Yitzchak Herzog, Israeli Minister of Welfare, announced his plans for establishing "Safe Houses" for young Israelis living in Judea and Samaria who are not enrolled in any formal program. He sees a need for such a program

They have needs, issues and growing pains, just like kids anywhere else.

because, he claims, the youth in Judea and Samaria are disrespectful of the law and dangerous to society. The houses will target teenagers under the age of 18 who have dropped out of school or have broken contact with their parents.

According to Herzog, "some teens will enter the homes by choice, while others will be sentenced to the homes after breaking the law."

In response, Daniella Weiss, former mayor of Kedumim, rejected Herzog's claim that hilltop youth are "a danger to society." Weiss, who lived in the Peace House in Hevron, said, "I see these youths day and night. There are wonderful people here.... That Minister Herzog is trying to slander them and put them in closed institutions is another sign of the government's despair opposite the ascent of youth who love the land of Israel. Herzog's concern that hilltop youth are 'out of control' is 'Bolshevik'," she said.

"What is this term 'control'? Control of what?" Weiss asked.

Without doubt, Herzog's proposal is politically motivated, for it is on the national front where he sees the hilltop youth as a threat, where they are on the front lines of the battle for the Land of Israel. We saw them (and so did Herzog, apparently) in Gush Katif blocking roads and going to jail, at Amona and in Hevron. While not taking part in demonstrations and resistance to governmental policies, many of them take part in farming on the hilltops of Judea and Samaria, or praying at Joseph's Tomb at odd hours of the night.

In many ways, these young people are a compass for me. Although less than half my age, I respect their dedication. They are true believers who make me proud. I have four teens of my own at home and have professionally worked with youth and "at risk teens" in Samaria over the past three years. And so, I can understand and relate to the knee-jerk reaction of people like my mentor and colleague Daniela Weiss, a beacon for our youth, who are the salt of the earth. Herzog is not a friend of the settlement enterprise, and I am not surprised that his remarks are laden with criticism and distaste for our communities and beliefs.

His motive is not pure. But all this doesn't change the fact that our youth, the children of the founders of the settlement movement, are youth. They have needs, issues and growing pains, just like kids anywhere else. In some ways, their challenges are greater then those of their peers elsewhere. We, the parents, made a decision when they were small or even before they were born to live in small isolated communities, and were happy to pay a price.

They too have to pay a price. For example, a kid who lives in Jerusalem or Petach Tikva can walk a few blocks or get on a bus and be somewhere else. For a kid in Tapuach or Itamar, it's not that easy. Living in a closed community can be very trying on a growing teen. Add on to that the uncertainty caused by terror, loss of friends and neighbors, the threat of one's home being destroyed and becoming homeless like the people of Gush Katif..... In short, it's not easy being a kid in Samaria. And they are not immune to the universal maladies - dropping out of school, drugs and crime.

Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who have left their homes to become independent in our hilltop communities are even more vulnerable. Their intentions are, for the most part, more than honorable. But they are, after all, kids who are alone with no school, family or framework. Over the years, I have seen many grow up and become important members of our community, with young and growing families of their own, running farms or businesses. But some of them have been lost on the way and could have been helped if we had the means. I'm not surprised that some kids drift, or get in trouble, or drop out of school.

All that being said, I still feel that our youth is comparatively in a better situation than their counterparts over the "Green Line". But that doesn't mean we should sweep our problems under the rug or refuse to help those who need it.

What Herzog has suggested is essentially a program similar to what already exists in other Israeli communities.

What Herzog has suggested is essentially a program similar to what already exists in other Israeli communities for "youths at risk". In such programs, youths meet with social workers and other professionals and take part in enrichment activities. If I am not mistaken, per quota, social workers in Samaria are outnumbered five to one when compared to the resources available for teens at risk in Raanana. These workers, like with all other municipal services in Samaria, need to divide their time among 30 towns and 12 outposts over a large geographic area.

I agree that Herzog is wrongfully exploiting his position as Welfare Minister by mixing his twisted political views into the equation. On the other hand, I don't think that our community needs be so overly protective of our status and become so upset when someone points out that we have problems. Yes, we are people and we have problems just like anyone else. We do our best to deal with them within our community. We are also taxpaying citizens of the State of Israel and we deserve the same resources made available for the youth of Um El-Fahm, Kibbutz Menara and Raanana.

If the government finances a center for at-risk teens in Samaria, it doesn't mean that all of our youth are problematic, nor does it mean that our at-risk teens are bad. What it means is that the government acknowledges our needs and offers us services available to other segments of the population.