New Tours Give Israelis an Inside View of Judea and Samaria
Israelis like to talk politics – especially the politics of the future of Judea and Samaria – but precious few have actually been to the areas they opine about, even though the biblical and historical heartland of Israel is almost literally in the backyards of residents of the “center,” the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
That's why a new organization called Mishkefet (the Hebrew word for binoculars) has introduced a new program designed to allow the average Israeli – the ones who live in areas like the Dan region, Haifa and Be'ersheva and do not identify themselves as ideologically right or left, strictly religious, or as having radical political points of view – to get an inside view of life in Jewish communities in Yesha. The goal: to bring a half million Israelis on tours of Judea and Samaria within five years.
The program will include hikes and trips to the numerous nature and history sites in Yesha, in cooperation with local field schools, community centers, and local authorities. Tourists will also visit communities and meet residents, attend talks and concerts, visit farms, wineries, and natural food producers, like cheese makers and olive oil producers, and participate in special events. Like Birthright, the program is apolitical, and does not seek to turn visitors into “right wing extremists,” organizers say; the purpose of the tours is to educate, to allow people to at least get an idea of what they are talking about when they discuss Yesha.
The project is being organized by Benny Cohen and Yossi Dagan, former top members of the Yesha Council and of several local governments in the region. The project, which will cost millions of shekels, will be funded by private donations, and the two say that they have received a great deal of encouragement from the interest shown by donors and others.
The inspiration for the new project actually came from former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who, in his pre-disengagement days, would take visitors from Israel and abroad on tours of Yesha. In 1981, Cohen and Dagan said, Sharon's “We are on the Map” project brought hundreds of VIPs from Israel and abroad to Yesha, among them Israeli basketball star Tal Brody. Thousands of Israelis came in Brody's wake, and some political analysts attributed the right's success in elections that followed.
The tours are custom-tailored to various groups – union members, schools, political groups, families with young children, etc. So far, some 40 pilot tours have been held – and all have been quite successful, says Cohen, chairman of the project. “The participants were excited to see the beautiful views and the Zionist spirit in the communities and workplaces in Yesha. Many had no idea that these things existed.” The pilot tours, Cohen said, “convinced us that we are doing the right thing – bringing Israelis to see the reality of Yesha with their own eyes.”