The Agriculture Ministry recently allocated 70 million shekels ($18 million) to infrastructure projects in West Bank settlements, even though many of the recipients are urban communities with no connection to agriculture. Farmers in the settlements are furious because the money was transferred to local and regional councils rather than to actual farmers.
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The allocation was part of the coalition agreement with the Habayit Hayehudi party. This agreement called for allocating 240 million shekels in 2015 and 100 million shekels in 2016 to “national infrastructure, public buildings and municipal security grants” in West Bank settlements. The money was divided among various ministries, and the Agriculture Ministry, headed by Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi), got 70 million shekels.
In September, the ministry invited settlements to apply for funding for projects that served various specified goals, including encouraging agriculture, preserving agricultural land and open spaces, “strengthening rural communities,” “preserving agricultural and rural heritage” and “developing rural communities.” But the invitation didn’t define what constituted a rural community.
Last week, when the funds were finally allocated, it turned out that many recipients were urban settlements. For instance, Kiryat Arba, a dense urban settlement of 7,000 people, received a million shekels to build an access road to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It’s not clear why this project should be funded by the Agriculture Ministry at all, since the Transportation Ministry also received 50 million shekels to allocate to settlements.
Elkana, a bourgeois suburb located just over the Green Line, received one million shekels for a park and one million to renovate its auditorium. Beit El, which also has about 7,000 residents, got 1.5 million shekels to improve the settlement’s appearance. Kedumim got one million shekels for a park and another million to improve its appearance and access to its oldest neighborhood. The Binyamin Regional Council was allocated 1.6 million shekels to develop a master plan for tourism and 4.4 million shekels for “the cultural fabric of western Binyamin.” And so forth.
Last Friday, following the announcement of the grants, Kedumim Mayor Hananel Dorani organized a small advertisement thanking Ariel in the newspaper Makor Rishon. Altogether, it was signed by eight settlement mayors.
But many farmers in the settlements were furious over the grants. “Ever since Ariel took office, the Agriculture Ministry has been cutting all kinds of things connected to agriculture, like solutions for rabies,” said one, who asked to remain anonymous. “There’s a crisis in agriculture, but what they give money for is gates [at the entrances] of settlements and halls and all kinds of large settlements that have no connection to agriculture.”
Another farmer, who also asked to remain anonymous, added that at a time when exports to Europe are declining and the Russian market is unstable, “as a farmer, what helps me isn’t improving the settlement’s appearance, but rehabilitating my farm.”