City with Alabama ties site of first U.S. initiative in Judea and Samaria

Ariel University Center of Samaria. Credit: Michael Jacobson/Wikimedia Commons.

By Richard Friedman and JNS reports

The impact of the Trump Administration’s announcement that the U.S. would no longer consider Jewish “settlements” in Judea and Samaria illegal already is making an impact — especially in Ariel, a city that has deep ties to Alabama.

This long overdue correction of a flawed U.S. policy, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is a game-changer for Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, a region also known as the West Bank. In the 1967 Six Day War, Jordan, occupying the West Bank, attacked Israel despite being warned not to. Israel through its counterattack gained control of Judea and Samaria, land to which Jews have Biblical ties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is ”deeply grateful” to the Trump administration for its policy shift.

“Today, the United States adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “The Trump administration policy is also correct in stating that those who have categorically denied any legal basis for the settlements not only deny truth, history and the reality on the ground, they also set back the cause of peace, which can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.”

Regarding Ariel, the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom reported, “Israel’s next joint scientific research venture with the United States will allow for the participation of Ariel University… Ariel University — like other Israeli institutions in Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights — has traditionally been excluded from such ventures. Its admission was granted following the U.S. announcement on Nov. 18 that it no longer considers Israeli settlements to be in violation of international law.”


Ariel’s connection to Alabama is strong. Described by Netanyahu as the “capital of Samaria,” Ariel has a Sister City relationship with Mobile and is connected to a Birmingham-based organization, JH Israel, through a successful leadership training center in Ariel.

Today some 400,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria with Ariel, a city of 20,000 residents plus 15,000 Ariel University students, having grown into one of the area’s larger population centers. The University’s website describes the school this way: “15,000 students and 450 senior faculty members represent the full spectrum of Israeli society: Jews and Arabs, secular and observant, new immigrants and native-born Israelis.”

One of those gratified by this new U.S. partnership with Ariel University is Avi Zimmerman, president of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Zimmerman, who lives in Ariel and who has been involved in promoting Ariel for years, has been to Alabama many times. The Judea and Samaria Chamber is a new venture that is bringing Israeli and Palestinian business leaders together. The Birmingham-based US Israel Education Association has played a major role in facilitating this process.

Reflecting on this latest development, Zimmerman said, “Ariel University has spent years hosting American public officials and making the case for academic partnership. Their approach has been two-fold, stressing both the nature of their work and an expectation of even-handed U.S. policy.”

”First, Ariel University conducts world class research and development for the humanitarian benefit of Israelis and Palestinians alike, not to mention for the benefit of U.S. national security,” added Zimmerman. 

“Second,” he added, “even if the American Administration deems Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria to be disputed or illegitimate, as did previous administrations, it should not exercise a double-standard whereby other disputed territories around the world are fully funded. The recent news is promising, suggesting a long-awaited breakthrough.”

Zimmerman also added a personal note, reflecting the emotional impact of this development on people who have worked so tirelessly on behalf of Ariel.

“Having seen this process develop over time, I can imagine the glowing sense of satisfaction that the late Yigal Cohen Orgad, who served as Ariel University’s Chancellor until his recent passing, would have expressed had he been with us today. He worked tirelessly to receive U.S. grants for environmental projects that would provide Palestiniains with safe employment, reduced air pollution and a longer life expectancy. Now, with the University developing a wide range of mutually beneficial projects for all populations, the opportunity for partnership funding allows yet another one of Yigal’s goals to be realized.“