Last Monday I had the distinct honor and pleasure to accompany 20 German businessmen and businesswomen in a discussion of many important issues concerning the Israel/Palestinian situation. The appropriate venue for this meeting was the 3rd floor conference room in the city hall of Ma’aleh Adumim.
I had been approached by a friend in Germany if I would be amenable to this visit as it was made up of people who were interested in seeing the reality on the ground all over Israel, especially Jerusalem and Yehudah and Shomron, and they wanted an “up front” and unrestricted view of the conditions that existed for both Jewish and Palestinian co-operation. They wanted to know if, according to their media coverage, if we were at each other’s throat and had no person to person contact that wasn’t of a violent nature..
They started their journey in the industrial zone of Ma’aleh Adumim, known as Mishor Adumim, where almost 300 different types of enterprises are to be found from automobile repair shops, ceramic factories, aluminum based industry and, of course, the famous Soda Stream plant. Unlike the BDS propaganda that they admitted was so prevalent in Germany and in Western Europe, they were able to see with their own eyes that both Arab and Israeli workers are capable of laboring side by side, where they both receive the same salaries, benefits and even, special considerations for their religious practices. For example, the Soda Stream company (probably the most famous example in Yehudah of Israeli and Arab co-operation) provides facilities for their Moslem employees to conduct worship services at the prescribed times of the day.
When they arrived at the Iriyah (City Hall), the floor was open to questions that myself, and a German speaking citizen of our city, were ready to answer.Thankfully, for me, all of our German visitors spoke English. With a map of the area, showing the roads and Arab towns around Ma’aleh Adumim, we were able to demonstrate that the allegation of the Palestinian Authority that building in the area known as E1, would hamper Palestinian access to Jerusalem and Bethlehem as they have claimed in their propaganda. os patently false. We demonstrated with the use of a huge aerial map, that the already constructed bypass road that is open for their use, circumvents Ma’aleh Adumim and allows unrestricted travel from Ramallah all the way to Jerusalem and beyond.
Furthermore, we took them to an overlook known as Mitzpeh Edna (Edna’s viewpoint) where the entire region westward towards Jerusalem, lay before them. Many of them had no idea of the scope of the area, nor that it is completely uninhabited albeit for the Judea/Samaria Traffic Police Station situated on a lonely hilltop. Of course, there are some Beduin in the area, but their numbers are very few. E1 is within the municipal boundaries of Ma’aleh Adumim and the plans for erecting almost 3500 housing units, a hotel, shopping center, clinic. These endeavours would lead to the creation of the thousands of jobs that would provide employment for Israelis and Palestinians..
Several times during our discussions they were admittedly curious about the way we live side by side with the Beduin and the Palestinians around us. They were quite pleased to hear that almost 300 of them are directly employed by the city, that they can, and do, shop at both of the malls here, that the health services of the 24 hour emergency TEREM facility here are available to them and that the physicians working there are both Israeli Jews and Arabs.
They had been led to believe that co-operation among us is dangerous and prohibited to a degree that they had thought was discriminatory. Many of them expressed to me, the false images presented about the “occupied territories” that they were fed by the media.
What was the most touching and warm feeling for me was the friendliness and openness of these German visitors, some of whom told me that they had very ambivalent feelings towards Israel in the past, but now, after spending many days here, traveling from Dan to Eilat, they came away with a far different, and very positive view of our tiny, Jewish country. They assured me that they would all go back to their own cities and tell the truth of what they had seen here.
I told them the vital job that was for them, a job that I, or any other Israeli, might find hard to do-to spread the word to their neighbors, to write to their local papers, to appear on local media outlets and to show Israel as they have seen it.
All too often Israeli speakers going abroad end up “preaching to the choir,” and are often restrained, sometimes physically, from contact with people who are probably either neutral to the situation here or just misinformed. It is supremely important that we take every opportunity to speak with foreign visitors, to invite acquaintances from other nations to come here and experience the unvarnished reality of how life is here and to always treat a guest with the warmest and most gracious hospitality.
When I worked in retail, back in New York City, one of my employers always said to treat every customer as I would want one of my family served. Because every dissatisfied customer will tell ten people how bad our service was but a satisfied patron would only tell two other people how wonderfully they were taken care of. We need to have millions of satisfied and informed customers.