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About Howard Linett
Howard Linett is an attorney, an independent journalist, a lecturer, sniper instructor in the Israeli Police Civil Guard and the author of "Living With Terrorism: Survival Lessons from the Streets of Jerusalem." Mr. Linett's new book, September 2010, is available here. He maintains a website here.
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Howard Linett
Arik & Me
June 16, 2010

It was the first week of September, 1978. I was already into my third week of 30 days of reserve duty as a Combat Engineer in the Israeli Defense Forces on the top of Mount Sinai, literally. Except for a single field-phone you had to crank by hand, our unit was cut-off from the outside world. Three times a week a supply truck made the several hours long trip up the mountain to bring us supplies. If we were lucky the kids who drove the big trucks, skinny 19 year-olds wearing too tight fatigue pants, remembered to bring us the two-day old newspapers from the kiosk that had been built at the bottom of the mountain and survived on the tourist-trade.

Every day except for the Sabbath we would spend the morning collecting medium sized flat rocks and the afternoon stacking the rocks in 4x4x4 foot cages constructed out of wire mesh. Besides building "fortifications” we guarded the Listening Post in the Quonset Hut structure dug into the mountainside on the highest peak of Mt. Sinai. My month of reserve duty was peaceful, restful and boring. There was nothing to do at night except sleep, watch the burn-off from the oil wells near the Suez Canal and keep the generator - called a Pak-Pak after the noise it made - filled with diesel.

But today was not like every day. "On the 5th you are being pick-up by an IDF helicopter that will land nearby the kiosk at 08:30. I’m to send you down the mountain in our Command Car. It will wait there until you return around 17:00. Begin preparing,” my Lieutenant ordered. September 5th was my birthday, but I was not going to a birthday party. I was going on a day of extraordinary "Leave.”

Israel’s Minister of Agriculture Areal Sharon wanted to speak to me face-to-face. September 5th fit his calendar. The meeting had been scheduled despite my explaining that I would be on reserve duty. I was assured that the Minister’s Office would not only get me off-duty to attend the meeting, but also arrange to transport me from wherever I was serving to the Minister’s office in Tel Aviv and back. Damn, sure seemed as if General Sharon (in the Reserves) knew how to get things done!

The Minister Sharon was in-charge of settlement of the West Bank. He had been after me to meet with him for the better part of a year. He wanted to make me an offer he hoped I could not refuse. On two occasions I had avoided and evaded meeting him. He knew I could not get away if he snatched me while I was on reserve duty. The members of my unit knew I could grab an hour or two of shopping for them at Shekem (IDF’s PX) and bring back all the pleasantries that they had used up long ago. When we had reported for reserve duty we had no idea we were going to be stuck on a mountain top in the Sinai Desert for 30 days straight.

Two years earlier my wife and I had organized a cooperative housing "society” with the goal of building single family residences in Jerusalem for its members, on land leased to our group for 99 years, with a waiver of public bid. Normally parcels of land were only zoned for multi-story apartment buildings. That practice, together with the bidding process, made land prohibitively expensive for everyone except major construction companies. Back in the mid-50s my in-laws had been members in a group of predominantly Anglo-Saxons who succeeded in getting land and building several rows of "attached” single family residences with yards. My wife and I figured to do the same.

We called our housing group, Home in Israel. There were approximately 60 member families. An additional 60 families were on a waiting list. We had been in negotiations with the Israeli government, particularly the Ministry of Housing for almost two years. It was the Ministry’s representative who taught me the government’s modus operandi, "Verbally - promise everything, in writing - nothing.” Those words continue to ring true today and reverberate throughout the corridors of all Israeli government ministry buildings.

We had reconfigured the demographics of our group several times to comply with ever-changing Ministry of Housing directives. As I departed for reserve duty our member families included religiously observant and non-observant young, middle-aged and retired couples, with and without children, of new immigrants, veteran immigrants, native born Israelis and mixed couples such as my wife and I. Mixed in those days meant the pairing of a New Immigrant and native born Israeli.

The group had only one non-negotiable position. It was the only thing a majority of members could agree upon. We would not build our homes "Over the Green Line.” It was not a political principal. It was a practical decision. Sure as death and taxes, the ultimate future of homes built beyond the UN 1949 Armistice "Green Line” Demarcation was uncertain. But the group’s decision needs to put in context to be understood.

Back in 1978 new neighborhoods were under construction all around what had been Jerusalem’s border with the Jordanian occupied West Bank. These "New Neighborhoods” were expanding Jerusalem to the, north, south, east, northwest and northeast. Many of the families in our housing group lived in New Neighborhoods. My wife and I, with our first and then second child, lived in Gilo. Gilo was being built on basically empty hills that had been home to a Jordanian Legion artillery Observation Post not far from Bethlehem. Back then Gilo had perhaps a total population of 600 families living in Phase "A” and a semi-completed Phase "B.” We did our grocery shopping in Bethlehem. The merchants were pleasant and friendly and their stores were stocked with American goods unavailable in Jerusalem. Today Gilo is completed and more than 40,000 people live in what is now Jerusalem’s southern most neighborhood.

No one, including the vast majority of the members of our housing group considered Jerusalem’s 7 New Neighborhoods - Gilo, Armon HaNazeev, Ramat Eshcol, French Hill, Pisgot Ze’ev, Neve Ya’akov and Ramot as being in the West Bank. The neighborhoods were an a natural, legitimate expansion and deliberately designed facts-on-the-ground to protect Jerusalem from ever again being invaded and divided by Arab armies in defiance of the will of the International community. And yes, in the give and take of negotiations resulting in a final resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the New Neighborhoods would certainly end up an integral part of Jerusalem. At least that was the rational and reasoned understanding of the West until the Obama Administration. Now, having pronounced the New Neighborhoods "occupied territory, there will never be a negotiated settlement. A majority of Jerusalem’s non-Arab population live in New Neighborhoods.

Arik Sharon wanted our group to populate Ma’ale Adomeem and "prime the pump” so to speak. Ma’ale Adomeem was little more than a concept in 1978. The concept was to build a commuter-community just off the road that went from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea. There was no pretense about its being part of Jerusalem. It was not. It was to be built in the West Bank a couple of hills east of where East Jerusalem ended and the Judean Desert began. As the crow flies, perhaps 6 miles outside Jerusalem’s Municipal limits.

I had already been offered being made Mayor of Ma’ale Adomeem twice and rejected it twice. Our housing group was not going to Ma’ale Adomeem. Minister Sharon was betting I would be unable to say "NO” to him, to his face.

I had canvassed the members of my reserve unit to see who might have a semi-clean pair of work uniform pants and who possessed the cleanest work uniform shirt. Such would be my meet the Minister Sunday best. "Clean” was more important than "fit.” Simultaneously I made a list of who wanted what and how much money they gave me to purchase their "must have” items. I was more or less ready for my departure though I dreaded the thought of the death-defying early morning drive down Mount Sinai in semi-darkness with a driver who thought it was fun to drive fast enough to bounce his passenger up and down to induce vomiting.

Well, if you have read any of my Op-Eds you know I despise former President Jimmy Carter. Still I do owe President Carter a thank you. On the eve of my Leave, he brought about Camp David. The entire Israeli government threw itself into preparing for the Summit. Even though Minister Sharon stayed home, my meeting was cancelled, never to be rescheduled. I was saved from having to make that trip down the mountain. In time the housing project became a reality. It was built in a "build your own home” section of Ramot, on No Man’s land inside the "Green Line.”

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