Obama, come visit Shomron!

My suggestion is about providing hands-on information for decision makers on core issues that are being discussed concerning Israel and the Mideast.

US President Obama speaks with PM Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: White House Photo by Pete Souza)
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.
But my 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 PLO.
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 cards.
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 framework.
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 8,600.
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.
Those 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.
I 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.
All are visible in the bird’s eye view from the hills of the Shomron.
From here, 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.
It 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 future.
President Obama, come to Shomron.
The author is the director of the Shomron Liaison Office. Follow David Ha’ivri on Twitter @haivri.