Nine journalists from various European countries got a first-hand experience of the complexity of Israel and the Middle East this week during a three-day press trip organized by the Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA). The journalists, from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, and Spain had the unique opportunity to visit the Barkan Industrial Park in Samaria Thursday. Some 6,000 Jews and Arabs are employed at Barkan, and the journalists were able to meet and speak to workers from both groups, as they attempted to dig up the “real story” on Jewish-Arab cooperation in Samaria.
The journalists also met with Samaria Regional Council director, Gershon Mesika, who spoke about the positive reality on the ground hidden behind the “usual” story bandied by the media. Mesika stressed that what was going on in Barkan was true coexistence, as Jews and Arabs worked together for a better future for their children.
The journalists said that although they have visited Israel many times, they had not been aware of the reality of Barkan and Samaria in general, and that they were glad to have the opportunity to see the facts for themselves.
The response from the journalists on the tour was almost uniformly positive. Jorge Marirrodriga, a journalist from the daily El Pais in Spain said that he thought the trip had been “a very useful moment because it is unusual for foreign journalists coming to Israel. Most of the press trips are inside conference rooms with experts coming one after the other. Many times, the focus is more on the conflict with the Palestinians and not on the other aspects of Israel like all society."
Saba Farzan, an Iranian-born freelance journalist in Germany, said that the visit to Barkan and Samaria was a special eye-opener, as this was her first trip to Israel. “It’s for me an overwhelmingly positive experience. First, I would like to congratulate the wonderful organization. The crossing points to Gaza that we saw are for me very informative, especially because of the fact that I have not been dealing a lot with the issue of Gaza. It’s a huge amount of knowledge that I have taken with me on the first day of this press trip.”
Besides the trip to Barkan, the journalists were earlier in the week also taken to a site adjacent to the border with Syria on the Golan Heights to observe UN military patrols crossing the border between at the Quneitra crossing. The passage is also used for the export of apples grown by Israeli Druze farmers, and for Druze to visit family members in Syria. Austrian journalist Thomas Seifert, from the Wiener Zeitung, had the opportunity to be briefed by Austrian members of UNDOF about the situation in the framework of the conflict in Syria.
Journalists also toured the city of Sderot in the western Negev, where 24,000 people have been the on-going target of 8,000 rocket attacks from nearby Gaza since 2001. The city’s mayor, David Buskila, explained the situation, and discussed the investments that have been made to protect the residents.
On the visit to Barkan and the Shomron Regional Council, the group was accompanied by Shay Atias, Director of the Israel Public Diplomacy group in disputed areas.