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August 28, 2020
- High Court Orders Demolition of Mitzpe Kramim Outpost – but Validates Legalization Tactic
- Settlers Establish Two New Illegal Outposts, One of Which Has Already Been Forcibly Evacuated
- Groups & Experts File Objections to E-1 Settlement Plan, No Date Set for Discussion
- Rami Levy Sues the UN Over Settlement Business Database, Claims His Business Benefits Palestinians
- Following UAE-Israel Deal, Settlers Keep Heat on Netanyahu for Annexation, Decry Alleged Settlement Freeze
- Israel Escalates Home Demolition Campaign Against Palestinians in East Jerusalem [in Spite of COVID Resurgence]
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com)
On August 27th, a 3-person panel of the Israeli High Court of Justice issued a significant ruling related to illegal settler construction in the West Bank – on the one hand requiring the demolition of an outpost, and on the other hand validating a legal principle designed to facilitate the widespread legalization of such unauthorized settlement construction on privately owned Palestinian land in other cases.
Specifically, the panel ruled that construction of the Mitzpe Kramim outpost, located on a ridge overlooking the Jordan Valley, was not undertaken in “good faith.” In a 2 to 1 vote, the judges held that the Israeli government bodies which gave settlers permission (though not official authorization) to build the outpost ignored “multiple warning signs” that the land was privately owned, and therefore those bodies did not act “in good faith” in allocating the land to the settlers. The ruling overturns a lower court decision in 2018 that affirmed that the settlers, the World Zionist Organzation, and the Israeli government did indeed “act in good faith” with regard to the way the Mitzpe Kramim outpost was built. Pursuant to this ruling, the Court decided that the structures in the outpost must be demolished within three years and ordered the government to provide new housing for the settlers before they are evacuated.
While the result will be (in theory) the removal of this specific outpost, this ruling is by no means a victory for the private property rights of Palestinians in the West Bank. Instead it validates the “market regulation principle” – an innovative legal tactic designed by Israel’s Attorney General to facilitate the erasure of Palestinian private property rights for the sake of the settlements. This is the first case involving the “market regulation” principle that has made its way to the High Court of Justice, making this a significant – though not definitive – ruling on the applicability of the principle more widely.
The “market regulation” principle was articulated in a December 2018 legal opinion issued by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit, who had originally conceptualized the principle as an alternative to the Settlement Regulation Law in late 2016. The Settlement Regulation Law was recently found to be unconstitutional and overturned by the High Court of Justice. According to the “market regulation principle” – which contradicts any notion of rule of law or the sanctity of private property rights – settlement structures and outposts that were built illegally on private Palestinian land can be legalized if the settlers and other involved bodies acted “in good faith” (in the eyes of the Court) when they took over and built on the land. The principle offers a path to grant retroactive legalization to the settlers for what this principle treats as “unintentional” land theft – throwing the notion of rule of law and property rights out the window. Peace Now has a comprehensive breakdown of the legal opinion, including the specific criteria outlining which outposts can qualify under the new scheme. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit estimated that 2,000 illegal settlement structures qualify for retroactive legalization using this principle,
Predictably, settlers and their political allies expressed outrage at the High Court ruling against Mitzpe Kramim, notwithstanding the victory it contained for illegal settlement construction in general.
The settler Yesha Council (the powerful umbrella group which represents all settlements) said that the ruling is:
“another scandalous decision by the Supreme Court, which seeks to harm the settlements in a grievous ruling that discriminates against Jews. There is neither justice nor logic here. The district court ruled that the settlement could be regulated, but in a draconian move the judges decided to demolish Jewish homes without any justification. This is severe discrimination against the localities in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, which was done in bad faith.”
Knesset Member Gideon Saar (Likud) said:
“The result reached by the majority judges on the matter of ‘Mitzpe Karmim’ is illogical and unjust. The State must continue to fight to regulate the status of the settlements and submit a request for a further hearing based on the ruling of Justice Hendel and to promote legislation, if necessary.” The Yesha Council demanded that Prime Minister Netanyahu “give an appropriate Zionist answer and immediately approve the construction of thousands of housing units throughout the settlements.”
Yisrael Gantz – Chairman of the settler Binyamin Regional Council – said:
“Supreme court judges have crushed the human rights of 250 residents and ordered the demolition of a living and prosperous settlement,” Gantz said. “In an unparalleled injustice, the judges overturned the district court’s decision and proved that only political motives and extreme leftist views guide them and cause them to abuse children and families and order the displacement of a thriving community…’The then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak approved the settlement’s construction on the ground after the area was carefully selected. The settlement was built at the time with full consent at its current location and now the Supreme Court is raising its hand against it.”
Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked – who was serving as Israel’s Justice Minister at the time the “market regulation” principle was introduced and first used as a means for retroactive legalization – called the ruling “damned.”
Palestinian media reports that settlers have set up two new outposts on privately owned Palestinian land over the past week: one north of Ramallah and another south of Hebron.
On August 24th, Palestinians residents of Birin just south of Hebron reported that settlers had moved caravans onto land for which Palestinian owners have legal deeds.
August 27th, Palestinians reported that settlers established a new outpost on lands belonging to the village of Obwein, just north of Ramallah. The Mayor of Obwein said that settlers brought four caravans onto land privately owned by Palestinians. According to the Times of Israel, the outpost was established by the settlers in memory of an Israeli man who was allegedly stabbed to death by a Palestinian just outside of Tel Aviv. Israeli Border Police forcibly evacuated the outpost shortly after it was established on August 27th. Video of the evacuation shows the settlers resisting evacuation by climbing onto the roofs of two makeshift sheds that they had built at the site. The video also shows an Israeli policeman punching a settler who is resisting evacuation, an incident that has led to settlers calling for the officer’s arrest.
On August 27th, Ir Amim, Peace Now, and the Association of Environmental Justice in Israel were joined by six leading Israeli academics from the fields of planning and geography and over 2,000 Israeli citizens in submitting an objection against Israel’s plans to grant final approval for the construction of the doomsday E-1 settlement, just east of Jerusalem. The Israeli Civil Administration has not set a date for its next meeting to consider the plan, at which it will consider granting final approval for the construction of E-1.
Ir Amim writes:
“The two E1 plans are for a total of 3,400 housing units on an area of over 2,100 dunams. Their construction will have far-reaching effects such as creating a contiguous, Israeli built-up area extending from Jerusalem through E1 to the Maale Adumim settlement – 11 kilometers beyond the Green Line. This will block the eastern connection of East Jerusalem to the West Bank as well as disconnect Ramallah and the north of the West Bank from Bethlehem and the south of the West Bank. Construction in E1 will be a death blow to the prospects of a sustainable Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem…Settlement construction in E1 will also mean the uprooting of roughly 3,000 Palestinian living in small Bedouin communities in the area, the most well-known of which is Khan al-Akhmar. The objection focuses on the centrality of E1 as the center of the Palestinian metropolis surrounding East Jerusalem. As its only open land reserve, it is essential for its development and for sustainable functioning of a future Palestinian state. Additionally, settlement construction in this area will fragment the Palestinian space and have many negative impacts on the nearby Palestinian towns.”
The E-1 area has long been slated for Israeli settlement construction, but plans have been continuously delayed by the Israeli political echelon – due in large part to pressure from past U.S. administrations and others in the international community. Long called a “doomsday” settlement by supporters of a two-state solution, construction of the E-1 settlement would sever the West Bank effectively in half, foreclosing the possibility of drawing a border between Israel and Palestine in a manner which preserves territorial contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. It would likewise consolidate the isolation of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann has issued numerous warnings in 2017 that E-1 might be slated for advancement under the current settlement policy of the Netanyahu government and with no discernable counter-pressure from the Trump Administration. Seidemann warned in January 2017, “The main obstacle preventing a green light for E-1 has, until now, been wall-to-wall opposition from the international community, led by the United States (dating back to the era of President Clinton).”
Israeli supermarket mogul Rami Levy has filed a lawsuit against the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), asserting that the inclusion of his businesses (“Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing” and “Rami Levy Communications”) on the UN database of businesses which operate in Israeli settlements amounts to defamation. Levy is being represented by Shurat HaDin, an Israeli organization engaged in global lawfare against critics of Israel and Israeli policy. The lawsuit, filed in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, seeks around NIS 280,000 ($82,000) in damages.
The UN has immunity from lawsuits like this, but Shurat HaDin insists that Levy’s case is exceptional because the UNHRC “blatantly deviated” from its mission in publishing the database, and that it is “pure racism on the basis of nationality and religion.” The lawsuit argues that Levy’s business operations in the settlements do not constitute a violation of Palestinian rights, but that they in fact “improve the rights of Palestinians and their financial well-being immeasurably” by providing Palestinians employment opportunities.
As a reminder, on February 12, 2020, following nearly four years of delay, the UNHRC published a (non-comprehensive) database of businesses involved in building, maintaining, securing, and servicing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The database was requested by members of the Council in March 2016, in order to assist member states in complying with international legal obligations with regards to doing business with companies involved in activities which violate the human rights of people around the world. The database lists 112 companies found to be conducting business with Israeli settlements.
Rami Levy operates a network of supermarkets in settlements, including a massive new mall in the Atarot Industrial Zone, located in East Jerusalem. All of Levy’s projects are branded as “coexistence”-building business initiatives. The new mall was praised by US Ambassador David Friedman as “a simple path to peace.”
This “coexistence” argument has been dismantled by the Israeli watchdog group Who Profits, which explained:
“The Jerusalem mall would mark a new stage in Levy’s involvement in the occupation economy…[which] began with providing services to Israeli settlers and continued with the exploitation of Palestinians as a cheap labor force in his supermarkets. He now appears to be turning his attention to massive construction projects on occupied Palestinian land and the exploitation of a Palestinian captive market in the East Jerusalem…Rami Levy is in a position that would allow him establish a large mall on “virgin land” because the Israeli authorities have prevented Palestinian businesses from competing with Israelis. Levy’s plan would take advantage of the fact that Palestinians do not have other large-scale retail facilities. A flourishing market in Bir Nabala was destroyed by Israel’s wall in the West Bank. And venturing into West Jerusalem is not an option for Palestinians, most of whom live below the poverty line. Although there is every likelihood that the Israeli authorities will portray Levy’s mall as beneficial to Palestinians, there are important facts to be remembered. Palestinians entering his mall will not be exercising the right of a consumer to informed choice. Rather, they will be captive clients — belonging to an occupied people.”
Following UAE-Israel Deal, Settlers Keep Heat on Netanyahu for Annexation, Decry Alleged Settlement Freeze
In the wake of the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal in which Israel committed to “suspending” its annexation plans for an undefined period of time, settlers and their allies have criticized Netanyahu and also continued to push for annexation. Since the announcement of the deal, Netanyahu and his Likud Party have sought to soften the public presentation of the deal regarding annexation, denying that Netanyahu has permanently abandoned annexation while attempting to avoid directly contradicting statements from President Trump Administration and his son-in-law Jared Kushner [notably, former U.S. negotiator Jason Greenblatt contradicted Trump and Kushner, saying that annexation remains a a matter of “when” not “if”].
Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu’s assurances have not assuaged settler leaders.On Monday, August 24th, Yesha Council Chairman David Elhayani told The Jerusalem Post that he fears Netanyahu has not only abandoned annexation, but has also frozen all settlement construction as part of the deal with the UAE. Elhayani points out that the Israeli High Planning Committee — the body within the Civil Administration which is responsible for approving building plans in the West Bank — has not met in over six months, and the meeting scheduled for this week was cancelled without explanation. Elhayani claimed:
“[Settlement] Planning has been frozen. For half a year, the council has not met. Each week, we’re told it will meet next week. We’re being played as if we’re a chip on a backgammon board…We demand that the prime minister convene the council immediately. The prime minister has rejected sovereignty, we must move to actions on the ground and building freely, without the political permits and limitations that don’t exist in the rest of the State of Israel.”
An anonymous official directly rebutted Elhayani’s allegation regarding a freeze, saying:
“The plans will be brought in the near future for committee approval. Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought about an unprecedented construction boom in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and will continue to do so.”
Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked also directly challenged Nentayahu over the UAE deal, saying:
“[Bibi’s] claim that [sovereignty] is still on the table is just spin… we all know it…Netanyahu missed a huge opportunity and I do not know if we will have such an opportunity again with such a positive administration in the White House,”
Israel Escalates Home Demolition Campaign Against Palestinians in East Jerusalem [in Spite of COVID Resurgence]
In a new report, Ir Amim highlights with alarm Israel’s escalation of home demolitions in East Jerusalem over the past couple of months. Since the beginning of August, 23 Palestinian homes have been demolished in East Jerusalem. Since the beginning of 2020, Israel has demolished 89 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, compared to 104 such demolitions during all of 2019. Of the homes demolished in 2020, 58 houses were self-demolished by Palestinians as a means of avoiding the huge fees Israel imposes on Palestinians when Israeli authorities demolish their homes. An additional 45 structures – including businesses and storage units – were also demolished since August 2020. The demolition wave serves to exacerbate the existing systematic discrimination in Israel’s planning laws and legal proceedings which target Palestinians while largely ignoring violations by Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem.
Ir Amim explains:
“This is due to recent legislation – Amendment 116 to the Planning and Building Law, also known as the Kaminitz Law – which increases enforcement and penalties against unpermitted construction and also limits the court’s ability to intervene on behalf of families who try and legalize their homes. The Kaminitz Law (named after Erez Kaminitz, the deputy state attorney who led the drafting of the bill) came into full effect at the very end of 2018. And indeed, 2019 saw a sharp rise to a yearly total of 40 self-demolitions of housing units in comparison to 10-15 housing units in previous years. Now, in less than a year since January 2020, this record has already been passed by nearly 50%…Intended to increase enforcement and penalization of building violations, the amendment was initiated by right-wing factions in the Knesset in reaction to the allocation of government funds to promote outline plans for building in Arab communities within the Green Line. Needless to say, the swift implementation of Amendment 116 outpaced the much slower progress in government allocations for planning, which have yet to overcome the longstanding and systematic discrimination in the building and planning policies applied in Arab towns.”
Press reports based on Ir Amim’s reporting correctly point out that the uptick in East Jerusalem demolitions came just as a second wave of the coronavirus was manifesting across Israel, including in East Jerusalem.
Ir Amim researcher Aviv Tatarsky told The Times of Israel:
“The state has already recognized that this is not an appropriate time to demolish people’s homes. As to why they decided on one policy in March and another now, that is a question for the state.”
- “Normalization and the Status Quo on Haram al Sharif/The Temple Mount/Al Aqsa” (Terrestrial Jerusalem)
- “An Occupation Vacation” (Haaretz)
- “A ‘road revolution’: Settlers push Israel to expand West Bank infrastructure” (+972 Magazine)
- “The Palestinian’s ultimate guide to crossing an Israeli checkpoint” (+972 Magazine)
- “These Settler Farmers Are All About Peace and Love – Just Don’t Mention Land Theft” (Haaretz)
- “15 Years After Israeli Pullout, Many Palestinians Still Barred From Reaching Their Land” (Haaretz)
- “Attention UAE Leaders: Israel Is Advancing De Facto Annexation” (Haaretz)