Facing Evacuation, West Bank Outpost Goes on the Charm Offensive

Migron outpost residents start PR campaign with a simple message: A little for the emotion, a little for the intellect.

A youngster with long sidelocks and a skullcap was showing a slide presentation. Two steps away stood his mother, a smiling American woman in her 30s wearing a broad skirt, her hair covered with a scarf. She was gesturing at the screen and speaking passionately.

The woman, Aviela Deitch, was trying to radiate normalcy to a small group of native English speakers who had showed up last week at the Orthodox Union building in Jerusalem to hear her speak.

Migron - Emil Salman - February 2012
Emil Salman

She repeatedly said that before them stood a normal woman with a normal family in a community of normal people. Just plain normal.

Deitch lives in the outpost of Migron, whose residents know quite well what Israelis think of them. Her lecture is one of Migron's attempts to change all that.

The people from the outpost began these parlor meetings three months ago, to give their story without the intervention of the media. Their PR campaign began after a number of Migron's families were evacuated in the middle of the night in September; the High Court had ruled that the outpost sits on private Palestinian land that must be evacuated by the end of March.

The battle, everyone there understood, was a PR battle, and if they wanted to win they had to change strategy fast.

What Deitch was going to tell her audience was no secret, she said, although she believed most of them hadn't heard it before. She explained that the people in Migron were not children with backpacks taking over a hilltop. Migron had bike paths, green lawns and parking spots in front of every home, even if the home was prefabricated.

Her all-American English worked in her favor. She didn't seem much different than the man in the baseball cap with the New York accent who pelted her with questions. Under her kerchief she was trying to tell her small audience that she was a person just like them.

Her message was simple - a little for the emotion, a little for the intellect. A little bit historical survey and legal arguments, a little bit of pictures of children and homes demolished after the evacuation.

No more impotent protests by parents and children in front of the prime minister's house or the Knesset. Now was the time to speak directly to the people.

As Deitch explained it, the decision was made by process of elimination. The media were depicting them as a bunch of gunslingers, the courts had disappointed them, and the public wasn't interested in delving into a complex idea.

The only thing left was to go door to door, as Deitch did in Jerusalem's Talbiyeh neighborhood a week ago and in Nahlaot a week before that, and as many other Migron residents have been doing at dozens of other places in Israel since the campaign began.

Itay Hamo, one of Migron's high-profile activists, says they will talk to anyone who will listen. Migron has 50 families, and 30 people from the community have given at least one lecture. "Last Thursday, we had students from the Hispin yeshiva in the Golan who toured Migron."

At the end of Deitch's lecture, some people in the audience were about to open their wallets, but she wasn't asking for money.

They needed spiritual contributions, and others to explain their cause, but they didn't really need money. Everybody in Migron works, she said, adding, for the last time that evening, just like everywhere else.

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