Last month, my PR firm was hired by the Binyamin Regional Council to organize and lead a day trip exclusively for foreign journalists, allowing them to visit communities under the council's jurisdiction. About 25 journalists representing many of the major media outlets in both the US and Europe signed up for the tour, which included stops in Kochav Ya'acov, Ofra, Eli and Shilo. The purpose of the trip was to allow the journalists to meet with the residents to see what life is really like in "the settlements."
In each respective community, an English-speaking local greeted our bus to provide the journalists with background information on the community and to point out all the key sites from both a historical and modern-day perspective.
I understand that journalists have a job to do and are obligated to ask thought-provoking questions. But each stop turned into what seemed an interrogation session, in which residents were bombarded with rapid-fire questions asking them to justify their existence as Jews on land that Palestinians claim for their future homeland. Not one recognized Israel as having a legitimate claim to even one meter of what they referred to as the West Bank. In addition, a good portion of the conversation was focused on what the journalists called rampant "settler violence" against their Arab neighbors.
THE BINYAMIN residents did their best to explain their rights to the land, and condemned the violence carried out by a tiny fringe minority of the population. Based on the internal conversations I heard among the journalists, I doubt if they were convinced by the locals' arguments. That said, I don't necessarily blame the locals for not making believers out of the foreign press after such a short visit. On the one hand, the Arabs operate a well-oiled propaganda machine specifically catering to the needs of the foreign media. That is how Yasser Arafat and his protÃ©gÃ©s succeeded in creating an entire people - the Palestinians - and a historical claim to a state basically out of thin air.
In addition, the current government of Israel also seems to be operating a well-oiled PR campaign against the entire population of Judea and Samaria. Recently, some of the country's highest-ranking leaders unjustly linked the entire settler community to a small group of law breakers.
Nevertheless, the Binyamin Regional Council should be applauded for its initiative. The Associated Press reporter who was on the trip wrote an article about his experience which was published in hundreds of newspapers around the globe. While the article wasn't "pro settlements" in nature, it did provide a platform for the residents to justify their existence in Judea and Samaria to the world's English-speaking population - something that doesn't happen very often.
I'm optimistic that the other councils throughout these regions will follow the Binyamin Council's lead and offer similar trips in the near future. This type of proactive PR approach is just what our brothers and sisters in Judea and Samaria need in order to be given at least the chance to explain their perspective. Maybe one day, they'll even get through to some of the correspondents.
The writer is the president of Bar-Am Public Relations, a Jerusalem-based firm that works with non-profits and NGOs.
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