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Last updated: May 6, 2013
Avi Zimmerman: Ron Nachman says shalom

“While he worked towards coexistence, others pushed a two-state policy of segregation“

The term shalom, with its many meanings, can only be understood when the listener is familiar with the speaker, and the context.

When he first arrived, Ron Nachman's enthusiastic shalom was both a confident greeting and a hopeful proposition. Ron was determined to establish a different kind of settlement. First, its residents were to be secular. Second, in accordance with government approval and his naïve optimism, it would become a full fledged city. Third, as a city, it would provide for all of the residents of the region. Every single one.

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Initially Ron's shalom was well received. Though mocked by his Arab neighbors for designating what they considered "the mountain of death" as the bedrock for a city, he gradually developed mutually respectful relationships with the local mukhtars. The more he turned rocks into a new reality the more he earned their esteem. They admired him for his achievements, and sought his wisdom as a mediator.

But when political calculations take precedence over the needs of a population, shalom can be misunderstood and misrepresented. Plans were set for Ariel to be connected to Israel's electric company and national water carrier. Naturally, Ron wanted the residents of Salfit, Kifl Hares, Marda and all other nearby villages to forgo the intermittent use of electric generators and collection of rainwater on their roofs in favor of the best in Israeli technology. Surprisingly, they refused the offer, citing concerns that use of Israel's infrastructure may be viewed as a form of annexation. Fortunately, they followed Ron's advice, approached Jordan's King Hussein, and received official permission to drink clean water and make use of power lines.

Ever since he established the Barkan and Ariel industrial parks, Arabs have been a significant part of the workforce. But Ariel's non-Jewish associates contribute far more than menial labor. In addition to managerial positions in industry and construction, Ron entrusted Ariel's most senior municipal functions to people from diversified ethnic and religious backgrounds. Ariel's city engineer is a Muslim Arab. The city treasurer is Druze. For Ron Nachman, professionalism, capability and loyalty supercede sectarian loyalties within the Jewish-Israeli community.       

And yet, Ron's call for shalom was tempered with a sober assessment of current events. As a Member of Knesset from 1992-1996 he fought the Oslo Accords vehemently, warning that signed agreements did not amount to shalom among peoples. He knew his Arab neighbors well, and he feared that they could be overcome by newly empowered political arrivals, who would undermine traditional leadership structures while dismissing the local ethos that predated them.

Indeed, a difficult season arrived. For the first time, Ron Nachman's assured shalom was replaced with a salutation of departure. The first intifada brought an end to Saturday shopping sprees for Ariel's residents in Salfit's colorful markets. Though Israeli hummus and pita in Ariel were decidedly inferior, it was worth the sacrifice when the alternative was an uncertain dance with death. Needless to say, the bullets fired at Ariel's civilian population during Yasser Arafat's turn of the millennium second intifada did little to restore Ron's hopeful shalom.

Ron was perturbed by the perennial violence, separation walls and military presence. He understood that security fences were a necessary evil, but remained forever poised in search of an opportunity to renew his calls for a meaningful shalom. He dreamed of a trans-Middle East railroad that would pass through Ariel and nearby Nablus, parallel to his plans for an Ariel Regional Airport that would service all populations. He stated his desire to be a spearhead for peace to Quartet diplomats, State Department officials, international parliamentarians and every journalist who was prepared to question the two-state mantra. Ron had little faith in theoretical documents, crafted by those who never dared venture beyond their air conditioned offices far enough to see, hear and feel the reality on the ground. For Ron, a long-term arrangement was predicated on daily exchanges of shalom and salaam between neighbors.

Ron Nachman's shalom continually seeks new forms of expression. The quantity of Ariel University's Arab population, exceeding 500 students, pales in comparison to the quality of its collaborative efforts with Palestinian research and academic institutions. By way of example, these partnerships hold great promise for acute environmental concerns and water issues. When raindrops do not distinguish between the ethnic makeup of a given population, and international intermediaries use a polluted aquifer as a bargaining chip, a neighborly shalom is the only way to ensure the sustainability of the entire region.

No one doubts that Ron Nachman was a capable man of unmatched accomplishments. But while he worked towards coexistence, others pushed a two-state policy of segregation. Walls have been erected. Arabs who sought his guidance were labeled conspirators and executed. Ariel industrial park products have been boycotted, and the livelihood of thousands of Arab employees threatened. Ariel, now a "mountain of life", remains an insufficiently tapped resource.

On Sunday, January 20, 2013, Ron Nachman said shalom for the last time. He was laid to rest between the residences of Ariel and Salfit, his legacy echoing across the hills. For those in search of an enduring peace, Ron Nachman's shalom is a call worth hearing.

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