Settlement & Annexation Report: December 15th, 2023


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

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December 15, 2023

  1. Israel Expropriates More Land in Silwan For the Settler-Backed Cable Car Project
  2. Key Hearing on Givat Shaked Settlement Scheduled for Next Week
  3. Israel Government Planning Decision to Extend Domestic Construction Laws to Settlements (An Act of De Facto Annexation)
  4. Hamoked Seam Zone Petition Rejected by Supreme Court
  5. US Delays Rifles to Israel Over Settler Violence
  6. International Bans on Violent Settlers Grow, Even as Criteria is Unclear
  7. Bonus Reads

Israel Expropriates More Land in Silwan For the Settler-Backed Cable Car Project

According to reports, on December 10th the Jerusalem Municipality announced the expropriation of 10 dunams (~3 acres) of land in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan in order to enable the construction of the cable car project, which is promoted by (and designed to benefit) the Elad settler organization. Peace Now reports that the new expropriations are supposed to be “temporary”, and will expire in eight years, in order to allow the Municipality to survey and test the land to determine the final location of the giant pillars which will support the cable car. Once the location for the pillars is determined, that land will be permanently expropriated.

Image by Peace Now

Palestinian landowners were given 60 days to file objections to the “temporary” and future expropriation of their land.

As a reminder, the Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative backed by the powerful, state-backed Elad settler group and advanced by the Israeli Tourism Ministry. While public efforts to “sell” the cable car plan focused on its purported role in helping to grow Jerusalem’s tourism industry or in serving supposedly vital transportation needs, in reality the purpose of the project is to further entrench settler control in Silwan, via archeology and tourism sites, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there.  The State of Israel was forced to publicly admit that the implementation of the cable car project will require the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Notably, the cable car line is slated to terminate at the settler-run Kedem Center compound (Elad’s large tourism center, currently under construction at the entrance of the Silwan neighborhood, in the shadows of the Old City’s walls and Al-Aqsa Mosque).

The cable car project received final approval in May 2022, but the tender for construction has yet to be issued. Emek Shaveh speculates that the cable car tender might be issued on Jerusalem Day – which will be celebrated with ultranationalist, racist parades through the Old City next week — on May 18th and 19th. Emek Shaveh further warns that several other settler projects in East Jerusalem, including the Ben Hinnom suspension bridge and the zip line over the Peace Forest, are nearing completion and might also be part of Jerusalem Day celebrations. 

Emek Shaveh and other non-governmental organizations, including  Who Profits and Terrestrial Jerusalem, have repeatedly challenged (and provided evidence discrediting) the government’s contention that the cable car will serve a legitimate transportation need in Jerusalem, and have clearly enumerated the obvious political drivers behind the plan, the archeological heresies it validates, and the severe negative impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan. All objections to the plan were dismissed in May 2022.

Following the recent expropriation, Daniel Seidemann of Terrestrial Jerusalem says:

”Before relating to the significant geopolitical impact of the plan it is important to emphasize: the cable car is a crime against Jerusalem, regardless of who rules the city. Only those utterly detached from Jerusalem and its precious unique character could consider acting in a manner that will contribute to the transformation of Jerusalem into a Biblically themed theme park – the disneyfication of Jerusalem. The cable car was initiated by the settlers in Silwan, who were actively involved in promoting the plan.The cable car is part of a much broader scheme to seamlessly integrate occupied East Jerusalem into pr-1967 Israel, by surrounding the religious and historical core of the city with biblically motivated settlements and settlement-related projects. The settlers aspire by these means to transform their settlement enclave into an extension of pre-’67 Israel so as to include the settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.”

Key Hearing on Givat Shaked Settlement Scheduled for Next Week

Ir Amim reports that the Jerusalem District Planning Committee is scheduled to meet on December 19th for a hearing on objections to the Givat Shaked settlement submitted by the public. This hearing is one step towards the approval of the settlement plan, which outlines 700 settlement units (in 4 high-rise towers and several six-story buildings), a school, and commercial buildings, all to be built on a highly sensitive and geopolitically critical sliver of land located within the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. Ir Amim further notes that the plan is advancing at a rapid pace, with this hearing coming just days after the close of the objection period.

The plan for Givat HaShaked is unprecedented, according to the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, in that it is the first settlement of this size that that Israeli government will establish within a Palestinian neighborhood.  Beit Safafa is already in the process of being completely surrounded by Israeli development (for Jewish Israelis) — most notably the new Givat Hamatos settlement, which the government is expanding.

The Israeli NGOs Bimkom and Ir Amim filed a joint objection to the Givat Shaked plan, contesting two factors:

  1. That the plan itself is unjust and discriminatory, the land designated for the settlement is inside of the Palestinian neighborhood Beit Safafa and should be used to address the severe housing crisis faced and lack of schools by Palestinian East Jerusalemites.
  2. The improper and exceptional role that the Israeli General Custodian has played in initiating a settlement plan for land which it does not own, but which it is a caretaker until the heirs of the land are located (more below).

As a reminder, the Israeli government has been sitting on plans for Givat HaShaked for decades, but has refrained from implementing them because doing so would require the government to seize a sizeable amount of land in East Jerusalem, some of which is privately owned by Palestinian residents of Sharafat (a section of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa). Other parts of the land proposed to be used for the Givat HaShaked settlement plan are managed by the Israeli General Custodian (but neither owned or claimed by the government of Israel) – 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.”  This answer 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.

Another important facet of how Givat HaShaked is being advanced now is the decision by the Israeli government in late 2020 to initiate a (typically secret) 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.”

For a deep dive into land registration in East Jerusalem, please listen to a new FMEP podcast featuring Kristin McCarthy (FMEP) in conversation with Amy Cohen (Ir Amim).

Israel Government Planning Decision to Extend Domestic Construction Laws to Settlements (An Act of De Facto Annexation)

On X, Itay Ephstein (Senior Humanitarian Law and Policy Consultant and Special Advisor to the Norwegian Refugee Council) reports that the Israeli government is preparing to present within 30 days a detailed ordinance which, if approved,  would extend Israel’s domestic planning and construction law to its settlements the West Bank. This would further Israel’s de facto and bureaucratic annexation of the West Bank through the application of Israeli domestic law in the occupied territory, and it would likely lead to a massive construction boom in the settlements. Currently, planning and construction in the West Bank is governed by the Israeli Defense Ministry within which Bezalel Smotrich serves as a civilian ministry in charge of all construction matters in Area C of the West Bank.

Hamoked Seam Zone Petition Rejected by Supreme Court

Hamoked reports that the Israeli Supreme Court has rejected two (1, 2) of its recent petitions seeking relief for Palestinian landowners and farmers who have been denied access to their agricultural land in the Seam Zone, the sizeable amount of West Bank land trapped between the Israeli separation wall the 1967 Green Line (i.e. land that was de facto annexed to Israel when Israel built the separation wall along a route the cuts deeply into the West Bank). The Court rejected the petitions in agreement with the State’s contention that, given the events of October 7th and after, it is dangerous to let Palestinians cross the wall and the military cannot supply the necessary troops to operate the designated gates where farmers can cross through the wall and access their land. 

Hamoked reports that the Court accepted the security argument without dispute, and did not even discuss Israel’s legal obligations, under both Israeli and international law. Beyond the legal infringement on the rights of landowners, the inability of PAlstinians to harvest their crops not only deprives them of profit this year, but crops can suffer if not harvested – impacting production for years to come. 

US Delays Rifles to Israel Over Settler Violence

Axios reports that the Biden Administration is slow-walking the sale of >20,000 M-16 rifles  to the Israeli state amidst concern the rifles will end up in the hands of settlers and pressure on Israel to mitigate settler violence in the West Bank. 

Despite holding up the sale of rifles, the Biden Administration has simultaneously bypassed Congress to finalize the sale of 14,000 tank shells to Israel for its war on Gaza (worth $106 million). According to Politico, the sale transfers not only 14,000 120mm M830A1 High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer tank cartridges, but also includes the provision of U.S. support, engineering and logistics. 

The juxtaposition of these sales tracks with the Biden Administration’s increasingly focal concern for settler terrorism in the West Bank alongside its tight embrace of Israeli military actions in Gaza and in the West Bank.

International Bans on Violent Settlers Grow, Even as Criteria is Unclear

The United Kingdom is the latest government to announce that it will ban Israeli settlers who  participate in violent crimes in the West Bank. European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell also announced his support for the EU imposing such a ban.

 Though the number of countries to announce a settler ban policy, the mechanics for creating a list of sanctioned settlers is very murky. Haaretz reports that the countries who have announced the new ban policy are struggling with creating the criteria by which names can be added to a list of banned settlers. The U.S. appears to be operating independently of its allies’ complementary efforts to decided criteria and create a list. Part of the impetus behind the actions of these governments is the lack of prosecution and accountability by the Israeli government for settlers who have been involved in violent crimes, so relying on Israeli government actions cannot reasonably serve as a basis for action. And as the Israeli NGO Yesh Din has thoroughly documented for years – only 7% of crimes by settlers that are reported by Palestinians to the Israeli police (which is likely only a fraction of all the crimes) results in an indictment, even though video footage of settler crimes is now commonplace.

In its December 14th report, OCHA documents the following data on settler violence since October 7th

  • Settlers are responsible for the death of 8 Paletinians and injuries to 85.
  • Settlers have perpetrated at least 343 attacks against Palestinians, resulting in Palestinian casualties (35 incidents), damage to Palestinian-owned property (263 incidents), or both casualties and damage to property (45 incidents);
  • Settler violence has contributed to the displacement of at least 189 Palestinian households comprising 1,257 people, including 582 children;

Bonus Reads

  1. ”Far-right minister calls for Israel to ‘fully occupy’ Gaza, reestablish settlements” (The Times of Israel)
  2. “How Israeli settler violence is forcing Palestinians to flee their homes – video” (The Guardian)
  3. “European Financial Institutions’ Continued Complicity in the Illegal Israeli Settlement Enterprise” (Don’t Buy Into Occupation)