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Story Publication logo December 7, 2015

From N.Y.C. to the West Bank: Following the Money Trail That Supports Israeli Settlements

Silwan neighborhood..

U.S. administration defines Jewish settlements as an obstacle to peace, yet allows millions in...

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A deserted street with shuttered shops in Hebron. Some areas of the city are off-limits to Palestinians. Image by Uri Blau, West Bank, 2015.

The road leading to the Jewish enclaves in Hebron passes by the Meir Kahane Park in Kiryat Arba, the burial site of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians in a 1994 massacre. The center of the old city of Hebron looks like the set of an urban war movie: barriers and concrete blocks everywhere, lookouts on rooftops, armed soldiers at intersections. They guard once-bustling streets that today are almost completely deserted, their shops shuttered. Some sections of the city are off-limits to Palestinians.

Hebron is one of the most sensitive and tense spots in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An unseen soldier on a rooftop yells down not to stop on the deserted street, a settler passing by in his car gives the finger to a journalist and a Palestinian child returning from school makes the same gesture at someone he thinks is a settler.

The neighborhood of Midwood in Brooklyn, New York, is in many respects a reverse image of the streets of Hebron. A few days before Yom Kippur, one can already find Sukkot decorations in the busy stores. Many Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews mill around, going from the Beit Yosef synagogue to its Klal Ahavat Yisrael counterpart, pausing to buy sweet pastries and bagels at kosher bakeries.

The ultra-Orthodox Jews of Midwood live in the midst of countless people of other races and religions. The neighborhood is a diverse melting pot: on Kings Highway alone, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese, Muslims, Christians and Jews mingle among businesses including a pizzeria, Mexican food stand, Chinese restaurant and a wig store for Orthodox women. It is a typical immigrant neighbourhood, devoid of barriers, social classes or evident hatred.

It's perhaps surprising, therefore, to find that from here come some of the funds that support the Jewish presence in Hebron, one of the iconic symbols of the settlement enterprise and the fragmentation of the West Bank. Here, in a small, two-story house on Ocean Avenue, close to the neighborhood's main street, is the headquarters of the Hebron Fund.

The stickers on the entrance door may be fading, but they are familiar: "Hebron from the very beginning" and "Hebron for our forefathers and for us," they proclaim in Hebrew. Several weeks earlier, Haaretz contacted Dan Rozenstein, the person listed as head of the non-profit group. He had refused to answer our questions or disclose the source of the $4.5 million the Fund transferred to the Jewish community in Hebron between 2009 and 2013.

No one answered the door when a Haaretz reporter rang the bell. The guard at an adjacent building said that three ladies work there. "Many envelopes arrive, and I know that it's something to do with Jews, but I don't know exactly what," he said.

Some of the envelopes he saw may well have contained checks. Money from the Hebron Fund is transferred to the account of an Israeli non-profit group called "Revivers of the Jewish Community in Hebron" and goes towards financing and perpetuating Jewish settlement in the city. According to the fund's website, "Your donation is tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law," that means donations to the fund can reduce the donor's taxable income and lower his or her tax bill.

The Fund's objective is "to improve the lives of the residents of Hebron, Israel." Donations, it says, are invested in parks, playgrounds, libraries and more. However, these funds also went to pay the monthly salary of Menachem Livni, who headed the Revivers non-profit group between 2010 and 2012. Livni is a convicted murderer. He was one of the leaders of the Jewish Underground that operated in the occupied territories in the 1980s and was responsible for the killing of three Palestinian students and severely injuring two Palestinian mayors and a Border Police sapper. Livni, who was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released after six years, was paid hundreds of thousands of shekels by the Hebron Fund.

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