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Resource: Choosing annexation over development

A new report compares and contrasts two of of Israel’s largest and most important settlement projects: development towns built before 1967 and the settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Text by Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg

A Jewish man walks with his prayer shawl early in the morning on the hill overlooking Ofra in the Jewish settlement of Amona in the West Bank, December 18, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A Jewish man walks with his prayer shawl early in the morning on the hill overlooking Ofra in the Jewish settlement of Amona in the West Bank, December 18, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

There are many ways of calculating the “cost” of the occupation. Since 2008, the Adva Center, a leading Israeli progressive think tank that monitors social and economic developments in Israel has for years published annual reports outlining the burden of the occupation on Israeli society.

The organization’s latest report, “Annexation Trumps Start-up Nation,” tell the story of two Israeli settlement projects: the “development towns” established in far-flung areas of the country before the 1967 war, and the settlements built in the occupied West Bank ever since.

While both involve significant public expenditures, and both are part of the Israeli government’s strategic aim is to encourage people to settle the land, that is where the similarities end. As the report notes, successive Israeli governments may have wanted Jews to settle in the development towns, generally far away from the corridors of political, economic, and cultural power, yet the state never really made them a priority of national importance. Inhabited disproportionately by Jewish immigrants from North Africa, development towns have seen systematic underinvestment, coupled with decades-long institutionalized racism against Mizrahim by Israeli authorities.

The same cannot be said about West Bank settlements that have sprouted up since 1967. According to Adva, West Bank settlers, particularly in ideological settlements, enjoy massive housing and infrastructure subsidies, including exemptions from tenders and convenient mortgages.

But the big money being spent on settlements, says the report, has little to do with standard of living. Rather it is spent on providing military and police protection for the settlers — all in order to mitigate the threat of Palestinians.

While development towns connote the promise of Israel joining the developed world, says the report, the settlements carry a different, hyper-politicized message: maintaining Israeli control over the Palestinian territories conquered in 1967 by chopping up the territory into separate enclaves, eating away at whatever Palestinian land is left.

The report also demonstrates how government support has turned West Bank settlers into a hugely powerful lobby in Israeli society whose political power goes far beyond their electoral clout. Development towns, on the other hand, have never succeeded in attaining such immense political power. The report concludes: “The settler right constitutes a key factor in the determination of the entire national agenda: the constant pressure to jettison the Oslo Accords, to oppose negotiations with the Palestinians… to define who and what is patriotic and who and what is not.”

Israeli governments have continually justified the settlement enterprise, arguing that it contributes to the country’s security. The reality, according to Adva, is that settlements drain the public purse and are a burden on Israel’s defense establishment. In short, a costly fiasco.

Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg is an Israeli living in North America. She has a PhD in social work from Tel Aviv University and a post-doctorate from the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on anti-racism in Israel and anti-Semitism in North America. She is also a group facilitator, practices social work, and volunteers with the New Israel Fund in Canada.

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    1. itshak Gordine

      Review paid by the EU so trash

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This by you, is denialism of truly comic proportions. Of sublimely unintentional self-satirizing proportions.

        (In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth. Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality. -Wikipedia)

        And there is always this odd, Herr Sturmer video-style anti-Semitic smear clinging to these “paid by EU” slanders. And the right wing never tires of doing this. Are the hard core settlers ever capable of shame? I haven’t seen it.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          Bla blah: Like many Israelis, I am wary of studies and projects funded by Europe. Those who receive help from generally hostile entities have almost no public in Israel (Breaking the silence, BDS, etc.). Their “works” only serve to feed the speech of associations or people hostile to the State of Israel. But at least it occupies them .. Meanwhile we build everywhere in the Land of Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Note the absolute, pure disregard for whether the report is TRUE or not, in this as in any other report, it’s all about what can be gotten over on others.

            Note the absolute regard for whether the right wing public reads it or not, the degree to which the truth can be squelched or not, the absolute disdain for the truth.

            Note the equation of “hostility to Israel,” (aka “anti-Israel”) with any opposition to unrestrained settlements and their associated constant human rights violations.

            Note the “what can we get away with?” gangster mentality.

            One cannot argue with people like this, one has to bring principled state forces to bear on them from outside the cult. And this, by the EU is what Haley just loathes.

            At the same time that Halevy feels entitled to all sorts of massive EU subsidies and massive German funding for Israel’s defense and all sorts of things, he begrudges the EU sending school bake sale amounts to tiny shoe string human rights organizations or truth-telling newspapers and communities the Israeli behemoth treats with great brutality. And he ruthlessly smears the motives of the people doing it, even deploying anti-Semitic insinuations to do it.

            FYI, the person I am replying to here lives as a settler in the West Bank. He types his replies to me from a settlement in the West Bank. And yet he, like the Judge on the Israeli High Court (Noam Sohlberg) who is also a West Bank Settler, poses as some kind of neutral arbiter, some kind of unbiased arbiter, of what constitutes “hostility.” You can’t make this stuff up.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The EU is a joke and it is slowly coming apart.
            Most EU reports are nothing more than waffly irrelevant rubbish.
            Judea and Samaria will stay Israeli long after the EU is a forgotten memory.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The Report, and Shenhav-Goldberg’s account of it, are anything but waffly and irrelevant. Remember, denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality.

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            If you are not happy with Israeli politics, come to Israel, become a citizen and get into politics. Otherwise your abundant verbiage is useless. You are bleating in the desert.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is amusing coming from a settler who does not actually live in Israel but in illegally occupied territories outside Israel. Yet is accorded the right to vote inside Israel while people living for generations a half-kilometer down the road from him are not. Simply based on ethnicity. A settler who eagerly practices a form of apartheid. But this same settler living outside Israel gets steamed about anyone else from outside Israel having a say about it.

            As I said above, this is the mentality of gangsters everywhere. “Leave us alone, what business is it of yours, everything is fine here, we can handle it, this is ‘our thing.'”

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Those people livimg half a km down the road NEED TO GO HOME.
            Their reletives in Amman are waiting for them !

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordine

            You are definitely losing your nerves. someone who may never have set foot in Israel who allows himself to make false accusations. We are hundreds of thousands of Jews in Judea and Samaria. We have made it a developed, green region, with a high quality of life and a very high birth rate, with the blessing of the US government and most of the Jews around the world who are sending us their youth.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Oh, I’ve set foot not just in Israel, I’ve set foot outside Israel, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Why don’t you tell me what settlement you’re sending these bouquets of propaganda from, settler, and I’ll tell you if I’ve been in your settlement. Or outpost.

            Is that you swimming in the Anar Springs here?

            It’s ridiculous to be having tit for tats here with brutal hard core ideological settlers spouting sugar-coated propaganda lies in the forum of a Magazine meant for much more intelligent purposes.

            Reply to Comment