Israel Independence Day Honor for Mayor Who Turned a Mountain into a Metropolis

April 15, 2013 1:20 am 0 comments

Former Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman (far right) with Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai. The late Nachman will be honored by Israel this Israel Independence Day. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

On Israel Independence Day, Israelis take great pride in the hard work and military victories that have built the world’s only Jewish state. At the same time, many detractors of Israel continue push for boycotts and divestment from elements of that state.

The accomplishments of 2013 Israel Prize awardee Ron Nachman, however, have managed to transcend much of the contemporary criticism of Israel. Nachman invested his entire life in a barren mountain in Samaria and turned it into a sprawling, modern and controversial metropolis—a city that many have grown to see as a symbol of Israeli perseverance, chutzpah and ingenuity.

“Ron was very happy with the boycotts as they brought added attention to the city,” Avi Zimmerman, the city of Ariel’s international representative and executive director of the Ariel Development Fund, told JNS.org. “The detractors were represented by a small but vocal minority. The majority of Israelis are more practical and appreciate the depth Ariel gives to Israel’s narrow waistline.”

After passing away at age 70 in January, Nachman will be honored posthumously with the 2013 Israel Prize, one of the nation’s highest honors, on this Israel Independence Day (April 16) for his dedication and achievements as the founder and longtime mayor of Ariel, one of Israel’s largest Jewish communities situated beyond the 1967 Green Line (the armistice line following that year’s Six Day War).

Nachman literally made his mark on Israel’s landscape by turning a barren hilltop once called “Jabel Mawat,” meaning the hill of death, into the unofficial “capital of Samaria,” a city whose name, Ariel, means Lion of God, a synonym for Jerusalem. He died 35 years after founding Ariel.

Today, Ariel boasts a population of 20,000 residents and all the social and cultural services of a major Israeli metropolitan center. Nachman became the city’s first mayor in 1985 and held that post until he recently lost an extended battle with cancer.

“Ron was a force of nature, a machine, or what Israelis would call a ‘bulldozer.’ It must be in his family’s genes,” Zimmerman told JNS.org.

In the early 1970s, the city of Ariel was just a concept, developed to establish a presence that would provide strategic depth to Israel’s narrow waistline.

Ariel was conceived as part of an understanding that Israel allegedly had with the U.S. State Department following the Begin-Sadat Peace Deal that U.S. President Jimmy Carter brokered between Israel and Egypt.

The city of Ariel, whose first mayor, Ron Nachman, is being honored on Israel Independence Day. Photo: Ori/Wikimedia Commons.

The understanding called for establishing strategic development communities that would enable Israel to defend its key population centers from the mountains above. Tel Aviv sits just 25 miles to the west of Ariel. Its skyline is clearly visible in the distance.

Ariel is considered one of the major Jewish communities beyond the Green Line that would remain in Israeli control in any peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. But unlike the other communities in that category, Ariel is quite a bit further and more isolated from other heavily populated areas.

Ariel is inside a narrow extension of the separation barrier meant to fence off Palestinian communities from Israeli population centers. The city is protected by its own security fence on three sides.

Much to the dismay of its detractors, every inch of Ariel was built with Israeli governmental approval, on both state-owned and privately purchased land. Today, one of Israel’s largest highways, Route 5, makes Ariel a short and pleasant ride from Israel’s coast.

According to Zimmerman, Nachman abided by three guiding principles in the development of Ariel. “First, Ron saw Ariel as an extension of Tel Aviv and was unwilling to establish the new community without full authorization,” he said. “Second, Ron insisted on building and developing Ariel with government approval and licensing. Third, he insisted on building a full-scale and diverse city, suitable for a wide-range of residents.”

Before the first tent was pitched, Nachman created what he referred to as the “nucleus” of Ariel, with pledges from 6,000 future residents to come live in the city.

“Ron went door to door explaining to families the merits of coming to live in Ariel, and describing his vision for a city,” Zimmerman said.

In 1978, the first tents were pitched and were soon followed by the first temporary and later permanent structures. A truck delivered water, and generators provided electricity.

Approvals for the community were signed by then-Minister of Defense Shimon Peres. As president of Israel, Peres would deliver the keynote address at the city’s 30-year anniversary celebration.

Today, Ariel sprawls over 12 kilometers from East to West with two industrial centers and an academic institution that became a major point of national contention last year when it achieved university status—the first Israeli educational institution to become a university in over 30 years and the first higher learning and research institution in Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank.

The city of Ariel, whose first mayor, the late Ron Nachman, will be honored by Israel this israel Independence Day. Photo: Ori/Wikimedia Commons.

The university started out as a branch of Bar Ilan University in the nearby Jewish community of Kedumim, before moving to Ariel in 1986. The branch soon became an independent college that over the years trained thousands of students to become professionals. The college grew along with the city that bears its name, and today is a center of learning for Jewish and Arab, religious and secular students alike. It is fast becoming a world-class research facility.

During the 1990s, Nachman saw a unique opportunity for Ariel, to grow its size by becoming a home for Jewish immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.

“Ron sent emissaries to Russia to explain to immigrants the benefits of moving to Ariel,” Zimmerman told JNS.org. “Today, roughly half of Ariel’s residents are Russian.”

Since then, building across Ariel has been severely restricted due to freezes on construction across Judea and Samaria. Ariel’s newest residential neighborhood is a community for former residents of the Gush Katif (Gaza) settlement of Netzarim, who were evacuated from their homes by the Israeli government in the summer of 2005.

Yet, even during the freezes, Nachman’s creativity and his desire to build could not be contained. He turned his energies toward building cultural and community centers that have further cemented Ariel’s status as a permanent part of the State of Israel and what its residents call a great place to live.

When Ariel opened an $11 million Performing Arts Center in 2010, several notable Israeli artists called for boycotting the facility, turning Ariel into a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement flashpoint. But Nachman did not consider that development bad news, per se, because he held by the well-known adage that “there is no such thing as bad PR,” according to Zimmerman.

“Ariel may be the most boycotted city in the world,” Zimmerman said.

Yet, according to Zimmerman, even Ariel’s staunchest detractors had great respect for the work, vision and perseverance of Nachman, the recipient of a government prize whose significance is unquestioned in Israel.

“Even his political adversaries recommended him for the prize,” Zimmerman said.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated magazine featured an extensive profile on Orthodox-Jewish college basketball player Aaron Liberman on Wednesday.  The article details Liberman’s efforts to balance faith, academics and basketball at Tulane University, a challenge the young athlete calls “a triple major.” Sports Illustrated pointed out that Liberman is the second Orthodox student to play Division I college basketball. The other was Tamir Goodman, the so-called “Jewish Jordan.” As reported in The Algemeiner, Liberman started his NCAA career at Northwestern University. According to [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.