Local councils in the West Bank may continue to hand over public funds to the Amana movement, a major organization involved in illegal construction in settlements and outposts, the High Court of Justice ruled on Sunday, rejecting a petition to stop the transfer of tens of millions of shekels to the pro-settler group.
Though the main contention of the petition, filed by the Peace Now organization, was that Amana builds and markets homes built illegally in the Palestinian territories, transferring funds to it was illegal, the court case revolved around a procedural issue: the eligibility of private institutions for a certain category of public money called "support funds."
The petition argued that under the Interior Ministry’s “support funds” procedure, local authorities can transfer public funds only to public institutions. Amana is considered a private institution, so the transfer of funds to the movement by the authorities is illegal.
Also, in accordance with the Interior Ministry procedures, support funds are to be transferred only to institutions operating for the purposes of “education, culture, religion, science, art, welfare, health, sports or similar purpose,” while Amana deals with promoting settlements and construction in settlements and outposts. During the period from 2013 to 2015, Amana received a total of 100 million shekels in public funds from local councils.
The court ruled, however, that Amana meets the three conditions required to be defined as a “public institution,” and consequently, there was no problem transferring support funds to the organization. The court justified this by the fact that the movement was acting on a non-profit basis.
The main contention of the petition – that because Amana is involved in illegal construction funding this activity was illegal – was not addressed by the court, which had rejected a similar petition by Peace Now in 2018. Back then, Peace Now demanded that an investigation be opened against Amana, following dozens of cases in which, they say, there was suspicion that it was involved in illegal activities. That petition was rejected by the court on the grounds that it was too general.
Justice Menahem Mazuz, in a minority opinion, came to the opposite conclusion regarding the transfer of support funds to a cooperative association. He said there is a fundamental difference between a nonprofit association or a public benefit corporation and a cooperative association, because the supervision and transparency required of a cooperative association are less stringent than those applied to a cooperative association. Mazuz added that it was not made clear why Amana, “Despite its public goals and a lack of a profit motive," chose to form a cooperative association rather than a nonprofit association or a public benefit corporation.
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Amana is led by Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever, a settlement leader. The organization presents itself as a “settlement movement,” but acts as an umbrella organization that operates a commercial construction company. Amana’s overarching goal is the settling of a million Jews in the West Bank, and a string of Haaretz investigations in past years showed that the organization has broken the law in promoting this goal. In December 2019, the High Court of Justice ruled that municipalities in the West Bank must get the court’s approval in order to transfer funds to Amana in 2020, but the ruling was later cancelled.
The Peace Now organization criticized the court's decision and deplored the procedural focus of the debate. “We regret that the High Court did not prevent the funding despite Amana’s criminal past, and decided to deal only with the procedural questions of giving support to an organization like Amana, which, unlike NGOs, is incorporated as a cooperative society and not subject to transparency or public scrutiny. The time has come for the government to get down to brass tacks and stop the absurd flow of public money to fund large-scale criminal acts in the settlements. With the help of the same public funds, organizations like Amana and municipalities manage to illegally put facts on the ground, put a security burden on the IDF and, in practice, set the foreign and security policy of Israel.”
Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, congratulated the High Court's ruling. "The High Court did the right thing when it denied Peace Now’s petition, whose entire goal was harming settlement in Judea and Samaria and the Israelis who reside there," Dagan said, using the Biblical term for the West Bank. "The Samaria Regional Council will continue to work to make Judea and Samaria bloom, to build tens of thousands of homes and public institutions, for the future of the nation of Israel on its land.”