Over 300 activists from Israel and abroad convened Thursday evening in the Samarian village of Havat Gilad to formulate strategies for resisting the government ban on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. The conference, organized by David Ha'ivri of the Shomron Liaison Office to strengthen the connection between the region and Jewish communities throughout the world, featured Israeli parliamentarians, Diaspora Jewish activists, local municipal leaders and radio personalities.
Among guests from overseas was Moshe Elkman, chairman of the Australian Friends of Gush Katif and Shomron (Samaria), which has recently joined a program twinning Havat Gilad and the Australian Jewish community of Melbourne. Elkman advocated a united front that could offer alternative leadership for the State of Israel based on Jewish values and protecting the territorial integrity of the Land of Israel.
Veteran Israeli activist Dr. Gadi Eshel praised the heroism of the Havat Gilad villagers as well as the pioneers from other hilltop communities. Eshel condemned the police brutality and government harassment residents routinely face, and specifically singled out the example of Havat Gilad leader Itai Zar, who is currently banished from his home by court order after being charged with allegedly assaulting a police vehicle. He has categorically denied the accusations, and similar charges against other nationalists usually are dropped before the cases even come to court.
Shomron Liaison director David Ha'ivri applauded the partnership initiatives being developed between local schools and Jewish schools abroad as well as the twinning of Havat Gilad with the Jewish community of Melbourne. Ha'ivri called on additional communities throughout the world to join in and support the growth of “Jewish communities in the heart of our historic homeland.”
Ha'ivri also recalled that Gilad Zar – in whose memory the village was established following his assassination by Fatah gunmen – was an outstanding community leader who continues to serve as a role model for local residents and activists. Ha'ivri spoke with pride of his own participation in the development of Havat Gilad and expressed confidence that Gilad would have been proud of the community’s young pioneers.
Urging participants to formulate an effective plan of action, Yishai Fleisher of Israel National Radio argued that the true enemy is not the Israeli government or local Arabs but actually Western powers who he said bully Israeli leaders and exacerbate the Middle East conflict.
“We know that European governments are funding local groups that work to undermine the State of Israel and the Zionist ethos," he said. "The United Nations has made it its goal to portray Israel as a rogue nation and the United States is pushing an arms race in the Middle East with billions of dollars in sales to the Arabs. All this leads us to the conclusion that we must fight against the foreign forces that seek to divide us. We must fight to restore a strong and independent Israel.”
Following the program, a brief open forum took place in which attendees hotly debated reactions to government policy. Some Israeli media outlets focused on this debate rather than the official program and serious discussions that preceded it.