Plans are underway to transform this Gush Etzion property, which belonged to the Swedish Church, into a Jewish tourism site.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Left-wing parliamentarians protested Tuesday against plans to turn a 3.8-hectare West Bank site that formerly belonged to the Swedish Church into a Jewish tourist site that could include a hotel.
“We call on the defense minister not to authorize this plan,” said Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On as she stood outside the site on a tour led by NGO Peace Now.
The property sits off of Route 60, between the Gush Etzion junction and Hebron.
It has a number of large stone buildings that are fenced off from the surrounding Palestinian farmland with stone walls and barbed wire. At one point, the church used it as a hostel.
While it is technically considered part of the Gush Etzion region, it is not under the auspices of its council. However, Gush Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl, who spoke to the parliamentarians, said that he had submitted a request to the IDF to change that.
“The plan is to make this a tourist spot, and we as a council that controls the area are more than happy to be part of the project,” he said.
He spoke publicly about the project after Haaretz published a report that US millionaire Irving Moscowitz had purchased the property.
MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) warned that authorization of such a project could harm the general understanding that the Gush Etzion bloc would be included within Israel’s final borders in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
“This will harm Gush Etzion and its residents,” he argued.
He called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set the boundaries of such blocs.
“It would open an important public debate,” he said.
Peace Now executive director Yariv Oppenheimer, meanwhile, said that the property was in a “sensitive area” and that Jewish development there would impact the state’s ability to reach a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.
This project, he said, could “affect not only the region, but even the question of the two-state solution and the borders of the settlement blocs.”
Perl, however, noted that at present there is no peace process. The project, he said, has strategic security implications because it sits on the main road, next to Palestinian areas.
It is not far from the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and would help expand Jewish tourism in the area, he said.
In addition, Perl said he could not help but note that the group was visiting the site on the Hebrew anniversary of the day Hamas terrorists kidnapped Israeli teens Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel last year.
The car in which the terrorists drove the teens passed right by this site, according to security cameras, and their bodies were found nearby, he said.
Perl took the opportunity to speak with the parliamentarians about Unity Day, which will take place in Jewish communities around the world on Wednesday in honor of the kidnapped boys.
He also highlighted the existing tourist sites in Gush Etzion, including its wineries and upcoming cherry-picking festival.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) interrupted him to say, “We are politicians, we are not here to drink wine with you."