Settlement & Annexation Report: December 23, 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 23, 2021

  1. Homesh Settlement Violence Continues As Knesset Rejects Plan to Authorize Outpost
  2. Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 1: Salem Family Gets Brief Reprieve of Expulsion from Home in Sheikh Jarrah
  3. Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 2: Salhia Family Receives Eviction Order
  4. Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 3: Skafi Family Turns Down $5 million Offer from Settlers for Home
  5. Israeli Supreme Court to Decide on (Likely Swift) Mass Demolitions in al-Walajah
  6. Church Leaders Launch Campaign Against “Systematic Attempt” to Rid Jerusalem of Christians
  7. Bonus Reads

Homesh Settlement Violence Continues As Knesset Rejects Plan to Authorize Outpost

In the days following a deadly attack by Palestinians on Israeli settlers near the site of the former Homesh settlement in the northern West Bank, Israeli settlers and their allies, predictably, have exacted revenge on Palestinian communities, with violent attacks that Israel has done little or nothing to prevent. Also predictably, they have demanded that, in response to the attack, the government authorize the illegal outposts/yeshiva at the site of Homesh, as well as additional new settlements. 

Despite an emotional plea by the family of the murdered settler – Yehuda Dimentman – and accompanying pressure from the settler constituency, the Knesset voted 59-50 against a declaration that would have urged Prime Minister Bennett to grant authorization to the Homesh outpost along with 70 other outposts in the West Bank. In addition, the text of the declaration urged Bennett “decisively prevent the evacuation of the Homesh Yeshiva, authorize it and to allow its students to study and live there.”

As a reminder, the Homesh settlement was dismantled by the Israeli government in 2005 as part of its “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. Homesh was ruled to have been built on land privately owned by the Palestinian village of Burqa, ownership which was legally recognized by the Israeli High Court of Justice. Nonetheless, since 2005 Israeli authorities have permitted settlers to retain effective control over the area, including via establishing and operating an [illegal] religious school (aka, yeshiva) at the site for the past 15 years. The yeshiva lacks any permits/planning authorization — authorization that is impossible given that in 2005 the IDF declared the Homesh site to be a closed military zone. As such, both Palestinians and settlers are prohibited from entering the area (let alone building on it). That restriction, however, in practice has been applied to only one population (the one that has been recognized by Israel as the legal owners of the land), and for years, the IDF has turned a blind eye to the yeshiva, despite warnings about the outpost’s violence and repeated confrontations. The recent attack targeted settlers departing from that [illegal] yeshiva.

Within days of last week’s attack, settlers moved to expand the outpost/yeshiva at the Homesh site. On December 18th, settlers managed to erect new, prefabricated buildings at the site, adjacent to the existing (illegal) yeshiva. In the process, settlers reportedly clashed with the IDF, which tried (and failed) to prevent them accessing the site.

On December 19th, the IDF moved in to dismantle the new (illegal) buildings, but did not dismantle the (equally illegal) yeshiva. At the same time, a group of 200 settlers attempted to reach the yeshiva and protest the removal of the outpost buildings, resulting in violent clashes with the IDF. Later, on December 22nd, Israeli authorities arrested the head of the illegal Homesh yeshiva – Rabbi Elishama Cohen – on “suspicion of violating the 2005 Disengagement Law” (the law that provided for the evacuation of the Homesh settlement). Cohen was soon released following intervention by top settler leader Yossi Dagan, but told to return to the police station for further questioning. The arrest infuriated MK Bezalel Smotrich, from the far-right Religious Zionism party, who slammed the Bennett government, saying:

“As part of the government’s decision to eliminate the Homesh yeshivai in response to the terrorist attack in which Yehuda Dimentman was killed and to reward terrorism, the police were sent today to persecute, arrest and deter him. They will not scare us. We call on the masses of the house of Israel to arrive tomorrow and march with Yehuda’s family, demanding an arrangement be made with the Homesh yeshiva.”

 The Jerusalem Post reports that the IDF has plans to dismantle the yeshiva following a seven day mourning period for Dimentman. 

Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 1: Salem Family Gets Brief Reprieve of Expulsion from Home in Sheikh Jarrah

The expulsion of the Palestinian Salem family from their home of 70 years in Sheikh Jarrah has been delayed on a technicality. +972 Magazine reports that the eviction order was paused because the settler (Aryeh King) who pompously hand-delivered the order to the Salem family was not legally empowered to do so, forcing the Jerusalem court to annul that order (which had set the expulsion for December 29th) and issue a new order, which will reportedly be delivered to the family in the coming weeks.

The delay follows notable attention on the case from international actors, including a visit by diplomats from the European Union. +972 Magazine further reports:

“A source in the Israeli government told +972 that various ministries have been turning their attention to the expulsion of the Salem family due to concern over the political ramifications (developments in the neighborhood remain closely watched by Palestinians and by foreign governments). Some Israeli officials have even looked into legal possibilities for the family to further appeal the ruling, in an attempt to stall its implementation. Israel’s Foreign Ministry provided +972 with the following response, which it said had been coordinated among all relevant government bodies: ‘The State of Israel is a state governed by rule of law, and the ruling of the court — which are known for their independence and the balance they provide on sensitive issues — is binding. The implementation of the ruling will be carried out by the authorities that take into account all the relevant factors, including the appropriate preparations before every move. Any attempt by extremists, and particularly the Hamas terrorist group, to exploit the situation to increase incitement, violence, and terrorism should be rejected.’”

Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 2: Salhia Family Receives Eviction Order

On December 20th, Israeli authorities reportedly delivered an eviction notice to the Palestinian Salhia family in Sheikh Jarrah, in the area near the British Consulate, with the eviction date set for January 25th. The order pertains to a plot of privately owned land – purchased by a Salhia elder in 1967 – on which the Salhia family has built two homes. Israeli authorities had previously delivered an eviction order to the Salhia family in October 2021, that order has since expired – prompting this new order to be issued.

Mohammad Salhia told Middle East Monitor that the Jerusalem Municipality offered to delay the eviction by 8 months if he signed a legal agreement giving up claim to ownership of the land and turning his family into merely tenants of the buildings (he refused). 

According to the WAFA report, in 2019 Israel issued an order to unilaterally seize the plot for the “public interest” in order to establish a school there. This school was originally planned to be built on a different parcel of land, however, the Israeli government gave this land to an Ultra-Orthodox organization in order to build the Glassman yeshiva (a settlement project). In the absurdity of land use in East Jerusalem, now, in order to build the school, the government has opted to confiscate the Salhia family’s land.

Settler/State Displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, Part 3: Skafi Family Turns Down $5 million Offer from Settlers for Home

Al-Monitor reports that the Palestinian Skafi family has turned down an offer by settlers to purchase their home in Sheikh Jarrah for an astounding $5 million. Abdel Fattah Skafi told Al-Monitor:

“The family, similar to others in the neighborhood, will not accept any tempting offers by the Israeli authorities, whether financial or an offer to grant them another piece of land as an alternative. We inherited the house from our ancestors and we will pass it on to our children and grandchildren, no matter how long the conflict with the settlers.”

The Skafi family (14 individuals) live in a large house surrounded by homes that have already been taken over by Israeli settlers. In order to access the house, the Skafis must pass through a narrow alley in front of the settler-inhabited homes. The family has been subjected to daily harassment and violence as a result of this reality.

Israeli Supreme Court to Decide on (Likely Swift) Mass Demolitions in al-Walajah

On December 26th, the Israeli Supreme Court is set to hold a final hearing on demolition orders against 38 Palestinian homes – in which around 300 people live – in the village of Al-Walajah, a small part of which is located within the municipal borders of Jerusalem (illegally annexed by Israel following the 1967 war). The State has asked the Court to lift a freeze on the demolition orders, arguing (as usual) that the houses – built by Palestinians on their own land – were built without the required Israeli permits. Ir Amim cautions that if the Court decides to greenlight the demolition orders, it is likely that the mass demolitions will be carried out very quickly. Ir Amim explains:

“The demolitions would likely be carried out very swiftly because the National Enforcement Unit under the Ministry of Finance has assumed responsibility for building and planning enforcement in this area since 2016. This unit is considered the most aggressive Israeli enforcement body. Indeed in the past five years, this unit has executed demolition orders in al-Walajeh immediately after the conclusion of court proceedings. Some 12 additional homes not protected by the appeal likewise face impending demolitions, four of which were carried out over the past few months, including one at the beginning of December. Roughly half of the homes in the annexed part of al-Walajeh have received demolition orders, and approximately 30 have already been executed since 2016 (including those mentioned above). These mass demolition orders, together with the absence of urban planning, threaten to uproot hundreds of al-Walajeh residents for a second time.”

As a reminder, it is all but impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israel to build “legally” on their own land in East Jerusalem and in Area C of the West Bank. In the case of al-Walajah, the situation is even worse: such permits are, literally, impossible to obtain, since the area lacks a required Israeli-approved “outline plan,” without which permits are an impossibility. In an effort to overcome this obstacle, Al-Walajah residents, with the help of planning experts, prepared and proposed an outline plan for the area, and for more than 15 years have worked to get Israel to approve it — to no avail. Israeli authorities have repeatedly (in January 2021 and again in March 2021) refused to approve the resident-backed plan, and have also refrained from initiating their own planning process. Indeed, the Jerusalem District Committee, as part of a January 25, 2021 ruling against the outline plan proposed by residents, deemed the area in question — where Palestinians have lived for decades — an “agricultural area” where no building would ever be permitted.  The result: Al-Walajah’s residents have been left with zero hope of obtaining the permits required to build on their own land – or keep their current homes located there.

Ir Amim writes:

“Demolitions in Al-Walaja are due to two combined Israeli policy decisions: On the one hand, Israeli authorities have never made an outline plan for the annexed part of Al-Walaja and residents therefore have no possibility of obtaining a building permit. All construction that has taken place in Al-Walaja since 1967 is thereby considered illegal under Israeli law. On the other hand, in 2016 the government decided to increase home demolitions – specifically targeting Palestinian communities. Since that year, the National Enforcement Unit (under the authority of the Ministry of Finance) began issuing and carrying out demolition orders in Al-Walaja. This unit is the most aggressive of the Israeli enforcement units. The combined effect of no outline plan and aggressive enforcement has led to half of the homes of the Jerusalem section of Al-Walaja currently being under threat of demolition. In January of this year (2021), the al-Walaja’s community most recent attempt to advance the outline plan they prepared for their village was rejected by the Jerusalem District Committee. Meanwhile, Israeli construction plans of thousands of housing units around Al-Walaja are advancing – including a new settlement on the Western side of the village. Indeed, demolitions in Al-Walaja are part of the creeping annexation Israel is advancing within the Greater Jerusalem area, specifically with the aim of connecting settlements near Bethlehem to Jerusalem, which would effectively fragment the Palestinian space of the southern West Bank.”

Church Leaders Launch Campaign Against “Systematic Attempt” to Rid Jerusalem of Christians

A group of high ranking Christian church leaders have launched a campaign protesting the treatment of churches and Christian residents in Jerusalem. They specifically cite settler violence and attempts to take over church-owned properties in the Old City as key parts of an effort to rid Jerusalem, and other parts of the Holy Land, of Christians. 

A statement issued by the campaign reads:

“The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognised in Isarlei law with respect to the Jewish Quarter. Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”

The campaign asks the Israeli government to:

“Deal with the challenges presented by radical groups in Jerusalem to both heChristian community and the rule of law, so as to ensure that no citizen or institution has to live under threat of violence or intimidation.”

The leader behind the new campaign is the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, whose Patriarchate has been in a particularly nasty (and muddled) battle with settlers over the fate of three prized Old City properties which have been long-owned by the church, but which settlers claim to have purchased (via a sale to a foreign real estate company acting secretly on behalf of the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim). Once Ateret Cohanim’s role became known, the Patriarchate sought to retain control of the properties, but over the course of a long legal battle, multiple Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court, validated the sale. The Greek Orthodox Church has received significant blowback from the sale of these properties to the settlers, including in January 2018, when Palestinians protested in Bethlehem in an attempt to block the arrival of Patriarch Theophilos III for Christmas celebrations.

In addition to the coalition of Church leaders based in Jerusalem, the campaign was boosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who joined the archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East (the Anglican Church) to issue a statement that was also published as an article in the London-based The Sunday Times, entitled “Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land.” 

In response to the campaign, the Israeli Foreign Ministry dismissed the concerns raised by Christian leaders as “baseless,” and claimed that the campaign “distort[s] the reality of the Christian community in Israel.” The Foreign Ministry went on to criticize the Church leaders for their alleged silence regarding the plight of Christians elsewhere in the Middle East, implying that the leaders are unfairly singling out Israel. This line of argument is tantamount to the Israeli government calling these church leaders antisemitic — tying in closely with the Israeli government-backed definition of antisemitism, according to which “applying double standards” in critizing Israel is a form of “contemporary” antisemitism.

Bonus Reads

  1. “De-emphasized under Trump, report shows Biden taking settler violence more seriously” (The Times of Israel)
  2. “Israeli Troops and Settlers Zero in on a New Target for Attacks: Palestinian Schools” (Haaretz)
  3. “Opinion | The U.S. Funding Challenges Facing the Israel-Palestine ‘Peace Industry’” (Haaretz)
  4. “Opinion: Mr. Blinken, you can pick up the phone and save a Palestinian village from destruction” (Washington Post)
  5. “Why Jerusalem Cannot be ‘Taken Off the Table’” (Crisis Group)