Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jennifer Rubin, WashPost's "Right Turn" Blogger, Visits the Binyamin Region

I had a hand in arranging this tour for Jennifer Rubin and here are portions of her Part I post about her trip to the Binyamin region last week:

Traveling in the West Bank (Part 1)

By Jennifer Rubin

...As readers of Right Turn know, I was recently in Israel. I spent a day in the West Bank. What I saw surprised me...when one leaves Jerusalem, crosses the Green Line -- a cement wall and a checkpoint (not unlike the set-up for an agent at a U.S. border) -- and travels up and down the highways of Samaria (the portion of the West Bank extending north), you realize how little non-Israelis know about the Jews who live in territory that is the focal point of so much international attention.

...On a Wednesday afternoon Naftali Bennett met me in Jerusalem. He drove up in an unassuming, white compact car. He was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt and wore a small knitted kippah not unlike conservative and modern Orthodox Jews in the United States. His parents made aliyah from the U.S., so his English is impeccable...
...The West Bank is a mountain range. On one side is the Jordan Valley, and on the other the heart of modern Israel. (Ben Gurion Airport is a few miles from the foot of the hills of the West Bank.) What strikes you are the vast open spaces -- hill after hill of barren land. There is no shortage of living space...The region of Binyamin, named for one of the 12 tribes of Israel, includes Shiloh, the city Joshua conquered immediately after Jericho. Excavations are underway, and already a massive amount of broken pottery, the leftovers from the ritual meals after animal sacrifice and the bones of animals (kosher only) have been found. In the modern era, Binyamin was deserted until the mid-19th century when early Zionists repopulated the area. Bennett explained that this is why settlers and many other Jews and Christians (in Israel and elsewhere) think of this area as "the heart of Israel."

...Five or ten minutes after we crossed the Green Line we stopped at a new, very large grocery store, a place where Jews and Palestinians shop together [my wife now works at the clothing shop next-door]. Palestinians are under an edict by the PA to boycott Israel goods, but the PA cannot enforce the boycott at the consumer level. Jews and Palestinians buy everything from fruit to Cocoa Puffs. What is most striking is how utterly ordinary is this place, in the middle of territory about which the entire world argues. A Palestinian father pushed two small children in a shopping cart; men with kippot filled the shelves.

We continued to the Psagot winery (about twenty minutes from Jerusalem), a stylish facility that could be in the Sonoma or Napa Valley in the U.S. There is a visitor center with a film explaining the history of the region. Its viewpoint is entirely absent from international media coverage. Only about 15 people operate the winery that produces 10,000 cases a year, some for export and some for Israeli consumers. A state of the art bottling line washes, fills, corks and labels the bottles. Each year volunteers from the states come for five weeks at a time to help out, living in a garage-like annex.

...We drove a short distance up the hill to Yuri's home. It is beautifully furnished but not lavish. We passed through the annex that looks like a camp dorm and climbed up a small hill. In a small cave we saw the remains of a wine operation 2500 years old, from the time of the Second Temple. In another cave are the remains of an ancient olive press. It was another reminder that while a modern country, Israel is also a giant archaeological site. Yuri, in a real sense, is one link in the Jewish historical narrative; his forefathers were cast around the world by Herod in 70 CE and now he has returned to pick up the same profession, in the same spot as those ancient Jews. During the Second Intifada Yuri's commanded three tanks a few hundred yards below the caves. We stood outside his home, a few miles from Jerusalem. As with so much else in Israel, security, religion and history are intertwined.


Second part here.

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