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Israel funds illegal West Bank outposts run by US-sanctioned settlers

June 18, 2024 at 5:48 pm

Israeli soldiers are seen as Fanatic Jewish settlers organize a provocative tour of the Old City under the protection of Israeli soldiers in the Hebron, West Bank on June 08, 2024. [Wisam Hashlamoun – Anadolu Agency]

The Israeli Agriculture Ministry has provided hundreds of thousands of shekels to illegal farm settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank in recent years, some of which are run by extremist settlers now sanctioned by the US government.

Peace Now has confirmed that between 2017 and 2023, the ministry provided NIS 1.66 million ($445,000) to these illegal farms. An additional NIS 1.5m has been allocated and approved but not yet disbursed.

Recipients of these funds include three settlers who established illegal farming outposts and were sanctioned by the US government recently for undermining stability in the West Bank, reported Haaretz. Creating illegal farming outposts has become a common tactic among settler activists to control larger tracts of land than is possible with residential settlements.

“The dozens of farm outposts that contribute to the dispossession of Palestinians from hundreds of thousands of dunams in the West Bank are not marginal phenomena of hilltop youths, but are part of a planned and funded system supported by official government entities,” stated Peace Now in its report. Moreover, it pointed out that the ministry also funds settlement groups such as Hashomer Yosh that provide volunteers to work in illegal West Bank farming outposts.

Settlements are residential compounds for Israeli settlers built on occupied Palestinian territories licensed by the Israeli government, while outposts are small compounds unlicensed by the Israeli government. All are illegal under international law. Unlicensed outposts are supposedly illegal under Israeli law as well. Despite this, there are an estimated 700,000 Israeli settlers living in roughly 300 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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Since 2018, Hashomer Yosh has received over NIS 8m ($2.2m) from the Israeli Agriculture Ministry and the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Ministry for its settlement activities. Figures obtained by Peace Now reveal that 34 illegal farming outposts received funding from the Agriculture Ministry between 2017 and 2023. These funds are provided under the ministry’s “Preserving Open Spaces through Animal Grazing” programme, which operates both in Israel and in the occupied West Bank.

The farming outpost that received the most financial support from the ministry was the Nof Gilad farm of Uri Cohen in the northern West Bank, which received NIS 530,000 in 2022 and 2023 alone. Footage published in November by the Jordan Valley Activists organisation, which assists Palestinian communities affected by extremist settlers, showed the latter building fences around grazing land in the Nof Gilad area to prevent local Palestinians from grazing their herds.

Another settler who has received funding from the ministry is Neria Ben Pazi, one of three radical settler activists recently sanctioned by the US in the occupied West Bank for engaging in violence against Palestinians in the occupied territory. Ben Pazi has received NIS 49,000 since 2020 and established several illegal farming outposts on land east of Ramallah, where local Palestinian herders have frequently complained about repeated harassment by him and his associates.

Two other founders of illegal farming outposts who have received funds from the Agriculture Ministry are Moshe Sharvit and Tzvi Bar Yosef, who received approximately NIS 6,000 and NIS 53,000 respectively.

“Settler violence isn’t a bug, it’s a feature,” said Peace Now. “Scores of agricultural outposts that result in the dispossession of Palestinians from hundreds of thousands of dunams in the West Bank is not a marginal phenomenon by hilltop youths, but part of a planned network financed and supported by government officials.”

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