Over 500 members of kibbutzim – most of them self-declared leftists - toured Samaria last week, as guests of the “Getting to Know Samaria” program. For nearly all, this was their first time in Judea and Samaria. Most were secular, hailing from “hard left” kibbutzim throughout the country.
The group visited, among other places, the Barkan Industrial Zone, Itamar and Elon Moreh, and Mount Gerizim.
They summed up the tour at a meeting with Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika, former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronski of the Itamar Yeshiva, and the IDF's Uzi Dayan. Mesika, in his remarks, said that Samaria welcomed all visitors, including those supporting and opposed to Jewish settlement.
Mesika told the visitors that Samaria could no longer be ignored. The region contains 12% of Israel's land mass, and houses over 340,000 Jews of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. “It is the cradle of the Bible and the birthplace of the Jewish people, and includes the strategic backbone od the Land of Israel from its north to its center with its central mountain range.”
The “Getting to Know Samaria” program is an extension of a program begun by the Samaria Regional Council three years ago to encourage politicians, foreign visitors, and journalists to visit the region. The program was extended to the general public several months ago, and so far over 400 busloads of visitors – over 20,000 people - have taken the tour. About half are from secular backgrounds.
“The best part of the project is seeing the variety of people who are visiting,” said Samaria Regional Council advisor Yossi Dagan. “We are bypassing the media and bringing to the people of Israel to see Jewish communities with their own eyes, giving them the opportunity to honestly make up their minds and connect with us.”