Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Enjoy Yesha, Wines, Olives and All

Nadav Shragai of Haaretz writes on Settlers latch on to tourism as key to holding West Bank

From Givat Ahiyah, 857 meters above sea level, one can see thousands of olive trees in the Shilo Valley below. When Yossi and Ronit Shoker planted them here 12 years ago, their action had a lot of romance in it and mostly ideology...his homemade olive press has become a major operation that handles 1,500 tons of olives per season and has annual sales of NIS 10 million. It and the adjacent olive groves have become a tourist attraction, especially around this time of year, when the miracle of the jug of oil is celebrated.

Yair Hirsch, the CEO of Eretz Zeit Shemen Muvhar, Ltd., which is better known on the market as Ahiyah Oil, notes that the state does not allocate even a minimum water quota for their olive groves.

"We pay three times as much as any other farmer in the country," he said.

Despite this, this olive press, now located in Shilo, has gained a far-reaching reputation and it receives olives from Har Hanegev, the Beit She'an Valley, the Golan Heights and Kiryat Gat, employs 40 workers and enjoys the financial support of Moni Lehman (the owner of Lehman and Schlissel) and diamond dealer Moshe Namdar, who invested in the venture as partners several years ago.

...The founding fathers of the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza sanctified the principle of fighting for the land of Israel with demography, and from the start they devoted all their efforts to increasing the population.

In the late 1980s the residents realized their chances were slim that in a demographic fight and they moved to a fight over the land. The emphasis was redirected to acquiring as much land as possible via outposts, roads, businesses, industrial areas, orchards and various tourist enterprises.

In recent years, it seems leaders have recognized that those two tactics, while fine for their times, no longer work. The message to local residents and all around Israel is one of complete normalization and disconnecting the area of Judea and Samaria from their political context as much as possible.

Against this backdrop, the regional councils and development authorities are upgrading internal tourism with bed-and-breakfasts in the Binyamin Region, boutique wineries in Samaria, archaeological sites in the southern Hebron hills and guided tours of scenic sites alongside tours in the footsteps of the Bible, Jewish tradition and history. These efforts have culminated in the latest campaign of the Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza: "Judea and Samaria, the story of every Jew."

The site of biblical Shilo, where the Tabernacle stood and where there is now a sound and light show and actors playing biblical characters, is just one example...Bentzi Lieberman, a former chairman of the Yesha Council, acknowledged shortly before leaving his post that "the settlers are living on borrowed time: if we don't create something else for the public, something dynamic, relevant and up-to-date, if we don't use a different, Israeli, language, that will connect the public to us, the danger of us becoming irrelevant will increase."..."If we are not able to create these kinds of projects, in terms of language, content and essence and also in the economic sense," Lieberman warned then, "if we don't speak a language that Israelis understand, we won't be here." Today, Lieberman's vision is taking shape and increasing numbers of Israelis are visiting Judea and Samaria for reasons that are not political. Instead they are going for the experience and the fun.

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