Illegal Jewish Settlements Funded by US Duty Free Tycoons

US Duty Free tycoon Simon Falic. (Photo: File)

The Falic family of Florida, owners of the ubiquitous chain of Duty Free Americas shops, funds a generous and controversial philanthropic empire in Israel that runs through the corridors of power and stretches deep into the occupied West Bank.

An investigation by the Associated Press news agency has found that the family has donated at least $5.6m to settler organizations in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem over the past decade, funding synagogues, schools, and social services as well as far-right causes considered extreme even in Israel.

The Falics’ ‘philanthropy’ is not limited to the settlements. They support many mainstream causes in the United States and Israel. However, they are a key example of how wealthy US donors have bolstered the contentious settlement movement.

Critics say activities billed as harmless philanthropy have come at the expense of Palestinians.

Under international law, settlements built in the occupied territories are illegal. While most of the world considers Jewish settlements to be obstacles to peace, Israel considers the occupied territories “disputed”.

Perhaps the Falics’ most controversial activity is in Hebron (Al-Khalil), a city where several hundred ultranationalist settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves amid some 300,000 Palestinians.

The Falics support the ultranationalist Jewish community in Hebron, whose members include several prominent followers of Meir Kahane, a late rabbi banned from Israeli politics for his racist views.

Kahane’s Kach party was outlawed in Israel in the 1980s for calling for the mass expulsion of Palestinians from the country and is designated by the US as a “terrorist” organization.

According to the AP investigation, the Falics donated roughly $600,000 to “Hachnasat Orchim Hebron”, a group that hosts visitors to the Jewish community. Baruch Marzel, a former aide to Kahane, is deeply involved.

Simon Falic, who spoke to the AP on behalf of his family, said his connections to Marzel were primarily through a “beautiful project” that distributes snacks to Israeli soldiers protecting the residents of Hebron.

He said:

“While I may not agree with everything he has said, the work we have done that has been affiliated with the Hebron community has been positive, non-controversial and enhances Jewish life in the Hebron area – which we strongly support.”

Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, disagrees. He said the seemingly harmless project serves the settler cause at the expense of Palestinians.

Amro said:

“We are suffering from settler violence. When I tell the soldiers ‘protect me’, they tell me: ‘We are not here to protect you. We are with our own people, who are the settlers.'”

The Falics back Jewish groups that covertly buy up Palestinian properties in occupied East Jerusalem, and they helped develop an unauthorized settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank. The outpost was later retroactively legalized.

The family has also supported groups that are pushing for the establishment of a “Third Temple” for Jews at the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in the old city of Jerusalem. Referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount, it is the most contested site in the old city. 

They have also given more money than any other donor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong supporter of settlements, and have donated to other leaders of his Likud party.

(Al Jazeera, PC, Social Media)

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