Settlement & Annexation Report: December 10, 2021


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

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December 10, 2021

  1. Israel Advances Plan for New East Jerusalem Settlement, “Givat HaShaked”
  2. Israel Decides on a Last Minute (& Temporary) Delay of Atarot Settlement
  3. Shaked Funds, Elevates Settler Municipal Council in Hebron
  4. Demolition of Palestinian Property in Area C Hit a Five Year High in 2020
  5. Israel Escalates Intimidation of Activists Working in the South Hebron Hills
  6. Bonus Reads

Israel Advances Plan for New East Jerusalem Settlement, “Givat HaShaked”

On Wednesday December 8th, the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee advanced a plan to build a new settlement, called “Givat HaShaked,” to be located on the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem – on the northwestern part of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. The plan would see construction of 473 settlement units, as well as schools. The plan also includes plots designated for two synagogues, the latter fact casting doubt on the Jerusalem Municipality’s assertion that “the Givat HaShaked plan is not necessarily designed for a specific demographic.”

Ir Amim reports that a portion of the land on which Givat HaShaked would be constructed is privately owned by Palestinian residents of Sharafat, which is a section of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa on the southern end of Jerusalem. It should be recalled that Beit Safafa – which is suffering from an acute housing crisis that Israeli authorities have refused to address – is in the process of being completely surrounded by Israeli development (for Jewish Israelis) — most notably with final approval of the Givat Hamatos settlement plan, for which tenders were issued in January 2021

Other parts of the land proposed to be used for the Givat HaShaked settlement plan are managed by the Israeli General Custodian – a fact Ir Amim calls “highly unusual and seemingly marks a new phenomenon.” The Israeli General Custodian is empowered by the State to  act as a caretaker of land that has unknown ownership until the heirs are located. In an attempt to explain why the General Custodian has the authority to approve a plan for construction on land that the State does not own, the Israeli Justice Ministry told Haaretz that the plan for Givat HaShaked increased the value of the land and that “by law, the administrator general is obligated to care for the assets under his management in a way that will benefit their private owners.”  [An answer that implies, bizarrely, that if and when Palestinian heirs are located, they will be somehow better off with their land having been used to build a settlement].

It must be remembered that in late 2020 the Israeli government initiated a registration process for land in East Jerusalem, including in the Sharafat area. At this time, it is unknown whether the land managed by the General Custodian in Sharafat (and designated for the new settlement) has been – or is in the process of being – registered. On that uncertainty, Ir Amim writes:

“…in the event that it is the same location [where formal land registration has taken place], this move would constitute yet another brazen example of how the settlement of title procedures are repeatedly being used to aid state authorities and settler groups in taking over more land in East Jerusalem…Although portrayed as a measure to ostensibly benefit Palestinian residents, there has been grave alarm that these [land registration and settlement of title] procedures would in fact be exploited to confiscate Palestinian land for political purposes, leading to the expansion of Jewish settlement and widespread Palestinian dispossession in the city.”

It should also be recalled that Israeli authorities undertook the secret registration of land for the benefit of settlers in Sheikh Jarrah. For further information on the highly sensitive and consequential land registration process in East Jerusalem, please see FMEP’s reporting here and Ir Amim’s reporting here.

Ir Amim said in a statement on the Givat HaShaked plan:

“As 2021 comes to a close, it has become more evident that although the current Israeli government is comprised of a broad coalition, it is unequivocally advancing a hardline rightwing agenda propelled by far rightwing politicians in strategic positions. Since the theoretical “government of change” came to power half a year ago, it has successfully undertaken systematic measures, which sabotage any remaining viability of a negotiated political resolution and carry severe ramifications on Palestinian human rights. Settlement advancements in the most sensitive locations in and around East Jerusalem have accelerated unimpeded, while heightened threats of mass Palestinian displacement from the city have soared to an unprecedented level.”

Terrestrial Jerusalem founder Daniel Seidemann tweeted:

“Atatrot, E-1, Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and now Givat Hashaked reveal the Bennett Doctrine:  ‘Leave no eye un-poked’.”

Israel Decides on a Last Minute (& Temporary) Delay of Atarot Settlement

At a hearing on December 6th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee ordered an environmental study be completed before it advances a plan for the construction of the new Atarot settlement on the northern border of Jerusalem. The court-ordered study is expected to take about one year. Notably, in ordering the study, the Court made it clear that the environmental study is “standard practiceand expressed support for the underlying plan, saying it believes the plan represents a proper use of unutilized land reserves.

The decision to delay the advancement of the Atarot settlement plan came as a bit of a surprise, as Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had assured settlers only last week that the plan would indeed be advanced at the meeting. However, Bennett has come under sustained scrutiny and pressure from the U.S. – most pointedly in a call on December 2nd with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In the call, as reported by The Times of Israel, Blinken made it clear to Bennett that the U.S. would be unhappy if the plan was advanced, even if Israel committed that the construction would not move forward (as reports suggested was the preferred Israeli solution — one that the Israeli government likely thought would appease both settlers and the U.S.). Blinken is reported to have made it clear that any advancement of the project would be unacceptable. Notably, U.S. diplomats were in attendance at the December 6th hearing, which came one day after Thomas Nides presented his credentials to the Israeli government to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Nides’ ceremony was originally scheduled for December 6th (the day of the hearing) but was reportedly rescheduled to not coincide with the Atarot hearing.

Meanwhile, Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej (Meretz) is considering how to advance his own plan to build a new airport at the Atarot site, a plan which has the support of Israeli Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor).

As a reminder, the Atarot plan calls for a huge new settlement on the site of the defunct Qalandiya Airport, located on a sliver of land between Ramallah and Jerusalem. In its current form, the plan provides for up to 9,000 residential units for ultra-Orthodox Jews (assuming, conservatively, an average family size of 6, this means housing for 54,000 people), as well as synagogues, ritual baths (mikvehs), commercial properties, offices and work spaces, a hotel, and a water reservoir. If built, the Atarot settlement will effectively be an Israeli city surrounded by Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods on three sides and Ramallah to its north. Geopolitically, it will have a similar impact to E-1 in terms of dismembering the West Bank and cutting it off from Jerusalem. For more on the Atarot settlement plan, please see here.

Shaked Funds, Elevates Settler Municipal Council in Hebron

On December 1st, an Israeli news station reported that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked allocated $158,000 to the settlers in Hebron for the “development of municipal services.” Al-Monitor reports that this is the first such allocation of funds for Hebron’s nascent settler municipal body, which Shaked was part of establishing in 2017, when she served as Justice Minister.

Prior to receiving permission to form a municipal body in 2017, the loose cluster of settlements located in Hebron’s city center (home to around 1,000 settlers) had technically fallen under the municipal jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, while for all practical purposes operating as an enclave under full Israeli control and authority.

Hebron Mayor Taysir Abu Sneineh warned that Israel has repeatedly stoked tensions in Hebron – citing Israel President Isaac Herzog’s recent Hanukkah celebration at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrahimi Mosque. The Mayor believers that Israel is trying to replace the Palestinian-run Hebron Municipality with a settler organization, telling Al-Monitor:

“This is not to mention the daily attacks [by settlers] in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood and al-Shuhada Street. The city is sitting on a volcano, and things might explode at any moment.”

Karim Jubran, director of field research at the Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization B’Tselem, told Al-Monitor

“Settlers are tightening the noose around the lives of half a million Palestinians in Hebron, especially those who live in the H2 area, as hostages of settlers and the Israeli army.”

Demolition of Palestinian Property in Area C Hit a Five Year High in 2020

According to data from the Israeli Civil Administration, Israel demolished 797 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C of the West Bank – marking a five year high. The data was obtained via a freedom of information request filed by the Israeli NGO Bimkom.

The soaring number of demolitions is congruent with the escalating, government-funded and government-equipped campaign run by settlers to more aggressively wield building laws against Palestinians in Area C, even as settlers continue building unauthorized outposts in violation of the same building laws, and rarely facing consequences. Just last month, settlers formed a new task force coordinating settler advocacy on the topic. In October 2020, the Israeli government allocated nearly $2650,000 to 14 settler councils in order to buy drones and hire policeman to patrol Palestinian construction in Area C. The government also set up a hotline for settlers to report illegal construction.

As a reminder, under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided into 3 “areas” – Area A, B, and C – pending a permanent status Israeli-Palestinian agreement that would determine final control over all the land (an agreement that was supposed to have been reached by by May 1999). Area C –  which accounts for around 60% of the West Bank – was to be (temporarily, until an agreement was concluded) under full Israeli control over Area C. However, throughout the 28 years since the Oslo Accords were signed (and with no peace agreement achieved or in sight), Israel has systematically expanded settlements and its control over lands in Area C, including by denying Palestinians in Area C permits to build “legally” (under Israeli law) on their own land. As a result, Palestinians have been forced to build without Israeli permits (i.e., “illegally” in the eyes of Israeli authorities), and Israel has responded by issuing wide-scale demolition orders and carrying out frequent demolitions. 

In recent years, Israel has increasingly treated Area C as indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory, extending its laws and regulations to the area and its Israeli settler inhabitants. In parallel, settler groups – most notably the notorious “Regavim” – have lobbied Israeli authorities to crack down on “illegal” Palestinian construction, claiming that Palestinians are trying to “take over Israeli land”.

As part of these ongoing efforts — by settlers and the Israeli government — to entrench and expand Israel’s control over/de facto annexation of the entirety of Area C, in September 2020 the Israeli government allocated 20 million NIS ($6 million USD) for the newly created “Settlement Affairs Ministry.” That ministry was given the mission of surveying and mapping “unauthorized” (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C (the same construction which Israel has been aggressively demolishing). This funding further empowers a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already annexed by Israel. 

The Knesset has also repeatedly hosted forums to discuss the alleged (by settlers and their allies/advocates) “Palestinian takeover of Area C.” This framing is predicated on the assertion that Area C belongs to Israel (an assertion that is not supported by the Oslo Accords) and must be defended against Palestinian efforts to “steal” it. Consistent with this framing, and under pressure from various outside groups, many members of the Knesset have criticized the Israeli government’s alleged failure to robustly “defend” Israel’s rights and interests in Area C (e.g., failure to prevent/destroy “illegal” Palestinian construction, failure to block foreign government-funded humanitarian projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area; failure to clear out Palestinians from the area, expand settlements, and consolidate state-built settlement infrastructure; etc.).

Israel Escalates Intimidation of Activists Working in the South Hebron Hills

In two separate – but by all indications connected – actions over the past week, Israeli authorities detained and interrogated several Jewish Israeli activists (some of whom are American citizens) involved in Palestinian solidarity and anti-occupation efforts related to raising awareness around settler violence, land seizures, and firing zones in the South Hebron Hills. 

In Jerusalem, police twice raided the home of several Jewish activists on allegations that some of the residents were involved in spraying graffiti on public property as part of an anti-occupation action. In the course of those two raids, police ransacked the house and photographed all the residents, later summoning them for interrogation about the allegations of graffiti and opening cases against some of them.

Later the same day, there was an incident in A-Tuwani, a Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills. A settler jogging through A-Tuwani – a bizarre action by a settler given that A-Tuwani has been the target of intense settler attacks – was confronted by Palestinians. The incident was eventually resolved in the presence of Israeli police and Israeli activists staying in the village in solidarity with Palestinians. Subsequently, the IDF summoned three of the Israeli activists for questioning about the incident. Those three activists (plus another two) were then detained, interrogated, and charged — with charges ranging from obstructing justice, assault, and failure to prevent a crime. The charge of assault was later dropped; the charge of failing to prevent a crime is a novel charge, generally reserved for cases of murder. The activists were later conditionally released, some after accepting a 15-day ban on entering the South Hebron Hills. In parallel, Israeli Police raided two homes in A-Tuwani – one of the homes houses Israeli activists, the other is the home of a Palestinian family prominently involved in activism and documentation of settler violence in the area. The Israeli police confiscated (without a warrant) equipment owned by the activists and the Palestinian Al-Adra family, including cameras, computers, and a jeep – all of which are vital tools in documenting the ongoing settler terrorism.

Attorney Riham Nasra, who is representing the three activists who were charged, told +972 Magazine:

“It is clear that this arrest is an attempt to inflate accusations in order to intimidate and deter activists, to prevent them from continuing their important activities. They were turned into suspects only because they did not cooperate with the investigators’ attempts to indict them. From the hearing it is clear that the activists were never suspected of involvement in the attack. Their arrest is part of the attempts to keep the activists out of the South Hebron Hills, where they expose the atrocities of occupation and human rights violations.”

The actions come at a time when settler terrorism in the South Hebron Hills is a matter of growing international scrutiny, and come only a few short weeks after U.S. members of Congress visited Palestinians in the area. One of the members of Congress, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), followed up his visit by tweeting, “Today ⁦@JamaalBowmanNY & I visited w/ Nasser of Susia in Palestine today to discuss Israeli settler violence to his village. We will be watching to make sure no violence occurs this weekend or anytime.”

For more insight and details on these arrests and the background of the South Hebron Hills, check out FMEP’s latest podcast featuring Oriel Eisner and Maya Eshel – two of the Israelis arrested in Jerusalem and the South Hebron Hills, respectively – entitled, “Israeli Government Escalates Pressure on Israelis Who Stand in Solidarity with Palestinians.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israel, sans West Bank, officially joins EU’s huge flagship R&D program” (The Times of Israel)
  2. “New Israeli Government’s Scorecard for Peace: Poor.” (Dahlia Scheindlin for The Century Foundation)
  3. “How settler violence is fuelling West Bank tension” (The Guardian)
  4. “The Temple Mount movement is soaring under Israel’s new government” (+972 Magazine)
  5. “Israeli settlers have a new target, and it’s not in the West Bank” (+972 Magazine)
  6. “Why Settlers Are Quietly Happy With Israel’s post-Netanyahu Government” (Anshell Pfeffer in Haaretz)