Triumph of community

On October 22, 2013, the City of Ariel and its residents were presented with a new, unfamiliar challenge. Master of successive terms, Ron Nachman won each and every mayoral election from 1985 until his passing in early 2013. But when Ron wasn’t up for re-election, who would propose to lead the orphaned city? And who, more interestingly, would be chosen by the people?

Ron was fond of saying, “It’s difficult to build a city, but far more difficult to build a community”. Since Ariel’s humble beginnings, first as two tents followed by 40 prefab homes, through today’s full-fledged university-city, Ron Nachman managed to accomplish both. Newcomers often explain that they call Ariel home because of its friendly community feel, coupled with its robust city services. But the recent elections seemed to challenge Ariel’s holistic city-community-continuum. When faced with a choice between candidates that championed different elements of life in Ariel, which would local residents choose?

Ask the people and they’ll tell you; Ariel’s candidates were true to their slogans. Of the four mayoral hopefuls, it was clear that either Eli Shaviro or Hana Golan would win the heated contest. Hana had much experience, serving as city director general for 10 years. Known for her uncompromising professional standards, Hana went with the “Strong Leader for Ariel” slogan. Eli was the incumbent, having been granted the temporary mayoral position by city council following Ron’s passing, in advance of the scheduled elections. He had mobilized popular support as early as the city’s previous municipal elections, and he followed through with a similar approach in the current race. He sported a bold, conversational message on his billboards: “It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Eli, and we are partners”.

Of course, beneath and beyond the slogans, there were real issues at hand. Both the mayoral candidates and city council hopefuls addressed standard matters that concern all city and community dwellers, regardless of where they live; education, street parking, recreation, affordable housing and environment, to name a few. But Ariel’s most prominent issues have never been about local politics.

As a critical reality that affects all land considerations in Israel’s current and past negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Ariel impacts not only its residents but the entire region as well. Indeed, one of the most pressing issues during the recent race was the overcrowding of buses, which was just as much about inter-societal coexistence as it was about transportation. Ariel buses service the entire region. With a growing number of Israeli work permits for Palestinian Arabs, and an increasing awareness across the Arab community about the low cost of Israel-subsidized public transportation, space on the buses is typically a forlorn hope for most of Ariel’s commuters.

Every political platform addressed the bus issue. Every candidate had her or his action plan to remedy the unbearable situation. But here, too, there was an obvious difference between the Hana Golan and Eli Shaviro campaigns. Hana, who was attuned to the lynchpin national-security nature of this regional issue, made a far-reaching prospective remedy the thrust of her campaign. Eli Shaviro, on the other hand, focused not on the ripple-effect ramifications of co-population transport, but on the impact of daily commuting on Ariel’s residents.

All in all, the campaigns proposed clear options for voters. It was an attitude of measurable-outcome oriented strength, versus a pleasant and forthcoming personal disposition. Uncompromising standards, or popular partnership. Formidable city, or friendly community. Both approaches were legitimate. Both accentuated genuine shades of Ariel’s multifocal character. The 2013 elections were not only about who to vote for, but, more importantly, which style of governing ethos the people preferred.

At 2:00 am on October 23, echoes could be heard from Ariel’s pedestrian commercial center. The votes were counted, and the loudspeakers carried the results; “We are pleased to introduce Ariel’s new mayor, Eli Shaviro”. The election was decisive. Shaviro received 61.5% of the vote, leading all other candidates by a significant margin. The people had spoken, and their message was loud and clear.

Now, into its 35th year of unparalleled achievements, Ariel’s community has truly come of age. Today, the formidable geo-political-reality, biblical-city-reborn, international-controversy-Israeli-consensus- city is alive with a fresh energy. The people of Ariel chose self-empowerment and community engagement. They have embraced Ron Nachman’s legacy by claiming ownership not only to the City of Ariel, but also to the fabric of community that he insisted upon building.

Ariel is often in the spotlight, and regularly in the news. While clandestine international negotiations concerning Israel’s regional future are held beyond closed doors, a dynamic community dimension has emerged in the city that the Palestinian Authority has yet to come to grips with. No one knows where the current round of talks will lead, but the people of Ariel have already determined their course of action. They’ve decided that Ariel is much more than a geo-political diplomatic fact-on-the-ground. It’s home to everyday living, proactive partnerships and community engagement. And in the long run, it’s the homemade city-community-continuum that will make all the difference.

About the Author
Avi Zimmerman is the City of Ariel's international representative. He is the Executive Director of American Friends of Ariel and the Founder of TALK17.