JERUSALEM, Israel -- U.S. dignitaries frequently visit Israel. But one recent congressional delegation went where none had gone before.
Five U.S. congressmen and their wives traveled to Israel for an official visit across what's been known as the "green line."
This congressional tour is the first delegation of U.S. congressmen to visit Judea and Samaria, Israel's biblical heartland.
And it happened despite a long-standing State Department policy to avoid these areas.
"This is a breakthrough day," Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman said. Nachman said he believes that policy is shortsighted.
"They say 'no,' you cannot go over the green line. Here is reality. Don't you want to see, to understand? And then they make mistakes and failures. Unless you come, you don't understand," Nachman explained.
A Whole New Perspective
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., who led the delegation, told CBN News this personal visit brought a whole new perspective.
"When you call it the West Bank, for example, that's the biggest misnomer in the world because people back home can picture this as some bank of a river when you pushed people out," Forbes said.
"Really when you look at all these developments and what they are, (it) is no different than what we have in the United States, where individuals have communities and villages and towns, where there are real people," he said.
"They're not just lines on a map that somebody can move around anywhere they want to move them," he added.
The group traced the same path Abraham took 4,000 years ago. They visited Shiloh, site of the First Tabernacle, and planted vines in the hills of Samaria just as the Bible prophesies.
"It's been fabulous, and for somebody like me who grew up (and) my earliest stories I heard were Bible stories and then to see the things, the places where all those things took place," Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said.
"At the same time (it's) troubling because you know the disputes between those who want to divide Israel out of this region," Gohmert said. "Clearly, Israelis have thousands and thousands of years of history here."
Startup Companies in Samaria
The delegation also attended a summit highlighting startup companies in Samaria.
"We're going in, we're looking in places like Ariel where it's just amazing what's taking place there benefiting both Israelis and Palestinians alike," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said.
The congressmen hope to turn this experience into legislative action and a deeper appreciation of Israel's situation.
"What I'm going to be taking back from Israel is that Israel is a small country and a very vulnerable country," Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said. "Israel needs the support of countries from all over the world, including the United States."
"I think it's really important that the elected officials in America, not just in Congress, but also in the White House, know that there's a special role for the countries that support Israel," he said. "So the U.S. needs to be with the program, you might say."