Settlement & Annexation Report: March 4, 2022

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.

March 4, 2022

  1. Israeli High Court Temporarily Freezes Evictions of Four Sheikh Jarrah Families, Will Revisit Land Ownership Claims
  2. Plan to Expand National Park onto Church-Owned Land in Jerusalem Back on Agenda
  3. Israel to Advance Plan to Expand Mount Scopus Slopes National Park in Jerusalem
  4. High Court Says Settlements are a Significant Part of (and Benefit to) Israel’s “Security Doctrine” & Refuses to Return Land to Palestinians
  5. Israel Advances Plan to Build Tourist Promenade Over Muslim Cemetery Along Jerusalem’s Old City Walls
  6. New Report on Israel’s Collective Punishment of Beita As Palestinian Protests Against Evyatar Outpost Continue
  7. Further Reading

Israeli High Court Temporarily Freezes Evictions of Four Sheikh Jarrah Families, Will Revisit Land Ownership Claims

On March 1st, a three-judge panel of the Israeli High Court issued an order to temporarily freeze the eviction of four Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. With this new decision, the High Court granted the Al-Qasim, El-Kurd, Iskafi, and Jaouni families the right to appeal decades worth of previous decisions by lower courts that recognized settler ownership of the land on which they live. The High Court ruled that final ownership of the land has not been determined and must be revisited, and that until that determination is made (via the settlement of title and registration processes), the families are permitted to remain in their homes as legally “protected tenants,” paying rent into an escrow account managed by lawyers involved in the case – funds that won’t go to the settlers who claim ownership unless and until the title and registration processes conclude that the land does, in fact, belong to the settlers.

Haaretz reports that the Court’s decision in these four cases has the potential to affect the proceedings of 13 other cases of settler-led expulsion in Sheikh Jarrah, and comes just one week after a decision by a lower Israeli Court to temporarily delay the eviction of the Palestinian Salem family from their Sheikh Jarrah home in favor of settlers, fearing renewed violence. Taken together, the Courts may be attempting to calm tensions in Sheikh Jarrah and across East Jerusalem. — tensions that have been mounting in anticipation of the Salem family eviction, with the deliberate provocation of a Kahanist Member of Knesset who established his “office” in Sheikh Jarrah; and with the upcoming convergence of major religious holidays (Ramadan, Easter, and Passover). As a reminder, the four cases revisited this week provided a significant spark for the Palestinian Unity Intifada that unfolded in 2021 and ultimately led to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

In response to the Court’s decision, a group representing Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah issued the following statement:

“The battle to solidify our rights in our lands and our homes is far from over – rather, it has started anew. The Occupation authorities weaponize ‘land settlement and registration’ as a tool to control land in occupied Jerusalem. We reaffirm: our cause is righteous and we will continue our fight. We know we will not receive justice from Israeli Occupation courts. Rather, we count on the population and global movements that have accomplished the unprecedented feat of forcing the court to cancel the imminent expulsion. Yet, the threat of dispossession is still looming over our community. Through this decision, the Occupation’s Supreme Court imposed on the four families the status of ‘protected tenant,’ a special legal status in which families deposit an annual amount to a trust account held by the lawyers until the ‘title settlement and registration’ procedures are complete. However, such procedures can take anywhere between months to years. Therefore, we must rely on continual and persistent grassroots efforts until this battle is officially over and our families – and all Palestinian families – can live in their homes without fear of exulsion.”

As a reminder: With its annexation of  East Jerusalem following the 1967 war, Israel suspended the process of land registration and settlement of title in East Jerusalem. Israeli lawmakers have pointedly stated over the past two years their intentions to reinitiate these processes, and reports have suggested that Israel has begun to do so – secretively – in Sheikh Jarrah. The launching of an Israel-run process of registering ownership of land in East Jerusalem land will have far-reaching consequences for Palestinians, who have not had a formal, legal avenue for registering land ownership with the Israeli government since East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967 – meaning, for example, that if a property owner has died, his/her heirs have had no legal way to register as the current owners. As a consequence, such a process is liable to be used against Palestinians by settlers.

Plan to Expand National Park onto Church-Owned Land in Jerusalem Back on Agenda

Despite reports last week that Israel has abandoned a highly controversial and sensitive plan to expand the boundaries of the Jerusalem Walls National Park to include privately owned Palestinian land as well as land owned by major Christian churches on which sits prominent holy sites, Israeli planning authorities are (once again) scheduled to take up a discussion of the plan at two meetings scheduled for August 24th and 31st . The discussion of this plan proceeded despite reports last week that consideration of the plan was being tabled following widespread outcry by the heads of major Christian denominations, who linked the plan to ongoing efforts by Israeli settlement organizations to “minimize…any non-Jewish characteristics of the Holy City.”

Peace Now said in a statement:

“This plan is part of a process of transforming the symbolic, religious, and political import of the Old City Basin by augmenting the Jewish religious and national significance of this area while eroding the multi-religious and multi-cultural nature of the space and blurring the Palestinian presence in its bounds. This plan is not justified from a planning perspective and is of no value to the protection of historical assets. Its sole purpose (alongside other discriminatory laws and policies) is to serve a religious right-wing agenda for the Old City Basin. It is a cynical misuse of heritage and environment protection discourse as a tool for justifying settlement expansion, restricting Palestinian development, and further entrenching Israeli sovereignty. The current plan should be canceled and in its place the Israeli government should promote a plan to reduce the size of the National Park Surrounding the Old City Walls in a way that does not include Wadi Hilweh and al-Hizbe in the National Park’s boundaries, hereby allowing them to develop into equitable urban neighborhoods. Such development can be done in a way that will not harm the landscape and the visibility of the Old City Walls. This should be done while simultaneously promoting implementable and adequate urban plans for these areas.”

Israel to Advance Plan to Expand Mount Scopus Slopes National Park in Jerusalem

On March 1st the Jerusalem District Planning & Construction Committee met to hear objections to a plan that, if approved, would significantly expand the borders of the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park to include land that is currently open space between the Palestinian neighborhoods of al-Isawiyyah and A-Tur. This move would isolate those neighborhoods and restrict their growth. Notably, the designation of  this land as an  Israeli national park would extend Israeli control  from the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus ever more solidly towards the area designated for the construction of the E-1 settlement.

As a result of the hearing, the Jerusalem District Planning & Construction Committee said it will convene another hearing on the matter, but did not set a date and noted that it will be a closed meeting, not open to the public. This plan is in the final  stages of the approval process

Ir Amim explains the history and significance of this plan:

“The National Park plan was initiated over a decade ago, however, essentially frozen since 2014. From the outset, the plan was intended to block any expansion of the adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods who already suffer from acute housing shortages, overcrowding and an ongoing planning stranglehold. In addition to its severe implications on Palestinian housing and development rights, this National Park would enable Israel to create further territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and the E1/Maaleh Adumim area, while increasing fragmentation of the Palestinian space. Together, these measures further erode conditions for any agreed political resolution in the future. The Mount Scopus Slopes plan must be seen within the context of the INPA’s recent attempts to advance an extension of the National Park around the Old City Walls. While the plans are technically separate, if the dots are connected, it essentially extends the emerging ring of Israeli control around the Old City Basin, marked with a constellation of national parks, settler enclaves, and touristic settlement sites.”

High Court Says Settlements are a Significant Part of (and Benefit to) Israel’s “Security Doctrine” & Refuses to Return Land to Palestinians

In a ruling issued February 28, 2022, the Israeli High Court rejected an appeal filed by the Palestinian Muncipality of Hebron challenging the Israeli military’s 1980 seizure of land for “security purposes.” The land in question previously served as Hebron’s central bus station, and is located in the heart of the Old City of Hebron on Shuhada Street – the main road leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs that in the wake of the 1994 massacre of Palestinians at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque, by an American-Israeli settler, has been completely or mostly off-limits to Palestinians.

In making this ruling, the author of the Court’s opinion, Justice Alex Stein, dismissed legal objections against the questionable process by which Israel made parts of the land – originally seized for “security purposes” – available for settlement construction. In doing so, he overturned High Court precedent (dating back to 1979) to assert that, in the view of the High Court today, building and maintaining civilian settlements in the West Bank is part and parcel of Israel’s security doctrine, saying:

“A Jewish civilian presence constitutes part of the regional security doctrine of the Israel Defense Forces in the area. This is because the presence of citizens of the country who hold the seized property makes a significant contribution to the security situation in that same area, and makes it easier for the army to carry out its mission.”

According to Haaretz, the legal argument that settlements are a valid security mechanism has not been tested in the Courts since it was rejected in the Elon Moreh settlement case. The Haaretz Editorial Board bluntly wrote

“Stein is turning back the legal clock and claiming that a settlement is a security asset.”

Background: 

  • The land in question is located in the Israeli-controlled H-2 area of Hebron (where approximately 500 Israeli settlers live amongst around 40,000 Palestinians). Israel seized this land in the 1980s, from the Hebron Municipality, for “military purposes.” 
  • In 2007, the Civil Administration’s Legal Advisor issued an opinion stating that once Israel is done using the land for military purposes, it must be returned to the Hebron Municipality, which has protected tenancy rights to the land. 
  • Nonetheless, in 2015, the Israeli Civil Administration, with the consent of the Minister of Defense, quietly authorized the Housing Ministry to plan the area for Israeli settlement use, paving the way for that same ministry to subsequently present a plan for the 31 settlement units. 
  • In October 2018, with legal challenges to Israel’s using the land for settlements still pending, the Israeli Cabinet voted to expedite the planning of the new settlement and allocated approximately $6.1 million (NIS 22 million) for the project, which will require Israel to significantly renovate the bus station/military base in order to build the 31 new settlement housing units, as well as a kindergarten, and “public areas” for the new settler residents. This is a new settler enclave in the city and is, in effect, a new urban settlement, disconnected from already existing settlements in the city. It will be the first new settlement construction approved in downtown Hebron – where Palestinians already live under apartheid conditions – since 2002.
  • Notwithstanding the ongoing legal battle over the land, Israel went ahead and began construction on the new settlement at the site back in October 2021.
  • The Palestinians’ appeal – rejected on 2/28/22 by the High Court – argued that the State’s actions in recent years prove that the land was not seized for security purposes at all, but rather for the political purpose of expanding settlements in Hebron. The High Court rejected this argument, affirming that this Court – in effect – views the building settlements as, ipso facto, a security purpose for the State of Israel. 

Peace Now explained the significance of the States actions to build a settlement on this land, a move that the Court has now approved: 

“The approval of the building permit in the heart of Hebron is an extraordinary move not only because it is a new settlement in Hebron for the first time since 2001, but because it indicates a significant change in Israeli legal interpretation of what is allowed and forbidden in occupied territory. The area in question was owned by Jews before 1948, and it was leased by the Jordanian government in protected tenancy to the Hebron municipality for the purpose of establishing the central bus station. Since 1967, the Israeli authorities managed the land and continued the lease to the Hebron municipality, until in the 1980s when the area was seized for military purposes, the bus station was closed and a military base was established there. A legal opinion of the Judea and Samaria Attorney General on the issue in 2007 emphatically stated that by law the municipality’s protected lease must not be revoked.”

Israel Advances Plan to Build Tourist Promenade Over Muslim Cemetery Along Jerusalem’s Old City Walls

Map by Haaretz

Haaretz reports that the Jerusalem District and Planning Committee – with the support of the Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) – has rejected appeals by the Muslim Waqf to stop plans to build a new promenade for tourists on land which is owned by the Waqf and that is part of a Muslim cemetery, located just outside the northeast corner of Old City Walls of Jerusalem. In October 2021, human remains were found in this area.

According to Sami Arshid, a lawyer representing the Waqf, the land in question has been leased by the Waqf for more than a century to successive regimes controlling Jerusalem (Turkish, British, Jordanian, Israeli). But in 2018, Arshid reports that Israel stopped paying rent and instead began advancing plans to build on the area. Though the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said in a statement that Israel does not plan to formally expropriate the land (it will merely build upon it without the consent of its owners), the planning committee said that it was important to advance the plan “without reference to those who hold rights within it.” 

Arshid told Haaretz:

“This plan was born in sin. It deprives the owners of the land of their rights and infringes on people’s basic rights as well as harming the delicate balance in the fabric around the Old City. The planned project also harms the Old City walls and the world heritage of the place.”

New Report on Israel’s Collective Punishment of Beita As Palestinian Protests Against Evyatar Outpost Continue

B’Tselem has published a new report documenting the death and violence surrounding the ongoing saga of the Evyatar outpost, which was built illegally by Israeli settlers on land known to Palestinians and Mount Sabih – just south of Nablus. The outpost has sparked sustained protests led by Palestinians demanding the outpost be removed and the land returned, protests which have been violently suppressed by the Israeli military. Seven Palestinians have died and many dozens have been injured as a result.

B’Tselem writes on the other means by which the Israeli military is punishing Palestinian resistance:

“In addition to implementing a lethal open-fire policy, Israeli security forces have arrested dozens of town residents since the protests began. To wear down the protesters, the military closed off the main entrance to the town for a month and a half, and military bulldozers blocked and dug up agricultural roads leading to the demonstration flashpoints, damaging about a kilometer of agricultural terraces and some 2,000 trees about a kilometer away from the outpost. The deputy council head of Beita told B’Tselem that Israel revoked the work permits of about 150 residents. Soldiers also used severe violence against Israeli protesters who came to the demonstrations to show solidarity with the Palestinian protesters, and arrested them on false pretenses. Evyatar was established on Palestinian land – not on the private initiative of several settlers, but as part of Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank, with the full cooperation of all the relevant Israeli authorities. However, the state is not content with appropriating the land and building a settlement there. It also insists on forbidding the Palestinian residents from protesting these acts and forcibly prevents any attempt at resistance — including with lethal force. Let us reiterate: the establishment of settlements is illegal under international law, and the International Criminal Court in the Hague is currently investigating Israel’s policy on the matter. Israel’s choice to prevent area residents from protesting the establishment of Evyatar, to implement a lethal open-fire policy in circumstances that do not endanger soldiers’ lives, and to uphold this policy even after its fatal outcomes have become clear – adds insult to injury.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Eight Settlers Arrested for Attacking Soldiers, Palestinians Near Illegal West Bank Outpost” (Haaretz)
  2. “Israeli army blocking activists from calling ‘hotlines’ to report settler violence” (+972 Magazine)
  3. “Israel Surpasses 1,000 Demolitions in the Occupied West Bank Since Joe Biden Took Office” (The Intercept)

 

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

To subscribe to this report, please click here.

February 25, 2022

  1. The Israeli Plans to Expand “National Park” Onto Church (& Palestinian) Property in East Jerusalem
  2. Israel Freezes Salem Family Eviction in Sheikh Jarrah
  3. U.S. Ambassador Nides Reiterates His No-Visiting-Settlements Policy, Invites Settlers to Meet with Him
  4. Further Reading

The Israeli Plans to Expand “National Park” Onto Church (& Palestinian) Property in East Jerusalem

News broke this week that the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee was scheduled to take up at its April 10th meeting a plan to take control of more land in East Jerusalem – including church-owned land on the Mt. of Olives, where many sacred Christian sites are located, as well as privately-owned Palestinian land. Following widespread outcry, the Israeli government postponed (but by no means permanently abandoned) the Committee’s consideration of the plan, after the Israeli National Parks Authority, which has authority over the initiative, announced that the plan is no longer considered ready for discussion.

Map by Haaretz

First reported by Terrestrial Jerusalem, the plan was initiated over a year ago and outlines a significant expansion of the boundaries of the territory designated as the “Jerusalem Walls National Park” — to add land on the Mt. of Olives, in the Ben Hinnom Valley, and in the Kidron Valley. Christian church leaders (who are already in conflict with the Israeli government over settler actions) immediately protested, with the heads of three major Christian churches – the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, the Catholic Custos Francesco Patton and the Armenian Patriarch Nurhan Manougian –  writing an unusually pointed letter to Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), stating:

“In recent years we cannot help but feel that various entities are seeing to minimize, not to say eliminate, any non-Jewish characteristics of the Holy City by attempting to alter the status quo on this holy mountain. They have failed due to the objection and lack of cooperation from the Churches. After their attempts failed, they resorted to statutory powers by advancing a plan to declare vast parts of the mountain as a national park…This is a brutal measure that constitutes a direct and premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land, on the churches and on their ancient, internationally guaranteed rights in the Holy City. Under the guise of protecting green spaces, the plan appears to serve an ideological agenda that denies the status and rights of Christians in Jerusalem.”

In addition to the impact on church-owned properties, the plan has enormous significance for the viability and contiguity of Palestinians in Jerusalem, as Terrestrial Jerusalem explained:

“The ramifications of this plan are not routine. While the ringing of the Old City on the north and the south is proceeding apace by means of settlement expansion in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, respectively, the expansion of the National Park will remove the remaining obstacles for the development of settlement-related activities to the East. By doing so, it will complete the total encirclement of the Old City by means of settlements and settlement-related projects that are fragmenting the Christian and Palestinian expanses in the visual basin surrounding it.”

Terrestrial Jerusalem then predicted, correctly

“the Plan will no doubt be interpreted as part of a systematic Israeli policy that seeks to engrave the increasingly hegemonic Jewish-Biblical narrative of East Jerusalem settlers on the landscape surrounding the Old City. This will marginalize both the Christian and Islam equities in that landscape.”

Indeed, the Israeli government has already outsourced a significant part of the operations of the Jerusalem Walls National Park to the settler group Elad, specifically in the Silwan neighborhood where Elad is establishing touristic settlements while waging a house-by-house campaign to evict Palestinians from their homes in favor of Jewish Israeli settlers. 

Regarding the relationship between (and goals of) the Israeli government and Elad, Terrestrial Jerusalem explains:

“For many years, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (“the INPA”) together with other similar governmental bodies, such as the Israel Antiquities Authority, served as the long arm and subcontractors of the East Jerusalem settler organizations. The objective of these symbiotic relationships are clear and coherent:

– encompassing of the Old City through settler-controlled built-up areas, national and municipal parks and trails towards the end of securing the territorial integration of the Old City and its visual basin into the borders of pre-1967 Israel;

– creating a public domain in which the landscape is embedded with distinct expressions of the pseudo-Biblical ideology of the East Jerusalem settlers, while marginalizing the Christian and Muslim presence and ties to Jerusalem;

– fragmenting the urban fabric of Palestinian East Jerusalem in a manner that further undermines the very possibility of a future permanent status agreement.

“These policies are not new and have driven the actions of Israel in and around Jerusalem’s Old City for many years. What IS new is the aggressive application of these policies to Jerusalem’s holy sites, in the framework of a strategic thrust to galvanize sole Israeli control and rule over all of Jerusalem, East and West. The Plan is not an isolated event. One of the major manifestations of these policies may be found in numerous Israeli projects currently being implemented in and around the settlement enclaves to the north of the Old City, in Sheikh Jarrah, and to its south in Silwan. This entails a number of major government and settler projects that aspire to create a pincer maneuver that will surround the Old City with settlements and a settler-inspired public domain, effectively cutting off the Old City and its visual basin from the rest of East Jerusalem.”

A number of Israeli peace and human rights organizations — Bimkom, Emek Shaveh, Ir Amim and Peace Now — issued a joint statement laying out how this “national park” expansion plan fits into other settlement related developments and policies in Jerusalem:

“There is a direct link between what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah [the ongoing evictions of Palestinian families from their homes] and the expansion plan. These are various mechanisms used by Israel in East Jerusalem to entrench its sovereignty, to marginalize non-Jewish presence and to prevent much needed development of Palestinian neighborhoods hereby increasing the pressure to push them out of the Old City basin. This plan is part of a process of transforming the symbolic and political importance of the Historic Basin, by increasing the Jewish religious and national significance of this area while increasing the pressure on the Palestinian residents. We object to the cynical misuse of heritage and environment protection as a tool by Israeli authorities for justifying settlement expansion, for re-shaping the historical narrative and for determining ownership over the historical basin.”

Israel Freezes Salem Family Eviction in Sheikh Jarrah

On February 22nd the Jerusalem Magistrate Court published a decision that would temporarily freeze the eviction orders against the a Palestinian family living in Sheikh Jarrah (the Salem family) as soon as the family deposits a 25,000 shekel ($7,700) “guarantee” with the Court related to a new petition it has filed. 

The Salem family has been fighting efforts by settlers to evict them from their longtime home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The settlers claim to have bought the house from the Jewish family that owned it before 1948 — based on an Israeli law that gave Jewish Israelis the right to “reclaim” properties lost in the 1948 War. In contrast, the Salem family, under Israel law, lacks legal claim both to the home in Sheikh Jarrah where they have lived since being displaced from their home inside the Green Line during the 1948 War, and to their original home inside Israel. With Israeli law fully on their side, the settlers obtained a court-order for the eviction of the Salem family, scheduled by the Court to happen sometime between March 1st and April 1st (the exact date was left vague, in order to give security forces the element of surprise, thereby preventing Palestinians from organizing any protest). That eviction order is now considered frozen until the Court rules on an appeal submitted by the Salem family. 

Meanwhile, Kahanist Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir continues to operate a makeshift “parliamentary office” on a plot of land directly adjacent to the Salem family home — a deliberate provocation that has succeeded in stoking tensions and conflict in Sheikh Jarrah.

For further background on the Salem family’s case (including on the Israeli laws that were expressly designed to enable the eviction of Palestinians in favor of settlers), see reporting by Ir Amim and Peace Now.

U.S. Ambassador Nides Reiterates His No-Visiting-Settlements Policy, Invites Settlers to Meet with Him

In a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on February 21st, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides reiterated that he will not travel to Israel’s illegal settlements. Instead, Nides declared that he will meet with “anyone who wants to meet with me,” and invited settlers to visit the Embassy [note: this is a return to the pre-Trump/Friedman status quo]. Nides went on to note that he had gone out for drinks with a right-wing rabbi who had taken offense to earlier comments Nides made on his decision to not travel to the settlements. This week Nides also appeared to downplay any policy implications of such a travel ban, saying instead that traveling to a settlement with a large motorcade would stoke controversy. 

Bonus Reads

  1. “Palestinian Teen Suffers Head Wound by Rubber-tipped Bullet During West Bank Protests” (Haaretz)
  2. “The Palestinian village squeezed dry by Israel’s tight water control“ (Middle East Eye)
  3. “Two Unprecedented Scenarios Emerge in Battle for Control of Jewish Agency” (Haaretz)

 

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

To subscribe to this report, please click here.

February 18, 2022

  1. Israeli Court Agrees to Hear Case on Settlements & Discriminatory Land Allocation 
  2. Government Data Shows: Over Past 5 years, in Area C Israel Granted 33 Building Permits for Palestinians, compared to more than 16,500 for settlers
  3. A Perfect Storm – For a Major Crisis – Gathers Over Sheikh Jarrah
  4. Maaleh Ahuvia Outpost Demolished, Immediately Rebuilt
  5. Settlers are Running a Government-Backed Program for Israeli Kids on Palestinian Land in East Jerusalem
  6. Lapid: Israel Will Refrain from the Most Problematic Settlement Expansion
  7. Further Reading

Israeli Court Agrees to Hear Case on Settlements & Discriminatory Land Allocation 

The Israeli High Court has moved forward with a case challenging Israel’s discriminatory allocation of “state land” in the West Bank, 99.8% of which Israeli authorities have summarily handed over for the benefit of settlements. On February 10th, the Court gave the Israeli government a May 1st deadline to submit an explanation for why — in the context of this specific case — it refuses to consider allocating to Palestinians any of the “state land” previously allocated for the expansion of the Efrat settlement (to build the new “Givat Eitam/E2” settlement on a hilltop known to Palestinians as a-Nahle ). 

This is the first time the High Court has elected to take up the matter of discriminatory land allocation. The decision to do so was prompted by a petition filed by over a dozen Palestinian landowners in May 2020, with the assistance of Peace Now. This petition was filed after previous legal efforts failed to overturn Israel’s declaration of their land, part of the Palestinian village of a-Nahle, as “state land”. Past attempts to use litigation in Israeli courts to challenge Israel’s use of “state land” declarations in order to expand settlements have typically not continued past this point. This is in part because in order to challenge how “state land” is allocated, the Palestinian petitioner must, in effect, concede that the land in question (which Israel has seized from them) is legitimately “state land” in the first place — something Palestinian landowners are understandably loathe to do. Thus, this petition represents a novel challenge for the Court.

While the Court’s decision to allow the case to go forward is significant, it is important to note, too, that the wording of the Court’s order to the government indicates that the Court is only considering a limited part of the petition. That is: rather than examining the underlying principle of discriminatory land allocation practices, it is pursuing a limited consideration of why the State chose not to allocated parts of the land to these specific petitioners, in this specific case.

Peace Now said in a statement

“For more than 50 years, Israel has allocated the precious resource of land in the West Bank to Israelis only. This policy confirms the claims of those who accuse Israel of applying an Apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories. The allocation of the land in E2 for a settlement is immoral, illegal and disproportionate in a way that cries to heaven. Although the order given by the court does not cover the entire area of ​​the petition, the court signals that this discrimination must not continue.”

As a reminder, the settlement at the heart of the case is called Givat Eitam by settlers, but it is called “E-2” by anti-settlement watchdogs, in light of its dire geopolitical implications for any future Palestinian state (similar to those of the E-1 settlement on Jerusalem’s eastern flank). The construction of Givat Eitam/E-2 would significantly expand the Efrat settlement in the direction of Bethlehem, effectively cutting Bethlehem off from the southern West Bank and completing the city’s encirclement by Israeli settlements. 

Government Data Shows: Over Past 5 years, in Area C Israel Granted 33 Building Permits for Palestinians, compared to more than 16,500 for settlers

Directly relevant to the court case regarding the allocation of state land to the Efrat settlement for the construction of a new settlement (see above), new data released by the Israeli government has revealed that over the past five years, Israel has issued only 33 building permits to Palestinians living in Area C while over the same period and for the same area, it issued over 16,500 building permits to settlers.

As a reminder, Area C is the 60% of the West Bank where Israel enjoys total authority and in which Israel has systematically denied Palestinian building rights, while promoting the expansion of settlements and unauthorized outposts, and in parallel systematically demolishing Palestinian un-permitted construction. This trend pre-dates the 5-year period covered in the new government data — for example, from 2016-2018, Israel issued only 21 building permits to Palestinians, while  during that same period issuing 2,147 demolition orders against Palestinian construction.

These trends are part of the continuing efforts of Israeli settlers and the Israeli government to entrench and expand Israel’s control over (and de facto annexation of) the entirety of Area C. Notably, in September 2020 the Israeli government allocated 20 million NIS ($6 million USD) for the newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry to survey and map unauthorized (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C — construction which Israel has been aggressively demolishing. In addition to funding the expansion of policies that systematically discriminate against and dispossesses Palestinians in Area C, this funding further empowers a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already annexed by Israel. 

The Knesset has also to a great extent adopted the narrative of settlers and pro-settler organizations — a narrative predicated on the idea that Area C belongs to Israel and must be defended against Palestinian efforts to steal it (framing that in effect dismisses the legitimacy of any Palestinian landownership in Area C). The Knesset has repeatedly hosted forums to discuss the alleged (by settlers and their allies/advocates) “Palestinian takeover of Area C.” Consistent with this framing and pushed by outside groups, many members of the Knesset have criticized the Israeli government’s alleged failure  to robustly “defend” Israel’s rights/ interests in Area C — demanding that the government do more to prevent and demolish “illegal” Palestinian construction (even as it refuses to issue permits for Palestinians to build “legally), that it must prevent foreign projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area, that it must clear Palestinians out of areas targeted by settlers, and that it must do more to expand settlements and consolidate state-built settlement infrastructure.

A Perfect Storm – For a Major Crisis – Gathers Over Sheikh Jarrah

Israeli settlers and police have provoked significant violence and rising tensions in Sheikh Jarrah ahead of Israel’s imminent forced displacement of the Salem family from their home of 60+ years in favor of settlers. That eviction is slated to be carried out by Israel sometime between March 1 and April 1. The latest violence has centered on the area around the Salem family home, where on February 13th, Kahanist Knesset Member Itamar Ben-Gvir erected a makeshift outpost — which he calls a “parliamentary office”– directly outside of the home.

Ben-Gvir’s action — which he clearly intends as a provocation — sparked a series of events that continue to result in violence, injury, and an increasing Israeli police presence in the neighborhood.

The escalation of conflict in Sheikh Jarrah has caused many – including in the Israeli government and the Biden Administration – to worry about a repeat of the events of May 2021, when a crisis centered on Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mt/Haram al Sharif ultimately sparked direct conflict between Hamas in Gaza, and the Israeli military, with devastating results for Gaza. The looming eviction of the Salem family mirrors the events which sparked those events last summer, with the added context of the convergence of three important religious holidays: Passover, Ramadan, and Easter. A U.S. official called this a “recipe for disaster in Jerusalem.”

Mohammed El-Kurd (whose family is also facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah) writes about events transpiring around the Salem family home this week:

“While the Israeli regime has long managed to conceal its practices of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and colonial expansion behind a mix of complex legislation, Hasbara, and the rhetoric of “war and peace,” politicians like Ben-Gvir increasingly do not bother to play that game. And they are not so fringe. Palestinians know that Ben-Gvir’s eliminationist rhetoric is cemented, albeit in more polished form, in Israeli policies of mass transfer. His office stunt is merely a more explicit version of the Zionism that Israeli leaders have governed with for the past seven decades—one predicated on replacing Palestinians with settlers. As I write this, colonial violence continues in my neighborhood and across colonized Palestine. Israeli forces have shot and killed Nihad Barghouti, a Palestinian teenager who was protesting in occupied Nabi Saleh, Ramallah; attacked protesting students with tear gas canisters at Abu Dis University; assaulted a disabled activist in Sheikh Jarrah while providing protection for Ben-Gvir’s entourage; and demolished a Palestinian’s home in the South Hebron Hills, shortly before brutally detaining him. As the injuries and arrests mount, it’s hard not to see the parallels between today’s events and the events that sparked last year’s Unity Uprising and the devastating assault on the besieged Gaza Strip. Many hold their breath, anticipating the repression that accompanies resistance, the steep price of revolt.”

For further background on the Salem family’s case (including on the Israeli laws that were expressly designed to enable the eviction of Palestinians in favor of settlers), see reporting by Ir Amim and Peace Now.

Ma’aleh Ahuvia Outpost Demolished, Immediately Rebuilt

On February 8th, the IDF dismantled the illegal outpost of “Ma’aleh Ahuvia.” Hours later, the IDF failed to prevent settlers from promptly (and illegally) rebuilding and improving the outpost – demonstrating the lack of either willpower or lack of efficacy of Israeli officials in the West Bank to constrain settler activity. That evening, settlers from the outpost carried out a so-called “price tag attack” on the nearby Palestinian village of Deir Jarrar, damaging cars and inflicting terror.

Prominent Israeli solidarity activist, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, documented settlers rebuilding the site, and wrote:

“Army vehicles pass by every day on the way to a base the message to Palestinian victims of violence, of ravaged vineyards, orchards and fields, and of theft Palestinians even susect that the water container and other items in the outpost were stolen from them.) will continue with no relief from Israel. The message to settlers is they have nothing to fear. They continue to wreak terror.”

As a reminder, this outpost is a named for Ahuvia Sandak, a settler “hilltop youth” who died when the car he was traveling crashed as it was fleeing Israeli police with a group of settler youth who allegedly has been stoning Palestinian cars. Settlers and their supporters have painted Israeli police as perpetrators of a crime of negligence (or worse) against the settler youth; the Knesset has taken up the issue; and Sandak has been memorialized as a hero and a martyr to the cause of Greater Israel.

Settlers Are Running Government-Backed Program for Israeli Kids on Palestinian Land in East Jerusalem

Haaretz reports that the radical settler group Elad is running a program that enables Israeli students to earn school credit for doing work on land in the Ben Hinnom Valley. The land in question is privately owned by Palestinians (and recognized as such by Israel). However, the government of Israel has issued “landscaping orders” (also called “gardening orders”), and order which allows Israel to “temporarily” (at least in theory) take over privately owned land for what are ostensibly public purpose.

Elad’s student program on the private Palestinian land has been operating under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality in partnership with the Israel Nature & Parks Authority, once again demonstrating how settlers and the Israeli state work hand-in-hand to assert Israeli control over Palestinian land.

Fearing that the setters’ control over the land will become permanent, the Palestinian owners of the land in question have filed an appeal against the landscaping orders. The Jerusalem District Court recently heard arguments on the appeal, where a lawyer representing the Palestinian landowners argued that there is no precedent for using “landscaping orders” to take over so much land.  The judge hearing the appeal did not issue a decision, instead postponing judgment.

As a reminder: In June 2019, the Jerusalem Municipality used the issuance of “landscaping orders” to take control of 12 plots of privately owned Palestinian land near an area where the Elad settlement group has been active – again, based in part on the argument that the owners were not presently using the land.  However, the land in question is located in an area that Israel has declared to be a national park. With that “national park” declaration, Israel legally barred the private landowners from using their own land. With its subsequent “landscaping orders,” Israel has in effect asserted that since the owners weren’t using the land (that they were legally barred, by Israel, from using), that land can now, in effect, be seized by Israel for its own purposes (the landscaping orders last for a period of 5 years, with the likelihood of extensions after that — tantamount to expropriation). 

Emek Shaveh’s Executive Director Alon Arad told Haaretz:

“People who love Jerusalem and care about its heritage don’t harm its landscapes or push out its people. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, through Elad, is promoting development that essentially changes the landscapes, damaging the historical heritage of the valley and reshaping it to fit political interests. It is shameful that this work is being done by a political organization that drafts teens and children for its own needs under the framework of fulfilling their educational obligations.”

Lapid: Israel Will Refrain from the Most Problematic Settlement Expansion

Standing alongside the German Foreign Minister at a press conference, Israel Foreign Minister (and alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid stated that Israel will not build settlements that prevent a two-state solution (a statement that reflects an Israeli mindset according to which there can be “peace” based on Israel dictating to Palestinians what areas of the West Bank will become part of Israel). Lapid insisted that Israel will only approve plans that accommodate the “natural growth” of settlements (of course, there is nothing “natural” about growth of settlements, given that such growth is possible only due to Israeli government policies that support and enable the establishment and expansion of settlements, and policies that actively incentivize and support Israel citizens moving to and living in the West Bank).

A quick survey of recent settlement plans and projects, as summarized weekly by this report (archived here), highlights the dishonesty in even this weak commitment by Lapid to keeping the two-state solution alive. These include the State’s efforts to retroactively legalize the Evyatar outpost, to reestablish the Homesh settlement, and to advance plans for six new settlements in East Jerusalem; in addition to the myriad of unofficial mechanisms by which the State grants increasing control over land in the West Bank to the settlers.

Bonus Reads

  1. “One Year Report on Demolitions and Seizures in the west Bank, Including East Jerusalem (Reporting Period: 1 January 2021 – 31 December 2021)” (European Union)
  2. “Opinion: Palestinians have denounced Israeli apartheid for decades. As the world catches up, how will it react?” (Mariam Barghouti in the Washington Post)
  3. “Violent Israeli Settlers Are Starting to Resemble the KKK” (Michael Sfard in Haaretz)
  4. “Terrorizing a Nation: Israeli Settler Violence Against the People of Palestine – A Yer in Review (2021)” (PLO-NAD)
  5. “A broken ankle, a demolished home, and a crushed water cistern” (Ali Awad in +972 Magazine)
  6. “The “Father of the Settlements”” (Arutz Sheva)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

To subscribe to this report, please click here.

February 4, 2022

  1. Israeli Attorney General Approves Retroactive Legalization of the Evyatar Outpost (Final Decision to be Made by Government)
  2. Another Palestinian Family to Be Forcibly Dispossessed of its home in Jerusalem
  3. New Tender Issued for Settler Foot Bridge Over Ben Hinnom Valley
  4. Knesset Committee Recommends Expanding Israel Antiquities Authority Oversight into the West Bank
  5. Further Reading

Israeli Attorney General Approves Retroactive Legalization of the Evyatar Outpost (Final Decision to be Made by Government)

Haaretz reports that in the final hours of his tenure outgoing Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit issued a legal opinion that provides a basis for granting retroactive legalization to the Evyatar outpost (which would mean authorizing Evyator as a fully-approved new settlement, “legal” under Israeli law). 

As a reminder: the Evyatar outpost was illegally built by settlers on land located just south of Nablus, in the very heart of the northern West Bank. The site of the outpost is known to Palestinians as Mount Sabih, and has historically belonged to the nearby Palestinian villages of Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. With this new opinion, the Israeli Attorney General has decided that enough of the land on which the illegal outpost was built can be declared as “state land,” which means the Israeli government can give the area to the settlers.

As another reminder, this time from Peace Now

“the declaration of state lands is a procedure that was used by Israel since the 1980’s in order to take over nearly one million dunams in the occupied territories. The declaration is based on a draconian Israeli interpretation of the Ottoman Land Law according to which if land is not cultivated for a certain period it becomes public land and is managed by the state (and in the case of Israeli occupation of the territories, it is managed by the Civil Administration).”

With the legal opinion of the Attorney General, the Bennett government is now in a position to authorize Evyatar as a new settlement. If granted government approval, Defense Minister Benny Gantz can issue a formal declaration of “state land” (more on that process here). In January 2022, reports indicated that Gantz had agreed to the plan to legalize Evyatar.

That said, the Bennett government could, theoretically, still elect to not authorize the outposts, but that outcome is extremely unlikely, to say the least – notwithstanding the fact that Foreign Minister (and alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid has reportedly warned Prime Minister Bennett that authorizing Evyatar will damage Israel-U.S. relations. Also, the Israeli Labor and Meretz parties (both part of the governing coalition) oppose the legalization of Evyatar. 

Palestinian Authority settlement officer Ghassan Daghlas told Haaretz:

“Israel is trying to establish facts on the ground and the timing of the announcement is not coincidental, a day after the publication of the Amnesty report.”

Map by Peace Now

In the very early days of the Bennett-Lapid coalition government, it was decided that the government would undertake an “investigation” into the status of the land on which the outpost was illegally established. That investigation was part of a package deal meant to both appease the settlers who were illegally squatting at the site and their allies. The package was also intended to quell Palestinian protests against the outpost and the international attention they were increasingly gaining – attention linked in larger part to the violent reaction against Palestinians by settlers and IDF soldiers, including most notably in Beita, which saw the death of several protestors, including children.

In addition to the “investigation,” the package also sought to balance bitter divisions within the Bennett government over whether to evacuate the outpost or grant it retroactive legalization. In the end, the government reached a “deal” which saw the settlers (temporarily) voluntarily vacate the outpost on July 2, 2021. In return, the government agreed to leave the settlers’ illegal construction at the site in place (i.e., did not demolish it) — including buildings and roads —  while it carried out its investigation into the status of the land. In this way, the “compromise” left the outpost intact and allowed Israel to maintain complete control over the site during the “survey” process, clearly signalling that the government’s objective was never to enforce Israeli law, but, rather, was always about finding a legal and political “solution” to enable them to launder the settlers’ actions and accommodate their demands. Indeed, the terms of the Evyatar “compromise” made clear that the Bennet government was confident that it would find a pretext on which to assert that the land on which the outpost stands is “state land,” which can be used by the state as it sees fit (which nearly 100% of the time means, will be used to benefit the settlers)).

Peace Now said in a statement

“Instead of stopping the ideological delinquency of a handful of settlers who allow themselves to establish facts on the ground against the law, and contrary to the Israeli interest, the government seeks to encourage them and give them a reward. The establishment of a new settlement in the depths of the West Bank is a security burden, and a threat to the chances for peace. Coalition members who oppose the occupation and support two states must demand that the Defense Minister stop the madness and not approve the settlement in Eviatar.”

Another Palestinian Family to Be Forcibly Dispossessed of its home in Jerusalem

Ir Amim reports that Israeli authorities have officially cleared the way for the Palestinian Salem family to be evicted from its longtime home in Sheikh Jarrah. The eviction can take place at any time between March 1st and April 1st. Once evicted, the Salem family home will be handed over to two settlers, one of whom is Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King – suggesting that, at least in this case, the Israel government’s agenda and the settlers’ agenda are one and the same. 

The Israeli registrar, in publishing its approval of the eviction window, also ordered the Salem family to pay 5,000 shekels (~$1,500 USD) for legal expenses.

The Salem family told WAFA news that they intend to appeal their eviction to the Israeli High Court, though a member of the family made it clear that the Israeli courts are part of a system designed to dispossess them:

“The Israeli court is biased. It only aims at emptying Jerusalem from Palestinians to give our place to settlers…even if we appeal, we don’t trust the Israeli court system. We depend only on solidarity in Palestine and beyond…We are three brothers living with our families, including seven children and our 74-year-old mother, Fatima Salem, the head of the family…We were all born here and have nowhere else to go. If they do expel us, we will continue to live in the street, right here”. 

On the possibility of delaying the Salem family’s forcible displacement, Ir Amim notes:

Although the Selam family’s legal representation may appeal the Enforcement and Collection Authority’s decision authorizing the family’s eviction and request an injunction to freeze it, there is no guarantee the court will approve such a request. The family’s attorney has hence made it clear that the remaining legal remedies are extremely limited. Therefore the only real effective means of preventing the family’s impending displacement is through state intervention.”

Israeli settlers and police had specifically requested a window in which to carry out the eviction to enable them to carry out the eviction by surprise — thereby (theoretically) making it harder for the family and protesters to prepare and for large crowds to gather. It must be understood that this flexible date is just the latest twist on the cruelty and hardship endured by the Salem family for years. It’s also worth recalling that earlier this month, in the context of a similar approval for the eviction of a Palestinian family living in the same neighborhood (the Salihiya family), Israel chose to implement the eviction in the dead of night, on one of the coldest nights of the year.

For further background on the Salem family’s case (including on the Israeli laws that were expressly designed to enable the eviction of Palestinians in favor of settlers), see reporting by Ir Amim and Peace Now.

New Tender Issued for Settler Foot Bridge Over Ben Hinnom Valley

Ir Amim reports that the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation issued a tender for a settler-initiated project to build a new pedestrian footbridge over the Ben Hinnom/Wadi Rababa Valley in Jerusalem. Bidding on the tender is set to close on February 28, 2022. An appeal against the plan, filed in 2018 by Israeli NGOs Peace Now and Emek Shaveh, was rejected by the Courts.

The bridge will serve to connect two settler-operated tourist facilities located on opposite sides of the valley – one in the  in the Palestinian Abu Tor neighborhood and the other in the Silwan neighborhood.

On the Abu Tor side of the bridge, the Elad settler organization runs and operates a cultural center and cafe named “House in the Valley,” which opened in 2019 after Elad evicted a Palestinian family and renovated the space. A week after Elad’s new cultural center was opened, the Jerusalem Municipality issued “gardening orders” to take control, for a period lasting 5 years (with the likelihood of extensions after that), of 12 nearby plots of privately owned Palestinian land. “Gardening orders” allow Israel to “temporarily” take over privately owned land for what are ostensibly public purposes (like establishing a parking lot or public garden), based on the argument that the private owners are not presently using the land. In this case, Israel has in effect made rules that guarantee that the latter condition applies: as Emek Shaveh has noted, the 12 plots in question are located in an area declared by Israel to be a national park, meaning that private landowners are legally barred from using their own land. 

On the Silwan side – a neighborhood where Elad (alongside other settler organizations, including Ateret Cohanim) is waging a house-by-house campaign to displace Palestinians in favor of settlers and settler-run tourist sites – the bridge will end near the Sambuski cemetery, which until recent years was a relatively unknown, neglected site that even Israel did not recognize as a holy site. Under the Trump “Peace to Prosperity” plan, the Sambuski cemetery suddenly became a place of prime historical and religious importance to Israel. The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – which has a special expertise on archaeology and the weaponization of archaeology to serve the political agenda of the settlers and the state – wrote a report on exactly how the Trump “Vision” supports settler efforts to use Jerusalem’s history and antiquities to promote Israeli-Jewish hegemony and control over the city.

Ir Amim writes:

“As part of the intensifying band of settlement around the Old City, the Wadi Rababa/Hinnom valley area is of particular significance as it stretches along the seam between Silwan and West Jerusalem and serves as the main entrance into the neighborhood from this direction. In recent years, there has been an increase of tourism projects in and around this location promoted by the government and the Elad settler organization, which together create a more seamless link between West Jerusalem and Elad’s constellation of settlement sites in Silwan.”

Knesset Committee Recommends Expanding Israel Antiquities Authority Oversight into the West Bank

On January 24th, the Knesset’s Education Committee held a hearing to discuss the alleged destruction of Jewish antiquity sites in the West Bank by Paelstinians and the Palestinian Authority, and what Israel should do to stop it. The Committee made several recommendations, including the suggestion for the government to expand the jurisdiction of the Israeli Antiquities Authority to include Area C, which would amount to yet another act of de facto annexation of some 60% of the West Bank. The Committee also recommended offering formal authorization for settler regional councils to “protect” and manage antiquity sites in Area C, which settlers are already doing on their own accord (with State funding and the help of the IDF in some cases). These archaeologically-focused annexation efforts run in parallel to other ongoing efforts by settlers and their political allies to unilaterally (and openly) annex Area C.

The hearing  was based on a report on this very subject authored by a group calling itself the “Guardians of Eternity.” That group is an offshoot of the settler group Regavim. Emek Shaveh – an Israeli NGO focused on archaeology – called the report “highly questionable,” noting that the scientific editor of the report is anonymous, the report did not use acceptable archaeological methodology when surveying different sites, and the data on which the report based its conclusions and recommendations has not been made public.

Emek Shaveh’s Executive Director, Alon Arad, briefly addressed the Knesset Committee, urging the Members to understand the political agenda at play. Arad said:

“​​The destruction of antiquities should not constitute a pretext for political action and I think we should also refrain from camouflaging the political nature of this discussion as an archaeological act. Blurring the lines between archaeology and heritage on the one hand, and settlement and annexation, on the other endangers the future of archaeology.”

Emek Shaveh later said in a statement:

“There are approximately 6000 antiquity sites in the West Bank. The significance is that practically in every village or town there are archaeological remains of varying scale from a watering hole to a multilayered mound. It follows that there is always a tension between the need for modern development and the safeguarding of heritage sites. It is also clear that the problem of antiquity destruction is used by settlers and right-wing MKs as a justification for displacement…in just two years from 2017-2019, there was a 162% rise in demolition orders citing archaeology…Emek Shaveh believes that the destruction of antiquities should not be used as a justification for settlement expansion nor for promoting actions which advance de facto annexation. The appropriate approach to safeguarding antiquities in Area C must include the following: Israel must respect International Humanitarian Law and conventions which outline its duties vis-à-vis cultural heritage sites as the occupier in occupied territory, including maintaining separation between the IAA and the Staff Officer for Archaeology. Israel should promote cooperation with the Palestinian Authority on all levels: information sharing, oversight, and enforcement – something that was mutually agreed in the Oslo Accords. Israel must outlaw the trade in antiquities which gives impetus to antiquity theft.”

The Knesset Committee’s discussion of this subject comes on the heels of a decision by Israeli Minister of Heritage and Jerusalem Affairs, Ze’ev Elkin, to allocate $1.57 million (5 million NIS) towards “reconstruction” of the Sebastia archaeological site (located in the northern West Bank, near Nablus), pending approval from the Israeli Civil Administration. The Ministry further said that an additional $787,000 will be allocated towards the “rehabilitation” of other archaeological sites in the West Bank, as well as about $470,000 towards the Civil Administration’s ramped up efforts to “protect” West Bank archaeological sites.

As FMEP has chronicled, settlers and their allies are intent upon using claims of Palestinian damage/neglect as a pretext for Israel taking control of archaeological sites and artifacts across the West Bank. For example, in February 2021 settlers used a construction mishap to raise claims to the Mt. Ebal site

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israeli soldiers force closure of Palestinian stores in Hebron’s Old City” (Basel al-Adra – +972 Magazine)
  2. “The purpose of settler terrorism” (Edo Konrad – +972 Magazine)
  3. THREAD: “During a discussion in the government about settler violence the Chief of Staff stated Israeli soldiers don’t have the authority to detain Israeli settlers who attacked Palestinians…” (Oren Ziv – Twitter)

 

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.

January 28, 2022

  1. Israel Destroyed The Salihiya’s Home in Sheikh Jarrah. Now The Salihiyas Are Appealing to the ICC
  2. Knesset Committee Chair Vows to Protect Homesh Outpost & Yeshiva
  3. A War Crime in the Making: Israel Finalizes Plan for Forcible Relocation of Khan Al-Ahmar
  4. Settlers Attack Palestinians & Israel Human Rights Activists
  5. Settlers Violently “Parade” Through West Bank Town
  6. Israeli Government Increases Funding for Annexation/Dispossession via Archaeology Effort
  7. Israel FM Denounces Effort to Connect Outposts to Israeli Services — While Israeli Communications Goes Ahead and Does Just That (for one outpost)
  8. Further Reading

Israel Destroyed The Salihiya’s Home in Sheikh Jarrah. Now The Salihiyas Are Appealing to the ICC

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has announced it will file an appeal with the International Criminal Court on behalf of the Salihiya family, whose members was forcibly displaced by Israeli forces from their home in Sheikh Jarrah last week. The Salihiya family home(s) and business were demolished by Israel, on the basis of Israel’s 2017 unilateral expropriation of their land ostensibly for “public use.” The ICC appeal accompanies ongoing efforts by the Salihiya family and its lawyer in Israeli courts, where the family’s lawyer recently announced they intend to file an appeal with the High Court of Justice to compel the State to rebuild the family home. 

According to the ICJP press release, the Salihiya family has been a client of the London-based law firm Bindmans Solicitors since October 2021, and will be finalizing its appeal this week.

ICJP Director Crispin Blunt (a member of the British parliament) said

“The Sheikh Jarrah case is already notorious.  ICJP is proud and privileged to stand alongside this family as they represent not just their own interests, but the century of historic injustice meted out to the Palestinian people individually and collectively. For Israel’s sake, for all Palestinians, and for humanity’s sake, the Sheikh Jarrah case needs to be a turning point where justice and our common humanity starts to count for more than people’s insecurities driven by fear.  Given that what has happened is wrong on any moral basis let us find the route to justice for all our sakes. ICJP stands with the victims against violence and fear. Stand with us for justice and the best of our shared interest in a just peace and the rule of a just law.”

As a reminder, on March 3, 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) formally opened an investigation into the “Situation in Palestine.” The investigation is expected to look at, among other things, potential war crimes committed by Israelis involved in the settlement enterprise. This could include the prosecution of Israeli officials involved in establishing settlements in the occupied territory – which are illegal under international law. For a rich discussion of the ICC case and the complexities involved in it, watch this recent FMEP webinar, ”Israel-Palestine at the International Criminal Court: What Next?

Knesset Committee Chair Vows to Protect Homesh Outpost & Yeshiva

On January 27th, Knesset House Committee Chairman Nir Orbach, from the Yamina party (the party of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett) vowed that the government “do[es] not intend to evacuate Homesh.” The government is expected to issue a position on the illegal Homesh outpost and yeshiva (Jewish religious school) on February 6th. In the meantime, settlers who continue to visit the illegal (even under Israeli law) Homesh yeshiva also continue to regularly terrorize surrounding Palestinian villages and drivers.

The government is facing a court-mandated deadline to file its response to a 2019 case that is still pending before the Israeli High Court. That case – initiated by residents of the Palestinian village of Burqa, with the legal assistance of Yesh Din – calls for the removal of the Homesh outpost and demands that the land be returned to its Palestinian owners (and that the IDF ensures that Palestinians are indeed able to access their land). Since the Israeli government dismantled the Homesh settlement in 2005 (as part of Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement”), Palestinian have been denied access to the land, even as settlers have been permitted regular access and have been granted de facto (but not formal) permission to establish and maintain a yeshiva and outpost there.

While the government formulates its response to the case, settlers and their allies continue to raise the political stakes for the Bennett government, with the settler-run Arutz Sheva outlet even running a piece that equates the Homesh situation the Alamo (a piece which also launches a defense of the notoriously violent and frequently anarchist Hilltop Youth settler movement).

In a particularly incisive report by the Associated Press on the Homesh outpost — focusing on the settlers who illegally established and now attend yeshiva there, and the IDF’s role in enabling their continued presence — a Homesh devotee makes clear how the settlers view Palestinians:

“Ben Shachar, the teacher at the yeshiva, said farmers [referring to Palestinian landowners currently unable to access the area] should coordinate their entry with the Israeli military. He said he’s open to dialogue with ‘any Arab who accepts that the Land of Israel [which he makes clear includes all of the West Bank] belongs to the Jewish people,’ but that terrorism is ‘part of the DNA of Arab society’.”

A War Crime in the Making: Israel Finalizes Plan for Forcible Relocation of Khan Al-Ahmar

The Times of Israel reports that the Israeli Security Cabinet will soon vote on a plan to demolish the Khan Al-Ahmar bedouin community and (bizarrely) rebuild it some 300 meters from where it currently stands. The State is under the pressure of a March 6th court deadline (which has already been delayed once at the request of the State) to implement the Court-ordered demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, which the Court declared to be illegally built (i.e. lacking Israeli building permits that are virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain). 

Residents of Khan al-Ahmar – who have been living for years under a sustained threat of forcible displacement (a war crime) and are routinely harassed by Israeli forces – reportedly oppose this plan to forcibly displace them, and are planning a protest for January 30th. 

At the same time, many Israeli lawmakers and right-wing groups also reject this plan – not out of concern for displacing the Bedouin, but out of concern that it doesn’t achieve the desired effect of removing them from this part of the West Bank — a strategic area in the eyes of Israeli settlers and their allies who want to build settlements encircling Jerusalem and cleanse Area C of its Palestinian residents.

Yoav Kisch of the Likud party and Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock issued a joint statement saying:

“This is a fake evacuation with highly dangerous repercussions. The damage in legalizing Khan al-Ahmar is immense. The de facto meaning is that the State of Israel approves the Palestinian plan to take over this strategic area.”

Regavim CEO Meir Deutsch said:

“The area in question, the Mishor Adumim area, is the most strategic, lying between Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley Jericho and Ramallah. That’s why the place gets so much attention from the PA and the EU…This is a small collection of huts, one of dozens in the same area, one of hundreds established in Area C. The strategic location is what draws this attention. The defense minister’s desire to whitewash the place is the realization of the Palestinian strategy to take over the area. It establishes land grabs in the heart of this strategic area…The idea the Defense Ministry came up with is about moving three hundred meters and fixing them in the heart of this strategic area, and this is not an agreed plan. The villagers have already announced that they oppose any movement, even one meter. So it makes no sense to move them. The State of Israel must do what is good for it….The state is trying, but through the displacement of 300 meters it is not avoiding confrontation, because the residents have announced that they will not move and so this solution also does not prevent conflict. It is the worst of all worlds, because it establishes a Palestinian outpost in the heart of the territory without preventing a confrontation.”

Settlers Attack Palestinians & Israel Human Rights Activists

On January 21st in broad daylight, settlers from the illegal (even under Israeli law) Givat Ronen outpost violently attacked Palestinians and Israeli activists who were planting trees on privately owned Palestinian land near the village of Burin in the northern West Bank. 

Footage of the attack shows settlers wielding clubs, throwing stones, and burning a car — in the process injuring six people. Despite video footage of the incident, Israel has made no arrests (so far), though reports suggest the Israeli Shin Bet and Israeli police have opened an investigation.

The presence of, and injuries to, Israeli citizens attracted media attention and rare condemnations from the Israeli political class (and even some typically mum Jewish American organizations). Public Security Minister Bar Lev (Labor) said:

“It appears, the way I see it, that we are talking about an organized activity by a terror group that acted together to come and harm primarily Israeli citizens who had come to protest at the site. They harmed them and torched their car.”

Following the attack, the Israeli authorities delivered demolition notices to five structures at the Givat Ronen outpost (also known as Sneh Ya’akov), where the attackers are believed to be illegally living. The notices were posted on January 23rd.

Apparently undaunted, video taken on January 26th shows settlers attacking an IDF soldier during riots near the Givat Ronen outpost. Haaretz reports that dozens of settlers participated in the attack, which included stone throwing and tear gassing Israeli troops.

Kerem Navot – an anti-settlement watchdog – provides critical history on the Givat Ronen outpost and how violence is at the center of settlers’ drive to takeover Palestinian land, tweeting:

The outpost of ‘Givat Ronen,’ known also as ‘Sneh Yaakov,’ is named after the man who founded it in 1998–Ronen Arusi…Givat Ronen is one of two outposts located around the isolated, violent, and extremist settlement of Har Bracha, which was established overlooking the city of Nablus in 1983. Givat Ronen is located about a kilometer south of the settlement…The two outposts surrounding this settlement (like all outposts in the West Bank) are used for the same function: to take over land surrounding the settlement. In this case, the lands of the village of Burin. The approach is simple: you build an outpost on land that was looted by the state by declaring it to be “state land”; from there you continue to take over cultivated agricultural land surrounding the outpost by way of violence ​​most of which were previously cultivated by Palestinians. In practice, as a result of the settler violence that is backed by the army, Palestinians are not able to access any of this land, or any of the land within the much larger area around the settlement covering about 5,400 dunams that this land is located in, unless they work in construction in the settlement of Har Bracha. The scumbags who carried out this pogrom below the outpost have learned this tactic well: employing murderous violence in order to increase the size of the territory that Palestinians cannot enter. They have every reason in the world to assume that in this case, as in every case, no one will bother to leverage the law against them.”

Settlers Violently “Parade” Through West Bank Town

On January 24th settlers believed to be from the Yitzhar settlement staged a violent parade of cars through the West Bank village of Huwwara in celebration of a settler from the Yitzhar settlement being released from Israeli prison. The “celebration” terrorized Huwwara — with settler stone-throwing resulting in injuries to at least three people (including one child), and significant damage to at least 25 Palestinian vehicles and several businesses. Video of the attack shows Israeli forces in plain view during the rampage, but doing nothing to stop it. Israeli police have said that an investigation has been opened, but no arrests have been made.

Haaretz reports:

“Kaid Amar, the owner of a plumbing fixture store that was the target of stone-throwing, alleged in comments to Haaretz that the settlers had the protection of the soldiers at the scene. ‘They broke up my store and caused me 40,000 shekels [$12,600] in damage. My car was also wrecked. The soldiers were there around [the settlers’] cars and didn’t do anything,’ he said. Hawara Mayor Mueen Damidi said, ‘Israel says it’s a democracy, but if Palestinians were to have thrown stones, what would they have done? Shoot them. We are suffering greatly from the situation’.”

Israeli Government Increases Funding for Annexation/Dispossession via Archaeology Effort

On January 25th, the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry announced that it will allocate $1.57 million (5 million NIS) towards “reconstruction” of the Sebastia archaeological site (located in the northern West Bank, near Nablus), pending approval from the Israeli Civil Administration. The Ministry further said that an additional $787,000 will be allocated towards the “rehabilitation” of other archaeological sites in the West Bank, as well as about $470,000 towards the Civil Administration’s ramped up efforts to “protect” West Bank archaeological sites.

Announcing the funding, Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin said:

“The destruction of the sites, which is being carried out under the auspices of the P.A., is destroying the history of the entire region, and I will make every effort to fight it. The conservation of heritage sites in Judea and Samaria is a national mission.”

Settlers have been openly agitating – with some success – for Israel to assert control over the archaeological site in Sebastia for years. In January 2021, Emek Shaveh (an Israeli NGO expert in – and focused on – archaeology) wrote about what is happening in Sebastia, saying:

“The archaeological site of Sebastia is identified with Samaria, the capital of the Kingdom of ancient Israel in 9-8 BCE. The site also features ruins from the Hellenistic, Roman and later periods. The village of Sebastia is situated within Area B while the site itself is located mainly in area C. Over the past few years, the Samaria Regional Council has been organizing tours to the site, particularly during the school holidays.  Several times this year, the Civil Administration has removed a Palestinian flag from the village and the site. In the most recent incident, a flag was raised following renovation works funded by the Belgian government. In their response the regional council blamed the Palestinians for destroying a site central to Jewish history and UNESCO for supporting the Palestinians. Sebastia is on the tentative list of World Heritage sites in Palestine….the integration of ancient sites into an organized strategy designed to weaken Palestinian hold on Area C is worrying. The formalization of this approach is likely to result in a steep rise in actions over ancient sites and structures, from water cisterns found in many villages, to major sites such as Sebastia. The justification for preserving and developing ancient sites familiar to us from East Jerusalem is now being applied wholesale to hundreds of places in the West Bank to the detriment of the Palestinians living near the sites and to the multilayered heritage inherent in the ruins which will be distorted for political ends.”

As FMEP has chronicled, settlers and their allies are intent upon using claims of Palestinian damage/neglect as a pretext for Israel taking control of archaeological sites and artifacts across the West Bank. For example, in February 2021 settlers used a construction mishap to raise claims to the Mt. Ebal site

In January 2021, the state of Israel committed funding to a new settler initiative to surveil archeological sites under Palestinian control. While the objective of protecting antiquities might appear uncontroversial and apolitical, the true (and transparently self-evident) objective behind this effort are: to support yet another pretext to surveil and police Palestinians; to establish and exploit yet another means to dispossess Palestinians of their properties; to expand/deepen Israeli control across the West Bank; and to further entrench Israeli technical, bureaucratic and legal paradigms that treat the West Bank as sovereign Israeli territory. It is the result of a campaign that has taken place over the past year in which settlers have escalated their calls for the Israeli government to seize antiquities and “heritage sites” located in Palestinian communities across the West Bank, especially in Area C, which Israel today treats as functionally (and legally) indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory. The new funding committed by Israel for West Bank “heritage sites” should be understood in this context.

Previous victories for the settlers include the Israeli Civil Administration’s issuance in 2020 of expropriation orders – the first of their kind in 35 years – for two archaeological sites located on privately owned Palestinian property northwest of Ramallah. The settlers’ pressure is also credited as the impetus behind the government’s clandestine raid of a Palestinian village in July 2020 to seize an ancient font. 

In June 2020, a settler group calling itself “Shomrim Al Hanetzach” (“Guardians of Eternity”) began surveying areas in the West Bank that Israel has designated as archeaological sites, looking for Palestinian construction (barred by Israel in such areas) that they could then call in Israeli authorities to demolish. The group communicates its findings to the Archaeology Unit of the Israeli Civil Administration (reminder: the Civil Administration is the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry which since 1967 has functioned as the de facto sovereign over the West Bank). The Archaeology Unit, playing its part, then delivers eviction and demolition orders against Palestinians, claiming that the structures damage antiquities in the area. 

As a reminder, in 2017, Israel designated 1,000 new archaeological sites in Area C of the West Bank. The “Guardians of Eternity” group, not coincidentally, is an offshoot of the radical Regavim organization, which among other things works to push Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction (on Palestinians’ own land) that lacks Israeli permits (permits that Israel virtually never grants).

Israel FM Denounces Effort to Connect Outposts to Israeli Services — While Israeli Communications Goes Ahead and Does Just That (for one outpost)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid made a statement to the press opposing efforts by the Knesset (including members in his own governing coalition) to connect illegal (even under Israeli law) outposts to Israeli municipal services. This is a key, longtime demand of the settlement movement and was the subject of a recent meeting between Minister Ayelet Shaked (a proponent of the outposts) and Benny Gantz (who, as Defense Minister, is ultimately responsible for implementing any such decision). 

Meanwhile, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel attended a ceremony inaugurating the installation of fiber-optic cables in the unauthorized Magen Dan outpost, located in the northern West Bank settlement of Elkana. This is the first unauthorized outpost to be connected to the Israeli fiber optic grid.

Bonus Reads

  1. “‘We’re here to pressure the village’: Israeli troops admit collective punishment policy” (+972 Magazine)
  2. “Israel Closes Case Against Police Involved in Deadly West Bank Car Chase” (Haaretz)
  3. “Palestinian farmers caught between Israeli rock and PA hard place” (Middle East Eye)
  4. “Explained: How Israel’s Absentees’ Property Law keeps Palestinians from their homes” (Middle East Eye)
  5. Opinion | The Israeli Occupation’s Problem Isn’t Just a Few Violent Settlers” (Avshalom Zohar Sal / for Haaretz)
  6. “Palestinians call for probe into Israeli massacres in Tantura” (Al Jazeera)
  7. “A Progressive Jewish Response to the Discriminatory Policies of the KKL-JNF” (Breaking the Silence). From the author: 

“The report begins with an executive summary, which is followed by three main sections. The first section provides an overview of the parts of KKL-JNF’s work that has displaced Palestinians and further entrenched the occupation. The second section offers a detailed explanation of the often opaque structures of the organization, including its relationship to the World Zionist Organization and the Israeli government, as well as its internal structure and budget. The final section of the report provides initial suggestions on how progressive Jews can begin to counter the work of KKL-JNF.”

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.

January 21, 2022

  1. Under Cover of Darkness & Cold, Israel Evicts Palestinian Family & Demolishes Their Homes in Sheikh Jarrah
  2. Israel Advances Plan for New Settlement in East Jerusalem
  3. Settlers Continue To Press For “Legalization” of Homesh Outpost & Yeshiva
  4. New U.S. Ambassador Will “Absolutely Not” Visit Settlements
  5. Further Reading

Under Cover of Darkness & Cold, Israel Dispossessed Palestinian Family & Demolished Their Homes in Sheikh Jarrah

At approximately 3:00am on Wednesday, January 19th Israeli forces undertook a major operation in order to forcibly remove the Salhiya family from their longtime home in Sheikh Jarrah — rendering 7 adults and 5 children homeless in the middle of the night in the freezing rain. Israeli forced then moved to promptly demolish the home. The action followed Israel’s aborted two days earlier, on January 17th, to remove the family, during which it razed part of the Salhiya family plot, including a plant nursery

As a reminder, Israel pursued this dispossession after unilaterally expropriating the plot of land owned by the Salhiya family in 2017 for “public use.” Israeli authorities say that they intend to use the land to build schools to serve Palestinians, who have long suffered from a shortage of school facilities. As has been noted, this argument is hard to take seriously, given that land exists elsewhere in Sheikh Jarrah on which schools could be built without evicting and rendering an entire Palestinian family. Ir Amim explains:

“Although Israeli law allows for the expropriation of private property for public purposes, it is typically only carried out in the absence of alternative options. The authorities have had various options at their disposal, including use of other plots of open land in the neighborhood, which would not have necessitated the Salahiya family’s eviction. Rather than using such plots, the municipality saw it reasonable to dispossess a Palestinian family to meet such needs.”

In order to carry out this forcible dispossession, Israel forces first cut power to the entire (Palestinian) area in which the Salhiya house and businesses were located. Accounts from those present at the eviction/demolition reported that Israeli forces violently assaulted several members of the Salhiya family including children. Israeli forces also arrested eighteen human rights defenders – including members of the Salhiya family — for resisting the eviction (for a detailed update on these cases, please see this report by Human Rights Defenders Fund). An additional six human rights defenders were arrested later on January 19th during a protest  against the demolition, held in front of the Jerusalem Mayor’s home. Human Rights Defenders Fund, which is funding the legal representation of those arrested, said:

HRDF opposes the unjust evictions of family homes in Sheikh Jarrah and will continue to stand with Palestinian HRDs defending their basic human rights for property and shelter. We will continue to closely monitor Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and oppose any illegitimate attempt to change its demographics.”

The overnight evictions have been roundly criticized by human rights groups and several international governments. The European Union slammed the eviction/demolition, along with separate statements issued by individual European nations. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield also spoke out (weakly, in a statement framed in classic bothsides-isms).

Israel Advances Plan for New Settlement in East Jerusalem

On January 17th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved for deposit for public review a new settlement plan in East Jerusalem – called the “Lower Aqueduct” plan. The new settlement is intended to connect the controversial settlements of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa, establishing an uninterrupted continuum of Israeli settlements on the southern rim of Jerusalem, and destroying the contiguity of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

As laid out in new reporting from Terrestrial Jerusalem, the plan is being promoted by the Jerusalem Municipality together with the Israel Lands Authority, but – as the reporting predicts – 

when the smoke clears, it will become evident that the same protagonists that are facilitating settlements in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Givat Shaked, Musrara – i.e. the Custodian General and the Absentee Property Custodian – are deeply implicated in the Plan.”

Terrestrial Jerusalem further notes that the plan is being advanced at an expedited pace, giving the appearance that “someone senior and in a position of authority is expediting the Plan at [a] highly irregular pace.”

In total, the plan provides for the construction of 1,465 new units – around half of which will be constructed over the 1967 Green Line the demarcates (in the eyes of the international community) the line between Israeli-annexed West Jerusalem and Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. The plan also provides for open public spaces and buildings including schools and a gymnasium. 

Importantly, the new settlement will impinge on the two neighboring East Jerusalem Palestinian villages of Sur Baher and Umm Tuba, and will involve the expropriation by Israel of privately owned Palestinian land. Most notably, in order to pave a new access road for the new settlement, the State will likely expropriate land privately owned by Palestinian residents of Umm Tuba.

Ir Amim’s Aviv Tartarsky told The Times of Israel:

“This is another way in which Israel is erasing the Green Line in Jerusalem, ending Palestinian contiguity, and expropriating the lands of Palestinians. When Palestinians tried to plan construction there, it was rejected — and now the territory will be confiscated.”

Following the committee’s decision to this week to advance the plan, the European Union, France, Germany, Spain and Italy all issued statements calling for Israel to reverse the move. France also published a joint statement with Ireland and Estonia.

Settlers Continue To Press For “Legalization” of Homesh Outpost & Yeshiva

In a display of brazen lawlessness, more than 1,200 Israeli Jews managed to enter the closed military zone that is the site of the former Homesh settlement – where settlers have illegally established and operated a yeshiva for years – in order to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat, as part of their ongoing campaign to pressure the government to reestablish the settlement.

To reach the site, settlers (identified as yeshiva students by The Jewish Press) marched en masse for two hours with armed guards through the outskirts of the Palestinian village of Sebastia. On their way, settlers passed easily through at least two IDF checkpoints — meant to stop traffic towards the Homesh area, though Israeli soldiers in practice prevented only the freedom of Palestinian traffic in that direction. Sebastia is a routinely besieged city, suffering closures in the wake of the murder of settler Yehuda Dimentan and as a consequence of Israeli settler’s focus on archaeological sites in the city [as has been covered in the Settlement Report regularly: settlers, in collaboration with Israeli authorities, are openly seeking to exploit archeology as a tool to dispossess Palestinians in the West Bank]. 

In Jerusalem, settler leaders and their allies continued their mass protest in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in a bid to pressure Bennett to authorize Homesh, amongst other demands.

New U.S. Ambassador Will “Absolutely Not” Visit Settlements

In an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth news outlet, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides said that he will not visit Israeli settlements in the West Bank, unlike his immediate predecessor David Friedman. 

When questioned about his travel policy as compared to Friedman’s, Nides said:

“Because just like I ask both the Palestinians and Israelis not to take steps that inflame the situation, I don’t want to do things intentionally that would create disrespect or anger among people. Now, listen, I’ll make mistakes. I’ll say things that will aggravate people. I’m sure that in this interview, I’ll say something that will aggravate someone. But I don’t want to intentionally anger people.”

It’s worth recalling that the Biden Administration has not reversed or publicly rejected the Trump Administration’s “Pompeo Doctrine,” which made it U.S. policy to view Israeli settlements as not “per se inconsistent with international law.” The overwhelming majority of the international community holds that all Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank are illegal pursuant to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states:

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also prohibits the “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory”.

Bonus Reads

  1. “PODCAST: Excavating Israel’s underground settlements” (+972 Magazine)
  2. “Palestinian Activist Dies Two Weeks After Being Run Over by Israeli Police Truck” (Haaretz)
  3. “There’s a Mass Palestinian Grave at a Popular Israeli Beach, Veterans Confess” (Haaretz)
  4. “JNF Board Members Demand End to Controversial Tree-planting in Negev Until Questions Answered” (Haaretz)

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.

January 7, 2022

  1. E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed
  2. E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 1): Israel Advances New Settlement Plan in East Jerusalem
  3. E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 2): Israel Approves Expansion of French Hill Settlement in East Jerusalem
  4. E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 3):  An Update on Two Families Facing Displacement in Sheikh Jarrah
  5. Al-Walajah Hearing Postponed but Remains Likely
  6. Report: Gantz Intends to Turn Evyatar Outpost Into New “Legal” Settlement
  7. Settlers Still Pressing Govt to Authorize Homesh Outpost, & Terrorizing Nearby Palestinians
  8. IDF Evacuates Kumi Ori Outpost, Yitzhar Start Clashes
  9. IDF Renews Standing Demolitions Orders Against Six Unauthorized Outposts
  10. Israel Earmarks Millions for Seven New Synagogues in Settlements & Outposts
  11. Bonus Reads

E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed

The Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Council has removed consideration of the E-1 settlement plan from the agenda of its scheduled January 10th meeting. Haaretz reports that the plan has been indefinitely postponed due to “the expert opinions of certain officials in the Civil Administration.” No further information regarding the identity of the officials nor their opinions has been made public, and neither Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz (who oversees the Civil Administration and all planning in the West Bank) nor Prime Minister Bennett have made any public comments. Haaretz further notes that the decision to add and remove items – particularly contentious items such as the E-1 plan – requires the approval of political leadership. 

The High Planning Council – which is the body within the Israeli Defense Ministry which oversees all construction in the occupied West Bank – was expected to convene on January 10th to hold a third hearing to consider public objections to the E-1 plan. The Council’s previous hearings on public objections to the plan have been riddled with drama. The first was held on October 4th, but Palestinians were effectively denied the ability to participate, as it was held online and was thus inaccessible to the many Palestinians affected by the plan who do not have internet access. The second was held on October 18th; at that hearing three objections were presented (one by the Palestinian village of Anata, a second by the Palestinian village of Al-Azariya, and a third joint submission filed by Ir Amim and Peace Now). Ir Amim reports that there was no substantive discussion of these objections, with the Civil Administration panel offering no questions or comments on them. This third hearing – which was scheduled for January 10th – was set by the Court (originally for November 2021, but delayed) to compensate for the exclusion of Palestinians from the first hearing. 

E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 1): Israel Advances New Settlement Plan in East Jerusalem

On January 5th, the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee advanced a plan – referred to as the “Lower Aqueduct Plan” – to build a new settlement with 1,457 units in East Jerusalemn land located between two already controversial settlements on the southern flank of East Jerusalem: Givat Hamatos and Har Homa. The new settlement is intended to connect the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa, establishing an uninterrupted continuum of Israeli settlements on the southern rim of Jerusalem, and destroying the contiguity of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. With approval from the municipal planning authority, the plan now goes to the Jerusalem District Planning Committee which will convene on January 17th to consider depositing the plan for public review.

In addition to severing East Jerusalem from the West Bank in the south, the new settlement will impinge on two neighboring East Jerusalem Palestinian villages of Sur Baher and Umm Tuba, and will involve the expropriation by Israel of privately owned Palestinian land. Most notably, in order to pave a new access road for the new settlement, the State will likely expropriate land privately owned by Palestinian residents of Umm Tuba. Ir Amim explains:

“According to the plan, an access road to the new neighborhood will be built over the Green Line on private Palestinian land belonging to residents of Umm Tuba. These lands will likely be expropriated. Despite the probable expropriation, the plan does not offer any development for the remaining privately-owned Palestinian land and will likewise not grant building rights to Palestinian landowners for areas alongside the road not intended for expropriation.”

Adding insult to injury, two years ago the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs initiated a plan to build a new Palestinian business center in the precise area targeted by the “lower aqueduct” plan, as part of an Israeli government initiative to reduce poverty in East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Municipality subsequently abandoned the plan for the Palestinian business center under pressure from settlers, specifically from the Har Homa settlement which borders the area. Ir Amim comments:

“Not only is this yet another example of severe planning discrimination, but construction of this new neighborhood will serve to further create Israeli territorial contiguity along East Jerusalem’s southern perimeter while depleting more land reserves for Palestinian development.”

Peace Now notes that the majority of the land on which the new settlement will be built (half of which is in East Jerusalem and half in West Jerusalem) is privately owned, or managed by the Israeli Custodian General. Although recent reporting suggests the Custodian General is moving to advance settlement construction on lands it manages across East Jerusalem, its legal ability to do so is questionable (and doing so has historically not been its practice).

It’s worth recalling that in December 2021, reports surfaced that the Israeli Custodian General is planning to establish a new settler enclave in Sur Baher, and is hoping to add more land in the village to its existing portfolio of 3.3 dunams.

Terrestrial Jerusalem writes:

“This Plan is not promoted in a vacuum, and constitutes yet another significant  link the chain of new settlement schemes currently being expedited by Israeli authorities on the southern flank of East Jerusalem. Connecting Har Homa to Givat Hamatos, the Lower Aqueduct Plan joins these other schemes: Givat Hamatos, Har Homa West, Ahuzat Nof Gilo  and Har  Gilo West. The cumulative impact of these plans is to create a continuous built-up buffer, sealing East Jerusalem off from its sister city, Bethlehem. Viewed in context, the Lower Aqueduct Plan is a significant component in a strategic thrust with the objective of consolidating sole Israeli rule over East Jerusalem, and cutting it off from its environs in the West Bank. The physical detachment of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem will be viewed as  unilateral act that causes concern not only among Palestinians and the international community, among the major Christian denominations around the world.”

Peace Now said in a statement:

“As in the case of the Atarot plan, right-wing elements in the government are taking advantage of the lack of coalition agreement on the issue of settlements to advance far-reaching plans that post facts on the ground that undermine the possibility of peace. The plans add to the tension on the ground and highlight the blatant discrimination that the government is building in East Jerusalem for Israelis only, while the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the city can build almost nothing. The coalition parties that support the possibility of two states for two peoples must do everything so that these plans are not promoted and do not reach a discussion in the District Committee.”

E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 2): Israel Approves Expansion of French Hill Settlement in East Jerusalem

Map by Peace Now

On January 5th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee gave its final approval to several plans that will add a total of 2,092 new units to the French Hill settlement in East Jerusalem, on the edge of Mount Scopus.

Several plans relate to the Hebrew University campus on Mt. Scopus. Notably, while Mt. Scopus is in East Jerusalem, it is not considered by the international community to be occupied territory (reflecting the fact that in 1948 the area was designated as a demilitarized zone).  These new plans, which expand the footprint of the Hebrew University campus but on land that is in the French Hill area (i.e. occupied territory), are:

  1. The “Bronfman Dormitory” plan to build 672  settlement units on land located in the French Hill settlement area (beyond the borders of the Mt. Scopus campus). Ir Amim raises alarm that this plan will completely encircle a Palestinian neighborhood (leaving it as an enclave surrounded by Israeli development), which “will greatly increase the construction in areas marked as Israeli, while blocking any further development of the Palestinian neighborhood.”
  2. The “Lerner Complex & Lower Resnick Dormitory” plan calls for the construction of 1027 units , the majority of which are designated for land east of the Green Line where there are currently student dormitories for the Hebrew University.
  3. The construction of 528 settlement units on land just north of the Jerusalem British War Cemetery, on land that is cut in half by the Green Line. 

Ir Amim said in a statement:

“Beyond the geopolitical implications of constructing more housing units over the Green Line in Jerusalem, these plans are yet another example of the acute housing discrimination facing East Jerusalem Palestinians. These four plans follow close on the heels of other major housing projects advanced for Israelis in East Jerusalem over the course of 2021. The Israeli authorities continue to promote plans at full force for thousands of housing units for Israelis, while systemically refraining from advancing plans for Palestinians to meet their severe housing needs.”

Peace Now writes

“it should be noted that some of the plans are adjacent to Palestinian land and houses (a neighborhood considered to be the fringe of Sheikh Jarrah), but all the huge building rights planned in these plans are not given to Palestinian homeowners living adjacent to the planned area. The Israel Land Authority has chosen to plan only the complexes under its control and not to allow the private construction of Palestinians next door. Since 1967, the government initiated and planned approx. 56,000 units for Israelis in East Jerusalem, while for Palestinians the government supported only 600 units, in the 1970’s. The planning of so many units in East Jerusalem for Israelis alongside with the increase in house demolition for Palestinians, raises the frustration and anger in East Jerusalem.”

E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 3): An Update on Two Families Facing Displacement in Sheikh Jarrah

New details have emerged regarding the delayed forcible displacement of the Salem family from their longtime home in Sheikh Jarrah in favor of settlers. Though the eviction notice stated that the family would be evicted from their home on December 29th, a last minute delay was granted based on a request submitted to the Court by the setters. The settlers requested that the court postpone the evacuation and instead require that it be carried out between January 20 and February 8th. 

The settlers’ lawyers’ request was in line with concerns raised by the Jerusalem police, which also submitted a letter to the Court that warned a set date for the eviction, known in advance by the family and the public, “could endanger the forces and foil the evacuation’s success.”

Also in Sheikh Jarrah and in keeping with the police’s warning, the Saliha family received another eviction notice from Israeli authorities warning them that an eviction order against their home can be carried out anytime between January 10 and January 25. There are two households in the Saliha family living on a plot of land that Israel expropriated (in 2017) for “public use”, and on which it now intends to build a school (it is as yet unclear what population the school will serve).

Ir Amim provides essential and comprehensive information on what is going on with regards to the Salhia family case:

“The Jerusalem Municipality is demanding the eviction of the entire Salhia family, comprised of two households and totaling 12 individuals, under the pretext that expropriation of the property is necessary for the construction of a school. Following the court’s dismissal of one petition, one of the households received the aforementioned eviction order. The second household’s petition will be heard tomorrow (January 6) at the Jerusalem District Court.

While the municipality is evicting the family to build an educational institution, in recent years it relinquished a plot of land in Sheikh Jarrah originally designated for a school and transferred it into the hands of an ultra-Orthodox association for the construction of a massive yeshiva. The municipality appears to perceive it as reasonable to dispossess a Palestinian family for the sake of a school rather than utilizing open land initially allocated for such purposes.

When the District Planning Committee discussed the objections to the Ohr Somayach yeshiva plan (TPS 68858) at the end of 2020, the representative of the Jerusalem Municipality’s planning department claimed that there was no shortage of educational institutions nor a lack of space for such buildings in Sheikh Jarrah.

Today, Ir Amim sent an urgent letter to the Director of the Municipality’s Education Administration (MEA) in which it detailed the contradiction in the municipality’s actions and demanded MEA act to retrieve the parcel of land it transferred to the ultra-Orthodox association. Such a measure could in fact obviate the “need” to seize the Salhia family’s land and prevent the violation of their property rights and forced eviction.

Members of the Salhia family are Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from their homes in Ein Kerem in 1948 and now stand to be displaced for a second time. According to the family, their parents purchased the plot of land and have lived in homes they built since before 1967. The property also houses a well-known and thriving garden center called Peace Nursery.

Situated directly across from the British Consulate, the homes are strategically located between Kerem Al’ajoni and the Shepherd Hotel complex where settler groups are acting to establish major settler enclaves (see map below). In Kerem Al’ajoni, Nahalat Shimon is working at the behest of settlers to evict some 30 Palestinian families, while the Ateret Cohanim settler organization has constructed 22 housing units in the Shepherd Hotel complex to house a new settlement. The organization received the compound from the state decades ago after it was declared “absentee property.” There are reports that Ateret Cohanim intends to build additional floors, and therefore the units are not yet occupied.

It should be underscored that this development is taking place in parallel to the impending eviction of the 11-member Salem family from Um Haroun, Sheikh Jarrah (western section) for the benefit of settlers. As reported previously, the family was handed an eviction notice in early December citing that they would be subject to forcible removal as of December 29. That eviction order was cancelled, and an administrative hearing was held on December 30 at the Enforcement and Collection Agency concerning a request for a new eviction order with a flexible implementation date. Although the hearing concluded without a decision nor the issuance of a new eviction order, the family’s legal representation has made it clear that all potential legal channels have been exhausted. Therefore save for government intervention, there appears to be no other means to prevent the family’s displacement. Continued public pressure and concerted engagement with the Israeli government on this matter is hence vital.

A total of some 70 families, numbering over 300 Palestinians, are under threat of eviction from Sheikh Jarrah due to lawsuits filed by settler groups working in close collaboration with state bodies, including the General Custodian. Driven by political and ideological motives, these efforts aim to establish settler enclaves by forcibly uprooting Palestinians and supplanting them with Jewish settlers as a means to Israelize the area and further entrench Israeli control. Such measures carry severe humanitarian and geopolitical ramifications.”

Al-Walajah Hearing Postponed but Remains Likely

The Israeli Supreme Court hearing on the demolition of 38 homes in the beleaguered Palestinian village of al-Walajah,  scheduled for December 26th, was ultimately postponed by the Court. The delay followed a new request submitted to the Court by the lawyer representing the Palestinian families facing imminent homelessness, though it’s not clear what the request was exactly. Ir Amim makes it clear that the delay is not cause for celebration, and stems from a technical matter. 

The Court has not set a new date for the hearing.

As a reminder, the State of Israel has longstanding demolition orders against 38 Palestinian homes – in which around 300 people live – in the village of Al-Walajah, though the orders have been contested by Palestinians and, until this point, frozen by the Court as the matter is litigated. In December 2021, the State asked the Court to lift a freeze on the demolition orders, arguing (as it had in the past) that the houses – built by Palestinian residents of al-Walajah s on their own land – were illegal, because the were built without the required Israeli permits. This argument points to the Kafkaesque nightmare in which al-Walajah’s residents are trapped.

In point of fact: It is all but impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israel to build “legally” on their own land in East Jerusalem and in Area C of the West Bank. In the case of al-Walajah, such permits are, literally, impossible to obtain. This is because Israel has actively chosen not to approve an “outline plan” for the area, without which permits are an impossibility. Al-Walajah residents, with the help of planning experts, prepared and proposed an outline plan for the area, and for more than 15 years have worked to get Israel to approve it — to no avail. Israeli authorities have repeatedly (in January 2021 and again in March 2021) refused to approve the resident-backed plan, and have also refrained from initiating their own planning process. Indeed, the Jerusalem District Committee, as part of a January 25, 2021 ruling against the outline plan proposed by residents, deemed the area in question — where Palestinians have lived for decades — an “agricultural area” where no building would ever be permitted.  The result: Al-Walajah’s residents have been left with zero hope of obtaining the permits required to build on their own land – or keep their current homes located there.

Report: Gantz Intends to Turn Evyatar Outpost Into New “Legal” Settlement

Over the past few weeks, reports have surfaced indicating the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is planning to approve the retroactive authorization of the Evyatar outpost, located on a strategic hilltop named Mount Sabih just south of Nablus on land historically belonging to nearby the Palestinian villages Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. This follows Prime Minister Bennett’s November 2021 promise to legalize the outpost.

Map by Peace Now

The decision to authorize Evyatar as a full-fledged, new, and “legal” settlement is supposedly dependent on the outcome of an Israeli-led investigation into the status of the land. If the land is “discovered” to be “state land,” the government will authorize EVyatar. The results of the “investigation” are not public at this time. [map]

The Evyatar outpost has been at the core of sustained settler violence and Palestinian protest over the course of 2021, ever since the government agreed to a deal with settlers to evacuate the outpost temporarily (leaving its structures intact) until the government determines whether it can find a pretext upon which to declare the land to be state land. 

Peace Now said in a statement:

“There is no justification in the world for establishing a new settlement in the West Bank, which will be a security burden, a political blow and a reward for outlaws. The small settler group who established the outpost in Evyatar did so illegally, with the aim of dragging Israel to deepen the occupation and prevent its end, and they led to daily risk of IDF soldiers and severe escalation of violence in the area. The government must come to its senses and stop this madness and not be dragged after a small minority.”

In addition to reportedly preparing to grant approval to formally establish the Evyatar settlement, the settler news outlet Arutz Sheva reports that Gantz has suggested making the new settlement the new home for the illegal yeshiva settlers have established as the site of the former Homesh settlement – a yeshiva that has likewise been at the center of ongoing violence (including settler violence targeting Israeli forces). Settlers have come out in opposition to this suggestion – unsurprisingly, given that the explicit objective of the settlers targeting the Homesh site is the re-settlement of that specific area (more below).

As a reminder, the fate of the Evyatar outpost was the first controversy that threatened to divide the fragile Bennett-led government when it was sworn in. Bennet’s partners were bitterly divided on whether to evacuate the outpost or let it be, while the government sought to grant it retroactive legalization. In the end, the government reached a “deal” which saw the settlers (temporarily) vacate the outpost on Friday, July 2nd. In return, the government left the settlers’ illegal construction at the site in place (i.e., did not demolish it) — including buildings and roads —  while it “examines” the status of the land to see if it can be declared “state land” and therefore “legally” turned into a settlement (opening the door for the settlers to return). Under the agreement, the outpost is being used as a military base in the interim. 

The fact that the “compromise” left in place the settlers’ structures and allowed Israel to maintain complete control over the site during the “survey” process signalled from the start that the government is not concerned with enforcing Israeli law, but rather is focused on finding a political solution that works for the settlers. It was further clear from the terms of the “compromise” that the Bennet government believed it will be succeed in finding a pretext to assert that the land on which the outpost stands is “state land” which can be used by the state as it sees fit (i.e., give it to the settlers). If the state decides, pursuant to the investigation, that it has a basis on which to declare the site to be “state land,” the settlers will be allowed to return and resume the establishment of what would from that point no longer be an illegal outpost, but a new “legal” settlement. 

Settlers Still Pressing Govt to Authorize Homesh Outpost, & Terrorizing Nearby Palestinians

There has been continuing fallout and violence surrounding the Homesh oupost and yeshiva following the murder of settler Yehuda Dimentan by a Palestinian in December 2021. Settlers have used Dimentan’s death to press the government to formally reestablish the Homesh settlement (evacuated in 2005 as part of the Gaza disengagement plan, at which time it was declared by Israel to be a closed military zone – but settlers have been allowed to frequent the site and even operate a yeshiva there. That yeshiva, according to Kerem Navot, became one of the West Bank’s “hardcore centers of settler terror”). Settlers have also wreaked terror on nearby Palestinian villages, most notably Burqa. One Israeli politicians even said that settlers are carrying out a pogrom in Burqa.

Most prominently to date, Israeli Justice Minister Gidon Sa’ar (Likud) offered his support for reestablishing the Homesh settlement – directly tying his support to the death of Yehuda Dimentan. On January 1st, Yesha Council leader Yossi Dagan and MK Yuli Edelstein inaugurated a new caucus in the Knesset specifically dedicated to the cause of reestablishing the Homesh settlement along with the other two settlements that were dismantled by the Israeli government in 2005 as part of the Gaza Disengagement Plan.

Since the murder, the IDF has imposed severe movement restrictions on Palestinians living near the Homesh site and the Shavei Shomron settlement (where Dimentan lived). This includes road closures, and IDF-imposed closures of the Palestinian towns of Burqa and Sebastia. In addition, two new Israeli-controlled checkpoints positioned near Shavei Shomron and Homesh in practice now prevent Palestinians from using the roads, while allowing settlers to reach the Homesh site (which, again, is supposedly a closed military zone). The closures have not prevented settlers from regularly attacking Burqa, including “three large scale attacks”. According to the PA’s settlement monitor, Palestinians in Burqa fear a massacre.

In addition to the now-routine closures and movement restrictions on Palestinians, the IDF chose to completely shut down the highway connecting Shavei Shomron and Homesh on December 23rd to allow a massive march led by Dimentan’s widow – estimated to have included 15,000 Israelis (including several elected officials) – following Dimentan’s funeral. The march and the closures resulted in clashes, particularly in Burqa, between Palestinians and IDF forces. The night of the march, settlers raided Burqa where they attacked Palestinian homes and desecrated the village’s cemetary.

The marchers told Ynet that they intend to maintain a presence at the yeshiva to prevent the government from dismantling it. The Dimentan family has personally asked government officials to authorize the Homesh yeshiva in Dimentan’s honor.

Amidst the ongoing violence and political agitation, on January 2, 2022 a delegation of Israeli lawmakers, including several senior members of the Likud party, paid a visit to the illegal yeshiva at the dismantled Homesh settlement site. Their tour of the yeshiva was used to offer support to the settlers’ effort to push for retroactive authorization.

IDF Evacuates Kumi Ori Outpost, Yitzhar Start Clashes

On December 31st, Israeli forces once again removed caravans from the unauthorized “Kumi Ori” settler outpost, which serves as the home of 20 extremist “Hilltop Youth” settlers and is a satellite outpost of the notoriously violent and radical Yitzhar settlement. Dozens of settlers from Yitzhar attacked Israeli forces, resulting in injuries to three soldiers and one settler.

Haaretz reports that despite an order issued two years ago declaring the land to be a “closed military zone,” Israeli border police – who maintain a checkpoint at the entrance of the outpost – have continued to allow settlers to live and visit the area if they had lived there (illegally) prior to the eviction order being issued. The caravan that was removed on December 31st was new, and therefore subject to the eviction order.

Kumi Ori was previously evacuated by the IDF in April 2020 and in January 2020, and also in August 2017 – each time resulting in violence. The battle between the outpost settlers and the Israeli army has played out for many years, and the IDF has demolished the outpost at least 10 times. In one extraordinary attempt by the settlers to preserve the outpost, settlers attempted to convince the court that Israel did not have authority to demolish the structures, because the outpost is not located in Area C (where Israel has complete control), but rather in a Palestinian-administered area (Area A or B) [raising the question, would the settlers recognize/respect the Palestinian Authority’s authority to evict them?].  The Court rejected that argument.

IDF Renews Standing Demolitions Orders Against Six Unauthorized Outposts

The Israeli military recently re-issued standing demarcation orders that allow (should Israeli authorities so choose) for the demolition of the outposts without any legal hoops or holdups. Of course, the orders have been in place for years, and while the IDF has occasionally dismantled the outposts, settlers have been able (or allowed) to reestablish the illegal encampments. 

The orders were renewed for the following outposts: 

  • Ramat Migron outpost, located in the Shiloh Valley in the northern West Bank. The IDF recently dismantled the Ramat Migron settlement in November 2021.
  • Oz Zion outpost, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The Oz Zion outpost has been demolished by the IDF several times but the settlers have been allowed to reestablish it. The outpost was most recently dismantled by the IDF in June 2021.
  • Guelat Zion outpost, located in the Shiloh Valley in the northern West Bank. Guelat Zion was most recently demolished in November 2021. Established in 2011, the outpost is adjacent to the new “Amichai” settlement, which Israel built as a pay-off to settlers it was forced by the courts to remove from the illegal Amona outpost.
  • Givat Assaf outpost, located east of Ramallah. The Givat Assaf outpost was rumored to be included in a list of 66 outposts the Knesset sought to retroactively legalize via legislation.
  • Givat Tekuma (“Hill 725”) outpost, located near the Yitzhar settlement in the Nablus area of the northern West Bank.
  • Shaked farm outpost, located near the Yitzhar settlement in the Nablus area of the northern West Bank

Israel Earmarks Millions for Seven New Synagogues in Settlements & Outposts

Israeli Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana approved the allocation of millions of shekels (exact figure unknown) for the construction of 30 new synagogues – seven of which will be located in settlements or unauthorized outposts. In addition, Kahana earmarked 25% of his ministry’s aid budget for the construction of mikveh’s (Jewish ritual baths) in the West Bank.

Meretz MK Mossi Raz said in response:

“Kahana has decided to discriminate against residents within the green line, and to build a quarter of the synagogues in his ministry’s budget over the green line. This does not only strengthen the settlement enterprise, which is harmful for Israel’s future, it acts inequitably in allocating resources to every worshiper within Israel’s borders.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “First Settlers Beat Them Up, Then Ismail and His Family Were Jailed” (Haaretz)
  2. “Why Palestinian Kids’ Playgrounds Are Such Prime Targets for Israeli Settlers” (Haaretz // Ali Awad)
  3. “Power struggle: Bill to hook up illegal Arab homes to grid passes in stormy session” (The Times of Israel)

 

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.

December 23, 2021

  1. Homesh Settlement Violence Continues As Knesset Rejects Plan to Authorize Outpost
  2. Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 1: Salem Family Gets Brief Reprieve of Expulsion from Home in Sheikh Jarrah
  3. Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 2: Salhia Family Receives Eviction Order
  4. Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 3: Skafi Family Turns Down $5 million Offer from Settlers for Home
  5. Israeli Supreme Court to Decide on (Likely Swift) Mass Demolitions in al-Walajah
  6. Church Leaders Launch Campaign Against “Systematic Attempt” to Rid Jerusalem of Christians
  7. Bonus Reads

Homesh Settlement Violence Continues As Knesset Rejects Plan to Authorize Outpost

In the days following a deadly attack by Palestinians on Israeli settlers near the site of the former Homesh settlement in the northern West Bank, Israeli settlers and their allies, predictably, have exacted revenge on Palestinian communities, with violent attacks that Israel has done little or nothing to prevent. Also predictably, they have demanded that, in response to the attack, the government authorize the illegal outposts/yeshiva at the site of Homesh, as well as additional new settlements. 

Despite an emotional plea by the family of the murdered settler – Yehuda Dimentman – and accompanying pressure from the settler constituency, the Knesset voted 59-50 against a declaration that would have urged Prime Minister Bennett to grant authorization to the Homesh outpost along with 70 other outposts in the West Bank. In addition, the text of the declaration urged Bennett “decisively prevent the evacuation of the Homesh Yeshiva, authorize it and to allow its students to study and live there.”

As a reminder, the Homesh settlement was dismantled by the Israeli government in 2005 as part of its “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. Homesh was ruled to have been built on land privately owned by the Palestinian village of Burqa, ownership which was legally recognized by the Israeli High Court of Justice. Nonetheless, since 2005 Israeli authorities have permitted settlers to retain effective control over the area, including via establishing and operating an [illegal] religious school (aka, yeshiva) at the site for the past 15 years. The yeshiva lacks any permits/planning authorization — authorization that is impossible given that in 2005 the IDF declared the Homesh site to be a closed military zone. As such, both Palestinians and settlers are prohibited from entering the area (let alone building on it). That restriction, however, in practice has been applied to only one population (the one that has been recognized by Israel as the legal owners of the land), and for years, the IDF has turned a blind eye to the yeshiva, despite warnings about the outpost’s violence and repeated confrontations. The recent attack targeted settlers departing from that [illegal] yeshiva.

Within days of last week’s attack, settlers moved to expand the outpost/yeshiva at the Homesh site. On December 18th, settlers managed to erect new, prefabricated buildings at the site, adjacent to the existing (illegal) yeshiva. In the process, settlers reportedly clashed with the IDF, which tried (and failed) to prevent them accessing the site.

On December 19th, the IDF moved in to dismantle the new (illegal) buildings, but did not dismantle the (equally illegal) yeshiva. At the same time, a group of 200 settlers attempted to reach the yeshiva and protest the removal of the outpost buildings, resulting in violent clashes with the IDF. Later, on December 22nd, Israeli authorities arrested the head of the illegal Homesh yeshiva – Rabbi Elishama Cohen – on “suspicion of violating the 2005 Disengagement Law” (the law that provided for the evacuation of the Homesh settlement). Cohen was soon released following intervention by top settler leader Yossi Dagan, but told to return to the police station for further questioning. The arrest infuriated MK Bezalel Smotrich, from the far-right Religious Zionism party, who slammed the Bennett government, saying:

“As part of the government’s decision to eliminate the Homesh yeshivai in response to the terrorist attack in which Yehuda Dimentman was killed and to reward terrorism, the police were sent today to persecute, arrest and deter him. They will not scare us. We call on the masses of the house of Israel to arrive tomorrow and march with Yehuda’s family, demanding an arrangement be made with the Homesh yeshiva.”

 The Jerusalem Post reports that the IDF has plans to dismantle the yeshiva following a seven day mourning period for Dimentman. 

Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 1: Salem Family Gets Brief Reprieve of Expulsion from Home in Sheikh Jarrah

The expulsion of the Palestinian Salem family from their home of 70 years in Sheikh Jarrah has been delayed on a technicality. +972 Magazine reports that the eviction order was paused because the settler (Aryeh King) who pompously hand-delivered the order to the Salem family was not legally empowered to do so, forcing the Jerusalem court to annul that order (which had set the expulsion for December 29th) and issue a new order, which will reportedly be delivered to the family in the coming weeks.

The delay follows notable attention on the case from international actors, including a visit by diplomats from the European Union. +972 Magazine further reports:

“A source in the Israeli government told +972 that various ministries have been turning their attention to the expulsion of the Salem family due to concern over the political ramifications (developments in the neighborhood remain closely watched by Palestinians and by foreign governments). Some Israeli officials have even looked into legal possibilities for the family to further appeal the ruling, in an attempt to stall its implementation. Israel’s Foreign Ministry provided +972 with the following response, which it said had been coordinated among all relevant government bodies: ‘The State of Israel is a state governed by rule of law, and the ruling of the court — which are known for their independence and the balance they provide on sensitive issues — is binding. The implementation of the ruling will be carried out by the authorities that take into account all the relevant factors, including the appropriate preparations before every move. Any attempt by extremists, and particularly the Hamas terrorist group, to exploit the situation to increase incitement, violence, and terrorism should be rejected.’”

Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 2: Salhia Family Receives Eviction Order

On December 20th, Israeli authorities reportedly delivered an eviction notice to the Palestinian Salhia family in Sheikh Jarrah, in the area near the British Consulate, with the eviction date set for January 25th. The order pertains to a plot of privately owned land – purchased by a Salhia elder in 1967 – on which the Salhia family has built two homes. Israeli authorities had previously delivered an eviction order to the Salhia family in October 2021, that order has since expired – prompting this new order to be issued.

Mohammad Salhia told Middle East Monitor that the Jerusalem Municipality offered to delay the eviction by 8 months if he signed a legal agreement giving up claim to ownership of the land and turning his family into merely tenants of the buildings (he refused). 

According to the WAFA report, in 2019 Israel issued an order to unilaterally seize the plot for the “public interest” in order to establish a school there. This school was originally planned to be built on a different parcel of land, however, the Israeli government gave this land to an Ultra-Orthodox organization in order to build the Glassman yeshiva (a settlement project). In the absurdity of land use in East Jerusalem, now, in order to build the school, the government has opted to confiscate the Salhia family’s land.

Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 3: Skafi Family Turns Down $5 million Offer from Settlers for Home

Al-Monitor reports that the Palestinian Skafi family has turned down an offer by settlers to purchase their home in Sheikh Jarrah for an astounding $5 million. Abdel Fattah Skafi told Al-Monitor:

“The family, similar to others in the neighborhood, will not accept any tempting offers by the Israeli authorities, whether financial or an offer to grant them another piece of land as an alternative. We inherited the house from our ancestors and we will pass it on to our children and grandchildren, no matter how long the conflict with the settlers.”

The Skafi family (14 individuals) live in a large house surrounded by homes that have already been taken over by Israeli settlers. In order to access the house, the Skafis must pass through a narrow alley in front of the settler-inhabited homes. The family has been subjected to daily harassment and violence as a result of this reality.

Israeli Supreme Court to Decide on (Likely Swift) Mass Demolitions in al-Walajah

On December 26th, the Israeli Supreme Court is set to hold a final hearing on demolition orders against 38 Palestinian homes – in which around 300 people live – in the village of Al-Walajah, a small part of which is located within the municipal borders of Jerusalem (illegally annexed by Israel following the 1967 war). The State has asked the Court to lift a freeze on the demolition orders, arguing (as usual) that the houses – built by Palestinians on their own land – were built without the required Israeli permits. Ir Amim cautions that if the Court decides to greenlight the demolition orders, it is likely that the mass demolitions will be carried out very quickly. Ir Amim explains:

“The demolitions would likely be carried out very swiftly because the National Enforcement Unit under the Ministry of Finance has assumed responsibility for building and planning enforcement in this area since 2016. This unit is considered the most aggressive Israeli enforcement body. Indeed in the past five years, this unit has executed demolition orders in al-Walajeh immediately after the conclusion of court proceedings. Some 12 additional homes not protected by the appeal likewise face impending demolitions, four of which were carried out over the past few months, including one at the beginning of December. Roughly half of the homes in the annexed part of al-Walajeh have received demolition orders, and approximately 30 have already been executed since 2016 (including those mentioned above). These mass demolition orders, together with the absence of urban planning, threaten to uproot hundreds of al-Walajeh residents for a second time.”

As a reminder, it is all but impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israel to build “legally” on their own land in East Jerusalem and in Area C of the West Bank. In the case of al-Walajah, the situation is even worse: such permits are, literally, impossible to obtain, since the area lacks a required Israeli-approved “outline plan,” without which permits are an impossibility. In an effort to overcome this obstacle, Al-Walajah residents, with the help of planning experts, prepared and proposed an outline plan for the area, and for more than 15 years have worked to get Israel to approve it — to no avail. Israeli authorities have repeatedly (in January 2021 and again in March 2021) refused to approve the resident-backed plan, and have also refrained from initiating their own planning process. Indeed, the Jerusalem District Committee, as part of a January 25, 2021 ruling against the outline plan proposed by residents, deemed the area in question — where Palestinians have lived for decades — an “agricultural area” where no building would ever be permitted.  The result: Al-Walajah’s residents have been left with zero hope of obtaining the permits required to build on their own land – or keep their current homes located there.

Ir Amim writes:

“Demolitions in Al-Walaja are due to two combined Israeli policy decisions: On the one hand, Israeli authorities have never made an outline plan for the annexed part of Al-Walaja and residents therefore have no possibility of obtaining a building permit. All construction that has taken place in Al-Walaja since 1967 is thereby considered illegal under Israeli law. On the other hand, in 2016 the government decided to increase home demolitions – specifically targeting Palestinian communities. Since that year, the National Enforcement Unit (under the authority of the Ministry of Finance) began issuing and carrying out demolition orders in Al-Walaja. This unit is the most aggressive of the Israeli enforcement units. The combined effect of no outline plan and aggressive enforcement has led to half of the homes of the Jerusalem section of Al-Walaja currently being under threat of demolition. In January of this year (2021), the al-Walaja’s community most recent attempt to advance the outline plan they prepared for their village was rejected by the Jerusalem District Committee. Meanwhile, Israeli construction plans of thousands of housing units around Al-Walaja are advancing – including a new settlement on the Western side of the village. Indeed, demolitions in Al-Walaja are part of the creeping annexation Israel is advancing within the Greater Jerusalem area, specifically with the aim of connecting settlements near Bethlehem to Jerusalem, which would effectively fragment the Palestinian space of the southern West Bank.”

Church Leaders Launch Campaign Against “Systematic Attempt” to Rid Jerusalem of Christians

A group of high ranking Christian church leaders have launched a campaign protesting the treatment of churches and Christian residents in Jerusalem. They specifically cite settler violence and attempts to take over church-owned properties in the Old City as key parts of an effort to rid Jerusalem, and other parts of the Holy Land, of Christians. 

A statement issued by the campaign reads:

“The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognised in Isarlei law with respect to the Jewish Quarter. Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”

The campaign asks the Israeli government to:

“Deal with the challenges presented by radical groups in Jerusalem to both heChristian community and the rule of law, so as to ensure that no citizen or institution has to live under threat of violence or intimidation.”

The leader behind the new campaign is the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, whose Patriarchate has been in a particularly nasty (and muddled) battle with settlers over the fate of three prized Old City properties which have been long-owned by the church, but which settlers claim to have purchased (via a sale to a foreign real estate company acting secretly on behalf of the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim). Once Ateret Cohanim’s role became known, the Patriarchate sought to retain control of the properties, but over the course of a long legal battle, multiple Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court, validated the sale. The Greek Orthodox Church has received significant blowback from the sale of these properties to the settlers, including in January 2018, when Palestinians protested in Bethlehem in an attempt to block the arrival of Patriarch Theophilos III for Christmas celebrations.

In addition to the coalition of Church leaders based in Jerusalem, the campaign was boosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who joined the archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East (the Anglican Church) to issue a statement that was also published as an article in the London-based The Sunday Times, entitled “Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land.” 

In response to the campaign, the Israeli Foreign Ministry dismissed the concerns raised by Christian leaders as “baseless,” and claimed that the campaign “distort[s] the reality of the Christian community in Israel.” The Foreign Ministry went on to criticize the Church leaders for their alleged silence regarding the plight of Christians elsewhere in the Middle East, implying that the leaders are unfairly singling out Israel. This line of argument is tantamount to the Israeli government calling these church leaders antisemitic — tying in closely with the Israeli government-backed definition of antisemitism, according to which “applying double standards” in critizing Israel is a form of “contemporary” antisemitism.

Bonus Reads

  1. “De-emphasized under Trump, report shows Biden taking settler violence more seriously” (The Times of Israel)
  2. “Israeli Troops and Settlers Zero in on a New Target for Attacks: Palestinian Schools” (Haaretz)
  3. “Opinion | The U.S. Funding Challenges Facing the Israel-Palestine ‘Peace Industry’” (Haaretz)
  4. “Opinion: Mr. Blinken, you can pick up the phone and save a Palestinian village from destruction” (Washington Post)
  5. “Why Jerusalem Cannot be ‘Taken Off the Table’” (Crisis Group)

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.

December 17, 2021

  1. In Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian Family Faces Immediate Displacement, While Israel Begins Work on New Settler Garden at Entrance to the Neighborhood
  2. Israeli Custodian General is Behind Six New Settlement Plans Across East Jerusalem
  3. Israel Custodian General Reveals New Details on Regulations Governing its Management of East Jerusalem Properties, Leaving More Questions
  4. Israel Forges Ahead with New Settlements on the Golan Heights
  5. Following Murder of Israeli Settler, Settlers Launch Attacks of their Own & Attempt to Establish New Outpost
  6. Gantz Moves to Send More Police to West Bank to Monitor Settler Violence
  7. Meanwhile in Israel…Political Storm Ensues Over Whether Settler Terrorism Is a Problem or Not
  8. Bonus Reads

In Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian Family Faces Immediate Displacement, While Israel Begins Work on New Settler Garden at Entrance to the Neighborhood

Courtesy of an eviction order hand-delivered by settler impresario and Jerusalem city councilman Aryeh King, and his colleague Jonathan Yosef, the Palestinian Salaam family has been ordered to vacate their Sheikh Jarrah home of 70 years by December 29, 2021. King and Yosef assert they are the legal owners of the home, which is located in the Umm Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah, having bought it from the heirs of the Jewish family that owned the property prior to 1948.  Peace Now has produced a helpful timeline of the full history of the Salaam’s home.

This purchase took place, without a doubt, thanks to the help of the Israeli Custodian General – the body that manages property abandoned by Jews in 1948 when their heirs are unknown – which almost certainly helped King and Yosef in identifying the property, locating the heirs and securing its sale (see Peace Now’s excellent report on the Absentee Property Law for more legal background on how this happens).

On December 15th, Ir Amim documented the scene as settlers, under the protection of Israeli police, fenced off the Salaam family’s land (where they are supposedly permitted to live until the 29th) in an attempt to prevent Palestinians, including the Salaam family, from accessing the area.

Peace Now said in response:

“This is a terrible injustice based on the cynical exploitation of a discriminatory law that allows Jews to exercise the ‘right of return; to property lost to them in 1948, at the expense of Palestinian families legally living in the property, while another Israeli law denies the same right to Palestinians. This is exactly what the Mishnah says: ‘He who says: mine is mine and yours is mine, is called evil’. The State of Israel, which took the Palestinian refugees’ properties lost to them in 1948, cannot today allow settlers to take from Palestinians Jewish properties lost in 1948 and on which they are have already received compensation. The government can stop this evacuation, and it must do so.”

The eviction of the Salaam family comes as the government of Israel is pursuing the displacement of as many as 70 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah. 

In parallel,  the Israeli government has begun construction on a settlement installation (including a “public garden” as well as a driveway that will service an as-of-yet-unbuilt Israeli hotel in the neighborhood) at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah, including the demolition of several Palestinian businesses. Notably, the site of this project is very close to the tomb of Shimon the Righteous, which is a religious site closely associated with the settler enclave in Sheikh Jarrah. The Jerusalem Municipality previously expropriated the land, which was privately owned by Palestinians, “for public use” — an Israeli legal tactic that permits the State to confiscate even privately owned land ostensibly to benefit the “public” (a “public” that it seems never includes Palestinians in East Jerusalem).

 In October 2021, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the appeals by the business owners to stop the demolition. This week, bulldozers leveled a plot of land owned by four Palestinian families and that was the location of two Palestinian businesses, a car wash and a parking lot. The business owners were handed an immediate eviction notice on December 14th, just one day before the bulldozers began work. 

Israeli Custodian General is Behind Six New Settlement Plans Across East Jerusalem

Map by Haaretz

Haaretz reports that the Israeli Custodian General is planning six new settlement enclaves, to be located in some of the most sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. The news comes one week after the public learned of one of these plans, Givat HaShaked (see FMEP’s reporting last week), which is now understood to be part of a larger Israeli government plan to advance a slate of new settlement enclaves across East Jerusalem. As a reminder, the Israeli Custodian General is empowered by the State to  act as caretaker of land that has unknown ownership. 

While details on the plans are scant for the time being, Haaretz reports that the Israeli Custodian General is planning new settlements buildings that include:

1 – A new settler enclave in Sheikh Jarrah, in an area known as Um Haroun. As has been well documented, Palestinians are in a battle to stay in their longtime homes in Sheikh Jarrah while the Israeli Custodian General and Israeli settlers work hand-in-hand to displace them. Thirteen Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah (whose legal battle will impact dozens more) are still awaiting a Court ruling on their displacement at the hands of settlers. Haaretz reports:

According to a custodian document, it administers 33 plots out of a total of 58 in the neighborhood. Five more plots have been expropriated by the Israel Land Authority. The city zoning plan allows for the demolition of the old structures and construction of buildings up to four-stories in their stead, or expanding them to that height. This could mean the construction of a neighborhood containing hundreds of housing units in the heart of Sheikh Jarrah. The Justice Ministry’s Land Registrar recently completed the registration of the neighborhood to its Jewish owners, so it is likely that any neighborhood built there will be for the Jewish population.”

2 – A new settler enclave near the Damascus Gate, near the Old City of Jerusalem, where approximately 10 Jewish Israeli families have already established a settlement enclave.

3 – Two new settler enclaves near Beit Safafa, one being the Givat HaShaked settlement plan which FMEP covered in greater detail last week. The second plan is not far from where the Givat HaShaked settlement would be built, and reportedly would involve a large settler compound with dozens more settlement units to be built in the sliver of land between Beit Safafa and the Talpiot Industrial Zone. 

4 – A new settler enclave in Sur Baher. Reportedly, the Custodian is hoping to add more land to its holdings in Sur Baher (it currently holds 3.3 dunams and is attempting to gain 2 more dunams), meaning this plan could expand. 

5 – A large new settler enclave in Beit Hanina. The Custodian is reportedly looking to build dozens of new settler units on six dunams of land (1.5 acres), to be located on a plot adjacent to the IDF Central Command base. The Custodian has also sought the cooperation of the Defense Ministry in promoting this plan.

The Justice Ministry, which houses the Custodian General, attempted to dodge these reports, telling Haaretz that it is not “advancing” any of these plans other than the one in Sheikh Jarrah, where it says it is “examining a construction project.” 

Israel Custodian General Reveals New Details on Regulations Governing its Management of East Jerusalem Properties, Leaving More Questions

Under pressure from an impending court hearing, on December 11th the Israeli Custodian General submitted a document to the Court purporting to enumerate the regulations governing its management of properties in East Jerusalem. The Custodian General was facing a December 14th Court hearing on a petition filed by the Israeli NGO Ir Amim along with Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah, that asserted no such regulations existed, enabling “severe misconduct and collaboration with settler groups to initiate evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, which severely infringes on the rights of Palestinians in the city.” Some 70 families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood are facing homelessness because of the Custodian General’s collusion with settlers seeking their displacement from properties in which they have lived, legally, for decades.

In light of the Custodian General’s new publication (which the court viewed as resolving the complaint against the State), the Court dismissed the petition without prejudice, meaning the petitioners are permitted to file a new case on the same matter in the future.

Ir Amim filed the petition following news that the Custodian General has advanced a plan to build a new settlement – Givat HaShaked – on property it manages. As reported last week, this is an unprecedented move by the Custodian General, raising questions about whether the Custodian General is permitted to allow properties under its management to be developed. The document submitted to the Court this week by the Custodian General only raises more unanswered questions about the parameters governing the Custodian General’s ability to act as a property developer for properties that it does not own (only manages while awaiting the locating of the legal owners/heirs). Ir Amim further explains:

“The procedure includes dozens of clauses, none of which reference the possibility that the custodian may itself file plans and build residential complexes on a lot it owns. One clause refers to this indirectly, stating, ‘When initiated, or if contacted regarding urban renewal or planned improvements, the Custodian General shall examine the essence of the request and its impact on the administered property.’ ​​Indeed, planning sources are unfamiliar with any case in which the custodian acted as a realty entrepreneur by improving the properties it holds. The subject raises another issue: the custodian is technically forbidden to sell property. Therefore, it remains unclear whether the apartments built in these various compounds will be sold on the open market, or whether they will remain the property of the custodian, who will rent them out. The Justice Ministry has not responded to clarify the matter.”

Israel Forges Ahead with New Settlements on the Golan Heights

At the recommendation and with the approval of Prime Minister Bennett, on October 14th Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked signed off on two orders establishing a settlement municipal authority in the occupied Golan Heights, a move that opens the door for an expedited planning process for existing and new settlements in the area. This includes the construction of the infamous “Trump Heights” settlement in addition to planned settlements called Givot Eden, Asif, and Matar. Last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel’s plan is to double the settler population in the Golan Heights by 2030.

The special committee, which will act as a zoning board with broad planning authority, will have the combined powers of local and district planning and building committees, but will not include members who represent the public – an anomaly in the Israeli planning system.

The committee has already completed initial work by laying out the territorial borders of the “Trump Heights” settlement, which will cover 276 dunamns (about 70 acres). With its borders decided, the committee will move to expedite construction plans for residential housing, public buildings, industrial areas, roads and more. 

On this massive settlement effort, the Haaretz Editorial Board writes:

Occupied territories are occupied territories and annexation is annexation, even when it’s the Golan Heights and even when the annexation plan is called “a plan for encouraging sustainable demographic growth.”…We must tell it like it is. This is an artificial population expansion project, meant to strengthen Israel’s grip on the Golan Heights and create facts on the ground that will make it difficult for future leaders who might consider holding negotiations on the territory. To expedite matters, the Prime Minister’s Office seeks to create a “special committee” with the powers of the local and regional planning and building committees, but without the customary inclusion of public representatives. This is a national project. Like the so-called Judaization of the Galilee. Like the settlement enterprise.”

Al-Monitor provides a helpful background on the occupied Golan Heights and the creation of “Trump Heights”:

“Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1981, Menachem Begin’s government formally annexed the territory. This unilateral move was not recognized by any country until Trump came along. In March 2019, his administration changed long-standing American policy by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the region. A proclamation signed by Trump declared, ‘The State of Israel took control of the Golan Heights in 1967 to safeguard its security from external threats. Today, aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, in southern Syria, continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel. Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats. Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.’ Three months later, the [Israeli] Cabinet convened for a special session in the Golan Heights and approved the establishment of a new settlement named for the US president. At that meeting, a huge sign decorated with Israeli and American flags was unveiled at the entrance to the new settlement. Written on it in gold letters was the name Ramat Trump.”

Following Murder of Israeli Settler,Settler Launch Attacks of their Own & Attempt to Establish New Outpost

On December 17th, a Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a settler vehicle near the dismantled settlement of Homesh, in the northern West Bank, killing one man – Yehuda Dimentman – and injuring two others. The IDF has apprehended several suspects already.

Though the Homesh settlement was evacuated by the Israeli government in 2005 – and military orders have barred Palestinians from entering the area – settlers have been allowed to establish an unauthorized outpost at the site, where the settlers also operate a yeshiva. Settlers have been openly obsessed with the desire to re-establish Homesh, hosting religious events and protests at the site, some of which have been attended by Israeli MKs and politicians. At the funeral for Dimentman, which several Israeli politicians attended, already begun calling for the government to formally reestablish the Homesh settlement. 

In the hours following news of Dimentan’s death, settlers have already begun exacting revenge – with little to no interference from the IDF, though the outpouring of violence is an entirely predictable established pattern in the wake of Palestinians attacks. In the Palestinian village of Qayrut, a group of at least 15 settlers launched and especially violent attack on a Palestinian home, knocking on the door pretending to be Israeli soldiers at 4am, then proceeding to ransack the house and severely beat Mohammed Makbal – sending him to the hospital. No suspects have been apprehended, though several were caught on camera.

Within 24 hours of the attack, settlers from the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron moved to establish a new outpost in honor of Dimentan, called Nofei Yehuda. In this case, the IDF moved in swiftly to remove the settlers from the area. The outpost was established by members of the Nahala settler movement, of which Dimentan was a part. Nahala is behind a lot of unauthorized construction in the West Bank, and is a leading force in the battle over the Evyatar outpost.

Peace Now has written about the Nahala Movement, saying:

“The Nahala organization and the main activists of the new outposts are not the mainstream old-guard settlers (like the Amanah organization who is behind many other settlements and outposts and gets much more support from the authorities), however they are not a small fringe. This outpost is an example of a rift that is being created within the Israeli right wing. The more extreme right, which is willing to challenge the system more strongly, and the old-guard settlers who continue the mentality of working ‘with’ the government as much as possible. On the partisan level we see this rift in the creation of two different parties: Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennet, and the Jewish Zionism, headed by Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir. The challenge of the new outpost puts the new shaky government, which is a coalition of parties which don’t agree about many things, to face its first big political test. The extreme right is signaling that it is planning to continue to challenge the new government, like it had done in the flags march in East Jerusalem, and in yesterday’s settlers’ marches throughout the West Bank.”

Gantz Moves to Send More Police to West Bank to Monitor Settler Violence

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Leg have agreed to draft hundreds of Israeli soldiers into the (domestic) police force, so that Israeli police can then be reassigned to the West Bank partly to fill posts dedicated to policing settler violence. 

Settlers, of course, are not thrilled about the new attention being paid to settler terrorism experienced by Palestinian communities across the West Bank, and which has increased over the past year. According to Israeli government data (which does not systematically track settler violence against Palestinians) the Shin Bet logged 272 “violent incidents” in the West Bank in 2020; so far in 2021, there have been 397 “violent incidents” recorded by the Shin Bet. The UN recorded even more attacks this year – 450 as of December 6 – compared to 358 in all of 2020 and 335 in 2019.​​B’Tselem, which recently released an excellent report on settler terrorism, documents a 28.6% increase in settler violence in 2021 over 2020. Yesh Din, which also documents settler violence while seeking justice and accountability, notes that only 5% of cases it filed from 2018-2021 (238 total cases filed, while it documented 540 total cases) have resulted in indictments. Palestinians have increasingly declined to file police reports regarding settler crimes, with so few cases actually resulting in any tangible good for the victim.

For a SMALL sample of the terrorism inflicted by settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank on a daily basis, see the following reports from the past week by WAFA news:

Meanwhile in Israel…Political Storm Ensues Over Whether Settler Terrorism Is a Problem or Not

Following months (which followed years, which followed decades) of settler terrorism against Palestinians, this week Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) set off a political clash within Israel over the issue. In comments made alongside U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland — and after Israeli diplomats have allegedly come to believe that the Biden Administration is “obsessed” with “settler violence” (though other reporting contradicts that claim) – Bar-Lev called settler terrorism “severe” and said that Israel is taking steps to address it.

Those comments were seen as a betrayal by many of Bar-Lev’s pro-settler coalition partners, and elicited  some strong condemnations. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) said Bar-Lev is “confused.” MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) called Bar-Lev a “bastard” and tweeted “shame on you, little man.” 

The drama also drew comment from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet who, it should be recalled, relies heavily on the settler constituency and is also ideologically closely aligned with the settlers, having once served as the head of the top settler body called the Yesha Council. Bennett appeared to dismiss Bar-Lev’s comments, in effect giving official cover for an a green-light to continued and unaccountable settler terrorism, tweeting:

“The settlers in Judea and Samaria have been suffering from violence and terrorism, every day, for decades. They are the defensive wall of us all and we must strengthen them and support them, in words and deeds…There are marginal phenomena in every public, they should be dealt with by all means, but we must not generalize an entire public.”

 B’Tselem’s Executive Director, Hagai El-Ad, responded to Bennett’s claim, telling Haaretz:

“There’s a propagandistic façade here that’s convenient for Israel…There’s a few bad settlers, or more, on one side, and on the other is the good state of Israel, which seeks to enforce the law. But that isn’t the truth. Both the state and the settlers want the same thing – to dispossess Palestinians of their land.”

This relationship – between the settlers and the State when it comes to dispossessing Palestinians – was spelled out in a recent B’Tselem report, “State Business: Israel’s misappropriation of land in the West Bank through settler violence.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Mining Gold From East Jerusalem’s Streets” (Amira Hass for Haaretz)
  2. “This was the deadliest year for Palestinian children since 2014” (Khaled Quzmar for +972 Magazine)
  3. “Unearthing the Palestinian Neighborhood Buried Beneath a Tel Aviv Park” (Haaretz)
  4. “Fact Sheet: Israel’s E1 Settlement” (IMEU)
  5. “Opinion: Israel just showed its strategy on settlement boycotts: Gaslighting” (Gershom Gorenberg in the Washington Post)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

To subscribe to this report, please click here.

November 12, 2021

  1. Settlers Secure Deal for Eventual Eviction of Another Sheikh Jarrah Family
  2. Increasing Pressure on the Government, Settlers to Operationalize Plan to Increase Control Over Area C
  3. JNF Stops Funding 18-Year Legal Battle Over Beit Bakri in Hebron
  4. Demolitions in East Jerusalem Continue, Including in Al-Walaja
  5. Settler Violence & Expansionism Continue to Escalate in the South Hebron Hills
  6. Bennett Pledges Evyatar Outpost will be Legalized, Sparking Palestinian Ire & More Coalition Threats
  7. Government Punts on Outpost Legalization Bill, Knesset Might Move Forward Anyway
  8. Bonus Reads

Settlers Secure Deal for Eventual Eviction of Another Sheikh Jarrah Family

Israel Hayom reports that a Palestinian family in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has reached a Court-approved “deal” with settlers to recognize settler ownership of their home (where they have lived since 1956), in exchange for being allowed to stay as paying tenants for a period of at least ten years.  The “deal” follows the broad outline of a Court-authored compromise that was rejected last week by four other Palestinian families (the cases are separate, but not unrelated).

Israel Hayom additionally speculates:

“The compromise, which was given the force of a legal ruling in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court a few days ago, could serve as a precedent for other local Arab families and is seen as a blow to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which are both pressuring Arab residents of Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon HaTzadik to refuse any proposed deals to vacate the properties.”

Increasing Pressure on the Government, Settlers to Operationalize Plan to Increase Control Over Area C

In a closed meeting on November 10th, the heads of settler regional councils met to discuss their ongoing effort to get the Israeli government to annex Area C of the West Bank. According to Arutz Sheva (the settler media outlet), the meeting resulted in significant decisions that create a more unified settler operation on the matter, including the formation of a “joint command center” through which all of the councils will act together, and a commitment by all the regional leaders to form a unified front to pressure the government.

Following the meeting, the participants released a statement saying:

“This struggle is over whether we continue to exist or to fold. This is an existential battle involving the entire Nation of Israel. We are all committed towards working together in order to stop the hostile takeover of our lands and in order to preserve the future of Jewish life in Judea and Samaria.”

An op-ed published in Israel Hayom on November 11th – entitled “In Area C, the time has come to get off the fence” – seemingly making the case for such an effort, the settlement activist Sara Haetzni-Cohen writes

“Efrat’s dedicated residents have established their own war room. They track every brick and every bit of cement that is spilled and report it to the authorities. They know every demolition order that is issued but not enforced, and they do not give up. But the state quite simply does not exist. The Civil Administration is failing at its task and by choice…We’ve reached a stage where there is no state on which to rely on major issues. Real leadership from leaders who will get off the fence is needed. Local leadership in Judea and Samaria, whether elected or civilian organizations, must get off the fence and protect state lands, settlement lands, our homeland. It should be done intelligently, responsibly, and in a law-abiding manner. We should not resort to violence or vandalism against the Arab population, but rather go about this in a positive way, by planting trees and working the land, by showing our presence on the ground. If we will not be for ourselves, who will be for us? There simply isn’t any choice. We must get off the psychological and physical fence and defend our land.”

As a reminder, under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided into 3 “areas” – Area A, B, and C – pending a permanent status Israeli-Palestinian agreement that would determine final control over all the land (an agreement that was supposed to have been reached by by May 1999). The Oslo Accords gave Israel complete control over Area C, which accounts for around 60% of the West Bank.  Throughout the 28 years since the Oslo Accords were signed (and with no peace agreement achieved or in sight), Israel has systematically denied Palestinians in Area C permits that would enable them to build “legally” (under Israeli law) on their own land. As a result, Palestinians have been forced to build without Israeli permits (i.e., “illegally” in the eyes of Israeli authorities), and Israel has responded by issuing wide-scale demolition orders and carrying out frequent demolitions. In recent years, Israel has increasingly treated Area C as indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory, effectively extending its laws and regulations to the area and its Israeli settler inhabitants. In parallel, settler groups – most notably the notorious “Regavim” – have lobbied Israeli authorities to crack down on “illegal” Palestinian construction, claiming that Palestinians are trying to “take over Israeli land”.

As part of these ongoing efforts — by settlers and the Israeli government — to entrench and expand Israel’s control over/de facto annexation of the entirety of Area C, in September 2020 the Israeli government allocated 20 million NIS ($6 million USD) for the newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry. That ministry was given the mission of surveying and mapping “unauthorized” (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C (the same construction which Israel has been aggressively demolishing). This funding further empowers a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already annexed by Israel. 

The Knesset has also repeatedly hosted forums to discuss the alleged (by settlers and their allies/advocates) “Palestinian takeover of Area C” — framing predicated on the assertion that Area C belongs to Israel (an assertion that is not supported by the Oslo Accords) and must be defended against Palestinian efforts to “steal” it. Consistent with this framing, and under pressure from various outside groups, many members of the Knesset have criticized the Israeli government’s alleged failure to robustly “defend” Israel’s rights/ interests in Area C (e.g., failure to prevent/destroy “illegal” Palestinian construction, failure to block foreign government-funded humanitarian projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area; failure to clear out Palestinians from the area, expand settlements, and consolidate state-built settlement infrastructure; etc.).

JNF Stops Funding 18-Year Legal Battle Over Beit Bakri in Hebron

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Board of the Jewish National Fund in Israel has decided to stop funding the legal costs of a group of settlers battling to win control over a contested home in Tel Rumeida, in the heart of downtown Hebron (and to that end, forging documents). Israeli Courts have ruled against the settlers’ claim to the home twice, most recently in December 2019, in a ruling which affirmed that the Palestinian Bakri family is the rightful owner (the house is known as “Beit Bakri”).

At the request of the settlers, the JNF has agreed to pay installments on a legal guarantee to Israeli courts in order to allow the settlers to avoid eviction while pursuing an appeal against the December 2019 ruling against them. Since 2019, the JNF has paid some $35,000 (110,000 NIS) towards the case. 

The Palestinian homeowners – the Bakri family – temporarily fled their home under constant settler harassment during the Second Intifada, a time when Tel Rumeida could have been accurately described as an “urban battlefield.” While the family was gone, settlers broke into the house, damaged it, destroyed the Bakri’s property, and ultimately took up residence there.

The Bakri family has spent the past 18 years petitioning Israeli police and the courts to remove the settlers — cases the Bakri family repeatedly won. The settlers have managed to repeatedly delay their eviction by essentially exploiting every possible legal defense, no matter how absurd or contradictory. For example: At different points over the past 18 years, settlers argued in court that they had a rental agreement; that they purchased the home; that the plot of land was owned by a Jewish trust prior to 1948 and they are “reclaiming” the property; and that because they had invested so much money in improving the land since taking it over, under Ottoman Law it now legally belongs to them, regardless of the means by which they acquired it. When at one point some years ago the courts ruled that the settlers had to evacuate, the settler occupants of the Bakri home did, indeed, leave, only to be immediately replaced by other settlers — at which point the Israeli Attorney General told the Bakri family that they had to start eviction proceedings anew. For a detailed timeline of the Bakri family’s saga, see this report from Peace Now.

Throughout the course of this saga, the settlers’ effort to hold on to the Bakri home was aided by the State’s unwillingness to implement court orders against the settlers. Peace Now said in a statement:

“This is not only a matter of cruelty, deceit and theft of settlers who are not loathe to take control of assets that are not theirs, but also a matter of the lack of government accountability. For 18 years the government did not enforce the law against the invading settlers, and even assisted them and allowed them to continue to steal the house and terrorize their Palestinian neighbors in Tel Rumeida. Furthermore, it should be remembered that Hebron is under Israeli occupation and the Palestinian residents cannot remove the settlers from their homes by appealing to the Palestinian Authority. The power lies in the hands of the Israeli government, which does nothing to fulfill its responsibilities to protect abandoned Palestinian property.”

Demolitions in East Jerusalem Continue, Including in Al-Walaja

Over the past week the Israeli government has moved forward with demolitions in Palestinian neighborhoods across East Jerusalem, including:

  • The demolition of three Palestinian homes in the village of Al-Walajah on November 9th. For more on Israel’s systematic campaign to demolish homes in Al-Walajah – including its refusal to approve building plans initiated by Palestinians – see FMEP’s September 9, 2021 settlement report;
  • Israeli authorities delivered demolition notices to 10 Palestinian families (70 individuals) living in an apartment building in the al-Tur neighborhood. The notice ordered the families to self-demolish the four-story building within one week, or have Israeli forces demolish the building, with the cost of the demolition billed to the residents. The families reportedly began removing their belongings from the building on November 5th in anticipation of demolition;
  • Under coercive Israeli policies, a Palestinian family opted to self-demolish an apartment building in the Beit Hanina neighborhood; 
  • Under coercive Israeli policies, a Palestinian family opted to self-demolish its house in the Jabel al-Mukaber neighborhood.

As is always the Israeli position, the State asserts that the homes being demolished and under threat of demolition have been built by Palestinians without the required Israeli permits (often on land that even Israel recognizes they privately own). Such permits are generally all but impossible for Palestinians to obtain; in the case of al-Walajah, they are literally impossible to obtain, since the area lacks the required Israeli-approved “outline plan,” without which permits are an impossibility. Facing the reality of having Israel demolish their homes and being required to pay excessive costs and fees associated with such demolitions, Palestinians sometimes choose to self-demolish their homes.

Settler Violence & Expansionism Continues to Escalate in the South Hebron Hills

On Wednesday, November 10th a group of settlers attempting to install a campsite and graze their flocks on land near the Palestinian village of Khilet al-Daba clashed with local Palestinians, who worried that the settlers were making an attempt to take over the land – an understandable concern giving the growing phenomenal of farming outposts as a means for settlement expansion. The clashes – which took place at night after a full day of building tensions – took a violent turn when settlers set a Palestinian agricultural structure on fire. The evening ended with two Palestinians being shot by settlers with live rounds, three Palestinians wounded by settlers throwing rocks, and damage to several cars owned by Palestinians.

The land on which the settlers were grazing their flocks and attempting to install a campsite was declared to be a firing zone by the Israeli government, making it illegal for Palestinians to build there or even enter. According to Haaretz, the Israeli state has plans to evict Palestinians who live in this area (who have ostensibly lived in the area prior to it being declared by Israel to be a firing zone).

The IDF, which had been at the scene intermittently during the day, eventually sought to separate the groups by declaring the area a closed military zone. South Hebron Hills activist Basil Al-Adraa explained how this practice works to allow settlers to accomplish their goals, saying:

“The army arrived, declared it a closed military zone and kicked us out. But they didn’t kick out the settlers or take down the tent they put up today.”

The South Hebron Hills is a hotbed for settler violence, and was the scene of a settler attack – a Jewish pogrom – in September. Earlier this week, settlers from a nearby outpost – aided by the IDF –  temporarily blocked Palestinian access to a playground in the village of Susiya. In addition to settler violence, the Israeli government is also acting to significantly expand settlements and retroactively legalize outposts in the South Hebron Hills.

Notably, two U.S members of Congress – Mark Pocan (D, WI-2) and Jamaal Bowman (D, NY-16) – visited the village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills on November 10th (prior to the outbreak of violence that night). They pair met with local Paelstinian activist where they were told of the violence settlers inflict on the local population. 

In an interview with Jewish Currents in  October 2021, Basil Al-Adraa explained how violence and land takeovers are two sides of the same coin in the South Hebron Hills,

Settlers have long been attacking the communities here. The [Israeli] Civil Administration gives them land stolen from the Palestinians: They declared it state land so they can take it by force, for settlers to build settlements and outposts and farms. This year, the settlers have started these new sheep farms around the West Bank, where they bring volunteers to work on these farms. But the settlers aren’t content with the tens of thousands of dunams [one dunam equals 1,000 square meters] they’ve been granted: They bring their animals to our private fields, which the state can’t take from us. They bring them to our orange trees, to drink from our water systems—like the well where we collect rainwater—and to graze on our grass. And what’s been happening recently, especially since May, is they’ve been organizing big attacks on Shabbat and holidays because settlers don’t have much work to do on those days. Dozens of settlers will come masked, with hammers, machine guns, sticks, and stones. The army escorts them two or three kilometers from their settlements to our villages. They burn houses, cut down olive trees. If the army sees some Palestinian trying to defend themselves, then they will shoot at [that Palestinian] with live stun grenades, or tear gas, or rubber bullets. They use all the force. We are under army law as Palestinians in Area C, but the settlers are under civilian law, so the soldiers in the area can’t deal with the settlers, who are under the jurisdiction of the police. But the police take three or four hours to come, only after the attacks have finished. In my community, al-Tuwani, there have been at least seven organized attacks. A lot of people look at these as [isolated] incidents, and this time, there was more media attention to the issue because there was a three-year-old child who was wounded. But it’s part of a policy, in which settlers and the Israeli army don’t want us to feel safe where we live. Like the home demolitions, the blocking of roads, the cutting water and electricity networks, it’s all leading to one goal: They want to kick us out of this land, out of Area C toward Area A [areas under Palestinian administrative and police control, like Ramallah]. But our land is here, our life is here.”

Bennett Pledges Evyatar Outpost will be Legalized, Sparking Palestinian Ire & More Coalition Threats

In a press conference on November 7th, Prime Minister Bennet affirmed his commitment to granting retroactive legalization to the unauthorized outpost of Evyatar – which was built on a strategic hilltop named Mount Sabih, located just south of Nablus on land historically belonging to nearby Palestinian villages Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. Even before Bennett’s most recent statement, several members of his fragile coalition have spoken out to insist that the reestablishment of Evyatar is a redline that, if crossed, could bring down the coalition (FMEP covered a few such statements two weeks ago). In the wake of Bennett’s press conference, more continued to do so, which only adds to the growing public fracture in the coalition over outposts and settlement building more broadly.

Public Security Minister Bar Lev (Labor) pledged to block the legalization of Evyatar, said this week:

“There are enough ways to dissolve this agreement. The Evyatar community [outpost] was illegal and illegal communities should be evacuated.”

The Mayor of Beita predicts that Bennett’s pledge to legalize the outpost (coupled with the end of the olive harvest season, which consumed protestors’ time elsewhere) will spark renewed energy in Palestinian-led protests in the town of Beita. Since settlers struck a deal with the government to temporarily vacate the outpost back in July 2021, Palestinians have staged regular protests against Evyatar outpost, and against the continue denial of access to the land on which the outposts continues to exist (the area is a closed military zone, where Palestinians are denied the ability to access). The protests over the summer were particularly violent, resulting in the killing of at least five Palestinian protestors by Israeli soldiers.

An organizer of the protests, Amal Bani Shamseh, told The New Arab:

“the people in Beita can not stand the idea of a single settler moving back to Mount Sabih and are willing to intensify protests, and women are the first to affirm it.”

As a reminder, the fate of the Evyatar outpost was the first controversy that threatened to divide the fragile Bennett-led government when it was sworn in. Bennet’s partners were bitterly divided on whether to evacuate the outpost or let it be, while the government sought to grant it retroactive legalization. In the end, the government reached a “deal” which saw the settlers (temporarily) vacate the outpost on Friday, July 2nd. In return, the government left the settlers’ illegal construction at the site in place (i.e., did not demolish it) — including buildings and roads —  while it “examines” the status of the land to see if it can be declared “state land” and therefore “legally” turned into a settlement (opening the door for the settlers to return). Under the agreement, the outpost is being used as a military base in the interim. 

The fact that the “compromise” left in place the settlers’ structures and allowed Israel to maintain complete control over the site during the “survey” process signalled from the start that the government is not concerned with enforcing Israeli law, but rather is focused on finding a political solution that works for the settlers. It was further clear from the terms of the “compromise” that the Bennet government believed it will be succeed in finding a pretext to assert that the land on which the outpost stands is “state land” which can be used by the state as it sees fit (i.e., give it to the settlers). If the state decides, pursuant to the investigation, that it has a basis on which to declare the site to be “state land,” the settlers will be allowed to return and resume the establishment of what would from that point no longer be an illegal outpost, but a new “legal” settlement. 

Government Punts on Outpost Legalization Bill, Knesset Might Move Forward Anyway

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Ministerial Committee on Legislation has decided to delay by four months its decision on whether to grant government backing to a bill that would grant retroactive authorization (i.e., legalize) nearly 70 West Bank settlement outposts that Israel has failed to find any other way to legalize (because they are built on land even Israel recognizes is privately owned by Palestinians). As a reminder, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation is composed of government Ministers, and decides whether or not the governing coalition will throw its support behind a bill in the Knesset – ensuring either its passage or defeat.

In response to this news, MK Orit Struck (Religious Zionist Party) — who is also a longtime Hebron settlement leader — said that she intends to bring the bill to the Knesset for an initial reading despite lacking government-backing. Struck believes a strong majority of Knesset Members, regardless of the government’s position, will support the bill. Members of the Knesset attempted to fast-track the passage of this same bill in May 2021, while Bennett and Lapid were in negotiations to form the current governing coalition. 

The bill introduced in May 2021 included an explanatory text claiming that the proposed law is in line with a decision the Security Cabinet took in 2017, when it tasked a new committee – headed by notorious settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein – to prepare individualized plans for each outpost to gain retroactive legalization based on the passage of the Regulation Law and the recommendations in the Zandberg Report. Bills similar to this have been filed several times in the past, and the Israeli government has debated granting retroactive authorization to the outposts via a government decision – and came close to doing so in the waning days of the Trump Administration.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israeli Settlers Escalate Violence in West Bank” (Foreign Policy)
  2. “Nearly 20 years on, Israeli barrier shapes Palestinian lives” (AP)
  3. “Far-right protestors clash with cops in Jerusalem over settler teen’s death” (The Times of Israel)
  4. “They should have been lawyers. Instead they’re at Israeli construction sites” (Basil al-Adraa in +972 Magazine)
  5. “How the Occupation Harms Not Only the Palestinians, but the Planet Too” (Haaretz)
  6. “Palestinians say no to work in settlements” (Al-Monitor)