Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
March 4, 2022
- Israeli High Court Temporarily Freezes Evictions of Four Sheikh Jarrah Families, Will Revisit Land Ownership Claims
- Plan to Expand National Park onto Church-Owned Land in Jerusalem Back on Agenda
- Israel to Advance Plan to Expand Mount Scopus Slopes National Park in Jerusalem
- High Court Says Settlements are a Significant Part of (and Benefit to) Israel’s “Security Doctrine” & Refuses to Return Land to Palestinians
- Israel Advances Plan to Build Tourist Promenade Over Muslim Cemetery Along Jerusalem’s Old City Walls
- New Report on Israel’s Collective Punishment of Beita As Palestinian Protests Against Evyatar Outpost Continue
- Further Reading
Israeli High Court Temporarily Freezes Evictions of Four Sheikh Jarrah Families, Will Revisit Land Ownership Claims
On March 1st, a three-judge panel of the Israeli High Court issued an order to temporarily freeze the eviction of four Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. With this new decision, the High Court granted the Al-Qasim, El-Kurd, Iskafi, and Jaouni families the right to appeal decades worth of previous decisions by lower courts that recognized settler ownership of the land on which they live. The High Court ruled that final ownership of the land has not been determined and must be revisited, and that until that determination is made (via the settlement of title and registration processes), the families are permitted to remain in their homes as legally “protected tenants,” paying rent into an escrow account managed by lawyers involved in the case – funds that won’t go to the settlers who claim ownership unless and until the title and registration processes conclude that the land does, in fact, belong to the settlers.
Haaretz reports that the Court’s decision in these four cases has the potential to affect the proceedings of 13 other cases of settler-led expulsion in Sheikh Jarrah, and comes just one week after a decision by a lower Israeli Court to temporarily delay the eviction of the Palestinian Salem family from their Sheikh Jarrah home in favor of settlers, fearing renewed violence. Taken together, the Courts may be attempting to calm tensions in Sheikh Jarrah and across East Jerusalem. — tensions that have been mounting in anticipation of the Salem family eviction, with the deliberate provocation of a Kahanist Member of Knesset who established his “office” in Sheikh Jarrah; and with the upcoming convergence of major religious holidays (Ramadan, Easter, and Passover). As a reminder, the four cases revisited this week provided a significant spark for the Palestinian Unity Intifada that unfolded in 2021 and ultimately led to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
In response to the Court’s decision, a group representing Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah issued the following statement:
“The battle to solidify our rights in our lands and our homes is far from over – rather, it has started anew. The Occupation authorities weaponize ‘land settlement and registration’ as a tool to control land in occupied Jerusalem. We reaffirm: our cause is righteous and we will continue our fight. We know we will not receive justice from Israeli Occupation courts. Rather, we count on the population and global movements that have accomplished the unprecedented feat of forcing the court to cancel the imminent expulsion. Yet, the threat of dispossession is still looming over our community. Through this decision, the Occupation’s Supreme Court imposed on the four families the status of ‘protected tenant,’ a special legal status in which families deposit an annual amount to a trust account held by the lawyers until the ‘title settlement and registration’ procedures are complete. However, such procedures can take anywhere between months to years. Therefore, we must rely on continual and persistent grassroots efforts until this battle is officially over and our families – and all Palestinian families – can live in their homes without fear of exulsion.”
As a reminder: With its annexation of East Jerusalem following the 1967 war, Israel suspended the process of land registration and settlement of title in East Jerusalem. Israeli lawmakers have pointedly stated over the past two years their intentions to reinitiate these processes, and reports have suggested that Israel has begun to do so – secretively – in Sheikh Jarrah. The launching of an Israel-run process of registering ownership of land in East Jerusalem land will have far-reaching consequences for Palestinians, who have not had a formal, legal avenue for registering land ownership with the Israeli government since East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967 – meaning, for example, that if a property owner has died, his/her heirs have had no legal way to register as the current owners. As a consequence, such a process is liable to be used against Palestinians by settlers.
Despite reports last week that Israel has abandoned a highly controversial and sensitive plan to expand the boundaries of the Jerusalem Walls National Park to include privately owned Palestinian land as well as land owned by major Christian churches on which sits prominent holy sites, Israeli planning authorities are (once again) scheduled to take up a discussion of the plan at two meetings scheduled for August 24th and 31st . The discussion of this plan proceeded despite reports last week that consideration of the plan was being tabled following widespread outcry by the heads of major Christian denominations, who linked the plan to ongoing efforts by Israeli settlement organizations to “minimize…any non-Jewish characteristics of the Holy City.”
Peace Now said in a statement:
“This plan is part of a process of transforming the symbolic, religious, and political import of the Old City Basin by augmenting the Jewish religious and national significance of this area while eroding the multi-religious and multi-cultural nature of the space and blurring the Palestinian presence in its bounds. This plan is not justified from a planning perspective and is of no value to the protection of historical assets. Its sole purpose (alongside other discriminatory laws and policies) is to serve a religious right-wing agenda for the Old City Basin. It is a cynical misuse of heritage and environment protection discourse as a tool for justifying settlement expansion, restricting Palestinian development, and further entrenching Israeli sovereignty. The current plan should be canceled and in its place the Israeli government should promote a plan to reduce the size of the National Park Surrounding the Old City Walls in a way that does not include Wadi Hilweh and al-Hizbe in the National Park’s boundaries, hereby allowing them to develop into equitable urban neighborhoods. Such development can be done in a way that will not harm the landscape and the visibility of the Old City Walls. This should be done while simultaneously promoting implementable and adequate urban plans for these areas.”
On March 1st the Jerusalem District Planning & Construction Committee met to hear objections to a plan that, if approved, would significantly expand the borders of the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park to include land that is currently open space between the Palestinian neighborhoods of al-Isawiyyah and A-Tur. This move would isolate those neighborhoods and restrict their growth. Notably, the designation of this land as an Israeli national park would extend Israeli control from the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus ever more solidly towards the area designated for the construction of the E-1 settlement.
As a result of the hearing, the Jerusalem District Planning & Construction Committee said it will convene another hearing on the matter, but did not set a date and noted that it will be a closed meeting, not open to the public. This plan is in the final stages of the approval process
Ir Amim explains the history and significance of this plan:
“The National Park plan was initiated over a decade ago, however, essentially frozen since 2014. From the outset, the plan was intended to block any expansion of the adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods who already suffer from acute housing shortages, overcrowding and an ongoing planning stranglehold. In addition to its severe implications on Palestinian housing and development rights, this National Park would enable Israel to create further territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and the E1/Maaleh Adumim area, while increasing fragmentation of the Palestinian space. Together, these measures further erode conditions for any agreed political resolution in the future. The Mount Scopus Slopes plan must be seen within the context of the INPA’s recent attempts to advance an extension of the National Park around the Old City Walls. While the plans are technically separate, if the dots are connected, it essentially extends the emerging ring of Israeli control around the Old City Basin, marked with a constellation of national parks, settler enclaves, and touristic settlement sites.”
High Court Says Settlements are a Significant Part of (and Benefit to) Israel’s “Security Doctrine” & Refuses to Return Land to Palestinians
In a ruling issued February 28, 2022, the Israeli High Court rejected an appeal filed by the Palestinian Muncipality of Hebron challenging the Israeli military’s 1980 seizure of land for “security purposes.” The land in question previously served as Hebron’s central bus station, and is located in the heart of the Old City of Hebron on Shuhada Street – the main road leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs that in the wake of the 1994 massacre of Palestinians at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque, by an American-Israeli settler, has been completely or mostly off-limits to Palestinians.
In making this ruling, the author of the Court’s opinion, Justice Alex Stein, dismissed legal objections against the questionable process by which Israel made parts of the land – originally seized for “security purposes” – available for settlement construction. In doing so, he overturned High Court precedent (dating back to 1979) to assert that, in the view of the High Court today, building and maintaining civilian settlements in the West Bank is part and parcel of Israel’s security doctrine, saying:
“A Jewish civilian presence constitutes part of the regional security doctrine of the Israel Defense Forces in the area. This is because the presence of citizens of the country who hold the seized property makes a significant contribution to the security situation in that same area, and makes it easier for the army to carry out its mission.”
According to Haaretz, the legal argument that settlements are a valid security mechanism has not been tested in the Courts since it was rejected in the Elon Moreh settlement case. The Haaretz Editorial Board bluntly wrote:
“Stein is turning back the legal clock and claiming that a settlement is a security asset.”
- The land in question is located in the Israeli-controlled H-2 area of Hebron (where approximately 500 Israeli settlers live amongst around 40,000 Palestinians). Israel seized this land in the 1980s, from the Hebron Municipality, for “military purposes.”
- In 2007, the Civil Administration’s Legal Advisor issued an opinion stating that once Israel is done using the land for military purposes, it must be returned to the Hebron Municipality, which has protected tenancy rights to the land.
- Nonetheless, in 2015, the Israeli Civil Administration, with the consent of the Minister of Defense, quietly authorized the Housing Ministry to plan the area for Israeli settlement use, paving the way for that same ministry to subsequently present a plan for the 31 settlement units.
- In October 2018, with legal challenges to Israel’s using the land for settlements still pending, the Israeli Cabinet voted to expedite the planning of the new settlement and allocated approximately $6.1 million (NIS 22 million) for the project, which will require Israel to significantly renovate the bus station/military base in order to build the 31 new settlement housing units, as well as a kindergarten, and “public areas” for the new settler residents. This is a new settler enclave in the city and is, in effect, a new urban settlement, disconnected from already existing settlements in the city. It will be the first new settlement construction approved in downtown Hebron – where Palestinians already live under apartheid conditions – since 2002.
- Notwithstanding the ongoing legal battle over the land, Israel went ahead and began construction on the new settlement at the site back in October 2021.
- The Palestinians’ appeal – rejected on 2/28/22 by the High Court – argued that the State’s actions in recent years prove that the land was not seized for security purposes at all, but rather for the political purpose of expanding settlements in Hebron. The High Court rejected this argument, affirming that this Court – in effect – views the building settlements as, ipso facto, a security purpose for the State of Israel.
Peace Now explained the significance of the States actions to build a settlement on this land, a move that the Court has now approved:
“The approval of the building permit in the heart of Hebron is an extraordinary move not only because it is a new settlement in Hebron for the first time since 2001, but because it indicates a significant change in Israeli legal interpretation of what is allowed and forbidden in occupied territory. The area in question was owned by Jews before 1948, and it was leased by the Jordanian government in protected tenancy to the Hebron municipality for the purpose of establishing the central bus station. Since 1967, the Israeli authorities managed the land and continued the lease to the Hebron municipality, until in the 1980s when the area was seized for military purposes, the bus station was closed and a military base was established there. A legal opinion of the Judea and Samaria Attorney General on the issue in 2007 emphatically stated that by law the municipality’s protected lease must not be revoked.”
Israel Advances Plan to Build Tourist Promenade Over Muslim Cemetery Along Jerusalem’s Old City Walls
Haaretz reports that the Jerusalem District and Planning Committee – with the support of the Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) – has rejected appeals by the Muslim Waqf to stop plans to build a new promenade for tourists on land which is owned by the Waqf and that is part of a Muslim cemetery, located just outside the northeast corner of Old City Walls of Jerusalem. In October 2021, human remains were found in this area.
According to Sami Arshid, a lawyer representing the Waqf, the land in question has been leased by the Waqf for more than a century to successive regimes controlling Jerusalem (Turkish, British, Jordanian, Israeli). But in 2018, Arshid reports that Israel stopped paying rent and instead began advancing plans to build on the area. Though the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said in a statement that Israel does not plan to formally expropriate the land (it will merely build upon it without the consent of its owners), the planning committee said that it was important to advance the plan “without reference to those who hold rights within it.”
Arshid told Haaretz:
“This plan was born in sin. It deprives the owners of the land of their rights and infringes on people’s basic rights as well as harming the delicate balance in the fabric around the Old City. The planned project also harms the Old City walls and the world heritage of the place.”
New Report on Israel’s Collective Punishment of Beita As Palestinian Protests Against Evyatar Outpost Continue
B’Tselem has published a new report documenting the death and violence surrounding the ongoing saga of the Evyatar outpost, which was built illegally by Israeli settlers on land known to Palestinians and Mount Sabih – just south of Nablus. The outpost has sparked sustained protests led by Palestinians demanding the outpost be removed and the land returned, protests which have been violently suppressed by the Israeli military. Seven Palestinians have died and many dozens have been injured as a result.
B’Tselem writes on the other means by which the Israeli military is punishing Palestinian resistance:
“In addition to implementing a lethal open-fire policy, Israeli security forces have arrested dozens of town residents since the protests began. To wear down the protesters, the military closed off the main entrance to the town for a month and a half, and military bulldozers blocked and dug up agricultural roads leading to the demonstration flashpoints, damaging about a kilometer of agricultural terraces and some 2,000 trees about a kilometer away from the outpost. The deputy council head of Beita told B’Tselem that Israel revoked the work permits of about 150 residents. Soldiers also used severe violence against Israeli protesters who came to the demonstrations to show solidarity with the Palestinian protesters, and arrested them on false pretenses. Evyatar was established on Palestinian land – not on the private initiative of several settlers, but as part of Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank, with the full cooperation of all the relevant Israeli authorities. However, the state is not content with appropriating the land and building a settlement there. It also insists on forbidding the Palestinian residents from protesting these acts and forcibly prevents any attempt at resistance — including with lethal force. Let us reiterate: the establishment of settlements is illegal under international law, and the International Criminal Court in the Hague is currently investigating Israel’s policy on the matter. Israel’s choice to prevent area residents from protesting the establishment of Evyatar, to implement a lethal open-fire policy in circumstances that do not endanger soldiers’ lives, and to uphold this policy even after its fatal outcomes have become clear – adds insult to injury.”
- “Eight Settlers Arrested for Attacking Soldiers, Palestinians Near Illegal West Bank Outpost” (Haaretz)
- “Israeli army blocking activists from calling ‘hotlines’ to report settler violence” (+972 Magazine)
- “Israel Surpasses 1,000 Demolitions in the Occupied West Bank Since Joe Biden Took Office” (The Intercept)