Ofra in Binyamin, one of Judea and Samaria’s first modern-day Jewish communities, welcomed a visit by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer on Wednesday.
Governor Schweitzer, a former rancher and farmer, is the first Democrat to govern Montana in 20 years. His visit to Israel was organized by American Jewish supporters of the Democratic Party. They scheduled a meeting with veteran settlement activist Yisrael Har’el, who arranged that the get-together would take place in his hometown of Ofra, in southern Samaria, north of Jerusalem.
Ofra is a prime symbol of the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria (Yesha), having been founded back in 1975 as the first Jewish town in the region and as home to many leading settlement activists.
Schweitzer was greeted in an official ceremony as a guest of the town, with children waving flags of Israel, the United States and Montana. He took his advisors’ counsel not to ascend to Ofra’s offshoot community of Amona, a few kilometers to the east and above Ofra; Amona was the site of the most violent clash in Judea and Samaria between police and residents when the former evicted the latter from several homes in the early days of the Olmert government in January 2006.
Gov. Schweitzer met with Ofra officials and residents, including new immigrants, in the town’s Medrasha (seminary). The hosts brought up various issues and gave the Governor a new perspective on Jewish ties to their ancestral homeland.
Montana, the Indians and Israel
Leah Shklar reminded Schweitzer that if the Americans have no plans to “return” Montana lands to the Indians, then all the more so do the Jews have national rights to live in their ancestral homeland despite the modern presence of Arabs there.
Yosef Atlan explained to the Governor why he chose to move from France specifically to Ofra, and Hila Vitkin described her simple sense of belonging to the area as a mother seeking a safe and pleasant Jewish life for her family.
The Arab Mentality
Meir Nachliel, head of Ofra’s town council, told Gov. Schweitzer privately that the Americans do not know the Arab mentality and are deluding themselves into thinking that the Arabs seek peace. Schweitzer expressed solidarity with these sentiments, explaining that he had lived in Saudi Arabia for seven years. It was later learned that he oversaw the building of major irrigation projects and the construction of the world’s largest dairy farm in Saudi Arabia.
From Ofra, Schweitzer made his way to a meeting with PA prime minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, several kilometers to the southwest. Residents of Ofra expressed confidence that their meeting with him had left a positive impression on the Governor.