David Elhiani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, encouraged the establishment of an illegal outpost for vegans next door to the council area.
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On July 28, Elhiani met at the council’s offices with a group planning to build the so-called ecological outpost this November. Its members stem mostly from a Facebook group advancing veganism, and members of the Anastasia community, a vegan movement originating in Russia, which promotes the establishment of ecological settlements sustained by growing their own crops.
“The vegans intending to build a vegan settlement on the abandoned army base give refreshing new meaning to the phrase banana republic,” stated the Kerem Navot organization, which monitors Israeli activity in the West Bank.
The meeting between the members of the vegan groups and Elhiani was initiated and brokered by Yoel Marshak, best known for his association with the Labor Party and kibbutz movement and leading the effort to gain freedom for Gilad Shalit, who had been in Hamas captivity for five years. After the meeting, Marshak led the participants on a tour of various points where the new outpost could theoretically arise.
In 1995 the government resolved that any establishment of a new outpost in the West Bank and Jordan Valley would require the cabinet’s permission, Elhiani told the meeting participants, according to a tape Haaretz received. “But we establish settlements without the government,” he said.
Elhiani explicitly advised the would-be settlers that the deed would be illegal and that there would therefore be risk involved, and added, “If we want this thing to be done properly, it’s a process. This process takes years.”
Some months earlier, Elhiani said, some members of the Labor Party toured the Jordan Valley. “I told them that I agonize at night before going to sleep, if I manage to fall asleep at all,” he said. “I ask myself if I should be a Zionist and offender, or obey the law. Everybody shouted at me ‘Be a Zionist and offender.’ That was the perception of the Labor Party, that this is our country and that’s how the state arose. We forgot what Zionism is.”
The participants discussed the various sites where the new outpost could go up, including an abandoned army base on two hilltops called Tzipor and Givonit, both of which lie within an Israeli army live-fire zone. Elhiani said that the authorities would probably enforce the prohibition on settling without permission on the two hilltops, unless they exploited loopholes in the law, for instance settling in mobile homes with wheels. “Nobody can do a thing to you on wheels,” he said.
Hearing concern about the cost of building the outpost, Elhiani said that “interested parties” would take care of the necessary infrastructure. “The World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division will help fix up the buildings,” he said, adding, “There will be protection by the army the moment you move there.”
One participant suggested that the settlers plant “a forest” in order to spread over as much land as possible. Elhiani thought that a good idea. “We want there to be people here. We want to establish new towns and occupy land,” he said.
Another suggested including Palestinians in building the settlement in order to avoid enforcement by the authorities. “What Palestinians? What are you talking about?” Marshak said.
In the past, Elhiani claimed - the army and regional council had agreed to the establishment of two illegal outposts in the Jordan Valley despite a fight against any such thing by Taayush, an Arab-Jewish organization.
A ranch set up north of Jericho shows how to occupy land in the Jordan Valley, Elhiani said; a man arrived with a tent, after a month the tent turned into a hut, and soon there will be a house. In time, such farms will turn into towns, he said. “Unfortunately, we are fighting the Defense Ministry to allow more like that. There’s plenty of room,” he noted.
Since the meeting in July, the vegan group has gained new members, elected a management committee, consolidated a vision for their future settlement, and toured the designated land.
On Monday, a lawsuit was filed in the name of Taayush to block the establishment of the outpost. “If the outpost arises, its evacuation will take years, meanwhile perpetually impairing the rights of the Palestinian population,” says the petition. Justice Daphna Barak-Oz gave the state two weeks to respond.
Elhiani refused to comment. The coordinator of government activity in the territories stated that the Jordan Valley council requested to make temporary use of the buildings on the abandoned base, and the request is being examined according to procedure. Marshak commented that he would never lend a hand to illegal occupation within the State of Israel.
A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Jewish Agency Settlement Division.