Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
November 8, 2019
- Israel Advances Plans for 2,342 New Settlement Units
- Israeli Government Approves Settler-Initiated Plans for Cable Car in Jerusalem — Despite Professional, Human Rights Objections
- Israel Plans to Build a New Waste Treatment Plant (to serve Israelis) in the West Bank
- No More Waiting: MKs Introduce Annexation Bills Despite Political Deadlock
- Annexation-via-New Roads (the new Smotrich Plan)
- Annexation-via-Movies (Govt-Funded Settlement Hasbara)
- Annexation-via-Education (Ambassador Friedman’s Favorite Medical School)
- Settler Leaders Elect New Chairman of the Yesha Council
- Israeli Official Calls on Evangelicals to Defend Settlements, Fight BDS, and Support “Economic Peace”
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Contact Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org
With little attention, on October 10th the High Planning Council – a body within the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, responsible for regulating all construction in the West Bank – advanced plans for 2,342 new settlement units, as well as for two additional settlement projects. Of that total, 719 units were approved for validation (the penultimate step in the planning process), and 1,623 settlement units were approved for deposit for public review (an earlier but decisive stage in the planning process).
The 719 units which received final approved for validation comprise:
- 207 units in the Bracha (aka Har Bracha) settlement, located south of Nablus. In September 2019, the Israeli Central Command signed an order that expanded the settlment’s jurisdiction, a move which paved the way for the approval of these new units (see our September 2019 report). According to Peace Now, this plan – if implemented – will significantly expand both settlement’s population and its physical footprint.
- 206 units in the Tzofim settlement, located north of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya – a town completely encircled by Israel’s seperation barrier (except for a single road connecting it to the rest of the West Bank) – in the northern West Bank.
- 166 units in the Alei Zahav settlement, located in a string of settlements stretching across the northern West Bank. Alei Zahav and its settlement neighbors create a contiguous Israeli populated areas linking Israel proper (west of the Green Line) all the way to the Ariel settlement, located in the heart of the West Bank (the eastern end of Ariel is closer to the Jordan border than to the Green Line). Notably, Alei Zahav is one of the settlements in which the “market principle” has been applied to legalize settlers theft of land recognized by Israel as belonging to Palestinians (see our July 2019 report).
- 140 units in the Mezadot Yehuda settlement, located at the very southern tip of the West Bank, just south of the Palestinian village of Susya, which the Israeli government has been threatening to demolish for years. This plan would nearly double the number of authorized units in the settlement.
Also receiving final approval for validation:
- A plan to retroactively legalize the illegal Brosh outpost in the Jordan Valley. According to Peace Now, the Brosh settlement serves as an educational institution that houses hundreds of students and families of staff members.
- A plan to build a tourist/visitors center in the Shilo settlement – where settlers and the Israeli government have been investing in developing tourism sites for Jewish and evangelical tourists.
The 1,623 units which were deposited for public review include:
- 609 units in the Beitar Illit settlement, located west of Bethlehem, near the Green Line. Beitar Illit is a massive, fast-growing ultra-Orthodox settlement.
- 382 housing units in the Dolev settlement, located west of Ramallah. This is a significant plan for Dolev, as it will more than double the number of existing units. Prime Minister Netanyahu previously promised to build 300 new units in Dolev in response to a Palestinian-perpetrated bombing at a spring (which settlers had taken over from Palestinians) near the settlement that killed a 17-year old Israeli and injured several others.
- 182 units in the Mevo’ot Yericho settlement, located north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. The validation of this plan is the actualization of the Israeli security cabinet decision to grant the illegal outpost of Mevo’ot Yericho retroactive legalization, an action for which the security cabinet urgently convened on the eve of the September 19th elections. The plan approved by the High Planning Council on Oct. 10th granted legalization to the existing 20 existing units and, if implemented, will allow the settlement to significantly expand.
- 146 units in the Kfar Etzion settlement, located southwest of Bethlehem.
- 140 units in the Kerem Reim outpost located north west of Ramallah. Peace Now has repeatedly challenged the illegal construction of the Kerem Reim outpost, which the Israeli government retroactively legalized by declaring it a neighborhood of the Talmon settlement even though the areas are non-contiguous. Though a court rejected one Peace Now petition, there is an ongoing case against the Amana settler organization which Peace Now alleges engaged in illegal activities to build the outpost.
- 100 units in the Nokdim settlement, located southeast of Bethlehem. Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman – currently one of the most important figures in the race to form a governing coalition – lives in Nokdim.
- 64 units in the Telem settlement, located west of Hebron.
- A plan to build new shops and services in the Kochav Yakov settlement, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The figures speak for themselves. Netanyahu continues to sabotage the possibility of a political agreement with the Palestinians by promoting more settlement construction in the West Bank, including in places where Israel may have to evacuate as part of a future agreement. This is yet another dangerous step for both Israel and the Palestinians, led by a transitional prime minister whom the public did not trust in his policies. The next government must put a freeze on the development of settlements and to strive for immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions and to end the bloody conflict based on the principle of two states for two peoples.”
The European Union issued a statement criticizing the approvals, saying:
“The European Union’s position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Israeli authorities also approved a building permit for the construction of a new tunnel road, which bypasses Bethlehem to the west. The progressive construction of a separate road network, connecting settlements and outposts to each other and to the road network in Israel while circumventing Palestinian towns and communities, is entrenching the fragmentation of the West Bank. The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power. The EU will continue to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties.”
Israeli Government Approves Settler-Initiated Plans for Cable Car in Jerusalem — Despite Professional, Human Rights Objections
On November 4th, the Israeli Housing Cabinet approved a settler-initiated plans to build a cable car line in East Jerusalem, despite the fact that the Israeli Attorney General has not yet rendered a decision on whether plans for such a significant and sensitive project can be advanced by a caretaker Israeli government. Emek Shaveh – an Israeli NGO fighting the politicization of archeology in Jerusalem – announced that it intends to appeal the approval to the Israeli Supreme Court.
As FMEP has repeatedly covered, this Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative of the Elad settler organization (which is building a massive tourism center – the Kedem Center – in the Silwan neighborhood, which will be a stop along the cable car’s route). The scheme is intended to further entrench settler control, via archeology and tourism sites, inside the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there. Non-governmental organizations like Emek Shaveh, Who Profits, and Terrestrial Jerusalem have repeatedly discredited the government’s contention that the cable car serves a legitimate transportation need in Jerusalem, and have clearly enumerated the obvious political drivers behind the plan, the archeological heresies it validates, and the severe impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan.
Ir Amim field researcher Aviv Tartarsky told Middle East Eye:
‘The project is a way to whitewash Israel’s taking of areas in Silwan to use for archaeological and touristic reasons…If someone wants to go to the Western Wall of the Old City, they have to go through the ELAD activity centre. This project will give ELAD legitimacy and influence, as it is taking part in a governmental project. This is the political reason for why the government is doing this project,’ Tatarsky said.”
In October 2019 the Israeli government issued a construction tender to build a waste-to-energy plant in the West Bank, on an area of land that is within the jurisdiction of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement where several Palestinian Bedouin communities live. The plant – which is expected to cost USD $284 million (1 billion NIS) – will treat Israeli-generated waste.
“For many years, Israel has been taking advantage of its power as occupier to transfer the treatment of waste (including hazardous waste) and sewage from its sovereign territory to the West Bank. To that end, it has created a situation in which environmental legislation in the West Bank is much laxer than inside Israel, conveniently overlooking the long-term impact of environmental hazards on the Palestinian population and on natural resources, and neglecting to prepare future rehabilitation plans. This has created a financial incentive to transfer the treatment of environmental hazards from Israel to the West Bank. The Palestinians who live in the occupied territory are the ones to pay the price for this environmental damage, even though they were never asked their opinion on the matter and although, as a population under occupation, they have no political power and no real ability to resist.”
B’Tselem also takes aim at the European Union (EU), which has invested millions in the implementation of the Isareli Ministry of Environmental Protection’s 2030 strategic plan, of which the waste-to-energy treatment plant is a part. B’Tselem writes:
“In 2019, Israel and the EU signed an agreement as part of the EU’s twinning instrument, which establishes cooperation with the EU’s neighboring countries, guaranteeing Israel approximately 1.5 million euros over the next two years to support the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s implementation of its 2030 strategic plan. In the agreement, Israel committed to creating a legal framework that adopts European practices and standardization for sustainable waste treatment. As in every agreement between the EU and Israel, it contains a territorial clause that stipulates that it will not apply beyond Israel’s 1967 borders. Yet the EU’s support for the ministry’s strategic plan – which defines the establishment of the plant at Ma’ale Adumim as a goal and presents the exploitation of West Bank land to resolve environmental problems as a matter of course – empties this annex of meaning. By supporting this plan, the EU will be supplying Israel with knowledge and experience that will help deepen its exploitation of Palestinian land resources and bolster the economic status of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.”
Israeli political figures appear to be done waiting for a new government to be formed before acting on the loud signals from the Trump Administration supporting Israeli annexation of West Bank land.
On November 4th, Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked filed a bill with the Knesset to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley, the Ma’ale Adumim settlement just east of Jerusalem, and all 22 settlements and 75,000 Israeli settlers in what is broadly termed the Etzion “settlement bloc” located south of Bethlehem. Shaked’s bill calls for Israel to “apply sovereignty” to these settlements, which in practice would constitute the annexation of the settlements. Applying Israel law to areas outside of Israel’s sovereign borders is de facto annexation, as FMEP has explained and documented.
Shaked urged expeditious consideration of the bill, saying:
“There is a diplomatic window of opportunity and willingness on the part of the US for this kind of annexation that will not return. We cannot afford to hesitate or wait. We must take advantage of this window of opportunity immediately and begin to apply sovereignty over these areas. It is for this reason that the State of Israel cannot be dragged into another election cycle.”
“It’s time to make the residents of the Jordan Valley legal Israeli citizens, thus kick-starting the development and prosperity of the region.The communities of the Jordan Valley and their residents are a strategic resource of the highest order for Israel. There is a wide consensus today about the region, following the long-awaited U.S. president’s recognition of the Golan Heights as under Israeli sovereignty. It is time to do the same with the Jordan Valley. After Blue and White leader Benny Gantz proposed to do the same, I call upon him and my fellow party members to support my proposal.”
In March 2019, ahead of the first round of Israeli elections this year, leaked reports suggested that U.S. diplomats were engaged in discussions with Israel about the latter’s intention to annex several “settlement blocs” – even more so-called blocs than called for by Shaked’s latest plan – following the elections. The reports were not corroborated by U.S. sources, but in the intervening time U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has made repeated statements to the press (in addition to speculative reporting about a forthcoming U.S. political plan) in support of Israel’s right to annex territory in the West Bank – cues the Israeli government has enthusiastically welcomed. In the lead-up to the September elections, Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley should he be reelected, a plan endorsed by his rival Benny Gantz and supported by then-U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.
As a reminder, over the years there has been no shortage of attempts to normalize the idea that Israel will retain “settlement blocs” in any negotiated peace agreement — logic that originally applied narrowly to the Etzion bloc (defined on much less expansive terms), Maale Adumim, and, in the eyes of some, Ariel. The terminology has been exploited for decades by the Israeli government to convey legitimacy to building in the so-called “blocs.” Over the years the definition of what is a “bloc” has been twisted to include a much larger idea of the Etzion bloc, as well as the entire Jordan Valley. The implied idea regarding what the blocs are and the fact that they are inarguably Israel’s to keep, is incredibly misleading. The term “settlement blocs” has no formal definition or legal standing, and the future of the blocs – no matter how they are defined – is indisputably a matter at the heart of what will one day be negotiations aimed at a two-state solution (if there is ever to be such a solution). For more context, see resources from Americans for Peace Now here and here. (NOTE: A Haaretz investigation last year estimated that a total of 380,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, of which 170,000 live outside of the so-called blocs, as defined by Haaretz).
On November 1st, Israeli Minister of Transportation Bezalel Smotrich unveiled a new government plan to advance Israeli “sovereignty through transportation.” The plan calls for massive investment (USD $283 million) in new/expanded roads and rails lines, for the express purpose of more seamlessly integrating Israeli settlements into Israel proper. Smotrich made clear that his ultimate goal is the complete integration of the West Bank into the national planning mechanisms of Israel proper. The move will erase the government’s current distinction between transportation projects in the West Bank (across the Green Line) and Israel proper [fun note: the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an official map posted on its website entitled, “Transportation and Built-Up Areas” that includes the entire West Bank as part of Israel).
Touting the significance of his plan, Smotrich said:
“I do not give preference to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] but also am not willing to continue the discrimination. These areas will receive treatment just like anywhere else in Israel. While it is only about roads and trains, it has political significance.”
Smotrich created a new bureau for “Judea and Samaria Planning” within the Transportation Ministry to oversee the implementation of this project, and more generally ensure that the ministry is geared towards serving the settlements as a matter of normal business. The institutionalization of such bureaucratic structures within the Israeli government is a significant, and often overlooked, mechanism by which the Israeli government has been engaging in annexation for years. The new bureau – much like parallel structures former Minister Ayelet Shaked set up in the Justice Ministry – is a formal and public statement that the Israeli government is pursuing (and allocating resources to) annexing the settlements.
It should be noted that Israel has used infrastructure projects in the West Bank to advance its settlement agenda, and to further fragment Palestinian life – two completementary goals powerfully explained by B’Tselem in a recently released interactive: “Conquer and Divide: The Shattering of Palestinian Space by Israel.”
FMEP tracks developments related to the ongoing annexation of West Bank land in its Annexation Policies Tables.
On November 6th, Israeli Cultural & Sports Minister Miri Regev announced new government funding for film projects initiated by Israeli settlers. According to the guidelines, the new funding will support Israeli citizens living in West Bank settlements who want to make documentaries and films.It is widely understood that the goal is to encourage the creation of more pro-settlement propaganda.
Celebrating her new initiative, Regev essentially admitted that annexation was her motive, saying:
“I made a promise and I am keeping my promise! We are making history today. The Culture and Sports Ministry will support the regional production of films in the north, and for the first time in Judea and Samaria too, and in the hope that in the near future also in the south… The wheels of cultural justice, which bring to expression the range of voices in Israeli society, have worked quickly and now another stage in correcting the cultural map in Israel has been completed. The artists from the periphery, the north and from Judea and Samaria, will become more and more in the center of things, not just on stage but also on the screens. Soon we will allow them to express their ability and talent.”
One critic of the fund, Israeli producer Liran Atzmor, nailed why the new fund is highly problematic and a tool of de facto annexation:
“Setting up a fund that supports filmmaking in the occupied territories with Israeli taxpayers’ money amounts to creeping annexation, which is happening in many areas, obviously, but is happening now more forcefully in the realm of culture, thanks to this fund. As long as the fate of those territories has not been determined, one cannot accept the fact that public funds are distributed there to people of only one color, one nationality and one religion.”
Shlomo Eldar writes:
“…And that is the whole point, to show life in the settlements in a positive light, as a Zionist enterprise glorifying the State of Israel. Head of the Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan described the fund as a ‘giant piece of good news. … I believe this move will bring the story of Judea and Samaria to the big screen. … I call on all artists to take part in this party, to come and film in Judea and Samaria and tell its story, so that we can present the public with other faces and other stories that have yet to be seen on the screen’.”
Libby Lenkinski, Vice President of the New Israel Fund, explained in a tweet:
“Creeping annexation and normalization of settlements is not just happening on the land, it’s also a narrative strategy that uses arts and culture funding to move forward. #StopAnnexation”
Despite delays and scandals, the sparkling new medical school at Ariel University has officially launched its first school year, with a ceremony attended by a who’s-who of settlement financiers and supporter rejoicing in the opening of the school and in the implications of its opening for the Greater Israel enterprise.
Dr. Miriam Adelson and her husband, Trump-backer/U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, were in attendance. The Adelsons donated $20 million to the medical school, which was named after Miriam. Addressing the crowd, Dr. Adelson said:
“In Israel, being Israel, we also had to withstand our tribulations. In Israel, being Israel, there were opponents who tried to block the establishment of a critical institution on ancient Jewish land and to deny us legitimacy. But we won, Zionism won, the truth won.”
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman recited the “shehecheyanu,” a prayer of gratitude to God, as part of his speech, also exclaiming:
“A new medical school has opened in Samaria. It’s worth saying that again: A new medical school has opened in Samaria! How many people ever thought those words would be spoken?…The United States Embassy enjoys warm relations with Ariel University, and we are inspired by its contributions to Israeli society and to the scientific world.” [NOTE: “Samaria” is a biblical name used mainly by settlers and their allies to refer to the northern part of the West Bank]
MK Naftali Bennet put an even finer point on the significance of opening a medical school in Ariel settlement, saying:
“No longer is there a Green Line. We are one [united] Israel and that is how it should be. We are going to serve everyone here.”
There are 70 Israeli students enrolled to attend the settlement university. Even though classes are set to begin, the medical school still does not have an approved budget for the 2020 school year.
As a reminder, the Ariel settlement is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces. Nonetheless, in February 2018, the Israeli Knesset passed a law extending the jurisdiction of the Israeli Council on Higher Education to universities in the settlements (beyond Israel’s sovereign borders) – an act of de facto annexation. The law was necessary to ensure that the Ariel settlement medical school (and its graduates) would be entitled to all the same rights, privileges, and certifications as schools and students in sovereign Israel. FMEP has tracked this process, and all other annexation policies in its Annexation Policy tables. A fuller history of the Ariel Medical School saga can be found here.
David Elhayani was narrowly elected to serve as the next Chairman of the powerful settler Yesha Council – an umbrella body representing all the settlement regional councils. Elhayani is a well known personality, having served for 10 years as the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council (a quasi municipal body serving the needs and interests of settlements in the Jordan Valley).
The Times of Israel’s settlement correspondent Jacob Magid explains the relevant politics involved behind Elhayani’s narrow victory over Yigal Lahav, a younger, more radical voice:
“Elhayani and Lahav represented opposite sides of an intensifying rift between an older generation of settler leaders that is closely aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a younger group of council chairmen who believe in acting more aggressively on behalf of the movement, even if that means being at odds with right-wing governments that the Likud chief has led. Elhayani, from the old-timer’s camp, edged out Lahav 13-12 after the votes of 24 West Bank council chairman plus settler elder Zeev ‘Zambish’ Hever were counted.”
Elhayani addressed the dynamics of the old guard (of which he is a part) vs. new, more radical, guard ahead of the elections, saying:
“There’s a crisis of trust in the Yesha Council where many council chairmen don’t see the body as being capable of serving the needs of their residents. Many council chairmen don’t show up to Yesha meetings at all.”
Elhayani promised a more “aggressive” demeanor so that those the Council represents will see that they “finally have someone who will fight for them.” So, despite being what some settlers may consider the “mainstream,” i.e. less willing to aggressively challenge the perceived slow-walking of settlement expansion and annexation by the Israeli government, Elhayani is still best understood as an ideologue in his own right.
Ahead of the vote, Elhayani did offer strong criticism of what he sees to be the Isareli government’s discrimination against the settlements, saying that he will fight for better “quality of life”for the settlements – making infrastructure as a core part of his agenda:
“Our residents are sick of the poor infrastructure that has led to power outages, water shortages and traffic jams. It is the responsibility of settler leadership to provide adequate services. You cannot improve quality of life until you improve infrastructure. We still need to be aggressive in demanding infrastructure improvements in the meantime, in addition to preventing a Palestinian takeover of Area C so that there will be something to [annex] when the time comes.”
Israeli Official Calls on Evangelicals to Defend Settlements, Fight BDS, and Support “Economic Peace”
Speaking to an audience of leaders in the evangelical media world, a top Netanyahu aid asked the crowd to join Israeli government efforts to defend the legitimacy and permanence of the settlements, and coached the crowd on how to frame settlements in a way that advances their normalization.
This was the third annual “Christian Media Summit” hosted by the Israeli Government Press Office to develop the group into “ambassadors for Israel.” According to Haaretz, the 2019 event was attended by approximately 150 journalists, mostly from the United States, working for Christian media outlets from 30 different countries. Entitled, “Between Jerusalem and the Golan: International Recognition,” the event featured addresses by Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. U.S. Ambassador David Friedman attended as well.
Speaking to the group, Deputy Chief of Foreign Affairs Reuven Azar said:
“The return of Jews to Judea and Samaria is not a curse, it’s a blessing for all the residents of the area…Calling for their expulsion is a recipe for destruction and for chaos… Look what happened when we went out of Gaza. Our presence in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and in Jerusalem brings stability… because we bring security by fighting the bad guys…We must partner in embracing our brothers and sisters who live in Judea and Samaria, and fight against those who claim their presence is illegal, or try to dehumanize them through different means. Help us to fight boycotts, they are not just, and they hurt us and they hurt our neighbors even more. ‘The revival of the Jewish people in the land of Israel is a divine promise being fulfilled…It is a blessing for our people, our region, for the world. A force for good, a force for peace, prosperity and happiness’.”
Following his remarks, the Front for the Protection of Democracy – an Israeli NGO – filed a complaint with the Civil Service Commission seeking disciplinary action against Azar. The Prime Minister’s Office quickly came to Azar’s defense, saying: “Political adviser Reuven Azar expressed government policy.”
Azar repeatedly referred to settlements as “communities” – a term that erases the illegality of those “communities” under international law. This pro-settlement framing was recently endorsed by outgoing U.S. advisor Jason Greenblatt. Azar also touted the now familiar but Orwellian claim that settlements are an economic gift to the Palestinians, claiming that “communities [settlements] in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] provide opportunities, and jobs…” Azar invited the audience to visit the Barkan industrial zone, stating: “The best paying jobs for Palestinians are in Barkan.”
As FMEP has previously explained, for decades Israel has used industrial zones as another tool to expand and deepen control over West Bank land and natural resources. Industrial zones perpetuate Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources), and that it is Orwellian to label such initiatives as “coexistence” programs, or to suggest that they offer the Palestinians benefits they should welcome. Importantly, jobs in industrial zones – often the only jobs available for Palestinians living under an Israeli occupation that prevents the development of any normal Palestinian economy – are widely viewed by Palestinians as a double-edged sword.
- “Five Settlers Arrested on Suspicion of Attacking Israeli Policemen at West Bank Outpost” (Haaretz)
- “Israel’s Right New Bank – The Jewish National Fund” (Haaretz)
- “Why did Microsoft fund an Israeli firm that surveils West Bank Palestinians?” (NBC News)
- “Israeli Schools Teach Pro-settler Religious Nationalism Is the Only Way to Be Jewish” (Haaretz)
- “A Wall, Arrests and Close Surveillance: How Israel Fences in a Palestinian Family” (Haaretz)
- “Hilltop Youth Battle The IDF Over Expulsion Order “ (JNS)
- “Welcomed, then Attacked by Yitzhar” (New Voices)
Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
July 5, 2019
- With a Sledgehammer in Silwan, U.S. Officials Legitimize Radical Settler Agenda & Offer De Facto U.S. Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty over East Jerusalem
- For the Second Time, Jerusalem District Court Accepts “Market Regulation” Principle as Basis For Seizing Privately Owned Palestinian Land for Settlements
- Settlers, Anticipating Victory on Area C Annexation Push, Expand Annexation Campaign to Include (de facto) Extension of Israeli Control Into Area B
- U.S. Owners of “Duty Free Americas” Are Sending Millions to the Settlements/li>
- U.S. Envoy Greenblatt Prefers to Call Settlements “Neighborhoods and Cities” Because International Law is Not “Clear Cut”
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
With a Sledgehammer in Silwan, U.S. Officials Legitimize Radical Settler Agenda & Offer De Facto U.S. Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty over East Jerusalem
In a gratuitous political stunt that represented an unprecedented statement of U.S. support for Israel’s assertion of sovereignty over East Jerusalem, as well as for agenda of radical right-wing Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem, on June 30, 2019, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Special Representative Jason Greenblatt participated in a highly provocative ceremony at an archeological site in East Jerusalem. The ceremony marking the “opening” of what Israel has dubbed the “Pilgrim’s Road”- an excavation project initiated by the radical settler group Elad beneath the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem adjacent to the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif.
In response to widespread condemnation of his role in the ceremony (which, among other things, was protested by the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now), Friedman made his support for Israel’s claim over East Jerusalem even more explicit. He said:
“The City of David brings truth and science to a debate that has been marred for too long by myths and deceptions. Its findings, in most cases by secular archaeologists, bring an end to the baseless efforts to deny the historical fact of Jerusalem’s ancient connection to the Jewish people. It brings to life the historical truth of that momentous period in Jewish history. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians must be based upon a foundation of truth. The City of David advances our collective goal of pursuing a truth-based resolution. It is important for all sides of the conflict…The City of David is an essential component of the national heritage of the State of Israel. It would be akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty.”
Peace Now said in a responded:
“This is no less than American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the sensitive area of the Holy Basin, contrary to the American position throughout the years since 1967. The Trump Team chooses to strengthen the hold of the settler fringe in the sensitive area of the Holy Basin instead of advancing a conflict-ending peace agreement. The tunnel, the way it was dug and its geo-political ramifications, are trampling on the reputation of Jerusalem as a city sacred to all religions and belonging to all its inhabitants. It is part of the transformation of Silwan into a Disneyland of the messianic extreme right wing in Israel and the United States – just steps from the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount.”
Raising the ignored (by Friedman, Greenblatt, et al) issue of the project’s impact on Palestinians living above the excavation site, the Haaretz Editorial Board wrote, in a piece entitled “Settlers in the White House,”:
“The participation of American diplomats at an event sponsored by a right-wing group in East Jerusalem constitutes de facto recognition of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem’s historic basin…This recognition doesn’t just put the American administration on the extreme right of the Israeli political map – thus undercutting the claim that American can be an unbiased broker between Israel and the Palestinians – but it also ignores the complicated reality in Silwan, East Jerusalem and the entire region. The tunnel, which was excavated using controversial methods from a scientific standpoint, harnesses archaeology to politics while ignoring the nuances of Jerusalem’s ancient past. But the main problem is that excavating under the street blatantly ignores what’s happening at street level. In Silwan alone there are 20,000 Palestinians without citizenship or civil rights, who justifiably feel that this archaeological project is aimed at forcing them out of their neighborhood. Surrounding Silwan are another 300,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, also without rights.”
Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – a group of expert archaeologists – said in a statement:
“The use of archaeology by Israel and the settlers as a political tool is a part of a strategy to shape the historic city and unilaterally entrench Israeli sovereignty over ancient Jerusalem. It is a process which is likely to produce devastating results for both Israel and the Palestinians. It is inexcusable to ignore the Palestinian residents of Silwan, carrying out extensive excavations of an underground city and to use such excavations as part of an effort to tell a historic story that is exclusively Jewish in a 4,000 year-old city with a rich and diverse cultural and religious past.”
Greenblatt – who is not an archeologist, punched back with a tweet suggesting that Emek Shaveh “NGO seems to misunderstand the meaning of ‘archeology.’”
The Palestinian Authority said in a statement:
“We consider the participation of (US Mideast Envoy) Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman to be criminal collusion in the commission of a war crime that must be condemned as well as universally and unequivocally confronted.”
Elad launched its excavation of the “Pilgrim’s Road” in 2007, with the full support of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). For more background on the tunnels and how radical Israeli settlers have exploited excavation, tourism, and the ancient character of Jerusalem in order to serve their ideological agenda – see the comprehensive reporting by Emek Shaveh.
For the Second Time, Jerusalem District Court Accepts “Market Regulation” Principle as Basis For Seizing Privately Owned Palestinian Land for Settlements
In June 2019, Judge Carmi Mossek became the second district court judge to accept the “market regulation” principle as a valid legal basis for retroactively legalizing settlement buildings that were built on land that even Israel recognizes is privately owned by Palestinians. The case in question revolves around four buildings in the Alei Zahav settlement that are partially built on Palestinian land, as revealed by the results of a land survey in 2016 by the Israeli “Blue Line” team (a team whose purpose is to survey the West Bank in order to find more land onto which Israel can expand settlements).
According to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit – who first promoted the use of the “market regulation” principle – the principle can only be applied to cases in which all parties involved in the “accidental” construction can demonstrate that they acted in “good faith,” – e.g., with support from the State and without knowing the land in question was privately owned Palestinian land (an argument which of course ignores Israel’s responsibility under international law to protect the property rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation).
In this latest case, the state argued that the “market regulation” principle provides a basis for legalizing settlement construction that was “accidentally” built on privately owned Palestinian land in the Alei Zahav settlement. The judge accepted this argument, despite the fact that the High Court of Justice is still considering the validity of “market regulation” as a legal principle. Depending on how the High Court rules, the “market regulation” principle could pave the way for Israel to expropriate Paelstinian land across the West Bank instead of returning it to its legal owners in order to retroactively legalize as many as 3,000 settlement units. In her ruling, Judge Mossek agreed with the State that the settlers’ “good faith” entitles them to be recognized as the legal owners of the land. Jude Mossek gave the state until September to complete the administrative process of retroactively legalizing the houses.
The first case the state of Israel brought forward to test the “market regulation” principle, relating to the Mitzpe Kramim outpost, made clear that “good faith” is in the eye of the beholder, and that when the beholder is the state of Israel, there is a readiness to stretch and twist the meaning of the term “good faith” well beyond any reasonable understanding of the term. That case is the one currently being considered by the High Court of Justice.
Settlers, Anticipating Victory on Area C Annexation Push, Expand Annexation Campaign to Include (de facto) Extension of Israeli Control Into Area B
Settlers recently sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu asking him to stop Palestinian construction taking place in Area B of the West Bank, arguing that the construction is too close to Israeli settlements in Area C. As defined in the Oslo Agreements, Area C is 60% of the West Bank that Israel retained civil and security control over; Area B constitutes 22% of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority has civilian control, but Israel exerts control over all security matters.
This new plea from the settlers is a dangerous – but predictable – extension of the settlers’ success in pushing for Israel’s unilateral annexation of Area C, a demand which is increasingly validated in the official discourse of both the Netanyahu government and the Trump Administration. It is consistent with a tactic that has, for decades, served the settlers well: as settlements (by various means) expand ever-closer to Palestinian built-up areas, and ever-deeper into the West Bank, settlers complain that the close proximity of Palestinians threatens their security, and demand that the IDF take action (leading to road closures, land seizures or closures for “security reasons,” “temporary” seizures of homes for IDF use, etc).
In their plea to stop Palestinians from building on land that even Israel recognizes belongs to them, and that under Oslo is under Palestinian civilian control land, the settlers argue:
“This is a construction that seriously harms the personal security of every Israeli living in the communities of Gush Shilo and especially in Amichai, and the public expects the cabinet to wake up, take responsibility and stop this thing immediately.”
An Associated Press investigation revealed that family that owns the highly profitable and ubiquitous retail chain “Duty Free Americas” is a major source of financial support for some of the most radical settler groups in Israel. According to documents uncovered by the Democratic Bloc, the Florida-based Falic family is the single largest donor to Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and has given over $5.6 million to settler groups over the past decade. These donations have included:
- $1 million to projects associated with the radical group Ateret Cohanim, which is focused on taking control of property in East Jerusalem, especially in the Old City, including by means that are morally and legally questionable;
- Roughly $600,000 to “Hachnasat Orchim Hebron,” an organization that brings tourists to visit radical settlers living in downtown Hebron enclaves. The group was founded by Baruch Marzel, who served as an aid to the ultra-nationalist and racist leader Meir Kahane; Marzel is still listed by name in the CIA World Factbook as a leader of Kach/Kahane Chai, which are U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. In addition to bringing tourists to the settlers, the group also distributes snacks to Israeli soldiers who protect the radical enclaves;
- Funding to organizations that call for Israel to take control over the Temple Mount, tear down the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and build a synagogue in their place (the “Third Temple”);
- Support for a winery inside the Psagot settlement. The Psagot winery – as is the case with other settler-run wineries in the West Bank and the Golan Heights – is complicit in advancing and normalizing the settlements through tourism;
- A biblical theme park inside of the Shiloh settlement;
- In 2014, the Falics donated to the construction of a synagogue and mikveh (a ritual bath) in the unauthorized Kerem Reim outpost. Since then the Israeli government retroactively legalized the Kerem Reim outpost;
- $50,000 to an organization that acts as a fundraising arm on behalf of Lehava, an extremist, openly-racist Israel organization that advocates against Jewish-Arab couples and assimilation in Israel. Lehava is often is accused of using intimidation and even violence.
While the Falic family’s tax records disclose many causes their family foundation supports, when it comes to most of their donations to Israel-based groups, that money appears to be channeled via Panamanian-based companies, through the family’s Israel-based Segal foundation (whose name is a Hebrew acronym based on the Falic brothers’ first names). This arrangement – which the family states is because one of the Falic brothers lives in Panama – allows for next to zero transparency regarding where the money ends up.
Ran Cohen of the Democratic Bloc, an Israeli NGO which did key research for the AP investigative story on the Falic family, told FMEP:
“Unfortunately, the Falic family story is just another example in a wider picture of private American funding that goes to support racist and anti-democratic trends in Israel. Many of these supporters maintain a public face as Israel-loving philanthropists, when in fact, they fuel some of the most dangerous, extreme, and racist agendas in Israel. We at the Israeli Democratic Bloc, took upon ourselves the mission to research , educate and systematically expose those who threaten Israel’s democratic space”
MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash-Ta’al) said:
“The Falics donate to racist organizations preserving the ‘purity of the Jewish race’ and to the most violent segregationists settling in Hebron and East Jerusalem. The settlements cannot exist without the support of extremist capitalists from the US, these donors must be exposed.”
This revelation is the latest in a growing body of investigative work into previously secretive channels of U.S. money flowing to Israeli settlements and extremists. In January 2019, the American NGO T’ruah investigated and revealed that U.S. donations were finding their way to Kahanist groups in Israel. A December 2018 investigation by Haaretz revealed that Christian groups have given up to $65 million in projects in the “Biblical Heartland” over the past decade, in addition to non-financial donations like volunteer laborers. In October 2018, journalist Josh Nathan-Kazis reported that the San Francisco Jewish Federation was using an Israeli organization to channel funds to organizations fighting to stifle criticism of Israeli policies and punish activists who engage in such criticism, particularly on college campuses. A 2017 Haaretz investigation revealed that millions of tax-deductible donations to the Jewish Federations of North America go to fund West Bank settlements.
U.S. Envoy Greenblatt Prefers to Call Settlements “Neighborhoods and Cities,” Claiming International Law is Not “Clear Cut”
U.S. Special Representative Jason Greenblatt told the audience at a conference on U.S.-Israel relations hosted by Sheldon Adelson’s “Israel Hayom” media outlet that:
“International law, UN resolutions and internationally recognized parameters are not always clear cut. They are interpreted differently in good faith by different parties and they do not provide an executable solution to this conflict…[To resolve the conflict, people have to stop] pretending that settlements, or what I like to call neighborhoods and cities, are the reason for the lack of peace.”
In fact, international law is clear. According to Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” [It is worth re-reading the whole thing to grasp the scope of Israel’s violations of international law in its conduct in the territories it occupied in 1967). Amnesty International also notes that:
“The extensive appropriation of land and the appropriation and destruction of property required to build and expand settlements also breach other rules of international humanitarian law. Under the Hague Regulations of 1907, the public property of the occupied population (such as lands, forests and agricultural estates) is subject to the laws of usufruct. This means that an occupying state is only allowed a very limited use of this property. This limitation is derived from the notion that occupation is temporary, the core idea of the law of occupation. In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the occupying power ‘has a duty to ensure the protection, security, and welfare of the people living under occupation and to guarantee that they can live as normal a life as possible, in accordance with their own laws, culture, and traditions.’ The Hague Regulations prohibit the confiscation of private property. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the destruction of private or state property, ‘except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.’”
In addition to Greenblatt’s fawning over the settlements, Dr. Miriam Adelson also drew headlines for her speech in which she speculated that there might eventually be a “Book of Trump” added to the Bible in recognition of what Trump has done for the state of Israel. Adelson got the love right back, in the form of a remarkably candid comment from former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley (who many speculate is the Adelsons’ chosen candidate to succeed Trump). During a public interview in Jerusalem conducted by Miriam Adelson, Haley noted: “A lot of the strength the U.S. is showing for Israel, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson played a very big part in” [As noted by FMEP’s President Lara Friedman: “If a critic of Israel said this, they’d be instantly accused of antisemitism…”]
- “How TripAdvisor is Fueling Human Rights Violation is Khirbet Susiya” (Amnesty International)
Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
February 15, 2019
- Israel Announces Plan to Retroactively Legalize Settlement Units Built on Privately Owned Palestinian Land
- Jerusalem Planning Authorities Are Quietly Advancing Sensitive Settlement Projects in East Jerusalem
- Peace Now Files Appeal Against Settler Land Grab for New “E-2/Givat Eitam” Settlement
- Peace Now Petitions High Court to End Flow of Public Funds to Settler Organization
- AG Paves Way for Ariel Medical School to Open, Despite Rejection by Key Committee
- Following Expulsion of International Observers, Emboldened Settlers Attack Palestinians
- Yitzhar Settlers Attack Palestinian School, So IDF Restricts Palestinian Access to Roads to Allow Yitzhar Settler Protests
- NEW: Ir Amim Publishes 2019 Map of Settlement Projects In and Around Jerusalem’s Old City
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Israel Announces Plan to Retroactively Legalize Settlement Units Built on Privately Owned Palestinian Land
On February 10th, the Israeli government informed the Jerusalem District Court that it plans to invoke the “market regulation” principle in order to retroactively legalize four structures in the Alei Zahav settlement – structures built on land that even Israel acknowledges is privately owned by Palestinians.
According to Haaretz, a 2016 land survey conducted by the Israeli Civil Administration discovered the existence of privately owned Palestinian land in the settlement, which older Israeli maps had marked as “state land.” After the discovery, settlers went to court to sue the World Zionist Organization (which was allocated the land by the Israeli government), the Israeli Defense Ministry, and the contractor who built the settlement demanding that they fix the situation. The state’s response to the Jerusalem District Court this week freezes the settler’s petition while the government’s plan is implemented.
The “market regulation” principle was identified by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit as an alternative to the settlement Regulation Law (the controversial law passed by the Knesset that, in effect, lets the Israeli government suspend the rule of law to seize privately owned Palestinian land for the benefit of settlers). Both the Regulation Law and the “market regulation” principle are designed to give Israel legal cover to retroactively legalize outposts and settlement structures that, because they are built on land that Israel acknowledges is privately owned by Palestinians, the State had been unable legalize under existing Israeli law (despite great efforts to do so). The “market regulation” principle holds that Israeli settlement construction can be retroactively legalized if it was carried out “in good faith” with government support on land that was later discovered to be privately owned by Palestinians.
The Israeli High Court is already considering a petition against the constitutionality of the “market regulation” principle, a case stemming from the State’s first attempt to implement it in order to retroactively legalize the Mitzpe Kramim outpost.
If allowed to proceed on the basis of the “market regulation” principle, the state will first have to publish an official planning scheme for the area, and allow the public (including the Palestinian landowners, as recognized by Israeli) to object. Attorney Alaa Mahajna, who is representing the Palestinian landowners involved in the case, said:
“Even without making use of the vilified expropriation law [aka the Regulation Law], the state still finds ways and uses other routes to attain the same goal, giving its legal imprimatur to robbery of land, with residents who are protected under international law.”
FMEP tracks the ongoing legislative, political, and legal transformations happening in the Israeli government to justify the expropriation of Palestinian land for the settlements in its Annexation Policy Tables.
Jerusalem Planning Authorities Are Quietly Advancing Sensitive Settlement Projects in East Jerusalem
Ir Amim reports that East Jerusalem settlement planning authorities are advancing sensitive settlement projects in East Jerusalem through secretive and expedited processes, thereby limiting the opportunity for stakeholders and the public to challenge the plans.
For example, on February 5th, the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee discussed public objections filed against two settlement plans in Sheikh Jarrah. Both of the plans are being promoted by East Jerusalem settlement impresario and city council member Aryeh King. The committee did not notify those objecting to the plan that these proceedings were planned, and so no one objecting to the plan was present in the February 5th discussion. The plans, which would allow for the construction of two new buildings – one with 10 units and the other with 3 units – would involve the eviction of 5 Palestinian families from buildings that would be demolished.
On February 17th, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee will consider the Glassman Yeshiva project – a plan to build a Jewish religious school, including dormitories, at the entrance to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Ir Amim reports that it is unclear what the committee will do in considering the plan, since authorities have advanced the plan outside of the normal planning process, even succeeding in have land allocated for the yeshiva despite the fact that the plan was never deposited for public review (meaning stakeholders and the public have had no opportunity to object).
Ir Amim writes:
“Despite their tremendous political and environmental sensitivity, plans are now being fast tracked, some outside of appropriate planning channels and with limited public participation, in service to decidedly political considerations and with the prominent involvement of settler associations. The new map and accompanying map notes detail the numerous projects and eviction cases now advancing.”
For an explanation of how East Jerusalem settlement planning/approval is supposed to work under Israeli law and practice, see Terrestrial Jerusalem’s presentation here.
On February 7th, the settlement watchdog group Peace Now and dozens of Palestinian landowners filed a petition with the Israeli Custodian of Government and Abandoned Property demanding the annulment of the allocation of “state land” for the sole declared purpose of building the new “E-2/Givat Eitam” settlement. Rather than challenging Israel’s classification of the land as “state land,” the petition asks that the land be allocated instead for Palestinian use, challenging Israel’s discriminatory allocation of “state land” for the settlements. It builds on recent revelations that since 1967, Israel has allocated a jaw-dropping 99.8% of state land in the West Bank to settlements and just 0.2% for Palestinians.
The petition argues that the allocation of state land for the exclusive use of settlements/settlers is illegal both under the Hague Conventions and under domestic anti-discrimination laws in Israel.
Regarding the new petition, Peace Now says:
“Since the 1979 Elon Moreh ruling, no petition has succeeded in undermining the legal infrastructure that enables the ongoing expansion of the settlement enterprise. This initiative and the surrounding public struggle aims to undermine the prevailing view that “state land” in the occupied territories effectively constitutes land available for Israeli use, and to obligate the Supreme Court and the Israeli public, to address this fundamental question.”
Israel announced on December 26, 2018 that it will draft plans to build as many as 2,500 new settlement units at the Givat Eitam outpost site, creating a new settlement on a strategic hilltop that will cut off Bethlehem from the southern West Bank, completing the encirclement of Bethlehem by Israeli settlements.
The Givat Eitam outpost has been nicknamed “E-2” by settlement watchers for for its resemblance, in terms of dire geopolitical implications, to the infamous E-1 settlement plan. Located east of the separation barrier on a strategic hilltop overlooking the Palestinian city of Bethlehem to its north, the site of Givat Eitam/E-2 is within the municipal borders of the Efrat settlement but is not contiguous with Efrat’s built-up area. As such, Givat Eitam/E-2 would effectively be a new settlement that, according to Peace Now, would:
“block Bethlehem from the south, and prevent any development in the only direction that has not yet been blocked by settlements (the city is already blocked from the North by the East Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, and from the West by the Gush Etzion Settlements) or bypass roads (that were paved principally for Israeli settlers). The planned building in area E2 would likely finalize the cutting off of Bethlehem city from the southern West Bank, delivering a crushing blow to the Two States solution.”
The settlement watchdog group Peace Now has filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to stop public funding flowing to the radical Amana settler organization, which is a private, for-profit entity engaging in various illegal activities to establish and expand Israeli settlements and outposts across the West Bank.
The new petition is based on Peace Now’s investigative work revealing the substantial amount of money that has been secretly funneled to Amana through settlement regional councils. The settlement regional council budgets obtained by Peace Now revealed that money allocated to support non-profit public welfare groups was instead being used to fund Amana. Funding for Amana in this manner violates Israeli Interior Ministry policies prohibiting public subsidies for private, for-profit entities – and it is this funding that Peace Now is petitioning the High Court to end.
Peace Now’s work is backed up two separate reports of the Israeli Comptroller’s office, one from November 2017 and another from July 2018, which detailed the extent to which the Binyamin Regional Council – the largest settlement regional council – secretly funneled money to organizations engaged in illegal settlement construction. The July 2018 report revealed that the Binyamin Regional Council funneled $10 million to Amana between 2013-2015 alone.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“This grave phenomenon in which taxpayers’ money is transferred to an organization that has specialized in construction violations for decades, is against the law and regulations; an organization that works tirelessly to change reality by illegally establishing unauthorized facts on the ground, is dire and must be stopped. Only a complete cessation of this cash flow will prevent further construction rampages throughout the West Bank, and retain the opportunity for a future agreement.”
On February 13th, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that the vote last week by the Planning & Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel is a non-binding recommendation, and that the fate of the Ariel settlement’s new medical school will be determined by a final vote to be held by the council’s main body. In so doing, Mandelblit made it possible for the main body of the Council for Higher Education in Israel to vote against its own professional subcommittee, contrary to the normal practice. Indeed, Haaretz columnist Or Kashti even called it “unreasonable.”
Mandelblit said that the Council for Higher Education in Israel should reconvene to vote within the next two months in order to give the medical school, its faculty, and its students, adequate time to prepare. Haaretz reports that Education Minister Naftali Bennett – who serves as the Chairman of the Council for Higher Education in Israel – is expected to delay the vote until he is confident that he has enough votes in favor of approving the medical school.
In addition, Mandelblit also allowed the West Bank arm of the Council for Higher Education – a settler body which oversees and promotes educational institutes located in West Bank settlements (i.e. outside of sovereign Israeli territory) – to take vote on the matter. Unsurprisingly, on Feb. 13th the settler body voted unanimously to approve the medical school. It did so in a vote that was held in the final hours before that settler body was absorbed by Council for Higher Education in Israel, following a law passed by the Israeli Knesset in Feb 2018 that extends the jurisdiction of the Council for Higher Education in Israel to include schools in the settlements (an act of de facto annexation).
Weighing in on the debate, the Haaretz Editorial Board noted that supporters of the Ariel medical school – including Naftali Bennett – lobbied for the settlers’ own Council for Higher Education to be permitted to vote on the matter in an attempt to overrule the Planning & Budgeting Committee’s unfavorable decision. The Board writes:
“In a country governed by the rule of law, the [Planning & Budgeting] committee’s latest vote should have settled the matter. But Ariel University and its supporters, above all Education Minister Naftali Bennett, have ways to circumvent the committee. We will soon find out whether Mendelblit will approve this move, enabling Ariel to overcome the professional objections of the Planning and Budgeting Committee, the opposition of the other universities and Wadmany Shauman’s conflict of interest. This hasty resort to the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria – which has never dealt with budgetary issues, only ideological ones – should set off alarm bells. After the Planning and Budgeting Committee’s previous vote, approving the med school, no one demanded reaffirmation from the council. That’s not how the higher education system should operate. The Planning and Budgeting Committee steers its course, including the disbursal of its 11 billion shekel ($3 billion) annual budget.”
As FMEP has previously reported, Ariel University became an accredited Israeli university in 2012, following significant controversy and opposition, including from Israeli academics. It has since been the focus of additional controversy, linked to what is a clear Israeli government-backed agenda of exploiting academia to normalize and annex settlements. In 2018, the settlement broke ground on the new medical school, with significant financial backing from U.S. casino magnate, settlement financier, and Trump backer Sheldon Adelson. In February 2018, in an act of deliberate de facto annexation, the Israeli Knesset passed a law extending the jurisdiction of the Israeli Council on Higher Education over universities in the settlements (beyond Israel’s recognized sovereign borders), ensuring that the Ariel settlement medical school (and its graduates) would be entitled to all the same rights, privileges, and certifications as schools and students in sovereign Israel.
The Ariel settlement is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces.
In the week since Israeli Prime Minister announced that he would not renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) – in effect, expelling international observers from the city – radical, violent settlers have repeatedly harassed and attacked Palestinians, including school children. Thus far the Israeli military has failed to intervene to stop the encounters.
Following the expulsion of the observers, who previously escorted Palestinian school children on their daily commute near settlement enclaves in downtown Hebron, Palestinians formed a volunteer group to escort and protect the children. On February 10th, alarming video footage shows settlers harassing and attacking this new group as it was escorting children. In response, the Israeli army issued an order on Feb. 13th that declared the area as a closed military zone, barring the volunteers from escorting the students.
On the evening of February 12th, a group of settlers attacked Palestinian homes on Shuhada Street, the main street in downtown Hebron which Israel has “sterilized” by preventing all Palestinian vehicles, limiting Palestinian pedestrians, and relegating Palestinian foot traffic to a specific area. One Palestinian resident reported that a settler jumped onto his roof and broke into his home; the IDF had to escort the settler out, and disperse the group of settlers who were chanting anti-Palestinian threats. Video footage captured the scenes.
Yitzhar Settlers Attack Palestinian School, So IDF Restricts Palestinian Access to Roads to Allow Yitzhar Settler Protests
On February 10th, dozens of settlers from the Yitzhar settlement descended from their hilltop neighborhood to violently attack a high school in the Palestinian village of Urif. According to reports, high school students clashed with IDF soldiers who were providing protection for the raiding group of settlers. Ten students reportedly required medical care for tear gas inhalation.
The next day, on February 11th, the Israeli IDF sealed off several roads near the Yitzhar settlement to allow the settlers to assemble to protest against “the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank.”
The anti-settlement group Yesh Din recently published a report, entitled “Yitzhar – A Case Study,” chronicling the violence of the Yitzhar settlement, and how that violence is used as a strategic means to take over Palestinian land.
Ir Amim released an updated map showing settler activities around Jerusalem’s Old City.
Announcing the new map, Ir Amim writes:
“Ir Amim’s latest map, ‘Settlement Ring around the Old City, 2019,’ graphically illustrates the accelerated, intensifying chain of new facts on the ground in the most historically contested and politically sensitive part of Jerusalem: the Old City and adjacent ring of Palestinian neighborhoods. In addition to a mounting number of state-sponsored settlement campaigns inside Palestinian neighborhoods – settler initiated evictions of Palestinians, takeovers of their homes, and the expansion of settler compounds – touristic settlement sites function as key points along a ring of tightening Israeli control….These projects – including promenades, national parks and visitor centers – serve manifold purposes: They connect otherwise isolated and relatively small settlement compounds inside Palestinian neighborhoods, creating a contiguous ring of settler controlled areas; They fracture the Palestinian space, disrupting freedom of movement and breaking large neighborhoods into smaller, easier to police enclaves;While the number of ideologically driven settlers living inside Palestinian neighborhoods may still be relatively small, tens of thousands of non-ideological Israeli tourists visiting these sites serves to strengthen the Jewish presence inside Palestinian areas of the city.”