Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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August 4, 2022
- Encircling Jerusalem: Israel Advances Settlement Plans Across the City, While Settler Projects Tighten the Noose
- Dumping Any Pretense of Respect for Rule of Law, Israeli High Court Reverses Course, Allows Mitzpe Kramim Outpost to be “Legalized”
- Settlers Acquire Another Home in Downtown Hebron
- Elad Closes Palestinian Access Road Near Sambuski Cemetary in Silwan
- This Week in Area C, Part 1: JNF Approves Purchase of Palestinian Land In Jordan Valley While High Court Weighs Petition
- This Week in Area C, Part 2: Regavim Files Petition Pushing for Immediate Demolition of Palestinian Construction in Area C
- This Week in Area C, Part 3: Settlers Continue to Occupy Six Sites After Recent Attempt to Establish New Outposts En Masse
- Groups Petition to Cancel New Israeli-Led Archeological Dig in the West Bank Citing Legal Questions
- Bonus Reads
Encircling Jerusalem: Israel Advances Settlement Plans Across the City, While Settler Projects Tighten the Noose
It must be stressed that events over the past several months (while the Settlement Report has taken an abbreviated form) have rapidly accelerated the encirclement of Jerusalem by settlements and settler-backed projects — developments which come at the direct expense of Palestinians — their presence in Jerusalem, their rights as land owners, and their quality of life. This encirclement continues to progress, unabated and almost entirely unchallenged, each day.
Last week, on July 25th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee advanced plans for two brand new settlements in East Jerusalem – “Givat HaShaked” and the “Lower Aqueduct” plan. These two settlements that would nearly complete the encirclement of Jerusalem to the south. Details of those plans are:
- The Lower Aqueduct plan (1,465 new units) was approved for deposit for public comment. This plan would see a new settlement – called the Lower Aqueduct Plan – built on a small sliver of land between the controversial settlements of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa – and is intended to connect them. In so doing, it will establish an uninterrupted continuum of Israeli settlements on the southern rim of Jerusalem, and destroy the contiguity of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
- The Givat HaShaked settlement was also discussed, and the Committee opted to increase the total number of units that the plan outlines for construction, from ~400 to 700 housing units, plus schools and synagogues. Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem both report that, after a few technical requirements are met, the plan to build Givat HaShaked is expected to receive final approval when the Committee reconvenes in the coming weeks. The plan for Givat HaShaked is unprecedented, according to Terrestrial Jerusalem, in that it is the first settlement of this size that that Israeli government will establish inside of a Palestinian neighborhood – Beit Safafa, which will be completely encircled by Israeli construction if Givat HaShaked is built.
These plans are significant developments in the effort to establish settler hegemony over East Jerusalem, but are only part of the story of how the encirclement of East Jerusalem has rapidly advanced over the past months. In addition to the construction of new settlements and growth of existing ones, settlers are succeeding in advancing new projects under the guise of tourism (like: the Cable Car, a new visitors center in Batan Al Hawa, and more) and the State is undertaking systematic efforts to take over more and more land. Those methods include the revival of a politicized land registration process in East Jerusalem and the expansion of “national park” lands onto the Mount of Olives. Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan also continue to face the looming threat of dispossession through Court proceedings. In a rare piece of good news — on July 21st the Israeli Supreme Court partially accepted a petition filed by the Duweik family, which has led to the (temporary) freezing of their eviction.
Another facet is the looming threat is the seemingly growing inevitability of the construction of the E-1 settlement to Jerusalem’s east. Prior to the arrival of U.S. President Joe Biden in Jerusalem on July 13th, the Israeli government intervened to postpone a critical hearing on the E-1 settlement, rescheduling it for September 12th. The rescheduled hearing, if it is not postponed yet again, could result in granting final approval to the highly contentious plan (and barring intensive outside pressure such additional postponement seems highly improbable, given the Israeli domestic politics and the upcoming national election). See Terrestrial Jerusalem for a recap of President Biden’s visit.
Dumping Any Pretense of Respect for Rule of Law, Israeli High Court Reverses Course, Allows Mitzpe Kramim Outpost to be “Legalized”
Nearly two years after ruling there is no possible legal basis by which the Mitzpe Kramim outpost can be retroactively “legalized” under Israeli law, the Israeli Supreme Court has now reversed course and will allow the State to formally legalize the settlement using the so-called Market Regulation principle.
In its original ruling, issued in September 2020, the High Court held that construction of the Mitzpe Kramim outpost was not undertaken in “good faith” because there were “multiple warning signs” that the land was privately owned by Palestinians. The outpost was ordered to be dismantled at that time. Now, with apparently no new evidence, the Court decided to accept the settlers’ claim of “good faith.”
The “good faith” condition for retroactive legalization of illegal settler construction on privately-owned Palestinian land is a central element of the “market regulation” legal principle which was devised by former Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in December 2018 as an alternative to the (now overturned) Settlement Regulation Law. The principle offers a path to grant retroactive legalization to the settlers for what this principle treats as “unintentional” land theft – throwing the principles of both rule of law and private 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. It is estimated that 2,000 illegal settlement structures qualify for retroactive legalization using this principle.
Yesh Din writes on the significance of this ruling:
“This ruling overtly indicates Israel’s intentions to continue to pursue retroactive legalization of illegal Israeli construction in blatant disregard of the rights of the local Palestinian population of the West Bank. The State of Israel continues to ignore the duties bestowed upon it by IHL, as the occupying power, to protect the occupied population. Additionally, as the occupying power, Israel is prohibited from transferring the occupier’s population into occupied territory. The interpretation of the Supreme Court’s majority opinion will, in practice, undoubtedly serve to fulfill the intentions of the repealed Regularization Bill from 2017. It will enable settlers, backed by the Civil Administration and other State authorities, to take over thousands of dunams of Palestinian land, leading to human rights violations on a massive scale all over the West Bank and serving as the basis for future negligent and illegal policies, which are now more likely to be given the go-ahead by the Supreme Court. This ruling symbolizes a turning point of Israel’s Supreme Court, which, for the first time, has endorsed the forced confiscation of privately owned land, which is not required for military needs, for the sole purpose of use by Israeli civilians for the establishment of a new settlement.”
In +972 Magazine, Orly Noy writes:
“The court’s ruling could potentially pave the way for the retroactive legalization of thousands more homes in outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land…The legalization of Mitzpe Kramim is only a footnote in Israel’s policies of dispossession and land theft on both sides of the Green Line, carried out through what the Israeli regime deems completely “legal” expropriations…And one more word regarding the concept of “good faith,” which was sufficient reasoning for the High Court to retroactively legalize the theft of private Palestinian land. This same line of argumentation did not protect the residents of Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in the Negev/Naqab, from being threatened with destruction and expulsion, even though they were physically placed where the village exists today in the 1950s by the military government after it expelled them from their original land, on which Kibbutz Shoval now sits. Although the state itself was the one to move them to their new location, the residents of Umm al-Hiran have lived for decades without basic infrastructure such as water and electricity — that is, until the state decided to destroy the village in order to build Hiran, a town for Jews alone, on its ruins. Unlike the settlers of Mitzpe Kramim, the residents of Umm al-Hiran did not take over land that did not belong to them, nor did they settle on private land that belonged to others. And yet, the state did not hesitate to brutally deport them — even killing a local resident, Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an, in the process. The same court that will allow the residents of Mitzpe Kramim to remain on land it itself admits does not belong to them did not hesitate to legalize the cleansing of Umm al-Hiran. Because, after all, in the apartheid regime, even the concept of “good faith” applies solely to Jewish citizens.”
On July 28th, a settler group called Harchvi announced it has purchased a three-story house in central Hebron, very close to the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrahimi Mosque and on the Palestinian side of a key IDF checkpoint (the “Pharmacy” checkpoint), which Israeli Jews are supposed to be prohibited from crossing. The group was granted a purchase agreement by the Israeli Defense Ministry this week, which seemingly legitimizes the settlers claim to have purchased the property – but it is not a final determination of the legality of the transaction. This is the second such house in Hebron that settlers have claimed to have purchased from Palestinians owners this year.
Providing more detail on the status of the house, Peace Now writes:
“Peace Now has no information regarding the alleged deal in this case. We know from many other cases in Hebron and in the West Bank that these are dubious purchases, which are sometimes based on forgery or the purchase of only small parts of the property. It almost always turns out that the settlers may have managed to acquire the rights from one person, but the rest of the rights holders did not agree and the issue gets to courts for lengthy hearings. When settlers entered the Za’atari house in March 2018, the case got to the courts and the legal argument is still pending, but the settlers are still in the house. Every purchase of land in the territories requires the approval of the Minister of Defense – according to the law in the Occupied Territories, in order to make a transaction and register it in the land registry, a transaction permit from the Civil Administration is required. Any such transaction-permit requires the prior approval of the Minister of Defense. In this case, it is hard to believe that the settlers have a transaction permit from the Minister of Defense. In all previous cases the settlers hurry to establish a fact on the ground, enter the house and only then submit applications for registration of purchase, and only then does it come to the Defense Minister’s approval. The defense minister can refuse and prevent the execution of the deal.”
In addition to the settlement activity in Hebron that the state of Israel has formally (and publicly) sanctioned, +972 Magazine reports this week that over the past month settlers have been bulldozing Palestinian stores that have been inaccessible to their owners for more than 20 years under Israel closure orders. Though the Israeli Civil Administration has denied authorizing the settlers’ destruction of the stores over the past month, one of the Palestinian shop owners, Tareq Al-Kiyal, raises the point that “Nothing moves in the Old City — and certainly no bulldozers come in and destroy buildings — without a green light from the army.” Palestinians have filed a police report regarding the damage to the stores, which they believe were demolished by settlers in order to expand the nearby settlement enclave, Avraham Avinu.
The shops are in an area referred to as the Kiyal Market, which was “temporarily” shuttered by the Israeli army in 2001 during the Second Intifada. Since then, Palestinians have been forbidden from reopening the shops and cannot even enter their shops to remove valuable equipment. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers have systematically looted the stores, and have been using the buildings for warehouses, recreational spaces, and even as housing.
Emek Shaveh reports that the Elad settler group has blocked an access road near the Sambuski cemetery in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, a move which blocks car traffic to the Wadi Rababa area of Silwan where some 150 Palestinian families live. Palestinian residents, in partnership with Emek Shaveh, have appealed to several Israeli authoritative bodies (including the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, the Jerusalem Municipality, and the Israeli police) to remove the boulders blocking the road, but Elad has failed to cooperate with efforts to negotiate a solution and has instead continued their work at the site. Emek Shaveh reports that the ongoing blockage of the road has led to daily friction between Palestinians and Elad employees.
The Sambuski cemetery is deeply integrated into Elad’s overarching, comprehensive plan to control the Silwan neighborhood. However, the cemetery was a relatively unknown, neglected site until recent years. In 2020, the Trump “Peace to Prosperity” plan identified the Sambuski cemetery as a place of prime historical and religious importance to Israel, elevating the status of the cemetery. The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – which has a special expertise on archaeology and the way archeology has been weaponized to serve the political agenda of the settlers and the state – wrote a report on exactly how the Trump “Vision” supports settler efforts to use Jerusalem’s history and antiquities to promote Israeli-Jewish hegemony and control over the city.
Emek Shaveh explains how the cemetery is connected to other settler endeavors in Silwan:
“For the Elad Foundation the cemetery is a strategic site as it links together two important focal points of its enterprise – the neighborhood of Silwan, home to the City of David archaeological park and specifically to the Pool of Siloam at the southern tip of the site, and the Hinnom Valley an area which Elad has been developing for the past two years (more below).”
This Week in Area C, Part 1: JNF Approves Purchase of Palestinian Land In Jordan Valley While High Court Weighs Petition
At the urging of the Israeli government, the Board of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) approved the allocation of $18 million for the purchase of 250 acres (1,000 dunams) of Palestinian-owned land in the Jordan Valley, land that is the subject of a petition with the High Court of Justice.
Israel has controlled the land in question since issuing a military closure order in 1969. In the 1980s, the World Zionist Organization then allocated the land (which is privately owned by Palestinians) to settlers without any documentation of either having received control of the land from the government, or documentation allocating the land to the settlers. Since then, settlers have developed the land into profitable date farms. In 2018, several Palestinian landowners have filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to have the settlers removed from the area and the land returned to their control. In a contentious court hearing in June 2022, in which the State conceded that it does not know how or why the settlers were allocated the land in the first place, High Court Justice Esther Hayut told the State lawyer: “Given that you cannot explain how the land was given to those to whom it was given, does that give them the right to remain there forever?”
The JNF – via its subsidiary group Himnuta, which handles West Bank transactions – allegedly secured a deal with a Palestinian landowner to purchase the land in phases, starting with a smaller plot in 2018. Further phases of the the transaction were canceled due to criticism of the JNF’s involvement in land purchases in the occupied West Bank at the time. The deal is now back in process at the request of the Isareli Defense Ministry in order to finalize the transaction before the High Court.
This Week in Area C, Part 2: Regavim Files Petition Pushing for Immediate Demolition of Palestinian Construction in Area C
The settler group Regavim filed a petition with the Israeli High Court of Justice seeking to change operational procedures within the Civil Administration so that Palestinian construction in Area C can be immediately demolished – eliminating any chance for Palestinian landowners to challenge the demolition of their property – if it is believed to be illegal. Regavim calls it “absurd” that the Civil Administration would allow Palestinians a chance to assert their legal rights to build on land in Area C before demolition is carried out.
While settlers push for faster demolition of illegal (under Israeli law) Palestinian construction in Area C, a new piece by +972 Magazine reveals that an Israeli official who is in charge of handing out demolition orders against Palestinian buildings in the Massaffer Yatta region, himself lives in an illegally built home in an illegally built outpost. This only furthers the clear message that settler groups are not interested in ensuring the faithful enforcement of Israeli law, but are rather interested in wielding Israeli law as a weapon to displace and replace Palestinians.
This Week in Area C, Part 3: Settlers Continue to Occupy Six Sites After Recent Attempt to Establish New Outposts En Masse
According to an op-ed by Arlene Kushner, settlers continue to ”maintain a presence” at six sites located in Area C where they are planning to establish new outposts. These are the same sites that were part of a large-scale effort two weeks ago, led by the Nahala settler movement, to establish six new outposts all at once. That effort was thwarted by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who ordered Israeli security forces to prevent and remove settlers from the sites.
The determination of settlers to violate the law is unsurprising, in the ensuing hours after the failed operation a leader of the Nahala Movement, Daniela Weiss, told Haaretz:
“We’ll be back, of course. We’ll try to come back in a day or two. If it’s this Shabbat, I can’t say. We’re taking it one step at a time.”
The Israeli NGOs Haqel and Emek Shaveh report that on July 25th, an Israeli archaeologist launched a new excavation of the “Tel Tibnah” site in the Ramallah district, with sponsorship from the Israeli Bar-Ilan University. The NGOs jointly raised concerns about the political motivation behind the excavation, given “several fundamental legal and ethical issues” with the dig. The groups have called for the immediate cancellation of the excavation.
Haqel and Emek Shaveh further explain:
To the best of our knowledge, the site is situated on private and public lands of three Palestinian villages: Deir-Nisham, Beit Rima and Nebi Salah, and lies in proximity to the village of Abud. These lands are used by the local Palestinian population for agriculture and herding. In addition, within the site there is a spring that serves for drinking and irrigation. Initiating archaeological projects on privately owned land, even if these are declared as archaeological sites, demands that notification be given to the owners of these lands and their approval is required in advance. Entering private property without the permission of the owner is defined as a criminal act of incursion, even more so when conducting actions that might damage property and prevent access to the property, as is a frequent occurrence throughout the West Bank. The local residents unambiguously submitted their objection to the proposed excavations which will have a dramatic effect on their lives, impact their freedom of movement and violate their property rights. So far, this objection has not been taken into consideration.
The main question at stake is the State of Israel’s range of legitimate courses of action and that of Israeli academia. Initiation of an academic archaeological excavation serves, by nature, a scientific-academic motivation. This project does not serve an immediate necessity or mitigate against a pending danger, and does not meet the criteria as a “salvage excavation”, nor does it serve the local population living around the site. Any attempt to “govern” archaeological sites that are not within the sovereign borders of Israel is a political act and not a scientific one.
In addition, the claims of “antiquity robbery” should not justify state actions, and the political act should not be concealed as an archaeological one. The erosion of the distinction between heritage protection on the one hand and settlement and annexation on the other, threatens the future of archaeology.”
As FMEP has chronicled, settlers and their allies are intent on taking control of archaeological sites in the West Bank, and and seizing artifacts that are currently under Palestinian control. Settlers claim the sites are neglected and/or damaged. To that end, the settler groups known as “the Shilo Forum” and the “Shomrim al HaNetzach” (“Preservers of the Eternal”) — see background on these groups here — issued a report surveying 365 sites in the West Bank and arguing that the Palestinian Authority is moving to “erase all traces of Israel’s ancient Jewish heritage.” The accusations were in addition to allegations of neglect, mismanagement, and intentional damage. The report is part of the organizations’ campaign to push the Israeli government to assert control over these sites.
- “Saving Masafer Yatta: The Fight Against Expulsion” (Mondoweiss)
- “Military Rule: Testimonies of soldiers from the Civil Administration, Gaza DCL and COGAT (2011-2021)” (Breaking the Silence)
- “Palestinian family encircled by Israeli settlement” (Al-Monitor)