Israeli Public Grants Funneled to Organization That Builds Illegal West Bank Outposts

Four regional councils directed funds to Amana, the settlement movement of Gush Emunim

 Ze'ev (Zambish) Hever, head of Amana
Olivier Fitoussi

In recent years four regional councils in the West Bank have funneled millions of shekels to the Amana settlement movement, using funding criteria that were tailored for it, making it impossible for any other organization to get the funds, Haaretz has learned.

The monies were transferred through a budget clause for a “settlement movement” by drawing up funding criteria that only Amana could meet. The funds were distributed by the Samaria, Mateh Binyamin, Gush Etzion and South Hebron Hills regional councils.

Amana, which is headed by Ze’ev Hever, a longtime settler leader, presents itself as a “settlement movement,” but in fact Amana is an umbrella body that operates a commercial construction company, Binyanei Bar Amana. Amana’s stated goal is to settle a million Jews in the West Bank.

As a series of investigative reports in Haaretz has shown, to serve this aim Amana has apparently broken the law. It has helped build illegal outposts, sometimes on private Palestinian land; it has been implicated in cases that involved signing forged documents and making false declarations to obtain mortgages; and refuses to compensate residents who purchased houses from the company that were later evacuated because they were built illegally.

Thus, despite its alleged involvement in illegal activity, Amana is getting millions of shekels a year in taxpayers’ money. When settler groups seeking to build try to approach Amana’s competitors for financial or ideological reasons, the regional councils find ways to funnel the money solely to Hever’s company.

One of the regional council chairmen admitted to Haaretz that Amana indeed finances illegal activity, but it also provides significant services to the councils’ communities, particularly in the area of political lobbying, and that the council chairmen wouldn’t be able to manage without Hever interceding with the political establishment on their behalf.

Regional councils, local authorities and municipalities are permitted to make “support” payments to nonprofit associations or institutions that serve the public. Thus, for example, the Jerusalem municipality provides funds to the Biblical Zoo or groups that work to protect the environment, while Tel Aviv allocates money to various cultural institutions. In the same vein, the four above-mentioned regional councils transfer funds to “settlement movements.”

To provide such support, the local authorities must publicize the eligibility criteria for funding. In the case of the Samaria Regional Council, the criteria stipulate: “A request for support can only be submitted by a public institution that meets all the following conditions. ... C.) The requesting institution operates and accompanies at least 10 communities in the council’s jurisdiction. D.) The requesting institution must attach a professional recommendation from at least two sources who are relevant to the subject of the support regarding its activities within the council’s jurisdiction. ... E.) The annual turnover of the applying institutions shall be no less than 20 million shekels ($5.75 million) in each of the previous two years.” It’s clear that the requirement to be operating in 10 different communities in Samaria makes it impossible for anyone other than Amana to apply for the funding.

The South Hebron Hills Regional Council drew up similar criteria. It, too, demands that the applying movement be involved in at least 10 area communities in a council that has a total of 19 settlements. It must also be operating for at least five years and have annual revenues of at least 5 million shekels a year. The Mateh Binyamin Regional Council demands involvement in at least 15 area settlements, and also requires it to be in business five years and have an annual turnover of 5 million shekels. Only Amana can meet the criteria in these regional councils. The Gush Etzion Regional Council insists on involvement in at least three area settlements over the past two years, and annual revenues of at least 5 million shekels.

It’s not always easy to figure out how much money the regional councils actually transfer to Amana because very often the annual reports the councils file with the Interior Ministry don’t specify exactly where the money goes. Sometimes, though, the councils aren’t careful and spill the beans.

Thus, for example, the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council transferred 2.7 million shekels to Amana in 2016, while from 2013 to 2015 it provided Amana with 720,000 shekels annually. The reports of the Samaria Regional Council generally don’t say which organization won the bidding process for the funds, only that the money was allocated to “support for settlement,” except for 2012, when the report says explicitly that 11.5 million shekels were transferred to Amana.

The Gush Etzion Regional Council transferred less than 2.5 million shekels to Amana in 2015. The South Hebron Hills Regional Council transferred some 200,000 shekels annually to a “settlement movement.” In 2014 a clause marked “the Amana Movement and the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria” was funded to the tune of 8 million shekels.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) recently submitted a bill that would regulate the transfer of public funds as support payments and make them more transparent. Such a bill would make it easier to shed light on how Amana works. “What’s emerging here is the methodical robbing of the public coffers,” she said. “These are public funds that time after time reach organizations and nonprofit organizations in rigged bidding processes that distort proper administration, all to serve political aims. And this is the political camp that persecuted human rights organizations while raising the banner of transparency.”

There are settlement movements that could, theoretically, compete with Amana — the Kibbutz Movement, for example, or the Moshav Movement — although they don’t meet the stringent prerequisites of involvement in large numbers of local communities. But even if they would try to get support, they would probably find that the regional councils in the West Bank aren’t particularly accepting.

Neither Amana nor the South Hebron Hills, Gush Etzion and Mateh Binyamin councils responded to requests for comments.

The Samaria Regional Council said, “Developing the communities in Samaria, as well as developing the residents’ quality of life and environment, are the flagship missions of the Samaria Regional Council. The momentum of development requires cooperating with a settlement movement, which is accomplished via support payments. The payments are made annually in a proper fashion, in accordance with Interior Ministry protocol and after examination and approval by the attorney general.”