How W. Bank Outpost Residents Are Turning to Facebook

By Chaim Levinson (Haaretz)

Published May 24, 2010.
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When Itai Zar, 34, the leader of Havat Gilad, was arrested last November, it was only natural that the footage documenting the arrest, which someone filmed on their cell phone, would be posted within minutes on the outpost’s Facebook page - to the delight of the group’s 2,234 members.

Havat Gilad, an unauthorized outpost built on a large area of land between the settlements of Yitzhar and Kedumim (near Nablus ), is home to 25 families and a few single men. Instead of relying on the media, word of mouth or other means of sharing information, the outpost decided to start a group on Facebook, which has become very popular. Among other things, one can find there an invitation to a trance party at the Ma’ale Rehavam outpost, photographs from a Lag Ba’omer party, a large number of posts calling for the imprisonment of journalist Anat Kamm (who is accused of stealing classified documents from the headquarters of IDF Central Command ), and an article calling for the Jewish division of the Shin Bet security service to be shut down.

Zar is currently being held under house arrest in Jerusalem until a decision is made on the charge that he attacked a Border Police officer - an arrangement which affords him plenty of time on Facebook.

“[If not for being under house arrest], I wouldn’t have logged on to [Facebook] at all,” he says. “The point is - the hilltop youth, as militant as they are, also know how to be practical. Our public is connected to the media and to modern technology and knows how to exploit these things. In general, since Facebook in Hebrew was launched there are far more members, because our guys don’t know English at all.

“The members of the group at the outpost itself hear what we have to say,” he continues. “There are 2,000 people with another circle around them, to whom the [operators of the Facebook page] also convey information. Public awareness is important in the long term. It’s important to us to explain ourselves, and Facebook is another tool. It’s important to the public, as well as the hilltop youth, to hear what we have to say.”

Shut down for ‘racism’

The Havat Gilad outpost is not linked up to the water and electricity networks, and there is no other infrastructure. “We have only 25 Bezeq [telephone] lines for 25 families,” says Zar. “So we brought in a company that connected us via Kedumim. We have wireless Internet and the entire outpost is connected.”

The Givot Olam outpost, east of Nablus, also opened a Facebook group. They posted a picture from a wedding where two young men are seen dancing with M-16 rifles. Right-wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir of Hebron also have Facebook profiles, where they share their opinions on current events.

Bentzi Gopstein, who is a member of the Kiryat Arba Regional Council, operates the Facebook group “The Jewish idea - Rabbi Kahane’s philosophy.”

“We disseminate the ideology of Rabbi [Meir] Kahane,” he explains. “I started it about six to eight weeks ago, and we have about 600 members. We put up a ‘Daily Kahane’ - a statement by the rabbi every day on the situation. There’s a new population out there, people who didn’t know Rabbi Kahane and were not identified with his activity. Of course there are also veteran disciples of Rabbi Kahane. I feel it’s effective. We have reached many people. It’s working very nicely. We don’t exploit it enough, but we’re getting into it.

“We have a group called the Chasdei Meir Charity Fund [named after Meir Kahane], which helps the outposts,” Gopstein explains. “There’s another Facebook page belonging to Lehava, an organization to prevent assimilation, which mainly provides information to girls, telling them not to date Arabs. It’s been shut down three times, apparently because it’s racist. We had a group called ‘How long will Jewish girls continue to date Arabs,’ and another ‘Against girls who date Arabs.’ We had 4,338 members. We posted video clips on YouTube. We’ve received dozens of requests for help on Facebook - from members and from the girls themselves. So far we’ve succeeded in rescuing seven girls.”

Tir-El Cohen, 17, who lives in an outpost near Mavo Dotan in the northern West Bank, says that Facebook “is a good place for expressing opinions, even if they’re not part of the consensus. Many people feel connected to Land of Israel activity, they support the hilltop youth, but they have never been on a hilltop themselves. It’s not a social revolution, but it’s nice.”

“Aside from adding friends and talking to my wife’s relatives in England, I don’t do anything on Facebook,” says Daniel Gilad, 21, who is now building his home in the Ramat Migron outpost near Ramallah. “A guy comes home and wants to take a break from Facebook, he only wants to be in contact with friends. But we have serious guys who know how to build Web sites, and it’s natural for them to be active on social networking sites.”

Moshe Otelo, an activist in the group Youth for the Land of Israel and in the outposts, closed his Facebook page two weeks ago. “The question is why I opened it, not why I closed it,” he says. “I simply see no need for it. There are better ways to get out the message.”

In addition to disseminating political opinions, Facebook serves - as most of us know - as a convenient forum for meeting people. Due to the constraints of modesty and in order to avoid obstacles, some have become accustomed to blurring the pictures of the women. “I’m not anyone’s rabbi,” says Daniel Gilad. “If someone thinks that [pictures of women] will cause his own downfall, let him stay away.”

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