Kibbutz Movement Urging Ex-soldiers to Settle in West Bank

Goal is 'to keep state lands in the hands of Jews and provide security to individuals sent there by the state and the Kibbutz Movement.'

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The Kibbutz Movement is encouraging demobilized soldiers to join settlements in the Jordan Valley, according to a document distributed by the organizations special task force on settlement last month.

Two weeks ago, the task force released a document entitled Settlement in the Jordan Valley in areas under Israeli control, stating that at a meeting with Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Lahiani that same week, a proposal was raised to designate a former army base as a potential new settlement. At that meeting, a date was set for a joint tour of the site, known as the Gadi army base, by military officials and Kibbutz Movement representatives.

The document states that the initiative is aimed at supporting residents encouraged by the government to move to the settlements, and to shore up the Kibbutz Movement as a major player in future political decisions over the status of the Jordan Valley.

Yoel Marshak, head of the Kibbutz Movements task force, said that six years ago his unit launched a project to settle kibbutz members in evacuated military installations near Yitav, a kibbutz north of Jericho, in cooperation with the Prime Ministers Office. The goal, Marshak said, was to keep state lands in the hands of Jews and provide security to individuals sent there by the state and the Kibbutz Movement.

The Kibbutz Movement's Yoel Marshak. Credit: Nitzan Shorer

At the meeting, a group of demobilized soldiers living in Tel Aviv were offered to join isolated settlements in the Jordan Valley, an idea they reportedly warmly embraced.
Contacted by Haaretz, Marshak said that due to the renewed diplomatic talks with the Palestinian Authority, he was reconsidering his decision to resettle the former soldiers at the site. Still, he has not expressed that he would reconsider his plan to strengthen eight Jordan Valley kibbutzim the movement established in the past in accord with the state.

Marshak said that as long as the government has not decided to evacuate the valley, settlement there must be supported. He added that if, however, a decision is reached to evacuate the settlements, his movement would respect the decision (this position is identical to that presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in reference to freezing settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem).

Marshak also heads a group of kibbutz members who have volunteered over the past few years to protect Palestinians from settler unrest, and recently led a joint demonstration with residents of the Palestinian village of Hawara against violence by settlers from nearby Yitzhar.

Former MK Avshalom Vilan, a leading Kibbutz Movement official, is a founder of the Bayit Ehad (One Home) movement, which is promoting a bill that would encourage settlers living east of the West Bank separation fence to move to its western side even before a final-status agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians.

A 2005 State Comptrollers report found that Jordan Valley settlements created in the 1960s were built on appropriated lands under Palestinian ownership. Military officials said most of the Jordan Valley settlements and a handful of military camps thousands of dunams, according to the report were built on land owned by absentee landlords. According to common practice in the West Bank, these lands are transferred to the control of authorities responsible for state property in the Civil Administration, and the state is not authorized to use them for settlement purposes.

In contrast to unauthorized outposts elsewhere in the West Bank, in which land appropriation is generally conducted by private individuals, in the case of the Jordan Valley settlements this has generally been done by government ministers, high-ranking state officials and the World Zionist Organizations settlement department.



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