Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
June 10, 2021
- Israeli AG Declines Involvement in Sheikh Jarrah Dispossession Cases, Clearing Way for Supreme Court Ruling
- Pending Silwan Dispossession Cases Continue
- Israeli Supreme Court Hears Landmark Case on West Bank Land Appropriation for Settlement
- Extremists “March of Flags” in Jerusalem Rescheduled for June 15th
- IDF Issues Evacuation Notice Against Outpost, Causing Political Stir
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?”
- “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
- Critical Updates from Silwan & Sheikh Jarrah
- Tender Published for Givat Hamatos Groundwork, Even as Petition is Pending
- Final Approval Given to Har Homa E Settlement
- Expansion of the Beit El Settlement Begins
- High Court Bans Settlers from Farming Palestinian Land…But Continues to Deny Palestinians Access
- Resources on Israel’s New Prime Minister Naftali Bennet
- New Report on Settler Violence Against Palestinians in Area B
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.”
- “Questions and Answers: Israel’s De Facto Annexation of Palestinian Territory” (Al-Haq)
- “An Israeli Winery Guide, With Undertones of Occupation” (Haaretz)
- “Irish parliament denounces Israeli West Bank policies as ‘de facto annexation’” (The Times of Israel)
- ”Mapping Israeli occupation” (Al Jazeera)
Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
May 7, 2021
- Protests Against Dispossession Continue in Sheikh Jarrah, as Israeli Court Delays Decision
- Israel Has Been Conducting a Secretive Land Registration Process in Sheikh Jarrah, Excluding Palestinians
- Har Homa E Settlement Plan Granted Approval, With Minor Conditions
- Knesset Attempts Fast-Track Vote on Two Key Bills: One to Authorize Outposts; Another to Cancel 2005 Disengagement
- Bibi Reportedly Dismisses U.S. Concerns Over Settlements
- Construction Begins on New “Legal” Settlement in Southern West Bank, Foreshadowing More to Come
- Following Deadly Drive-By-Shooting, Settlers Establish New Outpost & Terrorize Palestinians Near Nablus
- Al Haq Report on Palestinian Workers in Settlements & the Complicity of Multinational Corporations
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – email@example.com.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
- “This Checkpoint Revitalized the Palestinian City of Jenin. Why Has Israel Refused to Reopen It?” (Haaretz)
- “Settlers to sue B’Tselem for alleging they set Palestinian fields ablaze” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Palestinian fears rise as settlers visit synagogue ruins in Jericho” (Al-Monitor)
- “Jerusalem’s Jewish majority hits new low” (Arutz Sheva)
- “Israel Blew Up Their Houses in 1966. Now It Claims Their Village Never Existed” (Haaretz)
- “Over 180 Israeli Intellectuals, Scientists Warn ICC: Don’t Rely on Israel to Probe War Crimes” (Haaretz)
April 29, 2021
- Sheikh Jarrah Evictions Set for May 2nd; Protests & Diplomacy Ratchet Up
- Resources for Understanding Recent Protests and Violence in Jerusalem
- WZO Admits It Gave Palestinian Land to Settlers Without Written Agreements
- Jewish National Fund Delays Decision on Formalizing Policy on West Bank Land Purchases
- Ariel University Giving Academic Credit for Outpost Volunteers
- IDF Stops Settler Attempt to Establish Yeshiva on Site of Dismantled Homesh Settlement
- Settlers Celebrate Israeli Independence Day
- Settler-Run Chamber of Commerce Planning a Hotel in Hebron in Partnership with Palestinian Businessman Ahsraf Jabari
- Smotrich’s Party Files Bill for Outpost Legalization
- Roundup of Settler Violence This Week
- Human Rights Watch: Israel is Guilty of the Crime of Apartheid
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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.“
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.”
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.”
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)
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:
- “One system, one policy’: Why Human Rights Watch is charging Israel with apartheid” (+972 Magazine // Amjad Iraqi interviews Omar Shakir)
- “Say Israel is committing apartheid? It’s not a decision we reached lightly.” (The Forward // Eric Goldstein)
- “Israel Has No Place Left to Hide” (Medium // Sam Bahour)
- “B’Tselem on Human Rights Watch report: an urgent wake-up call” (B’Tselem press release)
- “US dismisses apartheid accusations against Israel” (Al Anadolu)
- “Even ‘apartheid’ doesn’t capture fullness of our Palestinian suffering. But it helps.” (The Forward // Mohammed Shehade)
- “We Can Keep Lying to Ourselves on ‘Apartheid,’ but Israel Has Crossed the Line” (Haaretz // Gideon Levy)
- “US Disagrees that Israel Carrying out ‘Apartheid’” (Ashraq Al-Awsat)
- “The Master Plan for Building in Jerusalem? Preserve a Jewish Majority” (Haaretz)
- “Foreign Ministry: Palestine waiting for a strong US position against settlements” (Jerusalem Post)
- “’Death to Arabs’: Palestinians Need International Protection From Israel’s Racist Jewish Thugs” (Haaretz)
- “Israeli Settlements Could Be Headed for Self-destruction, and It Has Nothing to With the Occupation” (Haaretz)
- “Israeli Settler Slapped a Palestinian Activist. A Jerusalem Court Slapped Her Back” (Haaretz)
- “’Like Spy Agencies’: Inside East Jerusalem’s Jewish Settlement” (Haaretz)
- “What Is Israel Planning, Expulsion by Bus or by Truck?” (Haaretz)
- “To Jaffa Arabs, Sales of ‘Absentee Ownership’ Properties Aim to Expel Them From the City” (Haaretz)
- “Israel Using Drones to Tear Gas Palestinian Demonstrators in West Bank” (Haaretz)
February 19, 2021
- Mass Dispossession in East Jerusalem: Israeli Courts Rule to Evict 11 Palestinian Families from Homes in Sheikh Jarrah & Batan al-Hawa
- Israel Close to Construction on Three Key Settler Bypass Roads
- JNF Leadership Approves Policy to Expand Settlements, But Defers Final Approval to Board
- Israeli Plan to Build West Bank Sewage/Power Plant Delayed Over Settlers’ Environmental Concerns
- Al Haq Requests “Immediate Intervention” by UN to Stop Settler Violence
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions? Email email@example.com
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”.
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.”
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.
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.“
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
- “Six Lies About Israel’s Wilde West Settlement Outpost” (Haaretz)
- “Palestinians Should Drag Architects of Settlements to the ICC” (Haaretz)
February 12, 2021
- ICC Confirms Jurisdiction Over (Israeli and Palestinian) War Crimes Committed in OPT
- ICC Investigation Expected to Take On Settlements, Potentially Exposing Untold Number of Israeli Government Officials to Criminal Liability
- Jewish National Fund to Start (Openly) Purchasing West Bank Land for Settlement Expansion
- Israel Rejects Development Plan for al-Walajah, Paving the Way for Further Demolitions
- Israel Demolishes Khirbet Humsa for Third Time this Month, Highlighting Discriminatory Enforcement in Jordan Valley as Path to Israeli Annexation
- Israeli Court Hears Appeal to Stop Mass Dispossession in Sheikh Jarrah
- Who Profits Report: “Infrastructures of Dispossession and Control Transport Development in East Jerusalem”
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”
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.
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?”
On February 9, the Jerusalem District Court held a hearing to consider an appeal submitted by four Palestinian families – including 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.”
- “Settlers stop Palestine TV documenting settlement activities in West Bank” (MEMO)
- “Concern rises over takeover of hundreds of dunums of West Bank village land as Israelis survey the area” (WAFA)
- “Sa’ar says West Bank Annexation still a goal, even if not implemented now” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Biden must prevent Israel’s march toward annexation” (Responsible Statecraft)
- “David Friedman: We left the world a better place” (Arutz Sheva)
- “In assertion of sovereignty, Palestinians launch postcodes in West Bank” (The Times of Israel)
December 11, 2020
- Israel Expected to Advance Plan for Yeshiva at Entrance to Sheikh Jarrah
- Gantz Weighing Vote in Cabinet to Legalize 40+ Outposts
- MK Planning to Call Vote on Bill to Prevent Future Evacuation of Any/All Settlements & Outposts (De Facto Annexation West Bank)
- Annexation via Internet
- Annexation via Roads & Infrastructure
- Bahrain Backtracks On Annexation Recognition…As UAE Openly Embraces Settlers
- Bonus Reads
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.
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.”
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.”
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:
- 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.
- Expanding and renovating roads in the Jerusalem Metropolis, including the following –
- To Jerusalem’s south: doubling the size of Highway 60 (the “Tunnels Road”) as an entrance to Jerusalem from the south;
- 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.
- 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.
- And, expanding the Jerusalem light rail to service East Jerusalem settlements.
- 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.“
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.
- “Israel’s Tony Soprano Policies in the West Bank“ (Haaretz // Michael Sfard)
- “Firing zones, Highway 10 to open to hikers on Hanukkah” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Highways to Annexation: Across the West Bank, Israel Is Bulldozing a Bright Future for Jewish Settlers” (Haaretz)
- “Peace for Peace? Israel-Morocco Deal Is Occupation in Exchange for Occupation” (Haaretz)
November 20, 2020
- Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 1: Historic Shifts in US Settlements Policy
- Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 2: Full Steam Ahead on Givat Hamatos Settlement
- Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 3: Israel Expected to Advance Har Homa E Settlement Plan
- Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 4: Israel Set to Start Process of Land Registration in East Jerusalem
- Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 5: Settlers Push to Re-Establish Abandoned Settlements in Northern West Bank
- Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 6: Bibi Seeks U.S. OK for More Settlement Projects, Settlers Push for Outpost Authorization
- Israeli Education Minister Celebrates New Settlement Yeshiva
- IDF Pays for Use of Yeshiva After Settlers Destroy Army Base
- Impending Sheikh Jarrah Evictions
- Bonus Reads
Questions/Comments? Email Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com).
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Israel on November 19th for a two-day visit in which he made history with respect to U.S. support for settlements, delivering a series of extraordinary (though entirely predictable) victories to Israeli settlements and Israel’s Greater Israel pro-annexation movement.
Second, Pompeo became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit a West Bank Israeli settlement, in a visit publicly framed as establishing the legitimacy of settlements. Pompeo’s visit to the Psagot Winery – located near Ramallah – flouted international law and international consensus, which views Israel’s settlement enterprise as illegal [for a deep dive in the history of the Psagot settlement and the significance of Pompeo’s visit – check out this FMEP podcast with Dror Etkes, Fadi Quran, and Lara Friedman].
Third, in conjunction with his visit to the Psagot Winery settlement, 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 is a massive and highly consequential shift in U.S. policy that 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. The announcement was urged on by a group of four Republican Senators ahead of Pompeo’s trip. The policy, which if focused on territory, not people, would 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.
Laying out the new policy, the State Department issued a statement saying:
“Today, the Department of State is initiating new guidelines to ensure that country of origin markings for Israeli and Palestinian goods are consistent with our reality-based foreign policy approach. In accordance with this announcement, all producers within areas where Israel exercises the relevant authorities – most notably Area C under the Oslo Accords - will be required to mark goods as ’Israel’, ’Product of Israel’, or ‘Made in Israel’ when exporting to the United States. This approach recognizes that Area C producers operate within the economic and administrative framework of Israel and their goods should be treated accordingly. This update will also eliminate confusion by recognizing that producers in other parts of the West Bank are for all practical purposes administratively separate and that their goods should be marked accordingly.”
Pompeo made this announcement following his visit to the Psagot winery – which not only named a vintage after Pompeo but has also been at the center of Israel’s global effort to push nations to treat Israeli settlements as indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory, with the winery involved in international legal battles over how Israeli businesses located in the settlements are required to label their products. U.S. labelling requirements will now stand at odds with European policy on the matter, which requires differentiation between products made in Israel and products made in settlements.
As part of the major change in U.S. labelling policy, Pompeo also changed how Palestinian-made products (produced in Areas A & B, and in the Gaza Strip) must be labelled, replacing the “West Bank/Gaza” label with separate “West Bank” and “Gaza” labels – another symbolic move laced with antagonism towards Palestinian rights and national aspirations. The change also contradicts the Oslo Accords, under which the Gaza Strip and West Bank are to be treated as a single territorial entity. The U.S. State Department statement on the labelling policy reads:
“We will no longer accept ’West Bank/Gaza’ or similar markings, in recognition that Gaza and the West Bank are politically and administratively separate and should be treated accordingly.”
Fourth, in a press conference alongside PM Netanyahy, Pompeo announced that the U.S. holds the “global BDS campaign” to be anti-Semitic, and said that the U.S. will “immediately take steps to identify the organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support from such groups.” Pompeo called BDS a “cancer.” This is particularly relevant to settlement and annexation watchers because the new U.S. designation makes no distinction between boycotts aimed at Israel and boycotts limited to Israeli settlements – yet another legal step towards offering official U.S. recognition of Israel’s annexation of the settlements. It had previously been reported that the U.S. State Department were preparing to label Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and Amnesty International as anti-Semitic organizations, based on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
Fifth, under the protection of a large Israeli security escort, Pompeo visited the Elad settler organization’s archeological projects in the City of David, an Israeli national park which was declared on top of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, located right outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Under Elad’s direction, and with the support of the Israeli government and the Trump Administration, archeology is being weaponized to erase the historic memory and the modern presence of Palestinians, while emphasizing the Jewish heritage at that site. At the same time, settler organizations including Elad and Ateret Cohanim are battling to implement the mass eviction of Paelstinians from their longtime homes in Silwan.
Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – a group of expert archaeologists – previously explained:
“The use of archaeology by Israel and the settlers as a political tool is a part of a strategy to shape the historic city and unilaterally entrench Israeli sovereignty over ancient Jerusalem. It is a process which is likely to produce devastating results for both Israel and the Palestinians. It is inexcusable to ignore the Palestinian residents of Silwan, carrying out extensive excavations of an underground city and to use such excavations as part of an effort to tell a historic story that is exclusively Jewish in a 4,000 year-old city with a rich and diverse cultural and religious past.”
And in a piece entitled “Israel Is Using Archeology To Erase Non-Jewish History,” Emek Shaveh further explained:
“The exploitation of archaeology in Jerusalem has been spearheaded by the Elad Foundation, a group of settlers turned archaeology entrepreneurs, who are using ancient sites to take over land and shape the historical narrative. Elad, which emerged 30 years ago with a mission to settle Jews in Palestinian homes in the neighborhood of Silwan, manages the popular archaeological park, the City of David. Visitors to the site are treated to a heavily biblical narrative where discoveries that resonate with the story of King David or the Kingdom of Judea are highlighted. The fact the archaeologists dispute the evidence of a kingdom in the 10th century BCE often goes unmentioned. Furthermore, not many of the half a million people who visit the park annually know about life in the Palestinian neighborhood since Elad arrived on the scene. They will probably never hear about how Elad took over 75 homes in the neighborhood, or closed off virtually the last of the public areas used by the residents and annexed it to the archaeological park. With an annual budget of approximately 100 million shekels, the Elad Foundation now commands several excavation projects in the City of David, including tunnels along an ancient Roman street, which it is marketing as a Second Temple era pilgrims’ route to the Temple. It has recently branched out to establish new projects within the Old City and in other areas throughout the Historic Basin. But Elad couldn’t have done it on their own. If at first they were greeted with mistrust by the authorities in the 1990s, today they have an open door to many government agencies and ministries. From the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is in charge of most of the excavations at the City of David, and the Nature and Parks Authority, which subcontracted Elad to run the site, to the minister of tourism, who is aggressively advancing a cable car to link West Jerusalem to the City of David, to the mayor of Jerusalem, the government and all the relevant agencies are committed to the project of shaping a large tourist zone dedicated to the First and Second Temple periods.”
On November 15th, the Israel Land Authority published the long-feared/long-awaited (depending who you are) tender for the construction of the Givat Hamatos settlement in East Jerusalem. The tenders provide for the construction of 1,257 settlement units, which is about 200 units more than expected. The tender is set to close for bids on January 18, 2021 – exactly two days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. In a carefully worded statement to the press, Netanyahu acknowledged that the publication of the Givat Hamatos tender had been coordinated with the Trump Administration (but not the Biden transition team).
Terrestrial Jerusalem writes:
“The decision to proceed with the construction of Givat Hamatos is the most defiant and inflammatory settlement move in recent memory, and should be treated as such. The construction of Givat Hamatos will create a buffer, contributing to an effective seal between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In addition, Givat Hamatos will, for the first time, completely surround an East Jerusalem neighborhood, Beit Safafa, with Israel construction, making the implementation of the Clinton parameters in East Jerusalem impossible. Givat Hamatos will have a devastating impact on the very possibility of a future two-state outcome.”
Ir Amim writes:
“The opening of the tender significantly decreases the potentiality to effectively block Israeli building in the area. Concerted opposition and pressure to freeze the tender is therefore vital in this limited window of time. If carried through, Givat Hamatos would become the first new settlement in East Jerusalem in 20 years. Located in a particularly strategic area, Givat Hamatos (along with Har Homa E and E1) has constituted a longstanding international red line due its impact on the prospects of a viable two-state framework with two capitals in Jerusalem. By creating a contiguous Israeli built-up area between the existing settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, construction in Givat Hamatos will serve to seal off the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern part of the West Bank, while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. The next two months in lead-up to the change in the US Presidential Administration will be a critical period. We believe that Israel will attempt to exploit this time to advance moves that the incoming administration will potentially oppose. It is crucial that the international community remain vigilant.”
Peace Now writes:
“Construction in Givat Hamatos will severely hamper the prospect of a two-state solution because it will ultimately block the possibility of territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem–the main Palestinian metropolitan area–and will prevent Palestinian Beit Safafa from connecting with a future Palestinian state…The meaning of the publication of the Tender Booklet is that now the tender is open for bids and contractors may submit their proposals to win the right to build the units in Givat Hamatos. The final day for submitting the proposals is January 18th, 2021, three days before the change in the US administration…This is a major blow to the prospects for peace and the possibility of a two-state solution. This Netanyahu-Gantz government was established to fight the coronavirus but instead it is taking advantage of the final weeks of the Trump administration in order to set facts on the ground that will be exceedingly hard to undo in order to achieve peace. This tender can still be stopped. We hope that those in this government who still have some sense of responsibility for our future will do what they can to cancel the tender before bids are submitted.”
“Israel is trying to benefit from the unlimited support of the current U.S. administration, which has provided it with all possible support for the sake of settlement expansion and the takeover of more Palestinian lands.”
PA Prime Minister Muhammed Shtayyeh said in a statement:
“There appears to be an escalating and intensive assault plan for the next 10 weeks in a race against time to create a new fait accompli before Donald Trump leaves the White House on January 21. We look with concern at the frequent reports about new colonial settlement projects in Arab Jerusalem and the West Bank, which aim to encircle and stifle the Palestinian Arab neighborhoods and prevent interaction between them and the rest of the West Bank and to completely isolate the city of Jerusalem.”
International reaction to Israel’s decision to publish the tender for the construction of the Givat Hamatos settlement — long treated as a red line by the international community — was predictably tempered. Several foreign governments issued statements of “concern,” including Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, the UK, Russia, and Italy, in addition to statements from UN Envoy Nikolay Mladenov and European Union High Commissioner Josep Borrell. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution – by an overwhelming majority — calling on all governments to refrain from treating Israel’s settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem as part of sovereign Israeli territory. B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad urged European governments to move from words to action.
Meanwhile, a delegation of European Union representatives received a hostile greeting from right-wing settlement supporters organized by hardline Israeli NGO Im Tirzu when the delegation attempted to visit the site of the future Givat Hamatos settlement on November 16th. The diplomats’ caravan was actually chased off by the right-wing protestors, which included Jerusalem city councilman and settlement empresario Ariyehh King, who shouted “Go home, anti-Semites!” at the visiting EU diplomats.
Though many settlers celebrated the publication of the Givat Hamatos tender, settlers who are currently living in the area of Givat Hamatos remain skeptical that the government will actually follow through. It’s worth noting that the government has provided mobile homes to about 30 families who live in the Givate Hamatos hillside as squatters, having waited 30 years since the Givat Hamatos plan was given final approval for construction to happen. Wall-to-wall international opposition to the settlement plan deterred the Israeli government from publishing them.
MK Miki Zohar (Likud) celebrated the new tender in a tweet saying:
“Now we can talk about it. Before the last elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised me that he would publicize the building tender in Jerusalem’s Givat Hamatos; this neighborhood is in a strategic location between Beit Safafa and Hebron road. It important to build there in order to maintain a Jewish land continuum … We have a one-time opportunity these days to strengthen our hold in the land of Israel. I am sure that our friend, President [Donald] Trump, and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be wise enough to take full advantage of this opportunity.”
As anticipated in last week’s Settlement Report, the Israeli government has decided to press forward with a highly controversial and consequential plan to expand the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa westward, toward the site of the future Givat Hamatos settlement (discussed above). Ir Amim reports that on November 23rd, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee is scheduled to take up the plan for 570 new units – called Har Homa E – for the second time this year, and is expected to approve the plan for deposit for public review, one of the final steps before implementation.
Ir Amim warns:
“The rapid advancement of this plan is indicative of the Israeli government’s intent to accelerate as many settlement construction projects as possible in East Jerusalem and its vicinity in the waning days of the Trump administration.”
The construction in Har Homa E will solidify a continuum of Israeli settlement construction within the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem – from Har Homa, to Givat Hamatos, to Gilo – detaching East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and completing the encirclement of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa.
The plan for Har Homa E was last discussed in September 2020, when the District Planning Committee signaled its support for approving the plan for deposit, but requested several amendments prior granting that approval. With the modifications made, the expectation is that the committee will now give its formal approval, setting off a period of 60 days during which the public can submit objections to the plan.
The plan for 570 units currently set for approval represents the first detailed plan under a much larger Master Plan for Har Homa E, which involves a total of 2,200 units. Plans to build the remaining units permitted under the Master Plan are not yet being advanced.
Ir Amim writes:
“Construction in Har Homa E will serve as another step in connecting the existing Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods/settlements and create a contiguous Israeli built-up area along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem. This will likewise detach Bethlehem and the southern West Bank from East Jerusalem while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. In line with the new reality created by the Trump Plan and its unilateral recognition of Israeli sovereignty of East Jerusalem, these developments will constitute a major obstacle towards the future establishment of a Palestinian capital in the city and the prospect of a viable two-state framework.”
Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 4: Israel Set to Start Process of Land Registration in East Jerusalem
In an interview celebrating the publication of a tender for Givat Hamatos settlement project, Jerusalem Affairs & Heritage Minister Rafi Peretz connected the project to a larger Israeli effort to begin registering all East Jerusalem land in Israeli records, an effort which Peretz is spearheading. Al-Monitor reports that, as part of the Givat Hamatos project, the Israeli Finance and Justice Ministry’s acted swiftly to approve a budget, remove legal impediments, and finalize “financial compensation packages with the Palestinian land-owners” so that the land can be properly registered in Israeli government books.
“The fact that almost all of the land in the eastern part of Jerusalem is not registered properly is something that should have been addressed a long time ago already. The plans that I have developed for registering land plots and properties have now been adopted by the various government ministries concerned, and once they are implemented, they will go a long way to improving the situation for the residents of these areas. A united Jerusalem is not a slogan – it’s a vision, and one that needs to apply to the eastern part of the city just as it applies to the west.”
The Israel-run process of registering ownership of land in East Jerusalem land will have far-reaching consequences for Palestinians, who have not had a formal legal avenue for registering land ownership with the Israeli government since East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967. Palestinians who wanted/needed to prove their land ownership were forced to rely on the “mukhtar protocol” — a procedure in which Palestinians in East Jerusalemites document/prove ownership by collecting signatures from local Palestinian leaders acknowledging that the land in question does, indeed, belong to them. This policy was developed by the Israeli government as an alternative to the formal land-registration process, which was frozen in East Jerusalem since 1967.
In 2019, a mini-saga over the “mukhtar protocol” revealed the uphill battle facing Palestinians if formal registration proceeds. In March 2019, the Jerusalem Planning & Building Committee, at the urging of the Regavim settler group (acting with the clear goal of preventing Palestinian development and undermining Palestinian land ownership claims to land in the city), annulled the mukhtar protocol as a legally acceptable basis for establishing land ownership in the eyes of the Israeli government, putting Palestinian land ownership in East Jerusalem in limbo. The result: having no recognized means to prove their land ownership, Palestinians were prevented from building in East Jerusalem. One month later, the Israeli authorities reversed the decision and again recognized the mukhtar protocol, reportedly following appeals to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon by a city council member.
This news about starting the land registration process in East Jerusalem comes only a few weeks after Israel was reported to be advancing plans to begin a process of land registration for Area C of the West Bank — a process that opens another door for Israel to seize more Palestinian land. The registration process in East Jerusalem is expected to have similar results.
Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 5: Settlers Push to Re-Establish Abandoned Settlements in Northern West Bank
A group of 100 settlers, including children, invaded and set up camp at the abandoned site of the Sa-Nur settlement in the northern West Bank in an attempt to pressure the government to allow them to re-establish the settlement, which the state dismantled as part its 2005 disengagement from Gaza. After the Israeli army arrived at the site to evict the trespassers, MK Miki Zohar (Likud) persuaded the settlers to abandon their illegal campsite and leave the area, with the promise of raising the issue of Sa-Nur’s re establishment directly with Netanyahu.
MK Zohar is a staunch supporter of reestablishing Sa-Nur, along with three other settlements in the area that were likewise dismantled by the Israeli government in 2005 (Homesh, Ganim, and Kadim). Zohar has participated in previous visits to the site to support the settlers’ bid, frequently accompanied by his Likud colleagues, including former Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein. In July 2018, the Israeli Cabinet had the opportunity to lend government backing to a bill that would have cancelled the 2005 disengagement and allowed the settlers to rebuild those settlements – but the Cabinet blocked the bill. The settlers and their allies are no doubt raising this issue now, at a time when it seems like the wildest wishes of the settler enterprise are being fulfilled one after another.
As a reminder, even though Israel evacuated the four settlements in the West Bank, the IDF issued military orders barring Palestinians from entering the areas, preventing Palestinians from taking control over the area and building there. At the same time, settlers have regularly entered the areas and even repeatedly built a yeshiva at the Homesh site.
Final Days of Trump Admin, Part 6: Bibi Seeks U.S. OK for More Settlement Projects, Settlers Push for Outpost Authorization
In addition to the extraordinary settlement plans unleashed over the past two weeks, Israeli media reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu is seeking the blessing of the Trump Administration to push forward additional East Jerusalem settlement projects in the immediate future. Israel’s Kan News Radio reported that Netanyahu planned to raise the settlement projects with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his trip to Israel this week. With developments related to Givat Hamatos and Har Homa E making the news this week, we can speculate that Netanyahu might be asking specifically about the Atarot settlement plan (northern tip of Jerusalem) and/or the E-1 settlement plan (just east of Jerusalem) – as FMEP laid out last week.
Another possibility is, of course, outpost legalizations. Settlers and their allies in the Israeli government are continuing their campaign to pressure Netanyahu to grant retroactive authorization to all of Israel’s outposts and illegal settler construction across the West Bank before Trump leaves office. Since FMEP’s last reporting two weeks ago, the Israel Land Caucus has begun collecting signatures on a petition calling on Netanyahu to act immediately on this matter. According to the Times of Israel the petition states that the Knesset committee, which includes senior members of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, is “united in the position that the regulation of young settlements must be done now…it is not fair, reasonable or responsible to leave the settlements without status and the tens of thousands of their residents deprived of their rights.”
Just this week Defense Ministry legal advisor Moshe Frucht stated that a government declaration authorizing the outposts is required prior to any actions that treat the outposts as legal communities – specifically rebuffing the request by settlers for the Defense Ministry to connect unauthorized outposts to Israeli state utilities. Frucht’s statement, combined with Netanyahu’s lack of action, enraged MK Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) who sharply scolded Netanyahu’s top settlements advisor in a Knesset hearing this week.
Israeli Minister of Education Yoav Galant (Likud) attended the opening of a new religious school (yeshiva) in the Bruchin settlement, located in a finger of continuous settlements that extends from the 1967 Green Line to the Ariel settlement in the very center of the northern West Bank.
Making it clear that opening yeshivas is part of Israel’s entrenchment and expansion of settlements across the West Bank, Galant said at the event:
“I am delighted to be here in order to celebrate the inauguration of this new building for a yeshiva high school in Bruchin, together with my good friend Yossi Dagan, who has done so much to develop Jewish settlement in the Samaria region and specifically to advance the educational network here. This new building will serve all the students of the local communities and neighborhoods that have been established in the area in the last few years. I am deeply committed to promoting Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. As Education Minister, I will continue to do all I can to further settlement here, just as I did when I was Housing & Construction Minister – and, indeed, as I have done throughout my life. It’s time that we settled the entire Land, from the Jordan River to the sea. I hope that the students who come to learn here will be able to commence their studies this winter.”
The Times of Israel reports that Israel has agreed to pay the operators of a violent yeshiva associated with the Yitzhar settlement a sum of $118,750 (400,000 NIS) to cover the cost of the building’s use by security forces over the past six years.
In 2014, a mob of violent settlers stormed an army base near the Yitzhar settlement, leaving several officers wounded and destroying all military equipment at the site. After the attack, the IDF seized the yeshiva to use as a temporary base (since theirs was destroyed). It has continued to use the yeshiva since that time, and will now pay the settlers for the inconvenience.
Earlier this month, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s court notified four Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah that they must vacate their longtime homes by November 24th, or else be forcibly evicted. One of those families is the Sabbagh family, whose legal struggle against Israeli settler groups has previously caught international attention and sparked weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah to stop their eviction.
The Sabbagh family has lived in their home for over 64 years, and have been battling the settler organization Nahalat Shimon for their right to remain in their home. Nahalat Shimon was awarded ownership rights of the Sabbagh’s house through the use of the “Legal and Administration Matters Law,” which allows Israeli Jews (but not Palestinians) to reclaim property lost/abandoned during the 1948 war. Nahalat Shimon managed to find the Jewish Israeli family who owned the home prior to the 1948 War and convinced that family to hand over their ownership rights.
“I know that the Israeli court will not do justice to me. They will not be on my side against Israeli settlers. But I will fight until the very end to protect my home where I grew up, the only safe haven for me and my family.”
Sami Ershid, the family’s lawyer, told Middle East Eye:
“For years, these [families] wake up thinking what the court will rule against them. They live a life completely devoid of stability, thinking when they will be forcibly expelled from their homes. The [Israeli] goal is clear: to create a new settler neighbourhood on the rubble of their homes.”
Just Vision – who shared one Sheikh Jarrah family’s story in the docuseries “My Neighborhood,” said in an 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.”
- “Occupied Thoughts: “Pompeo in Psagot” ft. Fadi Quran, Dror Etkes, & Lara Friedman” (FMEP)
- “Israel Impounds Palestinian’s Cows Grazing on Nature Reserve, Ignores Settlers’ Cows” (Haaretz)
- “Israeli settlers in the West Bank confront the Biden reality and dig in for a fight” (Washington Post)
July 24, 2020
- Annexation Watch: Gantz Pushes for Status Quo, Bibi Hints at New Elections
- 2020 is on Track to Be Record Year for East Jerusalem Settlement Growth
- A Bump in the Road for Plans to for Settler Yeshiva in Sheikh Jarrah
- IDF Demolishes Outpost (After it was Relocated Near to Israeli Army Base)
- Israel Starts Construction to Expand the Ibei Hanachal Outpost
- Israeli Plans for Wadi Al-Joz in East Jerusalem, Including the “Silicon Wadi” Project, Expected to Advance
- Israel “Recovers” Religious Relic from Palestinian Village
- Greenblatt: Trump Plan has 60-80 Pages of Conditions on/for a Future Palestinian “State”
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Three weeks after July 1 – the date when it officially became open season for Israel to annex West Bank land – there has still been no movement toward a formal act of annexation by the Israeli government (though de facto annexation continues unabated). This week, two reports further churned up the “will it happen/won’t it happen” speculation machine.
First, a July 19th report suggests that Benny Gantz, Israel’s Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister, is pushing Netanyahu to delay annexation plans in order to focus all of the government’s efforts on combating the resurgence of the coronavirus across the country. The report further suggests Gantz is appealing for the government to focus on expanding existing settlements and building infrastructure that serves settlers (and theoretically Palestinians as well, though such projects serve to entrench the presence of settlers) — in effect, setting aside de jure annexation to pursue de facto annexation more energetically.
Second, reports on July 22nd circulated the rumor that Netanyahu intends to go to elections in November – a move which would collapse any cooperation with Gantz and potentially could hinder Netanyahu’s ability to advance annexation. On the other hand, such a move could also free Netanyahu from the constraints of the unity deal, as well as from the U.S. (alleged) condition that Gantz must consent to Netanyahu’s annexation plan before receiving a U.S. greenlight. Netanyahu denied this report later in the week.
Ir Amim published a review and analysis of official settlement data from the first six months of 2020, showing that a total of 3,514 settlement units were advanced for settlements in East Jerusalem. If this pace continues, Ir Amim reports that 2020 will set a new record for East Jerusalem settlement activity (the current record is held by 2012, the year Palestine was recognized as a non-member state by the United Nations General Assembly and Israel retaliated by accelerating its de facto annexation of Palestinian land via settlement growth, including in East Jerusalem).
Notably, the plans advanced so far this year include many of the most controversial settlements on the drawing board – like Givat Hamatos, E-1, and new enclaves within Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods like Beit Hanina.
In Amim writes:
“The scope and significance of the plans that were advanced in the last six months shows Israel’s determination to consolidate its control – both in terms of demography and territory – over the whole of East Jerusalem and further into Greater Jerusalem. This is seen especially as settlement construction increases in the areas connecting East Jerusalem and Greater Jerusalem (ex: Har Homa E and Givat Hamatos) and the creation of massive facts on the ground such as in the case of the E-1 plans. Thus, Israel is laying the groundwork for the official annexation of Greater Jerusalem. In parallel, these facts on the ground serve to entrench the detachment of East Jerusalem from the West Bank and further fracture the Palestinian space in and around Jerusalem. Combined, these steps threaten to deal a death blow to Palestinian aspirations in Jerusalem, the possibility for two capitals in the city, and a two-state solution…[the number of settlement advancements] signal a leap in settlement advancement in East Jerusalem, both in terms of quantity of housing units as well as in the advancement of new settlements in the most sensitive areas where, for years, Israel had to refrain from doing so due to international pressure.”
See the paper for details on the plans advanced so far in 2020. The paper concludes with this brief recap of 2020 settlement activity:
- A tender for construction of 1,077 housing units in the new settlement Givat Hamatos was published.
- Master plans for adding 6,100 housing units in new settlements of Har Homa E and Givat Hamatos. For 500 of these housing units, a detailed outline plan was also advanced at the District Committee.
- Two detailed outline plans with a total of 144 housing units in two settlement compounds in the Palestinian neighborhood Beit Hanina were approved for deposit as well as a dormitory for dozens of Yeshiva students in Sheikh Jarrah.
- Nine detailed outline plans were advanced with a total of 2,870 housing units inside the built-up area of East Jerusalem settlements.
Ir Amim reports that on July 21st, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee unexpectedly delayed making a final decision on settler plans for a new Jewish religious school (yeshiva) and dormitory – named the Glassman Campus project – at the entrance of the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, located in East Jerusalem. The Committee was expected to make a final decision on the plan at this meeting, but instead ordered a new report assessing the needs of the neighborhood, to be prepared within 60 days. The Court’s order comes after groups, including Ir Amim, submitted objections to the plan that detaied the classroom shortage in Palestinian neighborhoods, due in part to the lack of available land to build on.
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, aim 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 by connecting them more seamlessly to the neighborhood’s periphery and to West Jerusalem.
Ir Amim writes:
“This unexpected decision is of great importance. It creates a significant obstacle to the approval of the Yeshiva plan and requires the Municipality to describe in detail the needs of the Palestinian neighborhood. Also, the decision is a clear expression of the fact that settlements in East Jerusalem come directly at the expense of the basic needs of Palestinians in the city.”
Located just north of Jerusalem’s Old City, Sheikh Jarrah has endured years of aggressive settlement activity by radical settlers via various means, including using Israel’s court system to strip Palestinians of their ownership rights. Sheikh Jarrah’s plight was featured in a 2013 film by Just Vision, “My Neighborhood.” Just Vision also produced “Home Front,” a series of video interviews with the Palestinian residents and Israeli activists fighting together against settlement expansion in Sheikh Jarrah. For more on Sheikh Jarrah and the protest it sparked, 972+ Magazine has a compilation of resources online here.
Following media reports about the IDF’s complicity in establishing an illegal outpost on privately owned Palestinian land near Nablus (FMEP reported on this last week), on July 19th the settlers relocated their outpost to an area declared by Israel to be “state land” next to an Israeli army base. While Israeli security forces had spent weeks tolerating and even assisting in the establishment of the new outpost when it was located on Palestinian land, after it was moved to the new site near the IDF base , the IDF moved to promptly demolish it on July 21st.
The settler who is behind this new outpost, Yedidya Meshulami, is well known for his eccentric, illegal, and dangerous (and, if committed by a Palestinian, undoubtedly arrest-worthy) acts. In 2019, Meshulami nearly flew his helicopter into an IDF transport plane conducting a training exercise in the Jordan Valley (he was charged with several crimes involved with illegally flying his helicopter and endangering lives in West Bank airspace, which is controlled by the Israeli military). A former IDF reserve pilot, in March 2018 Meshulami attempted to take control of the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah by landing his helicopter nearby, declaring “I don’t care what they do to me, I’ll take it [the checkpoint] over.” Following his arrest and release to house arrest, the IDF confiscated two helicopters and an ultralight plane from Meshulami’s personal airstrip, which he built illegally in an outpost near the Itamar settlement, south of Nablus.
Meshulami lives in an unauthorized outpost called “Alumot” near the settlement of Itamar, south of Nablus. Meshulami helped establish the outpost in 1996 after serving in the Israeli Air Force and, despite lacking permits, he personally built an airstrip in the outpost in 2013. According to reports this week, Israeli security forces had previously revoked Meshulami’s pilot license for flying over the West Bank without a permit.
Middle East Eye reports that Israel – in the midst of fighting a surge of coronavirus cases, deciding on annexation, and possibly heading to elections again this fall – has begun clearing land for the expansion of the Ibei Hanachal outpost, located between Hebron and Bethlehem in the southern West Bank. Palestinian leaders from the village of Kasin, to which the land the outpost is built on historically belonged, told reporters that settlers have already moved caravans into the newly razed land and that new electricity poles have been recently installed.
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 not contiguous with the built up area of the settlement, as is the case with Ibei Hanachal – is one of the legal mechanisms that Israel has found to retroactively “legalize” illegal outposts – that in effect creates new settlements.
Israeli Plans for Wadi Al-Joz in East Jerusalem, Including the “Silicon Wadi” Project, Expected to Advance
In a new paper, Bimkom provides details on the status of two major projects Israel is advancing for the Wadi Al-Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem..
The “Silicon Wadi” project – which made it into Israeli headlines a few weeks ago – is at a “conceptual phase” at this point, with little official data available. But it is known that the plan is being advanced as a Master Plan, a planning avenue that does not permit the public to offer objections. Master Plans also do not require the government to specify an exact number of units to be built, leaving open the possibility of further construction. This project is located in the northern section of Wadi al-Joz.
The second project being advanced in Wadi al-Joz is referred to as the “Eastern Business District,” to be located near the Old City walls. This project is in a much more advanced stage of the planning process, and Bimkom expects it to be deposited for public review in the near future. This project is in the heart of the Palestinian city center, and calls for awarding 80% of all planning rights in the area for commercial, tourism, and business development. The plan also grants legalization to unauthorized structures in the area, but does not allow for further residential development. On this, Bimkom explains:
“This ratio of mixed use is problematic because it does not address the housing crisis in Palestinian East Jerusalem, and moreover, it does not address the basic interest of citycenter planning: the creation of a balanced mixed-use environment, in which housing development is generally considered as an important stimulus for development. In other parts of the Jerusalem today, along the route of the light rail, a 50-50 ratio is the accepted policy.”
Explaining the significance of the two plans in context of Israel’s settlement activities across the city, Bimkom writes:
“The abovementioned plans, alongside other large scale plans currently under consideration for East Jerusalem (such as the plan for development alongside the American Road, see here), demonstrate the current Israeli Planning Policy in East Jerusalem: public uses are being addressed — and huge areas are being allotted for commerce and business — while residential needs are being left unanswered (if they are addressed they are generally unimplementable).”
In a covert pre-dawn operation on July 20th, the Israeli Civil Administration entered the Palestinian village of Tuqu’ and took a Byzantine-era baptismal font. The font was allegedly stolen by antiquity thieves in the year 2000 from an archeological site next to the Tekoa settlement (which was built on lands historically a part of Tuqu’), and retrieved in 2002 by Palestinian residents of Tuqu’. The font has been on open display next to the village Mayor’s home for the past 18 years, with Israel taking no interest in the matter until now.
Emek Shaveh explains important context of the Civil Administration’s sudden interest in the font:
“This operation follows on the heels of increased complaints by the settlers that the Civil Administration is not doing enough to prevent what they claim is systematic and ideologically driven antiquities theft. The settlers have been claiming that traces of a Jewish past in the area are being destroyed and that all antiquities sites should be placed under Israeli control. Emek Shaveh and the Mayor of Tuqu’ have written to the Civil Administration with a demand to return the antiquity to the village and its residents. The Civil Administration is responsible for the protecting the interests and welfare of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and is not meant to act as an agent on behalf of the settlers who believe they should be the sole custodians of the areas’ antiquities.”
Adding to settler efforts described by Emek Shaveh, a new settler group calling itself “Shomrim Al Hanetzach” (“Guarding Eternity”) recently began surveying areas in the West Bank that Israel has designated as archeaological sites in order to call in Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction in these areas. The new group communicates its findings to the Archaeology Unit in the Israeli Civil Administration (the military body by which the government of Israel regulates all planning and building in the West Bank). The Archaeology Unit, playing its part, then delivers eviction and demolition orders against Palestinians, claiming that the structures damage antiquities in the area. As a reminder, in 2017, Israel declared 1,000 new archaeological sites in Area C of the West Bank. The new group is, not coincidentally, an offshoot of the radical Regavim organization, which among other things works to push Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction that lacks Israeli permits (permits that Israel virtually never grants).
The new group has also raised public alarm about the Trump Plan, alleging that hundreds of biblical sites in the West Bank are slated to become Palestinian territory. The group’s leaders accuse the Palestinian Authority of mismanaging the sites and they accuse Palestinians of looting them. The group is demanding that Israel annex all the sites.
In response to the theft of the font from Tuqu’, PLO Spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi released a statement saying:
“A hallmark of Israel’s system of colonial occupation and oppression has been its disdainful attempts to erase Palestinian presence, culture and heritage, including the illegal appropriation and theft of heritage sites and artifacts. This systemic policy of plunder is a war crime that must not go unpunished. In the past weeks, Israel has taken other illegal steps targeting Palestinian heritage sites, including sealing off the entrance of Jabal Al-Fureidis (or so-called Herodium) in the Bethlehem District to restrict the access of Palestinians to the site, which Israel has illegally appropriated as an “Israeli National Park”. Israel has also repeatedly targeted other historical and archaeological sites, including UNESCO Heritage sites in Palestine such as the Old City of Jerusalem, the Battir terraces in Bethlehem, and the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. Israel must be held accountable for its egregious war on Palestinian heritage and its attempt to appropriate our history and pillage historical artifacts that are an integral part of Palestinian and world history. UNESCO and its Director General, Ms. Audrey Azoulay, have a moral and official duty to speak out and protect Palestinian heritage. Their continued silence in this regard is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility.”
In a new interview with Army Radio, former U.S. negotiator Jason Greenblatt proudly touted the fact that the Trump Plan has 60-80 pages of stipulations Palestinians must agree to and satisfy before it could meet the U.S. conditions for recognizing Palestine as a “state.” It’s always worth reiterating: the Trump Plan in no way provides for a real state in any sense of the term; it at best offers the Palestinians a conditional non-state entity over which Israel would enjoy almost total control. Greenblatt said:
“[the] phrase we used in the peace efforts is a realistic Palestinian state that complies with 60-80 pages of important criteria. [This criteria is what] differentiates the peace plan we released from the past efforts. There’s a lot of criteria for them to establish a state, as there should be.”
- “Two Palestinian Cyclists Injured in Alleged Assault by West Bank Settlers” (Haaretz)
- “B’Tselem investigation: Settlers assault Palestinians and file false reports against them; military arrests the victims” (B’Tselem)
Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
January 10, 2020
- ICC Opens Formal Investigation into Israeli War Crimes, Including Israeli Settlements
- Israel to ICC: You Do Not Have Jurisdiction & You Will Not Stop Us from Advancing Settlements and Annexation
- Following ICC Announcement, Israel Advances Plans for Nearly 2,000 Settlement Units
- Following ICC Announcement, Israel Begins Planning Jordan Valley Annexation
- Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 1: New Settlement Enclave in Palestinian Neighborhood
- Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 2: Reports on Har Homa & Rumors on Givat Hamatos
- Plan Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 3: Israel Approves Plans for Two More Settler-Run Tourist Sites in East Jerusalem
- Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 4: Tenders for Pisgat Zeev and Gilo
- For Second Time, Israeli Court Rules Against Settler Claim to Bakri House in Hebron
- Peace Now Wins Interim Decision Against Secretive Public Funding to Amana
- Israeli Court Dismisses Palestinian Landowners’ Petition Against the Ofra Settlement
- Bennett Launches Initiative to More Aggressively Police Palestinians in Area C
- Bennett Appoints Key Settler Ally to Lead New Government Task Force on Area C Annexation Plans, Immediately Announces Plan to Legalize Settlements
- Following ICC Announcement, Pompeo Says Israel Has “Fundamental Rights” to Land
- Pro-Settlement Legal Forum Conference Draws Big Names, Big Promises
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Email Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com)
On December 20, 2019 the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda announced that the court has found a reasonable basis upon which to open an investigation into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Bensouda said that the preliminary investigation, launched five years ago, established sufficient evidence of war crimes, citing Israeli settlements and Israel’s conduct during its 2014 incursion into the Gaza Strip, which Israel gave the title “Operation Protective Edge”. The statement said that the Court found evidence that Hamas and armed Palestinian groups also committed war crimes during the 50 days of hostilities in 2014.
Before proceeding with a formal investigation, Bensouda requested a pre-trial chamber to rule on the Court’s territorial jurisdiction, as outlined in the Rome Statute, over the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Bensouda requested a ruling on the matter within 120 days. Bensouda has previously articulated her opinion on the matter, suggesting that questions regarding Palestinian statehood do not necessarily need to be resolved because Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute and formally became a “State Party” to the court.
Israel to ICC: You Do Not Have Jurisdiction & You Will Not Stop Us from Advancing Settlements and Annexation
Prior to Bensouda’s announcement on December 20th that the ICC will proceed with an investigation into Israeli war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit published a 34-page legal opinion arguing that the Court does not have jurisdiction over those territories because Palestine does not meet the criteria for statehood, and non-sovereign entities cannot confer jurisdiction to the Court. Notably, that opinion doesn’t address (let alone dispute or challenge) the assertion that Israeli actions might constitute war crimes.
Going beyond Mandleblit’s legal arguments, Netanyahu launched a disingenuous attack on Bensouda’s criticism of Israeli settlements, saying:
“[Bensouda] says it is a crime, a war crime, for Jews to live in their homeland, the land of the Bible, the land of our forefathers.”
Netanyahu later said:
“This will not deter us — not in the slightest”
Netanyahu is riding a wave of defiant, ultra-confident language following his Dec. 27th victory in the Likud primaries, after which he promised to secure U.S. recognition for Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all settlements in the West Bank. In his victory speech, Netanyahu laid out a 6-point plan he will implement if he goes on to win the March 2020 elections:
“First, we will finalize our borders; second, we will push the US to recognize our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea; third, we will push for US recognition of our extension of sovereignty over all the communities in Judea and Samaria, all of them without exception; fourth, we will push for a historic defense alliance with the US that will preserve Israeli freedom of action; fifth, stop Iran and its allies decisively; and sixth, push for normalization and agreements that will lead to peace accords with Arab countries. The opportunities are within reach.”
Demonstrating that Netanyahu means what he says, shortly following the ICC’s announcement his government advanced plans for nearly 2,000 settlement units and launched the planning process for annexing the Jordan Valley. Both of these items – in addition to several other significant settlement advancements which were not explicitly linked to the ICC’s announcement – are covered in detail below.
Over the course of a two-day meeting Jan 5-6, 2020, the Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee approved plans for 1,936 settlement units, of which 786 units received final approval for construction. The Israeli Civil Administration is the body of the Defense Ministry which regulates all construction in the West Bank, both Palestinian and Israeli settler.
The Civil Administration granted final approval to the following plans:
- A plan for 258 units in the unauthorized Haresha outpost, located east of Ramallah, to take them to the final stage of the approval process. If granted final approval, the plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing the Haresha outpost. This outpost has been one of several test cases for the Israel government’s evolving legal justifications for granting retroactive approval to unauthorized outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land. In the case of Haresha, an outpost built on an island of “state land” surrounded by privately owned Palestinian land, then-Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked issued a new legal opinion in December 2018 outlining a legal basis for temporarily seizing the private Palestinian land for the construction of a tunnel road underneath it (essentially holding that Palestinian land rights – which can be temporarily infringed upon at any time for the sake of the settlements – do not extend below the ground’s surface). The tunnel road has not yet been constructed, an important qualification that Israel, to this point, has generally required outposts to meet prior to legalization.
- 147 units in the Mitzpe Yericho settlement, located just west of the Palestinian city of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. The plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing existing illegal construction in the settlement.
- 120 units in the Karnei Shomron settlement, located in the northern West Bank east of the Palestinian village of Qalqilya. Israel is planning to continue expanding Karnei Shomron with the stated goal of bringing 1 million settlers to live in the area surrounding the settlement.
- 107 units in the Elon Moreh settlement, located east of Nablus.
- 100 units in the Halamish settlement, (where settlers have built a strategic outpost, with the protection of the IDF, in order to further restrict Palestinian access to the area);
- 25 units in the Peduel settlement, located in the northern West Bank and part of a string of settlements and unauthorized outposts – most notably Ariel – extending from the Green Line into the very heart of the West Bank and on towards the Jordan Valley.
- 12 units in the Ariel settlement, located in the central West Bank.
- 10 units in the Etz Efraim settlement, located in the northern West Bank, one of several settlements slated to become a “super settlement” area.
- 7 units in the Rechelim settlement, located east of the Ariel settlement and south of Nablus, in the heart of the West Bank.
The Civil Administration advanced the following plans:
- 224 units in the Talmon settlement, located west of Ramallah.
- 204 units in the Shilo settlement, located in the central West Bank.
- A plan for 180 units in the unauthorized Mitzpe Danny outpost, located east of Ramallah. If approved, the plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing the outpost, which was built without Israeli permission in 1999 in an area that includes privately owned Palestinian land. The Binyamin Regional Council – a settler body acting as the municipal government for settlements in the central West Bank – has been angling to retroactively legalize Mitzpe Danny for some time. As part of that effort, the regional council successfully lobbied for approval of a plan to build an educational campus for settlers that will create a territorial link between the Maale Mikhmash settlement (which has official recognition from the government) and the outpost. That plan received final approval in January 2019.
- 160 units in the Kochav Yaakov settlement, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
- 92 units in the Tzofim settlement, one of the settlements that flank the Palestinian city of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank.
- 91 units in the Almon settlement, located northeast of Jerusalem.
- 136 units in the Givat Zeev settlement, located south of Ramallah.
- 63 units in the Maale Adumim settlement, located just east of Jerusalem.
- A plan for 204 new units in the Shvut Rachel settlement, which only recently became an authorized settlement area when Israel extended the jurisdiction of the Shiloh settlement to include it as a “neighborhood” (along with three other outposts).
Peace Now said in a statement:
“Despite lacking a clear mandate, for this caretaker government it’s business as usual – Continue the massive promotion of harmful and unnecessary construction in occupied territory and in places that Israel will have to evacuate. Netanyahu continues to sabotage the prospects of peace, dragging Israel into an anti-democratic one-state reality resembling apartheid.”
The Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing all the settlements, celebrated the approvals, saying in a statement:
“To our delight, construction in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley is commonplace and we are pleased to see that every few months plans are up in the Supreme Planning Council. The time has come for extremist Leftist organizations to accept that the U.S. has also declared that settling in Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley is not contrary to international law and that applying Israeli sovereignty is a consensus in the State of Israel. After eight years of unprecedented construction freeze, the government regularly approves construction and we strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister on their blessed work. We need more and more construction to promote the prosperity and growth of settlement.”
The head of the Binyamin Regional Council, Yisrael Gantz, spoke happily about the settlement advancements but also kept focused on the settlement movement’s ultimate demand: annexation. Gantz told Arutz Sheva:
“This is undoubtedly an important and significant step. I hope we will soon be able to applaud the application of full Israeli sovereignty and the closure of the Civil Administration in order to truly develop the regions of our amazing country, in the same way that it is possible in the entire State of Israel.”
Despite the celebratory remarks, settlers were disappointed with the final number of settlement units, which fell short of the 3,000 units Netanyahu promised to advance on the eve of the Likud primary leadership vote (which went in Netanyahu’s favor). When promising the 3,000 units, Netanyahu also promised:
“We are going to bring [secure] US recognition for our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley [and] in all the settlements, those in the blocs and those that are beyond it.”
On January 5th, the inter-ministerial committee created to plan the annexation of the Jordan Valley held its first meeting, in an effort to prepare an official proposal for how Israel can annex the Jordan Valley. The committee – dubbed the “Sovereignty Committee” – is headed by the Prime Minister’s Office Director General Ronen Peretz and includes representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces, and the National Security Council.
The meeting took place despite (or perhaps because of) reports that Netanayhu put Jordan Valley annexation plans in a “deep freeze” following ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s announcement on Dec. 20th that the Court will open an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Following those reports, the head of the Yesha Council, the settler umbrella group, David ElHayani spoke to Netanyahu on the phone to gain reassurance that the annexation plan was not frozen, which Netanyahu reportedly gave him.
“Sources familiar with the establishment of the inter-ministerial committee told Haaretz that the insistence on moving forward with the discussions are mainly to show that the idea has not been abandoned due to international pressure.”
On January 8th the Jerusalem District Planning Committee granted final approval to a new 75-unit settlement compound to be built in the heart of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. If built, it will be the first-ever authorized settlement project in Beit Hanina, located north of the Old City.
The Beit Hanina settlement plan – as FMEP has previously reported – is backed and promoted by settlement impresario Aryeh King, and it provides for the construction of a total of 150 new units in the southern end of the Beit Hanina neighborhood. The land slated for the 150 units is privately owned, 53% of the land is owned by an Israeli who is supportive of the plan, and 47% by a Palestinian company who objects to the plan and has fought against it. Because the land has not been surveyed to demarcate the split ownership, Israeli planning authorities decided that the settlement plan is designated for the entire property, with construction rights split evenly between the parties, meaning the 75 units granted final approval on January 8th represent the Israeli-controlled half of the project.
Ir Amim notes the larger picture of Isreali settlement activity north of the Old City:
“In close proximity to Ramat Shlomo to the southwest and Pisgat Zeev to the northeast, construction of this new compound may signal the beginning of a move to create contiguity between the two settlements, while fracturing the contiguous space between Bet Hanina and Shuafat. As exemplified by the ring of state-sponsored settlement strongholds throughout the Old City Basin, the establishment of a settler enclave in the midst of Beit Hanina will not only impact the fabric of this community, but will further erode opening conditions for a political solution to the conflict based on two capitals in Jerusalem.”
Ir Amim explains essential context:
“the plan will enable an ideologically driven settler outpost in the heart of Beit Hanina, a neighborhood located on the northern perimeter of East Jerusalem that has remained relatively untouched by Israeli settlement within its limits. Since the land in question is not far from Ramat Shlomo to the south-west and Pisgat Zeev to the north-east of it, its construction may mark the beginning of a far sweeping move to create contiguity between the two settlements, while driving a wedge between Bet Hanina and Shuafat.”
On January 7th, the popular Isareli broadcaster network Kan reported that the Prime Minister’s office has blocked a plan to build 2,000 new settlement units in the settlement of Har Homa, citing “diplomatic difficulties.” In response to an inquiry, the office did not deny the report, but issued the following statement:
“Israel has built in Jerusalem, is building in Jerusalem and will continue building in Jerusalem — while exercising judgment.”
Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann raised a key question and larger concerns about the reports concerning Har Homa, saying:
“The construction potential at Har Homa has been exhausted, and it’s not possible to build anything near 2,000 units. So what are they talking about? Something is clearly going on. Three possibilities come to mind, all problematic…Possibility no. 1: the nearby planned doomsday settlement of Givat Hamatos, which is awaiting tenders. Possibility no. 2: Hirbet Mazmoriyya, to the northeast of Har Homa. The lands owned by Palestinians that will have to be expropriated. Not likely. Too complicated and controversial. Possibility no. 3: the area wedged betw. Mar Elias Monastery, the Hebron Road, the 300 Checkpoint, dubbed Bethlehem Gate or Har Homa West. The land is ownership is a mixture of Palestinian &Church lands, along with settlement developers.”
Ir Amim notes that, while reportedly stalling the Har Homa plan, Netanyahu is – in fact – simultaneously facing mounting pressure to issue tenders for the construction of the Givat Hamatos settlement, the site for which is the northern border of Har Homa. Ir Amim writes:
“Last week, rightwing groups launched a coordinated campaign to exert pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to advance construction in the area of Givat Hamatos, which has been essentially frozen for the past six years. While the approval of the plan for 2,610 housing units in the area was formally published in 2014, there has been no announcement of tenders since then. This has been largely attributed to international opposition, namely from the United States and Germany. Likely attempting to ratchet up pressure on Netanyahu in lead-up to the upcoming elections in March, the campaign has been spearheaded on a public level by rightwing organizations. Several prominent rabbis known for supporting the settler movement penned a letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to announce the tenders for Givat Hamatos, while rightwing media outlets have published daily articles demanding an ‘end to the freeze.’ A rightwing institute likewise published a lengthy paper on the significance of establishing a new settlement in the area as a means of thwarting any potential future division of Jerusalem within the framework of a resumed peace process.”
Plan Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 3: Israel Approves Plans for Two More Settler-Run Tourist Sites in East Jerusalem
On December 25, 2019 the Jerusalem Local Planning approved two significant settler-backed schemes in East Jerusalem:
- The committee approved the Israeli government’s plan to seize land in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in order to establish a park adjacent to the infamous Shepherd Hotel, an historic/iconic building that was taken over by the radical Ateret Chohanim settler organization in 2011. The new park – called “Hakidron Park” has been discussed and considered by Israeli governments for the past 15 years.
- The committee also approved the Israeli government’s plan to confiscate land in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of East Jerusalem, for the purpose of opening a tourist and religious services center on the Mount of Olives, adjacent to the Jewish cemetery. The Jerusalem Municipality hired an architect, Arie Rahamivov, who is also employed by the radical Elad settler group for the planning and construction of their crown jewel: the Kedem Center in Silwan. The new center in Ras al Amud will be yet another tourist center under the management of Elad, which already operates another visitors center on the Mount of Olives.
Ir Amim writes:
“Approval of the aforementioned land expropriations would signal intent to begin construction at both sites and will help to further solidify the settlement ring around the Old City Basin. While both plans can be posited as innocuous municipal initiatives to serve local residents and visitors to the areas, such touristic projects play an integral role in expanding the scope of settlement strongholds in the area and creating a more contiguous Israeli space, while diffusing the political agenda behind these efforts.”
Ir Amim reports that the Israel Lands Authority published construction tenders for the following East Jerusalem settlements in early January:
- 3 tenders for a total of 461 new settlement units in the Pisgat Zeev
- 1 tender for commercial buildings in the Gilo settlement, located
On December 23rd, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the Palestinian Bakri family are the rightful owners of a disputed property in Hebron. This ruling should deal a final blow to the 18-year long legal battle settlers have waged to gain control of the Bakri family house (“should”, not “will”, because the settlers have repeated been dealt defeats in court and each time are able to manufacture a new claim or appeal) .
The ruling – which affirmed a March 2019 ruling by the Magistrate court, which the settlers had appealed – called for the immediate evacuation of the settlers whom Israel has permitted to illegally squat in the house while the legal processes were ongoing. For a full history of the Bakri house saga, see here.
Following the ruling, Peace Now said:
“[the] court again ruled that the settlers had forged [documents] and lied all along… We hope that after [almost] two decades of violence, lies and terror, justice will be carried out and the invaders will be evicted.”
In response to a Peace Now petition, on December 31st the Israeli High Court issued an interim decision that requires state bodies to request approval from the court before transferring funds to Amana, a settlement body which is known to undertake illegal settlement activities across the West Bank. Peace Now filed the petition after discovering that state bodies have been secretly funneling money to Amana.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“Amana is the most significant organization operating in the settlements. For decades, it has overseen the establishment of dozens of illegal outposts and neighborhoods with the help of massive budgets, some of which have been transferred from Israeli taxpayer money through local settlement authorities in violation of the law. The judges’ decision is a dramatic yet necessary step that limits, for the time being, this illicit transfer of funds to illegal projects in the settlements and outposts. We hope that in this spirit, the court will rule that public funds should no longer be transferred to Amana via subsidy procedures. This situation in which the State of Israel backs illegal activities with public funds is unconscionable, and we urge the Israeli government to put an end to it.”
On January 6th, the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition filed by Palestinian landowners challenging the legality of the Ofra settlement. The petition was based on the fact that the settlement is partially built on privately owned Palestinian land. The court ruled that the majority of the settlement had been built on land expropriated by Israel, and that the minority of land that Palestinians claim ownership over was not enough to invalidate the entire Master Plan for the settlement. Further, the court stated that the settlement structures built on the privately owned Palestinian land were built by settlers “in good faith,” under the mistaken belief that land had also been expropriated by the Israeli government.
This High Court ruling does not fix the legal status of Ofra settlement buildings, but it is nonetheless significant because it continues to deny Palestinians their property rights. Likewise, it gives a green light to the use of the “market regulation” principle to expropriate land in order to retroactively legalize the structures. As a reminder, the “market regulation” principle – which was invented by the Israeli Attorney General – holds that if settlers acted “in good faith” when they built on privately owned Palestinian land, the state can expropriate that land, thereby making what was illegal before, now perfectly legal.
The Ofra settlement’s legal situation has long been an issue that the Israeli government has tried to fix. Ofra was first established by settlers on land that the Jordanian government had expropriated in 1966, in order to build a military base (which was never built). The Israeli government used this pretext to expropriate the land in 1977, in order to recognize the Ofra settlement, which had been established illegally but with tacit cooperation of the government on the site two years earlier. However, the settlers built the majority of the Ofra settlement on land that was not expropriated by Israel in 1977 — land that was in fact registered to Palestinians from the nearby village of Ein Yabroud. In light of the legal status of the land, no Israeli government has since found a way to fix the legal status of these homes (not for lack of trying) – meaning that the majority of the structures in Ofra were built without permits, making them illegal under Israeli law.
Peace Now elaborates on what is at stake in the Ofra settlement case:
“Most of the houses built in Ofra (approximately 413 out of 625) were built on an area of 550 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land. In addition, hundreds of dunams of Palestinian private land were seized for roads in Ofra, as well as infrastructure and agricultural lands for the settlers. The only way to regulate the theft of these lands would be to expropriate them from the Palestinian landowners for the benefit of the settlers, in complete contradiction to the positions of previous Israeli governments and legal advisors, and contrary to binding rulings of the High Court. Although the current legal advisor (Avichai Mandelblit) allowed land expropriation in some places for settlement purposes (for example, in Haresha), in the regulation of massive land theft such as in Ofra the Israeli government would be crossing a new red line.”
FMEP documents the government’s efforts to expropriate Palestinian land for the settlements in its Annexation Policy Tables.
Making the most of his appointment as Israeli Defense Minister in the current caretaker government, Naftali Bennett is pushing an initiative to annex Area C and to aggressively demolish Palestinian construction in the area (reminder: Area C constitutes nearly 60% of the West Bank; it is land that under Oslo II was supposed to have been “gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction”).
As part of his efforts, Bennett has launched legal research into how Israeli can bring settlement building in Area C under the direct authority of the Justice Ministry, cutting out the Civil Administration. This Civil Administration, it should be recalled, is the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry which acts as the sovereign power over the West Bank, in a system of governance Israel created based on its recognition of the different legal status of the area. Bennett has called for that system to be disbanded (in addition to annexing Area C). To be clear: transferring the construction and planning processes in Area C to domestic Israeli jurisdiction would by any definition constitute the Israeli state extending its sovereignty over area — an act of annexation.
Bennett has requested that Defense Ministry officials present several legal options for how Israel can bring planning processes under the Justice Ministry (integrating the settlements into the normal planning process). The settler-run Arutz Sheva outlet attributes the following quote Bennett in a private meeting:
“We are in essence discussing applying procedural sovereignty only. Full sovereignty is under the authority of the political echelon, but this is a step in the right direction. There is no reason that residents of Judea and Samaria should continue being discriminated against. We must stop this. Residents of Beit El and Ariel are no less Zionist than residents of Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv. They pay taxes and serve in the army, and they need to receive the same services from the government.”
Bennett is also advancing several initiatives that will empower and compel the Civil Administration to more aggressively enforce demolition orders against Palestinian construction in Area C (based on Israel’s policy of not granting permits to Palestinians in Area C, nearly every Palestinian structure in this territory has a demolition order pending against it). Bennett is also eyeing ways to combat what he considers illegitimate and nefarious funding from the European Union to Palestinian communities living in Area C. Israel Hayom reports:
“Bennett’s plan to stop the Palestinians from chipping away at Area C demands action in four areas: Operational, economic, legal, and PR. He wants to change enforcement priorities to put an emphasis on eradicating illegal buildings in strategic locations rather than by numbers. For example, home demolitions would be carried out in accordance with Israeli interests, prioritizing illegal buildings next to roads or settlements. Bennett also instructed the Central Command and the Civil Administration to work more closely to implement his plan and asked that the Civil Administration report to him monthly to update him on progress. Meanwhile, the defense minister is weighing the possibility of allocating more resources to the Civil Administration for enforcement, which would entail hiring more personnel. Bennett also wants to take steps to stop the flow of European money that funds the illegal Palestinian construction in the first place, allowing the “Fayyad Plan” to flourish.”
Bennett Appoints Key Settler Ally to Lead New Government Task Force on Area C Annexation Plans, Immediately Announces Plan to Legalize Settlements
In addition to his new initiative targeting Palestinian construction in Area C, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he has created an inter-ministerial taskforce to develop settlement and annexation plans for the future of Area C in the West Bank.
Bennett’s chief of staff, Itay Hershkowitz, has been in weeks-long consultations with key settler leaders to decide what items to act on immediately. Haaretz reports their agenda includes:
- Allowing Jews to privately purchase land in the West Bank. [See here for a detailed explanation of this complicated matter]
- Connecting unauthorized outposts to water and electricity.
- Granting official recognition to unauthorized outposts that are located near established settlements by recognizing them as “neighborhoods” of the settlement.
- Repealing a military order that empowers the Civil Administration to evict settlers from privately owned Palestinian land with or without a Palestinian-initiated petition to have the settlers removed.
- Legalizing 30 sheep farms in the West Bank that are under pending demolition orders.
“The territorial future of the Land of Israel is at stake. The State of Israel has simply not been up to the task of stopping [Palestinian construction]. We are changing direction and embarking on a battle that Israel must win… The defense establishment will fight for this territory, and it is essential for someone to lead this campaign.”
Eliraz previously served as Netanyahu’s settlement advisor, but was fired by the Prime Minister in June 2019 reportedly because he was believed to be allied too closely to Netanyahu rival Avigdor Liberman, who Netanyahu also dismissed. At the time of Eliraz’s firing, settler leaders were outraged and published a letter asking Netanyahu to reverse Eliraz’s firing, suggesting that Eliraz’s absence will hinder government efforts to retroactively legalize outposts. The letter noted:
“Kobi has taken care of Israeli settlement and its residents with great professionalism. He is credited for many advancements [on our behalf] in the fields of construction, infrastructure development, security and more.”
The Times of Israel observed, significantly, that the Yesha Council was able to get every single settlement Mayor to sign the letter in support of Eliraz, explaining:
“The Yesha Council in recent years has struggled to get all of its members on board with its initiative, but the umbrella group’s ability to gather the signatures of every Israeli mayor beyond the Green Line is testament to the broad respect that Eliraz holds among settler leader.”
At a press briefing on December 22nd, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not specifically address the ICC announcement, but made lengthy comments regarding statements from European countries and the European Union that were critical of the new U.S. position on settlements (that they are not “per se illegal” under international law). Pompeo’s comments hold relevance to the U.S. position on the ICC case and more generally on the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
“First, the legal analysis that the EU performed [on settlements] we just think is wrong. We think they have an improper analysis of the international law surrounding this. So as the technical legal matter, [EU Foreign Minister] Ms. Mogherini just – she’s just wrong. And so we are doing our level best to demonstrate to them our legal theory, our understandings, and why it is that we’re convinced that under international law these settlements are not per se illegal. So we’re working that element of it as well. But at another level, and perhaps at the level that will lead to the right outcome, which is why we did this, this has to be resolved through political means, and we hope that all nations, including member nations inside of the EU and the EU itself and countries all over the world, will come to recognize the fundamental rights that the Israeli people have to this land, to this space. There are real security needs. The risk that is presented from the world as anti-Semitism is on the rise, we hope that every nation will recognize that and weigh in on this conflict in a way that is constructive, that will ultimately lead to the peace that is so desperately needed.” [Emphasis added by editor]
The Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing advocacy organization that has enormous influence with senior Israeli – and increasingly American – government figures, hosted a “Conference on the Pompeo Doctrine” in Jerusalem, Jan. 7-8, 2020. The conference served as a gleeful celebration and forward-looking projection of what the new U.S. settlement policy towards settlements means for Israel. The conference drew participation from all the leading Israeli politicians and several senior members of the Trump Administration, including Secretary of State. Pompeo. Key quotes from the conference speakers are copied below.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:
“We’re recognizing that these settlements don’t inherently violate international law. That is important. We’re disavowing the deeply flawed 1978 Hansell memo, and we’re returning to a balanced and sober Reagan-era approach. “In doing so, we’re advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman:
“…when we came into office the lingering issues included three of significant importance: the status of 1) Jerusalem, 2) the Golan Heights and 3) Judea and Samaria. We have approached them in ascending order of complexity…I thank God that President Trump had the courage and the wisdom to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move our embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv…In recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, President Trump, evaluating the continuous malign and barbarous threats posed by Syria, concluded that no northern boundary for Israel would be secure except a boundary that incorporated the Golan. He acted well within the language of 242. [Judea and Samaria] is certainly the most complicated of the issues because of the large indigenous Palestinian population. Over the years before we came into office, it’s only gotten more complicated and more challenging. The proverbial goalposts have moved and moved – to the point today where they are no longer even on the field….The Pompeo Doctrine does not resolve the conflict over Judea and Samaria. But it does move the goalposts back onto the field. It does not obfuscate the very real issue that 2 million or more Palestinians reside in Judea and Samaria, and we all wish that they live in dignity, in peace, and with independence, pride and opportunity. We are committed to find a way to make that happen. The Pompeo Doctrine says clearly that Israelis have a right to live in Judea and Samaria. But it doesn’t say that Palestinians don’t….it calls for a practical negotiated resolution of the conflict that improves lives on both sides.”
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
“I will not let any settlements be uprooted in any diplomatic plan. This idea of ethnic cleansing… it won’t happen. There is a window of opportunity. It opened, but it could close…There was no West Bank separate from the rest of the land. It was seen as the heart of the land. We never lost our right to live in Judea and Samaria. The only thing we lost temporarily was the ability to exercise the right. When Israel returned to the West Bank We didn’t return to a foreign land. That is a distortion of history. Jews lived in Jerusalem and Hebron for thousands of years consecutively…The Pompeo declaration about the status of the towns [in Judea and Samaria] establishes the truth that we are not strangers in our land. In a clearly defensive war, we returned… to the land where our forefathers put down roots thousands of years ago…Unlike some in Europe who think the Pompeo declaration distances peace, I think it will promote peace, because peace must be based on truth, not lies. Settlements are not the root of the conflict. We are standing with justice and the truth. It is a great struggle.”
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Area C annexation and his initiatives in that regard:
“Our aim is that within a decade a million Israeli citizens will live in Judea and Samaria” and later “Our objective is that within a short amount of time, and we will work for it, we will apply [Israeli] sovereignty to all of Area C, not just the settlements, not just this bloc or another. We are embarking on a real and immediate battle for the future of the Land of Israel and the future of Area C. It started a month ago and I am announcing it here today. A month ago, I convened a meeting and I explained the clear directive, the State of Israel will do everything to ensure that these territories [Area C] will be part of the State of Israel.”
Likud MK and former Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat said:
“I am confident that Secretary Pompeo’s statement is an integral part of the American plan and is closely linked to Jared Kushner’s proposal advanced in Bahrain promoting significant economic investment in the Palestinian economy…Now is a perfect opportunity to similarly grow the communities throughout Judea and Samaria at a pace like never before. This declaration is a recognition of the legal and historic right of the Jewish people to live wherever we wish. This is how it should be in other parts of the world and certainly here in the Jewish State. This declaration is therefore an exceptional opportunity for Israel to ensure our continued growth and expansion throughout these areas. Israel needs to set a goal for the settlement of two million people in Judea and Samaria within fifty years. This is a commitment which requires that we already now lay the framework to make that possible and this is an investment which will also benefit the Palestinian people” [Editor’s note: Barkat has been working with Harvard Professor Michael Porter to promote an economic peace scheme, most recently speaking at Harvard about the plan in December 2019]
Eugene Kontorovich, Director of International Law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and a key shaper of anti-BDS/pro-settlement legislation in U.S. Congress and across state governments, said:
“American Policy is now clearer than ever, Jews living in Judea and Samaria is not a crime. For decades, the obscure Carter-era memo was used as justification for anti-Israel policies despite the fact that its conclusions were rejected by subsequent administrations. Sec. Pompeo’s statement at the Kohelet conference today makes clear the U.S.’s wholesale rejection of the legal theory that holds that international law restricts Israeli Jews from moving into areas from which Jordan had ethnically cleansed them in 1949.”
- “The Atarot Exception? Business and Human Rights Under Colonization” (Marya Farah in Jerusalem Quarterly)
- “The Decade Israel Erased the Green Line” (+972 Magazine)
- “Settlers are seizing ‘empty’ land. The Palestinian owners are fighting back” (+972)
- “Israeli Right Wants to End Peace with Jordan” (Haaretz)
- “Security official says police, courts scuttling efforts to curb settler violence” (The Times of Israel)