Agriculture Ministry funding illegal farming outposts, US-sanctioned settlers – report

Anti-settlement group says unauthorized West Bank farms got NIS 1.66 million in 2017-2023; some of them were founded by Israelis the US accuses of undermining West Bank stability

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Radical settler activist Neriya Ben Pazi pictured with his family at his illegal farming outpost HaMahoch in the West Bank. Another of Ben Pazi's farms, the Rimonim Farm, has received state funds through the Agriculture Ministry (Courtesy: Honenu legal aid organization)
Radical settler activist Neriya Ben Pazi pictured with his family at his illegal farming outpost HaMahoch in the West Bank. Another of Ben Pazi's farms, the Rimonim Farm, has received state funds through the Agriculture Ministry (Courtesy: Honenu legal aid organization)

The Agriculture Ministry has in recent years provided hundreds of thousands of shekels to illegal farming outposts in the West Bank, some of which are run by extremist settlers now under sanctions by the US government, a new report found.

According to research by the Peace Now organization, which campaigns against settlement expansion, some NIS 1.66 million ($445,000) was provided by the Agriculture Ministry to such farms between 2017 and 2023.

Another NIS 1.5 million has been allocated and approved but has yet to be disbursed.

Among those who have received the money are three settlers who founded illegal farming outposts and were recently sanctioned by the US government for allegedly undermining stability in the West Bank.

The establishment of illegal farming outposts in the West Bank, usually involving the grazing of sheep, goats, or cattle across large areas of land, has become a tactic commonly used by settler activists to exert control over larger swaths of land than residential settlements can achieve.

“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,” Peace Now charged in its report, using a term for young radical settlers.

Moshe Sharvit (left) who runs the Emek Tirzah Farm illegal outpost in the West Bank and was sanctioned by the US in March for violent activity against local Palestinians, is visited by Religious Zionism MK Tzvi Succot (right) and chairman of the Jordan Valley Regional Council David Elhayani (center) at the oustpost, February 15, 2024. (Courtesy Office of MK Tzvi Succot)

The direct financial support provided by the ministry is not the only way it assists these outposts, as it also funds organizations such as Hashomer Yosh and other groups that provide volunteers to work in illegal West Bank farming outposts.

Since 2018, Hashomer Yosh received over NIS 8 million ($2.2 million) from the Agriculture Ministry and the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Ministry for its various activities.

According to the Agriculture Ministry figures obtained by Peace Now, 34 illegal farming outposts received funding between 2017 and 2023.

The funds are disbursed under the ministry’s “Preserving Open Spaces through Animal Grazing” program, which operates both in Israel proper and in the 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 530,00 in 2022 and 2023 alone.

Footage from November published by the Jordan Valley Activists organization, which assists Palestinian communities affected by extremist settlers, showed activists building fences around grazing land in the area of Nof Gilad to prevent local Palestinians from grazing their herds.

The same organization published video footage allegedly of Cohen himself in November 2023 entering a local Palestinian community and warning a local herder and his family not to enter nearby grazing land.

Another settler who has received funding from the ministry is Neria Ben Pazi, who has received NIS 49,000 since 2020.

A screenshot from a video of Zvi Bar Yosef harassing Palestinians close to his Zvi’s Farm illegal outpost in the northern West Bank, February 6, 2021. (Screenshot from Facebook, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Ben Pazi has established several illegal farming outposts on land east of Ramallah, where local Palestinian herders have complained on numerous occasions of repeated harassment by him and his associates in the area.

In January this year, the IDF issued a restraining order banning Ben Pazi from being in the West Bank, excluding the city of Ariel, for three months due to his hostile actions against local Palestinians.

And in March, Ben Pazi was one of three radical settler activists sanctioned by the US, with the State Department accusing him of having “expelled Palestinian shepherds from hundreds of acres of land,” and of having “attacked Palestinians near the village of Wadi as-Seeq” in August last year.

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

The Agriculture Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

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