Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Battle Against Ignorance

‘Our greatest struggle is to combat ignorance,” said the deputy head of the Yesha Council, (Council of Judea and Samaria) recently To illustrate this problem he gave examples of tours on which he has taken other journalists. When he took the senior editor of an important Israeli media outlet to the city of Ariel, the editor expected to find everyone living in caravans, because that was his concept of the “settler” movement. He was unaware that there are also urban areas in the West Bank.
On another occasion, when he took journalists to Eli, where the first Orthodox pre-military academy was founded in 1988 – an academy that now boasts over 3,000 graduates, most of whom have served in combat units, and more than half of whom have been military officers and/or are leading figures in major organizations and institutions – the journalists were again surprised.

Some 100,000 Palestinians earn their livelihoods through Jewish- owned commercial and industrial enterprises, and visitors get a chance to meet some of them when they visit factories, stores and restaurants.
The Palestinians want to work there because even though the salaries are not great, they are in line with Israel’s basic wage, and are twice as high as what they would earn in the Palestinian Authority.

Journalists are not the only people taken on these eye-opening tours.

Groups, large and small, also include people who are brought to Israel by J Street and by AIPAC as well as many other organizations. The Mayor of Efrat, who is also the equivalent of the “settler” community’s minister of public diplomacy, has over the past two years addressed 180 such groups, including American congressional delegations which will not necessarily come to the West Bank but are always willing to meet with West Bank representatives to hear their views and to try to get a better understanding of the complexities in the relationship between them and the Palestinians.

Though not everyone in the “settler” movement believes in giving the Palestinians greater autonomy, there are those that do. While not in favor of the two state solution, they do believe that the Palestinians should have a greater say in running their own lives, and that Palestinian mayors should be able to consult on a regular basis with their Israeli counterparts in order to improve the quality of life of their constituents.

People don’t realize that the “settler” movement is doing more than anyone else with regard to Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, said Dilmoni.
It was also pointed out that one of the most common misconceptions about the “settlers” is that they all belong to the National Religious camp. Only a third of them do, a third are ultra religious, and the remaining third are secular. Not all make their homes in the West Bank for ideological reasons.

Some come for the quality of life, where the environment is less crowded and less polluted, but where all the community services available in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem also exist, though not always as close at hand.

Shiloh, the biblical city which was the capital of the 12 tribes when they first crossed into the Promised Land, is the West Bank’s jewel in the crown, a site visited by pilgrims as well as tourists. It is steeped in history as well as in spirituality, and last year hosted more than 100,000 tourists, including groups from Russia and China.

The visitors who are opposed to the “settlement” movement will not necessarily change their minds, but participating in the visits allows them to experience the reality and not to rely on false media reports, which often tend to demonize the “settlers”. The tours aim to give visitors something to think about.

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