U.S. Ambassador David Friedman speaks in Ariel
Oct. 16 was a historic day in Ariel, and Birmingham-based JH Israel was in the middle of it.
David Friedman, the United States ambassador to Israel, made an official visit to Ariel, breaking a longstanding taboo on official visits to areas in the territories, beyond the pre-1967 Green Line. He attended a regional business forum at the Ariel Pioneers Museum, held to promote joint economic initiatives for Arab and Jewish communities. The forum was organized by the Judea Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which promotes commercial partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians in the territories.
That same day, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson made his first visit to Ariel. Ariel is Mobile’s sister city in Israel.
Stimpson’s visit began with a breakfast meeting with Ariel department heads, followed by a visit to Ariel University to discuss potential academic partnerships.
Stimpson said Ariel University is about the same size as the University of South Alabama, and like USA, is a relatively new institution.
Stimpson said he will reach out to USA to see if the two institutions can connect and collaborate.
“There is a lot we can learn from what they are doing, and we hope there are things they can learn from what we are doing,” Stimpson said.
He then attended Friedman’s address at the Ariel National Center for Leadership Development. The international audience included American business leaders on tour with JH Israel and the US-Israel Education Association.
Stimpson said that those in attendance could feel that it was an historic event.
Shaviro commented that it was a historic day for three reasons — Friedman’s visit, Stimpson becoming the first Mobile mayor to visit Ariel, and earlier that morning, Shaviro’s second granddaughter was born.
Avi Zimmerman, co-founder and president of the chamber, said the chamber thanks Friedman “for the unambiguous encouragement that he’s given our Palestinian and Israeli business partners to continue to pursue the economic path to progress, prosperity and dignity.”
He said Friedman’s visit encouraged more businesses to join the group.
Heather Johnston, who heads JH Israel and UIEA, said Friedman’s visit “marks a significant breakthrough in U.S. policy to openly support joint business with Palestinians and Israelis.”
She added, “We believe these partnerships are critical for fostering an atmosphere of peace in an otherwise turbulent part of the world. We are working tirelessly to see that these efforts continue.”
Zimmerman stressed that the chamber views the area geographically, and tries to shy away from politics.
After the meeting, Friedman tweeted that the business leaders he met with were “ready, willing and able to advance joint opportunity and peaceful coexistence. People want peace and we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”
The Palestinian Authority regards business partnerships with Israelis as illegal, and the chamber is careful not to publicize involvement of many of the 70 Palestinian businesses that take part.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of an Oct. 7 terror attack in the nearby Barkan Industrial Park, where a Palestinian killed two Israeli co-workers. ”Tens of thousands of Palestinians work with tens of thousands of Israelis day in and day out across Judea and Samaria,” Zimmerman said. “Last week’s horrific terror attack in Barkan is the exception to the rule.”
After Friedman’s address, there was a luncheon where Stimpson was presented a key to Ariel, and he presented Shaviro with a clock engraved with the words “it’s time.”
For Mobile’s mayor, this was the first time visiting Israel. For him and his wife, “it has been on our list for a long time. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to go.”
Stimpson was part of the 70-member UIEA delegation. “They have done a very good job of educating our congressmen and senators. That’s going to be very beneficial going forward with the relationship between Israel and Alabama,” he said.
He said JH Israel and UIEA are “doing a great service” bringing groups to better understand the situation in Israel, and tying many of Israel’s actions to the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
On the trip, one of Stimpson’s favorite places was Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept.
The group also visited the Western Wall. “Being able to pray there and leave some papers in the wall was very meaningful.”
Other highlights included visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Tel Elah, where David killed Goliath. Their tour guide, Arie Ben-David, dramatized it with a slingshot. “He was incredible,” Stimpson said. “He made you feel like you were there” in Biblical times.
Another highlight was spending Shabbat dinner with a family in Jerusalem, hearing the father talk about his journey from South Africa to Israel.
After “being there, walking it, seeing it, feeling it and getting an understanding of it,” Simpson said while he “believed it before,” it is even stronger now. He strongly recommends visiting Israel and said he’d love to talk with anyone who wants to hear about the trip. “Seeing the places you’ve heard about all your life puts it in a different perspective.”