How will new US sanctions impact the illegal West Bank farming outposts they target?

Measures will make it harder for the enterprises to do business, receive government support and take donations

Jeremy Sharon

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

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)
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 new US sanctions issued by the Biden administration last week against extremist settlers and the illegal farming outposts they have established in the West Bank represented a further ratcheting up of pressure against Israel on an issue with which the White House has been concerned for months.

The decision to sanction not only individual settlers implicated in West Bank violence, but also their outposts, appears designed to make the very existence of these outposts less viable by seeking to “promote accountability for individuals and entities associated with actions that undermine peace, security and stability in the West Bank,” as the US State Department put it in its latest sanctions announcement

More broadly, the new sanctions could also become a deterrent to businesses, organizations, charities and even government agencies not to do business with, invest in, or form ties with numerous other illegal outposts and the various business enterprises they run.

The outposts included in the latest round of sanctions are Emek Tirza Farm, also known as Moshe’s Farm, in the northern Jordan Valley region run by Moshe Sharvit, and Zvi’s Farm in the northern West Bank, run by Zvi Bar Yosef.

Both farms along with Sharvit and Bar Yosef themselves were put on the sanctions list, as well as Neriya Ben Pazi, who runs the Rimonim Farm, although that outpost was not sanctioned.

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)

Sharvit has established a hospitality business called Chan BaEmek on his remote Emek Tirza Farm outpost for hosting weddings and other celebrations.

The website of the Guardians of Judea and Samaria organization (Hashomer Yosh), which arranges for volunteers to help out in illegal farming outposts in the West Bank, adds that Emek Tirza Farm derives income from raising sheep and selling produce from them.

Zvi’s Farm, close to the Halamish settlement, raises cattle for the kosher meat market and has a license from the Chief Rabbinate.

Bar Yosef and Ben Pazi have been implicated in violent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, and both those men as well as Sharvit have been accused of serially harassing and threatening Palestinians living by them.

The sanctions not only directly affect the individuals and their businesses but also prohibit “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of” sanctioned individuals.

According to Joel Braunold, managing director of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, the sanctions mean that any bank loans that Moshe’s Farm or Zvi’s Farm may have taken out would have to be recalled or paid off immediately since those banks would otherwise be exposed to the US sanctions themselves.

The prohibition on doing business with these outposts will also severely hamper their viability, since legitimate Israeli businesses will also not want to expose themselves to the US sanctions.

A meat processing and packing company will therefore find it very difficult to do business with Zvi’s Farm, for example, without falling foul of the new sanctions regime.

But it is not only the business dealings of the farming outposts that will be affected. The sanctions will also make it more difficult for government ministries and agencies to support them.

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

Moshe’s Farm is listed on Hashomer Yosh’s website as one of the farming outposts it provides volunteers to, a service that would ostensibly be prohibited under the new US sanctions.

Another government-backed organization that provides services to illegal farming outposts is the Shivat Zion L’Rigvei Admatah non-profit organization, a registered charity.

The organization does not have its own website but operates the Artzenu organization and website, which it says works to “reinforce and deepen settlement endeavors” in different parts of the country, and has projects for establishing new farms and assisting existing farms.

Although the Artzenu website does not specify where it operates, it appears to be associated with some illegal farming outposts, including Moshe’s Farm.

A report by the Shomrim investigative news organization in September last year noted that a post on the Artzenu Facebook page stated that “a group from Maale Ephraim protected the Emek Tirza Farm as part of the Torah and Farm project.”

The post no longer appears to be available on the Artzenu page, although Sharvit features in a separate post from May 2023 where he is seen receiving a gift on behalf of his wife from the organization as part of a campaign to express thanks to the wives of farmers.

הכירו את המיזם #אחותי_חווה – מחזירים אהבה לנשות החווה הגיבורות????החוות ביהודה ושומרון ובבקעת הירדן, דורשות מהחקלאים…

Posted by ‎ארצנו – Artzenu‎ on Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Shivat Tzion received some NIS 2.8 million ($760,000) in government funding in 2023, including NIS 1.5 million ($410,000) from the Education Ministry, NIS 785,000 ($214,000) from the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Ministry, and NIS 538,000 ($147,000) from the Agriculture Ministry, according to financial documents submitted by the organization.

Zvi’s Farm has also benefited from services provided by state-funded institutions and state authorities.

In 2018, Bar Yosef signed a grazing contract with the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, which is publicly funded, to graze his cattle on land belonging to the Neve Tzuf settlement in the northern West Bank.

And in January 2020, the Neve Tzuf settlement itself signed a contract with Bar Yosef in which it allocated land to him to establish his Zvi’s Farm outpost to the east of Neve Tzuf.

Both contracts, seen by The Times of Israel, were provided to the Beit Shemesh Magistrates Court in the framework of a libel suit Bar Yosef filed against the Kerem Navot organization for labeling Bar Yosef a “violent settler” in 2020.

It is unclear whether or not the Settlements Division and the Neve Tzuf settlement are exposed to the US sanctions as a result of their dealings with Bar Yosef.

Another source of financing that the sanctions against farming outposts will complicate is private donations and crowdfunding campaigns.

Emek Tirzah Farm has a crowdfunding page on the Givechak website, which raised over NIS 482,000 ($130,000).

The campaign literature states that the farm raises sheep on the surrounding land in order to “seize land which until two years ago was completely abandoned to the Arab takeover,” and says that proceeds of the campaign would be dedicated to “laying infrastructure and accommodating more families on the farm and strengthening our hold on the farm.”

Efforts to transfer such donations to sanctioned settlers have already encountered problems. A crowdfunding campaign for Yinon Levy, who was put on the blacklist in the first round of US sanctions in February, raised over NIS 455,000 ($125,000) but he has been unable to take delivery of those funds.

Screen capture from the Givechak website of the crowdfunding 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)

The Cal credit card company, through which the crowdfunding campaign was operated, decided to cancel the donations in the wake of the sanctions issued against Levy, although the Tel Aviv District Court has ordered the company to freeze that decision until it hears a lawsuit filed by attorneys acting for Levy.

Levy established and operates the Meitarim Farm outpost in the South Hebron Hills region, although the fundraising campaign was designated for him personally, not the outpost.

“The US is carrying out enforcement against settlers through its own banking system, so that if you work in, or do business with, illegal outposts you should be worried,” said Braunold.

“The aim of this is a shot across the bough. The US is saying that the risk of doing this is huge. As long as the Biden administration thinks the Israeli government isn’t taking setter violence seriously, there will be more and more sanctions.”

Most Popular
read more: