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Jerusalem Post: "Vandals hit Judea and Samaria PR campaign"

"...Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said she did not believe the initiative ('Yehuda and Shomron: Every Jew's Story') would be able to sway the public"

Oct. 6, 2008
A new public relations campaign that invites the public to explore Judea and Samaria got off to a rocky start this week when vandals scrawled left-wing graffiti across large billboards it had placed in communities such as Sderot, Ramat Hasharon and Bnei Brak.

In one instance, the words "Murderers" and "Avengers of Sternhell" were scrawled next to a smiling face of a biblical looking child holding a sheep and in another vandals had written "End the Occupation."

The campaign's director, Yakir Segev, called on the public to refrain from resorting to vandalism and to maintain a level of civil discourse even if they disagreed with the campaign.

"Apparently the campaign has upset the extremists," said Segev. He added that he intended to file a police complaint.

As a secular Israeli who lives in Jerusalem and who has no intention of moving to Judea and Samaria, Segev, 31, is not a typical representative of the settler movement. And that, he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, is exactly why he is the right person to head the public relations initiative by the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

Launched last week under the slogan "Yehuda and Shomron: Every Jew's Story," the initiative, which is under the direction of a newly created office called "The Public Relations Administration," intends to veer away from political attacks or security arguments, explained Segev.

It has one simple goal: to remind all Israelis about the importance of the West Bank to Jews from a historical and cultural perspective. Already its Web site has a list of tours it is hosting during Succot to help the Israeli public learn about important Jewish heritage sites in the West Bank such as Hebron, Herodian and Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was housed until it was taken by the Philistines.

Important Jewish history happened there, said Segev, but the modern political debate has obscured that essential reason why Judea and Samaria are important to Israel, he said.

"It is our land and that has its own value," said Segev.

As the former head of the Hebrew University's student union and a veteran of the Second Lebanon War who helped lead the reservists' protests immediately afterwards, he is not new to activism. But this is one of his first stands in support of his right-wing ideology.

The hope, Segev said, was that if people were more familiar with Judea and Samaria, then they would understand what was in danger of being lost when the government speaks of giving up 100 meters here or there over the pre-1967 border, said Segev.

Israeli society has moved to the Left precisely because it did not understand this, said Segev.

In the past the Right had assumed that this argument would not secure the support of mainstream Israeli society and it had therefore focused on security as the essential reason why Israel should hold on to Judea and Samaria.

"That was a mistake," said Segev. In launching this initiative, Segev said, the aim is not to call on people to attend protest rallies or even to move to Judea and Samaria.

"We are inviting the mainstream Israeli public to come and learn more about this critical area," said Segev.

It has a history that has touched every Jew, he added. Most Jews around the world light Hanukka candles without ever connecting it to a series of events that took place in Judea, said Segev.

Even if one did not believe in a literal translation of the Bible, one had to acknowledge that it was an important part of Jewish heritage and tradition and as a result the region it described had value to the Jewish people today, said Segev.

But Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said she did not believe the initiative would be able to sway the public. The campaign was misguided and missed the point, she said. No one is arguing about whether or not Jewish history happened there, she said. While that was obvious, it did not mean it was wise to hold onto it now or that retaining it was worth the price of occupation, said Ofran.

"They are investing much money in bringing people, but I'm not sure it's going to change minds. People might come and see what we see, which is occupation," she said.

But not everyone had a problem with the initiative. Among the many groups which have agreed to host joint activities is the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel. SPNI has several field schools in Judea and Samaria, with whose help many area tours have been organized for the initiative.

An SPNI spokesman said it did not see any difference between its loose involvement in this campaign and its past activity in the West Bank where it has historically led treks and taught about nature and Jewish history.