American Christian Funding Flows To Jewish Settlers President Obama has called on Israel to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But U.S. evangelical Christian groups continue to raise millions of dollars for the communities, which many others see as an obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

American Christian Funding Flows To Jewish Settlers

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Many evangelical Christians from the U.S. are passionate supporters of Jewish settlers, and they're raising millions of dollars for settlements.

Sheera Frenkel has the story from a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

(Soundbite of music)

SHEERA FRENKEL: It's a sunny afternoon in the Jewish settlement located in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron. A group of visiting American Christians peruse a display case of olive-wood crosses amidst the blaring music of Jewish Bible verses set to song. Several wear interlocking pins of Israeli and American flags. It's a sign, they say, of their commitment to the Jewish state. Christian support through tourism or donation is a multimillion dollar industry here, leading anti-occupation groups to accuse the U.S. of sending mixed signals.

While successive U.S. administrations have called Israel's Jewish settlements a stumbling block to peace, the American government allows U.S. citizens to directly fund them.

David Wilder is a spokesman for the Jewish settlers in Hebron.

Mr. DAVID WILDER (Spokesman, Jewish Settlers, Hebron): There are many people who are not Jewish, who very much love the state of Israel, they love the land of Israel, they understand there's a necessity for the Jews to be here, and they express that love in different ways. One of those is financially.

FRENKEL: Most of that support comes from fundamentalist Christians who believe in the Old Testament verses that say Jews will inherit the land of Israel. These groups are often led by the charismatic leaders of megachurches. Millions of dollars every year are raised in grass-roots efforts across the U.S. Sondra Oster Baras is the director of Israel's branch of the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities - a liaison office for donors wanting to give to the settlements. Located in the Karnei Shomron settlement, she sits amidst posters and pamphlets that call for Jews to settle Judea and Samaria, the biblical name for the West Bank.

Ms. SONDRA OSTER BARAS (Director, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, Israel): I would say probably more than half of the communities in Judaea and Samaria are receiving funding in some way from Christians either directly or indirectly.

FRENKEL: She says donors can choose between a number of programs, including one called Adopt a Settler. Their money goes towards the daily needs of the settlers, helping build new schools, health facilities and synagogues.

Ms. BARAS: Our major donors are themselves organizations or ministries or churches, but they themselves have raised those moneys in small amounts — $5, $20 from a lot of people — and put it together, so it's very much grass-roots.

FRENKEL: Back in Hebron though, Palestinians say that they are outraged by the support these American groups give. Because 650 Jewish settlers live in the heart of Hebron, Israel has erected checkpoints and closed off roads to the nearly 200,000 Palestinians in the city. Huda Abar Khud has watched Christians pass by her Hebron neighborhood as they made their way to the Jewish settlers.

Ms. HUDA ABAR KHUD: If they knew the impact and how it affects people's lives here, innocent people's lives here, I think they might change the way they support these settlements.

FRENKEL: For their part, settler organizations are now worried that the money could begin to dry up. David Wilder says he fears President Obama's strong stance against the settlement movement will affect fundraising.

Mr. WILDER: I know that there are many people I know, friends that I have, who are not Jewish, are very, very, very concerned about Obama's policies, and we're all in the same boat. People are very concerned about it.

FRENKEL: He says the Obama administration knows what is happening and could make it more difficult for Christians to directly fund Jewish settlements.

Mr. WILDER: Today, there's no secrets. Everybody knows everything. In the United States, the people in the administrations, there are no who's helping whom, and how much money is coming over, and what kind of support is being given here and there and everywhere else. The question is what's the counter to that?

FRENKEL: But no one in the settlements has begun pinching pennies yet. And no matter what happens, Wilder says, the settlements will remain and he hopes so will Christian support of them.

Mr. WILDER: Administrations come and administrations go, and the evangelists stay. There have been presidents that have come and gone, and prime ministers have come and gone, and Hebron is still here. And Hebron is going to stay here.

FRENKEL: By late afternoon several more busloads of Christian tourists had arrived in Hebron, and David Wilder said he would be there to greet them.

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel in Hebron.

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