Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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August 19, 2022
- Ir Amim on East Jerusalem Land Registration & State Land Seizures
- Israel Advances Plan to Build New Settlement “Ariel West”
- IDF Razes “Ramat Migron” Outpost for Second Time in a Week
- Ultra-Orthodox Settlers Establish Their First-Ever Outpost
- Israel Pauses to “Rethink” Plan to Build on Historic Site of Lifta
- Bonus Reads
In an alert issued August 11th, Ir Amim adds important information and analysis of Israel’s seizure of a plot of land in East Jerusalem last week. Importantly, Ir Amim explains how Israel is using the process of land registration to (sometimes covertly) take control over more and more land in the most sensitive areas in East Jerusalem.
Ir Amim writes:
“The area between Jabal Mukkaber and Abu Dis has long been targeted by the state and settlers due to its strategic location…Upon investigation, Ir Amim discovered that 12 dunams of land (bloc 31735) situated in the same location referred to in the article were recently registered under the management of the General Custodian in the Land Registration Office…Rights, bloc 31735 recently underwent settlement of land title procedures (formal land registration). Initiated on May 31, 2021, the settlement of land title process was swiftly completed in just over a year with little to no transparency and formally registered in the Tabu (land record) on July 14, 2022. The official order transferring the respective plot of land into the management of the General Custodian was issued on June 8, 2021—a mere days after the announcement of the settlement of title process on the same bloc of land. It should be underscored that the General Custodian is one of the state institutions formally and integrally involved in the settlement of title process. The timing is certainly not coincidental, and it was clearly carried out as a means to assert Jewish ownership claims of the land. In contrast, the process has yet to be initiated on the adjacent thousands of dunams of land owned by Palestinians in the same area.
Such a move constitutes yet another cynical exploitation of the settlement of land title procedures which are being conducted in the framework of Government Decision 3790—a decision aimed at ostensibly improving the well-being of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. As reported previously, an examination of the locations where the procedures have been completed or currently underway reveals the driving rationale: settlement of land title is largely being promoted in areas where the state and/or settlers have a particular interest and have some capacity to lay claim to the land in the framework of the proceedings. As such, these procedures are being used as yet another mechanism to seize more territory in East Jerusalem under the guise of a decision and budgets earmarked for Palestinians.”
On August 18th, the Israeli Civil Administration discussed an amended plan to build an access road leading to an area of land where Israel is intending to build a new settlement, dubbed “Ariel West.” At the time of publication, it is unclear the outcome of the discussion is not yet known. We do know that Israel was forced to amend its original plan to build the access road to the new settlement site when it was proven that the route went through privately owned Palestinian land belonging to the village of Salfit.
The plan for “Ariel West” was first discovered in November 2021, after the Israeli Ministry of Construction issued tenders (on October 24, 2021) for the new settlement, under the guise of a plan to “expand” the Ariel settlement, located south of Bethlehem. Under the plan, 731 new settlement units will be built on a hilltop located 1.2 miles away from Ariel, in an area that is non-contiguous with the built-up area of the current Ariel settlement.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The government has been given another opportunity here to stop the establishment of the new settlement. After the Ministry of Housing rushed to issue tenders for the sale of the building rights, construction can still be halted if the defense minister stops the planning process. The “Ariel West” plan is not just a plan for thousands of housing units, but it is a new settlement designed to block the town of Salfit and prevent the development of Palestinian space in the area. Road comprise the infrastructure of the occupation, and the undercurrents of apartheid in the occupied West Bank. This dangerous plan must be stopped.”
“Ariel West” is one of many clear illustrations of how Israel systematically rewards unauthorized/illegal construction undertaken by settlers. In this case, settlers established an unauthorized outpost (i.e., illegal even under Israeli law) called “Nof Avi”on the hilltop where the new settlement is slated for construction. The Israeli government has allowed that outpost to remain in place for the past year, and thereby restrict Palestinians’ access to agricultural lands they rightfully own.
The hilltop and the Nof Avi outpost is located on land declared by Israel to be “state land” inside of the jurisdictional boundaries of the Ariel settlement, as authorized by the Israeli government. The jurisdictional boundaries of Ariel include several non-contiguous land areas — due to the fact that the area is dotted with land that even Israel recognizes to be legally owned by Palestinians (de facto annexing private Palestinian land to the settlement by leaving it in some places nearly completely surrounded by land controlled by the settlement).
The new settlement will further exacerbate the limitations that the settlements inflict on Palestinian agricultural workers, in addition to the future development of the nearby Palestinian town of Salfit, as illustrated in this video by Peace Now. Even before the “expansion” plan, Ariel’s jurisdictional area was identified as a direct hindrance on the future development of Salfit.
With news of the new settlement in October 2021, the Mayor of Salfit – Abdullah Kamil – explained to Haaretz:
“Salfit is slated for expansion. It has a university and there are plans to add 10,000 students over the next few years. The city’s master plan will have to be enlarged, and the site where the new settlement is planned is exactly the direction toward which we wanted to expand. This situation will explode. We also told the Israelis this; it will open a new front and it will harm Israeli security. It’s clear that part of the plan’s purpose is to eliminate any chance of a political solution.”
On August 14th Israeli forces once again cleared settlers and their property off of a hilltop where the settlers are attempting to establish a permanent outpost, which the settlers call Ramat Migron. Israeli forces cleared the site just four days prior, but settlers quickly re-occupied the area.
As a reminder, in 2012 an illegal outpost known as Migron was dismantled by the Israeli government when the Israeli High Court ruled the land is privately owned by Palestinians. Since then settlers have continually sought to reestablish a settlement there. Israeli forces have razed outposts at the site at least 10 times in the past 10 years — all the while denying Palestinians the ability to reclaim control over land that an Israeli court affirmed they own.
In addition to the IDF retaining control over the Migron outpost site, Israel rewarded the settlers it forcibly removed from the Migron outpost by promising to establish two new official settlements: “New Migron” as well as 184 housing units to be built east of the settlement of Adam (aka, Geva Binyamin). Construction of the “New Migron” settlement was completed in July 2020. All said, the two new settlements and temporary housing for the evicted settlers cost Israeli taxpayers millions of dollars – sending a clear message that settler law-breaking pays.
On August 16th, a group of 15 settler families announced the establishment of a new outpost near the settlement of Metzad, located in the southern West Bank. The settlers, notably, are ultra-orthodox Jews – making this the first outpost established by ultra-orthodox settlers. The settlers, who are calling the outpost “Derech Emunah,” have built 15 makeshift structures already at the site, which they are using as a yeshiva, synagogue, and homes.
A leader of the group, Moshe Rotman, said:
“The establishment of Derech Emunah is designed to increase awareness within the ultra-Orthodox community of the religious commandment of settling the land, as well as showing that the housing crisis in the community can be resolved through settlement construction in Judea and Samaria.”
The Ultra-Orthdox have long been viewed as distinct from religious-nationalistic settlers. Most ultra-Orthodox settlers moved to homes in the settlements for cheap housing (and their desire to live in homogenous communities) rather than out of a religious or nationalistic belief that Israel has a right and/or obligation to reclaim all of the land between the river and the sea. The establishment of this outpost challenges that understanding. Rotman called the Ultra-Orthodox a “dormant volcano,” insisting that the new outpost was established not merely by members from the fringe of the ultra-Orthodox community, and suggesting that many more ultra-Orthodox settlers will follow suit.
Peace Now said in response:
“Security forces must demonstrate zero tolerance to the outpost criminals, whether they are ultra-Orthodox, Zionist ultra-Orthodox or just criminals. Defense Minister Benny Gantz is avoiding evacuating the Homesh outpost. We call on him to instruct today, to demolish the new outpost. Any minute that the outpost is still standing shows that all he (Gantz) cares about is pleasing [right-wing Justice Minister Gideon] Saar and [right-wing Knesset member] Matan Kahana. It shows that he tries pleasing the ultra-Orthodox parties at the expense of the State of Israel.”
It’s also worth noting that Rotman said that the outpost was established in response to what his group perceives as the Israeli government’s selective enforcement against illegal construction by Israelis and the Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank. As FMEP has routinely covered, settlers and their allies in the Israeli government have perpetuated a false narrative – which at this point is deeply held by settler leadership – that the Israeli government is failing to thwart an alleged campaign by the Palestinian Authority to take over land in Area C via “illegal” construction – referring to construction by Palestinians on their own land, but without Israeli-required permits that Israel systematically refuses to issue. Settlers are using this story to push the government to more swiftly and systematically demolish any/all Palestinian construction in Area C.
Playing on this narrative, settler leader Tzvi Succot, who plans to run for the pro-settler Religious-Zionist (Orthodox) party Knesset list primaries, said:
“It is very exciting to see how members of the ultra-Orthodox community join with dedication to the holy mission of settling the land of Israel, breaking through the choking ring placed on the settlement enterprise in the West Bank. I hope the state of Israel won’t play a discrimination game and won’t demolish the new community, while all around it are hundreds of Arab-constructed illegal buildings that are not subjected to the law.”
The Times of Israel reports that the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Lands Authority have agreed to “rethink” their plans to build a luxury housing development on the ruins of the historic Palestinian village of Lifta, located in West Jerusalem. Lifta is the last Palestinian village in West Jerusalem to remain partially intact. Israel has prevented Palestinian refugees and landowners from returning to it, but has not yet demolished all the original structures (55 out of the original 400 structures still remain). In 2017 the ruins of Lifta were named by the World Monuments Fund as one of 25 at-risk sites around the world, and Lifta on the list of UNESCO’s tentative World Heritage Sites for bearing “unique testimony of the traditional village life.”
The Times of Israel further reports that after visiting the site, Israel’s Mayor of Jerusalem Moshe Leon is considering a plan to “preserve the village and turn it into a World Heritage Site.” However, in commenting on the Mayor’s new directive, the Israeli Municipality erased Palestinians, their history and their culture, from the story of Lifta. In a statement, the Jerusalem Municipality said:
“[Lifta] serves as an important heritage symbol for Jerusalemites, Israelis and all those who come to Jerusalem. In the past, a plan to build housing units on the site was approved. The mayor discovered that this plan does not consider the preservation needs to the proper degree and in his opinion, is not appropriate at all. Therefore, in coordination with the ILA, it was decided not to market [the project] and to have a rethink. At the heart of the new thinking is the preservation of Lifta and its transformation into a world heritage site.”
Israel’s plans to build on top of Lifta’s ruins surfaced In May 2021, when Israel announced it planned to open bidding on a tender for the construction of 259 luxury housing units, commercial buildings, and a hotel. The announcement spurred a strong reaction, including daily protests on the land and several legal petitions. A lawyer representing a group of Palestinians refugees from Lifta submitted a petition against the plan in August 2021. In addition, the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh submitted a petition against the plan, including three expert opinions with its submission, one from a civil engineer, a second from an ecologist, and a third written by a team of five architects and conservation planners.
While FMEP’s settlement and annexation report focuses on settlement building in areas located over the 1967 Green Line, the story of Lifta – and of other Palestinian villages forcibly depopulated by Israeli forces in the 1948 – is another facet of the Israeli government’s policy of erasure of Palestinians via the establishment of Jewish Israeli communities. You can read one Palestinian’s account of forced her forced displacement from Lifta, here.
- “Jerusalem girls school repaints iconic Homesh water tower” (Arutz Sheva)
- “Israel recovers rare findings from alleged antiquities traffickers in West Bank” (The Times of Israel)
- “Peace Now is taking direct action against settler outposts. Can it succeed?” (+972 Magazine)
- “Why did the army shut down a Palestinian village? So settlers could pray in it” (+972 Magazine)
- “Extreme left opposes Mosh Ben Ari’s performance in the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem“ (Arutz Sheva)