It would be interesting to know how Tourism Minister Binyamin Elon felt this morning. I mean, there hasn't been a Pesach like this one in years: More than a million people thronged to the countryside, hiking, picking cultivated buttercups, visiting the parks, touring archaeological sites and filling every possible hotel and guest house. Even the Negev knew joy. Despite the fear of terror attacks, and despite the crowded roads, the Israeli public fawns lovingly - and according to Israel Nature and National Parks Protection
Authority spokesman Amnon Hamias, with respect and self-discipline too - over the landscapes of its homeland.
But from the perspective of the tourism minister, who wakes up in the morning in Beit El, the rush to nature is somewhat one-sided. The vast majority of the hiking and traveling takes place inside the Green Line. There are a few specific sites in Yesha (the Hebrew acronym of Judea and Samaria) that are blessed with physical beauty and historical significance (national significance, too, in the eyes of many) and that did draw relatively large numbers of visitors; but all it takes is a glance at the map and the people who go to those places to understand how the sites to visit are chosen.
Some 6,000 visitors made their way in private cars to Ein Fashkha, marked in the Israeli consciousness as a safe location, on the main road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and not adjacent to any Palestinian communities. For a similar reason, some 2,200 Israelis made their way to the Qumran caves; and with security in attendance, 165 private cars made their way to the baptism site on the Jordan River that opened before the holiday. Some 3,000 people made their way to Nebi Samuel, mostly to visit the tomb of the Prophet Samuel, who is said to be buried there. As always during Pesach, thousands went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Fewer showed up at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. During the entire holiday, no more than 800 people went to Herodian, which can be reached via a bypass road, but is considered quite dangerous.
Secular and religious, from all over the country, went to Ein Fashkha. The religious sites were visited by those religious people wealthy enough to own a car, while "ordinary people" went in organized transport, armored and protected. Many Haredim were afraid to go with the entire family, so they either gave the mitzvah a miss or only the men went. In the Negev, Galilee and center of the country, in the parks and forests, everyone holidayed - religious and secular, hawks and doves. With their feet and tires, they marked out the Green Line.
That was the strongest proof of the Israeli aspiration for normalcy. If the settlers' claim that the terrorism wiped out the Green Line were correct, and that there is no difference between Afula and Ofra, why did most families prefer to spread their blankets out in Horshat Tal, barbecue on the banks of the Yarkon River, pick cotton on a kibbutz, suntan along the shores of Lake Kinneret and put up tents in Eilat? Maybe because it's that small, old, crowded Israel, blossoming in a cornucopia of colors and the fragrances of flowers is in the hearts, and the land of messianic salvation is the one that failed?
After all, most settlers, with the tourism minister at their head, know very well that the average Israeli has never seen the map of Yesha (unless he had to march the area on an army navigation exercise) and, for example, doesn't have a clue where to find Tekoa (in the heart of breathtaking scenery, by the way). And just as the average Israeli wants to forget the occupation, they have no interest in those areas. The only places that are important to a significant number of the Jewish population are the tombs of the forefathers. Those are the only sites that draw the commandment-observant religious Jews who are ready to take the risk to make the trip at different and sometimes strange times.
Therefore, little Israel, in its Green border, could reach a deal with its neighbor, Palestine, that any Jew can safely visit the sites holy to them, just as any Muslim and Christian can visit the sites holy to them, just as Jews prostrate themselves without interference on the graves of Rabbi Nahman of Uman and Rabbi Elimelekh of Lijinsk, in Ukraine and Poland. Meanwhile, everyone can go home and more could be invested in the infrastructure inside the Green Line, for the nurturing of more parks and gardens.
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