The World Zionist Organisation (WZO) gave dozens of loans to aid the establishment of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a new investigation has revealed.
The investigation, conducted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, uncovered documents which "show a pattern in which settlers have established farms and unauthorised outposts over the past 20 years with loans from the [World Zionist Organisation's] Settlement Division — financed entirely through taxpayers' money and frequently secured by liens on agricultural equipment or livestock".
Haaretz obtained "dozens of documents relating to mortgages pertaining to 26 outposts across the West Bank" including Amona, which Israel evacuated in 2017 after deeming it had been established illegally on Palestinian land. The illegal settlers were then relocated to Amichai, the first brand new settlement to be built since the Oslo Accords. Although Israel differentiates between settlements and outposts – which do not have official government recognition – both are deemed illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the transferring of civilian populations into occupied territory.
The investigation then cross-referenced maps with the names of those who obtained mortgages, their place of residence and the year in which the loan was granted. In doing so, it found that the WZO "repeatedly gave loans to people who were establishing unauthorided outpost, and did so during the period when the outposts were being set up".
The first of these loans dates back to the mid-1990s, one of which was given to extremist Avri Ran – the founder of the notorious "hilltop youth" movement – who established a number of illegal outposts at Gva'ot Olam, south east of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. This policy of providing financial assistance to illegal settlements has continued up to the present day, with the WZO granting a loan to the Yitzhar settlement in 2014, even though it was subject to three demolition orders.
Haaretz adds that "mortgage financing was also provided for illegal structures in [Israeli government] authorised settlements such as Yitzhar," located south of Nablus. Finance was also provided for the "Havat Har Sinai, Einot Kedem and Shkedim farms," also scattered across the West Bank.
Significantly, Haaretz explains that though the World Zionist Organisation operates without the Israeli government's direct authority, "all of its funding comes from the Israeli taxpayer". The WZO in fact pre-dates the state of Israel, having been founded by the ideological-father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, in the 19th century as an organisation dedicated to the promotion of Jewish settlement in Palestine.
Since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, it has consistently pursued a policy of illegal settlement. Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem states that, as of the end of 2015, there were 127 Israeli government-sanctioned settlements in the West Bank (not including occupied East Jerusalem and Hebron). This was in addition to 100 non-recognised outposts and 15 Israeli neighbourhoods inside the Jerusalem Municipality.