Settlement & Annexation Report: April 19, 2024


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

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April 19, 2024

  1. Israeli Courts Order Two Significant Evictions in East Jerusalem, Presaging Mass Forced Displacement in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan
  2. Supreme Court Green Lights Eviction of Shehadeh Family from Batan Al-Hawa Home
  3. Israeli Court Orders Eviction of the Diab Family from Sheikh Jarrah Home
  4. Lower Aqueduct Settlement Plan Published Tender
  5. Ir Amim & Bimkom: Israel Has Accelerated East Jerusalem Settlement Building Since Oct 7th
  6. Ben Gvir Seizes Authority Over East Jerusalem Housing Demolitions
  7. New Plan to Massively/Strategically Expand the Ariel Settlement Industrial Zone
  8. Smotrich Designates Symbols for Four Outposts Previously Approved for Retroactive Legalization
  9. The U.S. & E.U Unveil New Sanctions Targeting Settlers & Settler Entities
  10. Bonus Reads

Israeli Courts Order Two Significant Evictions in East Jerusalem, Presaging Mass Forced Displacement in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan

Over the past week – on the eve of Passover and in days after the end of Ramadan, while genocide continues in Gaza and violence escalates in the West Bank – two separate Israeli courts have ordered the eviction of Palestinian families from their longtime homes in East Jerusalem in favor of Israeli settlers; both cases set a terrifying precedent for dozens more Palestinian families fighting against settler groups on the same basis of argumentation. The mass dispossession and displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem is advancing. These cases put on full display the tight cooperation between settler entities and the Israeli state in advancing the displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and their replacement with Israeli Jews.

Ir Amim explains:

“Although the Israeli government often characterizes these cases as private real estate disputes, they are rather part and parcel of a systematic campaign to further entrench Israeli control of the most politically sensitive areas in East Jerusalem. The eviction claims are filed on the basis of a discriminatory Israeli law (see more below) by settler groups working in collaboration with the state to expand Jewish settlement in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. This thereby serves to foil any possibility of East Jerusalem serving as a future Palestinian capital.

…A common thread between these cases is that the eviction lawsuits were filed by settler groups based on the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters law. Article 5 of this law exclusively affords Jews with land restitution rights for assets allegedly owned by Jews in East Jerusalem before 1948 despite many of these properties now inhabited by Palestinians. No parallel legal mechanism exists for Palestinians to recover pre-1948 assets on the Israeli side of the Green Line, many of which are now inhabited by Jews. To the contrary, the 1950 Absentee Property Law enshrines that Palestinians who were forced to abandon their homes and lands in what became Israel after the war of 1948 can never retrieve them…Settler organizations aided by state bodies act to secure ownership rights of these assets despite having no relation to the previous Jewish owners or occupants. Acquisition of these rights provides settler groups with the legal platform to “retrieve” the property from the General Custodian and initiate eviction lawsuits against Palestinian families through application of the 1970 law. A department within the Ministry of Justice, the General Custodian is the Israeli body responsible for managing abandoned property, including alleged pre-1948 Jewish assets in East Jerusalem until “reclaimed.” Between 1948-1967, these properties were administered by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property and then transferred into the management of the Israeli General Custodian in 1967 following Israel’s occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem.”

Supreme Court Green Lights Eviction of Shehadeh Family from Batan Al-Hawa Home

On April 11th, the Israeli Supreme Court  Justice Noam Sohleberg dismissed a final petition in the case of the Palestinian Shehadeh family, who has spent years fighting against their eviction from their home of 60 years in the Batan Al-Hawa section of Silwan at the behest of the Ateret Cohanim settler organization. Justice Sohlberg ordered the Shehadeh family to leave by June 1st or face forced eviction by Israeli authorities, and also ordered the family to pay legal fees for the settler group. The case has been ongoing since 2021, and the Supreme Court’s ruling last week marks the end of any potential avenues of further appeal. Ir Amim writes that only state intervention can halt the eviction.

The Shahadeh family is one of 85 families (700 people) in Batan al-Hawa facing displacement at the behest of Ateret Cohanim, a settler organization which has waged a years-long eviction campaign against Palestinians living in Silwan, on property the settler NGO claims to own. 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 multi-pronged campaign to remove Palestinians from their homes, claiming that the Palestinians are illegal squatters.

The Supreme Court ruling ignores ongoing litigation initiated in 2020 by Ir Amim that challenges the legitimacy and legality of Ateret Cohanim’s control of the Benvenisti Trust. In response to the filing, the Israeli Registrar of Trusts (department within the Justice Ministry) announced that it will open an investigation into the allegations. Ir Amim is still awaiting news on the investigation.

Israeli Court Orders Eviction of the Diab Family from Sheikh Jarrah Home

On April 15th, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that the Palestinian Diab family (30 people) can be evicted from their home of 70 years in the Kerem al-Jaouni area of Sheikh Jarrah at the behest of the Nahalat Shimon settler group. The Court ruled that Nahalat Shimon owns the land based on the claim that it was owned by Jews before 1948, which Israeli law allows Jews to “reclaim.” The Diab family was ordered to leave by July 15th, or face forcible displacement by Israeli authorities. The family, who was also ordered to pay the legal fees of the settler group, can appeal this ruling to the Jerusalem District Court.

The Diab family is one of 30 Palestinian families in the Kerem al-Jaouni area of Sheikh Jarrah fighting against the settler group Nahalat Shimon, which is seeking their dispossession. Peace Now explains the 

current context of evictions across all of Sheikh Jarrah:

“In 1948, the land, which was then without structures, came under Jordanian rule. The Jordanians designated the land for the rehabilitation of dozens of Palestinian refugee families, who exchanged their refugee status for homes in the newly built neighborhood in Sheikh Jarrah. After 1967, the Jewish associations recovered the ownership rights of the land based on the Legal and Administrative Matters Law (see below), and began to demand that the refugee families vacate their homes. To that extent, the associations were exercising the “right of return” of Jews to properties taken in 1948 (a right not afforded to Palestinians).

The [Israeli] settlement in Karem Ja’uni in Sheikh Jarrah began in 2008 when the al-Kurd family was evicted from their home, and in 2009 the Rawi, Hanoun and part of (another) al-Kurd families were evicted. Since then, settlers have filed at least 14 eviction cases against dozens of families of hundreds of people in Karem Ja’uni in Sheikh Jarrah. On the western side of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, in Um Haroun, there are another few dozens of families facing eviction lawsuits by settlers, and in Batan Al-Hawa in Silwan there are almost 100 families at risk of eviction.

About two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled with regard to four of the Karem Ja’uni families, that they will be able to stay in their homes at least until the land registration procedure in the area is completed. Following this ruling, the Magistrate’s Court applied the same arrangement to two of the eviction cases. The cases of seven additional families is still pending in the Supreme Court, while the cases of the rest of the families are still ongoing in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.”

Peace Now said in a statement:

“This is a heinous injustice based on a discriminatory system of laws. 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. This injustice can and should be stopped by the government”.

Lower Aqueduct Settlement Plan Published Tender

Peace Now reports that the Israeli Housing Ministry has published a tender for the construction of 1,047 settlement units constituting a new settlement in East Jerusalem called the Lower Aqueduct” plan. The settlement will be located on a sliver of land located between the controversial settlements of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa in East Jerusalem, adjacent to the Palestinian neighborhood of Umm Tuba and fall on both sides of the 1967 Green Line. The settlement is designed to connect the two settlements and seal East Jerusalem off from Bethlehem, and in so doing establish a huge, uninterrupted continuum of Israeli settlements on the southern rim of Jerusalem. According to Ir Amim, this is the first major new East Jerusalem settlement established by Israel since 2012.

Peace Now writes:

“The plan was promoted at an unprecedented speed from its inception to the tender issue: it was placed on the table of the District Planning Committee in July 2021, discussed in January 2022 by the District Committee which ordered revisions to the plan, and was approved for deposit in July 2022. That is, the tender was issued less than three years after the plans were submitted.

Politically, this is a strategic plan that will severely impact the possibility of a continuous urban Palestinian connection in East Jerusalem. In practice, the plan blocks the last corridor remaining for connecting Beit Safafa and Sur Baher with other parts of East Jerusalem. It should be noted that although about half of the plan’s area is beyond the Green Line, and half within it, its strategic location between Givat HaMatos and Har Homa makes it particularly problematic politically.”

Ir Amim has previously written:

“This plan carries serious ramifications on the political future of Jerusalem. If constructed, it will extend the Israeli settlement wedge along East Jerusalem’s southern border, further creating a sealing-off effect of East Jerusalem from the southern West Bank, while fracturing the Palestinian space and depleting more vacant land for Palestinian development….Beyond its geopolitical ramifications, the advancement of this plan underscores the systematic discrimination implicit in Israeli planning and building policy in Jerusalem. Since the beginning of 2023, over 18,500 housing units have been advanced for new or existing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, while residential development for Palestinians has been all but neglected. This is despite the fact that Palestinians constitute nearly 40% of Jerusalem’s population. 2023 is slated to join 2022 as being the two years with the highest number of settlement units advanced in the last decade in East Jerusalem. Such inequitable urban planning policy has long served as a driver of Palestinian displacement in service of solidifying a Jewish demographic majority in Jerusalem and further cementing Israeli territorial control to foil prospects for a just political resolution.” 

Ir Amim & Bimkom: Israel Has Accelerated East Jerusalem Settlement Building Since Oct 7th

The Israeli anti-settlement NGOs Bimkom and Ir Amim have released a joint report reviewing the Israeli government’s wartime policies and how they have led to the acceleration of both settlement activity and home demolitions, posing an ever increasing threat to the rights and futures of Palestinian residents.

The report reads:

“Since the outbreak of the war six months ago, there has been a major surge in the promotion and fast-tracking of new settlement plans in East Jerusalem and a dramatic spike in the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes. The Israeli government is clearly exploiting the war to create more facts on the ground to predetermine the final status of Jerusalem and thwart all prospects for a negotiated political agreement, while forcibly displacing Palestinians from their homes and the city. 

Measures are being taken to establish eight brand-new settlements in East Jerusalem within or adjacent to Palestinian neighborhoods with a total of over 12,000 housing units. For details and analysis of these plans, click here or above for the full policy brief.

In juxtaposition to this major uptick in the advancement of new settlements, demolitions of Palestinian homes have reached unparalleled levels since the start of the war. This serves as a form of collective punishment and part of a series of repressive measures currently being employed by Israel against Palestinians under its control. Between October 7, 2023—March 10, 2024, 98 homes were demolished, which marks a nearly two-fold monthly increase compared to the period preceding the war. (Demolitions were halted during the month of Ramadan as in the past).”

Ben Gvir Seizes Authority Over East Jerusalem Housing Demolitions

On April 8th, the Israeli Cabinet decided to hand extremist minister Ben Gvir power over demolitions and housing enforcement in East Jerusalem. The CAbinet’s decision moved the Real Estate Enforcement Division from the Finance Ministry to the Ministry of National Security, which is controlled by Ben Gvir. The Real Estate Enforcement Division has the power to enforce against illegal construction in East Jerusalem and conducts demolitions and imposes fines alongside the Jerusalem municipality’s Building Supervision Department. It is important to note that the rate of demolitions in East Jerusalem during the Gaza war and in 2023 overall was higher than in other months or years, and it seems that transferring authority to Ben Gvir will only exacerbate this trend.

Daniel Seidemann, founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, explained on X:

“In the eyes of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, home demolitions are the most brutal & egregious manifestations of Israeli occupation. W/the exception of real or perceived threat to Al Aqsa, no issue in Jerusalem is more volatile & more incendiary than home demolitions. As per yesterday’s Cabinet Resolution, very broad powers will now be vested in Ben Gvir and an Authority or which he is responsible. these include administrative demolition orders, cease work orders, execution of judicial demolition orders, and much more. Ben Gvir has repeatedly declared his intent to carry out large scale home demolitions, particularly in E. Jerusalem. He then was opposed by the Police Chief, who now does his bidding.  Ben Gvir has already expedited demolitions. However Ben Gvir had a problem: he had absolutely no statutory power in relation to demolitions. The role of the Police was to secure the demolitions ordered by the Jerusalem Municipality or Government of Israel (incl. judicial bodies). Bravado aside, he was a spectator.All that changed yesterday by means of the Cabinet Resolution. Having declared his intent “to show the Arabs of East Jerusalem who’s boss” by carrying out large scale demolitions.  He will now have all the statutory powers and resources necessary to make good on his promise.”

Peace Now said in a statement:

“It has been unequivocally proven that law enforcement authorities under the responsibility of Itamar Ben Gvir exacerbate tension, violence, and hatred between the state and its citizens. The Real Estate Enforcement Division should operate with integrity and profound sensitivity to our political and social reality. However, it is highly doubtful that this will occur under the authority of Itamar Ben Gvir, the Minister of National Insecurity, who has previously been convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization.”

New Plan to Massively/Strategically Expand the Ariel Settlement Industrial Zone

Peace Now reports that the Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Council convened on April 10th to consider 26 settlement plans, the most consequential of which is a plan to significantly expand the Ariel settlement industrial zone. This plan proposes to significantly expand the industrial zone eastward toward the new Ariel West settlement, which just began construction, connecting the two for all practical purposes.

Peace Now further explains the consequences of this plan:

“Expanding the industrial area eastward, on the one hand, and the establishment of the planned settlement of Ariel West, which infrastructure works for its establishment have recently begun, on the other hand, are intended to create a territorial continuum of settlements that will effectively block any possibility of development for Palestinian communities in the vicinity, including Salfit, Harres, and Kifl Harres. The plan essentially disconnects Salfit – the district town from the surrounding villages it serves.”

It’s worth revisiting the role settlement industrial zones play in perpetuating ISraeli occupation, annexation, and apartheid. For decades Israel has used industrial zones as another tool to expand and deepen control over West Bank land and natural resources. Industrial zones are part of Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources). Presented as benefiting both Israelis and Palestinians, it is in fact Orwellian to label such initiatives as “coexistence” programs, or to suggest that they offer the Palestinians benefits they should welcome. Importantly, jobs in industrial zones – often the only jobs available for Palestinians living under an Israeli occupation that prevents the development of any normal Palestinian economy – are widely viewed by Palestinians as a double-edged sword. The NGO Who Profits explained:

“Israeli Industrial Zones constitute a foundational pillar of the economy of the occupation. They contribute to the economic development of the settlements, which are in violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, while relying on the de-development of the Palestinian economy and the exploitation of Palestinian land and labor…The Industrial Zones in the oPt form part of a practice of ‘financial annexation’ which is an essential component of the broader policy of annexation taking place.”

Peace Now said in a statement:

“The government of Israel continues to build at an unprecedented pace in the Occupied Territories. Expanding an industrial area in the heart of the West Bank is not an Israeli interest, and certainly not a Palestinian interest. The industrial area west of Ariel does not promote economic growth, but rather harms both the Israeli and Palestinian economies alike.”

Smotrich Designates Symbols for Four Outposts Previously Approved for Retroactive Legalization

On April 6th, Finance Minister Smotrich (who also heads the Settlement Administration and a minister in the Defense Ministry) issued a statement announcing that he has designated “locality symbols” to four outposts that the government has previously approved to be retroactively legalized as new settlements: Mitzpe Yehuda, Beit Hogla, Shacharit, and Asa’el. 

Peace Now explains:

“A ‘locality symbol’ is a serial number assigned by the Ministry of Interior to each official Israeli locality. For the government to allocate funds and resources for settlement development or to prepare construction plans, a settlement must have a “locality symbol.” Smotrich’s announcement aims to bolster his standing among his supporters as someone who does a lot for the settlements. Therefore, he exploits a bureaucratic maneuver and tries to present it as a new achievement.

The significance of assigning locality symbols to these four new settlements is that the government bureaucracy has already begun working to promote these settlements. It should be noted that since the government’s decision in February to establish nine new settlements, the commander of the military’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs has issued orders in recent months defining the jurisdictional areas of six of them: Mishmar Yehuda, Givat Haroeh. Apparently, defining the jurisdictional area of the remaining three settlements is delayed due to land ownership issues.”

The U.S. & E.U Unveil New Sanctions Targeting Settlers & Settler Entities

On April 19th the United States Department of State announced a third round of sanctions targeting one Israeli settler and two settler entities. The European Union announced sanctions on the same day, against four settlers and two settler entities. This round of sanctions is particularly notable because it expands the sanctions’ targets to include entities which fund settlers involved in violence, and because it targets a prominent political ally and confidant of Itamar Ben Gvir.

The U.S. sanctions target:

  • Ben Zion (Bentzi) Gopstein – founder of the radical, violent Lehava settler organization, and “one of the closest confidants” of Kahanist Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. The U.S. State Department says that Lehava and its members “have been involved in acts or threats of violence against Palestinians, often targeting sensitive or volatile areas.” Gopstein was convicted in early 2024 for incitement to racism
  • The Mount Hebron Fund – an organization leading a fundraising campaign for Yinon Levi, an Israeli settler previously sanctioned by the U.S. The U.S. group DAWN writes that the crowdfunding campaign had the declared intention of bypassing US sanctions. The AP reports the fundraising effort raised $140,000.
  • Shlom Asiraich – an organization leading a fundraising campaign for David Chai Chasdai,  an Israeli settler previously sanctioned by the U.S.. The AP reports the fundraising effort raised $31,000.

The European Union sanctions target:

  • Lehava – the organization run by Ben Zion Gopstein (who the U.S. sanctioned as an individual, but did not sanction Lehava).
  • The Hilltop Youth settler organization – a notoriously violent group based out of the Yitzhar settlement and involved in establishing illegal outposts throughout the West Bank. The Hilltop Youth have been called “the Jewish ISIS,” and regularly engage in violence against Palestinians, Israeli authorities, and activists.
  • Neriya Ben Pazi – who was previously sanctioned by the U.S..
  • Yinon Levi – who was previously sanctioned by the U.S..
  • Meir Ettingerwho is the grandson of the late, extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, and a well-known leader of the Hilltop Youth leader. 
  • Elisha Yered – who previously served as a spokesperson for MK Limor Son Har-Melech, an ally of Ben Gvir.

Itamar Ben Gvir responded to the new sanction, saying:

“The harassment of the Lehava organization and dearest settlers, who never engaged in terrorism or harmed anyone, are the result of a blood libel by Israel-hating, antisemitic elements who for years have openly supported Hamas, Fatah, and other anarchist organizations that harm IDF soldiers.”

Bonus Reads

  1. On Settler Terrorism: 
    1. “West Bank sees biggest settler rampage since war in Gaza began as Israeli teen’s body is found” (AP)
    2. Al-Haq, Al Mezan and PCHR Urge the International Community to Intervene as Israeli Forces and Settler Violence Intensifies Across the West Bank” (read)
    3. “Homes burned, animals killed: Palestinians describe Israeli settler rampage” (Washington Post)
    4. Israel Responsible for Rising Settler Violence” (Human Rights Watch)
    5. “Opinion | Dear President Biden, Are You Okay With Israeli Settlers Using American Weapons?” (Amira Hass in Haaretz)
  2. “Blinken Is Sitting on Staff Recommendations to Sanction Israeli Military Units Linked to Killings or Rapes” (Pro Publica)
  3. “Blinken says he’s made ‘determinations’ linked to human rights accusations against Israel” (The Times of Israel)
  4. Ben Gvir forms police team targeting left-wing activists in the West Bank” (The Times of Israel)
  5. “Editorial | Goodbye, Green Line: The Israeli Government Goes All Out to Boost West Bank Settlements” (Haaretz Editorial Board)
  6. “Housing, Showers, Electricity: These Are the Outposts the Israeli Army Is Building in the Heart of Gaza” (Haaretz)