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
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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)