Israel's Education Ministry Is Funding Two Illegal West Bank Farm Schools

Projects built in Efrat, Geva Binyamin settlements on land that does not belong to the state are left standing as Civil Administration does not enforce the law against them

A view of the Israeli settlement of Efrat, June 2018
Emil salman

The government is financially supporting, two farm schools in the West Bank via the Education Ministry and two local councils that were built illegally on land that does not belong to the state. One is in the Efrat settlement in Gush Etzion and the other is in the Geva Binyamin settlement in the central West Bank. The farms were built by the local councils and the Education Ministry allocates classroom hours to them. The councils and the ministry confirmed their connections to the farms.

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The Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank is aware of the illegal construction but does not enforce the law against it, either because enforcement authority lies with the regional council or the buildings are low on the administration’s order of priorities for demolition.

Students from area schools are brought to both farms for “ecological agricultural education.” Both are officially supported by the Education Ministry, which funds classroom hours, and by the local councils. The Efrat budget shows that last year the settlement received 992,000 shekels ($274,000) from the government to build the farm, but the budget does not specify which government ministry is responsible for transferring the funds.

The farms were built in enclaves along the settlements’ blue line that marks the boundary of state lands. The blue line represents land that Israel holds in the territories where it can build legally and retroactively legalize buildings that were erected illegally. The state does not have this authority on land that is not state land. Usually, lands are excluded from being part of state land in such “enclaves” when it is suspected that they were private Palestinian land.

"For the umpteenth time, Efrat has been caught exploiting the land of its Palestinian neighbors," said Dror Etkes of the Kerem Navot, a group the stated purpose of which is to halt what it says is the dispossession of land owned by Palestinians in the West Bank. "This time too they will surely tell us that it involves state land," he said.

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The Efrat local council responds: “Although the lands are not within the blue line, they are state lands. No one has claimed ownership of them for decades. (...) Agricultural work at the site does not conflict with the building plans at the location, and any structure erected there is also transportable. Efrat has always upheld the law as well as placing an emphasis on good relations with the neighbors.”

However, the area in question is not within the bounds of state lands and the assertion that the land is part of state lands is false.

Avi Roeh, head of the Mateh Binyamin regional council, says: “These are trailers in a place where there was a school. I can’t tell you if they are inside or outside a blue line. This is a site that has been around for many years, that originally was a state-religious school. Now ‘Siah Hasadeh’ is there and it’s a kind of farm school, not exactly a school – students come there and get lessons about agriculture. As far as I know, the permanent structure is supposed to be built in Kochav Yaakov [a settlement north of Jerusalem]. For now they’re there and they have no option to expand. I think the structures have been there for more than 10 years.”

The Education Ministry responded: “The educational farms in question were built by the local authorities. The ministry only allocates classroom hours to the two farms.”