'Outpost tourism' draws many visitors

Israeli tourists come to meet settlers and learn about life in the W. Bank.

alon moreh outpost tour 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
alon moreh outpost tour 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Meet Israel's latest tourist attraction. It's not a high-tech amusement park or a swanky boardwalk. It's not even a newly discovered archeological site. These days hundreds of people are flocking to the West Bank to visit solitary caravans on hilltops and ramshackle sheds in the desert. Bus-loads of sightseers are now participating in what is being referred to as outpost tourism. Tomer Tzanani operates Boundary Tours, which offers visitors day trips to various destinations in Samaria. A typical tour, like the one that was held on Wednesday, offers travelers an organized trip on an armored bus through the scenic landscape, with stops at places like the Yitzhar winery, Mount Gerizim and Gilad Farm. Tourists meet with the local settlers and learn about life in the West Bank. "The whole idea is to bring thousands of Jews to the Shomron, to strengthen the Jewish settlement project and our brother settlers who are there," said Tzanani. "Without a bulletproof vehicle it's not that pleasant for a Jew to travel around the area, so people just aren't exposed to what there is." Tzanani said the tours began as the result of a gathering held last year in Kfar Saba which, according to him, had been characterized by the press at the time as "a radical right wing alliance." Tzanani is a member of Our Land of Israel, an organization founded by Rabbi Sholom Dov Wolpo in 2003 to oppose political accords with the Arabs that include land or security concessions. Tzanani, who advertises the tours in his hometown of Kfar Saba and via online notice boards, said he had been approached by people from all across the country who expressed an interest in taking part. As yet, he said, no visitors from outside of Israel have been on the tour. Tzanani said that the people taking the tours come from all walks of Israeli society and range from the ideological to the merely curious. According to him, more than 7,000 people participated in the tour in 2008. The tour costs NIS 50, which Tzanani said went toward covering the cost of the buses. The tour guides were mostly volunteers from the region. "We came to realize after the [2005 Gaza] disengagement, that the Israeli public have been subjected to media-driven brainwashing; that the public is unaware of the objective truth on the ground," said Our Land of Israel CEO Rabbi Shay Gefen. "In the disengagement, people bought the plan, but it the end came to realize that the territory they gave to the Palestinians turned into a terror state, subjecting Jewish cities and villages to rocket attacks. Now that Judea and Samaria are also on the table, we need to bring the Israeli public and show them that these places are the protective blanket of Israel's heartland." The tours are funded by private donors and whatever the operators received from the tourists, said Gefen. He added that visitors were encouraged to donate money to Our Land of Israel, who in turn used it to support the settlements. "A person who has been in the area empathizes with those in the area; he understands what's really going on," said Gefen. He would have liked to have given US President Barack Obama a tour, he said, but Obama had been too busy meeting with Israel's enemies. Samaria Regional Council Mayor Gershon Mesika said he was happy to host tourists, and that with the improving security situation over the past year there had been a sharp rise in visitors. He said that over Pessah 10,000 people had toured the region, and that 15,000 came on Independence Day. He added that while the council wasn't seeing revenues from tourism yet, he knew that business owners and operators had increased their earnings because of the Our Land of Israel tours and others like it.