Despite the fact that its been quite quiet in the West Bank, getting into the car and cruising out to Samaria is not something that most Israelis living within the green line will do. But I have a neighbor who works with an organization based in Kedumim that encourages people to buy land in the territories for $20000 a dunam. And despite my own political beliefs, I was quite curious to see the area firsthand, so when he invited me to accompany his local group for a day of local touring, I tagged along.
Tour Leader Ari Briggs lecturing at the Kedumim archaeology museum
Israel is at its narrowist in the central part of the country, around Netanya. Only10 miles separate the Mediterranean Sea on the west with the Palestinian Territories on the eastern border. Within 15 minutes of departing Ra’ananna, a major Israeli suburb just 10 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, we had already crossed into the Palestinian Territories west of Kfar Saba. The area we entered was in what is called Area C – Palestinian Territory area that is controlled by Israel. We passed the large Arab city of Qalqilya and continued to travel east until we reached Aloni Hefetz, a religious Jewish settlement established in the1970’s. From there we had a scenic lookout westward towards the central plain and then we were hosted for tea by a local family that was responsible for watching over the land, purchased from local Arab landowners by an international trust. According to our guide the family was there to ensure that no one else would set up housing there which would make it difficult for new landowners to build when they were ready.
Entrance to Aloni Hefetz settlement
Our next stop, Kedumim, was far more interesting to me as it related to biblical archaeology. We visited a small museum which offers an intimate, yet meaningful collection of antiquities discovered throughout the region dating back from the Early Bronze Age and continuing through nine different stages of history. The museums focus is to display the very clear evidence of settlement in the region for thousands of years. The area was the center of large settlement dating from the Israelite period 12th – 11th Century (Early Iron Age). Numerous artifacts including ceramics, coins, and other objects are on display.
Ancient lice comb discovered in Samaria
After Kedumim we continued on to lunch at the top of Har Bracha, a religious settlement adjacent to Mt. Gerazim and overlooking the ancient valley known as the Path of the Patriarchs. Tzvi, a local resident and entreprenneur prepared our fixed price meal of chicken, salads and vegetables and gave us a brief lecture on the area. He has his own vineyard and will occasionally host groups that wish to work the land with him. His boutique wine is sold in local stores in Israel only. I was underwelmed by the food but it was a unique setting dining in a private cabin overlooking the ancient route our forefathers took.
After lunch we drove to see the cafe owners orchards and then to his makeshift winery, sold under the label of Heartland Wines, which is set up in a shed in his backyard. We tasted the wine at lunch and it was very good. It retails for about $35 a bottle in stores in Israel.
The top of Mt. Gerazim, but unfortunately the antiquity site was closed
Entrance sign at Mount Gerazim
Remains of homes at the top of Mount Gerazim
Reservations need to be made in advance and that was disappointing. What was interesting though, is that we found a great spot that provided a wonderful view of the city of Nablus below including the Qalandiya checkpoint.
Lookout over Nablus
Cars were easily passing through the checkpoints with merely a wave. As Israeli citizens we are forbidden to enter certain areas within the Palestinian Territories and so as not to end up in the wrong areas, there are red signs posted to notify drivers that they are not allowed to enter certain areas, one of which is posted just before the checkpoint on route 60 below.
We drove through the local Samaritan community that has a small museum where visitors can learn about Samaritan life and how the community has survived.
Main street in Mount Gerazim
Our final stop of the day was in a settlement of Itamar, situated on a hilltop east of Nablus. The community is known for its agriculture, the centerpiece of which was a goat farm. We stop there and purchased fresh goat cheese products consisting of the Tzafit cheese, a soft cheese widely eaten with a slice of bread for breakfast or dinner, as well as a fresh goats feta, both of which were delicious.
Labeling the cheese at the factory in Itamar