This is an investigative story I wrote on The Hebron Fund, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization that raises funds for militant Israeli settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron. It was published in Salon on December 14, 2011:
On the June 18, 2007, a nonprofit organization called the Hebron Fund held a fundraiser on a cruise ship in the Hudson River to support Israel settlers’ occupation of a Palestinian house in the West Bank city of Hebron. Some 250 people paid a minimum of $65 each for the “Cruise ‘n’ Schmooze.” The proceeds went to support the settler who had taken the property from the Rajabi family, who denied the settlers’ claims that they had legally purchased the home.
A year and half later, Israeli police using stun grenades carried out a government order to evacuate a group of some 100 settlers hunkered down in the four-story hilltop. The house had become the center of a crisis when the Israeli government ruled that the building had been illegally seized from the Rajabi family, and ordered the settlers out.
Once evicted, the settlers commenced a rampage that lasted several hours, setting fire to Palestinian houses, olive trees and cars. Twenty-five people were wounded, including a man in critical condition after a settler shot him at close range. A Palestinian Red Crescent official told U.S. Consulate officials that during the riots, settlers stopped an ambulance and defaced the ambulance, painting “let the Arabs die” and covering the red crescent symbol with the Star of David.
The Hebron Fund is just one of more than 40 organizations that have raised some $200 million over a decade in tax-exempt donations for Israel’s West Bank settlements, a project that places them in violation of U.S. foreign policy and international law.
U.S. presidents from both parties have opposed settlements in occupied Palestinian territory since Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Early in his administration, President Obama made settlement expansion a centerpiece of his now-defunct push to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The State Department reiterated this policy last June, saying in astatement, “Like every American administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”
Despite official opposition to the settlement enterprise from the White House and State Department, the U.S. Treasury gives tax breaks to groups whose sole purpose is to raise funds for the settlements. These groups have collectively raised more than $200 million over 10 years.
Some U.S. civil rights activists also say groups like the Hebron Fund are violating tax law by engaging in deceptive fundraising.
“Maybe on their website they have ‘donate $100 to education in Hebron’ but really the $100 goes to security,” said Abed Ayoub, an attorney at the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. “Really they turn around and they’re buying machine gun stands.”
Ayoub also said settlement-backing charities violate the law by funding discrimination, since, by definition, settlements and their schools, roads and other infrastructure are not open to Palestinians, often the very people whose land these institutions are built on.
“Would we sit back and allow a school in the middle of Los Angeles not allowing black students?” said Ayoub. “There would be an uproar, rightfully so.”