US President Obama speaks with PM Netanyahu 370.
(photo credit: White House Photo by Pete Souza)
When I originally posted to my Twitter stream, calling for the US president to
visit the Shomron on his upcoming visit to Israel, a Jewish American journalist
texted me back, asking why we should expect that, since we have opposed him in
the past. Truth be told, I personally don’t care for Barack Obama and his
negativity toward Israel and rude treatment of Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu. Insulting a world leader is totally undiplomatic and completely
contrary to Obama’s general “be nice to everyone” policy.
suggestion that Obama visit the Shomron is not about our support of his policies
or his of ours. This is about providing hands-on information for movers, shakers
and decision makers on core issues that are being discussed concerning Israel
and the Middle East.
On the issue of Israel’s control of Judea and
Samaria (the West Bank to some), it seems everyone has an opinion about the
future of the Jewish communities in this region, but few have taken the time to
see the reality on the ground for themselves. Some make sweeping statements that
Israel should just brush off the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of
Jewish residents of the area. Over the past five years, Obama has not missed an
opportunity to apply pressure on Israel to hand over this region to the
Spending a day touring in Shomron would provide Obama with a bit of
insight and many background details that he obviously has not been exposed to.
At the end of the day, it will be the leaders of Israel who will make the
decisions on the future of this region, but Obama remains the leader of a world
power that invests heavily in the peace process, who wishes to see himself as a
fair and honest broker – so he needs to be able to play with the full deck of
750,000 Jewish people live east of the pre-1967 Green Line – about
half in the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The other half live in the
Jewish communities (or settlements, if you like), which are spread out to the
north and south along the mountain range of Judea and Samaria. Just for the sake
of comparison, in 2005, Israel’s government carried out the disengagement from
Gaza. Some 8,600 Jewish residents were displaced from their homes. Now, some
eight years later, many of them have still not been resettled in any permanent
Businesses, schools and institutions were destroyed, families
fell apart – but that is only part of the story.
The point that I mean to
make is not to call for sympathy for those families whose lives were ruined by
the disengagement. In 2007, Israel’s State Comptroller’s report cited that the
cost of the disengagement plan had reached NIS 9 billion, equivalent to $2.5b.
That was the price paid to cover the cost of the logistics of Israel removing
itself from a 360 square mile area, with a Jewish population of
What would be needed for Israel to move itself out of “the West
Bank” – which is 16 times that size, and has a Jewish population 90 times
greater than that of Gaza before the 2005 disengagement? If President Obama
would take the time to visit Shomron, I would suggest that he come to the Barkan
Industrial Park and see for himself that the reality is much more complex than
simplistic slogans like “Israel should go back to its pre-1967 borders” can
cover. Jewish-owned businesses provide thousands of workplaces to local Arabs
and Jews, who all receive the same work benefits according to the laws of the
State of Israel.
Local Arabs (or Palestinians, if you’d like) are making
Israeli salaries while working in industry in the settlements.
salaries are about three times higher than the norm in the Palestinian Authority
areas. People there, regardless of their ethnicity or political views, go to
work in a friendly environment and take home bread for their children. Those who
advocate the end of this local economic base of cooperation and promote its
destruction, according to what happened in Gaza in 2005, should make a point of
seeing and understanding what it is that they strive to destroy.
challenge Obama to look into the eyes of Abed, a warehouse manager in one of the
factories in Barkan who has worked there for the past 20 years and been able to
send three of his sons to university thanks to the higher salary that he makes
at Barkan. Abed and thousands of other Palestinians consider themselves lucky to
have secure jobs in the Barkan Industrial Park. They do not look forward to
having all this closed down, and themselves sent to the lines of social services
and humanitarian aid administered by Hamas, as was the fate of the Palestinians
who worked for Israeli employers in Gaza.
I suggest that President Obama
stand in any of the Jewish communities in Shomron and look down to the west and
see the Mediterranean Sea and the Tel Aviv region, which the mountains of the
Shomron tower over. Seeing this proximity with his own eyes might help him
understand and appreciate the strategic value of Israel’s control of this hilly
region. Eighty percent of Israel’s Jewish population lives in the greater
metropolitan between Hadera in the north and Gadera in the south.
visible in the bird’s eye view from the hills of the Shomron.
we look down at the runways of the Ben-Gurion International Airport and can see
your plane landing and taking off, Mr. President. Would you advise Israel to
entrust this vantage point to the hands of those who have fired tens of
thousands of rockets from Gaza at Israeli towns in the southern region? Do you
realize that in Gaza, those firing the rockets cannot see their targets because
Gaza’s topography is flat? Still, they have caused great damage and loss of
life. Would it be wise to consider providing them with the mountaintops of
Shomron to look over Tel Aviv and the airport? Workplaces, economy, security and
strategic considerations are only part of the story. The amazing success of
Ariel University, the organic farms and award-winning boutique wineries are all
worth seeing, to help you believe the blessings of the fruits of the land and
their connection to the nation of Israel that loves its land so much.
would be a great shame to overlook the realities on the ground and continue
pressuring Israel to make unrealistic moves that could only be
counter-productive to the future development of the region. The people who dwell
on this land and value it should determine its future. Proposals that are
drafted based on foreign concepts, in sterile halls of government thousands of
miles away are meaningless. Only standing here, with your feet on the ground and
filling your lungs with the air of this land, holy to the people who live on it,
can you expect to understand its true needs and hopes for the
President Obama, come to Shomron.The author is the
director of the Shomron Liaison Office. Follow David Ha’ivri on Twitter @haivri.