This story originally appeared in New York Focus, a non-profit news publication investigating how power works in New York state.
By Chris Gelardi · November 16, 2023
Vigilante violence is at an all-time high in the occupied West Bank. Emboldened by the war in the Gaza Strip and backed by the military, Israeli settlers aiming to annex more and more of the Palestinian territory have launched hundreds of attacks, displacing people from at least 17 communities over the past month while soldiers and settlers have killed nearly 200.
And at least three New York nonprofit organizations are calling on donors to help outfit those settlers with combat gear, in a fundraising blitz funneling millions of tax-deductible dollars to the West Bank aggression.
By chipping into a “thermal drone matching campaign,” donors can help the Long Island-based One Israel Fund buy remote-controlled aerial vehicles for settler militias. With a contribution to the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim’s “security projects,” they can equip settlers with accessories for their guns and tools to keep an eye on “Arab thugs” in occupied East Jerusalem. Donating to the Brooklyn-based Hebron Fund’s “Israel Is Under Attack” campaign helps expand one of Israel’s most extensive local surveillance networks. If New Yorkers contribute by the end of the year, they can write it off on their 2023 tax returns.
Since the October 7 Hamas attack that killed around 1,200 Israelis, the New York-based nonprofits have raised millions for tactical equipment for settlers across the West Bank. The organizations — right-wing groups dedicated to Jewish rule over the holy land — work directly with the Israeli military and with the settlements, which are illegal under international law.
“The ties between New York state and war crimes being carried out by Israeli settlers are egregious,” said Jay Saper, a New York City-based organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace. “It’s long overdue for the state to take action.”
Earlier this year, Jewish Voice for Peace and other anti-occupation groups launched a campaign to stem the flow of tax-exempt donations from New York organizations to West Bank settlements. The Not on Our Dime Act, introduced in the state legislature in May, grew out of the activist effort and sought to empower the state attorney general to revoke the nonprofit status of groups funding settlements. Dozens of state legislators almost immediately condemned it as “a ploy to demonize Jewish charities.”
With human rights officials and advocates warning that the violence could accelerate mass displacement in the West Bank, where farmers can’t harvest their olives without fear of settlers shooting at them, the bill’s backers see renewed urgency.
“The forcible transfers, the attacks, the harassment, the murders … we are complicit in them,” Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, who introduced the Not on Our Dime Act in his chamber, told New York Focus. “I’m even more committed to the necessity of this legislation in this moment.”
Since October 7, the New York-based nonprofits, too, have ramped up their efforts — and rhetoric against Palestinians.
“We are seeing pure evil,” Daniel Luria, executive director of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, says in an October 24 Instagram video. “There is only one way to deal with evil, and that is to eradicate pure evil.”
The video ends with a slide: “Donate today.”
LURIA’S ORGANIZATION funds efforts to overtake Jerusalem, including the eastern half of the city, located in occupied Palestinian territory. It doesn’t believe that Palestinians have any right to the land: “There’s never been an Arab state here with the capital of Jerusalem,” Luria, who was raised in Australia and now lives in the contested city, told Al Jazeera in 2019. “This talk about Palestine, Palestine. … I’ve never heard of anything more absurd.” (American Friends of Ateret Cohanim did not respond to New York Focus’s interview requests.)
The Long Island nonprofit funnels money to an Israeli beneficiary, Ateret Cohanim, which has convinced courts to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their East Jerusalem homes. The group credits a recent project — a settlement in the suburban village of Abu Dis, condemned by the United States and European Union — for paving the way for full Israeli control of a “united Jerusalem.”
“The Jewish people’s relationship with [the land of Israel] is like a marriage. Our union is an exclusive one,” read a November 8 blog post on the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim website. “The land only bears its beautiful harvest and beauty when she is inhabited by her destined soul mate.”
The organization frames the current moment as existential, soliciting donations to fortify settlement projects.
Settlers need to protect themselves against “Arab thugs and terrorists,” read another recent blog post by the New York group’s outreach director, who lives in a settlement near Hebron. They need American support to buy “helmets, ceramic vests, pepper spray and even conversion kits,” which turn pistols into rifles.
According to tax records, American Friends of Ateret Cohanim normally raises between $600,000 and $1.7 million a year. The organization did not respond to questions about its fundraising efforts.
Another Long Island-based group, the One Israel Fund, raises roughly $2 million to $4 million a year. It has just about matched that annual haul since October 7, pulling in more than $2.5 million for tactical equipment in less than a month, the organization told li Herald. The group has a broader reach than American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, operating in every West Bank region.
The fund’s thermal drone campaign, one of several initiatives listed on its website, claims to give “civilian security teams the technology to locate terrorists before they breach a [settlement’s] perimeter.” The effort has so far raised over $65,000, with a cadre of funders matching donations up to $180,000. One recent donor, David Gorelick, donated $5,000 for a drone designated to surveil around the settlement of Kiryat Arba — and dedicated it to his newborn grandson.
Other One Israel Fund initiatives seek to raise over $200,000 to build dozens of command and dispatch centers throughout West Bank settlements, more than $7.5 million for car-mounted and stationary surveillance camera systems, and roughly $250,000 to add searchlights, pa systems, and Israeli military communication systems to vehicles the military has purchased for settler security teams.
The fund’s director of security operations, Marc Provisor, a Philadelphia-born artist who moved to the West Bank and joined the Israeli military, is credited with spearheading militia settlement security initiatives across the territory. Rifle-clad settlers, some in military fatigues, have recorded videos thanking Provisor and his organization. “I want to thank … the One Israel Fund for this important tool,” says one settler in Hebrew, posing with a new drone and a sign with the One Israel Fund logo.
The One Israel Fund also works closely with the Israeli military. According to the organization’s website, the Israeli Defense Ministry has committed to matching the first $400,000 of a $2 million project to equip civilian response teams with mobile surveillance systems that allow them to view thermal camera feeds from their cell phones and tablets.
The organizations assert that settlers need the tactical equipment to protect themselves from violent Palestinians. “But what we really see is these vigilante settler groups using them in really horrific ways that only stoke insecurity,” said Sophia Goodfriend, an Israel-based researcher focusing on Israel’s weaponization of surveillance technology.
Goodfriend pointed to instances where settlers have used drones to disperse Palestinian shepherds’ flocks, follow Palestinian children to school, and identify Palestinian homes for the military to demolish. In recent research in East Jerusalem and Hebron, where settler security works closely with the military to enforce what human rights advocates describe as one of the most extreme versions of Israeli apartheid, Goodfriend documented how vast camera systems equipped with facial recognition track Palestinians so closely they peer into their homes.
In Hebron, armed settlers have reportedly helped enforce a lockdown for Palestinian households and driven Palestinians from their homes at gunpoint. The Brooklyn-based Hebron Fund, meanwhile, is seeking to bolster the settlers’ surveillance apparatus: After October 7, the group issued a call for donations to purchase drones and cameras, as well as radios, flashlights, bullet-proof vests, and other tactical gear.
The solicitation came directly from Hebron’s civilian security chief, Yoni Bleichbard, who also coordinates security for Hebron Fund tours and is listed among the organization’s staff.
The Hebron Fund, the One Israel Fund, and American Friends of Ateret Cohanim did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails.
“Our right to Hebron protects our right to the rest of the land of Israel. It speaks to the Jewish claim of the land of Israel,” read a recent recruiting email from The Hebron Fund’s executive director, Rabbi Daniel Rosenstein. “We own it.”
“TO SEND security equipment at a time of such unbelievable violence is to aid in ethnic cleansing,” said Mamdani, the assemblymember. “This is why I introduced the Not on Our Dime Act.”
The political coalition behind the legislation honed in on the Long Island-based Central Fund of Israel as a target. The umbrella charity diverts funds to a variety of Israeli causes, including groups supporting settlers’ efforts to displace Palestinians, to the tune of millions of dollars a year.
The organization is a top donor to Ateret Cohanim. At least one of its other beneficiaries has used the organization to send tactical gear to settlers: The Jerusalem-based Israel Land Fund has fundraised for surveillance drones, night vision equipment, an armored patrol vehicle, firearm grips, and pistol-to-carbine conversion kits, according to an undated donation solicitation archived online. It’s unclear when the Israel Land Fund campaign took place; the organization did not respond to a request for comment, and the Central Fund of Israel told New York Focus it wasn’t aware of the fundraising effort.
“US tax deductible donations can be made via the Central Fund of Israel,” the donation page states. “Simply mail them a check and earmark the donation for the Israel Land Fund.”
“I’m not against the settlements in the West Bank,” Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, one of the signatories, told New York Focus. “It’s not a problem for me.”
“We would have been better off if the bill was focused on not-for-profits not sending money to terrorist organizations like Hamas, which some do, as we know,” Dinowitz added. Asked for clarification, Dinowitz’s office sent a New York Post article about liberal donor networks funding “anti-Israel” groups. The paper didn’t accuse anyone of funding us-designated terrorist organizations, which, unlike sending money to West Bank settlements, would be a federal crime.
Beyond their violation of international law, the settlements encroach on Washington’s preferred “two-state solution,” as settlers and the Israeli military, under the direction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, restrict Palestinians to smaller and more isolated pockets within the West Bank. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a staunch pro-Israel advocate, said he urged Netanyahu to crack down on settler violence when he visited Israel last week. But few other New York officials have addressed settler violence since October 7.
Governor Kathy Hochul hasn’t mentioned settlements at all. After several weeks of pro-Israel rallies, raising the Israeli flag at government buildings, and a trip to Israel — sponsored by a nonprofit that provides money to groups that support West Bank settlements — Hochul recently shifted her attention to ramping up policing and social media surveillance to protect from “domestic and international threats.”
“What is so frustrating is when people speak about the importance of peace, as we all must, and yet they refuse to name the settlements,” said Mamdani. “They are intentionally disconnecting the dots.”
Mamdani’s bill was one of the first of its kind in the country, but New York isn’t the only state with nonprofits funneling money to West Bank settlements. Since last month, a coalition of evangelical Christian groups led by a Missouri-based nonprofit has raised $2.3 million for night vision equipment, drones, helmets, and armored vests. And the New Jersey-based American Friends of Judea and Samaria, which has worked side-by-side with the One Israel Fund, has launched an “emergency campaign” to send drones and armor to soldiers in the West Bank.
“As Israel prepares for the next stage of this battle of good over evil, we plan to continue providing our troops with the essential equipment they need,” the New Jersey nonprofit’s donation page reads.
As these organizations fuel violence and tension in the West Bank, they’re also cheering on the war in Gaza. Israeli bombardment has killed at least 11,000 Palestinians — likely an undercount, as some of Gaza’s health ministry’s communications systems went down over the weekend, and many of Gaza’s main hospitals are currently being raided or under heavy fire.
“If the underground tunnel system and the headquarters of these cowards [Hamas] are used under a hospital, then there’s only one thing that has to be done, and that is destroy the hospital,” says Luria, of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, in his Instagram video. “Forget proportionality.”