In recent years, a growing number of Israelis have been visiting tourism sites located beyond the Green Line. Sites such as Gush Etzion, Wadi Kelt, and Mt. Hebron – previously shunned due to security concerns – are quickly regaining their status as some of Israel's most popular destinations.
This booming tourism industry is the result of some hard work by settlers committed to
Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, the man behind Binyamin Regional Council's public relations effort, told Ynet that "Israelis don't travel to south Mt. Hebron because they are afraid, but there are actually some amazing places that are totally safe – like Yatir Forest and Khirbet Susiya."
Mor-Yosef added that if people can travel in Sinai and Jordan they can certainly visit Judea and Samaria. "It is unfortunate that some people choose not to come here out of ideology," he said. "The argument over the question of living here is legitimate, but travelling here should be a widely accepted idea."
"Our goal is to break down the mental walls about the Green Line," he added. "We have concluded that the way to the Israeli public's consciousness is not through political battles, and decided to focus on tourism. If we invite the people of Israel to come and get to know these beautiful places they will fall in love with them and acknowledge their significance."
Khirbet Susiya. (Photo: Susiya tour center)
Mor-Yosef says the settler effort is not about brainwashing, but rather, gentle persuasion. "I don't believe in brainwashing, but it's obvious that in order to strengthen our hold on Judea and Samaria we need as many Israelis as possible to think positively about it," he said.
The settlers of Judea and Samaria are not the first to tread this path in Israel; in fact, they were inspired by Golan Heights residents, famous for swaying public opinion with beautiful scenery, excellent wineries, and adventurous hikes.
Just an hour from Tel Aviv. (Photo: Roee Simon)
Binyamin Regional Council is adamant about allowing settlers to travel anywhere they wish in the surrounding area, even in the A and B areas of the Palestinian territories, even though youths hiking in these regions have been attacked and even killed.
Susiya and Ofra Field Schools are responsible for convincing the council of the importance of allowing youths to continue these dangerous excursions. The schools have been working with the IDF and security forces in order to enable adventurous souls to embark on these trips, accompanied by IDF soldiers and jeeps.
"We ask the army to open up beautiful and historically significant areas," explains Nadav Abramov, a supervisor at Susiya Field School. "Last month we visited Carmel Pool where a natural spring merges with an amazing pool. It is a fascinating place and the IDF finally approved it a month ago and provided us with an escort."
Carmel Pool. (Photo: Mordechai Stern)
Abramov says the excursions are not undertaken for political reasons. "The goal of the trip was to give people the chance to get to know the places they want without taking risks," he said.
"We don't march with flags or enter settled areas. If we see a local on the way we speak to him in a friendly manner. The Arab villager just wants to live in peace like us – it is the government that creates war. When a villager sees us walking in the area he doesn't consider it a provocation."
Binyamin Regional Council hopes more areas currently regarded as dangerous will soon be open to Israeli tourism. This depends on permission from the IDF, however.
"The trips taken with the IDF's permission and escort are extremely safe," Mor-Yosef said. "Though I can't recommend these tours to all Israelis, if anyone wants to join the next hike to Carmel Pool we would welcome them."