by Asaf Gabor
Many in the European Parliament simply don’t know the facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When you present data, and especially when you bring them to the field, their automatic support for the Palestinians begins to be shaken.
In the entrance to the luxurious building that houses the European Union, the aide of Dr. Fiorello Provera from Italy was waiting for us. Dr. Provera is the deputy head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and up until a year ago, Provera was one of the members of parliament who spoke routinely about returning occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the ’67 lines as part of a "two states for two peoples" solution. He supported the routine transfer of monies to the PA, and all he knew about Israel is that it is a Western style state that has a seacoast, pretty models and noisy discotheques.
He made the “mistake of his life” when he agreed to free up ten minutes of his time for a visit to Samaria. The head of the Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, and his deputy, Yosi Dagan, took him straight from the airport to the community of Peduel. After a journey of about 20 minutes, [from the high vantage point of Peduel], he could almost touch the wheels of the jet that was descending for a landing in Ben Gurion Airport. This clear demonstration, in addition to the view from Elon Moreh to the center of the country on one side and to Jordan on the other side, is called “the illustration of the narrow waist of the state of Israel” in the strategic unit of the regional council .
Provera, a warm and congenial fellow with an Italian temperament, cleared the rest of his day for an extended tour, and ever since then he has served as a pivotal figure of the Samaria Regional Council in Europe. He brought the Italian boycott on products from the settlements to an end, and also hosted a delegation of winery owners from Samaria in Northern Italy. Now he sits with Mesika and Dagan at the table. The two of them draw up diagrams, charts and plans to fight the boycott and de-legitimization of Israel.
As a first step, it was decided to create a network of members of the European Parliament who are supporters of Israel. “It is clear to us that the European Union is a captive of the Palestinians. The Palestinians invest much more effort in hasbara* than we do, and I’m not talking only about the Regional Council of Samaria, but the state of Israel in general. Many members of parliament want to appease the Arab population in their countries so they do the safe thing and support the Palestinians”, says Yosi Dagan. “We don’t delude ourselves that we can win over the European Union, but undoubtedly, with the help of the friends that we are acquiring, we can bring up problematic points and questions that will result in a little more control over the money that is poured into the PA”.
The long list of members of parliament means that there's a lot of work to do, but it seems that the meetings are bearing fruit. “We think that boycotting is never a solution”, said the Romanian member of parliament Adrian Severin, who served as the country’s foreign minister, after meeting with the people of Samaria. “We believe that the European Union must not engage in the policy of making stipulations, but must choose a policy of cooperation, within which framework a solution to all the problems can be found”.
“It would be a scandal if the European Union would decide to mark products from the settlements”, added member of European parliament Philip Claeys, the Belgian representative. “This would harm first of all the Palestinians who work there, and would prove that the European Union does not really care about these people. We are interested in seeing the Palestinians and Israelis work together, and it seems that the ones called 'the defenders of the Palestinians' are not interested in their welfare, but in engaging in anti-Israel policy”, he said.
Some of the members of parliament have already toured in Israel, and have met the people of the regional council in their home court. For Charles Tannock, a member of European parliament from Britain, it was the first meeting with the delegation from Samaria. And he, like Dr. Fiorello Provera, agreed to make time for a meeting of a few minutes. When the subject of Israel arose in the discussion, he cut the conversation and said resolutely: “ I want to check the matter in detail”. He got up and went to the other room, where there was a map of Israel. The narrow waist proved the claim. 1-0 in favor of the regional council of Samaria. Later in the conversation the member of parliament was dismayed to learn that the boycott that the EU is waging on factories in the settlements, and among them the Barkan Industrial Area, would lead to the dismissal of more than 3,000 Palestinian workers who are employed by Israeli companies. “That’s very interesting. Please send all of the data to my office”, he requested from Mesika and Dagan. The two invited him for a visit in Samaria, and he turned to his helper, a young Jew by the name of Yonatan. “How would you like to visit your family in Israel?”
The meeting with the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, Halamar Bruk from Germany, was more tense. Bruk is responsible for the European Union’s support for NGOs and by his request, the meeting was closed to the media, but subsequently led to a visit in Israel and to Samaria soon thereafter. Provera, who was one of the initiators of the meeting with a person who is thought of as Chancellor Angela Merkel's right hand, defined the goal: “We must think about an overall strategy. Everyone does his own work, we here and they there, and the best way is to bring the people to the field and show them the reality”.
Where is the Money?
While running about from room to room in the endless maze that is the building of the European Parliament, one could occasionally hear the word "Cyprus" thrown into the air from time to time. The economic crisis that dominates the country and the fear of Cypriot bankruptcy caused the residents of the building considerable concern. The fate of Cyprus, which joins Greece, Italy, Spain and other European countries in coping with economic difficulties, means that economic subjects are placed at the top of the list of European priorities. To a great extent, this point helps the delegation from Samaria to score points with many of the members of parliament.
"It cannot be that we transfer so much money to the Palestinians, and the situation there doesn't improve. It cannot be that European citizens must fund the senior officials of the Palestinian Authority. We need to check carefully every euro that goes to the Palestinian Authority and the NGOs", said the member of the Foreign Affairs Committee from Holland, Daniel van Dreistop. "We want to check where the money goes, where it is invested and what is done with it. I want to assure you that I will make a great effort that Foreign Minister Ms. Ashton will give us all of the details on every Palestinian project that is funded by the European Union. It cannot be that we will generously fund radical organizations who represent a tiny minority of the Israeli public and create a distance between the majority of the Israeli public and the Union."
Islam, which is rising in Europe, is another subject that worries the members of parliament. The socialist right-wing parties are increasing in strength as a result of their connection with Islamist bodies. As payment for a kind of political prostitution, they assure an easy path to citizenship, and this causes the political strength of the Muslims in Europe to gain momentum. Whole neighborhoods and towns in France, England, Sweden and Germany are becoming Muslim.
"Our goal is to build strength and create a coalition within Europe", explains Yosi Dagan, "and we are progressing in three fronts: the economic subject, Islamization in Europe and our heritage as Jews. After the expulsion from Gush Katif we understood one simple thing: we must not continue to conduct ourselves like a poor, unfortunate settler who finds himself powerless vis-à-vis the government of Israel.
"Our biggest problem is ignorance, so we work hard to connect with politicians, members of Knesset, journalists, rabbis and important religious figures. They come to the place, get acquainted with the area and gain knowledge about Samaria and its importance. In the past four years we have held 350 tours for VIPs and opinion shapers in communications. The project 'Samaria - Glad to Make your Acquaintance' that the regional council established has succeeded in bringing to the area 1500 buses of secular people who did not know a thing about Samaria, and have since become our emissaries. Moreover, we have managed to bring 150 tours of foreign members of parliament as part of the Foreign Relations Unit of the Regional Council of Samaria.
It is a fact that this body that resides in Brussels has a direct influence on us in Samaria. The subject of marking and boycotting the products that are produced beyond the green line is just one example. We can also add to this all of the money that the Union gives to leftist, anarchistic groups who act to smear the settlements in world opinion on one side, and to foment unrest on the other side. The provocations and demonstrations that they create cost human life. We feel that there is a war of perceptions here, and therefore we must strive to seek to make contact. We don't act defensively, we don't try to deal with claims made against us in the foreign media. We go out to their home field, the European Union, invite people to meetings who sometimes do us a favor by giving us ten minutes of their time, and then we bring to bear all of our hasbara tools.
The days of Justification are Over
Gershom Mesika, head of the Regional Council of Samaria, could not hide for the whole meeting his criticism about the way the Ministry of Foreign Affairs functions . "There are budgets for hasbara in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the more we meet with people, the more we discover how much work there remains, but for some reason the Ministry of Foreign Affairs doesn't do this work. Former foreign minister Leiberman indeed fully backed up our work, but the problem is in the administration. The leftist bureaucracy that has been on the job for years is puts sticks in the wheels, so that the ministry does not perform its work. The amazing thing is that these officials, including Israeli ambassadors in the diaspora, have no first-hand knowledge of the field at all. They are supposed to conduct a difficult hasbara battle against Palestinian bodies all over the world, but they don't know where Ariel is located, or how close Peduel is to Ben Gurion International Airport. Former Deputy Foreign minister Dani Ayalon came to us for a visit and was very impressed. We asked him if his visit helped, and he answered positively. We asked him if he intends to bring other ambassadors to the field, and he answered 'of course'. In reality, since then, no ambassador has come to us. This is a severe problem, and we hope that during the term of the present government, it will be solved".
Mesika's appearance, with his beard and large skullcap, is not the typical look of an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are generally clean-shaven and exude the odor of cologne. But it seems that it is precisely this man from the field,whose handshake leaves its impression for many minutes afterward, who is the one who speaks to the Europeans. Also when supportive members of parliament from Belgium suggest that he minimize quoting from the bible since "in Europe most of the people are secular with no connection to holy scripture", he continues in his own way. "It is important to make the point that our history as the people of Israel does not begin in the year 1948, with the establishment of the state. The bible and the promise that Abraham received concerning this land, the places that are mentioned in it - Alon-Moreh, Kiryat Arba, Hevron - is the important thing from my point of view. The days when we must justify ourselves and apologize for being on this land, are over. We possess the strongest land owner's deed that exists. The deed that is accepted as a holy book by millions of people the world over. If we believe in it and continue to adhere to it, others will gradually understand our rights and will stop doubting them."
*hasbara is the effort to explain a state's actions and values abroad
Translated From Hebrew by Sally Zahav
Source: Yoman section of Makor Rishon newspaper, 5.4.2013, issue 817, page 10
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.