Yesterday, I had the opportunity to host a Swiss couple on a short tour in the Shomron – Yves Nidegger, a member of the Swiss Parliament, and his wife. The two were here in Israel on vacation, and not as part of an official delegation this time. I am glad that the word about seeing the Shomron is starting to get out and that more people are asking to take a look around. It seems a bit ironic that the issues here are so central to the international discourse about Israel, but that in fact so few people have seen it for themselves.
The buzzwords are all over the media and on the signs at anti-Israel protests on university campuses: “Occupation,” “West Bank,” “settlers,” “Palestinians,” “roadblocks” and so on. From what they hear on the news and read online, most people might have the impression that this is at least a war zone, and that all the local Jews and Arabs do all day is throw rocks and shoot each other. But foreign guests who do take the initiative to come see for themselves discover something else.
Just yesterday, our guests saw a vibrant student population at the Ariel University very serious about their academic studies, but at the same time enjoying a clean and friendly atmosphere. Most students in Ariel bus in daily because the campus’s dorms only have 2000 beds, enough for a very small part of the student body, which is now reaching 14,000. The school is set to turn Ariel into an Israeli version of a Princeton-type university town. New dormitories and neighborhoods under construction will house a major part of of the student body and faculty who are currently commuting from around the country.
A visit to the Tura Winery in Rechelim provides another opportunity to learn more about the people who live here and what motivates them to set down roots and turn the barren hilltops of the Samaria into beautiful and productive wine farms. Tura is one of 18 (and counting) boutique wineries the have opened along Route 60 running north from Jerusalem to Elon Moreh over the past 10 years. It is a truly amazing story of
young people who have expressed their love for Israel by investing everything that they had and could borrow into planting vines and learning to make wines. Their success has grown beyond the imaginations of those pioneers. Now, these same wineries are winning international competitions for their fine wines. It is unheard of that wine makers so new to their field could be reaching top notch results in such a short time. But here in Shomron, it is a fact, and my guests yesterday got to not only see with their own eyes, but also taste the evidence.
Person to person diplomacy has an amazing effect too. When people get past the physical and psychological barriers that have been keeping them away from Shomron, they are surprised to meet others on this side who have families, businesses and schools just like those elsewhere. People here have dreams that they strive to turn into reality and in many cases, they are succeeding at doing just that.