Elon Moreh children at play
Elon Moreh children at playShomron Regional Council

The Shomron Development Company’s newly-appointed director, Chaim Ben-Shushan, plans to attract tourists to Samaria by opening bed-and-breakfast lodges in existing Samaria communities.

The former vice president of Maagal Security and entrepreneur visited several potential tourist sites on Sunday. In a visit to the Samaritan community on Mount Gerizim, Ben-Shushan spoke with Samaritan leaders, Ovadia and Itamar Cohen.

The Samaritans accept biblical law but reject Talmudic law. The sect was rejected by mainstream Judaism almost 2,000 years ago. Nonetheless, the Samaritans offer the Pascal sacrifice annually on Mount Gerizim, albeit according to their calculations when Passover occurs, and not according to the accepted Jewish mainstream practice.

Ben-Shushan is contacting his contacts in Israeli companies to design company-sponsored trips to the Samaria.

Samaria Regional Council liaison David HaIvri explained that Israeli firms who run company-sponsored trips have visited nearly every existing tourist site, but have skipped over the Samaria region. “Samaria is an untapped resource,” HaIvri notes.

The Samaria Regional Council is planning to develop a park next to Mitzpeh Yosef, a majestic lookout on the top of Mount Gerizim, where one can look down upon the Tomb of Joseph, in Shechem. Aside from the historical aspects of the Samaria region, tourists can also avail themselves of the numerous wineries, and even tour the scenic mountain regions by horseback.

Ben-Shushan plans to replicate the bed-and-breakfast inns of the Galilee and build them in existing communities. That way, tourists from abroad could get a feel for real Israeli living, yet have the amenities that they are used to from abroad.

In addition, HaIvri has welcomed American leaders to the Samaria region, including the Zionist Organization of America’s Jeff Daube, who runs the ZOA office in Jerusalem, along with its Los Angeles board member, Steve Goldberg.

HaIvri, who is currently in the US looking for foreign investors to purchase land for vacation cottages in Samaria, is also planning a leadership tour for high-ranking American Zionist leaders.

Although a hotel outside of Ariel currently exists, it is isolated from a community and only open for groups. “The advantage of the bed-and-breakfast inns is that tourists could take part in the town’s life,” HaIvri says.

“Bed-and-breakfast enterprises are focused more on a low-budget type of vacation, suitable for families who are tired of the hotel atmosphere.,” HaIvri states, adding that while the atmosphere is more relaxed, the amenities will be a high standard.

HaIvri is aware that tourists on vacation from abroad need to feel secure. To this end, the Shomron Development Company is first bringing American leaders to see Samaria for themselves. “We’re going to show them that we’re not in a war-zone, and that we’re calm and safe,” HaIvri states.

While the Gaza War has predictably had a negative effect on incoming tourism for 2009, on Sunday the Central Bureau of Statistics published the statistics for incoming country-wide tourism during 2008, which turned out to be an all-time record year. More than three million visitors entered Israel – 32 percent more than in 2007 and 13 percent more than the previous record year of 2000.