Mount Gerizim, the Samaritan
religion's holiest site, was inaugurated last week as Israel's
newest national park.
The mountain, which is located south of Nablus and towers 886 meters above sea level, is often frequented by Samaritan pilgrims, who consider themselves the true descendants of the ancient Israelites.
The site has drawn few tourists in recent years, perhaps due to the fact it is situated beyond the Green Line.
Members of the Samaritan community expressed hope that being branded as an official attraction by the Nature and Parks Authority would pull in more travelers.
Mount Gerizim last week (Photo: Ziv Reinstein)
During the official opening ceremony, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan
asserted that the site and others like it are inheretntly valuable to Judaism.
"Opening sites like Mount Gerizim will help us prove to the world that the Palestinian smear campaign is deceptive and that it's impossible to undo the Jewish people's historic ties to its country," he said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki
said recently that he will seek to have Mount Gerizim recognized by UNESCO as a Palestinian World Heritage Site. The announcement was made a little over a week after the UN's cultural agency added the Church of the Nativity
in Bethlehem to its World Heritage list.
Erdan at ceremony (Photo: Ziv Reinstein)
The minister stressed the importance of developing parks that attract the Israeli youth to nature and teach them about Jewish heritage.
"While the Palestinians are leading a false international campaign to undermine our connection to the Land of Israel, we respond with our presence and development," he said.
The mountain was mentioned in the Book of Deuteronomy, upon the Israelites' return to the Promised Land. The excavation of the structures there began in 1982, but was halted when the intifada
broke out in 2000.
Erdan said that Mount Gerizim won't be the last national park to be opened in the West Bank.