On February 18th, 2015 I walked off of my base for the last time as a uniformed IDF soldier. My battalion was based in Yaqir, which is a medium sized settlement a few kilometers west of Ariel, in the Shomron (part of Judea and Samaria). We were charged with the responsibility to protect the citizens and infrastructures in our regions as well as deter any form of terrorism that we encountered. Naturally, we ended up spending a lot of time both with the Israeli communities and the Palestinian communities and I came to understand both communities on a personal level.
On June 21st, 2016 I returned to the city of Ariel and the Shomron for the first time in 16 months. Hearing the stories of different individuals living in the Shomron rekindled that flame of compassion that I used to carry throughout my service in the Shomron. We toured the city of Ariel and saw the beautiful city that was growing in the dessert, in a place that was barren and dry for thousands of years, in a place that our guide told us was called “death hill” because no-one was able to grow anything there. We then went for a quick visit to a family run vineyard in Racheliim, another small town in the Shomron, and I was yet again inspired by the amazing feats of the communities in the Shomron – this family had created a thriving vineyard over acres of desert land that was barren and dry prior to their arrival.
The most important event that day, and possibly one of the most important events of the trip, was visiting the pillow factory in Ariel. We saw Israelis and Palestinians working together in an peaceful environment to make some of the most comfortable pillows I’ve ever felt. The workers were working in harmony to produce a perfect finished product, without worrying about political issues or influences. This was just one factory, yet it represents the idea that peace amongst Israelis and Palestinians is achievable. Peace is what I believe all human beings long for deep down and is what we, as human beings and Zionists, are striving to achieve. Even though peace may sometimes seem like a naive child’s dream because of the amount of intricate issues that society faces, this small factory in Ariel stands as a beacon for hope and peace in the future.
Even though we did not discuss and debate the laws and historical facts surrounding all of Israel’s issues as much as we had done on other days, I believe that visiting the Shomron yourself and understanding the livelihood of the different families living there – whether they’re Israelis growing grapes, or Palestinians creating pillows – is key to really being able to understand the conflict on a deeper level, and the only way to solve a conflict is to understand it fully.