ExclusivePeace Now: Contract shows gov't complicit in settler violence

Contract signed with sanctioned Israeli exposes settler municipality to US sanctions

Documents reveal Har Hebron Regional Council subsidiary inked deal with Yinon Levi to build illegal outpost from which US says he carried out attacks on Palestinians

Screen capture from the Givechak website of the crowd funding campaign for Yinon Levi, the founder of the illegal Meitarim Farm West Bank outpost after he was put on a US sanctions list. (Screen capture, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from the Givechak website of the crowd funding campaign for Yinon Levi, the founder of the illegal Meitarim Farm West Bank outpost after he was put on a US sanctions list. (Screen capture, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A corporation owned by a settlement municipality signed a contract with one of the Israelis who has been sanctioned by Washington, which could put the government body at risk of being cut off from the US financial system.

Documents obtained by The Times of Israel show that the Har Hebron Development Company, which is majority-owned by the Har Hebron Regional Council, signed a legally binding contract with Yinon Levi to establish an illegal outpost in the West Bank in 2021.

The outpost, called Meitarim Farm, was built on state land within the jurisdiction of the Meitarim Industrial Zone in the southern West Bank. However, a residential home and farm buildings constructed at the site by Levi — as stipulated in the contract — are illegal according to the zoning masterplan for the land.

Levi was one of four Israelis sanctioned earlier this month by the US over his alleged involvement in West Bank violence, with the State Department’s announcement saying the 31-year-old “regularly led groups of settlers from the Meitarim Farm outpost that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields and destroyed their property.”

Levi was named in a recent petition to the High Court of Justice as a prime instigator of such actions. However, no charges have been brought against him, and he denies allegations of violence, accusing left-wing activists of mounting a coordinated campaign against him.

The Peace Now organization said the contract Levi signed with the Har Hebron Regional Council subsidiary demonstrates how official government agencies are complicit in settler violence and in efforts to establish illegal outposts in the West Bank, which makes them no less liable to US sanctions than the individuals directly responsible for carrying out such illegal activity.

A photograph of the illegal outpost of Meitarim Farm in the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank, July 2023. (Courtesy Dror Etkes via X)

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Levi confirmed that he had signed a contract with the Har Hebron Development Company to set up Meitarim Farm.

The regional council has shared ownership over the development company and is its largest shareholder.

Such development companies, which are common throughout West Bank settlements, are frequently used by regional councils to carry out municipal functions such as construction and transportation, and are given municipal funding to do so.

Regional councils are state-authorized and -funded municipal authorities that encompass multiple towns in administrative districts across Israel and the West Bank.

The Amana association, which lobbies for, develops and builds West Bank settlements and outposts, appears to be a partner in the Meitarim Farm initiative and is mentioned several times in the contract Levi signed, but is itself not a signatory to the agreement.

The abandoned Palestinian village of Zanuta in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank. Zanuta was abandoned by its residents following a series of alleged attacks and incidents of harassment by extremist setters from the region. (Jeremy Sharon / Times of Israel)

The contract stipulates that buildings and structures for livestock must be built on the land, despite the fact that this violates the zoning masterplan for the land, which prohibits the construction of buildings for “[residential] housing, agricultural facilities, and livestock.”

The contract also states that Levi use “Hebrew labor,” meaning exclusively Jewish workers, and gave him a subsidy for water and electricity usage in the first year of the farm’s existence.

Following the US decision to impose sanctions on four Israelis for committing acts of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli banks quickly moved to come into compliance with those sanctions and froze those individuals’ bank accounts.

However, the executive order signed by US President Joe Biden that allowed for the issuance of sanctions stated that those liable are not only the violent individuals themselves but also entities that have financial interactions with them.

The text of Biden’s executive order states that the prohibitions in the sanctions include “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of” sanctioned individuals.

This appears to expose the Har Hebron Regional Council and the Har Hebron Development Company to legal consequences as a result of the contract with Levi.

“Anyone dealing with a sanctioned individual should very seriously consult their legal teams to see if they have exposure to sanctions by having continuous business or commercial dealings with the sanctioned individuals,” said Joel Braunold, managing director of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

Braunold noted that because major Israeli banks have branches in the US and are connected to the American banking system more generally, institutions and agencies in Israel using such banks could well be exposed to the US sanctions if they do not comply with their terms.

Illustrative – An Israeli settler shoots an unarmed Palestinian man at point-blank range during an incident in the Palestinian village of A-Tuwani village in the South Hebron Hills, October 13, 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of B’tselem, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Asked about the allegations that he was involved in attacks against the Palestinian hamlet of Khirbet Zanuta on October 12 and October 21, Levi described the accusations as “false claims” and told The Times of Israel that after being summoned to the local police station in the Kiryat Arba settlement for questioning he was released without charge.

“They realized the claims were nonsense. They were made by leftist anarchists who go to Zanuta to try and ignite the region,” he said.

However, accounts by residents of Zanuta as well as the nearby village of Susiya and other communities, as well as Israeli activists, have all identified Levi as an assailant in numerous violent incidents against Palestinians and Palestinian infrastructure in the area.

Religious Zionism MK Zvi Succot gives his backing to the founder of the illegal Meitarim Farm West Bank outpost Yinon Levi outside Levi’s house at the outpost, after Levi was sanctioned by the Biden administration due to allegations that he has violently assaulted Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills Region, February 4, 2024. (Screen capture, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“Behind every violent settler there is an entire governmental system that sends them [out] and finances them,” said a statement from Peace Now, which campaigns against the settlement movement.

“Settler violence is not a fringe phenomenon, it is part of an organized and financed method of action by the authorities designed to dispossess the Palestinians of their lands in the Occupied Territories and to harm in any way the chance of a political solution,” the statement continues. “This contract demonstrates clearly how government authorities and the agencies they operate are clearly involved in the establishment of illegal outposts in the West Bank.”

Following the announcement of the sanctions against Levi and the freezing of his account by Bank Leumi, a crowdfunding campaign was established by the Har Hebron Fund, a charity, on the Givechak website to assist him financially.

As of Monday, the campaign had raised NIS 529,000 ($143,000) for Levi and his family, something which could also expose the Har Hebron Fund to legal consequences as a result of the US sanctions.

The webpage for the campaign was subsequently taken down.

Levi said he plans to use the funds raised on his behalf to further develop Meitarim Farm “and its surroundings.”

Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damri, Har Hebron Development Company director Avner Shamir, and a spokesperson for the Har Hebron Regional Council all declined to respond to requests for comment.

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