Ariel University in the West Bank is granting academic credit to students who provide assistance to farms in unauthorized, illegal outposts around the West Bank. The university, which is located in the settlement of Ariel, is granting credit to participants in a program of Hashomer Yosh, or Guardians of Judea and Samaria, which gives assistance to Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
Hashomer Yosh said this week that although registration for the program is closed, volunteering is still available now at about 10 farms. Publicity about the program directed at potential student volunteers in March listed opportunities at 28 farms, including locations that have been the scene of violence and the seizure of Palestinian-owned land.
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A joint statement from the university and the organization lists about 30 farms where students can volunteer, all of them located in illegal outposts, most of which have demolition orders pending against them. According to the university, the volunteering includes working as nighttime security guards and farming during the day for a total of 50 hours during the course of the year. Sources at Hashomer Yosh explained this week that the activity entitling students to two academic credits include six night shifts as guards.
In its response for this article, Ariel University stated: “In the framework of the law encouraging significant volunteering in the community, like other institutions, the university works with many and varied entities with expertise in placing volunteers in the community. In that framework, Hashomer Yosh received approval as an entity using volunteers for the current academic year.”
The university added that its program with Hashomer Yosh had only placed five students at three farms.
One of the farms listed in the publicity for the program is the Bar Yosef farm run by Zvi Bar Yosef, who twice in recent months was filmed expelling Arabs who are Israeli citizens and were picnicking in the area.
At the university office responsible for volunteer activity, staffers didn’t note any limitations on volunteering at the various farms, and added that the office is not involved in where the volunteer work is performed. On the other hand, other university staff said that students could only volunteer at three farms “which according to the entity running [the program] are legal farms that are legally located on state-owned land.”
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The farms are near Ariel, Givat Harel and Latrun, but according to Dror Etkes of Keren Navot, whose website describes it as offering “a new angle on the ongoing dispossession of land in the West Bank,” even the three farms were built without the required construction permits. In addition, Etkes said, the Latrun site is privately owned land that was not expropriated by Israeli government.
Information about the volunteer program on Ariel University’s website described it as aimed at “linking the students with the national Zionist task of contemporary agriculture.” At the end of last year, Hashomer Yosh released a video message from Marc Zell, chairman of the Ariel University executive committee, calling for support for Hashomer Yosh, which he described as an organization working against “those who want to disturb the right of the people of Israel to settle in the land and to develop agriculture,” and adding that the organization is “doing amazing things.”
According to the Registrar of Nonprofit Organizations, last year Hashomer Yosh received about 700,00 shekels ($215,000) in Israeli government funding.
Following a complaint regarding the Ariel University program filed by attorney Eitay Mack, the legal counsel’s office at the Council for Higher Education has begun looking into the matter. This week Mack wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and the Council for Higher Education, on behalf of a group of left-wing activists, demanding that the legality of the Ariel University program be examined. On Tuesday he was informed that the request was referred to Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri.
The committee of the heads of Israel’s universities is due shortly to debate whether to allow Ariel University to join the group, as reported recently by Haaretz. Since then, faculty members at a number of universities have contacted their university presidents objecting to such a move. For its part, the Israeli Sociology Society wrote to the committee of university presidents this week calling Ariel University “an institution that was established in violation of international law and contrary to the rules of the Council for Higher Education.”
Weizmann Institute Prof. Nir Gov said the Hashomer Yosh program “dovetails with the declared political aim of the institution in Ariel to promote settlements and dispossession of the Palestinians.” He said, “There is no reason to relate to Ariel as a regular university.”
Hashomer Yosh said it is not a political organization and opposes violence of any kind. “The volunteers in the organization, including the dear students from Ariel University, Jews and Arabs alike, are standing strong and assisting the farmers protecting the land of our country from agricultural terrorism.”
Israeli farmers and the organization are law-abiding, Hashomer Yosh said, and the work of the organization and of the volunteers is carried out according to the law.