Welcome to the 2nd edition of FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about what is happening this week related to Israeli settlement activity – news, context/background, and why it matters. FMEP has long been a trusted resource on settlement-related issues, reflecting both the excellent work of our grantees on the ground and our own in-house expertise. FMEP’s focus on settlements derives from our commitment to achieving lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, and our recognition of the fact that Israeli settlements – established for the explicit purpose of dispossessing Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem of land and resources, and depriving them of the very possibility of self-determination in their own state with borders based on the 1967 lines – are antithetical to that goal.
- On April 25th, the Jerusalem Municipality posted a “special plan” to confiscate land on the Mount of Olives, linked to plans for a new “visitors center” to be built adjacent to the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is an integral part of Jerusalem’s Holy Basin, which is home to major religious, national, and historical sites for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Israeli construction on the Mount of Olives – especially near the Jewish cemetery, which is only 300 meters from the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif – carries the potential to once again spark violent conflict, as development plans near Jerusalem’s holy sites have in the past.
According to Peace Now, the main beneficiary of the plan is the settler organization known as Elad. Elad is known for its aggressive settlement of Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where it is attempting to establish a new Jewish “City of David.” As part of its efforts, Elad has for years been working to increase Jewish tourism in Silwan and the Mount of Olives, and has been operating its own visitors center out of a trailer immediately next to the Jewish cemetery. The planned new visitors center will likely become the new base of Elad’s touristic activities. For more on how Elad uses “touristic settlements” to alter the character of East Jerusalem, including on the Mount of Olives, read Hagit Ofran’s 2011 piece: Invisible Settlements in Jerusalem.
- The Israeli government is also reportedly reviving plans for a new settlement in East Jerusalem, to be located in the northern part of the city (extending to the southern edge of Ramallah), and to consist of 10,000 units for ultra-orthodox Israelis. Israeli news sources are reporting the final announcement of the units will be made ahead of May 23rd, the Israeli national holiday of “Jerusalem Day,” celebrating the unification of the city in 1967. The location for construction is the abandoned Atarot airport. The plan dates back to 2007; it was pursued by the Israeli government in 2012 but shelved under pressure from the Obama administration. The airport is an important commodity, reportedly promised to the Palestinians for their state’s future international gateway. To develop the airport into a Jewish Israeli settlement would deprive a future Palestinian state of the only airport in the West Bank, will cut through many Palestinian neighborhoods, and will sever East Jerusalem from a Palestinian state on this northern flank of the city (acting like E-1 on Jerusalem’s northeast flank, and like Givat Hamatos on Jerusalem’s southern flank). According to Haaretz, the ultra orthodox Haredi community that this plan is meant to benefit is objecting to the location because of “its distance from the city center and proximity to Palestinian neighborhoods and the separation barrier.”
On April 26th, the Acting Spokesman for the U.S. Department of State was asked about the Atarot plan near Ramallah and replied that Israeli government officials “understand our concerns about this.”
“The Netanyahu government is deliberately playing with fire in Jerusalem. Plans for the Atarot airport settlement and the visitors center on the Mount of Olives risk inflaming political and religious tensions not only in Israel but across the region.”
– Lara Friedman, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace
A series of violent settler attacks have ratcheted up tensions between settlers, Palestinians, and the Israeli government. Three of these attacks were allegedly perpetrated by radical settlers from Yitzhar, which is known as the “heartland of settler extremism.”
On Friday, April 21st, 50 extremists from the Yitzhar settlement attacked Palestinian homes in a village called Urif, near Nablus. When IDF soldiers arrived on the scene, the settlers attacked the soldiers, injuring one. The settlers violence against the ID elicited a strong response from Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who failed to note the impetus for the incident; the Yitzhar settlers’ violence against Palestinians.
On April 22nd, Haaretz reported 100 Yitzhar settlers descended from their hill top settlement to attack Urif again, this time throwing stones at the Palestinian villagers. Clashes with Palestinians ensued and the Israeli Defense Forces shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the Palestinians, injuring four and damaging one home.
On April 26th, Palestinian press reported that Yitzhar settlers came into the Palestinian village of Huwwara (near Nablus) and torched a Palestinian vehicle.
Separately, in the Jordan Valley, settlers from the radical Baladim illegal outpost attacked and injured Israeli activists who were accompanying Palestinian farmers to their lands. The attack was captured on video. Though this attack was reported by the Israeli press, Israeli government officials stayed appallingly silent. In contrast, the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League issued a strong condemnation of the settlers, and asked the Israeli government to hold the perpetrators accountable. This is the second noteworthy attack emanating from Baladim in as many weeks.
The Haaretz Editorial Board issued a strong statement on settler violence, titled “Israel’s Weakness Against Lawbreakers.” In the piece, the Board writes: “While the government is investing huge sums of money in an all-out war against anyone who dares to warn about the creation of ‘apartheid systems,’ it continues to create and preserve two separate law enforcement systems in the territories, one for Arabs and one for Jews, which cannot be described by any other terms.”
Here are short, but important, updates on settlement news we covered at length in last week’s Settlement Report:
- The pay-off plan for evicted residents of the illegal outpost of Amona by building a new settlement in the Shilo Valley has hit a snag. Apparently the Palestinian hilltop chosen by the illegal settlers to be their future home is not included in the expanded jurisdiction of the local settlement planning council, exposing the lack of intention by the council to build there. This doesn’t preclude changes in the jurisdiction to permit a new settlement on the site, but it frustrated the Amona settlers this week. Meanwhile, the story of the plight of the temporarily displaced Amona law-breakers got sympathetic coverage in a Washington Post human interest story this week.
- Haaretz reports that Israeli police have delivered stop-work orders in the newly established outpost outside of the Adam settlement, near Ramallah. The outpost was first reported last week by Peace Now.
Contact Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com) for questions and comments.