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Israel Launches Project To Mythologize Settlement Movement
Yesha Council head Hananel Dorani (L), Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (C), and Herzl Makov (R) of the Begin Center formally announce the settlement heritage project in Jerusalem. (Credit: Social Equality Ministry)

Israel Launches Project To Mythologize Settlement Movement

New commemorative initiative to feature video testimonies from hundreds of pioneers

Israel has launched a project aimed at mythologizing the history of the West Bank settlement movement with video testimonies from hundreds of key figures. The Ministry of Social Equality has allocated 1.5 million NIS ($412,000) to the initiative, titled “History of the Settlements in Judea and Samaria,” after the ancient biblical names for the West Bank. It will feature interviews with leading members of the enterprise, which will be published online.

“Since its establishment, Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria has been a model for Zionism, pioneering and self-sacrifice,” Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel wrote in a statement following a launch ceremony on Monday in Jerusalem. “As someone who has accompanied the settlements for many years, it is important to pay tribute to the great contribution of its veterans and founders.

“The story of this national-pioneering enterprise has not been documented or told until now, and the time has come to rectify that,” she continued. “This is the purpose of the project: to give voice to the significant role the veteran members of the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria have had in shaping the moral and Zionist character ​​of the State of Israel.”

The Ministry will carry out the plan in collaboration with the Yesha Council—an umbrella organization that represents and promotes Jewish communities in the West Bank—and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. In the first year, they hope to collect 100 video testimonies.

“We and the government see the settlement project as one of the achievements of the Zionist story and it hasn’t been documented properly,” Herzl Makov, President of the Begin Center, conveyed to The Media Line, adding that the government decided to sponsor the project last year when Israel marked the 50th anniversary of its capture of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 War. In the decades following the war, dozens of settlements were established throughout the area, a move considered by the international community to be illegal.

“This kind of project has never been done before,” Makov elaborated, noting that the information would be helpful for researchers. “The people who settled Judea and Samaria didn’t pay attention to documentation or history, but we feel that it’s part of the story of Zionism and Israel so it should be covered.”

Among those to be interviewed is Elyakim Ha’etzni, one of the first to move to Hebron; Benny Katsover, the first mayor of the Shomron Regional Council; and Matti Drobless, the head of the settlement department of the Jewish Agency.

Beyond the testimonies, the project’s steering committee will also select a number of topics to be analyzed in 15-minute-long heritage videos on the settlement enterprise. They will also establish a team of researchers to write about their findings.

More than 430,000 Jews currently reside in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, according to recent figures released by the Yesha Council. The existence of Jewish communities located in territories Palestinians claim for a future state remains a controversial topic in Israel, with some Israeli leaders advocating that they should be dismantled in order to advance the peace process.

Despite this, both the Yesha Council and the Social Equality Ministry emphasized the importance of supporting Israelis living in the West Bank, with the latter stating that every child in Israel should learn about these individuals who contributed “to the building of the people and the State of Israel.”

“We believe it’s important to document and conserve the story of the settlements’ founders for future generations,” Yigal Dilmoni, Director-General of the Yesha Council, affirmed to The Media Line. “Whether you agree with the settlements or not, they have had an impact on the State of Israel. Therefore it can’t be that the stories of the settlers have not been documented or researched. Unfortunately, some of the early founders have already passed away.

“There are many young people today who are searching for inspiration for Zionist activities,” he expounded. “If we give them this story, it will give the next generation the strength to continue to carry out [the ideals of] Zionism, to build and develop the State of Israel.”

In response, Dr. Nachman Shai, an Israeli parliamentarian for the Zionist Union Party, argued that the government can better invest its money and contended that the project is a political ploy timed to coincide with approaching national elections.

“The government should find funding for this from some other place and not from the Social Equality Ministry, which is supposed to take care of senior citizens, young people, women and other groups,” Dr. Shai stressed to The Media Line. “I can find many senior citizens without medicine and this money would be very helpful to them.”

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