Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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August 24, 2017
- Israel Mounts Legal Defense After High Court Puts 2-Month Hold on Regulation Law
- Government Data Shows Regulation Law Could Legalize 3,455 Settlement Structures
- Israeli AG Demands Better Enforcement of Settlement Construction Laws
- Yitzhar Settlers Attack IDF During Outpost Demolition
- Settler-Led Petition Seeks to “Test”High Court’s Consistency on Palestinian Land Ownership Rights
- Updates: Avichai Funds, Sheikh Jarrah Eviction, Jordan Valley Race Track, E-1 Demolitions
- Bonus Reads
For comments and questions, please email Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org).
On August 17th, the Israeli High Court of Justice ordered a two month hold on the use of the controversial Regulation Law, which was set to take effect this week. The Regulation Law (also called the “Expropriation Law,” the “Regularization Law,” the “Legalization Law,” or the “Settlements Law”) was passed earlier this year by the Israeli Knesset to pave the way for the government to retroactively legalize outposts and other construction of Israeli settler homes on privately owned Palestinian land, among other things. The High Court ordered the two-month freeze following a direct request from Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit, who has called the law unconstitutional.
The court is currently weighing two petitions challenging the legality of the law filed this past March; one petition by the Israeli civil society organizations Yesh Din, Peace Now, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI); the second petition was filed by Palestinian civil society groups Adalah, Al-Mezan, and the Jerusalem Legal Aid Center.
In response to the petitions, the Israeli government’s private attorney Harel Arnon provided the court with a 156-page defense arguing that, “the Regulation Law balances the obligation of the government towards thousands of citizens who have relied in good faith on government action and a minor infringement of property rights, with increased compensation to the [Palestinian] landowners.” Prominent Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard explained why this is “legal fantasy.” Israel was forced to hire a private lawyer to represent them before the High Court after Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit announced his refusal to defend the measure as soon as it was passed into law.
The trio of Israeli petitioners released a blistering statement following the government’s response. Peace Now, Yesh Din, and ACRI wrote,
“The State of Israel, in its response today, is trying to present the land expropriation law as addressing a national problem, when in practice it involves continued government support for a criminal enterprise that has continued for decades. The government is minimizing the continuing harm to the rights of the Palestinian landowners, and at the same time is trying to present the Israeli citizens who are taking part in the looting of West Bank Palestinians as people who have been harmed and who require ‘compensation’ for their part in the looting,” they added. “We hope the court rejects the state’s arguments out of hand, strikes down this unconstitutional and immoral law, and sends a loud and clear message: No more.”
Peace Now goes further to say, “In its response the government attempts to present Israeli citizens, who are directly involved in land theft of Palestinians, as deserving a reward for their participation in the thievery.”
Adalah also issued a sharp response, saying “The state’s position amounts to a de facto annexation of the West Bank.”
Haaretz put out a searing editorial demolishing the government’s claim that settlers are owed a solution to the “distress” they live in as a result of their land theft. Haaretz editors wrote in “The ‘distress” of the Israeli settlers,”
The government broke a record for cynicism when it made its arguments against the petitions. In a perfect reversal of occupier and occupied, it explained that the expropriation law constitutes “a humane, proportionate and reasonable response to the real distress” of all those “Israeli residents” who live under “a cloud of uncertainty” that is “disrupting their lives.” It’s hard to believe, but this is not a description of the situation of millions of Palestinians living under occupation whose lands are being seized, but of the distress of the settlers, who chose to live outside the state’s official borders and whose very presence there is illegitimate.
The High Court of Justice is months away from issuing its ruling on the Regulation Law’s constitutionality. The Knesset’s legal experts are expected to present their case in support of the law in September, and Attorney General Mandleblit is expected to argue against his own government’s law in October.
According to the Israeli government’s own data, there are 3,455 illegally built Israeli structures in the West Bank that can be legalized if the Regulation Law (see above) goes into effect. Haaretz has an explanation of the three categories of land where these structures were illegally built and how the Regulation Law seeks to absolve the government and its settlers of their illegality.
The Haaretz reporting confirms and compounds documentation published by Peace Now earlier this year which estimated that the Regulation Law could legalize 3,850 structures and 53 outposts, adding up to a total land grab of 8,000 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land (1 sq. km = 1,000 dunams | 1 acre = 4 dunams).
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit held a series of meetings over the past month in an attempt to force the government to rein in illegal construction happening inside of settlements. Haaretz reports that Mandleblit met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon several times to demand the creation of a special unit in the Defense Ministry tasked with policing planning and construction laws inside of settlements.
Haaretz relays from sources in the meetings, “He [Mandleblit] said, in the presence of officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, the treasury and the Defense Ministry, that the present situation, in which there is no group enforcing the planning laws in the settlements except for the committees acting on behalf the settlements’ regional councils themselves, is ‘clearly illogical,’ and creates a situation in which there are illegal structures over which nobody has authority.”
The recent discussions followed Mandleblit’s request last month for the High Court to issue an order demanding the Defense Ministry to create the unit. The Defense Ministry has refused to establish the unit, citing a lack of funding. Mandleblit’s request to the High Court was meant to force Defense Minister Liberman to create the unit by making it mandatory.
For the second time this year, the Israeli army clashed with radical Yitzhar settlers as the army executed orders against homes the settlers built without the proper permissions. This time, in contrast to the incident in June where houses were razed inside the settlement, the IDF removed six caravans that were set up outside of the settlement’s municipal border in an outpost known as Kumi Ori.
Ynet News reports that the right-wing settler organization Regavim has launched a petition against the construction of a road in the West Bank, which they claim – with undisguised irony – is being built on privately owned Palestinian land. The road is an access road to the new Palestinian city of Rawabi, a $1.4 billion dollar investment project to provide a state-of-the-art planned city for Palestinians in the West Bank (and the first new Palestinian city Israel has permitted since 1967).
For Ragavim, the case is a win-win. If the court rules in Regavim’s favor, it will be a blow to efforts to develop Rawabi. If the court rules against Regavim (i.e., in favor of the construction and against the rights of Palestinian landowners), it will set a legal precedent that Regavim and others can exploit for the benefit of settlers. Regavim is clearly hoping for the latter result: Regavim’s lawyer said, “In the last few years, the High Court of Justice has taken a very strict line and ordered the demolition of buildings and roads built by Jews on private Palestinian land. That is why in this case, it is unacceptable that the High Court of Justice is nonchalant about the rights of private landowners.”
- Haaretz has spoken to four government officials who report that the office of the Prime Minister has requested to nearly triple the amount of government funds allocated towards the construction of the first new settlement in 25 years, Amichai. The Prime Minister’s office denied the Haaretz report.
- In Sheikh Jarrah, a Jerusalem court rejected a petition to delay (again) the eviction of the Shamasneh family from their longtime home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood. Eviction is rumored to proceed on September 9th.
- In E-1, the Israeli Army’s Civil Administration has threatened to move forward with demolitions against Bedouin structures they say were illegally built in the area of E-1 despite an order from the High Court of Justice delaying the demolitions. Back in February, the High Court ruled that the structures should not be demolished and that the Bedouin and Civil Administration must work together to see if the structures can be legalized.
- In the Jordan Valley, Israeli settlers are continuing to build a recreational race track despite a stop-work order issued against the project in February 2017. The large race track complex is partially on land that the Israeli army has declared a closed firing zone, a designation which resulted in the forcible displacement of Palestinians who lived there
- For background on all of these stories, see past editions [link] of FMEP’s Settlement Report.
- “U.S. Trying to Prevent UN ‘Blacklist’ of Companies Working in Israeli Settlements” (Washington Post)
- “Netanyahu to attend West Bank event celebrating 50 years of settlements” (August 21, 2017, Jerusalem Post)
- “In Walajeh, Palestinians residents mobilize against Israeli demolitions” (August 21, 2017, +972 Mag/Active Stills)
- “From jail cells, settler youth call for defiance of administrative orders” (August 23, 2017, Times of Israel)