Record number of Israelis holiday in West Bank settlement areas

Tens of thousands of Israelis visited West Bank settlement areas during this week’s Passover holiday. Israel’s development of settler tourist attractions and normalization of its occupation are behind these record numbers.

Gvaot Olam “farm” near the northern West Bank settlement of Itamar, where Israelis enjoyed goat cheese and organic eggs this Passover holiday (Photo: Wikipedia Hebrew)

Tens of thousands of Israelis are reported to have visited West Bank settlement areas during this week’s Passover holiday. The northern West Bank settlement municipality of Samaria reports over 70,000 visitors to its various tourist attractions, while the West Bank settlement municipality of Binyamin notes that some 50,000 people visited the area on Wednesday alone. A record 10,000 people are reported to have toured around the Bethlehem area Gush Etzion settlement bloc while thousands of Israelis visited Hebron throughout the week.

Gershon Masika, Head of Samaria Regional Council, told the settler-affiliated Arutz 7 media outlet that “everyone came to tour and enjoy the springs, hiking trails and biblical attractions. The people of Israel voted with their feet and determined that Samaria is on the map, including for tourism”.

The coordinator of tourism in the settler municipality of Samaria, Nati Israeli, adds that “the campaign this year was different, it was directed at families who wish to enjoy the holiday with the children, without politics and media noise. (Our) ads showed tourists a variety of options, so that the salt of the earth family found what it searched for in archaeological and biblical sites, the ‘classical’ family found the eucalyptus tree, in the shade of which they could sit and let the children run safely, and so on”.

The development of tourist sites and leisure activities in the settlement areas has contributed strongly to the streaming of tens of thousands of Israelis to the West Bank. In the Gush Etzion settlement area, for example, visitors could hire bicycles, ride horses, visit petting farms, engage in challenge sports, ride jeeps and partake in a sound and light show in the Kfar Etzion settlement visitors centre.

This development of normative tourism industries in Israel’s illegal West Bank colonies serves to “normalize” both these Israeli military-civilian outposts on Palestinian land and provide sustainable sources of income for the settlers in jobs considered attractive to the mainstream Jewish Israeli population.

A large number of visitors to the Gvaot Olam “farm”, for example, were reported during the Passover holiday. Gvaot Olam specialises in goat cheese production and organic eggs, popular with the upper middle class secular crowd from the Tel Aviv area. “We worked like crazy…and people bought non-stop”, said the director of the farm. The “farm”, however, is actually an outpost of the northern West Bank settlement of Itamar, a settlement renowned for the violence of its residents (see here, for example). The farm, one of the West Bank’s first outposts, i.e. settlements constructed without previous Israeli government permission and planning, was built in 1996 and “legalized” by the government in 2000. The outpost, built partially on private lands belonging to residents of the nearby Palestinian village of Yanoun, was constructed by Avri Ran, considered the spiritual father of the so-called hilltop youth. According to testimonies given to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, in May 2001 Avri Ran and others from the settlement took five Palestinian farmers away at gunpoint, beating them and shooting one.

Orit Desberg, director of a tourism association in the Gush Etsion settlement bloc, says that “it is possible to see that the number of visitors to Gush Etsion is steadily increasing due to its proximity to Jerusalem, a lack of traffic jams on the way to tourist sites and the singular combination between attractions and activities together with natural resources”. With the impunity enjoyed by Israel within the international community for its crimes against the Palestinian people, this trend of normalizing Israel’s colonisation and making these colonized areas an attractive destination for Israelis will only continue.

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