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Ariel Mayor Praises Ties with Evangelical Christian Groups

By Haim Shapiro

As the Camp David talks appeared to reach a critical point yesterday, Ariel Mayor Ron Nahman stressed his connection with a group that has traditionally supported the settlement movement - the evangelical Christians.

Nahman yesterday expressed his faith that visits by Christian groups, especially from the US, could help bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I see tourism as the primary route for peace. I see the Baptist potential from the US, but also from Europe and the Far East," Nahman said.

Nahman was speaking to media representatives on a tour which included not only Ariel, but nearby Nablus, which is a part of the Palestinian Authority, and which ended at the opening of archeological excavations at the Samaritan enclave on Mount Gerizim, an area which until now has been part of Area C, under Israeli control. However, as dignitaries, archeologists, and reporters toured the site, officials expressed their uncertainty about the future of the region.

"I don't know if we will be able to come here in a few days," said one official.

Meanwhile, Nahman expressed his confidence in the support of the fundamentalist Christians, those who take the Bible literally and especially those who believe that God's promise to Abraham is still valid. He spoke of a project in which a church would adopt a West Bank community. "I am talking about churches with 7,000 members each," Nahman said.

He also explained that groups of evangelical Christians came to Israel expressly to participate in tours of the West Bank, "the Land of Promise." Many groups, he said, come straight from Ben-Gurion Airport to the Eshel Hashomron Hotel in Ariel.

According to Yigal Bilmony, director of the Samaria Tourism Association, the hotel is mainly based on Christian tourism. He said tours include biblical sites, both in settlements and Palestinians areas, as well as visits to Israeli agriculturals projects.

Nahman said that he is aware that some Christians are antisemites, but added that those Christians who do support Israel are true friends. He expressed his unhappiness over the unwillingness of the government to allow METV, an evangelical Christian television station which had operated from Southern Lebanon until the Israeli withdrawal, to erect a transmitter in Ariel, brushing aside comments that the station broadcasts missionary programs.

He also noted that some 30 teenagers from Ariel, including his daughter, are presently in Fort Worth, Texas, taking part in a program organized by a church there.

Sondra Oster Baras, director of the Israeli office of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, showed one of the pamphets issued by her organization. Entitled "Cry For the Beloved Country," it said that Israel is poised on a crucial threshold.

"The Land of Israel is gradually being divided, its most precious areas given to the Palestinian Authority," the pamphlet said.

© Jerusalem Post - July 20, 2000


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