Mixed emotions on Hebron tour
By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Hebron
"It's another world," says Israeli student Gilad Shalom, 29, as he follows a tour guide around the Israeli-controlled part of the divided West Bank town of Hebron.
Craning his neck to see over tall, sniper-proof concrete slabs, he is partly talking about the jumble of Palestinian houses on the other side.
But he is also referring to the town's Jewish settlers, known by reputation as some of the most hardline of the 270,000 Israelis who live in the West Bank.
Raised in a suburb of secular, trendy Tel Aviv, Mr Shalom is exactly the type of person a new campaign promoting tours to the West Bank is targeting.
Adverts proclaiming "Judea and Samaria [the Jewish name for the West Bank] - the story of every Jew" have recently appeared on billboards, buses and the websites of Israel's left-leaning newspapers.
Some were immediately defaced with left-wing graffiti, reflecting the strong differences among Israelis over the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law - although Israel disputes this.
Those behind the PR campaign - the settler council and its partners - say secular Jews have been put off visiting the West Bank by security fears and a media tendency to focus on a vocal, religious and sometimes violent minority among the settlers.
...The primarily historical tour begins at an archaeological site said to be close to where Abraham purchased a cave to bury his wife Sarah. Next is a museum about Jewish settlement in the area, including a room dedicated to 69 Jews massacred by Arabs in 1929. Finally, there is a chance to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs - known to Muslims as Haram al-Ibrihimi - which has a festive buzz, as hundreds of religious Jews visit during the holiday of Sukkot.
...Mr Goldman says that before he visited Hebron, he had thought "we should take all the Jews out and give it to the Arabs". "But now I'm here I see how connected the Jews here are to this place." He used to think the heavy troop presence was "such a waste", but he adds: "Now I see they're protecting the people here."
...But on the other hand, [Mr. Shalom] says seeing a Jewish presence in the city makes him feel somehow "safer".
Entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs as hundreds of religious Jews rock back and forth in prayer, too, is a mixed experience for the secular visitors...One secular tour participant, Tzipi Goldwasser, says visiting makes her feel "Jewish, more connected to my roots".
Mr Shalom reflects that it highlights the gulf between him and religious Jews: "Our lives, understandings, hopes and fears are so different - maybe the only thing we have in common is this definition that we are both Jewish."
And Yael draws "a bit of hope" from the fact that Muslims and Jews pray in the same place, "even if it takes a zillion soldiers to keep it that way".
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The New Yesha Council Campaign Is Working
According to this BBC report: