I had a day to remember on March 13th, when Ari Briggs took me on a memorable and exhilarating drive into the West Bank.
Ari is an expat Australian living in Israel. He is the International Director of Regavim. Regavim is working hard to track and remove illegal housing on government land and is being successful.
Regavim is a non-profit-making, non-governmental organisation concerned with preventing the illegal confiscation of Israel’s national land resources, with protecting nature, and with preventing environmental damage. By monitoring the way officialdom deals with these matters, Regavim ensures conformity to responsible administrative norms.
Ari and three friends picked me up at Modi’in, from where we headed east on road 443 to Jerusalem.
This is the second main road to Jerusalem and goes through liberated territory from Modi’in to Jerusalem.
We skirted around Jerusalem and passed through Atarot and Balanda, where we saw the eastern entrance to Ramallah to our left.
We then skirted along the separation barrier, until we reached Bet Hanina in Jerusalem, where we headed north on road 60, via the Pisgat Zeev/Hizme checkpoint. Going through checkpoints is somewhat disconcerting, but most necessary. Continuing on Road 60 we passed Migron, in the northern West Bank. It is located some 14 kilometres north of Jerusalem. We passed Bet El, Ofra and at Shilo we went east past Shvut Rachel, some 45 kms north of Jerusalem towards the Jordan Valley and the Allon Road.
The road is named after Yigal Allon, who drafted the “ Allon Plan” shortly after the Six-Day War in June 1967. The broad aim of the plan was to annex most of the Jordan Valley, from the river to the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge, East Jerusalem and the Etzion bloc to Israel. At the same time, the heavily populated areas of the West Bank hill country, together with a corridor that included Jericho, would be offered to Jordan.
King Hussein rejected it.
Between Bet El and Migron we turned right into Turmus Aiya, an Arab ‘village’.
We entered the village, complete with its own vineyards, via a tree lined avenue. We saw very large and luxurious Arab houses, which were in contrast to those of Jewish homes on the other side of the highway.
This is the complete opposite to that of popular international opinion in regards to the ‘downtrodden’ Arabs in Israel.
The drive and scenery as we continued heading north on the Allon road to Gittit (a moshav), was pretty, being covered with wild flowers thanks to recent rains.
Unfortunately, the illegal dumping of rubbish by Arabs is an eyesore, and sadly it’s destroying the ancient terraces. This is a tragedy and will result in soil erosion, which the terraces are there to prevent.
Before we went off road in a four wheel drive vehicle, from the Jordan Valley, heading west up the eastern slope of the Gideonite range towards Itamar, we passed Shiloh 16 kms north of Bet El in the West Bank. Shiloh was the temporary Capital of Israel before the first Temple was built in Jerusalem and the site of the tabernacle.
This is truly G-d’s own country. Peaceful, beautiful and the air so fresh and pure.
The drive was so exhilarating and it seemed the guys didn’t cope as well with it as I did! We had to negotiate a substantial rock fall and made it without mishap, thanks to Ari’s skilful handling of the vehicle.
We climbed to the top of the mountain, where we stopped at the sheep farm of Tomer, in hills of Itamar, so named in 1976, when it was established, as it was near the burial site of Itamar, the son of Aaron the High Priest. We enjoyed fresh goat's cheese and crackers, with homemade lemonade. Both were easily the best I have ever tasted, made by the young settlers. They have ten goats for making goats' milk and cheese products; however it is actually a sheep farm. They have around 200 of them presently, but their plan is to have 500. They raise the sheep for meat not wool.
We spoke about how life is lived in the "outback". I have to admire the guts and determination of these young people. We were made so welcome and showered with warmth and hospitality. They have little sleep, as they have to stand guard at night in two hour shifts. This not an easy task having to work on the land and to raise children.
From there we went to a large organic farm called “Peaks of the World” or "Givot Olam". There we enjoyed some goat’s yoghurt and Ari picked up some eggs, which I was concerned about, seeing as to how they would be bouncing about it the back of a 4WD vehicle off road and very bumpy. !! From there we continued west towards the main area of Itamar, which brought back sad memories.. It was a chilling thought to be passing the very place , where not so long ago the Fogel family were brutally slaughtered.
We visited two other farms growing organic fruit and vegetables and I bought freshly picked delicious strawberries, after which we went to Mt. Gerizim, also known as Mount Blessing, to Har Bracha, on the southern ridge of Mount Gerizim, in the West Bank's Samarian mountains near Nablus. Har Bracha is named after one of the two mountains which are mentioned in Deuteronomy, on which half the twelve tribes of Israel ascended in order to pronounce blessings.
It shares the Mount Gerizim ridge with Kiryat Luza, the main Samaritan town, which was very interesting. I have heard of the Samaritans but knew nothing about them until Ari told us some basic facts. Theirs is an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Based on the Samaritan Torah, Samaritans claim their worship is the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian Exile
From there we went to Joseph’s lookout above Schem (Nablus ) where we were directly above the Balata refugee camp. (Below, centre) There are vast expanses of available land all around it, yet to get international sympathy they insist on crowding their own people into a small space.
Joseph's tomb is located in Schem, but we are not permitted to access it.
Below is a photo of Schem, where we saw the impressive six-storey glass-faced shopping centre in the city; it is the white-domed building to the left of centre.
Towering over the city is the house of El Masri, the Palestinian Arab billionaire. This is the largest house in Israel – another fact that never sees the light of day because it does not suit the Arab and liberal world’s agenda.
From there we headed to the Mt. Blessing boutique winery. There we were given quite an extensive lesson on wine making. The guys enjoyed a dry red wine, which wasn’t to my liking, so I was given some very nice port. The owner is being quite successful in selling his product to the United States.
We then headed down the mountain and back west passing Kedumim, Funduk (Arab village) Karnei Shomron and Nebi Elias (Arab village) back to Raanana, where I boarded a bus to Modi’in after a long and very interesting day in the West Bank, or, as Ari calls it, Yehuda and Shomron.