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In New York, a 'Hebron Aid Flotilla' to raise money for Israeli settlements

The Hebron Fund, a US tax-exempt charity that supports Israeli settlers, is rallying Zionists of all stripes to join a 'Hebron Aid Flotilla' on the Hudson River next month.

By Staff writer / October 20, 2010

Palestinian men work on a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, Oct. 20.

Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

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The Hebron Fund, a Brooklyn-based tax exempt charity that supports Israeli settlers in the West Bank city of the same name, this week announced a unique twist to its annual fund-raising event next month: a cruise on the Hudson River dubbed the "Hebron Aid Flotilla."

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The name marks an unabashed decision to strike out at those who criticized Israel's fatal attack on the so-called Gaza Aid Flotilla, an attempt to break the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip in May. Israeli commandos met unexpected force on board the flotilla's flagship boat shot and killed eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American, drawing international condemnation.

"WE'RE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT NOW!" proclaims Monday's announcement for the event. "The outpouring of hate against Israel and the Jews after the flotilla incident was absolutely unprecedented. Jews around the world and other Lovers of Israel suddenly felt just like the Jews of Hebron – the Jews the media loves most to hate. We therefore decided to hold our annual fundraiser as a unique, united Zionist response to the situation."

The fundraiser is a reminder of one of the reasons why President Obama's efforts to spur Israeli-Palestinian peace talks forward is fast unraveling.

First, the Obama administration backed down from its earlier demands that Israel freeze all settlement expansion – including in East Jerusalem – as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians, who see no point in peace talks as Israel continues to expand its footprint in occupied territory that's intended to make up a future Palestinian state.

Secondly, US citizens continue to finance settlements on that land through tax-free donations. In addition, their taxpayer dollars – represented in the roughly $3 billion in US aid that Israel receives annually – arguably give Israel enough financial breathing room that it can afford to facilitate settlement expansion.

Both examples illustrate the sway of the Jewish right, in the US as well as Israel, whose constituents have been largely unwilling to accept the Palestinians' precondition of a settlement freeze. In the US, that influence could gain more traction with a likely surge in Republicans' Congressional strength after November elections.

Though the UN and most world states, including the US, have declared the settlements to be illegal, the US tax code allows charitable giving to settlers so long as the money isn't intended for weapons or other security measures. Direct US military and economic aid for Israel, though expressly not for settlements, also frees up Israeli money to be spent as it sees fit elsewhere.

Why Hebron is especially thorny

Hebron is an especially thorny problem. It has a Palestinian population of about 163,000 and roughly 500 religious Israeli settlers, as well as more than 7,000 Israelis in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, whose presence leads to a massive security presence by the Israeli Defense Forces.

The city is home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, the reputed burial place of Abraham, a prophet revered by Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

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