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  • Dana Evan Kaplan

Ariel Mayor and Ariel Foundation Director from Our Sister City in Israel Visit Us

On Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 10:00 a.m., we had an unprecedented opportunity to meet in person with Eli Shaviro, Mayor of Ariel, and Avi Zimmerman, Director of the Ariel Foundation. They also brought a couple of dancers and vocalists with them.

This was a fascinating chance to meet with the leaders of our Mobile Sister City in Israel, which is seen by some as a paradigm of what modern Israel can accomplish and by others as a West Bank settlement preventing peace negotiations.

Here are the mayors all together:

The previous evening, there was a dance and song performance at St Paul's School.

This was a Ukrainian bottle dance.

Below is part of the city seen from a vantage point.

Especially in light of the physical attack this past week at the Western Wall on Rabbi Richard Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, we thought that this event will be highly timely and fascinating, if controversial.

Indeed it was. I asked the Mayor about Reform Judaism in Ariel and was told not a single resident had requested a Reform Temple be built. If someone does want it, they can help provide funding. "We have no problem with the reformers," he said in Hebrew which Avi translated for us. I offered to start fund raising for a Reform temple in Ariel. They did not seem too excited.

The mayor of Ariel is in the middle.

The director of the foundation Avi Zimmerman is to the right. He is a very polished diplomat.

Here is a history of the city---

With the approval of the Israeli government in 1978, 40 families led by Ron Nachman settled on top of the rocky and barren hill that would become the City of Ariel. The government subsequently gave the outpost "development-town" status and the residents chose the name Ariel, a Biblical reference to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Two years later, in 1980, construction began on Ariel's first neighborhood, the first Jewish homes built in the Shomron region in 2000 years.

The capital of Samaria, Ariel is located in the West Bank, 25 miles east of Tel Aviv , 25 miles west of the Jordan River and 31 miles north of Jerusalem. The city stretches 8 miles in length and is situated almost 2,000 feet above sea level. The western tip of the city (i.e., the part closest to Israel) is about 10 miles from the Green Line, and the eastern edge of the settlement is more than 13 miles from the Green Line. Ariel has a population of 18,000 residents and is one of only four settlements classified by Israel as a “city.” Another 8,500 people are students in the College of Judea and Samaria (which was upgraded to the status of a university in 2005). More than 45 percent of Ariel's population are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Ariel has 26 preschools, 4 elementary schools, a religious school (grades 1-9), two junior high schools and a high school. Ariel's new Sports & Recreation Complex will ultimately house an indoor swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool, showers and changing rooms, a multi-purpose hall, activity and games rooms, a day care center, kitchen and cafeteria, lobby, reception and offices. Tennis courts, a miniature golf course, gymnasium and fitness center have already been completed and are operating full-time.

Most of Ariel residents are secular; only about 10 percent of of the population is Orthodox. Though affiliated with the political right, the Jews in Ariel are not considered hardline ideologues. Rather, most moved there because of the higher standard of living they enjoy and the economic incentives provided by the government. In particular, residents can obtain better mortgages and repayment terms because the government designated Ariel as a “national priority” development area. In 1985, Ron Nachman became the first elected mayor of Ariel, and he's been reelected four times since, most recently in 2004. The city is not known for its sites; it is not in an area of any relgious significance, but many tourists visit Ariel because it is one of the safer places to see what life is s like in the West Bank. Ariels is also an example of a successful development town.

Ariel is now the heart of the most populous bloc of settlements, which includes Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Ma'ale Shomron, Bet Arye, Ofarim, Nofim, Yaqir, Immanuel, Peduel, Alei Zahav, Brukhin, Barkan, Kiryat Netafim, and Revava. This bloc is approximately 47 square miles and includes about 37,000 settlers. On February 20, 2005, the Israeli government approved a route for the security barrier that includes the Ariel bloc, but this portion of the fence has not been completed yet, in part because of opposition from the United States.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog called for the completion of the security fence around Ariel in February 2016, citing the completion of the fence as “a security necessity that the state owes its citizens.” Only 60% of the security fence has been completed around Ariel, and the project has been effectively frozen since 2007. Herzog controversially stated, “we need to create a reality of two separate peoples rather than one living amongst the other. Only in this way will we secure Israel’s existence as a Jewish nation and not an Arab-Jewish state.” The city's position expands Israel's narrow waist (which was 9 miles wide before 1967) and ensures that Israel has a land route to the Jordan Valley should Israel needs to fight a land war to the east. Because of its size, most Israelis favor the incorporation of the Ariel bloc within whatever may be the final borders of Israel.

It is more controversial than the other “consensus” settlements because it is the furthest from the 1949 Armistice Line. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Barak’s proposal at Camp David included Ariel among the settlement blocs to be annexed to Israel; the Clinton plan also envisioned incorporating Ariel within the new borders of Israel.

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