Settlement & Annexation Report: August 6, 2021

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

August. 6, 2021

  1. Sheikh Jarrah, Part 1: Court Proposes Settler-friendly “Compromise” to Avoid Substantive Ruling on Sheikh Jarrah Dispossession Cases
  2. Sheikh Jarrah, Part 2: Israel Reportedly Asks Biden Administration to Pressure Palestinians Into Accepting Sheikh Jarrah “Deal”
  3. Israel Housing Ministry Moves to Advance Atarot Settlement Plan
  4. Report: Jewish National Fund to Approve “Review” of West Bank Land/Property it Claims to Own but Not Have Registered
  5. New Petition Against Construction on Top of Ruins of Lifta
  6. Members of Congress Seek Codify Trump’s Green Line-Erasing Labeling Policy Into Law
  7. Bonus Reads

Sheikh Jarrah, Part 1: Court Proposes Settler-friendly “Compromise” to Avoid Substantive Ruling on Sheikh Jarrah Dispossession Cases

At a hearing held on Monday August 2nd, the three-judge panel of the Israeli Supreme Court proposed a “compromise” to resolve the cases of pending evictions of four Palestinian families from their longtime homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The compromise — which appears designed above all else to enable the Court to avoid issuing a ruling on the substance of the case — would enable the Palestinians in the targeted homes to avoid displacement for the time being, while offering settlers formal recognition of their ownership of the properties in question (and turning the Palestinians into tenants paying rent to a settler organization that has made clear its intention to displace them). Moreover, if implemented, the “compromise” would almost certainly become a precedent for the cases of the many other Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan (and almost certainly elsewhere in the future) whose homes/presence is targeted by settlers.

Specifically, under the deal proposed by the Court, the four Palestinian families fighting imminent forcible displacement from their longtime homes in the Sheikh Jarrah (the El Kurd, Jaouni, Abu Hasna, and Askafi families) would be required to recognize the settlers as the rightful owners of the land their homes are built on. In exchange for this recognition — in effect, a repudiation of claims to their own rights to the property — the Palestinians would be designated as “protected tenants,” which would enable the families to continue to live in their homes for 2 generations (protected tenancy rights may be handed down to the children and grandchildren, but not further), so long as the Palestinians pay the required rent to settlers (set at 1,500 shekels a year) and do not otherwise violate the rules of protected tenancy.

The four families swiftly rejected the proposal – which Mohammed El-Kurd observed, accurately, would leave them “at the mercy of settlers, paying rent to live in our own homes.” Despite  this rejection, the Court announced that it intends to continue pursuing the “deal” (while applying pressure on the families to accept it). To that end, the four families were asked to submit a list of individuals who might be eligible to receive protected tenancy rights.

Ir Amim explains not only the trap of protected tenancy rights, but also the larger concerns about how the Court is behaving, writing:

“While protected tenancy offers some assurances against arbitrary eviction, the law still allows for the eviction of protected tenants through a variety of means. Settler organizations are currently using these mechanisms in order to try and evict protected Palestinian tenants in other cases. Alternatively, the settler group could advance an urban renewal building plan, which would ultimately result in the eviction and demolition of the families’ homes. In such a case, the families would be eligible for alternative housing elsewhere, but would lose their community and the homes in which they were living for decades and to which they are strongly tied. Indeed, settler leaders have already applauded the court’s proposal calling it a victory.

Additionally, protected tenancy status will mean, in essence, that the families are not recognized as the owners of their homes. The significance is both symbolic and practical since it means that the families would lose all opportunity to claim ownership in the future – for example when the Israeli Government conducts a land registration process in the neighborhood. Past experience shows that regardless of any phrasing which may be used in an attempt to circumvent recognition of settler ownership, the declaration of protected tenants may be used against future claims by the families. 

The judges’ resolve to push for a settlement indicates their reticence in issuing a substantive ruling which would obligate them to rule against the settler group and the discriminatory legal mechanism which grants Palestinian property to Jews. Such a settlement likewise enables the Israeli government to abdicate responsibility for these measures. 

A fair proposal can only be one that is in accordance with International Law and its basic premise of protecting the occupied population and its right to property, family, and community life.  This basic principle must not be forgotten as the Israeli government is trying to evade the strong pressure which the protests against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions have succeeded in creating.”

Sheikh Jarrah, Part 2: Israel Reportedly Asks Biden Administration to Pressure Palestinians Into Accepting Sheikh Jarrah “Deal”

Haaretz reports that the Israeli government has asked the Biden Administration to pressure the four Palestinian families facing forcible dispalcement from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah into accepting the deal offered by the Supreme Court (see section above for details on the Supreme Court’s “deal”). The families rejected the deal immediately upon presentation, based on their refusal to legitimize settler claims of ownership over their homes.

Haaretz further reported that officials in the Biden Administration is not jumping to implement the Israeli request, but is keeping a close eye on the case. When asked about these  reports at a State Department briefing on August 5th, spokesperson Ned Price responded:

“Well, as you know, we don’t speak to any diplomatic or private conversations, but what I can say is that we believe that the proposal offered by the Israeli court on August 2nd is a matter for the Israeli and Palestinian parties to the case to consider and to decide for themselves. We’ve said this just this week and many times before that: families should not be evicted from their homes in which they have lived for decades. We have encouraged Israeli authorities to avoid evictions and other actions that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution...Look, we’re not going to comment or comment on or confirm reports of diplomatic conversations. What we have said as it relates to this – we have both in public and in private encouraged Israeli authorities to avoid evictions and other actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance negotiated two-state solution.”

Reporting around the Court’s and the Israeli government’s efforts to secure Palestinian agreement on the Sheikh Jarrah “compromise” makes clear that this deal is seen by the Court and the government as a solution that can (a) placate the international community, by avoiding immediate evictions; (b) deliver a huge victory to the settlement enterprise in East Jerusalem by creating a legal precedent for settlers to take ownership – and, eventually, possession – of a large number of homes/properties across East Jerusalem); and (c) bolster the Israeli narrative that what is happening in East Jerusalem is merely a real estate dispute, while rebutting claims that Israeli rule in East Jerusalem involves occupation/apartheid policies that systematically dispossess and disenfranchise Palestinians, while in parallel promoting the interests and aspirations of settlers.”

Haaretz columnist Nir Hasson wrote:

“In the end, the Sheikh Jarrah legal battle revolves around one question. Is it simply a real estate dispute, as the settlers assert, or is it part of a campaign by the state – its official arms (the custodian general, Land Registry, the Israel Police) and its unofficial ones (the Nahalat Shimon Company) to dispossess the Palestinians and Judaize the neighborhood? If it’s the latter, it’s a campaign based on discrimination and unjust laws. Needless to say, for the rest of the world, apart from Israel, the Palestinian viewpoint is the one that is accepted; the view that it’s a private dispute is rejected. The three justices struggled to decide where the court stood on this question. On the one hand, they are clearly not happy reopening a discussion on the legal substance of the affair. On the other, they also very much do not want to order the eviction of hundreds of people from their homes – at least not now, when Sheikh Jarrah is the focus of media and diplomatic attention.”

Israel Housing Ministry Moves to Advance Atarot Settlement Plan

The Walla news outlet reports that the Israeli Housing Ministry has placed the Atarot settlement plan on the agenda for the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, which is scheduled to convene in December 2021. The plan for the Atarot settlement – which calls for 9,000 units to be built on the site of the former Qalandiya airport (located at the northern tip of East Jerusalem) – is at an early stage in the approval process. 

According to the Times of Israel, Prime Minister Bennett was not notified in advance of the Ministry’s move – which is surprising given the sensitivity of the plan (which is opposed by the international community and strikes a deadly blow to the prospects of a two-state solution). Bennet is scheduled to head to Washington, D.C. soon – a trip originally scheduled for August, but now delayed until September.

The Atarot settlement plan dates back to 2007. It was pursued by the Israeli government in 2012 but shelved under pressure from the Obama administration. The plan came back into consideration in April 2017 (a few months following the inauguration of President Trump) when it was rumored to be included on Netanyahu’s master blueprint of settlements for which he was seeking U.S. approval. In February 2020, following the publication of the Trump Plan – which designated the area that would be used for the settlement as a “special tourist zone” for Palestinians –  the Atarot settlement plan was formally introduced. In January 2021 then-Prime Minister Netanyahu dangled the advancement of the plan as an incentive for parties to join his flagging coalition in order to remain in power. At the time, Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann noted that the plan faces significant legal obstacles and predicted that it will not come to fruition “anytime soon.”

In its current form, the plan provides for up to 9,000 residential units for ultra-Orthodox Jews (assuming, conservatively, an average family size of 6, this means housing for 54,000 people), as well as synagogues, ritual baths (mikvehs), commercial properties, offices and work spaces, a hotel, and a water reservoir. If built, the Atarot settlement will effectively be a small Israeli city surrounded by Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods on three sides and Ramallah to its north.

There are currently 15 Palestinian families living in buildings on the land slated for the settlement, part of which is privately owned by Palestinians. Other land in the area has been declared “state land” by Israel or belongs to the Jewish National Fund. To solve the problem of Palestinian land owners, the Israeli government will need to evict the Palestinians living there and demolish their homes — a step that will be facilitated by the fact that all of the homes lack Israeli-issued building permits (which are essentially impossible for Palestinians to receive). The private Palestinian landowners will then be subjected to a non-consensual process of “reparcelization,” in which Israel will unilaterally reparcel and then redistribute the land amongst its owners on the basis of the value of the land (as determined by Israel) and the percentage of their ownership claim.

 The Atarot airport site is an important commodity and, during past negotiations, it was promised to the Palestinians for their state’s future international gateway. Israeli development of the site as a settlement would — by design — not only deprive a future Palestinian state of the only airport in a Palestinian area, but also dismember Palestinian neighborhoods in the northern part of the Jerusalem, and sever East Jerusalem from a Palestinian state on this northern flank of the city (acting like E-1 on Jerusalem’s northeast flank, and like Givat Hamatos on Jerusalem’s southern flank).

Report: Jewish National Fund to Approve “Review” of West Bank Land/Property it Claims to Own but Not Have Registered

Haaretz reports that the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund is set to approve an institutional review of approximately 17,000 assets it claims to own but failed to register  (or take possession of) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Many of these properties are Palestinian homes, whose residents the JNF refers to as “squatters”. The JNF’s legal review could reportedly take five years to complete, and could result in the eviction of Palestinians if the JNF is found by Israel to rightfully own the land (given the track record of Israeli courts with respect to property disputes between Israeli organizations and Palestinains, such a finding is a near certainty), is then permitted to register the land, and then chooses to pursue the eviction of those Palestinians.

Of the total (17,000 assets), the JNF claims:

  • It has documentation showing the purchase of 360 properties.
  • It has a contract proving ownership of 170 properties
  • It has legal claim to 2,050 plot currently under the control of Israel’s General Custodian (the body set up by the Israeli government to take control of land and properties “abandoned” by Palestinians in the 1948 war).

Peace Now said in response:

“The Jewish National Fund is becoming the Settlers’ National Fund. The registration procedures in the Occupied Territories and in East Jerusalem could bring to massive dispossession of Palestinians, like in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, and expansion of the settlements. The JNF- KKL is a national institution for the entire Jewish people which should not serve one side of the political map as it puts facts on the ground that endanger the state of Israel. We call upon all the organizations which are party to the JNF- KKL board, including Maccabi, Hadassah and Naamat and others: don’t be political organizations, don’t let your representatives vote for deepening the occupation and the settlements.”

As a reminder, established in 1901, the JNF devoted itself to buying land for Jews. Today, the JNF owns about 15% of all the land inside the Green Line (a figure which stands to increase if the review process leads to more properties being registered to the JNF). In addition, the JNF has used two subsidiary companies – both called Himanuta – to purchase land in the West Bank, even though the stated JNF policy (until now) did not support such purchases. Peace Now reports that the JNF, via Himanuta, has already purchased over 160,000 acres (65,000 dunams) across the West Bank; settlements established on some of those lands include Itamar, Alfei Menashe, Einav, Kedumim, Givat Ze’ev, Metzadot Yehuda (Beit Yatir), Otniel and more. At the same time, the JNF and the settler group Elad have been partnering together to pursue the mass eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem neighborhoods, including Silwan.

New Petition Against Construction on the Ruins of Lifta

On August 4th, a new petition was submitted to the Jerusalem Administrative Court challenging the issuance of a tender for construction on the ruins of the Palestinian neighborhood of Lifta in West Jerusalem. The tender was issued for 259 luxury housing units, commercial buildings, and a hotel. The petition was submitted by Adv. Dr. Sami Arshid on behalf of refugees from Lifta  and experts/activists who have been protesting for the conservation of the site, which is on the UNESCO Tentative List of World Heritage Sites.

The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh writes that the petition was submitted with three expert opinions, one from a civil engineer, a second from an ecologist, and a third written by a team of five architects and conservation planners. All of these opinions object to the construction plan. 

While FMEP’s settlement and annexation report focuses on settlement building in areas located over the 1967 Green Line, the story of Lifta – and of other Palestinian villages forcibly depopulated by Israeli forces in the 1948 – is another facet of the Israeli government’s policy of erasure of Palestinians via the establishment of Jewish Israeli communities. You can read one Palestinian’s account of forced her forced displacement from Lifta, here.

Members of Congress Seek Codify Trump’s Green Line-Erasing Labeling Policy Into Law

On July 27th, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and 5 Republican colleagues introduced a bill to “require the maintenance of the country of origin markings for imported goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza, and for other purposes.” Under this legislation, products made in the West Bank and Gaza would be legally required to be labelled “Made in Israel” for the purposes of importing to the United States. 

In a tweet following the introduction of the bill, which has been referred  to committee, Sen. Cotton released a statement  and tweeted:

“Left-wing activists abuse county-of-origin labels in order to stigmatize products made in Israel. Our bill will defend the integrity of the Jewish State by ensuring that Israeli products may proudly bear the label ‘Made in Israel’ 

As a reminder, in the waning months of the Trump Administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new U.S. guidelines that require products made in all areas under Israeli control to be labelled as “Made in Israel” (or iterations thereof) when being exported to the U.S. This was a massive and highly consequential shift in U.S. policy, boiling down to U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty not only over settlements (as the Trump Administration has previously done) but over all of Area C – some 60% of the West Bank), irrespective of whether or not Israel officially annexes the land. This Trump-era labeling policy remains in effect today, as the Biden Administration has not publicly reversed it. Notably, this policy – as laid out by Pompeo – would in principle require even Palestinian-made goods originating from villages in Area C to be labelled as “Made in Israel”. Roughly 150,000 Palestinians live in Area C, where they are subjected to an escalating Israeli campaign to make life untenable for them via discriminatory planning policies and demolitions. 

For more, please see (and subscribe to receive) Lara Friedman’s weekly legislative roundup.

Bonus Reads

  1. Why we went to the UN Security Council about East Jerusalem” (The Times of Israel // Yudith Oppenheimer of Ir Amim)
  2. Ted Cruz blocks bill advancing Israel-Arab normalization, citing pressure on Israel to reach two-state solution” (JTA)
  3. “WATCH: Settler grabs Israeli soldier’s weapon, fires at Palestinians” (+972 Magazine)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

July 30, 2021

  1. Sheikh Jarrah Updates: Court Issues Delays for Three Cases; Bennett Reportedly Considering Delaying Four Others
  2. In First Since Settlement Regulation Law Was Overturned, Israel Announces Intent to Demolish Settlement Buildings on Privately Owned Palestinian Land
  3. Elad Settler Group Loses Control Over East Jerusalem Holy Site/Archaeological Park
  4. Knesset Votes Down West Bank Annexation Bill, Condemns Ben & Jerry’s
  5. State Allows (& Funds) “Farming Outposts” to Graze Huge Tracts of West Bank Land
  6. Outpost Activity Continues in the South Hebron Hills
  7. Israeli Army Let Settlers Stay at Abandoned Base Despite Knowing Plans for Illegal Outpost
  8. Bonus Reads

Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – kmccarthy@fmep.org.


Sheikh Jarrah Updates: Court Issues Delays for Three Cases; Bennett Reportedly Considering Delaying Four Others

On July 29th, the Israeli Supreme Court issued notices delaying the forcible displacement of three families (Dajani, Hammad, and Dahoudi) from their longtime homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The eviction orders were set to become enforceable on Sunday August 1st, but the Court has halted the evictions while an appeal filed by the Palestinian families is dealt with.

Also sheduled for August  2nd, the Supreme Court is currently set to hold a final hearing to decide on the fate of four other Palestinian families (Jaouni, Iskafi, al-Kurd, and al-Qadi) facing forcible eviction in Sheikh Jarrah. According to press reports, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is considering delaying the final hearing (thus stopping the evictions for the time being). Notably, reports suggest Bennett is looking not to cancel the evictions but only to postpone a final decision on them – a postponement that could be reversed at any time at the whim of the Prime Minister (for example, when the world’s attention is elsewhere).

In an op-ed in The Guardian, Mohammad El-Kurd – whose family is facing eviction – powerfully wrote:

On 2 August, the Israeli supreme court, whose jurisdiction over the eastern part of Jerusalem defies international law, is set to decide whether it will allow the appeal of my family and three others – a last legal obstacle before we can be expelled. There have been postponements before. Palestinians are accustomed to this kind of stalling; it tests our stamina. But we are as stubborn as anyone else faced with the prospect of losing their home – their life, their memories – to those using force, intimidation and biased laws. In the face of this cruelty, and despite teargas and skunk water, we are resisting. We cannot allow them to steal our homes once more, and we refuse to continue living in refugee camps while colonisers live in our houses. We cannot let them throw more of us on to the streets. We are tired of being turned into a refugee population, neighbourhood after neighbourhood, one home at a time. I have no faith in the Israeli judicial system; it is a part of the settler-colonial state, built by settlers for settlers. Nor do I expect any of the international governments who have been deeply complicit in Israel’s colonial enterprise to intervene on our behalf. But I do have faith in those people around the world who protest and pressure their governments to end what is essentially unconditional support for Israeli policies. Impunity and war crimes will not be stopped by statements of condemnation and raised eyebrows. We Palestinians have repeatedly articulated what kind of transformative political measures must be taken – such as civil society boycotts and state-level sanctions. The problem is not ignorance, it is inaction.”

In First Since Settlement Regulation Law Was Overturned, Israel Announces Intent to Demolish Settlement Buildings on Privately Owned Palestinian Land

On July 28th, the Israeli Attorney General’s office informed the High Court of Justice that within three years (!!) it plans to carry out the demolition of two buildings built by settlers on privately owned Palestinian land located inside of the Eli settlement, in the context of a petition filed in 2011 by Palestinian land owners with the assistance of Yesh Din and Bimkom. Notably, the underlying legal petition sought the demolition of a total of 20 buildings constructed illegally on private Palestinian land, 18 of which Israel granted retroactive legalization in February 2020.

According to the Jerusalem Post, this is the first instance of the Court resuming looking at a case of this kind since the Settlement Regulation Law was overturned by the Court in June 2020. Previously, all cases involving illegal construction inside of settlements had been frozen while the Court considered the constitutionality of the law, which sought to create a legal basis by which Israel would be able to grant retroactive legalization to outposts and settlement structures built on land that even Israel acknowledges is privately owned by Palestinians.

In resuming its consideration of the case, the Court first asked to be updated on the State’s reexamination of the status of the land in hopes of finding a means by which to retroactively legalize the illegal construction, despite the fact that a previous government effort confirmed that the two buildings fall outside of the boundaries of state-owned land. With no other avenue available to “legalize” the construction, the State informed the Court this week that it intends to demolish the structures after the three years, which it claimed was the amount of time required to provide new housing for the four affected settler families [demonstrating, as always, that settler law-breakers are never punished and always rewarded]. This long delay also suggests that the State will continue to look for new ways to avoid demolishing the homes.

Leaders of the Land of Israel Lobby in the Knesset, MKs Yoav Kisch and Orit Strock, told Israel Hayom:

 “This week, the government informed the High Court of Justice that it agrees to demolish the homes of four families in Eli. This is a horrifying, shocking announcement. Rather than preventing the destruction of Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria, the government is busy regulating the illegal construction crimes in the Bedouin sector. This is a badge of shame for the government, which is freezing construction, as well as going back on all its promises to regulate [settlements] and also demolishing Jews’ homes.”

Yisrael Gantz – who heads the Benyamim settler regional council –  said:

“We are surprised that the government is falling in line with the Arab petitioners and announcing that it will, heaven forbid, demolish two homes where families have been living for years, which are part of a living, vibrant neighborhood. Razing a home whose status was legal and which a new review by the Civil Administration left outside the settlement’s borders is a new low in crimes against settlement in Judea and Samaria. These two homes are just a preview. We have hundreds of homes with similar status in the Binyamin settlements and thousands throughout the settlements as a whole that suddenly found themselves outside the new ‘blue lines’ drawn in the Civil Administration’s work. No normal country would demolish homes in a situation like this.”

Elad Settler Group Loses Control Over East Jerusalem Holy Site/Archaeological Park

On July 1st, the State of Israel re-asserted control over a significant and highly sensitive archaeological and holy  site – the Davidson Archaeological Park – located just outside of the walls of the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif. The park, which includes most notably tunnels that run directly from the Western Wall plaza to the settler-run Davidson Center in Silawn – had been run by the Elad settler organization since 2018, when the State willingly transferred its authority to Elad to operate the park. 

In 2015 the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh, which is made up of archeological experts,  filed a petition against Elad’s role at the park, arguing that “it is highly problematic to place the running or management of a holy site that is situated alongside the Western Wall foundations in the hands of a private and politicized organization.”  Emek Shaveh’s argument mirrored an opinion issued by Israel’s Attorney General which held that holy sites should be managed by the State.

Notably, the end of the state’s contract with Elad regarding the Davidson Park reduces but does not eliminate Elad’s role in managing key sites in Jerusalem. Elad continues to operate the nearby City of David archaeological park (just outside the Old City’s walls), where it has been advancing numerous settlement projects meant to strengthen its control over the area and displace Palestinians.

Emek Shaveh said in a statement

“We are pleased that the authorities have put an end to a highly problematic arrangement whereby a private right-wing organization is operating an important site situated in perhaps the most sensitive place in the region. We hope that in the future the State will take full responsibility for additional sites which it handed over to the settlers’ foundation. The City of David is, no doubt, the next site that ought to be returned to full management by the State. Emek Shaveh’s case regarding the tunnel linking the Davidson Center to Givati is still ongoing.”

Knesset Votes Down West Bank Annexation Bill, Condemns Ben & Jerry’s

In a July 28th preliminary vote the Knesset rejected, by a relatively slim margin (64 to 50), a bill to annex the entire West Bank. Members of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ruling party, Yamina, voted against the bill. The bill had been submitted by members of the Likud party, which is now in the opposition after 15 years of being the most powerful party in the country and having had the ability to pass such a bill if desired. One of the bill’s cosponsors, Miki Zohar, said after the vote:

“You promised again and again that you will take action to bring about sovereignty over Judea and Samaria and you once again broke your word,” Zohar said. “You once again proved that you have no ideology and that no values are holy for you except for keeping your cabinet seats.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope) responded, saying:

“I heard MK Mikki Zohar relating to the fact that in the last administration, Netanyahu wanted to apply sovereignty but Blue and White prevented him from doing so. And I was just thinking to myself, ‘How far from the truth can you get?’…So you, MK Zohar, party whip for the Likud in the last Knesset, could have brought this bill up in the last Netanyahu government, during the Trump administration, during the amazing window of opportunity – you could have submitted the sovereignty bill and had a majority in the Knesset.”

Around the same time this bill was voted on, 90 members of the Knesset, including Yamina members, signed a letter calling on Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its decision to end sales in the occupied West Bank. The letter refers to settlements as “towns and cities in Israel” – a statement tantamount to a declaration of de facto – if not official – annexation. Notably, 6 MKs – from Labor and Meretz – subsequently removed their names for the letter, claiming that they signed on without seeing the final wording, and that the final wording does not reflect their views.

State Allows (& Funds) “Farming Outposts” to Graze Huge Tracts of West Bank Land

In response to a Peace Now inquiry, the Israeli Agricultural Ministry revealed that it has granted permits to unauthorized (i.e., illegal under even Israel law) agricultural outposts to use over 2,000 acres (8,500 dunams) of land in the West Bank for grazing, in a program which entrenches and expands the outposts’ illegal presence across the West Bank. 

Map by Peace Now

And if that wasn’t enough of a scandal, the Ministry confirmed that it provided sizable grants – totalling over $800,000 (2.6 million NIS) over the past few years – to at least three settlement organizations for the purpose of bringing volunteers to these outposts – which, again, are illegal even under Israeli law – to work the land. Notably, these settler organizations publicly boast about their farming activities with respect to a total of 50 farming outposts, suggesting that settlers are making use of far more than the 2,000 acres permitted by the Ministry (the Ministry clarified that it funds activities only related to the areas where settlers are authorized to work — so apparently they see no problem].

Peace Now said:

“The Ministry of Agriculture takes millions of Shekels of public monies and give them to associations which are intrinsically linked to illegal activity. If the government wants to stop more outposts such as “Evyatar” from existing, and to stop the small group of ideological settlers who allow themselves to set facts on the ground that determines the foreign and security policies for Israel, it must change its ways immediately and stop supporting outposts and illegal activities”.

Two of the outposts to which the Agricultural Ministry awarded grazing permits are located in the south Hebron hills, on land that is privately owned by Palestinians.  One of those outposts, established by a settler named Shavti Kohslaviski, has active demolition orders issued against it. A third outpost that received grazing permits is located near the Elon Moreh settlement, on a site that is partially privately owned Palestinian land that Israel has made inaccessible to its Palestinian owners but on which settlers regularly trespass . 

Israeli Army Let Settlers Stay at Abandoned Base Despite Knowing Plans for Illegal Outpost

Kerem Navot reports that on July 23rd, dozens of settlers were allowed to stay at an abandoned military base in the Jordan Valley with permission of the Israeli army. The Israeli Commander in charge of the area reportedly said that he granted permission for the settlers to hike in the area and spend one night at the army base – – despite the fact that the settlers openly declared their intent to establish a permanent presence there. The settlers left after two nights at the site, though a government source told Haaretz that the problem will continue to linger, saying “the minute the brigade commander allowed this one time, they will go up there regularly, when they feel like it, with or without permission, and the defense establishment will have to start dealing with it.” 

Kerem Navot reports:

“The organization that is behind this current takeover attempt is called “Nahala.” Nahala is the same group behind the takeover of Mount Sbeih south of the village of Beita, upon which the outpost of Eviatar was founded two months ago, and operates behind a fictional NGO (which we wrote about not long ago- https://bit.ly/3763yJW). Yes, you understood that correctly: The same people who broke the law when they established the outpost Eviatar, are advancing a new aggressive takeover of lands that do not belong to them, instead of standing trial. Welcome to the West Bank.”

Outpost Activity Continues in the South Hebron Hills

On July 25th, Palestinian media reported that settlers have begun reestablishing an outpost in the south Herbron hills, near the town of Yatta. Settlers had abandoned the outpost a few months ago under regular protests by Palestinians.

On July 27th, the Israeli government dismantled another outpost – called “Beit Dror” by settlers – in the south Hebron hills. There were seven families of settlers living at the outpost in pre-fabricated homes which were removed from the area by cranes. Following the evacuation, the settlers held a cornerstone-laying ceremony at the site, vowing to return and permanently build on the land. 

Bonus Reads

  1. Over 140 Palestinians hurt after Israeli troops attack anti-settlement protesters” (The New Arab)
  2. A water spring in the occupied Jordan Valley targeted for takeover by Israeli settlers” (WAFA)
  3. Palestinian teenager killed by Israeli troops in West Bank” (The New Arab)
  4. “Ben & Jerry’s Is Shunning Israeli Settlements. The U.S. Should Too” (DAWN)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

July 23, 2021

  1. Ben & Jerry’s Announces End of Ice Cream Sales in Settlements
  2. Report: Bennett Agreed to Delay Settlement Approvals at U.S. Request
  3. Israeli Lawyers Prepare Amicus Brief Opposing Sheikh Jarrah Displacement
  4. State Delays “Relocation” of Khan Al-Ahmar Community Until September 5th
  5. High Court Green-lights State Sponsorship of Illicit Settlement Activities via Amana Settler Org
  6. New Docs Show the Israeli Government Uses the JNF to Take Control of West Bank Land for Settlements, & How the JNF Uses a Subsidiary to Hide Deals
  7. Israeli Consumer Authority Refuses Request for Proper Labelling of Settlement Products
  8. Coalition of Palestinian Orgs Launches Campaign for Revocation of U.S. Charitable Designation for Settlement Groups
  9. Senior Israeli Government Official Lives in Settlement Under Demolition Order
  10. Testimonies Show Israeli IDF Complicity in Settler Violence
  11. Bonus Reads

Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – kmccarthy@fmep.org.


Ben & Jerry’s Announces End of Ice Cream Sales in Settlements

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company has announced that it will not renew the license of its Israeli franchisee because that franchisee refuses to stop operating in settlements. Ben & Jerry’s linked this decision to the illegality of settlements, saying in a statement:

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners. We have a longstanding partnership with our licensee, who manufactures Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Israel and distributes it in the region. We have been working to change this, and so we have informed our licensee that we will not renew the license agreement when it expires at the end of next year. Although Ben & Jerry’s will no longer be sold in the OPT, we will stay in Israel through a different arrangement. We will share an update on this as soon as we’re ready.”

Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the settlements – which are illegal under international law and have been shown by human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to be at the core of violations of Palestinian rights – has received an inordinate amount of attention from the media and from the Israeli government.

Quickly following the announcement that Ben and Jerry’s was exiting the settlements, pro-Israel allies in the U.S. expressed outrage and threatened legal repercussions under state anti-BDS laws. The U.S. State Department also expressed its disagreement with Ben & Jerry’s policy decision – and its outright opposition to, and commitment to combating, BDS targeting Israel and/or Israeli settlements. During a briefing, Spokesman Ned Price said:

“Our position on BDS has been clear. This is not something that we need to review. Again, the BDS movement unfairly singles out Israel… [the U.S.] will be a strong partner in fighting efforts around the world that potentially seek to delegitimize Israel [in a way that is] consistent with the First Amendment rights of the American people.”

Report: Bennett Agreed to Delay Settlement Approvals at U.S. Request

Israel Hayom reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has agreed – at the request of the Biden Administration – to for the time being freeze construction approvals for new settlement units. The outlet reports that over the past month Bennett has prevented the Civil Administration’s High Planning Council from scheduling a meeting in which it could advance settlement construction plans. 

The report has drawn criticism from within Naftali Bennet’s inner circle, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked threatening to leave the governing coalition – which cannot survive without her – if Bennett in fact agreed to a settlement freeze. Shaked told the press:

“If the government does something that is ideologically serious in my view, we will not be a part of it. For example, if the US administration demands a freeze in Judea and Samaria — there will be no government.”

In response to a question at a State Department press briefing about reports that the U.S. is pressuring the Bennett government to curb settlements, U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price did not confirm or deny the reports. Instead he merely reiterated the Biden Administration’s standard response to questions related to Israeli settlements, saying

When it comes to settlement activity, we have also been clear and consistent on that. We believe it’s critical to refrain from unilateral steps that increase tensions and make it more difficult to advance a negotiated two-state solution. This is a message we have conveyed in public, as I have just now, but also in private. And it has been the longstanding position, certainly the position of this administration and had been a longstanding position of prior administrations.”

Israeli Lawyers Prepare Amicus Brief Opposing Sheikh Jarrah Displacement

Peace Now has assembled a group of prominent Israeli legal authorities to prepare and submit an amicus brief arguing to the Israeli High Court that Palestinians living under the threat of forced displacement in Sheikh Jarrah should not be evicted by the state in favor of settlers. The brief – which deals with the spefic case of the Duweik family but can be applied broadly to other pending displacement cases in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan – asserts that the Palestinian residents as long-term tenants the Palestinians have accumulated property rights to their homes and should not be evicted. 

Peace Now summarizes:

“The brief addresses an approach that has emerged in international jurisprudence on human rights law which puts an emphasis on group vulnerability of occupants facing eviction and institutional, systemic discrimination against them. Where these are present, in certain circumstances, the occupants’ rights, stemming from the human right to housing and specifically, to live in their home and their family’s home – trump the right of the original owner or their substitute to regain possession of the property.

The brief reaches the conclusion that in the Duweik case, the occupants’ property rights and their right to housing supersede the right of the settlers acting on behalf of the pre-1948 original owners to receive possession of the property, based on the following:

1 – The fact that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are underprivileged, vulnerable and subjected to discrimination in every aspect of life, and particularly the fact that Israeli law on the restitution of property that changed hands due to wars, openly and deliberately discriminates against them;

2 – The fact that the family entered the property in good faith and/or in accordance with the law applicable at the time, and has developed a legitimate expectation to continue residing in it permanently and without interruption;

3 – The imbalance between the devastating harm the family would suffer and the minor damage the Benvenisti charitable endowment (represented by the settlers), which claims ownership of the property, would sustain, which clearly tips the scales in favor of the family.

In other words, according to the brief, even if the court finds the settlers do, in fact, have ownership, they are not necessarily entitled to remedy in the form of the families’ eviction from their homes, but rather to compensation from the state.”

Peace Now said in a statement about the amicus brief:

“There’s an elephant in the room, and the lofty legal debate in the Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa eviction cases ignores it, producing a legal distortion and an egregious injustice. This is not just another real estate dispute between equal parties. This is an organized, programmatic effort, with ample governmental support, to dispossess hundreds of Palestinians from their homes and replace them with settlers. This amicus curiae brief can help the court see the bigger picture, deliver justice and avert the iniquity.”

Michael Sfard, one of the authors of the brief, said:

“For years, judges have been considering the eviction cases in East Jerusalem under the assumption that they involve a dispute between a landlord and a tenant and therefore, proof of ownership on the part of the settlers necessarily triggers a countdown to eviction. The brief reintroduces the context of the legal proceeding – dispossession by the stronger, dominant group against a vulnerable, discriminated community whose members, in some cases, entered the properties for lack of choice and always according to the applicable laws and with a legitimate expectation that the property will be their permanent home. I hope the court takes the opportunity provided by the brief to bolster and defend the occupants’ right to continue living in their homes – a right acknowledged by international human rights law.”

State Delays “Relocation” of Khan Al-Ahmar Community Until September 5th

According to reports, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will soon decide whether to move forward with a deal negotiated by his predecessor for the “relocation” of the Khan Al-Ahmar bedouin community. Reportedly, the terms of the deal would see the Khan Al-Ahmar community agree to their relocation in exchange for Israeli residency.  Under the reported terms of the agreement, the community would be allowed to re-establish their community several miles east of their current homes – at an empty site near Abu Dis. In expectation of that transfer, the government of Israel has already connected the area to water, electricity, and sewage.

Though the High Court had previously set July 2021 for the demolition and forcible relocation of Khan al-Ahmar, alternate Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister Yair Lapid requested an extension in order to give the new government time to review the deal which was negotiated under the Netanyahu government, and decide whether to move forward with it. Calling the decision a “sensitive issue,” Lapid asked the Court for additional time “to examine the necessary conditions for the evacuation of the outpost and to conduct a significant and in-depth inquiry of all the legal and international consequences of the move.” The Court subsequently gave the government an additional six weeks – until September 5th – to make up its mind.  

It must be noted that, if reports are correct, Khan al-Ahmar leaders signed the deal to be removed from their longtime lands after prolonged coercive circumstances. Previous allegations regarding the nature of the Khan al-Ahmar relocation – specifically B’Tselem’s accusation that it is tantamount to a war crime – have not necessarily been assuaged by the community’s agreement. Since the 1950s – when the community was forced to leave their land in the Negev during the 1948 war – the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community has lived and worked the lands located just east of Jerusalem, in the shadow of the land marked for the construction of the E-1 settlement (which is once again in the headlines).

The settler group Regavim – which petitioned the Court to force the government to demolish Khan al-Ahmar last year, in the midst of a global pandemic – is upset that the demolition has once again been delayed. In response, the organization issued a statement saying:

“Lapid’s announcement is a political move intended to signal to Bennett and his partners that none of their election promises can be fulfilled. Not in the Negev, not in the Galilee, and not in Khan al-Ahmar.” [Regavim called on Bennett] “to show who’s in charge. We call on you to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar immediately!”

Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann has previously written:

“the story of Khan Al-Ahmar is not only about the tragedy for the village and its inhabitants, or about Israel’s readiness to carry out an ostensible war crime in the face of the world. It is also about Israel’s determination to clear the entire area of the West Bank east of Jerusalem, and located within the line of the built and planned barrier, of any Palestinian presence. This clearing will prepare the ground for the future construction of E1 and de facto annexation of this so-called bloc, which extends well beyond the built-up area of Maale Adumim.”

High Court Green-lights State Sponsorship of Illicit Settlement Activities via Amana Settler Org

On July 18th, the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition filed in 2019 by Peace Now that sought to stop the transfer of state funds to the Amana settler group, which regularly drives unauthorized (i.e. illegal even under Israeli domestic law) settlement activity. In its ruling, the Court did not reckon with the fundamental problem of allowing state funds to finance illegal activities, but instead ruled on a procedural point that the State (specifically settler municipal councils) is only permitted to fund public institutions – and the Court determined that Amana meets the criteria to be deemed a public institution.

One High Court justice, Menahem Mazuz, issued a minority opinion dissenting from the Court’s ruling. Mazuz said that in his opinion Amana should not be eligible to receive state funds because Amana, though it voluntarily operates on a non-profit basis, is not actually a registered non-profit (it is a cooperative association) and is therefore not subject to the same legal requirements of transparency and supervision.

At the time of filing the underlying petition against state funding for Amana, Peace Now wrote:

Amana and the regional councils in the territories have established a sophisticated mechanism to exploit the public coffers for illegal activity and to create facts on the ground. There is no limit to the chutzpah of the settlement heads. On one hand, they build outposts, with far-reaching diplomatic consequences, with public funds, and on the other hand, they cry to the government and ask for their criminality ==to be retroactively legalized. What a responsible and fair government needs to do is shut the spigot to Amana and immediately evacuate the illegal outposts.” And, “the regional councils and Amana go to great efforts to hide the information about their financial sources and illegal activities. Even with the legal process in Peace Now’s petition against granting support money to Amana, the councils have refused to provide basic information on the amount of funds transferred to Amana and their use. Amana received tens of millions of shekels from the regional councils every year, and the information received about the activities in Gush Etzion in 2018 and 2019 is just the tip of the iceberg. Peace Now uncovered the mechanism behind the illegal outposts in its “Unraveling the Mechanism behind Illegal Outposts” report which describes the operation by local authorities in the West Bank, together with Amana and the Settlement Division, to support illegal outposts and construction in the settlements, but not all financial sources have been clarified. The support by the Gush Etzion Regional Council is only a small part of Amana’s multi-million shekels operation in this illegal activity, with far-reaching ramifications for Israel’s future.”

New Docs Show the Israeli Government Uses the JNF to Take Control of West Bank Land for Settlements, & How the JNF Uses a Subsidiary to Hide Deals

Haaretz has revealed new documents that show the Israeli Defense Ministry directed the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to purchase privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank in order to expand settlements and retroactively legalize outposts. In some of the cases, certain JNF staff and the JNF’s subsidiary called Himunata acted to conceal the land purchases from the JNF’s Board of Directors. What’s more, with respect to a series of deals between 2018-2019, various irregularities call into question the validity of the land acquisitions.

According to Haaretz, the JNF’s board of directors has not yet reviewed or discussed the two reports, One report – the Yahav Report (written in 2020) – covers the land purchases in question. The second report – the Lamberger Report – details the lengths to which Himunata and its co-conspirators went to in order to hide the transactions from the JNF staff and Board of Directors. 

The JNF’s active involvement in the settlement enterprise is not new, but the direct line between the government and the JNF in conspiring to find means by which to take possession of privately owned land that the government has not found other means by which to seize (and reminder: the Israeli government is very inventive and persistent in finding means by which to seize privately owned Palestinian land) is shocking, and new – showing the extent to which the government is supportive of settlement and outpost growth. 

Israeli Consumer Authority Refuses Request for Proper Labelling of Settlement Products

In response to a request made by the nonprofit organization Combatants for Peace, Israel’s consumer protection agency has said it cannot mandate that manufacturers based in the settlements label their products as settlement products instead of using the misleading “Made in Israel” label. The reason given by the agency’s lawyer: the agency does not have the authority to declare that the locations in settlements are “not in the country of ‘Israel’.” 

Eitay Mack, the lawyer representing Combatant for Peace, said:

“Not consuming products from the Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank is no different from not consuming animal products, or consuming only organic products and free-range eggs, or consuming kosher or non-kosher products, all of which can result from reasons of conscience, religion, ideology or the politics of a citizen of the State of Israel. The misleading labeling of products from the Israeli settlements and outposts as Made in Israel creates unfair competition toward those same Israelis who genuinely (despite the difficulties involved in it) devote their lives to manufacturing within [the borders] of the State of Israel.”

The consumer protection agency has now waded into an ongoing legal effort led by activists across the world to insist upon a product labelling regime that accurately labels settlement products. This effort is pushing against the ongoing campaign by the Israeli government and its allies to erase the Green Line and assert sovereignty – de facto and increasingly, for all intents and purpose, de jure annexation – over the settlements. 

A centerpiece of this battle is the case of the Psagot Winery, which has been a willing legal test case for the Israeli government’s efforts. In the waning months of the Trump Administration, the Psagot case was delivered a major victory when then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new U.S. guidelines that require products made in all areas under Israeli control to be labelled as “Made in Israel” (or iterations thereof) when being exported to the U.S. 

This massive and highly consequential shift in U.S. policy, which offers recognition of Israeli sovereignty not only over settlements (as the Trump Administration has previously done) but over all of Area C – some 60% of the West Bank,  was – remains U.S. policy today, as the Biden Administration has not publicly reversed it. Notably, this policy, if focused on territory rather than on people, would in principle require even Palestinian-made goods originating from villages in Area C to be labelled as “Made in Israel”. Roughly 150,000 Palestinians live in Area C, where they are subjected to an escalating Israeli campaign to make life untenable for them via discriminatory planning policies and demolitions. 

Coalition of Palestinian Orgs Launches Campaign for Revocation of U.S. Charitable Designation for Settlement Groups

A group of 150 Palestinian organizations, village councils, and activists have launched a campaign urging Americans to press the U.S. government to revoke the charitable designations of U.S.-based groups that finance Israeli settlement organizations. Since many of these organizations – including Elad, Israel Land Fund, and Ateret Cohanim – have fundraising arms based in New York, the campaign asks supporters to appeal to New York Attorney General Letitia James to revoke the licenses.

Sami Huraini, a Palestinian activist with Youth of Sumud, told WAFA:

“Israeli settler organizations have funneled US charitable money into a political campaign of displacement. Right now, over 100 homes and some 1,500 Palestinians in Silwan are facing displacement in favor of a theme park run on Palestinian lands by the settler organization Elad. Clearly, this is not the intended outcome of US charitable tax law.”

Hisham Sharabati of the Hebron Defense Committee told WAFA:

“Other campaigns seeking to challenge the flow of US charitable money have targeted the IRS and their complaints have been left unanswered by bureaucrats. This campaign is fundamentally different. Since US charities must maintain a 501(c)(3) status at the state level, the campaign targets one elected official who can be held accountable by her constituents – in this case, New York Attorney General Letitia James.”

 Lara Kilani, Advocacy Officer of the Good Shepherd Collective, told WAFA: 

“We can see the interest in joint struggle growing. The mobilization we saw in May to speak out against the eviction of families in Sheikh Jarrah and Israel’s bombing of Gazans illustrates that people want to be in solidarity with Palestinians. We’re offering a campaign that can advance liberation in real ways across movements. White supremacist groups like New Century Foundation exploit US charitable laws to finance violence against Black and Brown communities. If the New York Attorney General enforces the existing laws, it can help us cut the funding for these racist organizations.”

Senior Israeli Government Official Lives in Settlement Under Demolition Order

Newly published documents confirm that the Director-General of the Israeli Interior Ministry, Yair Hirsch, lives in an outpost (Kida) that is currently under demolition order because it was built without building permits. The documents were released thanks to a freedom of information request submitted by the anti-settlement watchdog Kerem Navot. The documents further show that the Israeli Civil Administration issued a stop-work order against Hirsch’s house in 2008.

Kerem Navot reports the story behind the Kida outpost and Yair Hirsch:

“Yair Hirsh lives in the illegal outpost of Kida, which was established in 2003 on a hill located about three kilometers east of the settlement of Shiloh. The outpost was founded on part of the historical lands of the village of Jalud, in an area where a team led by the attorney Plia Albeck implemented a large declaration of state land in 1991.

In 2000, about three years before the outpost was established, the Blue Line Team of the Civil Administration remapped Ableck’s declaration. The goal of the mapping was ostensibly to include as state land only the areas that had been “uncultivated” in the past, and to exclude from the declaration area lands that had been cultivated. But the inspection that we carried out revealed that this mapping was extremely negligently done (link to the aerial photos from 1980 and from 2020, in which the cultivated areas in the area can be seen, in the first comment).

Since 2000, the Blue Line Team has returned to map the state land that was declared for those outposts that the state wants to legalize, but for some reason, of all places, the outpost of the appointed Director General of the Ministry of the Interior was overlooked. The reason for this simple: if serious mapping were done in this place, it would become clear that most of the outposts’ houses were built on land that had been cultivated in the past, and therefore there is no way to legalize them.

This secret is well known in the Kida outpost. Therefore, its residents chose to up the ante, with the not-unreasonable assumption, unfortunately, that no one would dare to evict them. And so in recent years, what was once an outpost of modest caravans has become a neighborhood of luxurious villas, for which over each structure hangs a demolition order issued by the Civil Administration. This is how it is when one builds on looted land–a lot of money remains left over for building beautiful villas.

Yes, you got that right: the individual whom the Minister of the Interior selected to run the office that is responsible, among other things, for all of the local authorities in Israel and in the West Bank is someone who, along with all of his neighbors, built his home illegally on land that does not belong to him, and continues to live on it in spite of the demolition orders pending against him. Makes sense.”

Testimonies Show Israeli IDF Complicity in Settler Violence

Breaking the Silence has published a new collection of testimonies from former Israeli soldiers specifically highlighting how active duty soldiers are systematically complicit in settler violence. In 36 testimonies, you can read how the IDF teaches, positions, and incentivizes its soldiers to protect the settlers at all times and in all circumstances – even when the settlers are violent towards Palestinians and their property, and even when settlers are violent towards the Israeli army itself. 

In releasing the report, Break the Silence writes:

“The testimony collection is titled ‘On Duty,’ which conveys a double meaning: firstly, that the soldiers are “on duty” to protect the settlers and to advance their political ideology on the ground, constantly remaining at the settler’s beck and call. At the same time, the settlers are “on duty” to advance and entrench the occupation and shape the reality on the ground, much of the time through the use of violence, none of which would be possible without the soldiers’ presence, protection, and even active help. ‘On Duty’ conveys the idea that both forces are constantly there, working to advance each other’s interests, and immediately available to each other. Video footage of this phenomenon is frequently documented by B’Tselem and other human rights groups, including this settler attack on Palestinain homes in the Nablus area, in which IDF soldiers were present and did not stop the attack, and this violent settler raid on ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah, in which an IDF soldier killed 19-year-old  Husam ‘Asayrah. 

Beyond providing testimony to the occurrence of settler attacks on Palestinians and their lands, ‘On Duty’ offers an explanation of the system that allows them to happen, described from the point of view and in the words of the soldiers who took part in the enforcement of this system. Testifiers to Breaking the Silence describe settlers’ attempts to ingratiate themselves with soldiers through the  provision of gifts, food, and hospitality, and when soldiers act against the settlers’ desires, testimonies describe violent attacks by settlers against IDF soldiers. In addition, soldiers describe receiving instruction that their mission is to protect the Jewish settlers, but many are unaware of any clear orders as to how they are to enforce the law on violent settlers. These conditions make it near impossible for soldiers to carry out their task impartially when they are required to prevent or halt the violent attacks against Palestinians.

‘On Duty’ presents testimonies from soldiers who served in different units and across the West Bankwhich unequivocally show that the phenomenon of settler violence is an inevitable consequence of Israel’s occupation and policy of settling the West Bank. Were it not for the IDF’s continuous control over and presence in the occupied territories, this violence would not be a possibility.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Bedouin Shepherds Used Palestinian Land With Permission. Israel Seized Their Tents Anyway” (Haaretz)
  2. “New Israeli government’s land seizure – where’s the EU?” (EU Observer // Sarit Michaeli)
  3. “Israel imposed tight restrictions on Palestinians in Hebron to secure settler raids” (MEMO)
  4. “Jenin becomes flashpoint for Israel-Palestinian confrontations” (Al-Monitor)
  5. “What Israeli soldiers don’t demolish by day, settlers burn by night” (+972 Magazine)
  6. Israel turns Silwan into closed military site” (Al-Monitor)
  7. “Palestinians Fear Eviction From Their Jerusalem Neighborhood To Make Way For A Park” (NPR)
  8. “Palestinian-Jordanian crisis erupts ahead of Abdullah-Biden meeting” (Jerusalem Post)
  9. “No one told this young soldier to protect Palestinians from settlers” (Ynet)

 

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

June 10, 2021

  1. Israeli AG Declines Involvement in Sheikh Jarrah Dispossession Cases, Clearing Way for Supreme Court Ruling
  2. Pending Silwan Dispossession Cases Continue
  3. Israeli Supreme Court Hears Landmark Case on West Bank Land Appropriation for Settlement
  4. Extremists “March of Flags” in Jerusalem Rescheduled for June 15th
  5. IDF Issues Evacuation Notice Against Outpost, Causing Political Stir
  6. Bonus Reads

Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – kmccarthy@fmep.org.


Israeli AG Declines Involvement in Sheikh Jarrah Dispossession Cases, Clearing Way for Supreme Court Ruling

On June 7th, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed the Supreme Court that he will not submit a legal opinion on the cases threatening the immediate displacement of seven Palestinian families (13 households) from their longtime homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. These cases will serve as further precedent for even more widespread dispossession of Palestinians in favor of settlers.

Map by Haaretz

Haaretz reports that Mandelblit believes the Palestninians’ have “too weak” of a case, and that his legal opinion would not prevent their eviction. Haaretz also reports that the political leadership in Israel approves of the Attorney General’s decision to allow the cases to proceed.

Peace Now responded to Mandelblit’s decision:

Israel’s Attorney General has decided  not to give his opinion in the Sheikh Jarrah cases. This means Israeli government is ridding itself of responsibility in matters of discriminatory laws and dispossessing hundreds of Palestinian.”

These Sheikh Jarrah eviction cases – which have been at the center of heightened international attention and outcry –  have been in limbo since last month, when the Attorney General was given until June 8th to submit his opinion. Now that Mandelblit has decided against weighing in, the Supreme Court is expected to convene a hearing and issue its ruling on the Palestinians’ appeal before July 20th, which is the last day of the Israeli judicial calendar — notwithstanding the fact that the Supreme Court could delay the hearing under various pretexts, if it was inclined to do so. Commenting on the anticipated quick move by the Supreme Court to hold this final hearing, Terrestrial Jerusalem’s Danny Seidemann tweeted “…The wheels of justice grind slowly, but sometimes we make exceptions. Enough said.” 

Ir Amim said:

“The eviction procedures in both Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan largely reflect one another and are predicated on the same discriminatory legal mechanism, which state-sponsored settler groups are exploiting to systemically dispossess Palestinian families and seize their homes for Jewish settlement. A total of 1000 Palestinians – some 300 individuals from Sheikh Jarrah and more than 700 people from Silwan— are under threat of mass displacement.  These measures not only constitute a flagrant violation of human rights, but also carry far-reaching, humanitarian, geopolitical, and moral implications. Concerted pressure must be exerted on the Israeli government to end these measures of dispossession and to undertake a sustainable and just solution for the families to remain in their homes.”

In a piece entitled “Israel Is Shirking Its Responsibility for Residents of Sheikh Jarrah,” the Haaretz Editorial Board wrote:

“The enlistment of the state employees, from the attorney general to the last of the policemen, for the benefit of the expulsion and settlement enterprise in Sheikh Jarrah is an embarrassment for Israel. It causes moral damage, harms public diplomacy and poses a security risk to all Israelis. Let us hope the new government will have broader considerations and will order the attorney general to intervene for the sake of common sense and justice.”

Ironically, as the clock ticks down to a final decision by the Court – a decision that will almost certainly mean the expulsion of these Palestinains from their homes — Israel seems to be making a special effort to keep the world’s attention focused on how it treats Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. This effort included arresting (with brutality captured on video) a well-respected Al Jazeera journalist Givara Budeiri, and detaining and interrogating two of the most prominent Paelstinian activists in the world – Muna and Mohammed El-Kurd. The siblings – whose family is one of the seven facing immediate expulsion from their homes – were released following intense interrogation. These high-profile arrests are but a small part of a large wave of arrests Israel is carrying out across Jerusalem and other parts of the country. Budeiri was also released.

Pending Silwan Dispossession Cases Continue

On June 10th an Israeli court in Jerusalem was due to hold a hearing with respect to Palestinian appeals in two cases of pending dispossession of Palestinains of their homes in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The Court instead delayed the hearing on the appeals, rescheduling it to July 8.

In addition to the two cases above, the fate of another 15 Palestinians households in Silwan — all facing eviction/dispossession —  awaits the action of Attorney General Mandelblit. The case of eight of those families, all from the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan, is currently before the Supreme Court, which has ordered Mandelblit to give his opinion in the cases, or formally decline to do so, by June 30. How those cases are decided will become the precedent that will decide the fate of another seven Palestinian households whose cases are currently in an Israeli District Court.

One Silwan resident, Zuheir al-Rajabi – whose family’s case was profiled in the New York Times – told Al-Monitor that the Silwan families are also considering taking their case to the International Criminal Court. As a reminder, the ICC is currently considering whether to launch a full fledged investigation into Israeli war crimes – an investigation which would include settlement activity. 

Israeli Supreme Court Hears Landmark Case on West Bank Land Appropriation for Settlement

Peace Now reports that on June 7th, the Israeli High Court of Justice held a hearing on a petition filed by Palestinian landowners challenging the allocation of “state land” to the Israeli Ministry of Housing in order to enable to the construction of a new settlement called Givat Eitam on a strategic hilltop – which Palestinians call a-Nahle – located just south of Bethlehem. 

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now – which is leading the petition alongside the Palestinian landowners – told FMEP that the hearing concluded with Court giving the State 90 days in which to respond to a proposal to allocate some the land directly involved in the case to the individual petitioners, or whether it will agree to allocate land nearby to the petitioners. This decision by the Court purposefully narrows the scope of Peace Now’s legal challenge by only addressing the case of the land in a-Nahle and the individual petitioners involved. The decision dodges the more fundamental question put forth in the petition challenging Israel’s discriminatory practice of allocating 99.8% of “state land” for settlement purposes. This is the first time the issue of state land allocations to settlements is being challenged in an Israel court.

Map by Peace Now

This petition comes after previous legal efforts have failed to overturn Israel’s declaration of the land of a-Nahle as “state land”. Past attempts to use litigation in Israeli courts to prevent Israel from building new settlements have typically not continued past this point. One reason for this is that in order to challenge how “state land” is allocated, the petitioner must, in effect, concede that the land in question is legitimately “state land” in the first place — something Palestinians do not concede with respect to land seized by Israel. That makes this petition, which is led by Peace Now along with over a dozen Palestinian landowners, novel.

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. 

Extremists “March of Flags” in Jerusalem Rescheduled for June 15th

Delayed twice in light of Israel’s concerns of violence, the Israeli Security Cabinet voted to give its permission for radical, ultranationalist Israelis to hold a parade – called the March of Flags – on June 15th through the Old City of Jerusalem, ostensibly in celebration of the reunification of East and West Jerusalem following the 1967 War. Hedging, the Security Cabinet made its permission conditional on the route of the parade being approved by the Israeli police. 

Israeli police have expressed concern that the provocative parade – which organizers want to have go through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, in a deliberate finger-in-the-eye to Palestinians (the provocative overtones of the annual march are never subtle, with racist/Islamophic signs and chants the norm) – could trigger Hamas rocket fire, and have in the past refused to approve the parade route insisted upon by its organizers.

According to press reports, the police have said that it will consider approving a new proposal for a different, less provocative route. However, organizers of the march have rejected this option, stating, “the outline presented to us by the police does not express the purpose of the parade, by the Jewish people, with Israeli flags in the Israeli capital.” Making clear that provocation is the goal, MK Itamar Ben Gvir, a acolyte of Rabbi Meir Kahane – whom police had, for security reasons, explicitly barred from participating in any flag march at this time, or from visiting the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif – held his own protest at Damascus Gate, leading, as he surely hoped, to a confrontation between Palestinians and Israeli forces accompanying him (and to the arrest of five Palestinians).

Notably, the parade is currently planned for Tuesday, June 15th – a date that falls two days after a new government is expected to be confirmed and sworn in. Commenting on the timing, a Haaretz analyst noted:

“Instead of approving the march on its original date, Netanyahu made his first decision as opposition leader on Tuesday night: He rolled the hot potato into the hands of prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett. This move may become the first crisis of the fragile unity government: Bennett, who is right-wing, has made it clear that his government would have a ‘soft right’ character and would have a hard time explaining to his voters why he was working to thwart the march.”

IDF Issues Evacuation Notice Against Outpost, Causing Political Stir

Haaretz reports that a group of 200 settlers have re-established an outpost (which they call “Evyatar”) on a strategic hilltop called Mount Sabih, located south of Nablus on lands belonging to the Palestinian villages of Beita, Qabalan, and Yatma. On June 9, the Israeli army issued a military order designating the area as a closed zone, and ordered the settlers (and their security team of guard dogs) to vacate the area within eight days. The IDF said it would demolish/remove the more than 40 structures – including tents, a synagogue, prefab houses, and sanitation facilities – that settlers have installed at the site if the settlers do not remove them voluntarily. A spokesperson for the outpost – Daniella Weiss of the Nahala settler organization –  said that 46 settler families (approximately 200 people) have moved to the outpost already, and 75 settler families are “hoping to join them soon.” 

Palestinians from the nearby villages to which the land belongs have actively sought to prevent settler incursions into the lands surrounding Beita. During a recent protest against another outpost settlers were trying to establish on lands belonging to Beita, the Israeli army shot and killed two young Palestinians, and wounded 25 others.  On June 6th, the army closed off the main entrance to Beita in an attempt to quell Palestinian resistance; Beita remains sealed off as of June 10. As a reminder, 

With defiance and pride, a spokesperson for the outpost told Haaretz that the land on which the outpost stands is in the process of being declared “state land” by Israel. The Times of Israel reports that, indeed, the Israeli government regards the land’s status as unclear – and is examining whether it can claim the land as “state land” under the legal pretext that it has not been actively cultivated by Palestinians for a long enough period of time. As a reminder, Palestinians have been prevented from building and farming on this land for decades. In the 1980s, Israel used the hilltop as a “temporary” military base. When the base was removed in the 1990s, Palestinians were prohibited from building on the site – which is in Area C of the West Bank where Israel exercises unilateral power.

If the land is declared as “state land” it could then be allocated to the settlers and the outpost could be retroactively authorized, consistent with the longstanding efforts of the whole of the Israeli government – the Knesset, the Executive, and the Judiciary – which has spared no efforts to find the means by which to issue retroactive authorization to more than 70 outposts scattered throughout the West Bank.

The imminent evacuation of the “Evyatar” outpost has caused controversy in the waning hours of the Netanyahu regime, and might become one of the first points of contention for the incoming government coalition. After the IDF issued an order closing the area and declaring its intent to raze the outpost, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote a letter to Defense Minister Gantz (who oversees the Civil Administration, which has authority over West Bank building and security) arguing that the outpost should be left alone while the land status is investigated. Gantz rebuffed the letter, writing back that the outpost was built in contravention of Israeli law and the IDF will raze the outpost regardless of the question of land status. The letter from Gantz’s office said: “It is those anomalous characteristics of this case that led to the decision to issue a demarcation order, which followed consultation with all relevant defense and legal authorities.”

Looking forward, Haaretz succinctly explains why the evacuation of this outpost might pose a predicament to the new Israeli government, due to be sworn in over the weekend. Haaretz writes:

“From a legal perspective, the site must be evacuated…But how will [Naftali Bennet] the former director general of the Yesha Council of settlements – who is the prime minister-designate – behave in the face of what remains of his political base?”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Fights over settlements holding up coalition deal signings” (Jerusalem Post)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

June 3 ,2021

  1. Critical Updates from Silwan & Sheikh Jarrah
  2. Tender Published for Givat Hamatos Groundwork, Even as Petition is Pending
  3. Final Approval Given to Har Homa E Settlement
  4. Expansion of the Beit El Settlement Begins
  5. High Court Bans Settlers from Farming Palestinian Land…But Continues to Deny Palestinians Access
  6. Resources on Israel’s New Prime Minister Naftali Bennet
  7. New Report on Settler Violence Against Palestinians in Area B
  8. Bonus Reads

Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – kmccarthy@fmep.org.


Critical Updates from Silwan & Sheikh Jarrah

In the weeks since FMEP’s last Settlement & Annexation Report was published (apologies for the gap) there have been several key developments in the cases of forced displacement of families from their longtime homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, including new scrutiny of the legal basis on which Israeli settlers claim to own the land and the homes from which they wish to expel Palestinians. It must be recalled that the Israeli Court has for the time being decided to postpone these expulsions – a decision clearly influenced by the fact that Palestinians are currently mobilized and the international community is closely engaged.

At this point, the most pressing eviction cases in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah are awaiting the opinion of the Israeli Attorney General. That position is currently held by Avichai Mandelblit (though this might change under the new governing coalition). The Attorney General’s opinion will carry a tremendous amount of weight in deciding not only the fate of the families facing imminent displacement, but scores of other Palestinian families whose homes are being similarly targeted by settlers. Mandelblit, it is worth recalling, has among other things actively worked to craft legal mechanisms to launder illegal settler construction in the West Bank.

For additional background on the historic and legal context of these cases, see the new, excellent and thorough analysis by the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem (PDF available here). To understand why these cases are not a simple real-estate dispute – and why it is improper to call them eviction cases – please see this analysis by Ir Amim’s Amy Cohen and Yudtih Oppenheimer. For updates on settlement-related developments in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, see below.

In Silwan

  • On June 1st, the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry issued an order to freeze the construction of a “Yeminite heritage center” in the home of an evicted Palestinian family in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan. 
    • The order was issued in light of a newly launched investigation into the means by which Ateret Cohanim came to manage the “Benvenisti Land Trust,” an historic trust that Ateret Cohanim revived in order to claim ownership of swathes of land in Silwan, and then to initiate eviction proceedings against Palestinians living there. The investigation will have major consequences, not only for the fate of the planned heritage center (to commemorate a small Yemenite Jewish community that lived in the area before 1948), but also for the many eviction cases Ateret Cohanim is pursuing on the basis of its management of the land owned by Benvenisti Trust.
    • Haaretz explains the background on why the investigation is being launched: “…in September 2020, the religious trusts registry began investigating the Benvenisti Trust in response to a petition filed in court by the Ir Amim organization. Ir Amim charged that the trust was a shell organization run by Ateret Cohanim for its own purposes, and that these purposes deviated from the founding goals of the trust, which was established in the late 19th century. Around six months ago, Ir Amim also petitioned the court against the planned heritage center, arguing that it was unreasonable for one government agency to be investigating the trust while another government agency was pouring money into it. Moreover, the organization said, it is improper for the state to finance a heritage center on private property that essentially serves Ateret Cohanim’s needs.”
    • For background on Ateret Cohanim’s plans to build a heritage center, see FMEP’s August 2018 report.
  • On May 26th, the Jerusalem District Court delayed the forced displacement of seven Palestinian families from their longtime homes in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan, awaiting a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court on two related cases.
    • All three cases challenge the underlying legal status of the land and the buildings on the land – which the settler organization Ateret Cohanim claims to own via the resuscitation of the Benvenisti land trust.
    • The two related cases are awaiting the submission of an opinion by the Israeli Attorney General, and that opinion will be applied to all three cases (and likely any additional cases brought on the same grounds). The Supreme Court ordered the Israeli Attorney General to submit his opinion on one of the cases – the Duweik family case – by May 31st. On June 1st, the Court granted the Attorney General a 30-day extension of that deadline.
    • The Ateret Cohanim settler organization has led a campaign to forcibly displace some 100 Palestinian families from the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan, claiming the land is rightfully owned by the Benvenisti Trust, over which Ateret Cohanim members have  controlling power.
    • Solidarity protests in Silwan have been violently suppressed by the Israeli authorities. 
    • Qutaiba Odeh, a resident of Silwan whose house is threatened with a demolition order, told Middle East Eye during a protest: “The Israeli settler groups behind the eviction cases in Sheikh Jarrah are the same ones coming after these houses in Silwan. It’s the same shared struggle, against the same occupation. We said save Sheikh Jarrah yesterday, we say save Silwan today.”

In Sheikh Jarrah

  • Families continue to face the threat of displacement, the next court hearing has been delayed until August 2021, as the Court waits for the Attorney General to offer his opinion on the case, separate from the Silwan cases. 
  • An investigative report by Uri Blau revealed that a New York-based lawyer, Seymour Braun, is financially connected to settler efforts to displace Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. At the same time, the identities of those behind these eviction proceedings remains largely unknown, as they have been concealed by settlers and their backers.
  • The neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah remains under Israeli-imposed closure, actively (and violently) enforced by Israeli police. 
    • Ir Amim writes on the closure: “The closure of the neighborhood is seen as an intentional brazen move by the Israeli authorities to suppress Palestinian mobilization and deprive the residents of Sheikh Jarrah of the freedom of expression and the right to protest against their forced displacement. The Palestinian families at risk of eviction are now essentially living inside a cordoned-off, military-like zone. They are subject to ongoing arbitrary harassment and aggressive police measures, marked by forced entry into homes and the use of stun grenades, skunk water, and rubber-tipped bullets against neighborhood residents. With the closure’s intensification, police often force residents to stay in their homes and hostilely remove those sitting outside as is common practice in the neighborhood. Yesterday, a 15-year-old girl was severely wounded inside the confines of her own home when a soldier wantonly fired rubber-tipped bullets into the family’s house.”
    • Journalists are reportedly being barred access to the area. Last week, to Palestinian journalists reporting from Sheikh Jarrah were arrested by Israeli authorities; reportedly after 5 days in jail “ the judge at Jerusalem’s Central Court released them on bail of 4,000 shekels ($1,230) each and ordered them to be under house arrest for a month, forbidding them from communicating with each other for 15 days.”

Tender Published for Givat Hamatos Groundwork, Even as Petition is Pending

 Ir Amim reports that a private company has gone ahead and published a tender for the construction of roads, electrical infrastructure,  and sewage systems at the Givat Hamatos settlement site. The tender is set to close June 6th. 

The Israeli High Court has not yet dealt with a petition filed by Ir Amim alleging that the planned construction of government-subsidized housing at Givat Hamatos has discriminatory eligibility guidelines. A hearing was scheduled on May 27th, but was delayed at the request of the State. The hearing has been rescheduled for October 20th, and Ir Amim secured the Court’s condition that applications for Givat Hamatos housing will not be accepted in the intervening period.

Ir Amim writes:

“Publication of the tender is yet another indication that advancement of this new settlement/neighborhood on Givat Hamatos continues to move forward at a heightened pace. In the coming months, wide-scale road construction and infrastructure works are expected to already begin. It is estimated that the building of housing units could commence within two years, even before completion of the infrastructure works…Although advancement of these plans is continuing at full throttle, it is still possible for the government to suspend construction as a result of concerted pressure and opposition. Legal provisions within the tender as well as within Israeli contract law grant the Israeli government the right to rescind contracts should it be within its interest. There is likewise legal precedent for such measures.”

Final Approval Given to Har Homa E Settlement 

On May 20th, a notice was published announcing the final approval of a plan to build the Har Homa E settlement in East Jerusalem. This comes on the heels of the conditional final approval granted to the project earlier in May (conditioned on a few minor changes that have since been made). Now that the plan has been published, construction on Har Homa E can begin. Ir Amim notes:

“Since the Har Homa E plan is designated for privately owned land, the planning process does not entail a tendering stage and in principle, the landowners can begin to apply for building permits. However, it is worthwhile noting that the District Committee conditioned the procurement of building permits on the start of expansion of the access road to Har Homa E. Since the road’s expansion is a municipal project, the timing of the work’s commencement is unknown. In addition, construction of new sewerage infrastructure to serve the new neighborhood/settlement is necessary since the location does not border an existing built-up area. The timetable for such construction is likewise unknown.”

Reminder: Although the Har Homa E plan is framed as merely an expansion of the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem, it is more properly understood as a brand new settlement. The plan calls for 540 new settlement units to be built in the area between the Har Homa settlement and the site of the planned Givat Hamatos settlement (tenders for which were issued in January 2021) — an area where the new construction will be non-contiguous with the built-up area of the existing settlement of Har Homa. Meaning that the new construction is a significant step towards completing a ring of Israeli settlements on Jerusalem’s southern edge and towards the encirclement of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa.

Expansion of the Beit El Settlement Begins

On June 1st, the Beit El settlement hosted a ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of 350 new settlement units (housing for approximately 1,750 new settlers, assuming a family size of 5). The ceremony was attended by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud), Education Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud), Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud), and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud), in addition to more members of the Knesset.

These units were granted final approval in October 2020, during the Trump Administration. As a reminder, former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has deep ties to the Beit El settlement.

In a 2018 report, B’Tselem assessed the severe impact the Beit El settlement has on the 14,000 Palestinians who live in the nearby Jalazun refugee camp.

High Court Bans Settlers from Farming Palestinian Land…But Continues to Deny Palestinians Access

Following a 13-year legal battle, the Israeli High Court issued an order to evict settlers from 42-acres of land they had been illegally cultivating for in the Shiloh Valley, located in the northern West Bank. Over the course of those 13 years, settlers had established a profitable olive grove and vineyard. With the ruling, the settlers have been ordered to remove all of the olive trees and the vineyard by October 2021.

Yet, despite recognizing the settlers’ actions on the land as illegal, the High Court refused to recognize Palestinians as the rightful owners of the land. Instead, the Court said that it is not in a position to determine ownership because the land was never formally registered. As a reminder, at the start of the occupation Israel closed the land registry in the West Bank to Palestinians. This has meant that Palestinians who were not able to formally register their land before the 1967 War (Jordan was in the process of carrying out such a registration process when the war took place), there is no longer any path to do so. For more, see B’Tselem’s landmark report “Land Grab”, p.52)

Resources on Israel’s New Prime Minister Naftali Bennet

With it now looking all but certain that there will soon be a new Israeli government in place, led by Yamina’s Naftali Bennet, several media outlets have taken a deep dive into Bennet’s past. Longtime Settlement Report readers are likely familiar with Bennet’s intense devotion to annexation and the settlements, but these resources are a well-timed refresher.

  • “Quick Facts: Naftali Bennett” (IMEU)
  • “Israel’s likely new government, explained” (+972 Magazine)
  • “Who is Naftali Bennett, Israel’s potential prime minister?” (Al Jazeera)
  • Who is Naftali Bennett, the man who could be Israel’s next prime minister?” (The Times of Israel)
  • What to know about Naftali Bennett, the Israeli politician who could succeed Benjamin Netanyahu” (Washington Post)

New Report on Settler Violence Against Palestinians in Area B

A new report by Yesh Din documents and analyzes the crimes committed by settlers in Palestinian communities located in Area B, from 2017 to 2020. In so doing, Yesh Din documents the lawlessness of settlers (who feel safe enough to enter built-up Palestinian areas to attack property and people), the cumulative deleterious effect these attacks have on Palestinian rights and wellbeing, and the abject failure of Israeli authorities to protect Palestinians and to hold Israeli settlers accountable to even Isareli for violations of the law (Israeli law).

Yesh Din writes:

“In recent years, violence perpetrated in Palestinian spaces – village streets, schools, public buildings and even homes – has proliferated. Secluded homes and structures, and those located near settlements, unauthorized outposts or access roads, have become standing, preferred, targets…Attacks on Palestinians and their property take a physical, financial, social and psychological toll on Palestinians, especially when they are widespread. Settlers have a clear advantage over the Palestinians: They are citizens of the country that holds the West Bank under military occupation. They have the protection of the Israeli police and military. Palestinians, on the other hand, are abandoned by the law enforcement system that is tasked with keeping them safe and protecting them from harm. This state of affairs, where one national group dominates another and oppresses it by denying rights, practicing legal segregation and employing different legal systems for each group, is part of Israel’s apartheid regime. This regime’s objective is to entrench and cement Israeli colonization of the West Bank.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Questions and Answers: Israel’s De Facto Annexation of Palestinian Territory” (Al-Haq)
  2. “An Israeli Winery Guide, With Undertones of Occupation” (Haaretz)
  3. Irish parliament denounces Israeli West Bank policies as ‘de facto annexation’” (The Times of Israel)
  4. ”Mapping Israeli occupation” (Al Jazeera)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

May 7, 2021

  1. Protests Against Dispossession Continue in Sheikh Jarrah, as Israeli Court Delays Decision
  2. Israel Has Been Conducting a Secretive Land Registration Process in Sheikh Jarrah, Excluding Palestinians
  3. Har Homa E Settlement Plan Granted Approval, With Minor Conditions
  4. Knesset Attempts Fast-Track Vote on Two Key Bills: One to Authorize Outposts; Another to Cancel 2005 Disengagement
  5. Bibi Reportedly Dismisses U.S. Concerns Over Settlements
  6. Construction Begins on New “Legal” Settlement in Southern West Bank, Foreshadowing More to Come
  7. Following Deadly Drive-By-Shooting, Settlers Establish New Outpost & Terrorize Palestinians Near Nablus
  8. Al Haq Report on Palestinian Workers in Settlements & the Complicity of Multinational Corporations
  9. Bonus Reads

Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – kmccarthy@fmep.org.


Protests Against Dispossession Continue in Sheikh Jarrah, as Israeli Court Delays Decision

On May 2nd, the date set by the Israeli Supreme Court for the forced dispossession of four Palestinians families from their longtime homes in Sheikh Jarrah in favor of Israeli settlers, the Supreme Court delayed the evictions and gave the parties four days (until May 6th) to consider a proposed “solution.” The Court’s suggested “solution” was that the Palestinians acknowledge Jewish ownership of the land, and in exchange be allowed to remain there as tenants – paying rent to the settlers – but only until the original tenant dies. At that time, the remaining family members would have to vacate the premises and the settlers would take control of the homes

In a powerful statement issued on May 2nd, the four families targeted for dispossession this week rejected that proposal outright, saying:

“We the four Sheikh Jarrah families firmly reject the terms of this agreement, for these are our homes and settlers are not our landlords. The inherently unjust system of Israel’s colonial courts is not considering the questioning of illegal settlers’ ownership and has already decided on the families’ dispossession.” This pattern of elongating the legal process is common practice to dull popular resistance and public opinion protesting these expansionist colonial efforts. As the threat of expulsion from our home remains as imminent as ever, we will continue our international campaign to stop this ethnic cleansing”

On May 6th, the Court once again delayed the dispossession, and said it would reconvene a three judge panel on May 10th to decide whether to allow the Palestinian families to continue appealing their eviction cases. Ir Amim reports that the likelihood of the panel ruling in the Palestinians’ favor is “slim.” 

The date the Supreme Court chose for handing down its decision – May 10th – also happens to be Jerusalem Day. This is the day when as many as 25,000 Israeli settlers and fellow right-winger fanatics engage in an annual provocation against Palestinians, with a parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and neighboring areas of East Jerusalem to “celebrate” Israel’s capture of the city in 1967 (called “The Dance of Flags,” including racist chants and signs). Given the high tension in Jerusalem over the pending Sheikh Jarrah evictions, as well as over the recent protests over Israel’s closure of the area around Damascus Gate, the end of Ramadan, and the killings over the past two days of several Palestinains in the West Bank, Jerusalem Day poses a significant threat of escalation, and has already elicited warnings from the Israeli Chief of Police to reroute the parade. So far, those warnings appear to be falling on deaf ears. 

To be clear: escalation has already begun. Shortly following the Supreme Court’s second delay, dozens of Israeli protestors marched through Salah Eddin Street (the major commercial thoroughfare in Palestinian East Jerusalem), and were reportedly “throwing stones at Palestinian cars and demanding the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah.” Not long after that,  the head of the Otzma Yehudit party Itamar Ben-Gvir (a devotee of Kahanism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians) set up a tent-office in Sheikh Jarrah across from where Palestinians had prepared an iftar celebration. Settlers then began taunting the Palestinians sitting down for dinner, which escalated into clashes when a settler sprayed what appeared to be pepper spray. Later that evening, Israeli forces were seen protecting the “office” and the settlers there – including Jerusalem Deputy Mayor and settler empresario Arieh King, who was caught on video telling an injured Palestinian that the Israeli police ought to have shot him in the head.

On Friday morning May 7th, Sheikh Jarrah residents report that the Israeli police have cordoned off the neighborhood, and are checking IDs before permitting entry. Overnight raids and arrests of Palestinians also continue to be reported, with 15 arrested overnight on May 7th (settlers faced no arrests or punishments, despite being filmed shooting guns

Prie Minister Netanyahu is reportedly proposing a permanent police presence in Sheikh Jarrah to protect the settlers — an arrangement much like the prevailing reality in Hebron

For a Palestinian view on what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah (and a plethora of additional resources on this topic), check out this FMEP webinar from May 6, 2021, and on Twitter you can follow #SaveSheikhJarrah for the latest news. 

Israel Has Been Conducting a Secretive Land Registration Process in Sheikh Jarrah, Excluding Palestinians

Ir Amim and Bimkom report that Israeli authorities have been carrying out a secretive land registration process for the benefit of settlers in the Umm Haroun section of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, and have already registered several plots of land to Jewish Israeli owners. Palestinian residents – inlcuding 45 families (40 houses) living on the plots of land secretly registered to the settlers – were not notified by Israeli authorities that the registraiton process was taking place, as is required by Israeli law. The stakes, as noted by Bimkom and Ir Amim, are high not only for Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah who are being targeted at this time, but also for Palestinians across East Jerusalem, as any land registration process – let alone a secretive process undertaken for the benefit of Israeli Jews – can lead to “widespread Palestinian dispossession in the city.”

On May 2nd, Ir Amim and Bimkom filed an urgent petition with the Israeli High Court of Justice asking the Court to freeze the registration process and “expunge all invalid land registration as a result of this unethical procedure”. On May 3rd, the Israeli court issued a temporary injunction stopping the process at least until a ruling can be made on the case. The State has until June 3, 2021 to submit a response to the petition. 

Har Homa E Settlement Plan Granted Approval, With Minor Conditions

Ir Amim reports that the Jerusalem District Committee has granted its conditional final approval to a plan to build 540 new settlement units in the new Har Homa E settlement. The conditions outline a few minor modifications to the plan (like more clearly marking bike trails) which will not take much time. Once those modifications are made the plan will be formally approved via publication without requiring another meeting of the Committee.

Because the land on which the new settlement will be built is privately-owned, building plans will not be subject to a government-run tender process. Ir Amim reports that once the plan is published, building permits can theoretically be issued any time (though technical obstacles might delay things but not change the inevitability of construction). 

Reminder: Although the Har Homa E plan is framed as merely an expansion of the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem, it is more properly understood as a new settlement since the buildings will be built in an open area that is not contiguous with the built-up area of Har Homa. The plan calls for 540 new settlement units to be built in the area between the Har Homa settlement and the site of the planned Givat Hamatos settlement (tenders for which were issued in January 2021). Meaning that the new construction is a significant step towards completing a ring of Israeli settlements on Jerusalem’s southern edge and encircling the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa.

Knesset Attempts Fast-Track Vote on Two Key Bills: One to Authorize Outposts; Another to Cancel 2005 Disengagement

On May 4th, the Knesset Arrangements Committee voted in favor of fast-tracking two settlement-related bills. The first would cancel the 2005 Disengagement Law, thereby allowing settlers to re-establish the four settlements in the northern West Bank which were evacuated under that law (which settlers have been attempting to do on their own, illegally but with significant political support, for years).  The second would grant retroactive authorization (i.e., legalize) the nearly 70 outposts that Israel has failed to find any other way to legalize (because they were built on land even Israel recognizes is privately owned by Palestinians).  Now on a fasttrack, the bills can be called for its first vote at any time after May 5th (to pass, all bills most be voted on three times in the Knesset and sent to committees for approval).

The fast-tracking of these bills at this time is an attempt to get the bills passed into law before a new government is formed or new elections are called, and to use the issue of settlements as a political weapon against parties that oppose the bills. The Times of Israel reports that internal politics will likely see the bills languish as parties jockey to form a new governing coalition. The bills are a source of division between parties that are currently deep in negotiations to form a governing coalition – led by Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party (which opposes the bill). 

When asked for comment on the outpost legalization bill by the Times of Israel, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department gave its most substantive comments on settlements yet, saying

 

We are deeply concerned about the potential ‘legalization’ of outposts that have long been deemed illegal under Israeli law…As we have long said, it is critical that Israel refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace. This includes evictions, settlement activity and home demolitions, and certainly includes the legalization of Israeli outposts in the West Bank that have long been illegal even under Israeli law.”

 

Bibi Reportedly Dismisses U.S. Concerns Over Settlements

According to a report by Israel’s Channel 12 News, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has on three separate occasions over the past month rebuffed U.S. diplomats’ concerns regarding Israel’s settlement activities.

The first communication was from Jonathan Shrier, the chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy (the ranking U.S. diplomat in Israel, in the absence of an Ambassador). Shrier was reported to have relayed U.S. concerns over the approval of the Har Homa E settlement plans earlier this month, but the concerns were dismissed.

The second communication came from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (a top official in the Biden White House), who reportedly expressed U.S. concerns over the approval of the Har Homa E settlement as well as settlement construction in the West Bank. The Times of Israel reports that Netanyahu responded, “Jerusalem is not a settlement, but the capital of Israel.”

The third communication came May 5th regarding the violence in Sheikh Jarrah; that communication was reportedly also rebuffed. Perhaps suggesting that there is growing frustration with the issue inside the Biden Administration, a day later, on May 6th, the U.S. the Department of State issued its most pointed public statement on Israeli settlement activity yet.

Construction Begins on New “Legal” Settlement in Southern West Bank, Foreshadowing More to Come

This week settlers celebrated the start of construction on 164 settlement units in the new (or at least, newly-legal under Israeli law) Ibei Hanachal settlement, located between Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern West Bank. This comes nearly one year after Israel began clearing the land to prepare for construction.

Ibei Hanachal was established illegally by settlers in 1999, but was granted retroactive approval as a neighborhood of the Ma’ale Amos settlement by the Israeli government in August 2019. Declaring illegal outposts to be neighborhoods of settlements – even outposts that are non-contiguous with the allegedly parent settlement, as is the case with Ibei Hanachal – is one of the legal mechanisms that Israel has found to retroactively “legalize” illegal outposts. In this way, Israel has not only been “legalizing” construction by settlers that violates Israel law, but has in effect been establishing brand new settlements – like Ibei Hanachal.

Elsewhere, construction has reportedly started on 164 units in the Neve Daniel settlement, located on the southwestern border of lands belonging to Bethlehem

The news of these new construction starts is a reminder that the massive number of settlement approvals the Israeli government granted during the Trump era will soon potentially translate into a massive number of settlement construction starts during the Biden Administration. The AP reported earlier this month:

“Israel has also laid the groundwork for a massive construction boom in the years to come, advancing plans for 12,159 settler homes in 2020. That was the highest number since Peace Now started collecting data in 2012. It usually takes one to three years for construction to begin after a project has been approved. Unlike his immediate predecessors, who largely confined settlement construction to major blocs that Israel expects to keep in any peace agreement, Netanyahu has encouraged construction in remote areas deep inside the West Bank, further scrambling any potential blueprint for resolving the conflict. Settler advocates have repeatedly said that it would take several years for Trump’s support to manifest in actual construction. Peace Now said that trend is now in its early stages and expected to gain steam. “2020 was really the first year where everything that was being built was more or less because of what was approved at the beginning of the Trump presidency,” said Peace Now spokesman Brian Reeves. “It’s the settlement approvals that are actually more important than construction.””

Following Deadly Drive-By-Shooting, Settlers Establish New Outpost & Terrorize Palestinians Near Nablus

In the wake of a drive-by-shooting at a junction in the northern West Bank that left one Israeli dead and two others injured, settlers have been exacting their revenge. In addition to raiding a village and allegedly setting fields on fire in Burin – settlers have also established an outpost south of Nablus, on a hilltop known as Jabal Sbeih.

The new outpost consists of a few mobile homes, which settlers were able to move into the area uncontested while the IDF enforced a closure in the Nablus area while hunting down the suspect of the drive by shooting.

Al Haq Report on Palestinian Workers in Settlements & the Complicity of Multinational Corporations

In a new report entitled “Captive Markets, Captive Lives: Palestinian Workers in Israeli Settlements,” Al-Haq explains the circumstances that Palestinians who work in settlements face, including discrimination, dangerous conditions, violence, and shame. In 2019, Al Haq estimated there were between 23,000 and 34,000 such workers.

The report also briefly examines the activity of two multinational corporations in the settlement economy – Heidelberg Cement and General Mills. The report directly addresses and repudiates the claim put forth by settlers and these corporations that jobs are a net gain for Palestinians who would otherwise be unemployed if not for jobs in settlements.

Al-Haq writes:

“Palestinian labour rights in Israeli settlements are almost non-existent. The deliberate lack of regulation of labour rights by Israeli authorities empowers settlers by encouraging further violations of Palestinian workers’ rights with no accountability. Palestinians working in Israeli settlements in the West Bank are treated under the outdated Jordanian labour law while their Israeli counterparts are treated under Israeli labour law leading to a complete denial of access to social and health benefits. Many workers are denied health care when injured while on-duty. Workers with permanent disabilities due to work related injuries are not compensated. Meanwhile families of victims are not even compensated in the event of death on duty. As this report has shown, Palestinian workers are not provided with the necessary protective equipment and are constantly exposed to hazardous waste and material. At the same time, Palestinian workers’ unions are targeted by Israeli employers in an attempt to thwart unionization efforts. Accordingly, this report dispels the myth that international companies provide necessary work and benefits to the Palestinian workforce that justifies their illegal operations in the OPT. Instead, the ugly truth unfolds of international and Israeli companies exploiting a captive Palestinian workforce in a captive economy, in companies operating on unlawfully appropriated Palestinian lands, pillaging the natural resources and subsistence of the Palestinian people, and maintained by a lethal military occupation and apartheid regime under the wilful profiting eye of the international community.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “This Checkpoint Revitalized the Palestinian City of Jenin. Why Has Israel Refused to Reopen It?” (Haaretz)
  2. “Settlers to sue B’Tselem for alleging they set Palestinian fields ablaze” (Jerusalem Post)
  3. “Palestinian fears rise as settlers visit synagogue ruins in Jericho” (Al-Monitor)
  4. “Jerusalem’s Jewish majority hits new low” (Arutz Sheva)
  5. “Israel Blew Up Their Houses in 1966. Now It Claims Their Village Never Existed” (Haaretz)
  6. “Over 180 Israeli Intellectuals, Scientists Warn ICC: Don’t Rely on Israel to Probe War Crimes” (Haaretz)

 

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

April 29, 2021

  1. Sheikh Jarrah Evictions Set for May 2nd; Protests & Diplomacy Ratchet Up
  2. Resources for Understanding Recent Protests and Violence in Jerusalem
  3. WZO Admits It Gave Palestinian Land to Settlers Without Written Agreements
  4. Jewish National Fund Delays Decision on Formalizing Policy on West Bank Land Purchases
  5. Ariel University Giving Academic Credit for Outpost Volunteers
  6. IDF Stops Settler Attempt to Establish Yeshiva on Site of Dismantled Homesh Settlement
  7. Settlers Celebrate Israeli Independence Day
  8. Settler-Run Chamber of Commerce Planning a Hotel in Hebron in Partnership with Palestinian Businessman Ahsraf Jabari
  9. Smotrich’s Party Files Bill for Outpost Legalization
  10. Roundup of Settler Violence This Week
  11. Human Rights Watch: Israel is Guilty of the Crime of Apartheid
  12. Bonus Reads

Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – kmccarthy@fmep.org.


Sheikh Jarrah Evictions Set for May 2nd; Protests & Diplomacy Ratchet Up

Over the past two weeks, activist groups have stepped up advocacy efforts to stop the impending dispossession of 8 Palestinian families (87 individuals) from their longtime homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem in favor of settlers. The eviction of four families has been set by Israeli courts for May 2nd, and three more families face eviction in August.

The Times of Israel reports that Jordan – which was the governing authority in East Jerusalem from 1948 until 1967 – has also gotten involved, and is said to have found “documents proving that the [Jordanian] ministry of development that built these houses had in 1956 finalized lease agreements for homes in Sheikh Jarrah.” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that the documents are contracts between Jordan and the Palestinian tenants, and were certified at the time by UNRWA. Such documents might help Palestinians disprove the settlers’ contention that the homes were originally owned by Jews who fled during the 1948 war. Israeli law allows such Jews – and their descendants – to reclaim their lost properties in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while denying Palestinians any such right to reclaim properties they were forced to abandon in 1967 or 1948  inside what is today Israel.

On April 22, 2021 a group of 500 Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah and 191 organizational signers sent a letter to the International Criminal Court. The letter calls on the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor to publicly condemn the evictions and investigate what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah as part of the ICC’s larger investigation into the situation in Palestine. The families write:

“If the forced evictions move forward, we will be subjected to other Israeli policies that together make-up Israeli practices that result in the widespread and systematic transfer of the Palestinian Jerusalemite population. If we set up a tent outside our houses, the Israeli occupying forces will demolish it, as part of its widespread and systematic policy of demolition of Palestinian property. If we rent a home outside Jerusalem because we cannot afford to rent in Jerusalem, we will be at risk of having our residency status revoked and not be allowed to enter Jerusalem, pursuant to Israel’s residency revocation policy, which requires Palestinian Jerusalemites to constantly prove their “center of life” is in the city”

On April 16th, hundreds of protestors rallied in Sheikh Jarrah to bring attention to the pending mass displacement. At the protest, former Palestinian Authority Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Hatem Abd al-Qadir told the Times of Israel:

“These protests are an expression of our rejection of the decisions of Israeli courts in expelling the residents of Sheikh Jarrah. This is ethnic cleansing and expulsion at the barrel of a gun.”

Resources for Understanding Recent Protests and Violence in Jerusalem

Since the beginning of Ramadan, Israel’s decision to close the plaza in front of the Damascus Gate – the main gate used by Palestinians to access Jerusalem’s Old City – sparked an outbreak of violence in Jerusalem (Israel subsequently reopened the plaza, but the situation on the ground is still volatile). Several FMEP grantees, partners, and other notable sources have published  resources that help contextualize and assess exactly what is happening. Below are resources and excerpts most relevant to settlement observers seeking understanding of how current events fit into the larger picture of Israeli intentions and actions in Jerusalem, including the aforementioned impending dispossessions in Sheikh Jarrah.

Ir Amim published an update under the subject, “Closure of Damascus Gate Plaza & Aggressive Police Measures.” In the brief Ir Amim summarizes exactly what is happening:

“Many of the incidents of friction and confrontation in the area stem from the closure of the Damascus Gate steps and unprovoked police aggression and use of excessive force towards Palestinians, which disrupt the peace and lead to escalation. Over the past week, Palestinian youth have protested the plaza’s closure. The Israel police dispersed them with disproportionate use of force. The police claim that there have been incidents of Palestinians throwing stones at police, and indeed Israeli vehicles were damaged amid the confrontations. However, during the last few nights, police forces have assaulted Palestinians in the Damascus Gate area with no prior provocation on their part, including the use of stun grenades and the deployment of mounted police charging into hundreds of Palestinians who were solely visiting the Old City for Ramadan…

In tandem, right-wing Jewish extremists and nationalist organizations have been exploiting the friction to further incite and call for retaliation (both on social media and mainstream media) against the Palestinian protests and isolated incidents of Palestinian harassment of Haredi Jews. On Monday, Knesset Members from the extremist rightwing Religious Zionism party went to Damascus Gate in a hostile and provocative call to “show Palestinians who’s boss.” 

In recent days, large groups of nationalistic Israeli youth have rallied in West Jerusalem’s city center shouting “death to Arabs,” while hunting down and attacking Palestinian pedestrians, which has led to clashes between Jews and Palestinians. In contrast to the police’s aggressive operations at the Damascus Gate, serious measures by the police to disperse these groups or protect attacked Palestinians have not been observed. These groups have called to gather tonight in Jerusalem, marching from the City Hall Square to Damascus Gate and the Old City with the intent of clashing with Palestinians “to teach them a lesson.”

Emek Shaveh published a brief entitled “The Last Gate,” exploring how the state of Israel has spent the past several years asserting more and more control over key archeological sites in and around the Old City, and why the Damascus Gate is a hugely important part of that still unfolding story. Emek Shaveh writes:

“Over the past two decades, the Old City’s Historic Basin has undergone unprecedented development. The State of Israel has invested billions of shekels in tourism projects and archaeological excavations alone, whether in the neighborhood of Silwan,  excavations of the Western Wall tunnels, or on the Mount of Olives, among other initiatives. As noted, Damascus Gate is just the latest in this chain of investments. Damascus Gate is the most convenient gate from which to enter the Old City. It has a broad entrance and does not require walking uphill, as with Jaffa Gate or Zion Gate. Moreover, it is close to the center of Jerusalem. While Israel claims that it aims to develop the area around the gate, it is effectively redefining its character, promoting tourism, and increasing Israeli presence so as to diminish or conceal the Palestinian character of the area. The recent clashes along the stone steps of Damascus Gate plaza should be considered in the context of this development boom. Perhaps the authorities’ concern with young Palestinians sitting on the steps was just another chapter in the struggle over identity, belonging, and sovereignty, as with many in the Old City’s Historic Basin. After so many changes to the gates of the Old City, Damascus Gate is one of the last bastions of this ongoing struggle.”

The PLO Negotiation Affairs Unit issued a policy brief entitled “Occupied Jerusalem Protests Apartheid,” in it, writing:

“Since the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli occupying authorities have been intensifying their restrictive and oppressive policies against the Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem as part of their continuous attempts to ultimately alter the Arab and Palestinian character of the city in defiance of international legitimacy. Such cruel acts are part and parcel of Israel’s illegal policies and practices, mainly its colonial- settlement expansion, home demolitions, and forced evictions of Palestinian families, including in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, in addition to its current denial for Palestinians in Jerusalem from running as candidates or participating in the upcoming Palestinian elections. In this context, it’s imperative to point out that seven Palestinian families currently face the risk of imminent forcible eviction from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood by 2 May 2021. Seventy Palestinian families live in this part of Sheikh Jarrah, 34 of which are undergoing a battle in the occupying power’s legal system to confront the threat of forcible transfer, a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which allows Israeli settlers to replace Palestinians and take over their homes. Israel’s illegal policies throughout occupied Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem, are rooted in an extremist ideology that enforces Jewish supremacy over the indigenous Palestinian population as articulated in the “Jewish Nation-State Law” of 2018 that legitimizes Israel’s institutionalized discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel and turns a de facto reality on the ground to a de jure apartheid regime for all Palestinians in historic Palestine.“

WZO Admits It Gave Palestinian Land to Settlers Without Written Agreements  

On April 26th, the Israeli High Court of Justice held a hearing on a petition filed by Palestinian landowners seeking the cancellation of a 1969 military seizure order which included a parcel of their land, and seeking the removal of settlers who have since been allowed by the State of Israel to live there and build a successful company growing date palms. The Palestinian landowners had previously filed a petition solely seeking the removal of the settlers, but the petition was denied by the High Court. The new petition seeks to cancel the underlying seizure of the land by the State.

To date, the Israeli government – along with the World Zionist Organization, to whom the State transferred the land in question –  have not provided the Court with any documentation regarding the assignment of the land to the Israel settlers. Though the land was part of the military seizure order, a lawyer representing the WZO actually conceded that the land was given to the settlers without a written agreement, but suggested that it was approved by the Israeli Cabinet. Leading up to this admission, High Court President Esther Hayut rebuked Roi Shweika, the lawyer for the state, asking:

“How can it be that the state gives land to a person and there are no agreements and they don’t know for how long, especially when it’s not state land? Whoever heard of such a thing?…What efforts have you made to ask the people to produce the agreements that they have? If they don’t have agreements to produce, that raises a suspicion that there are no agreements.”

Haaretz also reported out a truly unbelievable intervention by the settler-owner of the date farm company, Ayala Smith:

Smith “To the best of my knowledge, the land has been worked since 1982, and more than 30 years went by before [the Palestinian owner] opened his mouth for the first time. I’m there every day, raising the best dates in the world, not him.”

Chief Justice Esther Hayut replied: “They weren’t given access to the land. They told him he couldn’t enter. Instead, they let you come in and you raised the best dates in the world. It borders on provocation to argue that.”

Jewish National Fund Delays Decision on Formalizing Policy on West Bank Land Purchases

The Chairman of the Jewish National Fund in Israel (JNF-KKL), Avraham Duvdevani, postponed a final vote by the Board of Directors – originally scheduled for April 22nd – on whether to formally adopt a policy of purchasing land in the West Bank for settlement construction. In anticipation of the policy’s adoption, the JNF-KKL Board voted in February 2021 to allocate nearly $12 million towards the purchase of land in the West Bank.

The decision to postpone the vote follows weeks of outcry from a Jewish organizations who donate to and promote the work of the JNF around the world. A new date for the vote has not yet been announced.  As a reminder,  the proposed policy is little more than a shift in public relations strategies. The JNF has long worked in support of settlements, but until this point has preferred to leave its settlement-related activities deliberately obscured

Ariel University Giving Academic Credit for Outpost Volunteers 

Haaretz reports that Ariel University, located in the Ariel settlement in the heart of the northern West Bank, is offering academic credit to students who volunteer as farmhands and security guards at unauthorized/illegal settlement outposts across the West Bank. The volunteer program is run through an organization called Hashomer Yosh (“Guardians of Judea and Samaria”), a group touted by the Chairman of Ariel University for its work against “those who want to disturb the right of the people of Israel to settle in the land and to develop agriculture.” The program was described on the Ariel University website as “linking the students with the national Zionist task of contemporary agriculture.””

Haaretz reports that the academic program placed five students at three outposts, including the Bar Yosef outpost which was founded by an individual who has been repeatedly filmed harassing Palestinians. Ariel University staff defended the program by arguing that the outposts in question are known to be built on “state land” (suggesting that their unauthorized status is a mere technicality). Of course, as is the case with all unauthorized outposts, these proto-settlements were built without formal permission or building permits in contravention of Israeli military law which governs the occupied West Bank, and are therefore illegal even under Israeli law.

Israeli attorney Eitay Mack has filed a complaint against the program, asking the Israeli Attorney General and the Israeli Council on Higher Education (which admitted Ariel University as a member in April 2019) to examine the legality of the program. The complaint has been assigned to Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri.

Commenting on the program, Ariel University told Haaretz

“In the framework of the law encouraging significant volunteering in the community, like other institutions, the university works with many and varied entities with expertise in placing volunteers in the community. In that framework, Hashomer Yosh received approval as an entity using volunteers for the current academic year.”

IDF Stops Settler Attempt to Establish Yeshiva on Site of Dismantled Homesh Settlement

On April 26th, the Israeli army removed settlers who had built a makeshift religious school (a yeshiva) and housing for students at the site of the dismantled settlement of Homesh in the northern West Bank. Undeterred, the settlers returned to the site the next day to hold classes. 

According to the Jerusalem Post, the settlers brought in modular structures and plywood to build the housing, and used a large tent for the yeshiva itself. It is unclear how long the settlers had been allowed to remain at the site prior to their removal this week.  

As a reminder: Homesh is one of four settlements in the northern West Bank that Israel dismantled in 2005 under the Disengagement Law, which primarily removed all Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. After Israel removed settlers from these four sites, the IDF issued military orders barring Palestinians from entering the areas, let alone building in them. At the same time, settlers have regularly entered the areas and even repeatedly built a yeshiva at the Homesh site. Settlers have been openly obsessed with the desire to re-establish Homesh, hosting religious events and protests at the site of Homesh, some of which have been attended by Israeli MKs and politicians. 

Settlers Celebrate Israeli Independence Day 

Settlers celebrated Israeli Independence Day with continued efforts to advance the Greater Israel cause – and to remind the Palestinians who is in charge – across the West Bank, including:

Northern West Bank: Settlers  continue to agitate for the reconstruction of the Sa-Nur settlement in the northern West Bank, which Israel removed settlers from and dismantled as part of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal along with three other nearby settlements (Homesh, Ganim, and Kadim). On Israeli Independence Day, April 15th, thousands of Israeli settlers visited the site of the evacuated Sa-Nur settlement, an area which – despite removing the settlers from – has not been returned by Israel to Palestinian control, but instead maintains a military closure of the area.  The festive event, which included performances and crafts, was organized by the Samaria Regional Council, in violation of the military closure. Instead of enforcing the order, the IDF allowed settlers to freely come and go via pre-arranged shuttles. Arutz Sheva reports that the event was the largest gathering of Israelis at the event since 2005.

Jordan Valley: In the Jordan Valley, settlers held a parade of cars and armed guards near the Palestinian village of Tubas – an event which caused panic amongst school children. I

Southern West Bank: Settlers living in tiny enclaves in the center of Hebron held celebrations that included a huge fireworks show (something Palestinians would likely never be allowed to do).

Settler-Run Chamber of Commerce Planning a Hotel in Hebron in Partnership with Palestinian Businessman Ahsraf Jabari

A settler leader in the city center of Hebron, Hillel Horowitz, is hatching a plan to build a hotel near the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrahimi Mosque, and he is seeking financial investment from Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari. Jabari is known for co-founding the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce (JSCC) alongside settlers, and for his tight embrace of the Trump “Peace to Prosperity” plan. Jabari has been widely criticized by his peers and family.

Hillel pitched the idea while attending an iftar dinner at Jabari’s home in Hebron, an event organized by the JSCC. The Jerusalem Post reports that the pitch was greeted with applause from all in attendance.

Smotrich’s Party Files Bill for Outpost Legalization

Though participating in a mandate-less government, a member of MK Bezalal Smotrich’s Religious Zionist party filed a bill in the Knesset to grant unilateral authorization about 70 outposts in the West Bank that were built without the necessary permissions from the state of Israel. The Jerusalem Posts reports that there are enough votes to pass the bill, but given the state of continuous elections and coalition talks in Israel it is unclear if the Knesset will remain in session long enough to bring the bill to a vote. 

The Jerusalem Post reports that an explanatory text of the bill claims 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.

Settler leaders offered their support for the bill. Gush Etzion Regional Council Head Shlomo Ne’eman said:

“We trust that all the right-wing factions and the government will support this law, and will authorize these communities quickly.”

Mateh Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz said:

“The time has come to complete the work and give the tens of thousands of residents sent by the Israeli governments basic rights.There is no need to wait for the formation of a new government. The Knesset can and must do so now.”

Round-up of Settler Violence this Week

Violence is a key tool settlers use to take over and control more land across the West Bank. Many instances of settler violence towards Palestinians made headlines this week, including:

  • “Soldier shoots and kills Palestinian protestor during dispersal of weekly protest against illegal outpost” (B’Tselem)
  • “Israel settlers set fire to cars in Jerusalem chanting ‘May your village burn’” (MEMO)
  • “Palestinian cars set on fire in Beit Iksa in apparent Jewish attack” (i24 News)
  • “Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians spike to 210 so far this year, says UN” (The Nation)

Human Rights Watch: Israel is Guilty of the Crime of Apartheid

In a new report, entitled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” Human Rights Watch declared that Israel’s policy towards Palestinians – defined in the report as “to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and to discriminate against them” – amounts to crimes against humanity, specifically the crimes of apartheid and persecution. Settlements, settlers, and annexation figure heavily into the facts and analysis that lead to the report’s conclusion.

You can read the full report here.

You can read a helpful Q&A about the report here.

For reaction to and analysis of the report, see coverage in FMEP’s daily news roundup from April 27th (date of the report’s publication), 28th, and 29th. You can subscribe to FMEP’s daily news round up here. Highlights include:

Bonus Reads

  1. “The Master Plan for Building in Jerusalem? Preserve a Jewish Majority” (Haaretz)
  2. “Foreign Ministry: Palestine waiting for a strong US position against settlements” (Jerusalem Post)
  3. “’Death to Arabs’: Palestinians Need International Protection From Israel’s Racist Jewish Thugs” (Haaretz)
  4. “Israeli Settlements Could Be Headed for Self-destruction, and It Has Nothing to With the Occupation” (Haaretz)
  5. “Israeli Settler Slapped a Palestinian Activist. A Jerusalem Court Slapped Her Back” (Haaretz)
  6. “’Like Spy Agencies’: Inside East Jerusalem’s Jewish Settlement” (Haaretz)
  7. “What Is Israel Planning, Expulsion by Bus or by Truck?” (Haaretz)
  8. “To Jaffa Arabs, Sales of ‘Absentee Ownership’ Properties Aim to Expel Them From the City” (Haaretz)
  9. “Israel Using Drones to Tear Gas Palestinian Demonstrators in West Bank” (Haaretz)

 

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

February 19, 2021

  1. Mass Dispossession in East Jerusalem: Israeli Courts Rule to Evict 11 Palestinian Families from Homes in Sheikh Jarrah & Batan al-Hawa
  2. Israel Close to Construction on Three Key Settler Bypass Roads
  3. JNF Leadership Approves Policy to Expand Settlements, But Defers Final Approval to Board
  4. Israeli Plan to Build West Bank Sewage/Power Plant Delayed Over Settlers’ Environmental Concerns
  5. Al Haq Requests “Immediate Intervention” by UN to Stop Settler Violence
  6. Bonus Reads

Comments, questions? Email kmccarthy@fmep.org


Mass Dispossession in East Jerusalem: Israeli Courts Rule to Evict 11 Palestinian Families from Homes in Sheikh Jarrah & Batan al-Hawa

In two separate decisions, Israeli courts have continued to rule in favor of settlers in cases that threaten the mass dispossession and displacement of Palestinians from some of the most sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. The decisions this week – one dispossessing six families in Sheikh Jarrah and the second dispossessing five families in Silwan (details below) – extend the guise of legality to the ongoing campaign by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians in favor of Jewish Israelis.

These evictions are based on an Israeli law (the Administrative and Legal Matters Law) designed to enable Israeli Jews, but not Palestinians, to “recover” properties abandoned during the 1948 war. From the beginning of 2020 until now, based on this law, Israeli courts have ruled in favor of the settlers in a total of 14 cases – seven cases in Batan al-Hawa (Silwan) and seven cases in Sheikh Jarrah. The rulings (so far) affect – in a devastating manner –  36 Palestinian families with 165 individuals – 107 people in Silwan and 58 individuals in Sheikh Jarrah;  as a legal precedent, these rulings open the door for dispossession on a massive scale, threatening the homes of approximately 700 people in Silwan alone.

Painting the larger picture of what is happening in these neighborhoods, Ir Amim says:

“Since the beginning of 2020 until now, there has been a record number of court decisions upholding eviction claims against Palestinian families filed by settler organizations. Over the past year, the Israeli courts authorized the evictions of over 30 Palestinian families, totaling more than 100 individuals, from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa. While the families are in various stages of appeal proceedings, many have exhausted the relevant legal remedies, which could lead to a devastating wave of evictions in the coming months. If the evictions are not halted, a total of over 1000 Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa could ultimately be uprooted from their homes and communities and supplanted by settlers, potentially amounting to a form of forcible transfer. These measures not only constitute a flagrant violation of human rights, but also erode conditions necessary for any future political resolution on the city.”

Peace Now said in a statement

“The story here is not legal but political. The court is only the tool by which settlers use with the close assistance of state authorities to commit the crime of displacing an entire community and replacing it with settlement. The Israeli government and settlers have no problem to displace thousands of Palestinians in the name of ‘the Right of Return’ to properties before 1948, while they strongly claim that the millions of Israelis living in Palestinian properties before 1948 cannot be evicted. Since the evacuation of the Mughrabi neighborhood for the purpose of expanding the Western Wall plaza in 1967, there has been no such deportation in Jerusalem. On the table of the prosecution in the International Court of Justice in The Hague is a complaint about the displacement process led by the government in Sheikh Jarrah and in Batan Al-Hawa. The government can still stop this injustice”.

In Sheikh Jarrah

On February 15th, the Jerusalem District Court upheld the eviction of six Palestinian families (27 individuals) from their homes of 70+ years in the Sheikh Jarrah nieghborhood of East Jerusalem in favor of the Nahalat Shimon settler group. The Court gave the families until May 2nd to vacate their homes, or file an appeal to the Supreme Court of Israel.

Nahalat Shimon is a U.S.-registered company which takes advantage of the “Legal and Administration Matters Law,” to reclaim property lost/abandoned during the 1948 war. Nahalat Shimon sought out the Jewish Israeli families that owned homes in Sheikh Jarrah prior to the 1948 War, and then “purchased” the properties from those families. Since then, Nahalat Shimon has been undertaking legal action to evict Palestinians. In 2009 the first eviction took place – sparking a sustained protest in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood which has garnered international attention.

Commenting on the case, Peace Now said:

“The lawsuit is part of an organized move designed to dispossess a Palestinian community of its home and establish a settlement in Sheikh Jarrah in its place. Hundreds of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah are in a similar situation in court proceedings, and hundreds more in Batan Al-Hawa in Silwan.”

In December 2020, FMEP hosted a webinar specifically looking at these eviction cases in Sheikh Jarrah, featuring Mohammed El-Kurd whose family was a party to the rejected appeal this week. The El-Kurd family has struggled to remain in their home in the face of settler campaigns to evict them for over a decade, part of which was captured in the Just Vision documentary “My Neighborhood.”

In Silwan

Following a hearing on February 9th, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled in favor of the Ateret Cohanim settler organization and ordered the eviction of five families from their homes in the Batan al-Hawa section of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The Court ordered the families to vacate their homes — where they have resided for 50+ years — by August 2021. Ir Amim reports that the families are expected to appeal the case to the Jerusalem District Court.

The ruling also upheld and advanced the use of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law which, as is the case in Sheikh Jarrah, is being used by Ateret Cohanim in a house-by-house manner in Silwan. To date, Israeli courts have repeatedly upheld Ateret Cohanim’s claim to own a large swath of land in the tiny Batan al-Hawa neighborhood, most recently ruling to evict Palestinians in January 2021, as well as in November 2020. In total, Ateret Cohanim’s campaign stands to ultimately dispossess 700 Palestinians in Silwan.

The group’s claim is based on having gained control of the historic Benvenisti Trust, which oversaw the assets of Yemenite Jews who lived in Silwan in the 19th century. In 2001 the Israeli Charitable Trust Registrar granted Ateret Cohanim permission to revive the trust and become its trustees, (following 63 years of dormancy). In 2002, the Israeli Custodian General transferred ownership of the land in Batan al-Hawa to the Trust (i.e., to Ateret Cohanim). Since then, Ateret Cohanim has accelerated its multifaceted campaign to remove Palestinians from their homes, claiming that the Palestinians are illegally squatting on land owned by the trust.

Palestinians have challenged the legitimacy of the Benvenisti Trust’s claims to the currently existing buildings, saying that the trust only covered the old buildings (none of which remain standing) and not the land, but the courts have so far rejected their argument.

Israel Close to Construction on Three Key Settler Bypass Roads

Peace Now reports that Israel is nearing the start of construction on several roads designed to serve settlers across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, including: the so-called “Sovereignty Road” (which will allow Israel to build the E-1 settlement); and the Qalandiya bypass tunnel road; and, the Huwarra Bypass Road. Israel’s investment in these roads is explicitly about increasing the settler population and finally building the E-1 settlement. 

Peace Now said in response to the totality of these advancements.

“The Israeli government is de facto annexing the West Bank by investing billions of shekels into roads designed to double the number of settlers to a million and even more.”

In a recent report examining several of these road projects in East Jerusalem,  Who Profits writes:

“In the oPt infrastructure is primarily about control. In the words of Brigadier Ofer Hindi, head of the Rainbow of Colors15 administrative division of the Israeli Ministry of Defense (hereafter: IMOD): “priorities are not only the result of traffic and congestion, but of security needs, and the perspective must be integrative.” … the Israeli roads system functions as an instrument of exclusion, land grabs and economic de-development vis-à-vis the occupied population. At the same time, transport projects are also instruments of (segregated) integration, normalization and pacification. Projects such as the bus-only lanes and bus terminal currently under construction at the Qalandia checkpoint operate in tandem with recent technological and infrastructural investments in the checkpoints, described as an “upgrade” by the Israeli Civil Administration (hereafter: ICA), the administrative arm of the Israeli military in the oPt. The so-called upgrade includes features such as: moveable connectors at pedestrian checkpoints, expanded use of facial recognition and other biometric identification technologies and significantly, terminals, bus lanes and parking areas with the objective of “maximizing utility […] and enabling the passage of goods with greater throughput and efficiency.” Transport planning is thus incorporated into Israel’s strategic move to recast Palestinians as clients and users of the occupation. In this way short-term quality-of-life improvements work to consolidate, normalize and sustain Israel’s highly restrictive mobility regime.”

In another recent report – “Highway to Annexation” – Breaking the Silence speaks to the role of roads and infrastructure in Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank:

“The ultimate vision of the road and transportation projects currently planned and underway in the West Bank involve entrenching the segregation between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. These infrastructure projects, of course, do not provide for “separate but equal” development but are rather guided primarily by the interests of the settler population and come at the expense of Palestinian development… West Bank road and transportation development creates facts on the ground that constitute a significant entrenchment of the de facto annexation already taking place in the West Bank and will enable massive settlement growth in the years to come. By strengthening Israel’s hold on West Bank territory, aiding settlement growth, and fragmenting Palestinian land, this infrastructure growth poses a significant barrier to ending the occupation and achieving an equitable and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.“

The Sovereignty Road

According to Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Israel signed a contract with a company owned by the Jerusalem Municipality for the construction of the “Sovereignty Road” in the Maale Adumim/E-1 area in the West Bank, just east of Jerusalem (called the “a-Zaim road to Al-Azariya” by Peace Now). In Regev’s press release announcing this development, her office makes it perfectly clear what this road is intended to do:

“This will be a separate road for Palestinians in the E1 area, the purpose of which is to separate the transportation connection between the Palestinian and Israeli populations in the area so that Palestinian vehicles will be allowed to pass without entering the Ma’ale Adumim bloc, near Jewish communities…At the political level, the road will connect Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim and enable construction in the Jewish settlements in the E1 area.”

For decades, construction of the E-1 settlement – which is now actively advancing through the planning process – has been adamantly opposed by the international community. A key criticism of the plan is that it would effectively cut the West Bank in half — thereby preventing any two-state solution. The “Sovereignty Road” has long been Israel’s answer to that criticism, with Israel arguing that it will replace territorial contiguity with limited “transportational continuity” – via a sealed road that is under Israel’s total control (meaning they can cut off passage through it at any time). 

If built, a section of the Palestinian-only road is projected to run under the separation barrier (which is not currently built in this area). The rest of the road will run relatively adjacent to the route of the planned separation barrier, in order – in the words of former Defense Minister Bennet – to prevent Palestinian traffic from coming “near Jewish communities.” This new section of road connects to the infamous “apartheid road” (aka, the Eastern Ring Road) which has a high wall down the middle dividing Israeli and Palestinian traffic, and which was opened for Palestinian traffic in January 2019

The Qalandiya Bypass Tunnel Road

Following the recent closing of the tender period, the Israeli government is expected to soon select a contractor to build a new tunnel road that will go underneath the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, which is perhaps the busiest access point for Palestinians entering Israel. Peace Now writes that construction of the tunnel road is expected to begin approximately in April 2021. This plan is designed to serve a cluster of settlements that Netanyahu has recently dubbed a “fourth settlement bloc.” This group of settlements is located deep inside the West Bank — including the settlements of Adam, Kochav Yaakov, Ofra, and Beit El — in an area that under any reasonable sense of a two-state solution cannot become part of Israel. By defining these settlements as part of a “bloc” Netanyahu is in effect asserting that Israel will never relinquish control over the area. 

Who Profits recently detailed this road project and the larger context of the Qalandiya checkpoint, writing:

“The Qalandia Grade Separation and Underpass Project is part of Israel’s concerted effort to reconfigure the space of the checkpoint. The Qalandia military checkpoint, located 10 kilometers north of Jerusalem and staffed by the Israeli military and private security companies, is one of the main checkpoints for Palestinians seeking to cross into East Jerusalem or the Green Line for work, health or any other purpose. Long infamous for its inhuman and crowded conditions and human rights violations, Qalandia has recently undergone major infrastructural and technological changes, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Under the guise of reducing wait times and improving conditions, the renovated checkpoints  introduce heightened forms of surveillance, including facial recognition technology. The checkpoint upgrade plan also includes investment in transport infrastructure, such as pedestrian bridges and bus services….Part of the project involved the creation of a planning corridor for a future underpass and grade separation, connecting Route 60 to Route 45 to form an uninterrupted east-west axis between the Binyamin settlement bloc northeast of Jerusalem and Route 443 and Route 50 (Begin Highway), integrating them into Jerusalem and the Green Line…land for the project has been expropriated using military seizure orders rather than civil procedures, a move designed to accelerate the process and limit the ability of Palestinians to object.”

Peace Now adds more context around how the tunnel is a key part of Israel’s grander vision for settler-serving infrastructure criss-crossing the West Bank:

“It should be noted that in recent months, the planning process for a new road, known as Road 45 or the “Quarries Road”, is underway to connect the Ramallah bypass road near the Kochav Ya’akov settlement, and the Qalandiya checkpoint has been progressing. In June 2020, the road plan (Plan No. 926/1), was approved for deposit in the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration, and was published for objections in October 2020. The road is intended to bypass the Palestinian settlements of Jaba’ and A-Ram, and allow settlers to travel quickly and safely without passing Palestinian homes.”

The two roads together will make all the settlements east of Jerusalem and Ramallah, as well as the settlements in the Jordan Valley and along Road 60 towards Nablus much more attractive for Israelis.

The Huwarra Bypass Road

Map by Peace Now

Peace Now also reports that, according to Transportation Minister Regev, the tender for the Huwwara Bypass Road has closed, meaning construction might begin imminently. The Huwwara Bypass Road is designed to enable settler traffic from the Nablus area to bypass the the Palestinian village of Huwwara (which is an area with heavy traffic congestion from daily commuters) in order to more easily/directly access Jerusalem. This bypass road has long been a top priority for the settlers, who have complained about the long commute to Jerusalem and the limit this puts on the potential for growth of Nablus-area settlements. The radical/violent Yitzhar settlement will benefit from the bypass road, along with the settlements of Har Bracha, Itamar, and Elon Moreh. Building the road also gained urgency for the settlers after the release of the Trump Plan’s conceptual map, which left the area where the road is slated to be built within the borders a future Palestinian “state.”

JNF Leadership Approves Policy to Expand Settlements, But Defers Final Approval to Board

The Jewish National Fund’s executive leadership voted this week to approve the adoption of a new policy making the expansion of settlements in the West Bank part of the group’s core mission and function, and allocated nearly $12 million (8 million NIS) towards the purchase of land in the West Bank. However, in a concession to JNF members and donors threatening to leave over the new policy, the organization’s leadership has decided to defer a final decision on to its Board of Directors, which is expected to hold a vote on the matter only after the March 23rd elections in Israel. 

Notwithstanding the significant controversy this “new” policy has provoked, the reality is that the JNF has long worked in support of settlements. What is different now is that, where in the past the JNF preferred to leave its settlement-related activities deliberately obscured, under the new policy the JNF would openly claim and promote its support for settlements. As such, the shift under consideration is not so much in policy as in public relations (a public relations approach that does not shy away from blatant racism, evidenced by the JNF Chairman’s recent TV appearance in which he said that the JNF’s goal is to stop land from ending up in Arab hands).

There has been significant opposition to the adoption of the new policy, on both administrative and moral grounds. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote to the JNF shortly before it met to approve the plan, asking for the matter to be delayed in order to allow Israeli security officials and the Civil Administration (which oversees civilian affairs including land regulation in the West Bank) to examine the matter. Gantz reportedly said that the JNF’s decision is “extremely sensitive,” potentially having national security consequences.

Diaspora Jewish groups have voiced strong opposition to the JNF moving to openly support settlements, with many focusing on why the new policy is bad for Israel. This includes Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who said that he “intends to mobilize the Jewish community to fight JNF’s plan through political and legal channels.”

J Street called on the U.S. branch of the JNF to work to oppose the policy, saying:

“For Jews around the world who contributed through the JNF to the creation and building of the state of Israel, it is beyond upsetting that the organization is being turned into an arm of the West Bank settlement movement, acting in a way that violates international law, shows total disregard for the rights of Palestinians and dangerously undermines Israel’s future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people along with the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. While JNF-KKL funds have a complex history of being used at times to help fund and facilitate land purchases and settlement growth beyond the Green Line in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they have not previously officially committed to this harmful project in such a brazen and explicit fashion.”

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote in an op-ed this week:

“The rot in the JNF can be smelled from far away. The fact that the Labor Party and Meretz are partners in this stinking nationalist enterprise testifies as much as 1,000 witnesses about the Zionist left. A “public benefit corporation,” most of whose land is land that was stolen from its owners in the Nakba and was never returned to them; which covered over the ruins of hundreds of villages in forests, just to erase their memory from the face of the earth and block the possibility of their owners returning. A body which, throughout all the years, in practice sold lands only to Jews, and since 2009 even legalized this practice in an official decision; a body for which there is no occupation and no Green Line – just one state between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, in which you buy land only for members of one people; and which has now officially declared its partnership in the war crime called settlement too, after years of doing so via a front company…Anyone who still has their doubts, yes apartheid or no apartheid, needs to get to know the JNF. With members of the right and left in its top posts and positions for Meretz too – here you have the Jewish national fund for apartheid, the Israeli consensus.”

Israeli Plan to Build West Bank Sewage/Power Plant Delayed Over Settlers’ Environmental Concerns

Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to delay the construction of a new waste-to-energy plant near the Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank until an environmental impact study can be done, a study which was requested by the leadership of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

The plant is planned to be built on land that is within the jurisdiction of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, where several Palestinian Bedouin communities currently live. As noted in this Peace Now report, the land under the jurisdiction of this settlement is the largest of all of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank” spreading “over a very large region which begins west of the settlement and extends into the Jericho valley. If compared with the size of the jurisdiction of cities within Israel, Ma’ale Adumim’s area is similar in size to that of the largest (most populated) cities within Israel.”. 

The plant – which is expected to cost USD $284 million (1 billion NIS) – will treat waste generated inside Israel and exported to the West Bank. B’Tselem published a comprehensive report criticizing the illegal Israeli practice of exporting its waste to the occupied territories – writing:

“For many years, Israel has been taking advantage of its power as occupier to transfer the treatment of waste (including hazardous waste) and sewage from its sovereign territory to the West Bank. To that end, it has created a situation in which environmental legislation in the West Bank is much laxer than inside Israel, conveniently overlooking the long-term impact of environmental hazards on the Palestinian population and on natural resources, and neglecting to prepare future rehabilitation plans. This has created a financial incentive to transfer the treatment of environmental hazards from Israel to the West Bank. The Palestinians who live in the occupied territory are the ones to pay the price for this environmental damage, even though they were never asked their opinion on the matter and although, as a population under occupation, they have no political power and no real ability to resist.”

Al Haq Requests “Immediate Intervention” by UN to Stop Settler Violence

In an urgent appeal to several key figures in the United Nations, the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq requests the UN’s “immediate intervention to protect the Palestinian protected population from systematic and ongoing settler attacks, which are conducted with institutionalised impunity.” 

The appeal goes on to illustrate six recent cases of settler terrorism stemming from the Yitzhar settlement, which is the home base of the “Hilltop Youth” settler movement – which is notoriously violent, inlcuding towards Israeli security forces in addition to violence directed at Palestinians and their property.

Al Haq writes:

“The incidents above exemplify the widespread, long-term, and worsening phenomenon of settler attacks against the Palestinian population and their property. Such attacks are a direct result of the transfer of Israeli civilians into occupied territory perpetrated by Israel, the Occupying Power. Israel, as Occupying Power, is obliged to “ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety” in the occupied Palestinian territory…Settler violence is a direct result of Israel’s failure to take the necessary measures to prevent settler violence. The systematic lack of any law enforcement by the Israeli police forces on criminal acts perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians reveals an institutional unwillingness to hold settlers to account. This constitutes a further violation of international law by the Israeli occupying authorities in so far as they deny to Palestinians an effective legal remedy for such attacks.57 This systematic lack of law enforcement against settlers, coupled with institutional unwillingness to investigate and prosecute settlers, encourage settlers to repeat their violence knowing that they enjoy impunity for crimes against Palestinians and benefit from the protection of Israeli domestic laws, in violation of international law.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Six Lies About Israel’s Wilde West Settlement Outpost” (Haaretz)
  2. “Palestinians Should Drag Architects of Settlements to the ICC” (Haaretz)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

February 12, 2021

  1. ICC Confirms Jurisdiction Over (Israeli and Palestinian) War Crimes Committed in OPT
  2. ICC Investigation Expected to Take On Settlements, Potentially Exposing Untold Number of Israeli Government Officials to Criminal Liability
  3. Jewish National Fund to Start (Openly) Purchasing West Bank Land for Settlement Expansion
  4. Israel Rejects Development Plan for al-Walajah, Paving the Way for Further Demolitions
  5. Israel Demolishes Khirbet Humsa for Third Time this Month, Highlighting Discriminatory Enforcement in Jordan Valley as Path to Israeli Annexation
  6. Israeli Court Hears Appeal to Stop Mass Dispossession in Sheikh Jarrah
  7. Who Profits Report: “Infrastructures of Dispossession and Control Transport Development in East Jerusalem”
  8. Bonus Reads

Comments, questions? Email kmccarthy@fmep.org


ICC Confirms Jurisdiction Over (Israeli and Palestinian) War Crimes Committed in OPT 

In a ruling published on February 5, 2021, a three judge pretrial chamber of the International Criminal Court confirmed that the Court’s jurisdiction extends over the occupied Palestinian territories (the West Bank, East Jerusalem, & Gaza Strip). As a reminder, the Court’s jurisdiction is over individuals (not states) and includes jurisdiction over war crimes committed by both Israeli combatants and Palestinian combatants. With this ruling, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will need to decide whether and when to formally open an investigation into potential war crimes. According to an official statement from Bensouda’s office welcoming the decision, her office is “carefully analyzing the decision & will then decide its next step.”

The pretrial chamber was convened by Bensouda in December 2019 to make a final determination on the highly disputed issue of the Court’s jurisdiction in Palestine. Bensouda herself submitted a brief to the chamber in April 2020 articulating her belief that the Oslo Accords – signed by the PLO and Israel – are a credible legal basis for establishing Palestine as an internationally recognized state. Her brief refuted arguments made in amicus curiae briefs filed by several countries, including Germany  (the second largest funder of the ICC), insisting that Palestine is not a state and that the Court therefore cannot have jurisdiction. The Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, Hungary, Brazil and Uganda also filed briefs along those lines. Bensouda’s brief —  well worth reading in full — also systematically rebutted the raft of arguments made by various international lawfare organizations asserting that the Court has no right to investigate. As a reminder: in June 2020, President Trump signed an Executive Order authorizing sanctions against ICC officials; in September 2020, the Trump Administration used that Executive Order to impose sanctions on Bensouda and another ICC official; in January 2021, a US court blocked those sanctions..

In response to the decision of the pretrial chamber, the Biden Administration promptly stated its opposition. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that the U.S. has “serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel” – statement that was on the one hand categorical and on the other hand far more restrained than what had previously come out of the Trump Administration or the Israeli government (objecting to the decision but not attacking the court itself). It’s worth noting that the Biden Administration has yet to reverse sanctions imposed on ICC officials by former President Trump (including the revocation of Fatou Bensourd’s entry visa to the United States) or revoke Trump’s anti-ICC executive order.

In response to the White House statement, +972 Magazine Editor Amjad Iraqi wrote:

“The fact that the White House rejects this mission at The Hague is further proof that the United States is not really interested in an independent Palestinian state. If Israel prefers apartheid, then Washington will stand behind it, even at the cost of its own proclaimed policy. The Biden administration should either admit this fact or begin backing up its two-state vision with meaningful action. If neither, then it should step back and let the court do its job.”

ICC Investigation Expected to Take On Settlements, Potentially Exposing Untold Number of Israeli Government Officials to Criminal Liability

Having now established its jurisdictional authority to proceed, the International Criminal Court is expected to take up, in addition to other alleged crimes, the criminal acts perpetrated by individuals who participated in the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The basis for investigating such persons is international law, according to which the transfer of a civilian population into occupied territory is prohibited.

Yuval Shany, Israel Democracy Institute, told AP:

“The settlement issue is really the biggest issue. This is the elephant in the room. This exposes basically the entire Israeli political elite that has been part of a settlement policy to criminal proceedings before the court. This is a significant setback.”

Yesh Din, an Israeli NGO deeply involved in fighting settlement expansion and defending Palestinian rights in the West Bank, said in response to the ICC’s jurisdictional ruling and the investigation into settlement construction:

“Yesh Din has, for many years, also exposed, challenged and petitioned to the HCJ regarding settlement expansion and takeover of Palestinian lands, an official policy and long-standing practice by successive Israeli governments, despite being a clear violation of international law. We have, time and again, seen that even when a degree of legal remedy is occasionally achieved, too often, failures of enforcement or other mechanisms are applied to prevent Palestinians from truly returning to their lands (see HCJ 88/19 and HCJ 9948/09).

Furthermore, the HCJ has served to enable the establishment and expansion of settlements (HCJ 4481/19) and even approved the State’s efforts to retroactively authorize, or ‘regularize,’ outposts and settlement construction considered illegal even under Israeli law, such as in ongoing proceedings regarding illegal construction in the Netiv Ha’avot (HCJ 5480/15) and Adei Ad outposts (8395/14), among others. The HCJ has further failed to halt creeping annexation, leading to today’s situation of de-facto annexation already in place.  

These failures in Israel’s law enforcement and judicial processes reflect a lack of will to hold perpetrators responsible, willingly turning a blind eye to offenses committed within the broader context of a clear intention to expand control over Palestinian lives, land and resources.

As such, Yesh Din welcomes the ICC’s jurisdiction to open an investigation into potential war crimes in the hopes for greater accountability and a future in which international law will be respected and upheld and, ultimately, in which the fundamental human rights of Palestinians and Israelis alike will be protected.

Jewish National Fund to Start (Openly) Purchasing West Bank Land for Settlement Expansion

According to Axios, the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund is expected to approve a new policy on Sunday (February 14) allowing the organization to in directly purchase land in Area C of the West Bank for the purposes of facilitating settlement expansion (which is illegal under international law and opposed by governments the world over as a violation of Palestinian rights). If this new policy is indeed adopted, the JNF will officially make financing the Israeli settlement enterprise a loud and proud part of its mission. This would be a shift not so much in policy as in public relations, given that the JNF has long worked in support of settlements, but until this point has left settlement-related activities deliberately obscured. The shift in approach that will culminate in Sunday’s vote is in line with the JNF’s new right-wing, settler leadership (which effectively took control of the organization in October 2020). 

According to the report, the proposed JNF policy – which could see hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the settlement enterprise – includes directives for the organization to purchase land subject to the following conditions:

  • The land is privately owned by Palestinians. 
  • The land will be used to expand existing settlements, not build new ones (this presumptively includes purchasing land to build outposts).
  • The land is in Area C (some 60% of the West Bank),  not land in Areas A and B.
  • The land is located inside of a settlement’s jurisdiction or adjacent to it.
  • Focus will be on purchasing land in areas identified as a priority, including the Jordan Valley, the Etzion settlement bloc, areas around Jerusalem, the Binyamin region north of Jerusalem, the South Hebron Hills, and areas adjacent to the pre-1967 border. The draft specifically says that no land shall be purchased in the Nablus or Jenin areas.
  • Foreign donations will only be used to purchase land in the West Bank if the laws of the donor’s country permit it.

Commenting on the report, Peace Now put it bluntly:

“The Israeli Jewish National Fund has long had a dark side in discreetly facilitating settlement expansion. This latest news on it intending to purchase private Palestinian land is a decision to bring it into the open. Make no mistake. This isn’t about whether Jews can live wherever. KKL-JNF purchasing land in the West Bank is meant for Israel to keep the land. It’s not like it intends for Jews and these land plots to be in a Palestinian state.”

When asked for comment, the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, Ned Price, said:

“Well, I think there is a broad point at play here, and that point is this: We believe it is critical to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated, two-state solution. And unilateral steps might include annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, the provision of compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We have continued to emphasize that it is critical to refrain from all those activities.”

Established in 1901, the JNF devoted itself to buying land for Jews. Today, the JNF owns about 15% of all the land inside the Green Line. In addition, the JNF has also used two subsidiary companies – both called Himanuta – to purchase land in the West Bank, even though stated JNF policy (until now) did not support such purchases . The JNF and Himanuta used middle men in order to allow the JNF to deny a direct role in West Bank land purchases, which JNF leadership feared would hurt the organization’s fundraising potential. Peace Now reports that the JNF, via its subsidiary Himanuta, has already purchased over 160,000 acres (65,000 dunams) across the West Bank; settlements established on some of those lands include Itamar, Alfei Menashe, Einav, Kedumim, Givat Ze’ev, Metzadot Yehuda (Beit Yatir), Otniel and more. At the same time, the JNF and the settler group Elad have been partnering together to pursue the mass eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem neighborhoods, including Silwan.

Israel Rejects Development Plan for al-Walajah, Paving the Way for Further Demolitions

On January 25th, the Jerusalem District Planning Board rejected a Palestinian-proposed outline plan for the village of al-Walajah, located on the southern flank of Jerusalem. For at least 15 years, al-Walajah residents have attempted to gain Israeli approval for an outline plan – which is a key planning document that establishes land usage and provides for the future development of the community. Without an outline plan, no building permits can even be considered, leading to a situation where Palestinians are forced to build illegally to meet the basic needs of a growing community. 

Due to its location and unique political situation (both discussed below) Al-Walajah is already the focus of a years-long campaign of demolitions and land confiscations. By rejecting the outline plan, the Planning Board has cleared the way for an additional 38 homes in al-Walajah to be demolished because they lack Israeli-issued building permits.

Ir Amim reports important detail on context of the Board’s decision:

“The planning committee rejected the outline plan based on various dubious claims, including on the basis of nature and environmental conservation, yet plans for massive Israeli settlement construction and expansion in the same area have all been approved. Not only is this a prime example of the rampant housing discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem, but the committee’s citation that the area’s traditional and historical agricultural assets must be preserved entirely overlooks the village’s exclusive role in this centuries-old preservation.  Without the homes and the farmers to build and cultivate the land as they have for generations, there will be nothing left to preserve.”

Haaretz reports that, prior to its ruling in January, the Jerusalem District Planning Board refused to discuss this outline plan. The Board was forced to consider the plan when al-Walajah residents petitioned the Isareli Supreme Court. Attorney Jiat Nasser, who is representing the villagers, told Haaretz:

“The district board’s decision is discriminatory and dripping with malice. It feels like the hearings were fixed, as if they want the residents to leave… We didn’t expect inhumanity would reach such proportions.”

Al-Walajah is a village besieged by Israel from every angle. In the words of Danny Seidemann:

“ Since 1967, Walajeh’s inhabitants have lived in a Kafka-esque situation, with their village technically located inside Israel’s expanded borders, but with villagers never given Israeli residency (they are considered West Bankers and thus are not permitted inside Jerusalem). As a result, the villagers’ presence in their own village is, under Israeli law, illegal, and their homes there are, by definition, illegal.”

For decades, the Israeli government has carried out a multi-prong effort to push Palestinians off of their land in al-Walajah. This has included demolition campaigns, construction of the separation barrier along a route that encircles the village and cuts residents off from their land, refusal to grant building permits, and the declaration of state parks over lands on which Palestinians have lived for generations.

In October 2020, it was revealed that Israel, in order to build the Har Gilo West settlement, plans to extend the separation barrier to completely encircle al-Walajah, which is already surrounded on three sides by the separation wall. The new section of the barrier will be a 7-meter high concrete slab along the western edge of the built-up area of Al-Walajah.

Israel Demolishes Khirbet Humsa for Third Time this Month, Highlighting Discriminatory Enforcement in Jordan Valley as Path to Israeli Annexation

On February  8th, Israel forces returned to the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khirbet Humsa in the Jordan Valley for the third time this month to demolish structures and confiscate the property of the ~65  Palestinians who continue to live there despite Israeli attempts at forced relocation. This was the fourth time that the community has been demolished. 

Khirbet Humsa is located in Area C of the West Bank, in an area of the Jordan Valley that Israel declared a closed military zone even though Palestinians had been living there, and using the land for agriculture and herding, for decades. Israel has long used the pretext of military firing zones to pursue the forcible displacement of Palestinians, while simultaneously ignoring (and in some cases openly assisting) settlers to establish a presence in the very same areas.

B’Tselem documented the demolitions of Khirbet Humsa, and responded:

“These demolitions are part of Israel’s policy, enacted throughout the West Bank, to make Palestinians’ lives unbearable, in order to force them to leave their homes, concentrate them in enclaves and take over their land. This policy constitutes an attempt at forcible transfer — which is defined as a war crime under international humanitarian law. The responsibility for its execution lies first and foremost with the political decision-makers leading it, the senior military command carrying it out, and the Supreme Court lending it a legal stamp of approval.”

In telling the story of another Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley facing a similar fate (the village of Jibneh), Yuval Abraham wrote in +972 Magazine:

“Israel has declared about 18 percent of the West Bank as firing zones for military training. This is roughly as large as the West Bank area under full Palestinian control. During a 2014 Knesset subcommittee meeting on “illegal Palestinian construction in Area C,” Col. Einav Shalev, then operations officer of Central Command, admitted that one of the main reasons for increasing military training in these firing zones is to prevent Palestinian construction.

It is important to stress that these are villages that have existed for many decades. The residents have no way of building legally because the Civil Administration, the arm of Israel’s military responsible for governing Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, denies more than 98 percent of permit requests filed by Palestinians in Area C. To even discuss this issue in terms of legal compliance is absolutely ridiculous, since the law is clearly based on ethnic bias…

Increasing governance, meaning, amplifying Israel’s pressure to expel local communities like Jinbeh, that live in areas the state wants to Judaize. Israel is currently focusing on three West Bank areas: the Jordan Valley, south Hebron Hills, and an area known as E1, which connects East Jerusalem to the West Bank. There, Israel systematically denies building permits to Palestinians in order to force them to leave.”

Last week, prior to the demolition on February 5th, a large delegation of European diplomats visited Khirbet Humsa to witness what was taking place. One participant on the delegation, Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, said

“We express our strong concern regarding the policy of demolishing residential structures of Bedouin communities who have been residing here for decades. And our concern is very simple. We are here to uphold international law, including international military law which forbids demolitions of residential structures in occupied territories. It’s contrary to the obligations [of Israel] under the 4th Geneva Convention evictions or forcible transfer likewise. Here we’re talking about 100 people, of whom 40 to 50 are children. We’re in the midst of a pandemic we are in the midst of winter-time. Where do these people go facing homelessness, facing winter?”

Israeli Court Hears Appeal to Stop Mass Dispossession in Sheikh Jarrah

On February 9, the Jerusalem District Court held a hearing to consider an appeal submitted by four Palestinian familiesincluding the El-Kurd family – facing eviction from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem in the shadow of the Old City. The appeal holds significance beyond the families directly involved, as it threatens to cement a legal precedent that can be used by settler groups to carry out a mass eviction in Sheikh Jarrah.

The evictions being challenged in Court are part of an ongoing campaign to throw Palestinians out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and replace them with Israeli settlers. It is led by the Ateret Cohanim settler group (and others), with the evictions based on Israel’s Absentee Property Law – a law that allows Jews to reclaim property that was abandoned in the 1948 war. To take advantage of that law, Ateret Cohanim has tracked down Jews (or their heirs) who before 1948 owned homes in highly desirable East Jerusalem neighborhoods, convincing them to make a claim on the property, and then working with them or on their behalf to evict Palestinians who have been living – legally – in the homes or on the property, in some cases for more than half a century.

On the day of the Court hearing, Palestinians led a protest (which included Israeli and international activists) outside of the Jerusalem District Court. Along with protests on the ground, international diplomatic pressure appears to be picking up. A group of 81 Members of the British Parliament penned a letter to their own foreign secretary asking for the country’s leadership to engage on the issue of Sheikh Jarrah. The letter asked the secretary to “make clear to its [the UK government’s] Israeli counterpart that relations cannot continue as normal in the event of such transgressions,” stating:

“All measures should be considered including reducing diplomatic engagement and banning trade in settlement products in full conformity with international law obligations in order to challenge the settler economy that profits from the occupation.”

Just Vision – which shared one Sheikh Jarrah family’s story in the docuseries “My Neighborhood,” said in a November 2020 email drawing attention to these evictions:

“While the cases in Sheikh Jarrah are thinly veiled as a legal matter, the political motivations are clear. This latest round of evictions is part of a broader attempt by the Israeli state to forcibly displace Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The process is methodical and impacts thousands of lives on a daily basis. In the past month alone, Israel hid under the US election media frenzy to undertake the largest demolition of Palestinian homes and structures in a decade, and just yesterday, announced a new settlement, Givat Hamatos, that would effectively cut East Jerusalem off from Bethlehem. This all happens under the United States’ watch – subsequent US administrations have done little to hold the Israeli government to account, and the latest administration has given a carte-blanche for unjust activity like this.”

Who Profits Report: “Infrastructures of Dispossession and Control Transport Development in East Jerusalem”

In a new report, Who Profits expertly surveys major infrastructure projects in East Jerusalem that are part of the Israeli government’s drive to dispossess Palestinians and facilitate a stronger Jewish presence and control across the entire city. Providing an overview of the report, Who Profits writes:

“Transport infrastructure, which regulates not only space but the movement of people and goods across space, offers a powerful organizing instrument for an occupying power. Together with the Wall and the checkpoints, Israel’s transport network in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) works to manage and control both land and population in accordance with Israeli interests.

For Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, infrastructure development provides a lifeline, enhancing settler connectivity, supporting economic development and normalizing Israeli presence on occupied land.

For the occupied Palestinian population, these infrastructure development projects are intimately tied to the processes of dispossession and facilitate land grabs. In this way transport projects are a means of annexing land, fragmenting and isolating communities and destroying agrarian livelihoods by separating farmers from their agricultural lands.

This flash report focuses on five large scale transport infrastructure projects in East Jerusalem currently at various stages of development, and exposes the private corporations involved in their implementation. All companies profiled herein were contacted prior to publication. To date, no responses have been received. The projects surveyed are: (1) the expansion of the Tunnel Road, a section of Route 60 south of Jerusalem; (2) the construction of the American Road, a north-south highway that cuts through East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods; (3) the construction of an underpass and grade separation at the Qalandia checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem; (4) the construction of grade separation in the French Hill settlement neighborhood and (5) the expansion of the Jerusalem Light Rail Network.

Our research shows that although the projects themselves are carried out by Jerusalem’s municipal development arm, the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation (hereafter: Moriah) and located largely within municipal lines, they target not only the settlement neighborhoods of illegally annexed East Jerusalem—but also the occupied West Bank as a whole. The transport projects examined in this publication are part and parcel of a broader Israeli strategy to promote the economic and spatial integration of the West Bank in terms of dispossession, segregation and control.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Settlers stop Palestine TV documenting settlement activities in West Bank” (MEMO)
  2. “Concern rises over takeover of hundreds of dunums of West Bank village land as Israelis survey the area” (WAFA)
  3. “Sa’ar says West Bank Annexation still a goal, even if not implemented now” (Jerusalem Post)
  4. Biden must prevent Israel’s march toward annexation” (Responsible Statecraft)
  5. “David Friedman: We left the world a better place” (Arutz Sheva)
  6. In assertion of sovereignty, Palestinians launch postcodes in West Bank” (The Times of Israel)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

December 11, 2020

  1. Israel Expected to Advance Plan for Yeshiva at Entrance to Sheikh Jarrah
  2. Gantz Weighing Vote in Cabinet to Legalize 40+ Outposts
  3. MK Planning to Call Vote on Bill to Prevent Future Evacuation of Any/All Settlements & Outposts (De Facto Annexation West Bank)
  4. Annexation via Internet
  5. Annexation via Roads & Infrastructure
  6. Bahrain Backtracks On Annexation Recognition…As UAE Openly Embraces Settlers
  7. Bonus Reads

Israel Expected to Advance Plan for Yeshiva at Entrance to Sheikh Jarrah

Ir Amim reports that at the next meeting of the Jerusalem District Planning Committee the Committee, scheduled for December 16, is expected to advance a highly inflammatory plan to build a Jewish religious school (a yeshiva) and dormitory at the entrance of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The District Planning Committee was expected to grant approval to this plan in July 2020, but – based on data submitted by Ir Amim – unexpectedly ordered a new survey on the needs of the Sheikh Jarrah community. It is unclear at this time whether that survey has been completed, and if it has been completed, what the conclusions/findings were and if the Committee is now satisfied. The December 16th Committee meeting is closed to the public.

The plan to build the yeshiva and dormitory, which would house dozens of young religious settlers, as well as another project for a 6-story building in the same area, aims to strengthen Israeli settlers’ hold on the neighborhood. Once built, settlements will literally flank both sides of the road leading into Sheikh Jarrah, advancing the settlers’ goal of cementing the presence of the settlement enclaves inside of Sheikh Jarrah and connecting them more seamlessly to the neighborhood’s periphery and to West Jerusalem. 

Ir Amim writes:

“If approved, the construction of the yeshiva will significantly bolster the efforts of state-sponsored settler organizations to transform large portions of Sheikh Jarrah into a large Israeli settlement through evictions of Palestinians and settler takeovers of their homes. Over the past few months, the Israeli courts have upheld eviction demands against 12 Palestinian families, including the Sabbagh family, from the Kerem Al’ajoni section of Sheikh Jarrah, ruling on behalf of settler groups. Various appeals and legal proceedings have only temporarily halted the families forced removal from their homes.”

Just this week, FMEP hosted a webinar on Sheikh Jarrah and the impending dispossession of Palestinians from their longtime homes.

Gantz Weighing Vote in Cabinet to Legalize 40+ Outposts

The Jerusalem Post reports that Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue & White) is holding up – for unreported reasons – the Security Cabinet’s consideration of a draft decision to grant authorization to dozens of Isareli outposts across the West Bank. Gantz has not (yet) issued his approval for the draft text to be discussed and voted on at the Cabinet level, though he has allowed a senior Defense Minister, Michael Biton, to work with Settlement Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) on crafting that text over the past several weeks.

Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee on December 9th, Hanegbi said that a draft decision is “almost 100% complete,” and that he expects it to provide for the retroactive authorization of 40-45 outposts.  Hanegbi said he had hoped to craft a decision that could apply to 69 outposts, but his negotiations with Biton limited its scope. Last week, Biton and Gantz made it clear that the party would support granting authorization to outposts which were built on “state land,” but not outposts which have a more complicated land status, including private Palestinian ownership claims.

According to Peace Now, there are a total of 124 outposts in the West Bank. There is a new urgency around granting a sweeping government authorization to outposts as Israel anticipates a closing window of opportunity to do so with the looming exit of President Trump and his openly pro-settlement, pro-outpost, pro-annexation policy

The push to grant retroactive legalization to all of the outposts is nothing new, nor is the more limited goal of granting authorization to outposts that were built on land that has been declared by Israel to be state land – a status which the Israeli government regards as less complicated than cases where the outposts were built on land that have recognized ownership claims from Palestinians. In addition to the myriad problems with how Israel has used its authority as an occupier to declare land as “state land” and subsequently designates that land for the sole use of settlers, the fact remains that outposts built on that land were built illegally even under Israeli law (though in many cases with the tacit support or active encouragement of the government). For years, Israel has openly sought to find creative bureaucratic and legal means to grant retroactive “legal” status to as many outposts as possible. 

In 2012, a government-commissioned report – called the “Levy Report” (after its author, retired High Court Justice Edmund Levy) declared Israeli’s occupation of the West Bank to be legal and recommended that outposts built on state land can be easily authorized (legalized) through the planning process without a government decision (i.e., outside of  the influence of political or diplomatic considerations). The Israeli government, though it did not formally adopt the report, has nonetheless proceeded to implement its recommendation to grant retroactive legalization to many of these outposts. According to a 2019 Peace Now report – 15 outposts have since been legalized and 35 are in the process of being legalized between 2012 and 2019. At the same time, 32 new outposts have been established.

The outposts that, to this point, have not been legalized have spurred new legal thinking in Israel – like the Regulation Law and the “market regulation” principle – to find new bases by which to legalize the outposts under Israeli law (aka, to suspend the rule of law to deprive Palestinians of recognized land ownership and legalize illegal actions). 

MK Planning to Call Vote on Bill to Prevent Future Evacuation of Any/All Settlements & Outposts (De Facto Annexation West Bank)

MK Tzvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) announced that he intends to bring to a vote in the Knesset a bill that would amount to the de facto annexation of the West Bank. The bill aims at preventing the Israeli government from ever evacuating any settlements or outposts, and it does so by expanding the application of an existing Israeli law to include the West Bank. That law, passed in 2014, requires that any proposed withdrawal/evacuation of territory in Jerusalem or the Golan Heights be approved in a national referendum or receive a supermajority of 80 votes in the Knesset. The logic behind this effort is that even if political leaders some day were interested in negotiating a two-state agreement with the Palestinains, the law would make implementation of any agreement politically difficult if not impossible (a situation which would in effect tell the Palestinians, formally, that they have no hope of ever ending the occupation via negotiations).

The bill was submitted to the Knesset in August, and can be brought up for a vote by a member at any time.

Various versions of this same bill have been repeatedly introduced to the Knesset, but not yet called up for a vote. For details, see Yesh Din’s handy database of annexation legislation here. Explaining a 2017 version of the bill introduced by MK Yehuda Glick (then a Likud party member), Yesh Din wrote:

“The bill addresses the West Bank territory as part of the State of Israel, and seeks to equate the legal standing of sovereign Israel and territories not subject to Israeli sovereignty.”

Annexation via Internet

On December 8, Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (Derech Eretz Party) accompanied settler leaders on a tour of the Etzion settlement bloc region in the southern West Bank. Speaking to reporters, Hendel reiterated his promise to deliver modern communications infrastructure, including high speed internet and fiber optics, to settlers living in the area.

Perfectly explaining why this is part of Israel’s entrenchment of the settlements and de facto annexation of the West Bank, Shlomo Ne’em (head of the settler Gush Etzion Regional Council) said:

“Adding communications infrastructure in Gush Etzion is equivalent to de facto sovereignty. Until we bring full national sovereignty, the residents here can live on par with 21 century standards.”

Annexation via Roads & Infrastructure

Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Centre for Public Affairs this week issued a new report entitled “Highway to Annexation: Israeli Road and Infrastructure Development in the West Bank.” The report lays out how Israel has, for decades, been implementing de facto annexation of the West Bank not only through the growth of the settlements, but through the construction of roads, water, electricity, and other infrastructure in the West Bank which in turn allows for the growth of the settlements.

In addition to providing a history lesson on Israel’s construction of infrastructure in the West Bank from the earliest days of the occupation, the report provides analysis of ongoing and likely infrastructure projects that are a key part of the ongoing annexation-through-infrastructure reality. Those projects, which are designed solely with the interest of the settlements in mind (though the GOI says that Palestinians will be able to use them as well), include:

    1. Expanding Lateral Roads, including: Highway 55 (running from Israel to the Kedumim settlement), Highway 5/505 (running from Israel through the Ariel settlement and on to the Jordan Valley), Highway 456 (running between Ramallah and Salfit), Highway 367 (in the western Etzion bloc). As explained in the report, lateral roads in the West Bank serve two goals: connecting settlements to Israel proper and restricting the growth potential of Palestinian communities.
    2. Expanding and renovating roads in the Jerusalem Metropolis, including the following –
      1. To Jerusalem’s south: doubling the size of Highway 60 (the “Tunnels Road”) as an entrance to Jerusalem from the south;
      2. To Jerusalem’s east: extending the Eastern Ring Road (aka the “Apartheid Road”), building an underpasses for the Talpiot and French Hill settlements and an overpass for the Ramat Shlomo settlement – all of which will allow settlers to more directly (without hitting a single traffic light) enter Jerusalem.
      3. To Jerusalem’s north: tunneling under the Qalandiya checkpoint (for settlers only) and connecting that tunnel via a new sections of several highways in the area (Highway 45, Highway 443, Highway 935). This will allow settlers (only) to bypass the notoriously congested Hizma checkpoint.
      4. And, expanding the Jerusalem light rail to service East Jerusalem settlements.
    3. Building the “Sovereignty Road” near Ma’ale Adumim. This road would be for Palestinians, designed to divert Palestinian traffic around the Maale Adumim and E1 settlement areas in preperation for massive settlement growth. This road has emerged as the Israeli government’s defense for its plans to build the E-1 settlement, which critics say will sever the West Bank in two. Israel, via this road plan, argues that Palestinians will continue to have “transportational contiguity” despite losing territorial contiguity.

For a full reporting on all of the infrastructure projects being advanced by Israel in the West Bank, see the full report.

The authors write:

“ The ultimate vision of the road and transportation projects currently planned and underway in the West Bank involve entrenching the segregation between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. These infrastructure projects, of course, do not provide for “separate but equal” development but are rather guided primarily by the interests of the settler population and come at the expense of Palestinian development… West Bank road and transportation development creates facts on the ground that constitute a significant entrenchment of the de facto annexation already taking place in the West Bank and will enable massive settlement growth in the years to come. By strengthening Israel’s hold on West Bank territory, aiding settlement growth, and fragmenting Palestinian land, this infrastructure growth poses a significant barrier to ending the occupation and achieving an equitable and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.“

Bahrain Backtracks On Annexation Recognition…As UAE Openly Embraces Settlers

This week, Bahrain clarified that it will not import goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank or Golan Heights (making the question of how such products are labeled moot). The policy clarification reverses comments made by a Bahraini trade official late last week that seemed to offer Bahrain’s de facto recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the settlements, and follows significant backlash for those comments.

Taking a different approach, this week the UAE — which previously welcomed a high-profile visit by a settler delegation — doubled down on its approach of actively embracing commercial ties with settlements. On December 8th, the Jerusalem Post reported that the UAE-based FAM Holding company has signed a deal with a settlement vineyard – the first time such a deal has been made between a UAE business and the settlements. The deal provides for the UAE to import goods from the Tura Winery (in the Rehelim settlement), the Har Bracha Winery (in the Har Bracha settlement), and the Arnon Winery (near the Itamar settlement), as well as Paradise Honey. 

Yossi Dagan, the head of the settler Samaria Regional Council, called the deal “a national-strategic achievement for the State of Israel” saying it is a:

“significant part of a strategic process to strengthen Samaria — in the number of residents, in infrastructure and culture. We’re working hard, consistently, and in any location, to turn Samaria into an economic powerhouse — another glass ceiling shattered!”

Discussing/rationalizing the deal, the head of Dubai’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry adopted longstanding hasbara talking points that paint doing business with settlements as a way of helping the Palestinians. According to the Times of Israel, he: 

“noted that Israeli factories provide work for tens of thousands of Palestinians and said the hope is to assist the Palestinians economy rather than harm it.”

As a reminder, “benevolent occupation” is an old hasbara argument founded on the view that Palestinian should appreciate the opportunities settlements provide for employment, even as those same settlements and the occupation deny them dignity, human and civil rights, freedom of movement and access to their own lands, and self-determination –and in parallel, deny them any chance to develop a productive Palestinain economy that could provide them employment and economic opportunities. For a an examination of this old hasbara line, see: Sodastream, ScarJo, and the Myth of Benevolent Occupation

Along these same lines, Avi Zimmerman – leader of the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce & Industry” – is once again touting the fiction that the success of settlement businesses benefits Palestinians. According to the Times of Israel’s reporting, Zimmerman said that, “in the spirit of symmetry” he is working to:

“find opportunities for Palestinian businesses to benefit from the accords as well, in the short term through partnerships with Israeli businesses and in the long term through large-scale environmental and infrastructure projects that incorporate both populations.”

Again, as a reminder, economic “coexistence” initiatives like the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce & Industry” are, in fact, efforts to normalize, entrench, and reward Israeli settlements while perpetuating Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources). Labelling such initiatives as “coexistence” programs or suggesting that Palestinians should welcome the benefits of settlement economies is perverse.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israel’s Tony Soprano Policies in the West Bank“ (Haaretz // Michael Sfard)
  2. “Firing zones, Highway 10 to open to hikers on Hanukkah” (Jerusalem Post)
  3. Highways to Annexation: Across the West Bank, Israel Is Bulldozing a Bright Future for Jewish Settlers” (Haaretz)
  4. “Peace for Peace? Israel-Morocco Deal Is Occupation in Exchange for Occupation” (Haaretz)