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.
September 6, 2019
- In Countdown to Election, Bibi Doubles Down on Settlements, Annexation
- 100+ Human Rights Organizations Demand Publication of UN Database of Businesses Operating in Settlements
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two weeks out from election day, Prime Minister Netanyahu has continued escalating his all-out efforts to shore up the right-wing settler vote, in two events in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu Promises “Jewish Sovereignty” Over All Settlements & Outposts
Speaking at a grade school in the Elkana settlement on September 1st, Netanyahu said:
“With the help of God we will apply Jewish sovereignty to all communities, as part of the [biblical] Land of Israel, and as part of the state of Israel.”
The Yesha Council – the umbrella group that represents all settlements in the West Bank – head Hananel Durani praised Netanyahu for the statement, saying:
“This is another step on the road to the application of sovereignty. Sovereignty is the settlement vision, one that we have dreamed of for years and which would be happy to see come to fruition as soon as possible.”
Netanyahu’s now routine call for annexing all of the settlements (outposts included) was insufficient for the “Sovereignty Movement” – a radical and increasingly influential right-wing Israeli advocacy group which started as an offshoot of “Women in Green” – said that Israel must annex the entire West Bank. In a statement, the group’s leaders suggested that anything short of total annexation of the West Bank would allow for the Palestinians to create a state, and that:
“such an entity would pose a security and strategic threat to the heart of the State of Israel, and in particular would be a serious blow to the Zionist-Jewish vision to which Israel has yearned for in its years of exile, i.e., the restoration of Israeli sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel.”
Netanyahu’s remarks drew a sharply critical response from other quarters, for very different reasons – including the fact that this was the first time Netanyahu called for “Jewish sovereignty” (elevating a racial/religious framework for annexation) as opposed to “Israeli sovereignty” (a national framework for annexation). MK Ofer Cassif (United Arab List) responded:
“Netanyahu did not talk about Israeli sovereignty over the settlements in the Occupied Territories, but about Jewish sovereignty. Make no mistake about his intentions. The prime minister has publicly declared that he is interested in apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”
A spokesperson for Netanyahu later clarified the remarks to foreign media, stating that Netanyahu did not mean to endorse the application of religious law, but of “Israeli national law.”
For first time in 21 years, Netanyahu Goes to Hebron
Netanyahu and several senior leaders in his Likud Party went to Hebron on September 5th to speak at an event commemorating the 90th anniversary of the 1929 violent riots in Hebron during which 67 Jews were murdered. The much-hyped event – hosted by the Hebron settlers — marked Netanyahu’s first visit to Hebron since 1998, and he became the first Israeli Prime Minister in history to speak at a ceremonial event at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Haram al-Ibrahimi Mosque.
The overarching message of the visit was support for the settlers and Israel’s control over Hebron, including in a grandiose speech in which Netanyahu promised to never remove settlers from Hebron:
“we are not strangers in Hebron and will remain in the city forever. We are not here to disinherit anyone, but no one will disinherit us (from here). We have come here to unite in memory, to express victory over bloodthirsty rioters who committed this horrific massacre 90 years ago. They were sure that they uprooted us for good, but they made a huge mistake.”
In anticipation of the event, settlers called on Netanyahu to use the visit to announce a new settlement in the wholesale market of Hebron. In parallel, Peace Now outlined seven compelling reasons why Israel should not build a new settlement in the Hebron marketplace, and provided a detailed history of Palestinian and Jewish histories in Hebron. Peace Now wrote:
“The irony is that the settlers claim that the 1929 massacre led to the expulsion of the Jews from the land on which the wholesale market stands, but under Israeli rule, the 1994 massacre (of the settler Baruch Goldstein) led to the expulsion of the Palestinians from the wholesale market. It now emerges that, according to the Defense Ministry’s legal advice, because of their massacre, the Palestinians are losing their rights.”
Although Netanyahu disappointed the settlers (by not announcing the new settlement), Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein – a senior figure in Netanyahu’s own political party (Likud) – did not hedge on promising annexation of Hebron. Edelstein said:
“it is time to impose sovereignty. We did not return in all out might to this place, a place where out legacy lies and where Jews have dreamed about for generations. It is time that the Jewish settlement in Hebron grows by the thousands.”
Likewise, Miri Regev, also a member of the Likud party and the current Minister of Culture, told the crowd:
“There is no better time to announce Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and no better place than here, Hebron and the Tombs of Forefathers & Mothers – the place of the first purchase of Abraham in the land of Israel. There is no better time to announce Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and no better place than here, Hebron and the Tombs of Forefathers & Mothers – the place of the first purchase of Abraham in the land of Israel.”
100+ Human Rights Organizations Demand Publication of UN Database of Businesses Operating in Settlements
More than 100 organizations penned a letter to Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, demanding the publication of a database listing businesses operating inside Israeli settlements, in contravention to international law. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on March 24, 2016 mandating the creation of the database listing the business enterprises that “have, directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.”
The signing organizations write:
“In the OPT, as in other cases of belligerent occupation, the absence of accountability has enabled the Occupying Power, Israel, to engage in activity in violation of international law in the occupied territory with near total impunity. This has allowed many private actors, including businesses, to contribute to and benefit from, sometimes unwittingly, gross human rights violations. The 2013 report of the UN commissioned International Fact-Finding Mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people, found that ‘business enterprises have, directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements’. This has detrimentally affected the lives of millions of Palestinians, depriving them of their fundamental human rights. In light of the aforementioned, and your undertaking in your letter of 4 March 2019 to the HRC President to finalize the mandated activity ‘in coming months,’ the undersigned organizations urge you, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to fully implement the mandate provided in HRC resolution 31/36, by releasing and transmitting the data including the names of companies involved in the specified activities, to the Human Rights Council, so that it may be considered at the Council’s 42nd session in September 2019, and by annually updating the Database.”
The database is meant to assist UN member states in complying with their legal obligations under international law. International legal scholar Valentina Azarova explained:
“The UN database is a mechanism to document, report, and engage primary interested parties. It does not have the mandate to adjudicate the responsibility of concerned parties, nor to act as a coercive tool of law enforcement. Thus, commentators who refer to it as a “blacklist” misrepresent it and undermine its legitimacy.”
- “Netanyahu’s Deal of the Century: Annexation in Exchange for Immunity” (Al-Monitor)
- “Education minister under fire for planning school trips to the West Bank” (Ynet)
- “Israel soldiers stop field researcher over B’Tselem reports in car” (Middle East Monitor)
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.
June 14, 2019
- Court Rules in Favor of Israeli Settler Group, Against Greek Orthodox Church, un Battle Over 3 Claiming Old City Properties
- Israel Gave German Construction Giant More Palestinian Land for Quarrying
- Settlers Retaliate Against Palestinians for Israel’s (Rare) Demolition of Outpost Buildings
- IDF Cuts Budget for Civilian Security Guards in Settlements
- New International Crisis Group Report on Israel’s Ongoing Annexation of East Jerusalem
- Shadowy Group Wants to Go After All Companies Not Currently Operating in the Settlements – Starting with McDonald’s
- European Court of Justice Issues Opinion Upholding EU Differentiation Policy
- Anger [& Joy] at U.S. Ambassador Reiterating Support for Israeli Annexation of West Bank Land
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
Court Rules in Favor of Israeli Settler Group, Against Greek Orthodox Church, un Battle Over 3 Claiming Old City Properties
Ending a nearly 16-year legal battle, on June 11th the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the settler group Ateret Cohanim has legal rights to three prized properties in strategic locations in the Old City of Jerusalem, including two famous hotels currently operated by Palestinians. Until now, the properties were owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, which had been fighting to invalidate the transactions at the root of the settlers’ claim to them.
As a reminder, Ateret Cohanim is a radical settler organization working to increase the presence of Israeli Jews living inside Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem – including in the Old City. Ateret Cohanim, along with its compatriots in the Elad settler group, is also leading efforts to take over land and evict Palestinians from their homes in the Silwan neighborhood.
The properties awarded to Ateret Cohanim by the Israeli High Court are:
The Petra Hotel, a four-story building near the Jaffa Gate, one of the key entrances to the Old City. Under the ruling, Ateret Cohanim has a valid 99-year lease with an option for an additional 99 years afterwards. The price Ateret Cohanim paid in the transaction the Church said was improper? A meager $500,000, far below market value.
The Imperial Hotel, located directly across the street from the Petra Hotel – meaning that a radical Israeli settler group now controls a substantial amount of land at a key entrance to the Old City (the Jaffa Gate). The Imperial Hotel is a two-story building. Ateret Cohanim’s lease for the Imperial Hotel is also for 99-years with an option for 99 more. The price paid in, again, a transaction the Church argued was improper and invalid? $1.25 million – far higher than the price paid for the Petra Hotel but still well below the fair market value of the property.
Beit Amziya, a building in the Bab a-Kuta neighborhood of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Ateret Cohanim paid $55,000 for this property, again, far below fair market value.
The legal battle over the properties dates back to 2004, when the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate agreed to sell the three properties to a foreign real estate company under three separate contracts. It did so not knowing that the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim was behind the transaction. News of the sales made headlines in early 2005.
Upon the revelation that Ateret Cohanim was the real buyer, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was deeply embarrassed and immediately sought to retain control of the properties. The Patriarchate alleged that the transactions involved corruption and bribery, arguing that the legal documents had been signed without permission by a finance employee. Dismissing the church’s arguments, this week the Supreme Court upheld prior rulings that the signatures on the lease documents were valid, with the finance employee acting as a legal proxy of the Patriarchate.
The Greek Orthodox Church has received significant blowback from the sale of these properties. In January 2018, Palestinians protested in Bethlehem in an attempt to block the arrival of Patriarch Theophilos III for Christmas celebrations.
In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, multi-denominational Christian leaders in Jerusalem issued a rare joint statement criticizing the Court’s action. The statement says:
“The actions of this radical group do not only mean an assault on the property rights of the Greek Orthodox Church, but an assault on the status quo protections for all Christians in this holy city of Jerusalem and deeply threatens the Christian presence in our beloved Holy Land. An attempt to undermine the presence of one church here undermines all the churches and the wider Christian community around the world. We reaffirm our belief that a vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the preservation of Jerusalem’s historically diverse society and a prerequisite for peace in this city; Jerusalem must maintain its multicultural and multi-religious mosaic character, being home to the three monotheistic religions.”
Kerem Navot has produced government documents showing that in February 2019 the Israeli Civil Administration – the arm of the IDF that is effectively the sovereign ruler over the West Bank – signed over rights to 25 acres of Palestinian land to the German construction company HeidelbergCement. The purpose? To expand the Nahal Raba quarry, located on 145 acres of Palestinian land near the Elkana settlement in the West Bank.
HeidelbergCement is the world’s largest cement producer and has a global footprint. In a comprehensive brief, the Israeli organization Who Profits details the situation of the Nahal Raba quarry and the larger context of Israel’s illegal exploitation of natural resources in the West Bank:
“The Nahal Raba quarry is a 600 Dunam aggregate quarry, owned and operated by Hanson Israel [which HeidelbergCement owns]. The quarry is located in Area C of the West Bank and is licensed by the Israeli Civil Administration. The adjacent Palestinian village of Alzawiyah owns the Palestinian land on which the quarry is situated. This land was taken by Israel’s Civil Administration after declaring it to be state land, despite the fact that it was privately owned by the Palestinian villagers in the adjacent town of Al-Zawiyah. As mentioned by Human Rights Watch in its recent report, Occupation Inc., in 2004 Israel built the separation wall in the area to encompass the quarry from the east, unlawfully diverting the route of the wall into occupied territory beyond the pre-1967 armistice line. Today, the quarry is enclaved into Israeli territory, while the separation wall separates the village of Zawiyah and its rightful owners from their land and quarry. Article 55 of the Hague Regulations (1907) establishes that ‘the occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary’ of the natural resources of the occupied territory, and therefore it is prohibited from exploiting them for commercial purposes. Moreover, Article 43 of the Hague Regulations has been interpreted as obliging the occupying State to exercise its powers for the benefit of the residents of the occupied area.”
In 2009, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din submitted a High Court petition demanding that Israel end all mining and quarrying activities in the West Bank, observing that the activity constitutes a brutal economic exploitation of occupied territory for Israel’s exclusive economic interests. In December 2011, the High Court rejected the petition, giving permission for the continuation and expansion of Israel-regulated quarrying in the West Bank. Yesh Din’s 2017 report, “The Great Drain: Israeli Quarries in the West Bank,” provides a comprehensive accounting of the damage imposed on Palestinians by quarrying activities.
Palestinians in the Einabus village woke up on June 13th to find the words “Price tag [for the] Yitzhar evacuation” spray painted on the town mosque and adjacent buildings, and several car tires were slashed. The tagged phrase suggest the settlers have taken revenge on the Palestinian village in respose to these demolition of illegally built settlement structures near the radical Yitzhar settlement by Israeli security foces last week.
Following documentation of the damage by Yesh Din, the IDF announced it had opened an investigation into the incident.
This price tag attack is just the latest in a string of violent attacks by settlers on Palestinian villages in the Nablus region. Over the past few weeks, settlers have set several fields on fire and were caught on video hurling stones at Palestinian school, homes, and cars.
Ynet reports that the IDF Central Command has informed settlements that budgetary constraints are forcing it to reduce the number of civilian guards working in several settlements across the West Bank. The reductions will see eight security outposts eliminated completely, including posts in the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron. A security officer from Kiryat Arba said in response: “This is abandonment of human life, and the Defense Ministry must come to its senses as soon as possible,”
The IDF said that:
“It’s clear to everyone the reduction in the number of guards in not ideal, but – all things considered – it’s necessary.”
In a new report, the Crisis Group provides a comprehensive overview of Israeli settlement and annexation policies affecting East Jerusalem, starting with Israeli actions in the immediate aftermath of 1967 through to present day. The report, entitled “Reversing Israeli’s Deepening Annexation of Occupation,” calls on the international community to stop Israel’s creeping annexation of East Jerusalem and reverse decades of intentional neglect designed to push Palestinians out of East Jerusalem and adjacent areas.
Shadowy Group Wants to Go After All Companies Not Currently Operating in the Settlements – Starting with McDonald’s
Following up on FMEP reporting last week, Haaretz has new details on the organization behind a new drive to ban McDonald’s from participating in the Israeli government’s tender process — because McDonald’s doesn’t operate in any Israeli settlements.
The group, named “Forum of Disabled IDF Veterans for Israel’s Security,” is not registered in Israel as a charitable organization. It thus has the luxury of operating in near total secrecy – not required to disclose who is behind the effort or funding it.
In a statement, the group made its ambitions clear:
“We want every company that isn’t interested in opening branches over the Green Line to be prevented from competing on these tenders. We’ll reach everyone.”
Sources told Haaretz that the group is made up of only a handful of activists, all of whom are disabled veterans of the IDF, and works primarily in cooperation with larger pro-settlement, pro-annexation groups like Im Tirtzu and Ad Kan. The group has hired Rosenbaum Communications to steer the campaign against McDonald’s, though the funding source for the project is unknown.
On June 13th, an advocate general for the European Court of Justice (the top court for the EU) issued a legal opinion holding that products made in the Israeli settlements must be clearly labeled as such. The ruling upholds the enforcement of European Union’s legal obligations with regard to the settlements (a policy known as differentiation). The labelling requirements, as required by EU law, necessarily distinguish between sovereign Israeli territory and Isareli settlements built illegally in the occupied territories.
The new legal opinion, which is not binding but nonetheless sets the tone for rulings to come, was issued in response to a petition filed by Psagot Winery, located in the Psagot settlement, which argues that French labelling laws discriminate against its products by requiring them to specify the origin of their wine. Rejecting that argument the advocate general stressed that EU law requires labelling products based on their true origin in order to give customers the necessary information to make informed purchasing decisions.
Psagot Winery is part of a broad global effort to blur the legal context around Israeli settlements, pushing nations to treat Israeli settlements as indistinguishable from sovereign Isareli territory.
Coming quickly on the heels of Jared Kushner’s disastrous interview with Axios, Ambassador David Friedman attracted even more outrage over his recent interview with the New York Times in which Friedman reiterated his support for Israeli annexation of land in the West Bank (a position he has held, clearly, since long before becoming ambassador). The interview sparked a barrage of media coverage, worldwide concern about the possibility of unilateral Israeli annexation of its settlements, glee among pro-annexationist lawmakers in Israel, and indignant rationalizing by American Greater Israel apologists like Alan Dershowitz.
Notably, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – who in the waning days of his April election promised to extend Israeli sovereignty over the settlements – has not commented on Friedman’s statement. Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer observed:
“The easiest way for Netanyahu to counter the settlers’ demands while keeping them in his coalition was to complain about pressure from the Americans. That was his answer every time he was asked why Israel wasn’t building more settlements or evicting more Palestinians. Friedman has taken away Netanyahu’s excuse. It is certainly no coincidence that Netanyahu — usually so quick to praise the slightest gesture coming from the Trump administration — has yet to say a word publicly about the interview. Friedman has done Netanyahu no favors. In less than 100 days — assuming the right wing/religious bloc wins another majority in 2019’s second election, which is almost a certainty — Netanyahu will be more vulnerable than ever.”
“A high-tech facelift takes the sting out of an Israeli checkpoint — but not out of the occupation” (Washington Post)
“The Fate of the Palestinians” (LobeLog)
“WATCH: What occupation looks like in the Jordan Valley” (+972 Mag)
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.
April 12, 2019
- In Largest Settlement Surge Since Trump, Israel Advances Plans for 3,659 Settlement Units – Including Plan to Retroactively Legalize the Haresha Outpost
- Housing Ministry Publishes Tenders for 956 Settlement Units
- Ariel Medical School Gets Approval, But Faces Two High Court Petitions
- Settlers Celebrate Right-Wing Election Victory
- AirBnb Reverses Settlement Policy
- U.S. Ambassador Friedman Touts East Jerusalem Settlement Business as “Path to Peace”
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
In Largest Settlement Surge Since Trump, Israel Advances Plans for 3,659 Settlement Units – Including Plan to Retroactively Legalize the Haresha Outpost
Following up on FMEP’s reporting last week, on April 4th the Israeli Civil Administration Higher Planning Council (the body responsible for regulating all construction in the occupied West Bank) advanced plans for at least 3,659 settlement units, including a plan to retroactively legalize homes in the unauthorized Haresha outpost.
This is the largest batch of settlement plans advanced at one meeting by the High Planning Council since President Trump took office in January 2017; previous High Planning Council meetings (which happen every three months, per a reported agreement with the U.S. Administration) advanced plans on the order of 1,000 to 2,000 units.
Of the total units advanced on April 4th, the High Planning Council granted final approval for 1,226 new settlement, to be built entirely on the west side of the Israeli separation wall. These are:
- In Beitar Illit:
- 31 new units
- A 100 room building for the elderly, or a hotel
A new pedestrian bridge over privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlers to use on the Sabbath (when observant Jews do not drive, and had to walk a long route in order to reach other parts of the settlement).
- 603 new units in Maale Adumim
- A plan to retroactively legalize residential units in the Sde Bar settlement; Peace Now has not yet verified how many units are involved in this plan. Sde Bar was first established as an outpost of the Nokdim settlement in 1998, but Israel granted full approval to that outpost, recognizing it as an educational institute and a full-fledged settlement, in 2005. Settlers recently built a residential neighborhood there without Israeli authorization. The plan approved by the council on April 4th will grant retroactive authorization to those residential settlement units.
- 289 new units in the Alon settlement, located on the Palestinian side of the separation wall within sight of the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin village that Israel is prepared to forcibly relocate. There are plans to expand the neighboring Kfar Adumim settlement to takeover the land where Khan al-Ahmar currently stands.
- 110 new units in the Givat Zeev settlement.
- 108 new units in the Etz Efraim settlement.
- 85 new units in the Karnei Shomron settlement.
Of the total units advanced on April 4th, the High Planning Council also approved for deposit for public review plans for 2,433 new settlement units, the majority of which (1,198) will be built on the east side of the Israeli separation barrier, including:
- 1000 units in Efrat
- A plan to retroactively legalize 720 units in the Haresha outpost. This is part of the Israeli government’s ongoing efforts to retroactively legalize the outpost, which hinges on Israel’s ability to build a legal access road to the outpost. The Israeli government has found several creative solutions to that problem – like building a tunnel or building a bridge – all of which will undoubtedly infringe on the property rights and livelihoods of the Palestinian land owners.
- 210 units in Shiloh – expanding the footprint of the settlement to its north
- 147 units in Ariel.
- 147 units in Mitzpe Yericho.
- 114 units in Elon Moreh.
- 73 new units in Beitar Illit (in addition to the final approvals covered previously).
- 66 units in Oranit.
- 42 more units in Givat Zeev.
- 32 units in Beit Arie.
- 7 new units in Rehelim.
- An unverified number of new units in the following settlements: Paduel, Karnei Shomron, and Elkana.
Peace Now said in response:
“Netanyahu has decided, officially or unofficially, to annex the West Bank to Israel, otherwise one cannot explain the promotion of thousands of units for Israelis in the Occupied Territories. The construction of the settlements only makes it harder to end the occupation and to get to a two states peace agreement and is bad for the Israeli interest to remain a democratic and secured state.”
On April 4th the Israeli Ministry of Housing and the Israel Lands Authority met and published tenders for the construction of 956 new settlement units, including commercial complexes; 106 tenders are for plans in settlements east of the separation barrier. These units are in addition to the 3,659 units advanced this week by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Council (discussed above).
The published tenders are:
- 250 units in the Elkana settlement.
- 195 units in the Ariel settlement.
- 118 units in the Ofarim settlement.
- 112 in the Alfei Menashe settlement.
- 111 units in the Oranit settlement.
- 62 in the Adam (Geva Binyamin) settlement, located east of the separation barrier.
- 50 in the Emmanuel settlement.
- 44 units in the Maale Ephraim settlement, located east of the separation barrier.
- 14 units in the Beitar Illit settlement
As Peace Now explains, “some of the tenders are for units that were published in previous tenders but were not sold. The new tenders mean that the government is currently seeking to promote and build those units although failed to do so in the past.”
On April 12th, the Israel Higher Education Council voted to approve a new medical school in Ariel University, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. This approval contravenes the normal practice of the council, in that it ignores a vote to reject the school by the Higher Education Council’s own professional subcommittee. The medical school is slated to open this fall with significant financing from American casino magnate (and Trump supporter/financial backer) Sheldon Adelson.
However, the High Court of Justice is set to hear a petition regarding the unusual and scandal-ridden process by which the school gained approval at various stages of the planning process. The petition was filed by two Israeli academics – Prof. David Harel of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Prof. Alon Harel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – asserting that the approval “casts a heavy shadow on the decision making process in higher education.” It is unclear how the outcome of the petitions might affect the newly approved plan to open the medical school this fall.
Settlers are mostly celebrating the results of Israel’s April 9th elections (in which West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians could not vote), which delivered incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu an opportunity to form and lead the next government.
As has come to be expected, Netanyahu made an 11th hour election pitch by promising to start the process of annexation if he was reelected. Settlers received Netanyahu’s annexation promise and his reelection with predictable enthusiasm. The Yesha Council released a congratulatory statement saying:
“This morning we can say with certainty: In the face of all the campaigns and manipulations, the people of Israel chose the right. The people expressed their loyalty to the Land of Israel and chose in favor of applying Israeli sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. We congratulate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his election, and look forward to the establishment of a strong and broad right-wing government. In the next Knesset, too, we will continue to build, expand, legalize and jointly develop Israeli communities in the region.”
Not all settlers believe that Netanyahu will deliver on his promise to annex the settlements, but generally speaking, settlers dismiss the “will he/won’t he” debate (perhaps correctly) as a political decision that does not impact the reality of their presence on the ground.
Peace Now issued a sharp statement on the election results:
“Now the settlement lobby and its re-elected backers in the Knesset are doing what they know best – extorting and manipulating to save Netanyahu from prosecution in exchange for his compliance in working toward annexation. We at Peace Now were never relying on the election to change reality, but rather see grassroots public engagement as the only way to build pressure on the government. Now that Netanyahu has let the annexation genie out of the bag with his pre-election rhetoric, we stand even more equipped to go on the offense by showing fellow Israelis the bleak future the settler lobby and its Knesset backers are leading us, and what viable alternative path Israel can take toward a more prosperous, democratic, secure future.”
On April 9th, AirBnB announced that it had reversed its decision to remove rental listings located inside of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite previously acknowledging that settlements “are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” and that the listings there “contribute to existing human suffering.”
AirBnB’s new announcement acknowledges (again) that settlements are “central to ongoing tensions,” but says it will nonetheless continue to allow those listings to remain on their website. Giving a nod to the controversial nature of this decision, AirBnB promised to donate all profits derived from West Bank settlement listings to humanitarian groups, but it conspicuously specified that these will be humanitarian groups working in other parts of the world (as opposed to with the Palestinians).
“Disappointing @Airbnb decision reverses their stance to fully respect rights. Donating profits from unlawful settlement listings does nothing to remedy ‘human suffering’ they’ve acknowledged causing. By continuing to do business in settlements, they remain complicit in abuses.”
Along with AirBnB’s policy reversal, it settled several lawsuits filed against AirBnB in U.S. courts. FMEP President Lara Friedman tweeted on this important element:
“And just like that, US courts let themselves becomes weapons used to legitimize the violation of intl law, the re-definition of ‘lsrael’ to mean ‘all the land between the river and the sea,’ & the re-definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ to mean ‘refusal to endorse/normalize occupation.’ This is part of a broader trend that very few people are paying any attention to, which is a dangerous mistake. By the time folks wake up it will likely be too late. [link to: https://forward.com/opinion/417058/opinion-the-surprising-new-battleground-in-the-war-against-palestinian/]”
“We are dismayed that Airbnb has caved to the legal bullying of Israeli settlers and re-listed properties in illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Airbnb’s decision reflects an alarming lack of commitment to human rights. When we filed counterclaims on behalf of the Palestinians who actually own the land the listed properties unlawfully sit on, we laid out the international and domestic law violations committed by the settlers, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. In backing down from its decision not to list properties in occupied Palestinian territory, Airbnb is in breach of its international human rights obligations, and is discriminating against Palestinians.”
Amnesty International – which also published a report on the complicity of online rental companies who list properties in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – said in response to AirBnB:
“Airbnb’s decision to continue to allow accommodation listings in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a reprehensible and cowardly move that will be another devastating blow for the human rights of Palestinians…Airbnb are trying to absolve themselves by stating they will donate the profits from these listings to charity, but that fails to change the fact that by continuing to drive tourism to illegal settlements they are helping to boost the settlement economy. In doing so, they are directly contributing to the maintenance and expansion of illegal settlements, a breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime under Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Airbnb had a clear opportunity to make the right decision to uphold human rights and use their influence to set a precedent in the tourism industry. Instead, they have chosen to bury their heads in the sand – ignoring blatant evidence that they are helping to fuel violations that cause immense suffering to Palestinians. Airbnb’s reversal demonstrates why we can’t just rely on companies to take the right decisions, and that we need governments to fulfil their obligations by intervening and passing laws obliging their companies to respect human rights.”
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman tweeted his support for the new Rami Levy mall, located in the Atarot settlement industrial zone within sight of Ramallah but inside the security barrier and within Israel’s municipal border, as expanded by Israel after the 1967 war.
“Great morning at the new Atarot Mall in northern Jerusalem, anchored by a Rami Levy Supermarket. Was given a tour by Rami Levy himself. Israelis and Palestinians working, shopping and doing business together — a simple path to peace!”
FMEP President Lara Friedman tweeted in response:
“Amb Friedman & co’s special notion of peace, based on racist notion that unlike Jews who for 1000s of years refused to forsake their history/narrative, Palestinians will be beaten into submission or bribed into giving up basic human demand for freedom & equal rights.”
When the Rami Levy mall opened in January 2019, FMEP explained:
“The massive new mall is the crown jewel of the shopping empire built by Israeli businessman Rami Levy, who already operates a network of supermarkets in settlements. Like all of Levy’s projects (and settlement industrial zones in general), the new mall is branded as a socially-conscience, ‘coexistence’-building business initiative, with Levy and government officials praising the fact that the new mall will attract both Israeli and Palestinian shoppers and be home not only to Israeli businesses, but to to a few Palestinian-owned/operated businesses as well.”
The ‘coexistence’ argument is dismantled by the Israeli watchdog group Who Profits, which explained:
“The Jerusalem mall would mark a new stage in Levy’s involvement in the occupation economy…[which] began with providing services to Israeli settlers and continued with the exploitation of Palestinians as a cheap labor force in his supermarkets. He now appears to be turning his attention to massive construction projects on occupied Palestinian land and the exploitation of a Palestinian captive market in the East Jerusalem…Rami Levy is in a position that would allow him establish a large mall on “virgin land” because the Israeli authorities have prevented Palestinian businesses from competing with Israelis. Levy’s plan would take advantage of the fact that Palestinians do not have other large-scale retail facilities. A flourishing market in Bir Nabala was destroyed by Israel’s wall in the West Bank. And venturing into West Jerusalem is not an option for Palestinians, most of whom live below the poverty line. Although there is every likelihood that the Israeli authorities will portray Levy’s mall as beneficial to Palestinians, there are important facts to be remembered. Palestinians entering his mall will not be exercising the right of a consumer to informed choice. Rather, they will be captive clients — belonging to an occupied people.”
- “Democracy, Israeli Style” (New York Times)
- “Jerusalem is Finally Unified, In Opposition to this Plan” (Haaretz)
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April 5, 2019
- Israel Expected to Advance Nearly 5,000 Settlement Units
- Glassman/Or Sameach Yeshiva Project at Entrance of Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood Approved for Public Deposit
- Also in Sheikh Jarrah, The Sabbagh Family Receives Another Eviction Notice
- New Settler Bypass Road Gets Go-Ahead After Deadly, Disputed Incident at Huwwara Interchange
- Settlers Are Cultivating Palestinian Farmland Taken by the Construction of Israel’s Separation Wall
- Transportation Ministry Voices New Concern About Elad’s Zipline Project in East Jerusalem
- Yesh Din Issues Authoritative Report on Israel’s “Racist Endeavor” to Retroactively Authorize Outposts
- Al-Haq Report: Israel Appropriated ‘Ein Fara Spring; TripAdvisor Now Promotes It as an Israeli Tourist Destination
- Settler Leader: “Settlements are a Bridge to Socio Economic Peace”
- Bonus Reads
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According to reports last week, Israeli planning bodies were expected to meet and advance plans for nearly 5,000 new settlement units at a meeting on April 1st. However, that meeting appears to have been delayed.
Nonetheless, it is worth reviewing the leaked details of the settlement plans slated to be advanced, of which 1,427 are reportedly set to receive final approval from the High Planning Council, including
- 603 new units in the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement just east of Jerusalem;
- 325 new units in the Alon settlement, near the disputed Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar east of Jerusalem;
- 108 new units in the Etz Efraim settlement, in the northern West Bank, one of several settlements slated to become a “super settlement” area;
- 110 new units in the Givat Ze’ev settlement just north of Jerusalem;
- 281 new units in the Beitar Illit settlement.
A subcommittee of the Israeli Civil Administration was also set to meet on April 1st (no press reports indicate that the meeting actually happened), and was expected to advance plans for 3,474 new settlement units for public deposit, an earlier stage of the settlement planning process (reminder: all stages of the settlement planning process are significant, as each step through the publication of tenders is a political act of the Israeli government). The plans slated to be approved for public deposit include plans in settlement across the West Bank, reportedly include the following settlements:
- Elon Moreh, located east of Nablus in the central West Bank;
- Karnei Shomron, in the northern West Bank;
- Elkana and Oranit, which along with Etz Efraim, are slated to become a part of a “super settlement” area;
- Ariel in the central West Bank;
- Beit Aryeh northwest of Ramallah;
- Shiloh in the central West Bank;
- Talmon north of Ramallah.
- Peduel, in the northern West Bank but on the Israeli side of the separation barrier; and,
- Mitzpeh Yericho, just west of Jericho.
Glassman/Or Sameach Yeshiva Project at Entrance of Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood Approved for Public Deposit
On April 2nd, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the Glassman/Or Sameach yeshiva project for public deposit. The plan, as FMEP has repeatedly covered, seeks to build a Jewish religious school (a yeshiva) at the entrance of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The yeshiva is one of several settlement projects set to flank the road leading into the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, designed to strengthen Israeli settlers’ hold on the neighborhood and seamlessly connect the growing settler enclave in Sheikh Jarrah with West Jerusalem.
Ir Amim warns and explains:
“[The Glassman/Or Sameach yeshiva] plan should be seen as an alarm bell in the context of Israel’s ramped up efforts to deepen its circle of control around the Old City Basin. The plan (Plan No. 68858) calls for construction of an eleven-story building with eight levels above ground and three below, including a dormitory for hundreds of students and housing for faculty, to be located at the mouth of Sheikh Jarrah. It was submitted by the Ohr Somayach Institutions, to which the Israel Land Authority has already allotted land without a transparent tender process, and approved for deposit by the District Planning and Building Committee in July 2017.”
In a detailed report on the Glassman yeshiva project, Terrestrial Jerusalem described it as:
“a clear effort to exploit Torah study to expand and normalize occupation in East Jerusalem (including by making the site politically untouchable, as it will now be linked with religious activities).”
On March 31st, the Palestinians Sabbagh family was handed another eviction notice, weeks after Israeli authorities rejected the family’s latest petition to reconsider the legal authority by which settlers are seeking to evict them from their home of 60+ years. Peace Now reports that the Sabbagh family is still attempting to delay their eviction, but is unlikely to succeed.
In a comprehensive briefing on the Sabbagh family’s protracted legal struggle, Ir Amim and Peace Now write:
“Increasingly, settler initiated, state-backed evictions of Palestinian families are being used as a strategy to help cement Israeli control over the area. Given their strategic location as gateways to the Old City, Sheikh Jarrah to the north of the Old City and Silwan to the south are the two neighborhoods under greatest pressure from Israeli settler groups. Some 150 families in these two areas alone are under threat of eviction…The Sabbagh family is only the latest family threatened with eviction in the Kerem Alja’oni section of Sheikh Jarrah. If evicted, their home will be the tenth to be seized by settlers. Roughly 30 Palestinian families are under threat of eviction and at least eleven have open court cases. Those cases were suspended pending the Supreme Court decision on the Sabbagh case; the recent removal of that stopgap could usher in a wave of new evictions. On the other side of Nablus road, in the Um Haroun section of Sheik Jarrah, an additional 40 or so families face the threat of eviction.”
The Israeli Defense Ministry announced that it approved the construction of a new bypass road to divert settler traffic around the Palestinian village of Huwwara. The new road will allow settlers to avoid the Huwwara interchange, a perpetually congested section of the main West Bank highway, Route 60, and an area that has been a site of Palestinian violence against the settlers, including a recent incident where a settler shot and killed a Palestinian teenager allegedly attacking the settler. Dubbed the “Huwwara Bypass,” the new road will be built on land historically a part of the Palestinian villages of Huwwara and Beita, which Israel seized for security reasons.
This road is one of five new bypass roads that Prime Minister Netanyahu promised to build under immense pressure from the settler lobby, known as the Yesha Council. It was one part of a massive security package that the Netanyahu government funded to the tune of $228 million in 2017. Peace Now detailed each of the five bypass roads slated for construction, and wrote:
“The planned roads…are meant to serve settlements located deep in the West Bank, which will not be a part of Israeli in the framework of an agreement according to the Geneva Initiative’s proposed border.Historically, the paving of bypass roads has led to an acceleration of the development of the adjacent settlements…Additionally, paving new roads in the West Bank entails the confiscation of private Palestinian lands. All of the roads are built due to needs of settlers rather than the needs of the Palestinians. In certain cases the roads can also be useful for Palestinians, but the majority of these roads are hardly used by Palestinians at all. This fact puts into question the Israeli legal argument behind the confiscation, as according to international law, the confiscation of lands must serve the local population, meaning the Palestinians.”
An official from the Israeli Transportation Ministry voiced reservations regarding the Elad settlement organization’s request to re-zone the “Peace Forest” as a “public use space” in order to allow for the construction of its zipline project there. At a meeting on April 1st (a previous meeting was covered by FMEP last week) to consider the request, a transportation official expressed concern that the project is a private commercial endeavor, not a public use project – meaning that the project might not be legal even if the forest were to be re-zoned for public use. The official said:
“[A zipline] constitutes commercial use: It’s not going to be operated by the municipality or a youth group. This alone is a reason not to approve the plan.”
The Haaretz report on the April 1st meeting also provides historical context on Elad’s illegal activities in the “Peace Forest” (which was established by the Jewish National Fund on privately owned land in East Jerusalem following the 1967 war) over the past 14 years. Haaretz writes:
“At first the NGO simply trespassed and built illegal structures there. But things changed and gradually various local and national bodies – including the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel Land Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the JNF – began to grant Elad assistance. This assistance has included granting building permits retroactively, allocating land to the group without a proper bidding process, and generous funding to the tune of tens of millions of shekels…Most of Elad’s current focus is on managing and developing the City of David National Park in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, and purchasing homes for Jews from the Arabs living there. But the NGO isn’t neglecting its other projects: It has been sponsoring activities in the Peace Forest since 2005, despite the fact that it has no ownership rights there or permits from the ILA (the legal owner of the land, which was expropriated from private Palestinian owners). These activities are essentially expanding Elad’s reach from Silwan into the entire historic basin of Jerusalem’s Old City, from the Mount of Olives to the Armon Hanatziv promenade (which actually consists of several different walkways, projects of the Jerusalem Foundation).”
For the past six years, Israeli farmers have been farming Palestinian land that was left on the Israeli side of the separation barrier, an area Palestinian landowners are largely barred from entering.
When the separation wall was constructed in the early 2000s, it confiscated 35,000 acres (140,000 dunams) of Palestinian land as a result of its circuitous route that snakes deep inside of the West Bank. The land between the wall and the 1967 Green Line is commonly referred to as the “seam zone.”
Kerem Navot founder Dror Etkes – who obtained aerial photography documenting settler activity in the area – explained:
“One of the same plots to which landowners are barred from entering is located west of the Palestinian village of Nuba, about 15 kilometers northwest of Hebron. Nearly half of the village’s land was lost in 1948 because it remained west of the Green Line, and with the construction of the separation barrier in the area from 2005-2006, residents lost another 1,000 dunams that remained on the other side of the barrier. Although there’s an agricultural gate on site that was supposed to be used by landowners to reach their territory to the west, their entry has not been possible since the barrier was constructed. This ‘vacuum’ was identified by the ‘Mateh Yehuda Agricultural Association,’ which cultivates vast swaths of land that were transferred to Israeli moshavim in the area, including those west of the Green Line. After a few years in which the villagers didn’t access their land, the Agricultural Association decided that it was time to take over of one of the wadis in the area.”
Etkes separately told Haaretz:
“This story allows a peek into the jungle Israel created in areas left between the barrier and the Green Line. This area, called ‘the seam’ by Israel, is gradually becoming a looting ground for anyone who can grab a plot while exploiting a reality in which tens of thousands of West Bank residents are unable to reach their lands. All this proves that the route along which the barrier was built passes mostly through the West Bank, serving political interests, as anyone with eyes in his head saw and understood as the barrier was being built.”
Yesh Din Issues Authoritative Report on Israel’s “Racist Endeavor” to Retroactively Authorize Outposts
In a new report, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din analyzes the legal pretexts Israel has created to systematically legalize outposts across the West Bank that were built in contravention of Israeli law and on privately owned Palestinian land.
The report reviews and rebutts the findings of the “Zandberg Report” – which (approvingly) outlined various legal tactics and tools the state can use to save those outposts.
Yesh Din found that the Zandberg Report’s recommendations allow for 99% of all unauthorized outposts to be retroactively approved within 2-3 years, anticipating that the government will declare 20 new settlements in the process.
Yesh Din’s report also examines how Israel has already undertaken the first step in this effort, by introducing the “market regulation” principle into the courts. If validated by the courts, the “market regulation” principle will provids legal cover to ‘regularize’ 2,700-3,000 illegal structures built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Yesh Din writes:
“The Zandberg Committee aids a racist endeavor whose essence is the dispossession of Palestinians from their land on the basis of ethnicity. The euphemisms used in the report and the legal terminology it employs do nothing to hide the fact that the ‘Regularization Committee’ report is, in fact, an expropriation report which provides the government more methods for normalizing and deepening the iniquity of Israel’s settlement policy: one area, the West Bank, with two populations – privileged Israeli citizens and Palestinians living under military rule, dispossessed and oppressed.”
Analyzing the Zandberg Report as an alternative to the settlement “Regulation Law,” Yesh Din states:
“The Zandberg Committee seemingly offers a more restrained framework for ‘regularization’ or retroactive authorization that purports to be less injurious than the ‘Regularization Law’ and relies on legal doctrines. In truth, however, the report cloaks landgrab, dispossession and expropriation on an extremely large scale – approaching that of the Regularization Law – in a shroud of legality.”
Al-Haq Report: Israel Appropriated ‘Ein Fara Spring; TripAdvisor Now Promotes It as an Israeli Tourist Destination
Al-Haq, the preeminent Palestinian human rights group, published a report documenting Israel’s appropriation of the ‘Ein Fara spring, located on the lands of the Palestinian village of Anata northeast of Jerusalem. The spring historically served as the primary source of drinking water and agricultural water for Anata and several surrounding villages.
Since 1967, Israel has appropriated the spring and its waters, and built five settlement on the surrounding land.
Israel renamed the spring the “En Prat Nature Reserve” and promotes religious tourism at the site, as does TripAdvisor.
“The appropriation of village lands, confiscation of water resources and continued denied access to Palestinians violates the right to self-determination, further breaches the prohibition of discrimination, the right to life including the duty to ensure access to water, the right to water, the rights of freedom of movement, the right to a livelihood, and cultural rights related to the integral use of the ‘Ein Fara spring to communal village life. Al-Haq reminds that Trip Advisor is advertising ‘En Prat Nature Reserve’ a settler tourism service, on its internet platform. Al-Haq stresses that Trip Advisor is providing an economic service for the benefit of Israeli settlements, which may amount to an involvement in settlement related activities.”
Writing in the Jewish News Syndicate, Yochai Dimri (chairman of Har Hevron Regional Council) makes a pitch for the Israeli public and elected officials to drop hopes of a “peace deal” in favor of socio-economic “co-existence” initiatives that normalize the settlements.
As FMEP has documented, this message lines up exactly with the activities and priorities of the Trump Administration, particularly with Amb. David Friedman who has been in partnership with the Har Hevron Regional Council to promote the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce as an Israeli-Palestinian business cooperative.
In a piece entitled – “Settlements are a Bridge to SocioEconomic Peace” – Dimri writes:
“The Barkan Industrial Park near Ariel is an outstanding model for collaboration between Jews and Arabs, and is the wellspring of local employment for both populations. A similar industrial area in Har Hevron is currently in the planning stages, and flourishing businesses and factories are expected to be established there to benefit the residents of Har Hevron and the Negev…The need of the hour is to expand collaborations to include health, education and other necessary areas as well—not through international initiatives, but through Israeli ones. Once Israel learns to view the settlement communities in Judea and Samaria as an asset and not a liability, as an impetus for change and not a roadblock, it will discover that they are not an obstacle to peace, but rather a bridge to achieving economic and social peace.”
FMEP’s Lara Friedman reacted to this notion in a recent op-ed:
“Last October, Friedman participated in a public event convened in the settlement of Ariel. The event, which featured Israeli settlers and a handful of Palestinians, promoted the view that the key to peace is not political agreements or negotiations. Rather, peace would come from economic and business cooperation between Palestinians (living under Israeli occupation, governed by Israeli military and military law designed to promote the interests and needs of Israel, entirely disenfranchised from the powers that control their lives) and settlers (living in settlements built on land taken from Palestinians, enjoying all the entitlements and protections of Israeli citizenship and law, and with representatives and allies at every level of Israeli government). This approach, not coincidentally, exemplifies a vision of ‘peace’ based on promises of improved quality of life for individual Palestinians, de-coupled from any pretense of helping Palestinians end an occupation that the United States no longer believes to exist, or achieve national self-determination that the United States no longer supports. Tweeting about that event, Friedman suggested that this kind of cooperation was precisely the kind of opportunity that the Palestinian people truly want and could have, if only their leadership would listen.”
- “How Israel is Working to Remove Palestinians from Jerusalem” (The National)
- “Annexation Will Free Israel from the Fake Commitment to Liberty and Equality” (Haaretz)
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June 15, 2018
- “Greater Jerusalem” Annexation Bill Back on the Agenda
- Expanding a Settlement, Suffocating a Village – Har Gilo West vs. al-Walajah
- Full Steam Ahead on 325 New Settlement Units Near the E-1 Settlement Area
- Plans for Largest-Ever Settlement Industrial Zone, as Part of “Super Settlement” Area
- Israel Admits: We Gave Settlers Part of Silwan Without Checking Who Owned It
- Despite Pay-Offs and Promises, Settlers Violently Resist Netiv Ha’avot Demolitions
- New Bill Would Hand Over Area C to the World Zionist Organization
- Settler Whistleblower: Not Concerned With Law, Only Concerned with Dispossessing Palestinians
- MK Introduces Bill to Dismantle the Civil Administration, Annex the Settlements
- Settlers Kill Knesset Plan to Complete the West Bank Barrier
- While No One Was Watching, Jerusalem Suburb Has Been Annexing “No Man’s Land”
- Bonus Reads
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Jerusalem Settlement watchdog Ir Amim reports this week that, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation (the body of Israeli Cabinet members which decides whether or not the government will endorse legislation) is once again scheduled to discuss the “Greater Jerusalem” annexation bill. Members of the Ministerial Committee have long pushed for the Committee to consider the bill – with Ministers Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) eager to secure government support for it – but Prime Minister Netanyahu intervened at the last minute to take the bill off of the committee’s October 2017 agenda, relegating the bill to political uncertainty. At the time, reports insinuated that Netanyahu blocked consideration of the bill due to international pressure. At the time the Trump Administration publicly stated it would not oppose the bill, but reportedly it discouraged movement on the bill at that time, apparently over concerns that it would undermine ongoing US efforts to engage other regional parties.
FMEP has regularly reported on the “Greater Jerusalem” bill, which was introduced in July 2017 by two members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, Yoav Kisch and Yisrael Katz. The bill proposes absorbing 19 settlements into the Jerusalem municipality (an act of incremental de facto annexation), allowing the settlements to participate in Jerusalem elections and be counted in the Jerusalem census. Earlier versions of the bill also included a clause that would have applied Israeli domestic law to these same settlements – another means of de facto annexation – but the clause was stripped from the (ostensibly) final version that the Committee is now set to consider.
FMEP continues to track the Greater Jerusalem bill in its weekly settlement reports and in its tables tracking annexation policies.
The Planning and Building Committee of the Gush Etzion Regional Council met on March 25th to discuss a 330-unit plan to expand the Har Gilo settlement onto a non-contiguous plot of land that would effectively seal shut the Palestinian village of al-Walajah. The Council’s discussion of the plan kicks off the official planning process; the next step will be a discussion by the High Planning Council and then deposit of the plan for public review.
The plan – called “Har Gilo West” – will nearly double the population of Har Gilo by building what is by all measures a new settlement on the far side of the Palestinian village of al-Walajah. Ir Amim explains:
“Though publicized as an expansion of the Har Gilo settlement, the area demarcated for the plan is clearly distinct from Har Gilo, with the Palestinian village of Walaja and the Separation Barrier positioned in between the two… In effect, along with Har Gilo, the new development would create a wall of settlement around the West Bank portion of Walaja, completing a series of steps to entirely seal the village off from its surroundings.
…In the last decade, Israeli authorities have established several dramatic facts on the ground – including completion of the Separation Barrier around Walaja and a national park built on its land – to strategically address Walaja’s obstruction of Israel’s plan to absorb the Gush Etzion bloc into Greater Jerusalem. Har Gilo West should be seen in the context of this overarching geo-political goal. It is one more measure in a series of steps to disconnect the built-up area of Walaja from its surroundings, create an isolated enclave out of the village, and enable a contiguous Israeli controlled territory from Jerusalem to the Gush Etzion Regional Council.”
FMEP has repeatedly documented various Israeli efforts to seal off al-Walajah from Jerusalem. Residents of al-Walajah have fought the growing encroachment by the nearby Etzion settlement bloc and the Israeli government’s attempt to de facto annex the bloc as part of “Greater Jerusalem.” Ir Amim explains several prongs of this effort, including a particularly unbelievable section of Israel’s separation barrier planned to almost completely encircle the village, to turn its valuable agricultural land into an urban park for Jerusalem, and construction of a highway that will connect the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem with Israeli-only bypass roads.
On June 14th, the Israeli Defense Ministry deposited for public review a plan, previously approved by Israeli High Planning Council, to build 325 settlement units in the Alon settlement, situated on the northern edge of the area slated for the E-1 settlement, east of Jerusalem. The plan includes a residential zone, a commercial area, a park, roads and public buildings.
As FMEP has reported on repeatedly, the E-1 area has long been slated for Israeli settlement construction, but plans have been continuously delayed by the Israeli political echelon – due in large part to pressure from past U.S. administrations and others in the international community. E-1 is often called a “doomsday settlement” because it will seal Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the West Bank to its east, and creating a land bridge from Jerusalem to the Maale Adumim settlement that bisects the West Bank. The settlement will render the two-state solution impossible because it would preclude the ability to draw contiguous borders for a future Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.
East Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann issued numerous warnings in 2017 that E-1 might be slated for advancement under the current settlement policy of the Netanyahu government and with no discernable counter-pressure from the Trump Administration. Seidemann warned in January 2017, “The main obstacle preventing a green light for E-1 has, until now, been wall-to-wall opposition from the international community, led by the United States (dating back to the era of President Clinton).”
According to the settler-aligned Arutz Sheva media outlet, a number of settlement municipalities have agreed to a plan to build the largest-ever settlement industrial zone — in the area where Israel is planning to unite multiple settlements into one “super settlement area.”
FMEP reported on the future “super settlement” in February 2018, when rumors first broke about the government’s plan to unite several settlements (Elkana, Sha’arei Tikva, Etz Efraim, and Oranit). FMEP covered the story again in March 2018, when Palestinians began to protest the plan. By uniting the settlements, Israel will significantly increase the footprint of developed land, allowing for massive projects like the industrial zone. The four settlements and the land between them are located in the “seam-line” zone, the area created by the weaving route of the Israeli separation barrier that was built to keep many settlements on the Israeli side of the barrier despite being east of the 1967 Green Line.
The planning of the new mega industrial zone – which will cover 2 million square meters (nearly 500 acres) near the Shaarei Tikva, Elkana, and Etz Efraim settlements – has been delayed for nearly 10 years amidst disputes between competing settlement municipalities. Now, with the consensus amongst the planners, the proposal will be submitted for approval.
The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, said:
“this is a historic move that is expected to change the face of settlement in Samaria in general and the settlements of Samaria Gate in particular. The new industrial zone is planned on an area of 3,000 dunams (340 acres) north and south of Highway 5, and it will include areas for commerce and high-tech offices, areas for regional public buildings, and industrial areas.”
With a consensus around the location and details of the planned industrial zone, Arutz Sheva speculates that construction will begin by the end of 2018. The plan includes a major upgrade to a settler transportation hub, known as the Sha’ar Shomron interchange, which is expected to be a stop on the future settler-only light rail line slated to cut across the West Bank.
Arutz Sheva also reports that settlers are ready to submit another plan for a new cemetery to be located east of the area where the industrial zone will be built, to “provide a regional response to the needs of the towns in western Samaria.”
Palestinian residents of the Batan al-Hawa section of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem have petitioned the High Court to stop the government facilitated settler takeover of a large area of their neighborhood and the eviction of 700 Palestinian residents.
In a hearing on the petition held on June 10th, the Israel government’s lawyer admitted that the State gave the land to the settler organization Ateret Cohanim without a proper investigation into the underlying legal status of the land and the buildings on it, but argued that the Palestinians’ petition should be dismissed because the land was granted to Ateret Cohanim in 2002 (intimating that Palestinians should have petitioned against the move earlier). Ateret Cohanim facilitates and encourages Jewish Israelis to settle in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Ir Amim reports that Ateret Cohanim’s takeover of land in Batan al-Hawa is, “the single largest takeover campaign in a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem since 1967.”
According to Ir Amim, 17 Palestinian families have been evicted from the homes on the land since the deed was transferred in 2002. 83 Palestinian families, approximately 700 people, remain the target of eviction. Ir Amim writes:
“This well organized Ateret Cohanim campaign represents not only the displacement of an entire community but also the direct involvement of the Israeli government in facilitating private settlement in the Old City and surrounding band of Palestinian neighborhoods. The government has acted through the General Custodian and the Registrar of Trusts (both under the Ministry of Justice) to facilitate settlers’ seizure of Batan al-Hawa, as well as increasing its security budget by 119% from 2009 – 2016 to ensure the protection of radical Jews settling in the hearts of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.”
The Haaretz Editorial Board also weighed in vehemently criticizing the Israeli government’s handling of the case. The Board wrote:
“The settlement in Batan al-Hawa is the most problematic of all the settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. It is located in the heart of a crowded inner city, weighs heavily on the residents’ daily lives and is intended to prevent any diplomatic solution with the Palestinians. Every Jewish family there needs security that costs around 1 million shekels ($280,000) a year. But the damage doesn’t seem confined to Silwan. This settlement has also corrupted Israel’s bureaucracy.
When the administrator general and state prosecutors found that the 2002 decision had been mistaken, the only decent thing to do would have been to cancel it and freeze the eviction proceedings against the Palestinian families. Instead, government clerks and lawyers are fighting for eviction along with Ateret Cohanim. This is further proof of the extent to which the settlements have corrupted public administration in Israel. Now the issue rests with the High Court. Hopefully, despite the pressure being put on the justices, they will halt the oppression and corruption.”
On June 6, Peace Now published a backgrounder, “The Systematic dispossession of Palestinian neighborhoods in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.” Back in 2016, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem produced a comprehensive multi-media backgrounder on the threat to Batan al Hawa. Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann has also published extensive background and analysis on the assault on Batan al Hawa (here and here).
Approximately 1,000 Israeli settlers and their sympathizers gathered to protest the long-planned, court-ordered demolition of 15 structures built on privately owned Palestinian land in the unauthorized Netiv Ha’avot outpost. The demolitions were completed on June 14th. Dozens of settlers barricaded themselves inside the last two structures to be demolished, some of whom hurled stones and other objects at Israeli policeman who were forced to drag them out of the buildings, resulting in thirteen injuries to police officers. Three suspects were arrested, but released a day later.
Touting the growing governmental effort to compensate the settlers of Netiv Ha’avot for paying a price for their illegal activity, several prominent leaders from the Jewish Home party joined protesters at the outpost during the demolitions, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who said:
“The evacuation is the result of a serious mistake. It began with an erroneous response from the state several years ago, but that was fixed from the root, and ended with an erroneous High Court decision. The news is that it ends here. In the past three years, we have changed the discourse. Instead of asking, ‘When are we evacuating?’ we’re asking, ‘How do we regulate?’”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also attended and said:
“Whoever wishes to raze 15 homes will receive 350 on this hill. This is a difficult evening. It is incomprehensible to the residents of the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood and to anyone who has settled the precious Land of Israel. It’s absurd. I cannot recall a legal action as irrational as this. The campaign will not be won until the prime minister abides in full and builds a huge neighborhood here on this hill.”
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) was also on hand and said:
“There’s no benefit in demolishing homes and driving people from their homes. The High Court hearing was conducted as if it was in Sodom and Gomorrah, but we won’t give in. We won’t let this keep us from settling throughout the Land of Israel.”
In contrast, Peace Now declared a partial victory against illegal settlement growth, saying:
“After 17 years of theft, evasions, delays, and manipulation, justice is being served as the private land on which the Nativ Ha’Avot outpost was built is being vacated, in line with the High Court of Justice’s ruling. We hope these evictions will send a clear message that crime does not pay, and that anyone who builds on land without authorization or even purchasing it first will ultimately be compelled to leave. Peace Now will continue to monitor all settlement construction in the West Bank, and will fight against any land theft or attempt to destroy the viability of a two-state solution.”
However – as the Jewish Home party leaders made clear – the victory is not complete, as the Netiv Ha’avot settlers have successfully waged a public shaming campaign against the government for failing to prevent the enforcement of its laws against the settlers. As reported succinctly by The Times of Israel, various arms of the Israeli government are currently working in concert to retroactively legalize the remaining structures in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost and to prepare plans for 350 new units there. In addition, the government has already rewarded Netiv Ha’avot with what is effectively a new outpost built for the settlers affected by the demolitions – settlers who will additionally receive a monetary compensation package paid for by Israeli taxpayers for their misfortune of having built illegally on land that is owned by Palestinians. For more background, see Peace Now’s comprehensive recap of the Netiv Ha’avot saga.
Peace Now reports that the Knesset is moving a bill that would transfer the responsibility of “managing” rural land in Area C of the occupied West Bank to the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), a body dedicated to the establishment and development of settlements, whose activities have been dogged by fraud and illegalities for decades.
The bill was introduced by MKs Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), Yoav Kisch (Likud), and David Bitan (Likud), and it passed through the first of three Knesset readings on June 13th. Reportedly, the bill will be put on hold for two weeks so the government has time to examine the possibility of achieving the same result through a Cabinet decision, avoiding the politics and pushback that might come in Knesset debate.
As Peace Now notes, under international law Israel, as an occupying power, cannot grant non-governmental organizations the authority to manage lands outside of its borders.
Peace Now said:
“The Knesset today approved a bill allowing five decades of land theft, delinquency and corruption under the guise of ‘unique characteristics and development of settlement.’ Despite stacks of State Comptroller reports, complaints from legal advisers and evidence of criminal offenses, the government is scandalously planning to give the biggest land thieves responsibility for managing the land distribution, which will continue to be done under the cover of darkness if the bill passes into law.”
Peace Now also provides an excellent overview of the activities the WZO has engaged in since 1968, when the Israeli government gave the organization’s Settlement Division the authority and the funding to build settlements in the occupied territory. The arrangement worked for the Israeli government, by contracting out settlement building the government found a way to escape the rules, restrictions, and transparency norms that inhibit government bodies from operating freely. Peace Now reports:
“The Settlement Division manages the land without any transparency, contrary to the rules of proper administration, without supervision, and sometimes with corruption and fraud. Thus, for example, the Settlement Division gave settlers in Amona, Giv’at Haulpana, Mitzpeh Kramim and others the rights to build on what was private land belonging to Palestinians.”
For more information on the WZO, and for background on a High Court case seeking to make the WZO’s land holdings public, see the Peace Now report. The legal issues with the WZO’s operations were highlighted in the official report by Talia Sasson, commissioned by Ariel Sharon. Also see media reports: here, here, here, and here, for example.
The Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published a comprehensive investigation into the leaders of the publicly-funded Regavim settler group. The group’s stated mission is “to ensure responsible, legal, accountable & environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation.” The investigation reveals, however, that the organization’s efforts to identify and stop illegal construction are merely a tool to dispossess Palestinians of their land.
The Investigation found, in fact, that Regavim and its leader have a demonstrable disregard for the Israeli planning and building laws that they purport to be dedicated to enforcing, evidenced most plainly by the fact that 15 Regavim officers are living in structures built on privately owned Palestinian land, some with demolition orders issued against them. These include the building where Yehuda Eliyahu, the current executive director of Regavim, lives.
The outlaw behavior of Regavim leaders is more consequential than just 15 units. The investigation also details how leaders of the group have helped to illegally establish settlements at the cost of Palestinians. Yediot Ahronot reports:
“Somehow, all this doesn’t prevent the movement and its representatives from appealing to the High Court of Justice in dozens of petitions, and to successfully act as the guarantors of law and order to eliminate construction violations. Among other things, Regavim operates in sensitive areas of international interest, such as a legal proceeding following which 76 members of [U.S.] Congress recently demanded that the government not demolish Palestinian homes.” [referring to Khan al-Ahmar]
Dror Etkes, founder of the anti-settlement watchdog Kerem Navot, commented:
“Regavim’s lie holds no water: they preach action against illegal construction, but live in illegally built homes. They talk about the ‘rule of law’ as they violently transgress it. The findings exposed today indicate that Regavim is in fact an enemy of the principle of ‘rule of law,’ which its members use manipulatively to strip it of its meaning.”
J Street weighed in on the investigation, urging:
“Yedioth Ahronoth’s report underscores the long-term impact and agenda of the settlement movement. For decades, they have moved aggressively to build housing in — and push Palestinians out — of key parts of the occupied territory, with varyingly strong degrees of support from successive Israeli governments…The fanatical ideology of Regavim and the broader settler movement — along with their allies in the Netanyahu government and the Trump administration — must be confronted.”
The report and investigation was published two weeks after the Israeli High Court of Justice upheld demolition orders against the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin community, a case that Regavim and its supporters in the government (including Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who founded Regavim in 2006) have been pushing for years. MK Smotrich and Regavim are simultaneously pushing legislation like the settlement “Regulation Law,” which seeks to retroactively legalize Israeli settlement activity that does not comply with Israeli planning and building law. The Regulation Law, which FMEP has reported on extensively, will resolve the conundrum of demolishing unauthorized Palestinian building while legalizing unauthorize Israeli building by gutting the rule of law entirely.
Punctuating a busy week, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) announced that he has submitted a new bill to dismantle the Israeli Civil Administration, the governing body of the West Bank (operating under the Israeli Defense Ministry). Smotrich also featured prominently in the investigative report into Regavim (covered above), participated in the protests at the Netiv Ha’avot outpost (covered above), and saw his bill to empower the World Zionist Organization to manage Area C pass through its first reading (covered above).
According to a report by the settler-aligned Arutz Sheva media outlet, Smotrich alleged that the Civil Administration’s “lack of modern computing and mapping tools” is the real culprit behind the accidental, illegal settlement construction that necessitate legislation like the settlement “Regulation Law.”
Speaking at a conference organized by Regavim, Smotrich said:
“The Civil Administration has no normal website, no access to the public. A lot of the mistakes that led to the enactment of the [settlement] regulation law were caused by a lack of modern computing and mapping tools. There is very little organizational memory in the Civil Administration system because many of them are military personnel who change positions every two years. If I want to buy an apartment in Tel Aviv, within three minutes a document will arrive in my email. In order to sell or buy a house in Judea and Samaria, I have to enter a military base and go through an archaic system with a clerk who still works with binders and then wait for weeks to receive any documents. The bill sets a target date for the dismantling of the Civil Administration, and the Administration’s responsibilities will be distributed to the various government ministries, as already happens today, for example, in the Education Ministry. This is the right thing in terms of democracy, it is the right thing in terms of values, [and it puts us] on the path to normalization in Judea and Samaria. Also on the practical level it improves services to the citizens.”
The report on Smotrich’s new bill does not mention anything regarding the future of the Palestinians, who lives are governed, in virtually every aspect, by the Civil Administration.
Israeli settlers have successfully lobbied the Knesset to kill, for a third time, a bill to compel the Israeli government to finish building the West Bank the separation barrier. The Knesset voted to reject the bill 42-23. The government has failed to complete the construction, which began in 2002 amidst international outrage and allegations of war crimes, despite the adamant arguments of the Israeli government that the wall is a security necessity. According to B’Tselem, only 65% of the barrier has actually been erected – leaving significant gaps that seem to undermine the security logic of the barrier. Adding to that, 85% of the barrier is located inside West Bank territory, creating one form of de facto annexation of the areas on the Israeli side of the barrier, which include a long list of Israeli settlements and surrounding lands for their expansion.
In Al-Monitor, Mazal Mualem explains:
“…the right is concerned that an Israeli initiative of putting up a fence that separates West Bank settlements from Palestinian villages around them would constitute an official endorsement of a future border between Israel and a Palestinian state.”
The bill was pushed by members of the Zionist Union coalition on the left – without the support of the Joint List MKs (representing Palestinian citizens of Israel) – who stress the security imperative of closes the existing gaps. Avi Gabbay, head of the Labor Party, slammed the government’s foot-dragging, saying that delaying the completion of the barrier risks allowing the next terrorist attack Israel. Gabbay said the Netanyahu government is:
“simply afraid of settlers who don’t want to close the gaps for political considerations. These so-called political considerations damage the security of the State of Israel.”
Gabbay’s coalition partner, Tzipi Livni who heads the Zionist Union, explained the left-wing coalition’s rationale for supporting the barrier. Livni said:
“If you support the idea of two states for two people, you need to support this fence. At the beginning, we need a border between us and the Palestinians and then maybe in 50 years, when we live happily ever after, we can dismantle it. For now, this is the concept: security for Israelis but also dividing the land into two states for two peoples.”
The annexation of the West Bank land on the Israeli side of the barrier is an implicit assumption of Gabbay and Livni’s statements.
For decades, the Israeli government has expanded the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mevasseret Zion into the no-man’s land between the internationally recognized 1967 Green Line and the Israeli separation barrier. Kerem Navot, an anti-settlement watchdog, recently discovered the cross-border expansion – which is plain to see on Google maps – of the neighborhood, along with a slew of other buildings, including a water facility and a synagogue. Additionally, the Israel Land Authority is advancing plans to build 300 new homes in the northern part of Mevasseret Zion, where it crosses over the Green Line.
Dror Etkes, the founder of Kerem Navot, told Haaretz:
“It’s obvious that the planners of this neighborhood knew very well where the Green Line runs. But they chose to ‘straighten’ the line there in order to make room for a few dozen more homes. It’s only natural that the state, which for decades has been investing massive resources in seizing control of the space of a neighboring people, should also expand communities situated within the Green Line into the West Bank. The amazing thing is that any sort of effort is being made still to maintain the distinction between communities within the Green Line and the settlements, since the declared policy of most of Israel’s governments in the past five decades was and remains the very opposite.”
A spokesman for the Mevasseret Zion neighborhood – whose residents almost certainly did not know they were living in a settlement – issued a disgruntled statement regarding the discovery and the Israel Land Authority’s plan to expand the encroachment:
“The plan currently being promoted [by the Israel Land Authority] is vigorously opposed by the council and the local residents, and they are working together to block the project. The council and residents object to the plan going ahead with regard to both the areas across the Green Line and those in the permitted areas.”
- “Ex-Jewish Agency Chief Slams Fellow Settlers Over Eviction of Neighboring Bedouin” (Haaretz)
- “Israel’s New Tool for Disposessing Palestinians” (Haaretz)
- “The Silent Transfer of Palestinians from Area C” (Ynet)
***In total, the Israeli government advanced plans for 3,120 new settlement units this week alone. Details, along with additional significant settlement news, are below.***
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June 1, 2018
- Plans Advance for 1,958 New Settlement Units
- Tenders Published for 1,162 New Settlement Units
- Israeli Chief Justice Questions Legal Opinion Regarding Status of Settlers
- Knesset Advances Bill to Bring West Bank Land Cases Under Israeli Domestic Jurisdiction (De Facto Annexation)
- Labor MK Calls on Left to Endorse De Facto Annexation of “Settlement Blocs”
- Israeli Security Increase Presence Near Radical Settlements
- Human Rights Watch: Israeli Banks Are Integral Part of the Settlements Enterprise
- U.S. Ambassador Friedman on Settlements, Annexation, Trump “Peace Plan,” & More
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
On May 30th, the Israeli High Planning Council advanced plans for 1,958 new settlement units, located across the West Bank. Of the total, 696 units received final approval and 1,262 units were approved for deposit for public review (a key, step in the planning process). Peace Now estimates that 80% of the planned units are to be built in isolated settlements and that 1,500 of the units are to be built outside of the “built up” area of existing settlements. Two of the plans would establish two entirely new settlements.
Adding insult to injury (or in this case, to a war crime), the Council gave final approval (“validation”) to a provocative plan to build 92 units near the Kfar Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem, less than a mile from the soon-to-be forcibly removed Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community. Those new units will considerably expand the footprint of the Kfar Adumim settlement by building a new neighborhood (called “Nofei Bereishit” meaning “the landscapes of Genesis” in Hebrew), which will serve to connect the existing settlement structures to the site of a future school campus slated to serve several Israeli settlements in the area.
With respect to the Kfar Adumim expansion plan, Peace Now writes:
“The approval of the plan is the embodiment of exploitation and evil. The government stubbornly refuses to grant building permits to 32 Palestinian families living on about 40 dunams in the area and intends to evict them, but at the same time approves construction on large areas for hundreds of Israeli families. If there is anything that blackens Israel’s image in this world, it is the cruelty and discrimination that reeks to the heavens in this case. Neither is there any real Israeli national interest behind the destruction of the village.”
With respect to the plans advanced for two new government-sanctioned settlements, the details are:
- A plan for 189 units in the unauthorized outpost of Zayit Ra’anan, near the Talmon settlement northwest of Ramallah. As Peace Now explains, this plan constitutes the sanctioning of a new settlement entirely. Talmon has three satellite outposts, according to a map by WINEP. Zayit Ra’anan is the outpost the furthest from the settlement.
- A plan to authorize the “Brosh Educational Institution,” an outpost in the Jordan Valley. This too constitutes the establishment of an entirely new settlement. As Peace Now explains, the settlers who established the Brosh outpost named their endeavor an “Educational Institution” in order to obscure their intent to build a settlement. The plan for the “Brosh Educational Institute” includes residential buildings.
These approvals are notable for two reasons: First, they show that the Israeli government is significantly expanding the footprint of settlements across the West Bank, including in isolated settlements. Second, the plans demonstrate that the Israeli government is not acting, in any way, with “restraint” in regards to its settlement activity (per a reported agreement between the U.S. and Israel, “restrained” settlement growth limits Israel’s building to areas adjacent to existing settlement buildings). The reaction of the Trump Administration to the approvals suggests that the U.S. isn’t in any way troubled that Israel appears to be defying its commitment. An official at the U.S. National Security Council told The Times of Israel:
“The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president’s concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this. The president has made his position on new settlement activity clear, and we encourage all parties to continue to work toward peace.”
One day after the High Planning Council advanced plans for nearly 2,000 new settlement units (above), on May 31st the Israeli Housing Ministry issued tenders for another 1,162 new settlement units that had previously approved by the High Planning Council (once planning approvals are complete, the decision on if/when to issue construction tenders for an approved plan rests with the Housing Ministry). The 1,162 tenders issued this week are are for:
- 459 new units in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement;
- 409 new units in the Ariel settlement;
- 250 new units in the Elkana settlement; and
- 44 new units in the Ma’ale Ephraim settlement.
On May 31st, Israeli Chief Justice Esther Hayut issued a significant legal opinion that complicates the growing momentum across the Israeli government to adopt and implement a legal precedent holding that Israeli settlers are a part of the “local population” of the West Bank. Chief Justice Hayut said the precedent does not constitute “a binding law” saying it “appears that the ruling contradicts previous rulings…and it contains both a novelty and a difficulty.” The ruling in question, written by retired Justice Salim Joubran in 2016, is currently being used as a precedent to justify the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land near the Haresha outpost, and adopting the precedent was a key recommendation of the recently-released “Zandberg Report” which gave the Israeli government a plethora of legal tools to retroactively legalize outposts and settlements structures.
Hayut’s opinion was issued in response to a petition by the Israeli NGO Yesh Din, which asked to Court to reopen the Amona outpost case where the “local population” precedent was set. The opinion itself was not published until October 2017 (meaning the precedent was not known to the public or able to be debated until now, precisely when the government is moving swiftly to implement it). While Hayut declined to reopen the Amona outpost case, she took the opportunity to address the question raised by Yesh Din regarding the underlying precedent that was set in the case.
FMEP tracks the evolving legal architecture of the Israeli government’s efforts to retroactively legalize outposts and settlement structures (our regularly updated data tables are available here).
On May 28th, the Israeli Knesset advanced a bill through its first reading that, if passed, will give jurisdiction the Jerusalem District Court jurisdiction over land disputes in the occupied West Bank. Since 1967, such cases have been under the jurisdiction of the Israeli High Court of Justice, reflecting the unusual – indeed, legally extraordinary – situation in which an Israeli court is ruling on with respect to land and people that are not part of sovereign Israel. The bill passed by a vote of 47 to 45, and will need to be voted through two more readings in the Knesset plenum before it becomes law.
As FMEP explained when the bill gained government backing in February 2018, the bill’s main proponent, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, has three main rationales for the bill: (a) to further extend and formalize Israel’s extraterritorial application of its domestic law and legal structures, giving a regular Israeli domestic court jurisdiction over non-citizen Palestinians living in territory that is beyond Israel’s sovereign borders; (b) to give settlers an advantage in court over Palestinian plaintiffs; and (c) to circumvent what Shaked sees (according to a Justice Ministry official) as the High Court being “overly concerned with international law and with protecting the rights of the ‘occupied’ population in Judea and Samaria.” Under Shaked’s proposal, some Palestinian cases could still reach the High Court of Justice, but only after the much more conservative Jerusalem District Court rules, adding time and cost to any Palestinian land petition.
Yesh Din representative Gilad Grossman commented:
“This bill is designed to indicate a kind of normalcy. [It is meant] to show that we’re not talking about an area conquered by one nation whose residents [Israelis] do whatever they want and no one enforces the law against them in an equal manner, but rather that these are conflicts between neighbors just like in Tel Aviv, Haifa or any other town within sovereign Israel.”
FMEP tracks the progress of this bill in its compendium of annexation policies currently being advanced and implemented in Israel. This bill (tracked on the third table) is just one mechanism by which Israeli lawmakers are moving to apply Israeli domestic law extraterritorially – which amounts to de facto annexation of the West Bank.
Last weekend, MK Eitan Cabel (Labor, the largest faction in the Zionist Union coalition) published an op-ed in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz arguing that Israel should define and then apply Israeli law to the “settlement blocs,” which he defines to include Ma’ale Adumim, the Etzion Bloc, the Jordan Valley, Ariel, Karnei Shomron, and more. Cabel promised to release and campaign for the full plan (presumably with more details) sometime soon.
In the op-ed and in subsequent comments to the press, Cabel calculates that 300,000 Israeli settlers will be annexed into Israel under his scheme. Cabel’s calls for the 100,000 settlers outside of those areas to be compensated and for a total construction freeze to be implemented there. He proposes that the status of those areas will be negotiated if, “one day, the Palestinian Nelson Mandela arrives.”
“In a democratic party, everyone can have their opinion, but Labor is for separation, not annexation. Separating from the Palestinians must come as part of an agreement. I am not in favor of a unilateral step. I think in negotiations we can reach better results than without them. This is the best time for negotiations because of our alliance with the US and because the Arab countries want peace.”
Cabel’s plan impressed Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) who tweeted in support of the op-ed, saying it was a step in the direction of his own proposed scheme to annex all of Area C in the West Bank (60% of the occupied land). Apparently agreeing with that point, an unnamed Labor Party official said:
“It’s a delusional initiative. It’s like [Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali] Bennett speaking through Cabel…He’s [Cabel] suggesting an annexation, but doesn’t say what will become of the Palestinian population in those territories. These are irresponsible and ill-prepared statements.”
Peace Now tweeted in response:
“Another dangerous, self-defeating remark from this weekend for the Labor party. Veteran MK Cabel’s call for unilateral annexation of the “blocs,” including Ariel & Karnei Shomron, is a cowardly rhetorical surrender to the right’s one-state apartheid agenda. Shameful & disturbing….For everyone who supports cutting Israel a break on building in the ‘blocs,’ this is what happens when you give in. Not only is a top Labor MK adopting the right’s maximalist interpretation of the term ‘blocs,’ he is now making the Maale Adumim annexation bill look tame….One can only assume @netanyahu‘s support for annexing the blocs, but it should be noted that at least publicly he has not advocated as much as Cabel just did.”
As Peace Now suggests, using the term “settlement blocs” is unfortunately misleading, and implies an agreed upon acceptance of what the blocs are and the fact that they are inarguably Israel’s to keep. The term “settlement blocs” has no legal definition or standing, and they are indisputably a matter for negotiations aimed at a two-state solution. The terminology has been used for decades by the Israeli government to convey legitimacy to building in the so-called “blocs.” 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).
Applying Israel law to areas outside of Israel’s sovereign borders is de facto annexation, as FMEP has explained and documented.
In early May (before the U.S. Embassy opening and the beginning of Ramadan), Israeli security forces increased troop deployments across the West Bank in order to “prevent friction” between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.
According to a Haaretz report, the decision to increase Israel’s security presence was preceded by a series of discussions over the past month between the army, the police, and the Shin Bet. One such meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s office. A source told Haaretz that the meeting participants came to a consensus that settlers from Yitzhar are the main perpetrators responsible for the escalating frequency of “price tag” attacks against Palestinians. As recapped by Haaretz, the main concern of the Israeli officials is that settler attacks might foment Palestinian attacks in response. Haaretz reports:
“The main concern within the Jewish Division of the Shin Bet, which investigates the activities of Jewish Israeli extremists, is that price tag attacks during Ramadan, a fast month, and coming shortly after the controversial transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the tensions on the border with the Gaza Strip, could spur terrorist attacks against Israelis.”
Despite the rise in settler violence, Israel MK Bezalel Smotrich took the opportunity to accuse the Israeli police of “bullying” Israeli settlers – an accusation that echoed complaints from settlers, including those from Yitzhar, regarding an increased IDF presence. The Israeli Police issued a response, saying Smotrich’s comments were regrettable.
Even with higher troop deployment, settlers continue to attack Palestinians and their property on a weekly basis.
In a new heavily researched, documented report titled “Israeli Banks in West Bank Settlements,” Human Rights Watch documents how Israeli banks facilitate and profit from Israeli settlements and makes the case that these banks are therefore complicit in war crimes, including pillaging. HRW reports:
“Most Israeli banks finance or ‘accompany’ construction projects in the settlements by becoming partners in settlement expansion, supervising each stage of construction, holding the buyers’ money in escrow, and taking ownership of the project in case of default by the construction company. Most of that construction takes place on ‘state land,’ which can include land unlawfully seized from Palestinians and which Israel uses in a discriminatory fashion, allocating one third of state land in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, to the World Zionist Organization and just 1 percent for use by Palestinians.”
HRW concludes that banks operating in the settlements are, therefore, unavoidably complicit in violating the human rights of Palestinians, and the only remedy is for these banks cease settlement-related operations.
To illustrate the point that human rights violations are an inherent part of all settlements in the West Bank, HRW partnered with the Israeli NGO Kerem Navot to share the story of how the construction of the Elkana settlement and the Israeli separation barrier has deprived Palestinians from the nearby city of Mas-ha of access to their own lands. Banks that have financed projects in Elkana are part of the machinery that entrenches and expands the theft.
Kerem Navot writes:
“Settlements wreck havoc on Palestinian life in the West Bank. For example, as depicted in the animation, the Aamer family used to walk 20 minutes from their West Bank home to their farm. Then Israel built an Israeli-only settlement on part of it, with help from Israeli banks, turning it into a 2-hour detour on what’s left of their land. Banks and all businesses should cease doing business in and with settlements.”
This is just the latest HRW report on the Israeli banking sector and the occupation, and it builds on a September 2017 legal analysis titled, “Israeli Law and Banking in the West Bank.” In the 2017 report, HRW took apart a common legal defense Israeli banks deploy to defend their settlement practices: that Israeli law requires them to operate in the settlements. HRW concluded that there is no such legal requirement currently in Israeli law.
In a wide-ranging (and stunning) interview this week with The Times of Israel, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman spoke revealingly about behind-the-scenes policy discussions within the Trump Administration, including on the topic of settlements, the status of the West Bank, and Israeli annexation proposals.
A few key Friedman quotes from the transcript include:
- On Israel’s settlement activity during the Trump Administration: “The administration’s stance has been that the settlement enterprise is not an impediment to a peace deal, but that unrestrained settlement activity is not consistent with the cause of peace. Where you draw that line or slice that, I am reluctant to go into now. I have felt for years that there has been an oversimplification by the international community of the legal claims, if you will, within the West Bank. That came to a head in December of 2016, with UN Security Council Resolution 2334. It’s not a secret that the Trump administration does not support that resolution, would have vetoed that resolution, had Nikki Haley been the ambassador rather than Samantha Power. I think you can draw some insight from the administration’s views on that resolution.”
- On how Friedman views the international consensus holding that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal: “…Look, I don’t believe the settlements are illegal. I think I’ve been clear on that for years. President Reagan was very clear that he would never suggest Israel would go back to the 1967 borders. They were called the suicide borders; they were considered indefensible. So the notion that Israel’s presence over the Green Line is illegal is something the United States has through many leaders rejected, which is why that UN resolution in 2016 was so offensive to so many people.”
- On whether the Trump Administration discussed annexation proposals with the Israeli government: “We have not had discussions with Israel about annexation…I’ve done lots of listening, so those discussions have taken place, but not in the sense of planning or seeking to execute a strategy, just in the context of enabling me to hear everybody’s views.”
- On the State Department’s decision to stop using “occupied territories” in materials, and instead use “West Bank”: “I believe this is a highly controversial issue and we ought to be using terminology that doesn’t prejudge issues…I was perfectly happy with any geographic identification that people could commonly understand that didn’t involve an adjective. West Bank is fine, Judea and Samaria would have been fine. If there’s another name that would do it justice, that would have been fine. I didn’t think it was appropriate to use “occupied territories,” because I just found it to be unnecessarily political and judgmental on an issue that was still unsettled in many people’s minds.”
- “The UN Database on Businesses in Israeli Settlements: Pitfalls and Opportunities” (Al-Shabaka)
- “Checking Supreme Court’s powers, Bennett looks to ‘rebalance’ Israeli democracy” (Times of Israel)
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March 9, 2018
- New Settlement in Hebron
- Palestinians Protest Rumored Plan to Unite & Expand Settlements Near Qalqilya
- High Court Reviewing Government Practice of Paying Off Settler Law-breakers
- Israel’s New West Bank Commander Promises to Defend the Settlements
- Documents Reveal: Government Funds Are Going to Unauthorized Outposts
- Israel Admits Theft of Spring was Carried out Illegally, Promises Court to Steal it Properly
- EU Report Shows Major Acceleration in Settlement Planning
- Settlement-Related AIPAC Conference Happenings
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Signaling the start of construction on what is effectively a new settlement in Hebron, settlers have moved four caravans onto a site located around a kilometer from the border fence of the radical Kiryat Arba settlement, on a site designated to become a new industrial zone for the settlement. The Civil Administration (a branch of the Israeli Army which is the sovereign ruling power in the occupied West Bank), told the press that the new industrial zone is being built on land seized decades ago by Israel as “state land,” according to a plan approved in “accordance with procedures.”
The anti-settlement watchdog organization Peace Now disputes the Civil Administration assessment of the project. Peace Now notes that the project takes advantage of a plan for the Kiryat Arba settlement that was approved 30 years ago (in 1988), but never executed — and that present day realities are much different than they were 30 years ago. Peace Now notes, too, that the project is located well outside of the developed lines of the settlement and beyond the fence that surrounds it – making it, in effect, a new Israeli settlement in Hebron.
Peace Now said:
“This is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s gift to U.S. President Trump on the day of their meeting. For years, Israeli governments have refrained from establishing new settlements, especially in as sensitive a place as Hebron, but in recent months the Netanyahu government has permitted settlement activity without restraint and has taken steps that undermine the chances of a two-state solution. The new settlement near Hebron is liable to cause significant harm to the lives of dozens of Palestinian families who live nearby who are expected to suffer new security arrangements that will restrict their freedom of movement and harm the daily fabric of their lives.”
OCHA recently published a timely new report titled, “The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlements in Hebron City.” The Kiryat Arba settlers and their security arrangements in the city are important contributing factors to the combined humanitarian toll settlements take on Palestinian residents of Hebron, whose entire lives – including freedom of movement, ability to engage in commerce, and access to education – are acutely strangled by the presence of Israeli settlers.
Since FMEP’s initial report on February 2018, scant further details have emerged regarding Israel’s rumored plan to unite four settlements near Qalqilya into a super settlement, thereby significantly expanding the collective footprint and population of those settlements. Nonetheless, Palestinian fears are growing about the plan’s implementation, which the governor of Qalqilya Rafi Rawajba recently called “state terror.”
Qalqilya residents have long held weekly protests against Israeli settlement expansion and the separation wall (while in some areas the separation barrier is composed of fencing, the city of Qalqilya is surrounded on all sides by a high cement wall, with only a narrow opening left for access into the rest of the West Bank). This past week, the Israeli army violently dispersed the protests, reportedly using rubber coated bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades.
The plan to unite and expand Qalqilya-area settlements should be understood alongside the July 2017 political battle that ultimately killed the implementation of a plan to build new homes and infrastructure for Palestinians in Qalqilya, which in addition to being surrounded by the Israeli separation wall is also the West Bank’s most densely populated city. The plan – which was formulated and defended by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, would have granted Israeli permission to the Palestinian Authority to double the size of Qalqilya by building on land in Area C (the 60% of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority is not allowed to operate).
The High Court of Justice temporarily blocked the Israeli government from offering monetary compensation to residents of illegal settlement outposts whose homes are demolished by the government of Israel. Such homes were built illegally according to Israeli law, and oftentimes on privately owned Palestinian land. The ruling ordered the government to submit a defense of the practice by March 12th.
The High Court’s ruling is in response to a petition filed by Israeli lawyer Shachar Ben Meir that specifically challenges the legality of Israel’s decisions to pay-off settlers evicted from the outposts of Amona and Ofra, as well as a recently approved pay-off for Netiv Ha’avot outpost settlers. None of those pay-offs have actually been transferred to date, and the ruling this week freezes the government’s ability to do so.
Ben Meir told the Times of Israel:
“The state cannot compensate building offenders for their homes being demolished when they built without a permit on land that wasn’t theirs. And if it decides to do so, it must be according to rules that are equal to everyone.”
It is worth noting that when it comes to “illegal” Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem – that is, construction on land owned by Palestinians but for which Israel has not (and generally will not) approve plans for building — Israel not only doesn’t compensate them financially for their loss, but it charges them for the cost of the demolition unless they demolish their own home first (called a self-demolition).
In a transfer of power ceremony this week, Major General Nadav Padan was sworn in as the new head of the Israeli Defense Force Central Command, becoming the highest ranking Israeli official in charge of all Israeli affairs in the West Bank. In his speech, Padan committed to “enabling a [high] quality of life for both Israelis and Palestinians while maintaining the rule of law and the spirit of the IDF.”
The outgoing commander also gave a speech at the ceremony, in which he embraced and praised the the settler population as a whole, while admonishing settlers leaders, saying:
“Regrettably, there is still a small handful of settlers challenging authorities as well as law and order. I urge you to continue to act and denounce this group”
Maj. Gen. Padan takes over the West Bank after serving previously as, among other things, the top general leading Israel’s incursion into Gaza during the summer of 2014, known in Israel as “Operation Protective Edge.” That assault lasted 50 days, during which Israel lost 66 soldiers and four civilians, while according to the United Nations, 2,131 Palestinians were killed, of which 1,473 were civilians, 501 were children, and 257 were women.
In response to a freedom of information request filed by Peace Now, the Israeli government released a trove of documents revealing that the Binyamin Regional Council – which receives government funding – has been funding infrastructure in far-flung outposts built without authorization and therefore considered illegal according to Israeli law (all settlement activity – whether or not it is permissible under Israeli law – is illegal under international law). The Binyamin Regional Council is the largest settler regional council and acts as a governing body officially representing 42 settlements (and unofficially many illegal outposts), covering a large area starting just north of Jerusalem and reaching almost to Nablus.
The government data shows that the Council spent $1.9 million over a three-year period to finance 24 projects in illegal outposts, including access roads, youth clubs, temporary homes, and two preschools. All of the projects lack permits (issuance of permits would be impossible, since the outposts themselves are unauthorized).
Avi Roeh, the elected head Binyamin Regional Council, defended the projects – telling Haaretz:
“every community located on state land, and this is true for these places such as Kida, Adi Ad, Esh Kodesh, etc., we intend on legalizing them. It is taking its time and in the meantime there are children and families there”
Peace Now Settlement Watch Director Shabtay Bendet responded:
“The Mateh Binyamin Regional Council is supposed to be the one to enforce the law and act according to it. Not only does it not enforce [the law], it funds and promotes illegal projects with our public funds. No police investigation has been opened on the matter. We call on the legal authorities to open an investigation.”
This week Israeli government admitted to the Jerusalem District Court that permits were issued illegally to relocate a military checkpoint near the city of al-Walajah in order to prevent Palestinians from accessing a historic natural spring (See FMEP’s Feb. 22nd Settlement Report for more details on the scandal surrounding construction of the new checkpoint). Though admitting that the permits were granted illegally, the government suggested it was merely a bureaucratic glitch that would be fixed in short order, and asked the High Court to allow construction of the checkpoint to continue while it corrects the problem (that is, gets the permits to steal the spring issued properly). The Court ordered the State to explain the steps it will take to rectify the matter (that is, to get the proper permits in order) and will rule on the petition against the spring at some date in the future.
Ghaith Nasser, the lawyer representing al-Walajah residents in the case, told Haaretz:
“I think that what happened in this case is a scandal. They want the court to give legal validity to an outrage whose entire management from beginning to end is stained by blatant illegality…When the court is asked to approve such a thing despite all the faults, the role of the court is to champion the principle of the rule of law and explain that this isn’t how it’s done.”
Notably, FMEP reported last week that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has recently installed a settler-aligned judge to the Jerusalem District Court, which is hearing this case. The judge, Haya Zandberg, previously headed a government committee tasked with retroactively legalizing outposts and in two cases “adopted a creative pro-settler legal position that contradicted the views of both the Justice Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces’ legal adviser in the West Bank” according to Haaretz.
The European Union recently published its regular report on Israeli settlement activity in the second half of 2017. That report documents a “three- to four-fold increase in advancement of housing units through plans and the issuance of tenders compared to 2016.”
All told, if the plans advanced during the latter half of 2017 materialize on the ground, housing will be created for potentially 23,000 additional settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The report specifically highlights the creation of a new settlement in Hebron, the first since 2002, and the construction of large-scale road projects that are proposed to connect Israeli settlements more seamless to Israel.
The report is part of the European Union’s efforts to monitor and inform its member states about Israeli settlement growth, and to assist its member states in differentiating between economic dealings with Israel and Israeli settlements, consistent with international law and EU policy.
For the blissfully unaware, the annual AIPAC conference was held this week in Washington, D.C. It drew big-name U.S. administration officials, members of Congress, and Israeli lawmakers and leaders including Prime Minister Netanyahu. And those big names made some big headlines.
A few events/happenings pertinent to settlement observers include:
- Prominent settler leader Yossi Dagan (head of the Yesha Council, a settler umbrella group) wrote a letter to AIPAC decrying AIPAC’s assertion that Israel supports a two-state solution. Dagan asserts that Israel does not support such a solution. Dagan’s anger was quickly echoed by scads of Israeli lawmakers, including Likud MKs and members of the right-wing Israel Land Caucus. The Times of Israel has a great summary of the event and the new dynamics, titled “As AIPAC is out-hawked by Trump, settlers reevaluate ties to the pro-Israel lobby.”
- On the sidelines of AIPAC, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs joined with the Yesha Council to host an event to “combat the delegitimization of Israel through the embrace of Judea & Samaria.” The event was attended by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Israeli Consul General in New York Dani Dayon, and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz who said: “Israel cannot survive without its settlements.” J Street had a sharp response to the event, saying “This Israeli government thinks the way to combat delegitimization is to embrace settlements. Embrace. Settlements. This is patently absurd.”
- U.S. Ambassador and settlement financer David Friedman took to the stage on the last day of the conference to attack J Street and its motto, “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” He argued that such a motto suggests that some people are both pro-Israel and anti-peace, and that “It is no less than blasphemous to suggest that any Jew or any Christian is against peace and that’s just not a matter of religious belief.” Implied in his remark, it seems, is that only Muslims are capable of being anti-peace. His full remarks are available here.
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told the AIPAC crowd that “it’s sure not the settlements that are the blockage to peace,” after blasting Hamas for what happened after Israel pulled out from Gaza settlements. He went on to say, among many things, that there is no peace because Palestinians do not believe in the Torah.
- “What would the [“SOFTENED”] Israel Anti-Boycott Act Actually Do?” (FMEP) **U.S. settlement policy is impacted by this bill. Analysis written by FMEP’s Lara Friedman
- “In West Bank reality, annexation is a pipedream” (Times of Israel)
- “East Jerusalem Palestinians confront Israeli diggers over damaged to homes” (Middle East Eye)
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November 30, 2017
- Israeli Attorney General Argues Against “Regulation Law,” But Endorses its Goal
- One Structure Demolished in the Netiv Ha’avot Outpost, But Will Others Follow?
- Interior Ministry Pushes Plan for a New Settlement City in West Bank “Seam-Line” Region
- Ir Amim & Bimkom Report – “Deliberately Planned: A Policy to Thwart Planning in the Palestinian Neighborhoods of Jerusalem”
- UPDATES: Bedouin Communities Fight Eviction; Jerusalem “Supermajority” Bill Advances
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
On November 22nd, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit issued his much-anticipated response to a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the “Regulation Law,” a law passed by the Knesset in February 2017 paving the way for the retroactive legalization of 55 Israeli outposts, 4,000 illegally constructed settlement units, and seizure of thousands of dunams of Palestinian agricultural land. Two petitions were filed against the law, one by a group of Israeli NGOs (ACRI, Peace Now, and Yesh Din),the second by a group of Palestinian NGOs including Al-Mezan and Adalah.
In a 72-page opinion, AG Mandleblit said the law is “a sweeping and injurious arrangement that does not meet the test of proportionality,” adding it “will also cause severe discrimination against the Palestinian population in the region.” At the same time, Mandelblit’s underlying argument – consistent with his actions and words in recent weeks – effectively endorsed the goal of retroactively legalizing the illegal construction and land seizures through other legal means.
The Palestinian NGOs sharply criticized the AG’s opinion, saying:
Although Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit maintains that the law should be repealed, his position is still problematic from the standpoint of international law. In parallel to his opposition to the law, the AG noted that “validating” the settlements is a worthy act and that the State of Israel now has a number of other tools at its disposal that allow it to “validate” Israeli construction on private Palestinian land that was transferred to a settlement “in good faith.”
In the AG’s response, he authorizes use of these tools including, amongst other measures, expropriation of Palestinian land for “public needs,” such “regulating” the construction of an access road to an illegal Israeli settlement outpost.
Adalah, JLAC, and Al Mezan emphasize that the AG’s position clashes directly with international law explicitly forbidding the construction of settlements and the transfer of the occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory – this is considered a war crime. International law specifically bans harm to Palestinian property in the West Bank for the purposes of development and expansion of settlements.
Peace Now, ACRI, and Yesh Din also issued a joint statement criticizing the Attorney General for his support for retroactive legalization by means other than the Regulation Law, saying:
…despite opposing the “Regularization Law”, Mandelblit has recently approved other legal steps to allow for the takeover of privately owned Palestinian land. During the past two weeks, the AG issued two legal opinions, one concerning land near the Haresha outpost and another in Ofra, in which he approved expropriation of private Palestinian land for the sole benefit of settlements.
In his legal opinions Mandelblit fails to recognize that any takeover of private Palestinian land for the purpose of settlements stands in violation of IHL, specifically the laws of occupation that apply to the West Bank.
The undersigned organizations [ACRI, Peace Now, and Yesh Din] will continue to work against any government initiative, whether through legislation or by form of legal opinions, which violates human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank.
On November 29th, the Israeli army razed an illegally-built structure in the unauthorized outpost of Netiv Ha’avot, near the Elazar settlement south of Jerusalem. Dozens of settlers protested the demolition by barricading themselves inside, forcing the Israeli army to remove them one-by-one against their protests before demolishing the building.
As FMEP reported in October, the Supreme Court upheld a 2016 decision ordering the demolition of 17 structures in Netiv Ha’avot that were built on privately owned Palestinian land. The structure razed on November 29th was the second to be demolished in accordance with this ruling, following the razing of a memorial statue earlier this year. The remaining 15 structures are residential homes and must be demolished by March 2018, according to the court order.
However, Haaretz reports that Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit will soon decide whether to save six of the remaining structures from complete demolition by issuing building permits for the sections of the homes that were built (without permits) on Israeli state land. The six structures – unlike the remaining nine – were built mostly on land that has not been proven to be privately owned by Palestinians (allowing Israel to seize it as “state land”). As FMEP reported last month, the Supreme Court has already dismissed a similar petition submitted by the settlers arguing for partial demolitions; the AG’s issuance of building permits would circumvent the court’s decision.
The Netiv Ha’avot settlers are also fighting to retroactively legalize the entire unauthorized Netiv Ha’avot outpost (not only the 17 structures that have been ordered to be demolished), which was built without permission from the Israeli government. In October, the High Planning Council advanced plans to build homes for Netiv Ha’avot residents in an alternate, ostensibly permitted, location; however, the plans specified a parcel of land that is also problematic under Israeli law because it is outside of the borders of any “legal” settlement. Indicative of how the settlement planning process often rewards illegal settlement activity with more settlement activity, the Council sought to address this challenge by ordering the borders of the nearby Alon Shvut settlement to be expanded to incorporate the land where the structures are planned to be built.
The Israeli Interior Ministry has reportedly recommended creating a new Israeli [settlement] city in the West Bank that unites four West Bank settlements – Etz Efraim, Sha’arei Tikva, Oranit and Elkana – allowing for increased construction on the land between them. The four settlements are all located in the “seam-line” zone, the area created by the weaving route of the Israeli separation barrier that was built to keep many settlements on the Israeli side of the barrier despite being east of the 1967 Green Line.
FMEP will report more details on this story as it develops.
Ir Amim & Bimkom Report – “Deliberately Planned: A Policy to Thwart Planning in the Palestinian Neighborhoods of Jerusalem”
A new report by Ir Amim and Bimkom shines a harsh spotlight on the discriminatory urban planning process in East Jerusalem, as well as the increasing rate of home demolitions that, coupled with settlement expansion, are undermining the future of the Palestinian community there. In three case studies, the report’s authors look at how Israel deliberately blocks applications for planning and building in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, making it impossible for Palestinians to build legally.
Ir Amim & Bimkom write
This discrimination in planning is the product of a policy driven by demographic considerations – in particular, the objective of increasing the Israeli population while reducing the Palestinian population, with the underlying goal of ensuring Jewish demographic superiority….
The outcome of this policy has a devastating impact at both the individual and community levels. Barriers to legal building push many Palestinians to build without permits. Each year, the Jerusalem Municipality (herein, Municipality) and the District Planning Bureau (formerly under the auspices of the Interior Ministry and now the Finance Ministry), demolish dozens of housing units constructed without permits in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem; in 2016 alone, the authorities demolished 123 housing units. The psychological and economic ramifications of this reality are profound. Moreover, inadequate planning prevents the construction of schools and the development of public spaces and employment and commercial zones, thereby weakening the community as a whole.
This treatment is clearly discriminatory, particularly when contrasted with the fact that the Israeli government continues to approve and fast-track approvals both for settlement planning in construction in major settlement neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and in settlement enclaves located in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. For details see this recent report from Peace Now.
- Over 100 Palestinians joined residents of Jabal al-Baba to protest the Bedouin community’s imminent eviction from the E-1 settlement area just east of Jerusalem. The Jabal al-Baba community, which has lived in the area since it was expelled from the Negev in 1948, was given an eviction notice earlier this month demanding that it leave the area and stating that all structures there will be demolished. Jabal al-Baba is one of the many Bedouin communities located near Israeli settlements in Area C that are facing the imminent threat of eviction; the Khan al-Ahmar community (also located in the Maale Adumim/E-1 area) and two Jordan Valley bedouin villages have also been ordered to leave their land. The European Union has called on Israel to halt the planned demolitions. The EU statement also highlighted the impending demolition of Susiya, a Palestinian city in the South Hebron Hills. Both Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar were the subject of concern of a recent letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, signed by 10 U.S. Senators, demanding the demolitions be canceled and articulating serious concerns about the settlement enterprise, saying, “these communities are currently facing the imminent threat of evacuations and demolitions, and have been targeted by settlement movement activists seeking to entrench the Israeli occupation and prevent the ultimate creation of an independent Palestinian state.”
- The Knesset’s Constitution, Law & Justice Committee voted to advance a bill that, if passed into law, will require a supermajority of votes in the Knesset to approve any deal that transfers sovereignty of any part of Jerusalem to a foreign power. This law would in effect give a minority in the Knesset veto power over any future peace deal with the Palestinians. The bill is now set for two final votes in the Knesset before becoming law. Ir Amim provides valuable analysis of the bill, and points out that the language is careful to differentiate between territorial concessions and municipal changes, a distinction that is apparently intended to support other pending legislation that would bureaucratically excise some Palestinian neighborhoods from Jerusalem – a move that the Knesset is also considering in order to manufacture and preserve a Jewish majority in the city.
- “UN Settlement Business Data Can Stem Abuse” (Human Rights Watch)
- “Border Homes, in Jerusalem but Not, Face an Existential Deadline” (New York Times)
- “Why Won’t Israel Let Me Mourn My Father?” (New York Times)
- “US Ambassador David Friedman Drops Out of West Bank Memorial Ceremony for Murdered US Citizen” (Jerusalem Post)
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.