Inside the evangelical money flowing into the West Bank
A Haaretz investigation reveals that Christian groups have invested up to $65 million in projects in the ‘Biblical Heartland’ over the past decade. That doesn’t include services they provide free of charge, like volunteer laborers
By Judy Maltz Dec 09, 2018
When the first Christian evangelical volunteers descended on the religious West Bank settlement of Har Bracha about 10 years ago, offering to harvest grapes for the local Jewish farmers free of charge, not everyone welcomed them with open arms.
After all, for generations Jews had been taught that when Christians go out of their way to be nice, it is probably because they are secretly plotting to convert them, and, therefore, it’s best to keep a distance.
Much has changed since then. There are still Jewish settlers not completely comfortable with the idea of Christians living in their midst and working their fields. But they are far less vocal these days.
Hayovel, the U.S. organization that brings them to Har Bracha, is among a growing list of evangelical groups that operate exclusively in the so-called “biblical heartland.” Over the past decade, it has brought more than 1,700 volunteers to the settlements – and only the settlements because, as a matter of principle, its volunteers do not assist farmers within Israel proper.
Volunteers from Hayovel work in the West Bank: Over the past decade, the group has brought more than 1,700 volunteers to the settlements – and only the settlements Kyle S Mackie
Explaining the organization’s special attachment to this disputed piece of land – that most of the international community does not recognize as part of Israel – Hayovel states on its website: “Every country in the world has turned its back on Judea and Samaria, the heartland of Israel, where 80 percent of the Bible was either written or occurred.”
A volunteer from Hayovel carries crates for grapes. He is one of thousands of Christians coming to the West Bank to work for free for Jewish settlers Kyle S Mackie
There were many years when Hayovel operated under the radar, believing that the less Israelis knew what it was up to, the better.
No longer. These days, the nonprofit is more than happy to host journalists and the curious at its main campus, located on this settlement that overlooks the large Palestinian city of Nablus. Its willingness to be so aboveboard about its activities is evidence of how mainstream such interactions between Christian evangelicals and Jewish settlers have become.
The ‘real’ Israel
The Heart of Israel (also known as the Binyamin Fund) is another nonprofit benefiting from these ties. Established three years ago, the organization raises hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly for earmarked projects in the settlements, according to its American-born founder, Aaron Katsof.
Although Katsof says evangelicals do not account for the bulk of the money he raises, they do account for the vast majority of his donors. “You have to realize that while the average Jew gives $1,500, the average Christian gives $50,” he says. “But their share is growing very, very fast.”
Asked what prompted him to set up this new fundraising organization, Katsof – who lives in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh – responds: “The more evangelicals I met over the years, the more I realized how thirsty they were to connect to the settlements. When they land in Tel Aviv, they often tell me that it isn’t how they imagined Israel. But when they come out here to the settlements, they say this is exactly how they imagined it.
“They are our biggest, biggest, biggest, biggest allies,” he adds.
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