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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Teaneck: Put your money where your mouth is

If you live in Teaneck, New Jersey, then on February 25, you will have an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. That's when a group of representatives of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria will be coming to your community to urge you to buy a home in a Jewish community in Judea and Samaria and rent it out to a young couple who might otherwise leave and move back within the green line:
In a dramatic appeal that showed how the absence of government-assisted construction in the West Bank has stunted growth, settlers have warned American Jews that otherwise Judean and Samarian residents, particularly young couples, could leave.

They have asked United States Jews to financially fill in the gap left by the Israeli government, which at one time massively subsidized West Bank housing. Such help trickled to a slow stop this decade and finally dried out this year, settlers said.


"Almost all communities in Yesha (Judea and Samaria) are full, with no possibility of accepting new young couples or families," said the Amana Settlement Movement in a letter to potential American buyers.

"If we don't find a solution now, we will create our own population freeze, which may, in turn, begin a phenomenon unknown before in Yesha, that of families leaving our communities," warned Amana, which is the largest and oldest organization that develops land in Judea and Samaria.

Amana was not assuaged by the 5.2 percent Jewish population hike in the West Bank, which was almost three times as high as the 1.8% growth registered in the rest of the country in 2006. Most of that population hike reflects the population increases in three large cities [Beitar and Kiryat Sefer are two of them. I'm not sure which is the third. CiJ] and is not reflective of most of the communities in the area where growth is stagnant.

It's not just the current residents who are being dissuaded by the lack of available apartments, Amana executive director Alon Farbspein told The Jerusalem Post. "A lot of people want to live in Yesha and they have no place to go. We need to build more," said Farbspein.

Building lots are available within permissible construction areas in the West Bank, it's the funds that are absent, Farbspein said.

As evidence that legal construction exists in the territories in spite of the international condemnation against it, in 2005 the government published some 1,500 housing tenders for the West Bank. In addition 1,728 homes were constructed. But those constructed homes were private, said Emily Amrusi, the spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. What is absent is subsidized construction, she added.

While Amana welcomes American buyers in all legal West Bank settlements, in a move that highlights the ideological aspect of the campaign, Amana has promoted 10 small and mid-size settlements of which at least seven are outside the boundaries of the security fence. They are also outside of the settlement blocs which Israel assumes it will retain in a final-status agreement.

In a colorful ad which Amana has taken out in the Jewish media, including one that will be sent to members of JPost.com, it invites buyers to walk in Abraham's footsteps and to help nurture the Zionist dream.

"This would be an ideological investment," said Aliza Herbst, spokesperson for Pinchas Wallerstein, chairman of the Binyamin Regional Council. "It is geared towards people who believe it is important to have a strong presence in Judea and Samaria, answering the needs not only in terms of security, but also as far as young families go, this is what they can afford."

In light of the focus on illegal construction in the West Bank, Amana has promised that houses will be built on "government lands allocated by the settlement department of the World Zionist Organization," and that "proper building licenses" will be obtained.

The idea is that Americans would purchase the homes and rent them out to settlers, without having to deal with the hassles that accompany rental properties. Everything from property management to rent collection and transfer will be handled by Binyanei Bar Amana, a subsidiary housing organization of the Amana organization.

The project is being billed as an opportunity for American Jews to have a say in Israel's future. The Amana campaign reminds US Jews that they could leave their "thumbprint" on Israel's destiny.

"We are trying to help the settlements grow and prosper, and we see it as an investment in Israel's future," said Rabbi Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. His Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey is hosting the February 25 event with Amana.

"We think it's good to remind Israelis and the Israeli government, that there are Jews in the world that believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. It's our job to ensure its survival, viability and prosperity and that's the primary motivation," Pruzansky said.

He added that he had spoken with a number of his congregants who had expressed interest, though some of the details of the project still needed to be worked out. One concern is whether Americans who buy homes would be compensated if the settlements were evacuated, Pruzansky said.

Houses will be sold starting at $93,000 and will be rented out at a minimum of $250 per month, though prices will vary. Amana has agreed to arrange financing, and provide guided tours of the communities in question. Should American buyers wish to sell their home, Amana will have the house vacated and made ready for sale.
Read the whole thing.


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