Over the past several years, a number of organizations have sprung up in the United States to raise and disperse tax-deductible donations to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Collectively, they have raised hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of these settlements could conceivably be absorbed into Israel under a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians. But others are located in the heart of densely-populated Palestinian territory that would be part of a Palestinian state under any imaginable agreement.
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One such settlement is Elon Moreh — home to some of the most extreme settlers, and a hub for other outposts in the area. Anything that entrenches settlements like Elon Moreh makes a two-state agreement more difficult. And in fact, settlers in these communities, as well as their US backers, fiercely oppose a two-state solution and advocate a “Greater Israel” under which Israel would unilaterally annex most or all of the West Bank.
As part of our series highlighting the activities of organizations that benefit from US tax-deductible contributions while expanding and entrenching settlements, we’re going to take a deeper look at the example of American Friends of Elon Moreh, based in Passaic, New Jersey. The group receives tax-deductible contributions to send to the settlement in the West Bank.
We question why donations to settlements like Elon Moreh are tax-deductible, in apparent violation of the current requirements for such treatment. To receive tax-deductible donations, organizations cannot engage in activity that is illegal or runs counter to a clearly defined public policy.
Support for settlements like Elon Moreh contradicts the clearly established, bipartisan US policy of opposition to settlement expansion. Why should US taxpayers subsidize activities expressly designed to oppose and undermine decades of consistent US policy, which are illegal under international conventions signed and ratified by the United States?
This is a question we’re asking of the Treasury in an action we launched last week. We hope reading more about Elon Moreh will inspire you to join us in calling on the Treasury to review the tax deductibility of donations to groups aiding settlement expansion and entrenchment.
Where is Elon Moreh?
Elon Moreh is an settlement of around 2, 000 people located on the northeastern outskirts of Nablus, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank with over 130, 000 residents. Elon Moreh is not part of a settlement bloc and could not conceivably remain in Israel under a two-state agreement. Its location was set precisely to frustrate any Israeli withdrawal from the area, which would be the very heart of a future Palestinian state. As the American Friends of Elon Moreh say on their website, “The families that live here, along with the many friends that help Elon Moreh grow, are aware of the importance of the renewal of Jewish continuity in this area of Israel.” They say they aim to turn the settlement into a major city, a goal in direct contravention of US policy and interests.
How was Elon Moreh established?
After the Six Day War, Israeli ultra-nationalists tried several times to build illegal settlements in this area and were removed. In 1979, the settlers gained permission to build on land belonging to Palestinians from the village of Rujeib, expropriated by the Israeli government. The villagers appealed to the Israeli High Court, which ruled that the settlers must return the land to the Palestinians.
The Court, however, also opened the way for settlements to be built on so-called “state land” — land that was technically unregistered or uncultivated by Palestinians. This land obviously does not belong to the state of Israel, which holds the West Bank as an occupying power. This decision paved the way for a flood of new settlements, including Elon Moreh. Extensive roads that serve only the settlement were constructed to allow residents to travel without passing through Palestinian areas.
Like many settlements, Elon Moreh controls much more land than its inhabited area, including roads, agricultural land and neighboring areas closed off to Palestinians for so-called security reasons. This land offers ample opportunity for future expansion. An illegal outpost, Givat Skali, was erected in 1998 three miles from Elon Moreh and never removed.
What are Elon Moreh’s Relations with Neighboring Palestinians?
The settlement has created tremendous difficulty for the local population. New roads constructed for the exclusive use of settlers have cut off villages from each other and farmers from their land. As one local Palestinian puts it, “It cuts us off from our land and reduces the value of the real estate….Who wants to buy land next to a settlement, land you can’t work?”
Additionally, there have been repeated acts of vandalism by settlers, aimed especially against olive groves. Trees have been destroyed and villagers have been harassed and attacked trying to harvest their crops. Elon Moreh Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, a leading ultra-nationalist ideologue, has argued that Palestinians should not be permitted to harvest olives close to settlements.
Elon Moreh residents are some of the most ideologically extreme in the West Bank, and they have clashed regularly with their Palestinian neighbors, often after public displays of force by the settlers.
In May 2005, settlers marching to the neighboring settlement of Itamar clashed with Palestinians near the village of Salem and burned down 17 acres of Palestinian orchards. In 1988, settlers took a “hike” near the Palestinian village of Beita. A confrontation led to the death of a several Palestinians and a 15 year-old girl from Elon Moreh, shot in the head by another settler, who had apparently been aiming at a Palestinian.
Several youth from Elon Moreh, some as young as 15, have been arrested in connection with “price tag” attacks on Palestinian property. Rabbi Levanon has called for the government to institute a “national price tag” against Arabs. “If the government would take real ‘price tag’ steps, like it should do, and knows how to do, citizens wouldn’t have to do ‘price tag’, ” he said.
By Jessica Rosenblum, J Street