Settlement Group Will Need High Court Consent to Get Funding

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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The Amana building in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, December 2, 2019.
The Amana building in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, December 2, 2019.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Local governments in Jewish settlements in the West Bank will need approval from the High Court of Justice in order to transfer money to the settlement organization Amana during 2020, the court ruled on Monday.

The ruling requires these governments to inform the court of any planned funding for Amana, and then not to transfer the money unless and until the court approves it.

It was issued in the context of a petition by Peace Now arguing that all fund transfers to Amana are illegal because Amana doesn’t meet the Interior Ministry’s criteria for receiving government funding. That petition is still pending, but the organization also sought an injunction banning any fund transfers to Amana until the court issues its final ruling on the petition.

Though the court declined to issue the injunction immediately, it did rule that any fund transfers will require its approval. If any funding requests are submitted, Peace Now will then be able to argue that the court should issue an injunction against them until the petition is decided.

The petition argued that transfers to Amana don’t meet the criteria for two technical reasons – because Amana is a cooperative association rather than a public benefit corporation, and because its activities don’t serve the purposes listed in the ministry’s regulations. But the main reason why such transfers are illegal, the petition says, is that Amana builds illegally in the West Bank and then markets its illegal apartments to customers.

Amana is headed by Ze’ev Hever, one of the leaders of the settlement enterprise. Though it bills itself as a “settlement movement,” Amana actually operates a commercial construction company, Binyanei Bar Amana.

The organization’s goal is to settle a million Jews in the West Bank, and a series of investigative reports by Haaretz in recent years shows that for this purpose, Amana often breaks the law. It participates in establishing illegal outposts, sometimes on privately owned Palestinian land; it has been involved in property purchases that involved forged documents and false affidavits; and it has refused to compensate settlers who bought homes from it that they were later forced to vacate because they were built illegally.

In early August, the court issued a show-cause order on the petition, indicating that it sees merit in it. The order gave the government and the relevant local authorities 45 days to explain why they shouldn’t stop funding Amana.

But the order largely ignored arguments about the illegality of Amana’s activities, focusing instead on its technical eligibility to receive government funding, given that it’s not a public benefit corporation and that its goals – “encouraging settlement” and “establishing settlements” – aren’t among those listed in the Interior Ministry’s regulations.

Based on Freedom of Information Requests submitted by Peace Now, the petition said, Amana obtained about 100 million shekels ($29 million) in public funds from 2013 to 2015. Of this, 37 million came just from the Binyamin Regional Council.

Peace Now welcomed Monday’s decision. Amana “is the strongest organization in the settlements,” it said. “For decades, it has been behind the establishment of illegal outposts and neighborhoods, using enormous budgets of which part – tens of millions of shekels a year – came out of the Israeli taxpayer’s pocket via local governments, in violation of the law, without let or hindrance.

“The justices’ decision is a dramatic and significant step that sets bounds, at least for now, on the rampant criminality in the settlements and the illegal outposts,” it continued. “We hope that in this spirit, the court will rule that no public money should be transferred to Amana ... A situation in which Israel backs the transfer of public money for illegal activity is intolerable, and we urge the government to put a stop to it.”

Amana and the relevant local governments declined to comment.

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