PSAGOT, West Bank — Perched atop a West Bank hill, the Binyamin region visitors center invites travelers to look past the military jeeps patrolling the surrounding area and enjoy nature, archaeological sites and bucolic vineyards.
Jewish settlers are promoting tourism to draw Israelis who might otherwise never set foot in the West Bank, an occupied area Palestinians want as part of a future state.
Proponents hope that drawing visitors will help increase support for retaining the territory, while critics say the tourism campaign, like Jewish settlements, is a foothold that stands in the way of making peace.
The Binyamin region — named for the Hebrew tribe of Benjamin, thought to have lived here in biblical times — is a short drive from population centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; its boosters call it "the heart of Israel."
Ancient ruins and wine routes line the roads here leading to the Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages that exist, uneasily, side by side.
The visitors center was established last August in response to an increase in visitors to the region and with hopes of drawing more, manager Yaela Briner said. Since then, Briner said some 5,000 tourists have passed through, half of them Israelis.
Some of the 300,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank are looking to tourism as a way to help normalize Israel's hold on the territory it captured in 1967.