Instead of Army Service, Israel Allows People to Volunteer at Illegal West Bank Outposts

Israelis doing national service are now able to 'protect' illegal Jewish-owned farms in the West Bank, pushing out local Palestinian farmers, by signing up through an NGO

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
A farm outpost in Battir in the West Bank on Tuesday.
A farm outpost in Battir in the West Bank on Tuesday. Credit: אמיל סלמן
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Israel enables national service at illegal outposts through the Hashomer YOSH organization, which recruits volunteers to work on farms in the West Bank, despite the fact that demolition and removal orders have been issued against some of them.

As of today, eight national service women are stationed via Hashomer YOSH at five different farms throughout the West Bank, and two other “service girls” serve at another farm (“Ginat Eden,” near Jericho), which they reached independently – according to data by the Freedom of Information Movement.

The Volunteer Association, a long-standing placement NGO for national service, is in charge of the slots termed by the organization as “slots for protecting state lands.” Among the farms at which one can find a place to do national service are: Nof ABI, Hibat Haaretz, Meshek Mann, Tene Yarok, Nahal Shiloh Farm, Pnei Kedem Farm, Tzon Keidar, Kashuela, and Ahavat Olam. The latter five farms are under demolition orders.

Farms are the most common form of outposts, and according to estimates there are some 50 farms across the West Bank today. Farms are considered “cost-efficient” outposts as they mostly consist of one family, a herd of sheep, and volunteers to help herd and guard. The herding is often used to enlarge the outpost’s territory – pushing out Palestinians whose herds grazed the same area before the new outpost popped up.

Tehila Shamla, who, together with her husband operates the Nahal Shiloh Farm – an illegal outpost erected half a year ago, with standing demolition orders against its structures – told Haaretz that the farm has two positions still unmanned and recently, more applicants have visited them. She said that the farm has a herd of sheep and that this year they planted 200 olive trees, noting that they received special dispensation to do so despite it being a Shmita year (the seventh year of an agricultural cycle, in which religious Jews are expected to refrain from agricultural work). “It’s simply a daily battle for the land,” she said. “My husband planted the trees far apart from eachother to take over as much land and block as much as possible.”

The work of the service girls, Tehila explained, would mostly center around taking the herd out to graze in order to block Palestinians, who she claims, “keep ploughing and planting more.”

“In the past, volunteer boys we had here blocked them physically, and didn’t let the Arab farmer plough.” Tehila told Haretz, adding that the service women will be sleeping in a trailer they are expecting to receive soon. She and her family sleep in the wooden home they built.

A service woman serving at Teneh Yarok Farm in the Jordan Valley – where most structures are registered in the zoning plan of the settlement Rotem – said that “The Valley is less scary and dangerous than Judea and Samaria, but there are dealings with Arabs,” adding that “We also do guard duty every night – each of us gets up for about two hours to watch the pen.”

Many farms in the West Bank are established with the support of the Amana movement. At a conference held in February, movement chairman Zeev Hever said that he intends to establish 10 more farms over the coming year, because they are more effective than settlements. “In the settlements we reached 100 square kilometers after over 50 years,” he said, later adding that “One farm does thousands of dunams worth of land preservation.”

According to a study by B’Tselem and Kerem Navot organizations, over the past five years four farms in the West Bank have taken over some 20,866 dunums – land that Palestinians used to cultivate or to graze herds.

According to reports filed by Hashomer YOSH to the Registrar of Associations for 2020, some 40 percent of the organization’s budget comes from state support.

The National Service Authority said in response that it examines the operating entity (Hashomer YOSH) according to the parameters listed in the Civilian Service Law and its regulations, but, “the examination does not encompass all legal aspects.” Further, the authority added, in light of the query by Haaretz “they shall examine the issue through the oversight division and the legal counsel.”

Hashomer YOSH said in response that the organization operates by law and in accordance with the directives from the police and military, and that it was established “to protect Jewish farmers from vandalism, agricultural crime and terrorism by the Arabs.”

The Volunteer Association said in response that it “acts to place national service volunteers only in entities duly approved under law by the National Service Authority, and it is not of its concern to inspect construction permits, business licenses, or any permit required by the operating entity to fulfill their duties.”

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