The summer vacation has started in Israel and people are flocking to attractions — theme parks, hotels, shows and festivals. But like most things here, tourism can be politically-loaded. Increasingly frustrated that they are having little luck expanding settlements, settlers and settler sympathizers are increasingly trying to make their mark on the parts of the West Bank that lie outside settlement fences.
In this mission, hiking has become a key issue. There’s a strong push in settler circles to walk the West Bank to stake an ownership claim. It’s essentially a statement that, in their view, the Jewish West Bank doesn’t stop at the edge of settlements. Favorite destinations are those that highlight that there is Jewish history in the West Bank.
Today saw one of the largest such hikes in several months. Some 200 hikers visited the ancient synagogue of Samoa and the nearby village of Anin, and then went to an ancient synagogue in the village of Susiya, a town dating back to Talmudic times. Making today’s hike more emotionally charged was the fact that it was dedicated to the memories of David Rubin and Achikam Amichai, two Israelis killed in a 2007 terrorist attack while hiking in the West Bank.
This is just one facet of a growing settler tourism scene — some of it state-backed. In mid-February, Education Minister Gideon Saar said that he is making arrangements for children from schools across Israel to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.