A group supporting Jewish settlements in the West Bank is urging American Jews to buy homes there. Three fairs promoting the sales take place in South Florida today.
BY DAPHNA BERMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
A Jerusalem-based settler organization today will try to convince some South Floridians to underwrite settlement expansion by either buying or financing the building of West Bank homes.
”It’s an investment, but also a statement of ideology,” said Alon Farbstein, a representative of Amana, the activist arm of the Israeli settlement movement Gush Emunim. “People are always looking for ways to help Israel.”
Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 war and the area is now home to some 2.5 million Palestinians and 270,000 Israeli settlers.
Individual U.S. citizens have purchased homes in the disputed West Bank territories before. But activists from both sides of the political spectrum say that this is the first time the American Jewish community has been targeted to directly subsidize settlement expansion.
A growing number of American Jews are buying property in Israel and the Amana campaign seems to be riding on the current trend. In some upscale Jerusalem neighborhoods, for example, about half of all homes sales are to non-Israelis, many of whom are U.S. citizens.
But unlike other building projects in Israel, the Amana campaign is not meant to provide Americans with vacation homes in the Holy Land, but rather allow settlers to live in the West Bank for a price they can afford.
Rabbi Moishe Denburg, who leads the Chabad Lubavitch of Central Boca Raton, where one of the Amana housing fairs will be held, says he supports the group’s effort.
”I am a believer, being part of the Chabad movement, that none of the settlement lands should be given back,” Denburg said.
However, U.S. Embassy officials in Tel Aviv said the U.S. government is opposed to settlement expansion.
”Israel has committed under the Road Map to cease settlement expansion and remove illegal outposts,” embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said. “It’s quite simple: The U.S. government is opposed to settlement expansion and we’re opposed to any action that would prejudge final status issues.”
The campaign has been met with swift condemnation from a number of Jewish, as well as pro-Palestinian, organizations, which say that settlements are a road block to peace in the region.
Ori Nir, a spokesman for Washington-based Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish organization dedicated to supporting the Israeli Peace Now movement, says home buyers aren’t doing Israel any favors by purchasing homes on settlement land.
”When American Jews become a part of the settlement enterprise, when they actually invest money, it crosses the line, for me, of being part of an enterprise that runs contrary to Israeli interests and American interests,” Nir said.
Settlements are a security drain for Israel, not an asset, Nir says.
The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington said in an e-mail to supporters: “The event promotes discrimination, endorses apartheid and the illegal sale of Palestinian occupied land, in addition to violating anti-discrimination and civil rights laws.”
Israeli government subsidies to the West Bank settlements have been cut in recent years, which has meant that building new homes remains costly for many Israelis. The Amana campaign, which was launched last month, will allow the settlers to live in homes they may not have been able to buy otherwise.
During three Sunday housing fairs in South Florida, two in Boca Raton and one in Surfside, homes will be available for purchase in a number of settlements, including Kiryat Arba, just outside Hebron, and Eli, which is near Ramallah.
Ranging in price from $93,000 to $165,000, the homes will be rented for $250 to $400 a month and have been described by Amana as a way “to walk in the footsteps of our patriarch Abraham.”
So far Amana has sponsored housing fairs at synagogues in New York and New Jersey, and the organization plans to expand its campaign to Chicago and Toronto, which also boast sizable Jewish communities.
The group says it sold eight homes in its first week of the campaign and that ”dozens more” American Jews are seriously considering purchasing.
Prospective buyers have been told that their investment is ”insured, protected and 100 percent legal.” As part of their sales pitch, Amana representatives assure buyers that if settlements are dismantled as part of a final-status peace agreement with the Palestinians, the Israeli government will reimburse them.
That promise could not be confirmed by the Israeli prime minister’s office, which declined to comment. However, in August 2005, Israelis who were evacuated from their Gaza homes as part of a disengagement plan were reimbursed by the Israeli government for the property they left behind. Officials from Sela, the disengagement administration responsible for Gaza evacuees, noted that an ”isolated group” of Gaza residents without Israeli citizenship received some compensation.
At B’nai Aviv, a Conservative synagogue in Weston, Rabbi Sam Kieffer says Jews have the right to own a home in Israel and, he said, at the moment the West Bank is in Israel. But, he also has a warning for potential home buyers.
”Anyone who chooses to do so must be aware that various governments of Israel over the years have made it pretty clear that when and if a legitimate peace partner is found, parts of what are called the West Bank will be handed over to a Palestinian state,” Kieffer said.
Miami Herald staff writer Jerry Berrios contributed to this report.