Settlement & Annexation Report: December 17, 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 17, 2021

  1. In Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian Family Faces Immediate Displacement, While Israel Begins Work on New Settler Garden at Entrance to the Neighborhood
  2. Israeli Custodian General is Behind Six New Settlement Plans Across East Jerusalem
  3. Israel Custodian General Reveals New Details on Regulations Governing its Management of East Jerusalem Properties, Leaving More Questions
  4. Israel Forges Ahead with New Settlements on the Golan Heights
  5. Following Murder of Israeli Settler, Settlers Launch Attacks of their Own & Attempt to Establish New Outpost
  6. Gantz Moves to Send More Police to West Bank to Monitor Settler Violence
  7. Meanwhile in Israel…Political Storm Ensues Over Whether Settler Terrorism Is a Problem or Not
  8. Bonus Reads

In Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian Family Faces Immediate Displacement, While Israel Begins Work on New Settler Garden at Entrance to the Neighborhood

Courtesy of an eviction order hand-delivered by settler impresario and Jerusalem city councilman Aryeh King, and his colleague Jonathan Yosef, the Palestinian Salaam family has been ordered to vacate their Sheikh Jarrah home of 70 years by December 29, 2021. King and Yosef assert they are the legal owners of the home, which is located in the Umm Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah, having bought it from the heirs of the Jewish family that owned the property prior to 1948.  Peace Now has produced a helpful timeline of the full history of the Salaam’s home.

This purchase took place, without a doubt, thanks to the help of the Israeli Custodian General – the body that manages property abandoned by Jews in 1948 when their heirs are unknown – which almost certainly helped King and Yosef in identifying the property, locating the heirs and securing its sale (see Peace Now’s excellent report on the Absentee Property Law for more legal background on how this happens).

On December 15th, Ir Amim documented the scene as settlers, under the protection of Israeli police, fenced off the Salaam family’s land (where they are supposedly permitted to live until the 29th) in an attempt to prevent Palestinians, including the Salaam family, from accessing the area.

Peace Now said in response:

“This is a terrible injustice based on the cynical exploitation of a discriminatory law that allows Jews to exercise the ‘right of return; to property lost to them in 1948, at the expense of Palestinian families legally living in the property, while another Israeli law denies the same right to Palestinians. This is exactly what the Mishnah says: ‘He who says: mine is mine and yours is mine, is called evil’. The State of Israel, which took the Palestinian refugees’ properties lost to them in 1948, cannot today allow settlers to take from Palestinians Jewish properties lost in 1948 and on which they are have already received compensation. The government can stop this evacuation, and it must do so.”

The eviction of the Salaam family comes as the government of Israel is pursuing the displacement of as many as 70 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah. 

In parallel,  the Israeli government has begun construction on a settlement installation (including a “public garden” as well as a driveway that will service an as-of-yet-unbuilt Israeli hotel in the neighborhood) at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah, including the demolition of several Palestinian businesses. Notably, the site of this project is very close to the tomb of Shimon the Righteous, which is a religious site closely associated with the settler enclave in Sheikh Jarrah. The Jerusalem Municipality previously expropriated the land, which was privately owned by Palestinians, “for public use” — an Israeli legal tactic that permits the State to confiscate even privately owned land ostensibly to benefit the “public” (a “public” that it seems never includes Palestinians in East Jerusalem).

 In October 2021, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the appeals by the business owners to stop the demolition. This week, bulldozers leveled a plot of land owned by four Palestinian families and that was the location of two Palestinian businesses, a car wash and a parking lot. The business owners were handed an immediate eviction notice on December 14th, just one day before the bulldozers began work. 

Israeli Custodian General is Behind Six New Settlement Plans Across East Jerusalem

Map by Haaretz

Haaretz reports that the Israeli Custodian General is planning six new settlement enclaves, to be located in some of the most sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. The news comes one week after the public learned of one of these plans, Givat HaShaked (see FMEP’s reporting last week), which is now understood to be part of a larger Israeli government plan to advance a slate of new settlement enclaves across East Jerusalem. As a reminder, the Israeli Custodian General is empowered by the State to  act as caretaker of land that has unknown ownership. 

While details on the plans are scant for the time being, Haaretz reports that the Israeli Custodian General is planning new settlements buildings that include:

1 – A new settler enclave in Sheikh Jarrah, in an area known as Um Haroun. As has been well documented, Palestinians are in a battle to stay in their longtime homes in Sheikh Jarrah while the Israeli Custodian General and Israeli settlers work hand-in-hand to displace them. Thirteen Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah (whose legal battle will impact dozens more) are still awaiting a Court ruling on their displacement at the hands of settlers. Haaretz reports:

According to a custodian document, it administers 33 plots out of a total of 58 in the neighborhood. Five more plots have been expropriated by the Israel Land Authority. The city zoning plan allows for the demolition of the old structures and construction of buildings up to four-stories in their stead, or expanding them to that height. This could mean the construction of a neighborhood containing hundreds of housing units in the heart of Sheikh Jarrah. The Justice Ministry’s Land Registrar recently completed the registration of the neighborhood to its Jewish owners, so it is likely that any neighborhood built there will be for the Jewish population.”

2 – A new settler enclave near the Damascus Gate, near the Old City of Jerusalem, where approximately 10 Jewish Israeli families have already established a settlement enclave.

3 – Two new settler enclaves near Beit Safafa, one being the Givat HaShaked settlement plan which FMEP covered in greater detail last week. The second plan is not far from where the Givat HaShaked settlement would be built, and reportedly would involve a large settler compound with dozens more settlement units to be built in the sliver of land between Beit Safafa and the Talpiot Industrial Zone. 

4 – A new settler enclave in Sur Baher. Reportedly, the Custodian is hoping to add more land to its holdings in Sur Baher (it currently holds 3.3 dunams and is attempting to gain 2 more dunams), meaning this plan could expand. 

5 – A large new settler enclave in Beit Hanina. The Custodian is reportedly looking to build dozens of new settler units on six dunams of land (1.5 acres), to be located on a plot adjacent to the IDF Central Command base. The Custodian has also sought the cooperation of the Defense Ministry in promoting this plan.

The Justice Ministry, which houses the Custodian General, attempted to dodge these reports, telling Haaretz that it is not “advancing” any of these plans other than the one in Sheikh Jarrah, where it says it is “examining a construction project.” 

Israel Custodian General Reveals New Details on Regulations Governing its Management of East Jerusalem Properties, Leaving More Questions

Under pressure from an impending court hearing, on December 11th the Israeli Custodian General submitted a document to the Court purporting to enumerate the regulations governing its management of properties in East Jerusalem. The Custodian General was facing a December 14th Court hearing on a petition filed by the Israeli NGO Ir Amim along with Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah, that asserted no such regulations existed, enabling “severe misconduct and collaboration with settler groups to initiate evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, which severely infringes on the rights of Palestinians in the city.” Some 70 families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood are facing homelessness because of the Custodian General’s collusion with settlers seeking their displacement from properties in which they have lived, legally, for decades.

In light of the Custodian General’s new publication (which the court viewed as resolving the complaint against the State), the Court dismissed the petition without prejudice, meaning the petitioners are permitted to file a new case on the same matter in the future.

Ir Amim filed the petition following news that the Custodian General has advanced a plan to build a new settlement – Givat HaShaked – on property it manages. As reported last week, this is an unprecedented move by the Custodian General, raising questions about whether the Custodian General is permitted to allow properties under its management to be developed. The document submitted to the Court this week by the Custodian General only raises more unanswered questions about the parameters governing the Custodian General’s ability to act as a property developer for properties that it does not own (only manages while awaiting the locating of the legal owners/heirs). Ir Amim further explains:

“The procedure includes dozens of clauses, none of which reference the possibility that the custodian may itself file plans and build residential complexes on a lot it owns. One clause refers to this indirectly, stating, ‘When initiated, or if contacted regarding urban renewal or planned improvements, the Custodian General shall examine the essence of the request and its impact on the administered property.’ ​​Indeed, planning sources are unfamiliar with any case in which the custodian acted as a realty entrepreneur by improving the properties it holds. The subject raises another issue: the custodian is technically forbidden to sell property. Therefore, it remains unclear whether the apartments built in these various compounds will be sold on the open market, or whether they will remain the property of the custodian, who will rent them out. The Justice Ministry has not responded to clarify the matter.”

Israel Forges Ahead with New Settlements on the Golan Heights

At the recommendation and with the approval of Prime Minister Bennett, on October 14th Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked signed off on two orders establishing a settlement municipal authority in the occupied Golan Heights, a move that opens the door for an expedited planning process for existing and new settlements in the area. This includes the construction of the infamous “Trump Heights” settlement in addition to planned settlements called Givot Eden, Asif, and Matar. Last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel’s plan is to double the settler population in the Golan Heights by 2030.

The special committee, which will act as a zoning board with broad planning authority, will have the combined powers of local and district planning and building committees, but will not include members who represent the public – an anomaly in the Israeli planning system.

The committee has already completed initial work by laying out the territorial borders of the “Trump Heights” settlement, which will cover 276 dunamns (about 70 acres). With its borders decided, the committee will move to expedite construction plans for residential housing, public buildings, industrial areas, roads and more. 

On this massive settlement effort, the Haaretz Editorial Board writes:

Occupied territories are occupied territories and annexation is annexation, even when it’s the Golan Heights and even when the annexation plan is called “a plan for encouraging sustainable demographic growth.”…We must tell it like it is. This is an artificial population expansion project, meant to strengthen Israel’s grip on the Golan Heights and create facts on the ground that will make it difficult for future leaders who might consider holding negotiations on the territory. To expedite matters, the Prime Minister’s Office seeks to create a “special committee” with the powers of the local and regional planning and building committees, but without the customary inclusion of public representatives. This is a national project. Like the so-called Judaization of the Galilee. Like the settlement enterprise.”

Al-Monitor provides a helpful background on the occupied Golan Heights and the creation of “Trump Heights”:

“Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1981, Menachem Begin’s government formally annexed the territory. This unilateral move was not recognized by any country until Trump came along. In March 2019, his administration changed long-standing American policy by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the region. A proclamation signed by Trump declared, ‘The State of Israel took control of the Golan Heights in 1967 to safeguard its security from external threats. Today, aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, in southern Syria, continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel. Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats. Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.’ Three months later, the [Israeli] Cabinet convened for a special session in the Golan Heights and approved the establishment of a new settlement named for the US president. At that meeting, a huge sign decorated with Israeli and American flags was unveiled at the entrance to the new settlement. Written on it in gold letters was the name Ramat Trump.”

Following Murder of Israeli Settler,Settler Launch Attacks of their Own & Attempt to Establish New Outpost

On December 17th, a Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a settler vehicle near the dismantled settlement of Homesh, in the northern West Bank, killing one man – Yehuda Dimentman – and injuring two others. The IDF has apprehended several suspects already.

Though the Homesh settlement was evacuated by the Israeli government in 2005 – and military orders have barred Palestinians from entering the area – settlers have been allowed to establish an unauthorized outpost at the site, where the settlers also operate a yeshiva. Settlers have been openly obsessed with the desire to re-establish Homesh, hosting religious events and protests at the site, some of which have been attended by Israeli MKs and politicians. At the funeral for Dimentman, which several Israeli politicians attended, already begun calling for the government to formally reestablish the Homesh settlement. 

In the hours following news of Dimentan’s death, settlers have already begun exacting revenge – with little to no interference from the IDF, though the outpouring of violence is an entirely predictable established pattern in the wake of Palestinians attacks. In the Palestinian village of Qayrut, a group of at least 15 settlers launched and especially violent attack on a Palestinian home, knocking on the door pretending to be Israeli soldiers at 4am, then proceeding to ransack the house and severely beat Mohammed Makbal – sending him to the hospital. No suspects have been apprehended, though several were caught on camera.

Within 24 hours of the attack, settlers from the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron moved to establish a new outpost in honor of Dimentan, called Nofei Yehuda. In this case, the IDF moved in swiftly to remove the settlers from the area. The outpost was established by members of the Nahala settler movement, of which Dimentan was a part. Nahala is behind a lot of unauthorized construction in the West Bank, and is a leading force in the battle over the Evyatar outpost.

Peace Now has written about the Nahala Movement, saying:

“The Nahala organization and the main activists of the new outposts are not the mainstream old-guard settlers (like the Amanah organization who is behind many other settlements and outposts and gets much more support from the authorities), however they are not a small fringe. This outpost is an example of a rift that is being created within the Israeli right wing. The more extreme right, which is willing to challenge the system more strongly, and the old-guard settlers who continue the mentality of working ‘with’ the government as much as possible. On the partisan level we see this rift in the creation of two different parties: Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennet, and the Jewish Zionism, headed by Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir. The challenge of the new outpost puts the new shaky government, which is a coalition of parties which don’t agree about many things, to face its first big political test. The extreme right is signaling that it is planning to continue to challenge the new government, like it had done in the flags march in East Jerusalem, and in yesterday’s settlers’ marches throughout the West Bank.”

Gantz Moves to Send More Police to West Bank to Monitor Settler Violence

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Leg have agreed to draft hundreds of Israeli soldiers into the (domestic) police force, so that Israeli police can then be reassigned to the West Bank partly to fill posts dedicated to policing settler violence. 

Settlers, of course, are not thrilled about the new attention being paid to settler terrorism experienced by Palestinian communities across the West Bank, and which has increased over the past year. According to Israeli government data (which does not systematically track settler violence against Palestinians) the Shin Bet logged 272 “violent incidents” in the West Bank in 2020; so far in 2021, there have been 397 “violent incidents” recorded by the Shin Bet. The UN recorded even more attacks this year – 450 as of December 6 – compared to 358 in all of 2020 and 335 in 2019.​​B’Tselem, which recently released an excellent report on settler terrorism, documents a 28.6% increase in settler violence in 2021 over 2020. Yesh Din, which also documents settler violence while seeking justice and accountability, notes that only 5% of cases it filed from 2018-2021 (238 total cases filed, while it documented 540 total cases) have resulted in indictments. Palestinians have increasingly declined to file police reports regarding settler crimes, with so few cases actually resulting in any tangible good for the victim.

For a SMALL sample of the terrorism inflicted by settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank on a daily basis, see the following reports from the past week by WAFA news:

Meanwhile in Israel…Political Storm Ensues Over Whether Settler Terrorism Is a Problem or Not

Following months (which followed years, which followed decades) of settler terrorism against Palestinians, this week Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) set off a political clash within Israel over the issue. In comments made alongside U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland — and after Israeli diplomats have allegedly come to believe that the Biden Administration is “obsessed” with “settler violence” (though other reporting contradicts that claim) – Bar-Lev called settler terrorism “severe” and said that Israel is taking steps to address it.

Those comments were seen as a betrayal by many of Bar-Lev’s pro-settler coalition partners, and elicited  some strong condemnations. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) said Bar-Lev is “confused.” MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) called Bar-Lev a “bastard” and tweeted “shame on you, little man.” 

The drama also drew comment from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet who, it should be recalled, relies heavily on the settler constituency and is also ideologically closely aligned with the settlers, having once served as the head of the top settler body called the Yesha Council. Bennett appeared to dismiss Bar-Lev’s comments, in effect giving official cover for an a green-light to continued and unaccountable settler terrorism, tweeting:

“The settlers in Judea and Samaria have been suffering from violence and terrorism, every day, for decades. They are the defensive wall of us all and we must strengthen them and support them, in words and deeds…There are marginal phenomena in every public, they should be dealt with by all means, but we must not generalize an entire public.”

 B’Tselem’s Executive Director, Hagai El-Ad, responded to Bennett’s claim, telling Haaretz:

“There’s a propagandistic façade here that’s convenient for Israel…There’s a few bad settlers, or more, on one side, and on the other is the good state of Israel, which seeks to enforce the law. But that isn’t the truth. Both the state and the settlers want the same thing – to dispossess Palestinians of their land.”

This relationship – between the settlers and the State when it comes to dispossessing Palestinians – was spelled out in a recent B’Tselem report, “State Business: Israel’s misappropriation of land in the West Bank through settler violence.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Mining Gold From East Jerusalem’s Streets” (Amira Hass for Haaretz)
  2. “This was the deadliest year for Palestinian children since 2014” (Khaled Quzmar for +972 Magazine)
  3. “Unearthing the Palestinian Neighborhood Buried Beneath a Tel Aviv Park” (Haaretz)
  4. “Fact Sheet: Israel’s E1 Settlement” (IMEU)
  5. “Opinion: Israel just showed its strategy on settlement boycotts: Gaslighting” (Gershom Gorenberg in the Washington Post)