החקלאים בסכנת חיים
החקלאים בסכנת חיים צילום: השומר יו"ש

Ariel University, in cooperation with the Hashomer organizations of Judea and Samaria, has begun giving academic credits for volunteering in newly established Jewish farms. The university stated that volunteering includes fifty hours of working around the farm, as well as standing guard at night. Joint advertising for the two bodies includes a list of farms where students can volunteer; some are struggling against governmental demolition orders due to land disputes.

Although official registration has closed, Hashomer is still accepting volunteers through some of the farms; a university spokesperson released a list of establishments that would still accept new applicants. Although according to 'West Bank' researcher Dror Etkes of the Kerem Navot organization, these were established without the necessary building permits, they sit on state land and are considered legal farms for all purposes.

In early March, Ariel University, the Student Association, and Hashomer published a joint advertisement addressing students: “Want to earn credits without memorizing material? Stand guard over a farm at night! Spend the night having fun with friends around the campfire, drinking good coffee under the stars and helping our farmers" The advertisement included a list of 28 farms, some of which have been subjected to violent riots or legal battles in the past.

The Ariel University website states that the goal of the program is "connecting students to the Zionist and national mission of contemporary agriculture." Last year, the organization released a video in which the chairman of the university's board, Mark Tzel, said that the organization was working against "those who want to interfere with the right of the people of Israel to settle in Israel and develop agriculture," and called for support for it.

Hashomer explained this week that two academic credits will be awarded for completing the full program. A statement to Ha’aretz read that ‘This program is intended to provide peace of mind and some much-needed rest to farmers in Judea and Samaria. No applicants need be armed - they will carry only a flashlight, which has proven to be an effective deterrent against theft.” The university commented that it is involved exclusively with registering the academic credits, and neither assigns students to any particular farm nor decides what work needs to be done there.

Most of the farms in question are run exclusively by volunteers. Livestock theft is a constant worry for these farmers, either by force or at night; the volunteers will join a number of measures intended to prevent it. Many farmers have begun working with the IDF to establish local networks to report, pursue, and recover stolen flocks. Land claims and squatting plague most of the farms; the Bar Yosef farm near Neve Tzuf, where Zvi Bar-Yosef has reported frequent need to expel squatters. Neria Ben-Pazi's farm, near Rimonim, sees frequent encroachments of other flocks on his grazing territory; several of these have led to violent altercations with other farmers around him, in one of which he was obliged to draw a firearm in self-defense.

Responding to several complaints from political activist groups, Ariel University released a statement saying that: "Within the framework of the Law to Encourage Significant Volunteering in the Community, the university operates, like other institutions, with many and diverse bodies entrusted with enabling volunteers in our community. Hashomer has received approval as a volunteer body for the current school year.” So far, five students have been placed at three farms.

Hashomer stated: "The Hashomer organization is not a political organization and opposes violence of any kind. The volunteers in the organization, including the esteemed students from Ariel University - Jews and Arabs alike - stand firmly with our farmers who protect our land from agricultural terrorism. We work exclusively according to the rule of law in every way, and all our activities are entirely legal. We invite one and all to join our initiative.”

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