Israel has allocated more than 8,500 dunams (about 2,100 acres) of land for six farms and grazing outposts in the West Bank, although the outposts that were given permission to hold the land do not have construction permits, according to the Agriculture Ministry.
The ministry stated this in a response to a query by the activist group Peace Now about the funding of groups that guard the outposts and volunteer there.
According to the Agriculture Ministry’s response, it funds three NGOs that provide volunteers for farm work in the outposts – Hashomer Yosh, Kedma and the pre-military program Beit Yattir. These groups received a total of 3.8 million shekels ($1.17 million) in 2020 and 3.6 million shekels in 2019 from the ministry for activities at the six farms.
There are dozens of outposts for grazing sheep and goats in the West Bank, at least 30 of which were built by the settlement movement Amana in recent years. These outposts take up a great deal of land with few residents, due to the extensive land given over to grazing.
Over the years, left-wing organizations and activists have attempted to find out whether grazing lands had been allocated to the outposts by the authorities, although most of them are designated as illegal.
Peace Now called on the government to stop supporting the illegal farms and outposts if it wants to “avoid more ‘Evtayars,’” referring to an illegal outpost recently vacated by settlers after an agreement with the government permitting the site to remain intact under Israeli army supervision.
Peace Now said the government must not allow settlers “to illegally set Israel’s foreign and security policies.” It said it found it “difficult to understand why a government ministry allows itself to take millions of shekels in public funds and give it to groups that are attached at the navel to illegal activity.”
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The Agriculture Ministry responded: “As opposed to the claims, the Agriculture Ministry gives grants only for lands properly arranged by the Civil Administration, in keeping with the work procedure formulated by the ministry on the matter of proving possession of the land in the areas of Judea and Samaria. In the matter of Hashomer Yosh, an additional check was made to ascertain that the farm is indeed supported in the framework of the ministry’s support for ‘volunteer organizations,’ which are in possession of all permits in keeping with procedure. The check revealed that the organization meets all the grant requirements.”
The Grazing Authority is the official body in Israel in charge of allocating land for grazing, but the Agriculture Ministry says that in the West Bank, the ministry is the only body that recommends issuing grazing permits, and the permits are actually given by the owner of the land. In the case of the land in question, the ministry says, they are state land allocated to the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization or administered by the Israel Lands Authority.
The Agriculture Ministry gives grants to associations working at the farms by means of calls for grant applications for volunteers in rural communities issued since 2012 by the ministry. To receive the grant, the associations must declare the identity of the farmers for whom they work and the ministry checks whether these farmers have the right to hold the land for grazing.
At first, the ministry made do with approval given by the Settlement Division. But apparently due to problems in the past with Settlement Division contracts, the ministry decided to change its approach and the ministry’s legal adviser now requires approval only from the Civil Administration regarding the legality of the land’s possession.
Among the outposts that have grazing permits, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s responses to Peace Now, is Yehoshafat Tor’s farm at Havat Maon in the southern Hebron Hills, which is located on private Palestinian land. Another farm, belonging to Shavti Koshlavski, also in the southern Hebron Hills, has a demolition order pending against its buildings. Koshlavski himself is the official signatory for the NGO Hashomer Yosh, which received funds to guard his farm. Shkedim farm, at Elon Moreh, belonging to Nati Sholev, is on state land, but extends into private land. The Har Sinai farm, belonging to Neriah Ben-Pazi, east of Ramallah, is on the edge of state land. The sixth farm, Teneh Yarok, is on land that a master plan designated after the farm was established for development of the settlement of Rotem in the Jordan Valley, and so the farm was legalized.
The organizations that receive funding from the Agriculture Ministry are active in a variety of illegal settlements, including those that lack permits for grazing or farming, as revealed in the Agriculture Ministry’s responses to the queries by Peace Now.
The groups submitted requests for grants in a much larger area than that for which they actually received the grants, after it became clear that the outposts did not have rights to the land. For example, Hashomer Yosh requested a grant for its activity in 52,000 dunams and Kedma’s request was for 46,000 dunams. In fact, Kedma received funding only for activity on the 1,000 dunams for which it has a permit, and Hashomer Yosh received funding for only 8,000 dunams where it has a permit.
In the past, these two NGOs stated on their website that they were active in numerous illegal outposts throughout the West Bank.