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New Fund to Promote Jewish Farming in Samaria
by Maayana Miskin
(IsraelNN.com) A new fund created by the Shomron Liaison Office encourages Jewish farming by providing young entrepreneurs with the support they need to get a start in agriculture. Several Samaria residents have expressed interest in beginning farms of their own.
Members of the fund's executive board met last week to set their goals. Members include Shomron regional council head Gershon Mesika, Shivi Drori - head of Shomron agricultural committee, Eli Rosenfeld - director of Shomron National Lands Forum and David Ha'ivri, head of the Shomron Liaison Office.
While the fund is new, the Liaison Office began supporting Jewish agriculture in Samaria 10 years ago, when it began providing financial support to young Jewish residents of Samaria who wished to make use of tracts of empty, unclaimed land surrounding Jewish towns. The would-be farmers did not have the collateral needed to secure a bank loan, and so could not afford the equipment and the many plants needed to get started.
With loans, several farmers were able to get their businesses started. Farmers quickly realized that while local Arab farmers have focused on growing olives, the region is more suitable for growing grapes. Three farmers planted grapes and opened wineries; two have since won awards for their wine.
The latest initiative has multiple goals. Liaison office coordinators are interested in creating jobs and income within Samaria, so that fewer Jewish residents of the area will be forced to travel to central Israel to work. Not only does each new farm provide income for the farmer, but many of the farmers who got their start through the office have hired other local Jews to help as their businesses expand. Board members hope that the new fund will allow the further development of local industry.
The fund also aims to prevent the common phenomenon of Palestinian Authority Arabs claiming ownership of previously unclaimed lands within or immediately adjacent to Jewish towns. By claiming ownership, Arabs are able to gain access to Jewish communities, a situation that many local Jews fear poses a security risk. Several attempted infiltrations and assaults were reported in late 2008 as PA Arabs who claimed ownership of Samaria land were allowed into Jewish communities to harvest olives.
In addition, the fund's backers hope to turn the barren hilltops of Samaria back into productive farmlands, according to the Biblical verse: "You shall again plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the planters shall plant and enjoy the fruit." (Jeremiah 31:5).
The Jewish Agency used to provide funding for Samaria residents interested in starting businesses, but that fund has been dramatically reduced, leaving most young Jews with no way to obtain the approximately NIS 300,000 needed to set up a 20-dunam vineyard. The Shomron Liaison Office hopes to expand its own fund in order to allow all local Jewish farmers to start their own business in Samaria.
The loan is interest-free and comes with a four-year grace period. After four years the farmers will begin to repay the loan, allowing the money to be loaned out again.
So far the Liaison office has supported farmers in developing 650 dunams (162 acres) of public land. Approximately 2,000 dunams are available, and will be developed as soon as the fund is large enough to provide all interested farmers with loans.
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