the outposts was carried out under the cover of war. Settler spokespersons were outraged by this statement. The bottom line was that the expropriation of land and the harsh attitude towards their neighbors continued (in May of this year Central Command Chief Major-General Yair Naveh signed a decree calling for the expansion of the jurisdiction of four settlements: Givat Zeev, Oranit, Beitar Elite and Maskiot.
And now is the olive harvest season, and there is almost no doubt that thugs from the settlements - who have been spreading fear among their neighbors at the time of harvest every year - will continue to do so now, even if just to test Amir Peretz's assurance that he would take severe measures against thugs who would cut down plantations and destroy crops.
A weak defense minister, who is indifferent to the expansion of illegal outposts and the continuation of land expropriation, will find it difficult to show determination against the vandalism of hilltop youth.
Jerusalem and its neighborhoods can be seen from the observation point at Gush Etzion, and it seems as though Gush Etzion will link up to the capital of Israel in just an instance. Even if they see their Palestinian neighbors' villages and towns right in front of them, they will ignore the sight and imagine the future annexation that will take place on more Arab land.
Only 55 minutes from Tel Aviv and 15 minutes from Jerusalem and the Israeli tourist arrives at another land. Perhaps this is the place that inspired Yehuda Amichai's poem "The place where we are right."
"From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring. The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard."