(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika suspended himself indefinitely on Thursday, after becoming a state’s witness in a massive bribery case against public officials, including former Yisrael Beytenu deputy interior minister Faina Kirschenbaum.
He is to be replaced by his deputy, Yossi Dagan, as the acting council head.
In a letter that he wrote to Samaria residents, Mesika said, “I would like to inform you that I have decided to suspend myself from my position as the head of the Samaria Regional Council and as a result, I am immediately stopping my involvement in the affairs of the council.”
Mesika, who has held his job for the last eight years, is among the most visible and outspoken of the community leaders in Judea and Samaria. He is also one of the more visible settler leaders abroad, aside from Dani Dayan, who is the former head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria.
“He came into office with a unique vision regarding a need for the Jewish communities in Samaria to open themselves up to the international audience,” said the former head of the Shomron liaison office, David Ha’ivri.
Mesika personally reached out to foreign diplomats and politicians and arranged for them to visit Samaria, including its Barkan Industrial Park, so they could learn about the settlements.
He has spoken before the European Parliament and has met with congressmen in Washington.
Dagan said that Mesika was responsible for many new housing projects, as well as building schools and industry.
In December, Mesika was fingered by police in a large bribery case involving Kirschenbaum. He was briefly arrested for allegedly transferring funds to the Central Company for the Development of Samaria, which dealt with building issues, in exchange for political favors he helped provide.
The arrest warrant said Mesika was “suspected of theft by a public official, fraud, and falsifying documents, worth hundreds of thousands of shekels, as part of [his role in] working for the Company for the Development of Samaria.”
The Samaria Regional Council said that, according to police, Mesika was not under suspicion for personally pocketing money and that all of his activities were on behalf of Samaria.
Mesika in his letter to his constituents said, “As you know, this last period has been a complex one. It has not been simple for me. I want to personally thank each and everyone of you for the warm support you have shown me and my family in the last few months.
“Today, as I have throughout my time in office, I will continue to make every effort to develop and build Samaria.
This has been my sole goal in the past and the present and it will be in the future.”
Dagan added that this had been a difficult day for Samaria, and he promised to continue in Mesika’s footsteps.