A settlement-building organization obtained millions of shekels in government loans to carry out construction in illegal outposts by allegedly falsely declaring that it had rights to privately owned Palestinian lands, Haaretz has learned.
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Amana, which was founded in 1979 by the Gush Emunim settlement movement, used the funds to build in Amona and Migron, illegal outposts that have since been evacuated on the order of the High Court of Justice. Amana officials refused to comment for this report.
Amana has an ideological objective — to settle the West Bank with Jews. In November and December 2002, the organization, which is headed by Ze’ev Hever, signed two loans totaling 5 million shekels ($1.05 million at 2002 exchange rates), with Bank Tefahot. In fact, Haaretz has learned, the government was the source of the loans; the bank was merely the conduit.
To obtain the loan, Amana allegedly mortgaged private Palestinian lands in the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council to which it never had ownership rights and on which the illegal outposts of Migron and Amona were built.
Both loan contracts bear Amana’s corporate stamp and two signatures. Comparing these signatures to other documents signed by figures in Amana reveal them to be those of Hever and the company’s CEO, Dov Markovich. In both agreements there appears the following statement: “The borrower declares that he is the exclusive owner of the rights to the property in question.” In both cases the declaration is false.
The High Court of Justice, in two different rulings years later, established that the land on which the homes in both Migron and Amona were built was in fact private Palestinian land, making it clear that Amana never had any rights there. It’s not the first time the state has been shown to have aided in illegal outpost development, but it’s apparently the first evidence that the state loaned funds to facilitate the building of homes there.
“What was known until now, and was revealed in the Sasson report [on illegal outposts, issued in 2005] is that the Housing Ministry provided infrastructures and gave money to the regional councils or directly financed the outpost infrastructures, particularly the roads,” said the Director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project, Hagit Ofran.
A report recently written by Peace Now includes an official document, signed in 1996 by both the Finance and Housing ministries and sent to mortgage banks, with an explicit instruction to transfer a deposit “of up to 45 million shekels” that was made for the purpose of providing loans “for building homes in rural communities” by “Amana, a local council economic corporation, [or] a local council that satisfies the bank.”
There is no mention in this document of either Amona or Migron.
The bank, now Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, says that in 2002 its officials received instructions from the finance and housing ministries to provide loans so Amana could build homes in Amona and Migron as part of a Housing Ministry aid program.
“For the purpose of making the loans the state made a deposit with the bank, which was the source of funds for these loans,” the bank said in a statement. “In fact, the bank was a ‘connecting entity’ between the state and the qualifiers, and made the loans available in accordance with state guidelines, with the community for which the loans were made, the loan terms, and the payment conditions determined by the state, and confirmed in writing by the authorized, relevant authorities in the Finance and Housing ministries.”
The bank stressed that the loans in question have been repaid. But Haaretz has learned that Amana still owes the state tens of thousands of shekels for conditional grants it received to build the illegal structures. Amana owes 89,922 shekels ($23,411) for the construction in Amona and 24,663 shekels for the construction in Migron.
In a response, the Finance Ministry said that around 15 years ago, in accordance with government policy at the time, the state made budgetary loans available as part of its designated aid for building homes in rural communities.
“These loans were managed by the mortgage banks under agreements between the government and the banks. In order to implement the aid plan, the banks were issued guidelines and procedures that were uniform and equitable toward the entire qualified population,” the treasury statement said.
Continuing, the statement said “the aid program included both budgetary loans and conditional grants, subject to collateral requirements and relevant permits, including building permits issued by the local council, engineers’ certifications, the certification of the managing entities, undertakings by those requesting aid, and so on. Amona and Migron were among the communities that received this aid.”