Nefesh B’Nefesh’s ninth annual aliyah event was held in Toronto March 1. Asaf Mintzer, the mayor of Elkana in the West Bank since 2013, was on hand to represent his community as part of his first visit to Canada.
Mintzer is a lawyer by profession, as well as a prominent member of Yesha Council, the official organization of Israeli citizens living in Judea and Samaria.
The CJN interviewed Mintzer during his stay in Toronto.
You are promoting aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh. Why do you think a Canadian Jew should consider moving to Israel, and more specifically to Elkana?
Jewish people have in their heart the desire to come to Israel, to the Holy Land. I also think anti-Semitism brings Jews to Israel. As a beautiful little town in Israel, Elkana has a very close community where we care for and help one another. We offer great education, housing and communal opportunities.
Elkana was founded in 1977 by 40 pioneers who came from the Tel Aviv area to settle in Samaria. We are located in Israel’s countryside, 30 minutes from Tel Aviv and 40 minutes from Jerusalem. We currently have 1,000 families in Elkana and are experiencing annual growth with the construction of new apartments, schools and social hubs. The residents are religious and non-religious people, working as professors, judges, doctors, lawyers, teachers, hi-tech people, self-employed, inventors, shop owners and artists.
We are grateful to the Koschitzky family of Toronto who, more than 30 years ago, built a large academic college, named in memory of the late Israel Koschitzky. The institute began for girls only, but today admits boys as well. This is a very well-known college for students from all over Israel and also all over the world.
According to international law, Elkana is on occupied land in the West Bank. How do you respond to that charge by the international community?
We are about to celebrate Elkana’s 40th birthday and 50 years since the Six Day War. During that war, we got back our Jewish land. This is land that was taken from us during our exile. As Jews, we know that this is land upon which our ancestors lived. Elkana is in the historical Ephraim region. It’s ridiculous that we should need to explain this, or, in the same vein, to explain that the Temple was in Jerusalem. I believe it’s time for Israel and the world to recognize that we are back.
Do you think settlements – or expanding settlements – are an obstacle to peace? Also, if the Palestinians are willing to make peace with you, would you leave Elkana?
I don’t think it’s an obstacle to peace. I think we should live together. Fifty years is enough time to know that our communities are strong, having stayed more than three to four generations. I think we need to invest more time and effort on the connection between us and not on pulling us apart.
I was involved with the legal aspect of relocating the graves of those who were buried in the Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip during the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, representing more than 40 families. There were more than 10,000 people living there for more than 30 years, two and three generations, from the young to the elderly. These people were taken out of their homes – for what? We can see that terror has been increased, and there was no peace. I think we need to fight terror, but disengagement from the communities is not going to help. I don’t think the Palestinian or Israeli people really think that if we go away, there will be peace. We think that being together and being friends to each other is the right resolution.
What is your opinion on the two-state solution? Do you think it’s even a viable option, or do you think there is a better way?
I think the two-state solution can’t work, because it is dividing us, resulting in more hatred between one another. To take Jews out of the same place where our ancestors were, to say that we are two separate states, is not real. It’s artificial.
We have to face the fact that we are both there and we have to live together.
From our experience, when we did want to help, like back in Gush Katif and more recently [March 1] when security forces demolished nine houses in the centre of Ofra because of an argument about private property – so-called Palestinian property, but there was no Palestinian claiming this property – it is just ridiculous. We are fighting it in the Knesset, and we will fight as much as we can so it won’t happen again.
Our answer is to build new neighbourhoods and to keep our communities strong.
Do you see peace being viable in the future, and where would you like to see Israel in five to 10 years from now?
I pray for peace. I am hopeful for peace, but I also have to be realistic. We need a strong army. I believe in 10 years we will still need to send our kids to the army. At the same time, we need to strengthen our connection with the Palestinians.
There is much uncertainty with regard to the Palestinian leadership, particularity as PA President Mahmoud Abbas is getting on in his years. There are concerns relating to Gaza. They have issues to resolve in regard to their border with Egypt. But in relation to the Palestinians in the West Bank, I believe we have a friendlier situation. So by us strengthening our working relation with the people – more so than the government – we will be able to achieve peace for us all.
It was painful to watch the evacuation of Amona. It brought back memories of when Gaza was evacuated. What are your feelings? Was Israel right to do that?
It was very sudden. I was there to watch for the people and to cry with them. It was not right. There is a collision between the Knesset and the Supreme Court. We believe that the Knesset has to decide but since the court decided, the government had to execute, and it was very saddening to see families of more than 20 years’ residence leave. I don’t know how to describe it. They didn’t even have enough time to prepare for a new home. They applied to the court to give them another two months to organize and the court said no. You ask yourself what is the rush? Was there any Palestinian coming to live there?
What advice do you have about fighting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel?
We should do more against it. It is very strong because it receives so much money from the European Union and from other foreign countries that contribute to the process, and we are not doing too much against it.
The Yesha Council is working on a plan against BDS by sending people to universities to speak, not against BDS, but for Israel. We believe that by showing the good things of Israel, this will prevent BDS from growing.
I think many people are simply unaware of the truth about Israel. Much of their knowledge is from biased media. In Elkana, we have many Palestinians working with and for us in all sectors. I have good relations with my Palestinian employees. It’s really not like it’s shown in the news.
What is your position on the proposal to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
I think it’s a very good idea and I hope it will happen. President Donald Trump promised it and I hope it will come to pass. The Israeli capital is Jerusalem and we pray for Jerusalem. This is part of our land. It’s where it should be. n
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.