Roll up for West Bank mag­i­cal his­tory tour

A PR of­fen­sive by set­tlers has had Is­raelis flock­ing in their thou­sands

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - by Michal lev­er­tov Tel Aviv

A £770,000 PR cam­paign launched on Rosh Hashanah by an um­brella set­tler group has more than dou­bled the num­ber of Is­raelis who vis­ited West Bank set­tle­ments dur­ing the hol­i­days, ac­cord­ing to or­gan­is­ers.

Around 25,000 Is­raelis took part in tours and events at the set­tle­ments and nearby sites fol­low­ing an in­ten­sive three-week ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign in­tended not just to boost tourism but to change main­stream at­ti­tudes to­wards the Jewish pres­ence in the West Bank.

Run by the Pub­lic Re­la­tions Ad­min­is­tra­tion, it­self es­tab­lished by set­tler rep­re­sen­ta­tive body the Ye­sha coun­cil, the cam­paign ran un­der the slo­gan: Judea and Sa­maria, The Story of Ev­ery Jew. It con­sisted of 1 , 200 bil l - boards, 200 ad­ver­tise­ments on buses and heavy ad­ver­tis­ing on Is­raeli na­tional ra­dio as well as in the He­brew printed and in­ter­net me­dia.

The ac­tiv­i­ties on of­fer in­cluded guided tours, vis­its to winer­ies and to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites.

Danny Dayan, chair­man of the Ye­sha coun­cil, said the re­sults were “a great suc­cess”.

He said: “For 30 years now we avoided dis­cussing the ide­o­log­i­cal di­men­sion, the ba­sic fact that Judea and Sa­maria is the cen­tre of the Jewish essence. I vowed to change that.”

In the big­gest set­tler cam­paign since the anti-dis­en­gage­ment protests, the ad­verts pre­sented chil­dren dressed in bib­li­cal cos­tumes and re­fer­ring to bi­ble sto­ries set in the West Bank.

“It’s a cam­paign that talks about tra­di­tion, and not about re­li­gion — I too am not re­li­gious,” ex­plained PRA head Yakir Segev.

“We wanted to be pleas­ant and not di­vi­sive,” he added, ex­plain­ing that for many Is­raeli Jewish fam­i­lies, “the bind­ing point of tra­di­tion is mainly around chil­dren”.

In Su­sia, south of He­bron, ac­tiv­i­ties in­cluded tours in 4x4 ve­hi­cles around an­cient Su­sia, an au­dio-vis­ual pre­sen­ta­tion, creative ac­tiv­i­ties for chil­dren and guided hikes.

“ T h i s y e a r about 1 0 per cent of the vis­i­tors were secul a r , whe r e a s sec­u­lar peo­ple usu­ally make u p o n l y t wo per cent of the h o l i d a y e v e n t s , ” s a i d Na d a v A v r a mov , S u s i a ’ s d i r e c t o r o f ed­u­ca­tion.

Mr Segev noted that among the set­tlers, the new cam­paign had brought a great sense of re­lief. “For 30 years they were not able to talk abut their ideals, be­cause some­body thought that the pub­lic would not un­der­stand it, or that it was the wrong thing to do, tac­ti­cally,” he said.

“No one lives in [the West Bank set­tle­ment of] Eli to pre­vent mis­siles reach­ing Tel Aviv, but rather be­cause it a part of Eretz Yis­rael.”

Mr Dayan was more care­ful about pre­dict­ing the ini­tia­tive’s long-term suc­cess. “It’s only the beginning and no­body is de­lud­ing him­self that one cam­paign will do the job. But it looks en­cour­ag­ing.”

How­ever, the re­sponse was not en­tirely pos­i­tive. Vi­ral emails cir­cu­lated in re­sponse to the cam­paign showed spoof ad­verts fea­tur­ing im­ages of the abuse of Pales­tini­ans — in­clud­ing a photo show­ing al­leged set­tler abuse near Su­sia — in place of the smil­ing pic­tures of chil­dren dressed as bib­li­cal char­ac­ters. Else­where, bill­board posters were van­dalised with anti-oc­cu­pa­tion graf­fiti.

And left-wing groups were also crit­i­cal of the ini­tia­tive.

“I would have been sur­prised if fol­low­ing the huge amount of money that was in­vested in the cam­paign, the set­tlers would not have suc­ceeded in bring­ing more vis­i­tors to the West Bank,” said Yariv Op­pen­heimer, the head of Peace Now.

“But I don’t feel that any great break­through in pub­lic opin­ion was achieved.”

Mr Op­pen­heimer, who re­ceived death threats in Tel Aviv ear­lier this week, noted that “the cam­paign tries to present the set­tlers’ pleas­ant side, and it’s a shame that its ini­tia­tors were not able to deal with th­ese se­vere do­mes­tic prob­lems they have.”

A poster pro­mot­ing He­bron as a tourist des­ti­na­tion. Scrawled on it are the words “end the oc­cu­pa­tion”

The cam­paign web­site with the slo­gan “Judea and Sa­maria: the story of ev­ery Jew”. But ( left) op­po­nents’ ads claimed al­leged set­tler abuse in Su­sia, headed “Judea and Sa­maria: the story ev­ery Jew needs to know”

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