Meet the org that wants to demolish Susya

September 7, 2016

The battle to save the Palestinian village of Susya from the threat of demolition is part of a wider struggle to preserve the two-state solution.

The forces behind the demolition threat want to move Palestinians off land that would become part of a viable Palestinian state – opening it up instead for Israeli annexation.

Foremost among these forces is an organization called Regavim. Backed by tax-deductible donations from the United States, it’s responsible for the most recent demolition threat to Susya – but its aspirations don’t stop there.

This is the first of a series of profiles of organizations receiving tax-deductible US dollars to finance the destruction not just of Palestinian homes or villages, but the two-state solution itself.

With it, we’re launching our call on the Treasury Department to reexamine whether these groups and the US organizations that fund them qualify for tax-deductible treatment under current rules.

Who and what is “Regavim”?

Regavim (the Hebrew means ‘clods of earth’) deploys “field inspectors” to prevent “foreign elements” – by which it means the Palestinian population – from taking land in the West Bank. Since the IDF Civil Administration refuses to issue building permits to Palestinians, they are often forced to build illegally. These “inspectors” photograph, document and map this construction and the organization then puts pressure on the authorities to halt and demolish these buildings, as explained on its website.

What does Regavim actually do and how does it do it?

Regavim has played a central role in efforts to demolish the Palestinian village of Susya in the South Hebron Hills, a cause that has garnered world attention.

Regavim describes itself as being dedicated to “the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation.” According to Haaretz, “in plainer language, their raison d’etre is to try to force the state to speed up and increase the execution of home demolition orders and forced relocations of non-Jews.” Regavim believes the Biblical land of Israel belongs exclusively to Jews and that others, whose families may have been there for centuries or millennia, are interlopers with no rights, deserving of no consideration.

Human rights activists Rona Moran and Miryam Wijler write: “Regavim’s activity is based first and foremost on the work of coordinators on the ground, who systematically document construction in Palestinian communities. This documentation serves the association in lobbying planning committees, local authorities, the Civil Administration in the occupied territories and others. They have a single demand: to force these institutions to place sanctions on Palestinians. … The association exerts pressure on the authorities to escalate processes of dispossession by blocking any horizons for development of the country’s Palestinian inhabitants.”

Who is behind this organization?

Regavim was co-founded in 2006 by Bezalel Smotrich, who last year won election to the Knesset as a representative of the far-right “Jewish Home” party, which is a key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Smotrich recently gained attention when he called Reform Judaism a “fake religion.” He also has made numerous anti-LGBT remarks, last year referring to the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade as an “abomination parade” just days after a 16-year-old participant was murdered there by an Orthodox assailant.

According to Haaretz, in the first eight years of its existence, Regavim was heavily subsidized by Israeli public funds, receiving over $5 million from various government bodies.

Who are their American backers?

Regavim raises money through the New York-based Israel Independence Fund, which was founded in 2008 by venture capitalist Kenneth Abramowitz and collects money for a variety of right-wing, pro-settler causes. Abramowitz is also national chairman of American Friends of Likud, the party led by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Regavim also receives funds through specially earmarked donations to the Central Fund of Israel, also based in New York. According to a special Haaretz investigation, the Fund “is one of the most active organizations involved in transferring money to Jewish communities across the Green Line.” It has also provided funding to Honenu, a legal aid group for settlers accused of violent crimes against Palestinians, and to a yeshiva known as one of the most extreme in the West Bank.

Why is this important?

Regavim works to destroy the prospects for a two-state solution – thereby condemning Israelis and Palestinians to permanent conflict and occupation while undermining Israeli democracy.

Regavim’s work routinely leaves Palestinians homeless, miserable and desperate. The organization’s activities throughout the West Bank and related to the Temple Mount seriously exacerbate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and have the potential of igniting major violence.

It is a group partially funded by Israeli government entities and partially by Americans who receive a tax deduction from the Treasury – even though its activities are completely contrary to US foreign policy.