West Bank town is computer-friendly

Ariel is connected with high-speed broadband communications lines and provides all residents with computer training.If reason prevails over politics, the city of Ariel, whose name means “light of God” in the Bible, may soon be an important Israeli tourist destination.Located …

Ariel is connected with high-speed broadband communications lines and provides all residents with computer training.If reason prevails over politics, the city of Ariel, whose name means “light of God” in the Bible, may soon be an important Israeli tourist destination.



Located on a panoramic hill between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Ariel is the largest community in Judea and Samaria, which comprise the “West Bank,” with 18,000 residents, 50 percent of whom are Russian immigrants, and at least one computer in every household.



Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman was featured at a luncheon recently in what was billed as a “positive dialogue on Israel? how one city has changed a landscape.”



Nachman, a fourth generation Israeli, pioneered a high-tech project known as “Smart City” through considerable investment from firms such as Oracle, Nortel, Alcatel, and Cisco. The entire town is wired with high-speed, broadband communication lines with citywide training in computer usage, Internet, e-mail, and database research for children in kindergarten, busy adults, and senior citizens. By the time children reach elementary school, they are creating shared information databases and websites, according to Nachman.



“It?s difficult to build a city. It?s more difficult to build a community,” Nachman said. With over 8,000 Russians to absorb, Ariel quickly developed two-story homes, classes in beginning Hebrew, and a variety of programs to assimilate newcomers into Israeli culture.



“This is a sociological, not a technological project,” Nachman said. “We are establishing new behavioral norms for an entire city.”



For example, municipal services such as utility payments and school enrollment is done through the city?s online portal. An online hotline ensures that citizens get a 24-hour response when trouble is reported and provides invaluable security updates, while also providing residents with real-time updates for travel, traffic, and news.



There are 25 preschools and kindergartens, seven middle schools, and the College of Judea and Samaria, with an enrollment of more than 7,000 students from across Israel, from Haifa to Eilat. Building the educational system attracts many people from around the world.



The Milken Family Foundation of Los Angeles established the Bernard Milken Elementary School where children learn computer design and are able to program full working robot models with the help of their teachers who have been trained to “teach through technology.”



All the schools in the city are online and are connected to Ariel?s broadband network. Each school has it?s own Web site, maintained by the students. Online technology has enabled these schoolchildren to use distance-learning techniques including online study clubs not readily found in other schools in major cities in the country. During the current Intifada, where the danger of traveling the roads sometimes made it difficult for students in nearby towns to attend the larger middle schools, this online program helped them to keep up with their classes and their studies.



Los Angeles residents Sharona Justman and her husband, Gary Rubenstein (of Rubenstein, Justman Management Consultants), have established the Hydroelectric Science Park next to the Bernard Milken Elementary School. The park provides a hands-on learning experience for elementary school students to experiment with water and electricity projects using mechanical and computer technology to develop models for power plants of the future. The park includes a waterfall and a generator that demonstrate how hydroelectric power is created.



“I see Arial as the implementation of Zionist ideals, developing a city using the talent of the people and improving the land,” Sharona Justman said of her commitment to the town.



The major employment center in Ariel is a business park with biotechnology and computer companies, as well as medical suppliers, plastics and textile manufacturers, and even a winery.



Many Arab workers are employed at the park but the numbers are down from a couple years ago because of transportation problems due to the Intifada, Nachman said.



Ariel?s Sheltered Workshop program was recently expanded through a generous grant from Victoria Hearst, the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst. The Sheltered Workshop program now employs more than 50 residents and serves more than 3,000. This jobs program provides income for handicapped and senior citizens who otherwise might be unemployable and also restores dignity and self-worth.



Ariel was established in 1978 through the joint efforts of senior government leaders Ezer Weizman, Ariel Sharon, and Shimon Peres, who voted to build the city 18 miles east of Tel Aviv and 18 miles north of Jerusalem, directly in the center of what is commonly referred to as the “West Bank,” Nachman said.