Israeli Settler Group Funneled Half a Million Dollars in Public Money to Illegal Settlements

Gush Etzion supported shepherd outposts through the Amana settlement movement, in defiance of High Court ruling

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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The head of the Gush Etzion council Shlomo Ne'eman and Benjamin Netanyahu on a tour of the Alon Shvut settlement in 2019
The head of the Gush Etzion council Shlomo Ne'eman and Benjamin Netanyahu on a tour of the Alon Shvut settlement in 2019Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

The Gush Etzion Regional Council, which administers the bloc of West Bank settlements south of Jerusalem, transferred 1.6 million shekels ($490,000) in 2018 and 2019 to a movement in charge of the development of unauthorized outposts in the area under the council’s jurisdiction.

More than 900,000 shekels of the funds were earmarked for the development of shepherd outposts there and to pay 20 percent of the salary of the Amana staff person working as the coordinator for the outposts. The council provided the figures in response to an administrative petition filed by the Movement for Freedom of Information.

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In recent years, the shepherd outposts in Gush Etzion have become a model for the development of similar settlements and outposts in the West Bank. The impact of the shepherd outposts has extended for beyond the outposts themselves because the flocks raised there need large areas of pasture land.

According to a 2017 investigative report in Haaretz, between 2011 and 2017, eleven West Bank agricultural outposts were established, but the identity of the entity providing them financial support was not known at the time. Now the data obtained by Haaretz shows that the Gush Etzion Regional Council funded some of them via the Amana settlement organization.

The entrance to the Havat Pnei Kedem outpost, October 2020. In 2018, the illegal settlements in the Judean mountains received over 50,000 shekels to purchase a truckCredit: Meged Gozani

In 2018, for example, the council transferred 52,650 shekels to Amana for the purchase of a truck for one of the agricultural outposts, Havat Pnei Kedem, and in 2019, it transferred an additional 632,065 shekels for another outpost, Havat Nahal Heletz.

The prior year, according to the records, it transferred 60,840 shekels to a farm of the same name to purchase a tractor, however it is not clear whether this was the same farm – which was established in September 2019 – or whether it was for another outpost farm that was later abandoned.

Amana’s coordinator for the shepherd outpost farms received 47,794 shekels from the Gush Etzion Regional Council two years ago, representing 20 percent of his annual salary. In its administrative petition, the Movement for Freedom of Information asked the council to provide details regarding its dealings with Amana between 2012 to 2019, but only information for the years 2018 and 2019 was actually disclosed.

In addition to data on the farms, the information shows that the council funded the purchase of mobile homes, the expense of transporting and renovating them and the cost of infrastructure, planning and construction material for a number of outposts – Bat Ayin Ma’arav, Havat Yair, Sde Boaz, Kedar South, Gvaot, Ivei Hanahal and Pnei Kedem. For example, 311,000 shekels was provided to Gvaot outpost, and 177,000 shekels to Sde Boaz.

Some of the outposts funded by the council – including Ivei Hanahal and Gvaot – have since been retroactively authorized as recognized settlements and their master plans have been approved by the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank. Nevertheless, the funds provided via Amana were transferred prior to their recognition as authorized settlements.

Amana is headed by settlement movement leader Ze’ev Hever, a former member of the Jewish Underground, a terrorist organization that operated in the West Bank in the 1980s. Amana has been involved in the establishment of a large number of settlements and unauthorized outposts, including Amona and Migron and nine homes that were built on privately owned Palestinian land in the settlement of Ofra and later demolished by court order. Haaretz has published a number of investigative reports concerning illegal methods used by Amana – primarily through its Binyanei Bar Amana subsidiary.

Last year, attorney Michael Sfard filed a High Court petition on behalf of Peace Now, a group that opposes the settlement enterprise, seeking to bar West Bank regional councils from providing funding to Amana. The petition, which is still pending, alleges that Interior Ministry regulations only permit local governments to transfer public funds to public institutions. Amana is a cooperative association, which is considered private.

Interior Ministry regulations permit such local governments to provide funding for “education, culture, religion, science, art, welfare, health, sport or similar goals.” Amana is involved in promoting the settlement movement and the construction of settlements and outposts. In the Peace Now petition, the primary grounds for challenging the funding is the contention that Amana engages in illegal construction.

In December of last year, the High Court ruled that while the case is pending, local governments in the West Bank would be required to receive its approval to transfer funds to Amana during 2020. The ruling also requires the local authorities to inform the court prior to the transfer of such funding – to permit the court to consider any challenges to the proposed funding until a final ruling on the case is made. The next hearing on the petition will be held on Sunday.

The Gush Etzion Regional Council and Amana declined to provide a response for this article.

For its part, Peace Now said: “Amana and the regional councils in the territories have established a sophisticated mechanism to exploit the public coffers for illegal activity and to create facts on the ground. There is no limit to the chutzpah of the settlement heads. On one hand, they build outposts, with far-reaching diplomatic consequences, with public funds, and on the other hand, they cry to the government and ask for their criminality ==to be retroactively legalized. What a responsible and fair government needs to do is shut the spigot to Amana and immediately evacuate the illegal outposts.”

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