(photo credit: )
Residents of Judea and Samaria who are campaigning to get North American Jews to purchase houses in Judea and Samaria and then rent them to young couples at affordable rates, presented the new project at an Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey on Sunday.
They are asking US Jews to fill the financial gap left by the elimination of government subsidies for housing in Judea and Samaria.
Representatives from Amana, the largest and oldest organization that develops land in Judea and Samaria, who are spearheading the project, along with Binyanei Bar Amana, a for-profit construction company, urged ideological attendees to invest in Israel's future by strengthening the settlements. Though reporters were not allowed into the meeting, a synagogue representative estimated attendance at 200.
A protest was held by representatives of several pro-Palestinian organizations across the street from Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. The roughly 20 protesters held signs that read "Stop Israeli War Crimes," "End Apartheid" and "Sales Are Illegal Under International, US and New Jersey Anti-Discrimination Laws."
The group promises to rent out the properties, as well as manage and maintain the houses at a small cost. Houses range from $93,000 to $165,000, depending on the size and location, and will be rented from $250-$400 a month. Bank Igud is offering mortgages up to 65 percent of the cost of the property at an annual interest of 5% for 20 years. Though Amana claims investments will be financially profitable, they do not shy away from the fact that the campaign is primarily ideological.
"We had an amazing response," said Aliza Herbst, project manager and spokesperson for Pinchas Wallerstein, chairman of the Binyamin Regional Council. Herbst came to New Jersey together with Amana executive director Alon Farbstein. "We weren't sure what to expect, whether only an embarrassed rabbi would appear, but there was a great turnout," she said.
Long known for his strong opinions regarding Israel, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, was an outspoken opponent of the disengagement plan, and is actively promoting the current campaign. Most of the people who attended Sunday morning's meeting were members of the synagogue, in the heart of Teaneck, New Jersey, which has a large modern Orthodox community.
"The West Bank is a contrived political term," Pruzansky said after the meeting. "We call it Israel."
"Peace is an illusion and won't happen in my or my children's lifetime," he said. "Every concession the Israeli government makes is a sign of weakness, and the enemy takes advantage of weakness."
Pruzansky thanked the protesters who, he said, quadrupled publicity for the event.
Amana is promoting 10 small- and mid-sized settlements, at least seven of which are outside the security fence. They are also outside the settlement blocs that Israel expects to retain in a final-status agreement.
Amana says it has a list of hundreds of young families waiting to move in who cannot afford to buy houses. According to Amana, lots are available within permissible construction areas in Judea and Samaria, but funds are absent.
"Almost all communities in Yesha [Judea and Samaria] are full, with no possibility of accepting new young couples or families," Amana said in a letter to potential 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," the letter said.
The greatest concern among attendees was whether American buyers would be compensated in the event that settlements would be dismantled in the future. Herbst said government compensation stood at $1,000 per square meter, but could not guarantee that Americans would be eligible for this money.
"The [security] wall is a political monument," Herbst said. "It is clear that many see the wall as representing the future boundaries of Israel, but there have always been doomsayers."
The project was an opportunity to "lift the spirit of North American Jews who were depressed following the evacuations of Gush Katif," she added.
Eight people reportedly approached Amana representatives after the meeting, expressing a desire to invest. Another handful inquired after an article about the subject appeared in The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago.
"Even one buyer would be seen as a success," Herbst said.
Many more left the meeting with great enthusiasm.
"Israel has learned from its mistakes of moving people out of Gaza," said Norman Chideckel, who said he and his wife, both dual citizens, were seriously considering buying a house. "This is an excellent opportunity and hopefully Israel won't repeat the same mistakes."
New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who is promoting the project and attended Sunday's meeting, said: "This is an opportunity for American Jews to put their money where their mouth is."