Oded Revivi is the mayor of Efrat, an Israeli town in the West Bank. Earlier this month, three Efrat residents—mother Lucy Dee and daughters Maia and Rina Dee—were shot and killed by terrorists.
Revivi joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about how Efrat is moving forward, what the Dee family is experiencing (and why they are glad one of Lucy Dee’s organs went to an Arab person), the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and why so-called settlements like Efrat are important for Israelis.
Listen to the podcast or read the lightly edited transcript below:
Katrina Trinko: Joining me today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” is Mayor Oded Revivi. He is the mayor of Efrat, an Israeli town in the West Bank, not far from Bethlehem. I was able to meet Mayor Revivi earlier this year when I was on a trip with the Philos Project. Mayor Revivi, thank you for joining us today.
Oded Revivi: My pleasure.
Trinko: All right. So earlier in April, three residents of Efrat were killed—Lucy Dee and her two daughters, Maia and Rina Dee. They were driving in the West Bank, I believe en route to Galilee, and the car was shot at. The two girls died immediately and their mother died a few days later. So far the suspected Palestinian terrorists haven’t been caught. How is the town of Efrat doing after losing these residents?
Revivi: I can’t say I wasn’t expecting this question, and even though I was expecting it, I think it’s very hard to sum in words what has been going over the town in the last 10 days since the terrorists shot the car and what we’ve gone through since then.
Going through a funeral of two young girls who haven’t reached the age of 20, seeing all their friends, all their peers, their extended family, it’s heartbreaking. There’s absolutely no justification for having to attend such a funeral.
The people of Efrat showed their love and support to the Dee family and there were massive prayer groups in order to pray for the quick recovery of the mother. There were support groups to support those who felt that they need comfort and support and professional assistance to deal with such a tragedy.
Within 48 hours, we found ourselves in an event which just repeated the first one, a third funeral, this time for the mother. This time it was in pouring rain and you saw thousands of the residence of Efrat and this area literally doing a human chain from the house of the Dees all the way up to the cemetery, which is more than 10 kilometers, with people standing outside, waving their flags, banners of support, and trying to show the Dee family how much they are loved and really supported by the community.
Trinko: Wow, that’s incredible. Would you say that people, beyond the support, are they feeling afraid? Are they worried about driving in the West Bank and there being further attacks?
Revivi: So, you need to remember two things. First of all, the incident itself definitely hit Efrat very hardly because all three casualties, all three women that were murdered were from Efrat. But the terror attack took place quite far away from Efrat. It’s more than an hour and a half drive from the city of Efrat. So it’s not in our district. However, in our district, there were also terror attacks.
What we find usually is that yes, it is frightening, it is worrying. But then when you see the statistics, when you see the map, when you are aware that the day after this terror attack happened in the Jordan Valley, there was another terror attack in Tel Aviv where a tourist was run over by a Palestinian terrorist.
So you understand that these terrorists, they don’t attack because of a geographical location. They attack where they can see somebody that they can hit and hopefully, according to them, even kill. They just do it because we are Jews living in the land of Israel and it doesn’t really matter where we live or what we’re doing, just the fact that we’re Jews, they’re after us as Jewish people.
Trinko: Now, the Dee family immigrated from Britain. According to The Times of Israel, Rabbi Leo Dee, the husband and father, he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they met this weekend, he said, “I don’t regret coming to Israel one moment.” Does it surprise you that Rabbi Dee has that attitude? And can you talk about why Jewish people from across the world feel it’s important to move to Israel?
Revivi: Well, I was present in that meeting, so I can’t even say to you that the quote that’s been put out isn’t accurate. Rabbi Dee said it not crying, not mumbling. He said it proudly. He even took a guess and he said, “I’m even guessing that Lucy also doesn’t regret us moving to Israel.”
Anywhere else where Jewish people live, at the end of the day, they’re subject to the protection of the specific country that they live in. We unfortunately know that they’re targets and there are attacks against Jewish people all around the world, Jewish synagogues, Jewish restaurants, community centers, and sometimes they’re extremely lethal and cause many casualties.
Israel is the only place where the Jewish people are protected by the Jewish army, the [Israel Defense Forces], are protected by the Israeli Police, and we are the ones who government protect our own residents and citizens. Sharing that in mind, at the end of the day, the safest place for the Jewish people to live in is the state of Israel.
Trinko: So if you were present at that meeting, can you share anything else about how it went and what you felt during it?
Revivi: People think of meeting the prime minister, it’s going to be a very formal meeting, usually pressurized with time, usually not managing to cover everything you wanted to do. The meeting was surprising, I think, for all participants. I can’t speak for the prime minister because I didn’t ask him, but I think everybody else was extremely surprised by what was going on in the meeting.
The meeting lasted for over an hour and a half and obviously, the prime minister started, opened, said his words of condolences. Then Tali, one of Rabbi Leo Dee’s daughters, asked him a very stressful question and she said to him, “You know, you have lost a brother. Tell me, how do you overcome it?”
You saw a very personal question from a girl who is 17 years old to a prime minister who is over 70 years old, and it was if they knew one another for years and he was guiding her as to how he had survived the loss of his brother.
He said something which I never knew. He said that at first he lost the ability to taste. He was eating and he didn’t know. He didn’t have any sense of taste because of the trauma and the shock that he went through losing his brother. Then he gave small hints, small suggestions, words of wisdom from his experience, how to deal with such a terror attack and how to deal with such a loss. And of course, with words of comfort and trying to ease their situation.
It ended up with Rabbi Dee asking for five minutes with the prime minister privately, which ended up with a meeting which lasted over 30 minutes. Once the helicopter of the Air Force, who was supposed to take the prime minister for the rest of his schedule, was waiting on the ground, which is against the Israeli Air Force protocol, it was just waiting on the ground until the prime minister finished his unexpected meeting with Rabbi Dee.
At that meeting, there were just the two of them. Three different people, officers came into the room, told the prime minister, “There’s a helicopter waiting on the ground to take you.” And he said, “I’m busy, just wait for me.” They waited for over 30 minutes until he actually concluded that private meeting as well.
Trinko: Thank you for sharing that. Now, let’s talk about Efrat a little bit. It is what is sometimes called a settlement town. Efrat is in the West Bank, land that Israel owns, but Palestinians consider occupied territory. I do want to talk about Efrat’s founding and where the land came from, but first I want to know your story. How did you come to Efrat? Did you grow up in a town on the West Bank? If not, why did you decide to move to one?
Revivi: So, me personally, I got married. I was brought up in Jerusalem, we got married in 1993, didn’t have enough money to buy a property in Jerusalem. Did have enough money to buy a house in Efrat, considered it being a suburb of Jerusalem, 15 minutes away from Jerusalem. That’s how we ended up in Efrat.
Today, I can tell you that that’s not the reality for youngsters. Efrat is becoming a very demanded city. The demand is much higher than availability. Prices are growing higher and higher and basically, we are in a situation that prices here are higher than they are in a lot of neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Trinko: OK, so not quite as affordable as it used to be. When I was able to meet with you with the Philos Project, you talked about Efrat’s founding and specifically where the land the town is built on came from. Can you talk a bit about that?
Revivi: Yes, definitely. I think there’s a lot of confusion between the titling, the name, and the actual background and history. Efrat was established in 1983. Beforehand there was nothing built on this land. Generally speaking, the land in Judea and Samaria throughout the history has moved ownership from different governments or countries that have ruled in this region.
If we go back between 150 to 500 years, this area was governed by the Ottoman Empire, and they were the rulers in this region. They left behind them something very rigid, very important for us, which is called the land registry. According to that, we know that the land is split into three major categories. It is split to a small area of land, which is called Miri, which is smaller, very irrelevant. But the major box of land are called state land and private-owned land.
When you ask yourself who is private land, that can be any private individual. That private individual can have a deed, can have some proof of ownership.
State land is the major bulk of land, which, there becomes a question as, who is the state who actually owns this land? It’s definitely not the Ottoman Empire because they have not claimed this land for quite a long period of time. It is not the British Empire, who said to the international community, “We’ve done here a big enough mess and called somebody else to clear it up.”
And up until 1967, you could have argued that in Judea and Samaria’s case, at least, it was Jordan. But Jordan also, with their peace agreement with Israel, have basically given up their claim to this area of land. So it’s uncertain as to who is the state that owns this land.
That’s why I don’t recognize the title of occupied territories because you can’t have occupied territories if the previous occupier has given up his title over the land. So in the best-case scenario, you can call it disputed territories.
When we discuss disputed territories—so Israel, when they want to build in Judea and Samaria, they explore the land, make sure that the land is registered under state land, and then they would go out and explore to see if it’s being possessed by any specific individual. If they see that the land is completely open, no agricultural use of the land, no person living on the land, then they will surround it and put signs around to say that they are interested in calling it, declaring it as state land.
Only then, Israel will re-declare it as state land if there’s no anybody objecting to it. If there is anybody who is objecting to it, he has the ability to file a complaint or request to the committee that it’ll be his land.
That request is being heard. If it’s being rejected, he has an ability to go to a committee of appeal. If that is rejected, he has the ability to go all the way up to the Supreme Court. We have incidents like that which last over 20 years in the legal process, which, during that period, the Israeli government doesn’t do any usage of the land. If during that period, after that period, after that legal process has been ended, then Israel will declare it a state land and start using it for whatever purposes Israel fits that are the ones that we need to.
That’s how the city of Efrat was built after making sure that this land doesn’t belong to any private individual, that it is actual state land.
I think the fact that we don’t have here any disputes with our Arab neighbors on a day-to-day basis, no protest against the fact that they would claim that we’ve taken their land, is proof that this land really didn’t belong to anybody.
That’s why Efrat is not surrounded by a fence. That’s why Efrat has got very good relationship with our Arab neighbors, and that is something that we’re definitely very proud of.
Trinko: So, speaking of the Arab neighbors, I read, I don’t remember if it was the meeting this weekend or a different meeting, but Rabbi Dee had mentioned that one of his wife’s organs had gone to an Arab person and that she would’ve liked that her death had helped save the life of an Arab because she valued peace, or something along those lines. What are Efrat’s relationships like with Arab neighbors generally?
Revivi: So, if we’re mentioning the Dee family, I can tell you that today there were actually Palestinian neighbors who came to show the comfort to the Dee family. There are definitely different individuals who come and show their condolences and take part in showing their grief with the Dee family.
The Dee family themselves are definitely an example of how to behave and how to react in order to try and promote peace. The fact that their mother’s organs were donated to five different individuals, one of them actually being an Arab, is definitely a symbol to many people that, at the end of the day, we, all humans, are equal.
As the daughter said, and I am only quoting her, she said, “We are not the ones to decide who the donation of an organ goes to. That’s according to the medical committee. And if they decided that the best match of my mother’s organs is to an Arabic individual, then we’re just proud that we manage to save another life.”
Trinko: So, to play devil’s advocate here, towns like Efrat in, let’s say, disputed territory on the West Bank, someone might say, “Well, doesn’t Israel have enough land? Why do you need to build on this controversial area?” What would be your response to something like that?
Revivi: First of all, Israel is one of the more crowded areas of land in the world. I just told you about the property prices in Efrat, that they’re going higher and higher because there’s more demand and availability.
But also, between 1967 and 1977, there was very little building movement in Judea and Samaria. Very little Jews actually moved from other parts of Israel to this region, mainly because the Israeli government during that period of time had invented an equation called “land for peace,” basically believing that the areas of land that we conquered during the Six-Day War in 1967, we will be able to return and negotiate for land under the equation of land for peace.
We had two peace agreements with Egypt and with Jordan. Those two peace agreements led to a reality, which I think we’ve mentioned before, that those Arab countries have basically signed a waiver in writing that they don’t want the land back.
The Egyptians gave up their land of Gaza, which they ruled up until the 1967 war. Afterward, in the peace agreement, they were basically not interested in receiving it back. The same with Jordan, with Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem.
When the Israeli government sees that this land becomes from occupied land to unwanted land—and there’s definitely pressure within Israel to start using this land, both because there is a shortage of land and also because of biblical reasons. Judea and Samaria’s full of biblical sites, which is the history of the Jewish people, which connect us to this land. That’s why Israel starts using that land.
Having said all that, with all the titles that this area of land actually creates, not many people are aware of settlement enterprise. All the Jewish towns, cities, and roads leading to them in this region, they occupy only 1.6% of this area, which is called Judea and Samaria.
So if you are aware of the equivalence of the size of Israel, that they say that it’s more or less the same size as New Jersey, Judea and Samaria is about 20% of the whole size of Israel. So we are talking about 20% of New Jersey, and it’s only 1.6% of that 20%.
So this whole enterprise, which creates so many headlines at the end of the day, doesn’t take up that much land, like people might be in imagining during this broadcast.
Trinko: So, there’s been increased Palestinian-Israeli violence recently, including, of course, the terrorist killings of the Dee family. How does this cycle end?
Revivi: So, I wouldn’t say it’s funny, but it’s interesting that you’re mentioning this question because there are those who believe that if we hit them stronger or if we protect ourselves more, then the cycle of violence will end. Rabbi Dee actually suggests that maybe we should take a different approach and that is to increase circles of love instead of circles of violence.
The founders of the city of Efrat, out of choice, decided not to surround the city with a fence, with the belief that we want to build bridges with our neighbors and not fences. So whether you call it bridges, whether you call it love circles, people, in order to live alongside one another, need to learn how to get along with one another.
Prime Minister Netanyahu sums it up in one sentence. He says, “If the Palestinian people would’ve only recognized the right of the Jewish people to have a Jewish state, we would’ve already reached an agreement on the border.”
The problem is that we’re not reaching that agreement, we’re not reaching that compromise, and we are in an endless vicious act, cycle of acts of terror, which we’re not managing to get out of, in my theory, because in many conflicts around the world you see that there’s a small extreme, loud, violent minority that they, at the end of the day, dictate the cause of action. They are the ones who dictate the cause of discussion and the vast same silent majority are subject to their acts, not managing to get out of it.
Trinko: You keep an eye on American politics. I believe you at least had conversations with Trump administration officials. What do you think of President [Joe] Biden and his approach to Israel?
Revivi: I think I might surprise you in the answer to your question. I was actually present at the Trump administration integration, and President [Donald] Trump said a statement which not many Israelis understand, but he said, and he repeated time after time again, “America first.” In that respect, I don’t think it’s any different from any other previous president and it’s no different from Biden.
Biden puts America first, according to how he sees it. The American administration, especially this one, has decided to invest less in the Middle East and look at other areas in the world that they are more bothered with what’s happening.
That is a risk which the American administration is taking. Am I happy with that risk? I don’t think it’s a sensible risk. I think they are neglecting things which are happening in the Middle East, which might, at the end of the day, hit the American people by a surprise.
I do understand that there are other challenges. There’s China, there’s Iran, there’s Ukraine, there are definitely things happening in other areas in the world. But if you want to be that superpower, you want to be that nation that is the strongest and the leading one in the world that’s dictating what’s happening in the world, you don’t have the privilege of deciding that you are neglecting some of the arenas because, at the end of the day, you might be surprised in those arenas with something happening that you didn’t really anticipate or you didn’t really desire, that we didn’t really think could actually happen.
Trinko: So, a group of leftist American lawmakers wrote a letter last week about Israel. The lawmakers included Sen. Bernie Sanders and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
In the letter to President Biden and Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken, the lawmakers wrote, “We write to you with deep concern regarding the rapidly escalating violence in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and the alarming actions of the new extreme right-wing Israeli government. We urge immediate action to prevent the further loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives. At this inflection point, we ask your administration to undertake a shift in U.S. policy in recognition of the worsening violence, further annexation of land, and denial of Palestinian rights.”
The lawmakers specifically called on Biden and Blinken to make sure that no U.S. taxpayer funds supported West Bank Israeli towns. What’s your reaction of this letter and your overall view of leftists in America and their views on Israel?
Revivi: I think there are two main problems with this letter, and that’s ignoring the fact that I completely don’t agree with their argument. But the two major problems that I have with that letter, No. 1 is the fact that Israel is a democratic country. We had elections, a government was elected.
I’m not always happy with the result of the elections in the United States. I don’t have much to do with it. I’m not entitled to vote in the United States. I understand that that’s how the system works. Sometimes you get people that you want get elected in and sometimes you don’t.
Having a criticism, having a mind about the Israeli elected government when you are not the ones who elect the government is troubling, because then you are trying to interfere with a democratic decision, which was made by the people of Israel.
The outcome of the election is not arguable. That’s the government that the Israeli people chose. Why? For various reasons, whether they’re domestic, whether they’re international, whether they’re financial, that’s the government that was chosen.
The second thing that’s bothering me with their argument is the thought that the Israelis and the Palestinians are equal in these acts of violence.
Israelis who get killed, like the three people from Efrat 10 days ago, were three innocent citizens, individuals. They could have been by mistake also Arab Israelis. They could have been tourists, like happened the day after in Tel Aviv, a promenade where an Italian tourist was run over. They didn’t do anything wrong to anybody. They were just driving, they were just touring, they were just shopping, they were just doing whatever they did and they were killed just because they’re Jews or just because they were thought to be Jews.
On the other hand, in the Palestinian side, those who get killed are always, if it’s not done by mistake, individuals who are active in acts of terror. They’re involved in acts of violence, they are planning to go and kill innocent people. Israel is acting under defense, trying to protect its citizens.
When American lawmakers put both parties in the same line, in the same equation, under the same treatment, that’s doing a lot of misjustice to what is actually happening.
I suggest to those private individuals to come to this area, see what’s happening, and then maybe come to more knowledgeable suggestions to the American administration.
Trinko: OK. Mayor Revivi, thank you so much for your time today.
Revivi: My pleasure. I hope that we meet under happier circumstances.
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