Secular Left-Wing Youth on First Visit to Shomron [Pics added]
Nearly 200 youths from kibbutzim and Yesha settlements met today in the Shomron for a first-time "anti-stereotype, getting to know you" session.
The idea was the brainchild of Yoel Marshak, head of the United Kibbutz Movement's Special Activities Division. Six months ago, he phoned Bentzy Lieberman, head of the Shomron Regional Council, and the two began to discuss the merits of having the country's two ideological youth sectors get to know each other "in real life and not just based on what they see and hear on the television news."
Yigal Dilmoni, Lieberman's assistant, explained to Arutz-7, "Essentially, in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, we saw that these two groups were the country's two ideological groups - the way they both volunteered and offered help, and even, unfortunately, in the numbers of war casualties... The idea was to have them meet and erase the stigmas they have about each other."
Many preparatory sessions were held with teachers from both sides: "This was not simple for them, either," Dilmoni said. "They had to meet and get to know each other in advance. They also decided exactly how the meetings would proceed, what they would talk about, etc."
Some kibbutz parents refused to have their children participate, because of their ideological opposition to any Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. There were therefore somewhat fewer than 100 kibbutz 11th-graders who met today with about 100 of their counterparts from Ulpanat (girls religious high school) Lehava in Kedumim and the boys' Yeshiva High School in Karnei Shomron.
"This was actually the first time the Education Ministry allowed schools to take their students past the Green Line," Marshak told Arutz-7.
The boys and girls separated, and made their way in two large groups to visit hilltops and communities in Samaria. They visited the community of Itamar, as well as the Gideon Observation Point and the Avri Ran Farm. The daughter of Gilad Zar, the regional security officer who was murdered by Arab terrorists in May 2001, explained to the girls why she and her family lives there, and about the historic and national bonds linking these sites with the Jewish People.
Afterwards, the four busloads of students returned to the schools, where they took part in workshops and discussion groups.
Moshe Valach, a teacher of Jewish thought and civics in the Ulpanah, told Arutz-7 that he welcomes the opportunity for his students to meet with other youth, and does not fear a "negative influence." "For one thing," he said, "this is not a religious-secular thing, but a right-left meeting... In addition, I relish the chance to have my students come to me with questions that they say they were unable to answer, and we work on them in order to broaden their education. I see this as a lever towards better learning."
"It is important for kibbutz youth to get to know the other side," the Kibbutz Movement's Marshak told Arutz-7 from the girls' high school in Kedumim, "and to see what it's like here. They were never here before! We want to create bonds between all parts of the nation; we are brothers, one people."
Marshak's Past: Two Sides
Marshak has taken part in initiatives of this nature before. Before the expulsion from Gush Katif, he issued a call for all kibbutz secretariats and educational personnel to visit Gush Katif and to organize youth visits as well. "We want to listen and to talk to the residents," he said at the time, "to make our voices heard in favor of fulfillment of government decisions made in a legal and democratic way – even if they are painful - and to try to persuade them to cooperate with the implementation of the decision to evacuate in order to preserve together a Zionist state - Jewish and democratic - with a Jewish majority within recognized and secure borders. We want to embrace and to love, because we are brothers.”
After the expulsion, Marshak helped oversee volunteer work to help salvage greenhouses in Gush Katif, and rebuild some of them in their new locations.
Arutz-7 therefore asked him, "How do all these activities square with reports that you were involved in what have been called 'provocations' against Jews regarding olive-tree cutting?" (Jews of the Shomron have been accused of cutting down Arab-owned olive trees; the Jews denied it, claiming that the Arabs and/or left-wing supporters cut down the trees themselves in order to accuse the Jews.)
"Wherever there is hunger and need, I am there to help," he said.
A-7: "Yes, but it was reported that a saw was found in your car - assumedly to cut down the trees that you accused the Jews of cutting down?"
Marshak: "Do you really believe that?... My saw was used to prune the trees, not cut them down."
Asked about this seeming anomaly, Dilmoni of the Shomron Council office said, "He's a very interesting character... There were in fact some communities that didn't want to let Marshak in because of his involvement in the olive-tree incidents; there are very strong feelings here about that. But we went ahead with this because of the importance of this venture."
Marshak said he hopes to have Education Ministry-sponsored programs next year that will bring the Yesha youth on follow-up visits to his movement's many kibbutzim, such as Shfayim, Afikim, Beit HaShittah, Geva, and many more.
[Pictures provided by Besod Siach, Advancement of Dialogue Between Conflict Groups in Israel. Tel: 03-6950667]