Jewish settlers have come up with a new campaign to hold onto the West Bank. They want to attract tourists to their area and hope the visitors will not want the West Bank to become part of a Palestinian state. Linda Gradstein reports.
MARCO WERMAN: As Israeli-Palestinian peace talks look set to resume in one form or another, Jewish settlers have launched a new campaign to hold onto the West Bank. The idea is to bring in tourists to both remote hilltops and large settlements. Once Israelis see these places, the thinking goes, they won't let them become part of a Palestinian state. Linda Gradstein reports from the West Bank.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Doron Nir-Tzvi opens the door to his brand new vacation cabin and smiles. There's everything you could want, the scent of fresh pine, a large Jacuzzi, and a flat screen TV. The jaw-dropping view out the windows is of endless rolling tree covered hills. The only noise is made by the birds. Nir-Tzvi says most Israelis have never visited the northern West Bank, which he calls by its Biblical name of Samaria, and don't know how peaceful it is. He says he's learned from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967 from Syria.
INTERPRETER: The idea is that Israelis will love Samaria just as they love the Golan Heights and Golan is now part of the Israeli consensus. We hope they will come visit here, see it's not on the other side of the moon, and love this place.
GRADSTEIN: Nir-Tzvi describes the view as similar to that of Tuscany, but this place is about as far from the laid back Italian region as you can get. It's an outpost deep in the heart of the West Bank. Everything here is built illegally, Nir-Tzvi's home, his swimming pool and the cabin, but it doesn't seem to bother him. He says that in the past, the settlers have made mistakes. In 2005, he says, most Israelis didn't protest against the dismantling of Jewish settlements in Gaza because they hadn't visited there and had no connection there. That's what he is trying to change.
INTERPRETER: A settlement isn't just homes, its industry and tourism, everything that deepens our grip on this land. Bringing tourists here is certainly ideological. I have a vision that tourists will come and will realize that it shouldn't be given up.
GRADSTEIN: At the sound and light show at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion near Bethlehem, tourists can learn about what they call the massacre of 240 Jews in 1948 during Israel's war of independence. Jordan captured this area of the West Bank in that war. Israeli troops took it the 1967 war. Some of the children of the original settlers returned and today some 25,000 people live in what is called the Etzion block. As the show finished, Bobby Weinstein, who is visiting from the U.S., was almost in tears.
BOBBY WEINSTEIN: I am continually blown away by what the people of Israel have accomplished, what they've been through, and how sad it is that they can't finally have peace. It really brings me to tears when I think about it. It's just been an emotional visit for us.
GRADSTEIN: That's exactly the reaction Jewish settler tourism officials here like to see. Oriyya Dasberg says the area, just ten minutes from the edge of Jerusalem, has a lot to offer tourists. And, she says, that visiting the area is more effective than demonstrations opposing an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
ORIYYA DASBERG: We don't really believe in demonstrations. We believe in bringing the people in order to fill the land, in order to enjoy what they are seeing here, to get connected to the place. We really believe this is the best way to get people to get to know us and to get to know the area.
GRADSTEIN: In the West Bank some 300,000 Jewish settlers live amid two and a half million Palestinians. Hagit Ofran, the Director of the settlement watch project at the dovish Peace Now group, says that the new settler's campaign shows they are getting nervous about a possible future Israeli withdrawal.
HAGIT OFRAN: They realize that actually the Israelis gave up on the territories, at least in their minds. They're ready to a two state solution, although most of them do not believe that it is possible right now, but they're ready to make the concession. And the settlers are trying now to buy their hearts.
GRADSTEIN: Ofran says most of the visitors to the West Bank are already supporters of the settlers. And, she says, that if the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations lead to a real peace deal, she has no doubt that Israelis will be willing to leave the West Bank. For The World, I'm Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.
Do you enjoy our audio? Please help support it with a donation.