Yossi Dagan's contagious smile is as well known as his ability to get things done. The young and energetic newly elected head of the Samaria (Shomron) Regional Authority was upbeat when Arutz Sheva spoke to him shortly after the elections, notwithstanding the mind-boggling problems and responsibilities he had just been handed by a large majority of the region's eligible voters.
Who is Yossi Dagan?
Well – he is hardly a newcomer to the challenges of the task.
A 34-year-old father of three, Dagan is married to Oriya and is an IDF (res.) Captain, has an M.A. in Law and has lived in Shavei Shomron since the 2005 expulsion from his home in Sa-Nur, the community whose nucleus group he founded in northern Samaria. He headed the opposition to the destruction of the communities in northern Shomron, the debacle planned and then carried out by the Sharon government under the aegis of the "Disengagement Plan."
Dagan's two young sons are named, respectively, for Israeli Minister Rechavam Ze'evi, murdered by terrorists, and for Lehi leader and martyr Yair Stern, whose books he read along with those of Zev Jabotinsky at a young and impressionable age. It wasn't much of a surprise then that in the seventh grade he was already leading demonstrations against the 1993 Oslo Accords at the main intersection near his childhood home in Pardes Katz, literally across the road from Bnei Brak.
Dagan is also not new to political activity and was able to convince thousands of Samaria's Israeli residents to join the Likud and influence the party list, which as a result now includes unabashed fighters for Judea and Samaria such as Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon, Michael Eitan and others in high slots. Five current Likud Ministers supported him openly in the regional elections.
He is also not new to the office. He was former head Gershon Mesika's right hand man for years, making public relations his particular niche, and became acting head of the Regional Authority when Mesika resigned over a financial legal tangle. Now, however, Dagan is officially in charge and with the buck stopping at his desk, Arutz Sheva decided to find out how the new Regional Authority Head views the situation in Judea and Samaria and what his plans are for his term of office.
As he considered it important to turn to English speakers all over the world from the start, as well as those living in the Shomron, he gave us some of his precious time.
What is your most pressing problem?
Dagan: As in all regional authorities, the job needs multi-tasking; it entails running the council meetings, Knesset lobbying, competing for allocations, dealing with finances, education, transportation, roads and whatever else comes up. My training as a conflict resolution coach will certainly be of use!
However, I also have to deal with problems that are specific to Judea and Samaria. First and foremost among them is trying to enlighten those people who think there shouldn't be an Israeli Regional Authority in Samaria in the first place.
So our most pressing problem is being accepted as permanent residents here in our own land, in Samaria. Much of the world, especially Europe, and many on the left in our own country, consider our living here to be illegal and therefore temporary, not to mention unnecessary and expendable. Our position, of course, is exactly the opposite, but we have to work harder to publicize the justification for it.
Our view of the legality of Jewish life in Samaria has to become as well known and as accepted as the fallacious mantras about the "occupation". The word "settlement" does not have to have "an obstacle to peace" tacked on to it automatically, just because it is a public relations canard that people find easy to repeat, having heard it said over and over by the left.
How do you intend to try to change this?
Dagan: We have to work on various levels. Luckily, I have experience in public relations and spent the last five years in the Regional Authority initiating the development of a hasbara (public relations) infrastructure.
I concentrated on the face-to-face aspect of hasbara. People have to see for themselves the thriving communities and cottage industries we have built, how much empty, barren and not privately owned land there is in the Shomron – and that it is this state land on which we have built our homes – how narrow Israel is without the natural geographic contiguity of the Shomron reaching to the Jordan – and how we provide jobs for Palestinian Arabs.
They also have to hear, sometimes for the first time, of our Biblical and historical rights, the Balfour Declaration, San Remo Conference, the Armistice Lines and the Six Day War. This is the Biblical heartland of Israel, but it was also granted us by the League of Nations to be part of the Jewish homeland, way before the idea of a Palestinian nation was ever heard of.
What did you do to get people to see things for themselves ?
Dagan: The first part of my plan was to turn to VIPs. We organized more than 1,300 day trips to the Shomron for influential people in Israel, decision makers, journalists, media experts, both on the left and the right. People, even important people, can be woefully uninformed. In fact, looking at a map of Samaria, an MK actually asked me why she can't find Gush Katif on the map, not even knowing that Gaza is nowhere near Samaria.
We had many successes. Anyone who is open-minded saw and heard the truth. We took them to the top of a central mountain in Samaria where they actually saw Israel's width from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. We showed them the people, visited the special places such as the organic dairy and egg enterprise at Itamar whose products are on trendy Tel Aviv tables.
Avri Gilad, a leftist media personality, said the trip turned him into a lover of the settlement enterprise; Menachem Ben, another journalist, actually moved to Samaria with his family.
What about a Palestinian State?
Dagan: Anyone who went on our day trip realized the dangerous impossibility of establishing a Palestinian state overlooking the coastal plain and turning Israel into a narrow ribbon. A 15 mile wide ribbon. With Samaria, it becomes 70 miles wide.
I also show them the hostile Balata refugee camp on the mountain near Shechem (Nablus) overlooking the coast. They realize that a Palestinian Arab state not only doesn't solve the demographic problem, it exacerbates it, brings 5 million ISIS members to our doorstep, three miles from Kfar Saba. Only someone who wants to see Israel destroyed could advocate that.
What about the man in the street?
Dagan: The second level, called "How nice to meet you", was aimed at the Israeli public and over 150,000 people from all over Israel have taken our trek, but we also brought many, many tourists who can go back and talk about what they saw.
And the world?
Dagan: We opened the Foreign Ministry of the Shomron, hosting over 100 members of various European parliaments, over 200 foreign press representatives, and others. These visitors now form the core of lobbying groups in their respective countries, advocating for Judea and Samaria as well as against BDS.
Those who say we are an "obstacle to peace" are, in many cases, uninformed. Judea and Samaria are an integral part of Israel. And once you see it, you realize it yourself.
Isn't it hard always having to defend your very existence?
Dagan: Well, Israel as a whole has found itself delegitimized lately. But you know, it might have been quieter had we accepted the suggestion to build our state in Uganda [one of the points argued at the Zionist Conventions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the establishment of the state, and eventually rejected by Zionist leaders – ed.] but, as Israel's first president Chaim Weizmann said, "There is no Zionism without Zion." It's our mission to get the truth out and we are filled with enthusiasm and love of this country.
Arutz Sheva is part of this effort and we thank you!
What is the most important point you make when talking to pro-Israel first time visitors?
Dagan: It's quite straightforward. Israel cannot be destroyed by conventional warfare as long as it holds on to Judea and Samaria. The PLO was established in 1964 by those Arabs who had left in 1948 in the hope of being able to destroy Israel militarily, and at the time, the country was so narrow that it might have worked, but the Six Day War ended that hope.
I met a pro-Israel Congressman in Washington and showed him a topographical map with and without the Shomron. He got angry and thought I was fooling him, he said the width of Israel was the length of a street in New York. That's a good comparison to remember.
How do you expect to deal with the construction freeze and can you do something to prevent the destruction of other homes?
Dagan: One thing is certain. I learned a lot from the battle for Gush Katif. One has to believe in one's cause, but one also has to able to have clout in the places where the power lies. That is why I worked so hard to expand the Shomron's representation in the Likud party and that's why we built a good relationship with the haredi MK's. Obviously the Jewish Home party is with us.
The most important and practical thing is that Likud ministers and MK's know that our votes put some of them into office. We had 130 Likud Central Committee members and 6,000 Likud voters last election. I intend to give them no respite. They have to make good on their promises. Let's face it: the average population growth outside of Samaria is 2% – ours is 10%. More votes and more homes go together.
I plan a real campaign on this issue. President Obama cannot dictate to us, forcing policies that damage our security and economy, especially because construction in the Shomron lowers the pressure for apartments in crowded and expensive Tel Aviv, since we are basically a suburb. Nobody tells Spain where to build, why do they think they can tell us? It's simply chutzpah. And when we bow to it, we encourage it to continue.
I think most Israelis are for construction. Anyway, we didn't vote for Netanyahu rather than Herzog and Livni because of his handsome face. He has to stand up for Israel's rights.
The destruction of homes is absurd. True, some places are problematic and I myself had to order a home razed when there was significant encroachment of non-allocated land. But let's not forget the root of the problem – our politicians do not allow the authorization of zoning and building plans that are desperately needed for a fast-growing Jewish population and this is the result. We are not second class citizens, there are 400,000 Israelis in Judea and Samaria, without Jerusalem; with Jerusalem there are 700,000. Let's build their homes!
What about Price Tag?
Dagan: I find it ridiculous when they expect me to apologize for the – alleged – acts of a fringe group or declare that I am against them. Just as every normal person is against violence and taking the law into one's own hands, every area has its lawbreakers. They have to be apprehended by the police. Does anyone think I am on their side? When someone murders his wife in Herzliya does the mayor have to proclaim that he is against murder?
How do you assess the security situation?
Dagan: I am in constant touch with the senior IDF officers here and with the Defense Minister. The IDF does wonderful work, but the politicians and the courts tie its hands. I will continue to call upon them to order the army to act the way the army does in the US. If someone dares to lob a firebomb at a US Army officer, what do you think would happen? What every normal country would do. That's what we have to do here.
How can Jews overseas help?
Dagan: The most significant thing they can do is come to live here. We just absorbed 9 French families in Yakir and 10 in Peduel. The people here are welcoming and good neighbors, education is excellent. Join us.
And if you can't do that yet, become our representatives – and come visit so you can tell the truth about the Jewish communities in the Shomron.