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