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Ma'ariv: "In the Name of the Son"

Yariv Oppenheimer, the secretary-general of Peace Now, commented yesterday, "Our logic is very clear: without compromise in Jerusalem there will be no agreement, nor will there be a solution of two states for two peoples.

2/19/08

by Liat Schlesinger

   The open sports car sits quietly in its parking space. Several small bicycles are also nearby. Its lucky driver has not been seen near it. He must be in kindergarten or day-care now. It is a large car, but it is a plastic toy that belongs to one of the many children who live in Maale Hazeitim, or Ras el-Amud, depending on whom you ask. Nahman Zoldan has children, too. "Six," he says, "including Idudi." Zoldan, 59, is known as the "settlement builder," the owner of the Kedumim 3000 construction company that is building in Ras el-Amud, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Kiryat Arba, Har Bracha, Elon Moreh and other places in Judea and Samaria. "Only in Judea and Samaria," he says. Outside everyone waited for the big storm, but yesterday Zoldan sat in his trailer on the construction site with the windows open and a cold wind blowing inside. He looked at his new-old project and saw it as the last will and testament left him by his son, Idudi.

   His voice breaks as soon as the conversation begins. "I don't know what's happening to me," he admits. "I'm actually not the crying type. Wait a second, I'll get over it," he says, trying to wipe away his tears. It is not easy for him to speak. He looks at the photograph of his son over the memorial booklet that the family prepared, passing his finger over the smiling image of Ido, his fourth child. He was 29 years old last November, the father of two, when he was murdered by three Palestinians while he was driving home late at night near Kedumim in Samaria. The murderers were 22-year-olds who were captured afterwards and confessed that they were Palestinian Authority police. In the photograph before his eyes, Zoldan sees Ido at the construction site, a big smile on his face, wearing a dusty blue shirt. "He called them his royal clothes, you know? His work clothes were the only clothes he wore. He was really something special. At sixteen he got a prize from the president of Israel then, Ezer Weizman, of a thousand shekels for his work with Ethiopian children in the Bnei Akiva movement. So what did he do with the money? He raised another thousand shekels and took all the children on a hike in the Negev. That's the kind of kid he was. No compromises. He did everything all the way, to the end."

   Three months have passed since Ido was murdered, and Zoldan is going into high gear. His construction project, which is at the center of a public storm and in the heart of a crowded Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem, got under way recently. The foundations have been laid, and sixty dwelling units will be offered for sale soon. This time, it will not be exactly at a bargain price. The building is located near an existing project that contains 51 dwelling units populated by young families, which of course will entrench the Jewish presence on the ground very much. The character of the project, which is due to end in two years, will be particularly prestigious and will offer, among other things, penthouses with spectacular views and close proximity to the Temple Mount. It is within touching distance. One's eyes can be dazzled by the sun's rays reflected on the Dome of the Rock. On the Sabbath, the families do not go to synagogue, but rather directly to the Western Wall on foot. "We are building a luxury project here. Families who want quality of life and an amazing view of the Temple Mount and Jerusalem will live here. Of course there is ideology here, but ideology with money," he says.

   But another ideology guides Zoldan now, the one that his son left him and to which he now adheres closely even though it is costing him quite a lot of financial resources. On his construction site they drink "Arab black coffee," but all the workers, without exception, are Jews. "Ido believed only in Jewish labor," he recalls. "Even I couldn't hire him in the beginning because he wouldn't work for me. I told him, `You're too expensive for me.' He loved to work with his hands, he believed that building the country was the glory of creation. What a son," he says sadly. He remembers how Ido surprised everyone during his studies in yeshiva high school in Beit El, when at the end he insisted on joining the army at age 22 and not in the hesder framework, but rather in the Golani Brigade's Orev commando unit. "He told me, Daddy, everything's part of the plan. In his company nobody cursed or put up pictures of girls out of respect for him. He didn't have to ask. Afterwards, he married his wife Tehila, continued on to become an officer, and got his discharge in the end. Everybody admired him to the end. After that, he joined a core of people who opposed the evacuation of Homesh. They tried with tooth and nail to get him out of there. He was a strong young man."

   Zoldan always loved the idea of "real" Jewish work, but did not do it. Until one day Ido showed him how it could be done, with slightly different construction methods, and then what the workers call the "revolution" started. "The workers and I are brothers," Zoldan said. "We talk, share meals, and I know their families. What I invest now by paying Jewish workers more I save afterwards in bad Arab work that I have to fix." Eliav Friedman, a 23-year-old discharged soldier from Maale Adumim, works on a building on the site and loves working with his hands, while his co-worker Yosef Nir, 24, of Jerusalem, thinks that is the only way to rehabilitate the country. In any case, neither has any doubt about the project's right to be built. "This is our land. We need to put facts on the ground. It isn't frightening to work here," Friedman says. "The Arabs are just cowards and not nice. They don't even stop to give me a ride."

   And what do the Arab residents think about the project that will be built in the heart of their neighborhood? Zoldan talks about excellent neighborly relations. "They thank us for coming. The prices of their apartments are rising, and we are renovating the sidewalks. The people here do not live in fear, and there are no problems. If anything, they hate the Palestinian Authority, not us."

   Mahmoud, 30, is actually less pleased with the construction of the neighborhood that will block the view, but talks about reasonable neighborly relations. "We do not fight with them. I greet them, but I don't drink coffee with them." He said that after the nearby Samaria and Judea District Police building was sold and will also turn into a residential building, the road to the neighborhood will be blocked by the Jews there, and small businesses like the grocery store and the frame shop will be closed.

   Penthouse and duplex apartments against the background of East Jerusalem's crowded apartments seem to many people like a foreign element that does not belong. The disagreement began more than a decade ago. There are no more disagreements today about the land, which was used as a Jewish cemetery a century ago and was sold to businessman Irwin Moskowitz, but the construction in the midst of a crowded population is annoying many people. "There is no disagreement here. This is Jewish land. We have rights to it, and if we need more land we can always buy it. There's no problem," says Zoldan, looking out over the view from the roof of the finished structure. Beneath, he sees the construction site where the future project will be built. He is pensive. "I console myself by building the Land of Israel. I want to be as busy as possible."

   Tomorrow he will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Jerusalem Conference, the right-wing alternative to the Herzliya Conference. "Yes, that is a great honor. But if Idudi were to hear it, he would say, Stop with the talk and get to work. I always tried to do what is important to the Land of Israel. Anyone who opposes construction in East Jerusalem does not understand that they want everything. When will they understand that they are talking about the whole package? It's all stages. First Gush Katif, then Jerusalem, then Kfar Saba. If we're going to get into it, then I think that the residents of Tel Aviv and Haifa are the real dreamers. They don't know the real order of priorities. They seem to be busy with other things."

   He refers to the Peace Now activists who consistently oppose and demonstrate in the neighborhood as "mistaken Jews," explaining that he does not see them as enemies. Yariv Oppenheimer, the secretary-general of Peace Now, commented yesterday, "Our logic is very clear: without compromise in Jerusalem there will be no agreement, nor will there be a solution of two states for two peoples. We think that in places where there is political disagreement about their future, interference in the decision-making process by people with extreme right-wing opinions is harmful and will be an enduring problem. My complaints are mostly against the government, which gives them the freedom to build in problematic places. There is also Jewish-owned land in Jordan and in Syria, and I don't imagine that they want to build a project there. We will be the ones who pay the price for the conflict that will break out over this. Building in East Jerusalem is playing with fire."

   Zoldan has been building and initiating more and more projects in the settlements for years. The names that he gives to places are almost always memorials. This time, the College of Jewish Leadership that he is building in Kedumim will be named for his son. "I always thought that maybe it could happen to me, or to one of my children. That's one of the risks we take. Israel is a dangerous place. I always knew that," he says. "It's the price I have to pay. Of course it's very hard for me. My pain is enormous. But what hurts me more is the government's behavior. It's because we have a government of Polish people. They always say that it's harder to take the exile out of the Jews than the Jews out of the exile. On the day that he was murdered (the eve of the Annapolis conference-L.S.), we gave them rifles, and after that they wanted to give them armored vehicles. It's a free-for-all. No one wants to stop to think. I know in any case that Idudi was more concerned about the Jewish people. He wasn't afraid to die."