By: Sara Lehmann
David Ha’ivri lives with his wife and children in the world’s most hotly contested territory and works daily to defend it. As director of Israel’s Shomron Liaison Office, Ha’ivri operates within the Shomron Regional Council, promoting public relations for the Shomron and serving as the English-speaking point man for the international media stationed in Israel.
Ha’ivri travels extensively around the world, educating people about the settlers and advocating for an often maligned movement. He also works tirelessly to restore Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem, which was demolished by Arab rioters in 2000, petitioning the Israel government to rebuild the yeshiva that once existed there and organizing monthly visits to the site.
The Jewish Press: What in your background led you to become a “settler” in the Shomron?
Ha’ivri: I was born in Far Rockaway into a totally assimilated Jewish family. My parents weren’t affiliated with any part of the established Jewish community. But when I was a child my father became involved with Zionism, and we moved to Israel in 1978 when I was eleven. I became interested in Torah Judaism in the 12th grade before I went into the army, and I became observant. After studying in Rav Meir Kahane’s yeshiva before he was assassinated, I moved with my wife, Mali, to Kfar Tapuah in the Shomron.
Explain the role of the Shomron Regional Council and your position in it.
Israel is divided into different regional councils, including Yehudah and Shomron. Shomron, which is situated in the north, is the largest in size. It’s actually the largest area anywhere in Israel, composing an area that makes up 11 percent of Israel. The Shomron Regional Council is a local government, and the head of the council is parallel in position to the mayor of any other city in Israel. Close to three years ago Gershon Mesika was elected head of the council. The Shomron Liason Office was created because Mesika felt there was a lack of programming in the Shomron for tourism and PR. I became the director of this new office.
What are your responsibilities as director?
Our policy is to stress the human aspects of the Jewish communities of Yehuda and Shomron that the outside world is not getting from the regular media. I have constant contact with the media – with 350 permanent-based international journalists in Israel. We save them a lot of time and enable them to focus when they cover stories in our area. This personal relationship benefits us too, because it makes it feasible for us to monitor and influence the way they are reporting who we are. There’s so much popular terminology used in the media to denigrate the settler movement. If you rely on the international media, you’d think the settlements are a couple of trailer homes and some kids who dropped out of school taking part in 24/7 demonstrations.
I am now able to contact Ethan Bronner of The New York Times and comment on articles he’s writing. Since he’s learned to respect who David Ha’ivri is, I can talk to him and point out things he might not have thought of when he describes Hamas as activists and the Hilltop Youth as involved in terrorist acts. He realizes his mistake, and that way we can improve our image as we go on.
The settlers are also maligned within Israel itself. Is anything being done to shift Israelis’ perceptions of the settlement movement?
We are doing a lot with Israeli policy makers and media personalities. We’ve brought over fifty members of Knesset and government ministers on tours so they can experience different aspects of the community of the Shomron. That in itself is an eye opener for many of them, even from right-wing parties. They experience our organic farms, wineries, schools and playgrounds, our security issues, and areas that are closed off to Jewish people because of the Palestinian autonomy. They see a big red sign at the entrance to Shechem that says “No Jew is allowed past this sign.” All this makes a dent after they leave.
Recently we brought out a very popular [left-wing] Israeli opinionist. The next day on his prime-time radio show he said, “I want to tell my listeners that yesterday I was on a very interesting tour. I went to a place that is only twenty minutes from where I’m broadcasting right now in Tel Aviv. I met with people I have been programmed to hate and I came back enthused.” He went on to describe some of the beautiful things he saw, the people he saw, and some things he found hard to grasp – like communities that were built by the government of Israel and then classified as illegal outposts.
We’ve also brought government ministers on a tour of the outposts for them to see with their own eyes, so when they speak in the government of “illegal outposts” they should know what they’re talking about. They saw buildings that were built by the government of Israel and sold to Israelis with mortgages still financed by the state. The government told them to come and live here, they sold them plots, and then told them that they’re missing a couple documents, so they’re illegal. When we took them to the site of Chomesh, in northern Shomron, which was destroyed during the Disengagement in 2005, none of them could explain the logic in destroying that community. One of them, former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, stood there and looked over the view. From Chomesh you can see from Chederah to Gedeirah, the whole central area. He said this area strategically could never be given over to a foreign army.
Do you feel less emphasis is being placed on safeguarding strategic Yehuda and Shomron than is being placed on a united Jerusalem?
The Jewish leadership is united around a united Jerusalem. However, by highlighting the issue of a united Jerusalem we’re suggesting we are not willing to negotiate Jerusalem but might be willing to negotiate other places. We don’t realize that the gates of Jerusalem are in Shechem and Chevron because the world doesn’t see any difference between any areas that were conquered in 1967. For them it’s all one big piece of property. East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank in their eyes. And in order to protect Jerusalem we need to protect Yehuda and Shomron.
What lessons have the residents of Yehuda and Shomron learned from the mistakes that were made in Gush Katif?
The residents of the Shomron understood that the leadership of Yehuda and Shomron during the Disengagement totally failed. Mesika, who wasn’t in politics before, was approached by the community to take a leadership position because the community believed he was a stronger type of leader, and our community wanted a change in that direction. What was done to oppose the Disengagement in 2005 was too little, too late, and the message was wrong. They made it a personal issue of the residents losing their homes. But it’s not a personal issue. The fact that I live in Kfar Tapuach in the Shomron – it’s not about me. We’re there for the Jewish people. The message must be that Yehuda and Shomron is the land of the Jewish people.
How concerned are you about the resumption of direct talks with the Palestinians and the pressure Obama has placed on Israel accompanying those talks?
True peace in the region will only emerge through local efforts based on local prescriptions. But there’s a real concern that Netanyahu is capable of giving in to the pressure. I think it’s very important for us to understand as a Jewish people that our policy needs to be more important than international pressure. Israel is an independent state; it’s not a satellite of another country.
If Netanyahu gives in to the pressure and allows for a partial freeze, what kind of political price do you think he will pay?
[Foreign Minister] Lieberman and Netanyahu were both elected as result of the nationalist agendas they presented to Israeli voters in the last elections. They and their parties know well that they will pay a dear price in the next elections if they continue to punish the settlement movement. The ten-month building freeze was a grave mistake on their side. Had a government anywhere else in the world declared a building freeze restricting Jews from building new houses or adding extensions onto their existing homes, the ADL and similar Jewish establishment organizations would have had a fit.
Most Israelis are skeptical about the chances for successful peace talks. As someone who lives in the so-called disputed territories, what alternative would you propose?
First of all, we need to acknowledge that this whole concept, this fantasy, of the two-state solution and of negotiating land for peace has failed. Gaza has been the greatest proof of that. No one wants that to be repeated anywhere else. We need to devise a new concept. Personally, I believe the new concept is the one-state solution – Israel should give citizenship to non-Jews who are willing to pledge allegiance and loyalty to the Jewish State of Israel.
The Arab population in Yehuda and Shomron has a higher standard of living than their peers in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and on a personal level they understand they are enjoying the benefits of living under Israeli control. But Israel is not getting compensation for all the benefits we’re giving the non-Jewish population.
Israel needs to change direction, and the Israeli leadership needs to determine policy. They’ve been lacking that since the establishment of the State of Israel. Since the areas of Yehuda and Shomron came under Israeli control, the government of Israel has never made a clear decision or statement regarding them. This causes all of the confusion and the international pressure. If the government were to say it is in our interest to hold these areas and then set up the border and say, “This is the State of Israel,” the world would accept that because international borders are determined by countries that have the power to enforce them.
Israel has the strength but it needs self-respect. We need to understand that we can say that, and when we say it the world will respect that.
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