Carrying on the legacy

After the death of the only mayor the city of Ariel has ever known, a real changing of the guard is taking place; residents must choose between a new voice and the old way.

Ariel mayoral race 521 (photo credit: Laura Kelly)
Ariel mayoral race 521
(photo credit: Laura Kelly)
‘Why are the windows cracked?” I ask the bus driver as we make our way toward the city of Ariel.
“The buses are old. It’s not because of stone throwing,” he answers plainly.
A study conducted by the Public Security Ministry found Ariel – a city 16 kilometers over the Green Line – to be the safest city in Israel, with 92 percent of respondents saying they felt personally secure.
Ahead of nationwide municipal elections on October 22, the residents of Ariel are concerned with issues that plague any city: convenient transportation, improvements in education, affordable housing and making the city attractive to young people and families.
But for 35 years the city has known only one mayor, the larger-than-life personality Ron Nachman. He died in January at the age of 70 after a three-year battle with cancer. This year’s mayoral elections are the first real changing of the guard. Nachman helped found Ariel, taking it from a couple of tents on a barren hilltop to a city that has grown to a population of 20,000. It has an accredited university, a renowned performing arts center and a community sports and recreation center. A large industrial park lies on the outskirts of the city, and a new mall at the entrance of Ariel is expected to be completed in 2014.
In the elections there are four candidates running for mayor, but two have emerged as the front-runners – acting mayor Eli Shaviro 55, and Hana Golan, 62, former director-general of the municipality under Nachman, both independent candidates.
The other candidates are Yossi Chen and Ariel Azaria.
Supporters of Shaviro regard him either as an extension of Nachman, preserving his vision, or the answer to lead Ariel into a new direction.
In 2008, Shaviro ran against Nachman and lost by only a few hundred votes, the closest election in Ariel’s history. He led the opposition of the city council until Nachman’s death, when he was elected in March as acting mayor.
“Eli Shaviro is the closest to what Ron Nachman wanted to keep in Ariel,” says Adi Rubin, 29, a resident of Ariel. She says the most important issue for her is making the city affordable and attractive to young families.
In Shaviro’s platform, he emphasizes that immediately upon his appointment, he implemented a cooperative program that uses the resources and students of the university in a robotics-building program to engage with children from kindergarten through grade 12. He also appointed a new head of the Department of Education.
Yael Lockerman, 27, an American immigrant, says she is going to the polls with education on her mind and is voting for Shaviro “mostly because he’s different, he’s new.”
Sitting in the center of town at the local felafel restaurant, Lockerman is joined by her friend Dvorah Kessin, 41, also an American immigrant. The two go back and forth, breaking down the status quo in Ariel.
“Some of the ideas have become rather stagnant,” Kessin says cautiously. “They’re not necessarily bad, but some of the things haven’t kept up with the changing demographics of Ariel.”
Lockerman jumps in: “A lot of the people who helped found this city were never fired.”
THE DEMOGRAPHICS of Ariel span a spectrum of religious, secular, Englishspeaking, Israeli-born and a large population of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In 2005, Ariel took in a community of evacuees from the Gaza Strip and, after eight years, construction is finally beginning on homes for them.
The delay in construction is an example of some of the challenges Ariel faces as a city situated over the Green Line.
The government recognized the city in 1988, but the international community never did. The government must first approve any new projects in Ariel, such as housing, roads and infrastructure.
Therefore, it’s not enough for a mayor to have the creativity to solve problems; doggedness to follow through is a necessary attribute for the job.
“I am the one who worked with Ron and knows all the ways, all the doors, everyone, how, when, how much strength is needed,” Golan tells Metro.
“I am the one who has the experience.”
In her platform, Golan writes that she wants Ariel to be the answer to all surrounding communities and serve as a center of business, culture and social activity.
“We should still remember that Israeli law does not apply to the Ariel bloc,” she writes. “We must be vigilant and ensure policy decisions that Ariel will always be the top considerations of the decision-makers in the Knesset and the government.”
If Shaviro represents a change, Golan is a representative of the old school of thinking. In fact, Golan says, Nachman told her to run in the election.
Some may perceive Golan as cold, but it’s more that she doesn’t have time for formalities.
“I’m a doer,” she says. “At the top must be a mayor who has a vision to go high and far and has experience working with the government.”
Golan came to Israel from the former Soviet Union as a young girl. She says, “When I was 10, my parents dumped me at a kibbutz. No one spoke Russian, and I didn’t know any words in Hebrew.
I had two choices: to be depressed or to integrate myself.”
She is candid in expressing her opinion, and what could be seen as inciting rhetoric is more just her style of shooting from the hip. One thing she likes to say is that Shaviro’s campaign is straight out of a magic lamp. “Shaviro is a genie; he promises everything. I am not a genie – I promise only what I can give.”
Golan was part of the founding families of Ariel, coming to the barren hilltop in 1978. She has a long history in education, first as a teacher before moving into executive positions in the school system. She began working with Nachman in 2000. At that time, Ariel was in a period of austerity. Her greatest achievement was carrying out the recovery plan.
BUT THERE is one challenge that both Golan and Shaviro have not yet had the opportunity to tackle, and the election could hinge on which candidate proposes the best solution.
There is an issue about public transportation into Ariel and, like any complicated Israeli story, it involves the Palestinians. An influx of Palestinian workers traveling from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is cited as one of the main problems of overcrowding on buses. The majority of residents travel outside the city for work. They say that on the return trip during rush hour, wait times for buses of up to two hours have become the norm. Buses that are scheduled to leave every six to 12 minutes pass by waiting passengers, completely full. In September, the government approved 5,000 additional work visas for Palestinians from the West Bank to work in Israel, and residents say that this will only exacerbate the problem.
“I decided that I wanted to experience it,” Golan says. “So I waited two hours and 15 minutes; four buses [passed] that were full. One stopped. There were four Israelis from Ariel, and all the others were Palestinians. It’s scary. It’s not security for us.”
Like Golan, most residents are frank about a fear for their personal safety as a minority surrounded by Arabs.
“I met with people in the army [and] in the Knesset, and I made a plan for how we could travel safely and how they [Palestinians] could travel comfortably,” Golan says.
Her plan is to implement two new bus lines. One will travel through the Arab villages, and the other to Ariel.
“We are in the middle of Samaria here,” Golan says. “The other line will go from Lod, from the other side. They will go comfortably, and we will ride safely.”
When asked if this was a program of “separate but equal,” Golan is quick to respond: “It’s not separation. If I want to go to the Arab villages, I can go; they’re Israeli buses. If they want to go with us, they are welcome. Now there are not enough buses for so many people.”
But for Shaviro, the idea of separate buses is completely unacceptable. His solution is a “significant expansion to the bus fleet” and that new buses have already been added, with an additional 15 expected by the end of January 2014.
A budget of NIS 32 million has been approved and attained to implement the new buses and a dedicated security program to address residents’ fears of riding public transportation. Shaviro says that he is sensitive to this issue, but that public transportation should be for everyone.
For security, Shaviro has worked with the municipality and the government to implement a system whereby Palestinians must be consistent in the identification they use to exit through a certain border crossing, and must therefore return through that same crossing. Shaviro is adamant that the solution won’t come through separation, but will be through an increase in the number of buses and a diligence in security. “The buses have to be for everyone, but there has to be a system that will monitor it,” he says But at a parlor meeting organized by resident Natalie Zacks, 37, which Shaviro attended, Zacks says that when the issue of the bus situation came up, the debate got heated.
“There was one guy talking about the bus situation, but not the bus situation we usually talk about,” Zacks tells Metro.
The man gave the example of a bus being stopped by security forces and cars starting to pile up behind it.
“He says, ‘Why don’t you have the bus pull over… and in the meantime, the people can drive through,’” Zacks recounts. “So Eli Shaviro says, ‘I’m really going to check on that,’ and this guy responds, ‘Don’t check on it, just do it!’” By press time, Shaviro had not given a response to the parlor meeting participants.
THE CITY center of Ariel is easy to find; most roads lead straight there. With the main supermarket, post office and bank, it’s where everyone can find each other and say hello. It’s a mix of locals, people from the surrounding communities, and some who have left Ariel but go there to work.
Large campaign posters cover every available space, touting the candidates’ slogans.
Mor Morad, the 28-year-old owner of a convenience store, says he’s sick of the elections and that it just brings out the worst in people. He says that someone wrote on the Facebook wall of Nachman’s widow, “The king is dead.”
When pressed, he says that he’ll be voting to make the issues that are important to him known, such as making the city more welcoming for young people and lowering the cost of housing. He won’t divulge whom he’ll vote for but says that Ariel was built on donations from abroad and that he doesn’t believe Shaviro has the charisma to sustain that.
At around 4 p.m., the shops begin to close, and Morad sits at a table outside his store, sipping coffee and joined by friends and passersby. I go to pull up a chair.
“Remember the rule,” he says to me before I sit down. “We don’t talk politics”.