Op-Ed: J Street Leader Comes to the Shomron: An Eye Opener
The flow of VIPs coming on our eye-opening tour of the Shomron keeps increasing and reaching ever-wider circles. When we began working on this initiative some three and a half years ago, we needed to work very hard to convince even Zionist and Jewish leaders to take the time to come out to the Shomron for a day tour.
Many presumed that they knew all about the “settlements,” not to mention that a commitment for a full day from a busy leader who is only in Israel for a week is not easy to get. VIP tours of Israel normally have a very packed schedule, including high profile meetings in Jerusalem - and often in Ramallah with the PA as well..
If these guests can get half a day off, they usually escape for some recreation at the Dead Sea or do some other personal vacationing. Some might agree to come out for an hour or two, but that is really only enough time for the drive out and back from Jerusalem.
Now, after our major efforts to bring out many of Israel's elected officials and media personalities, our tour of the Shomron is becoming the "in" thing to do. Guests to Israel are now realizing that this tour is an important part of a visit to this country, and those who haven't been to the Shomron are missing a major part of the puzzle.
I was not totally surprised to get a request from Kathleen Peratis, a founder of J Street and board member of Americans for Peace Now, who asked to meet with me and take part in our tour of the Shomron.
Some of my associates were not overjoyed with the offer of a visit from a top activist in organizations whose main agenda is to oppose the existence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
My perspective is that we have nothing to hide and on the contrary, we have much to show and much to be proud of. While Israel's image is being smeared around the globe with all arrows pointed at the issues here in Judea and Samaria, the policy of many mainstream Zionist advocates has become avoidance of those uncomfortable issues.
They have focused on highlighting Israel's "nice" points, like providing humanitarian aid during international crises, leading technological development for the good of mankind, and beautiful, bikini-clad girls on the beaches of Tel Aviv.
But in fact, here in the Shomron, we have discovered that Israel advocates need not run and hide when confronted with labels like “Occupation,” “Roadblocks,” “Apartheid” and the like. Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are not something we need to be ashamed of. What we need to do is to open up and demonstrate the facts on the ground for the world.
After visiting the industrial park at Barkan, which employs 6000 workers - half Arab and half Jewish - all receiving the same work benefits, as entitled by Israeli law, Ms. Peratis could only comment that she was glad to see the positive sides of the reality here.
During her previous tour of the region, led by Peace Now, she had only seen a very limited view of only the negative aspects of reality here.
As I sat down to chat with Ms. Peratis in a beautiful playground in my hometown of Kfar Tapuach, I pointed all around us to the many construction sites on all sides.
To one side, the building of a new kindergarten is being completed (this will be the fourth in the past decade, due to the growth of the preschool population in our community).
Just behind that building, and on two other sides, new neighborhoods are in different stages of construction.
Behind us, a huge indoor sports center is almost complete.
I explained to my guest that the reason I was highlighting these things for her was to make it perfectly clear that we, as residents of these communities, see our future here forever, and not just as some type of demonstration, or as a way to provide bargaining chips for future negotiations.
The visit did not make Ms. Peratis change her sentiments about the "settlements,” which she sees as the core of the problem. But she did realize that the Two State idea is not going to work, and that new alternatives need to be considered.