Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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December 3, 2021
- Israel to Advance Atarot Settlement Plan
- New Israeli President Kicks Off Hanukkah with Settlers in Hebron, Sparking Clashes and Raising Ire
- Court OKs Demolition of Palestinian Homes in Wadi Yasul (Silwan)
- “Day of Destruction” – Israel Demolitions in East Jerusalem & West Bank
- Government Contradictions Delay Final Decision on Jerusalem Cable Car Project
- Knesset Holds Hearing on Settler Terrorism
- Bonus Reads
At its upcoming meeting scheduled for December 6th, the Israeli Interior Ministry District Planning Committee is set to approve the Atarot settlement plan for public deposit.
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.
The Jerusalem District Planning Committee previously signaled its intent to advance the Atarot settlement plan, most notably by placing it on the December 6th agenda. After apparent pushback from the Biden Administration, on November 25th the plan was suddenly removed from the December 6th agenda, reportedly in fulfillment of a promise to the U.S. to freeze the project. That removal, however, proved short-lived. On November 28th, the Atarot plan reappeared on the agenda, confirming earlier comments Bennett made to the settler-run news outlet Arutz Sheva saying that the plan will indeed be discussed on December 6th. Apparently settling the matter, an Israeli diplomatic source said that the government will act on the plan by approving it for deposit for public review, while at the same time offering the U.S. a rhetorical commitment (but nothing more) that there will be no further advancement in the planning process for at least a year.
Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran cautions:
“‘…please, don’t buy any ‘promise’ that ‘we will not build’ (anyway the planning process takes a while, and even if they work hard and fast they can’t start to build Atarot in less than 3-4 years), what we need is clear: Don’t promote the plan; Shelve it.’ Ofran separately told The Los Angeles Times, ‘As soon as [the committee] approve[s] it, it’s like a snowball.’”
Ir Amim also warns:
“While the Israeli authorities may attempt to relegate the upcoming discussion as a prosaic, bureaucratic step in a lengthy approval process, it is a necessary stage in the plan’s final approval and indeed advances the plan one step closer to full validation.”
For further information about the Atarot plan – and what has transpired over the past week – please see the following two podcasts:
- “The Settlement That Wasn’t But Now Is” ft. Daniel Seidemann & Evan Gottesman (Terrestrial Jerusalem Podcast – 11/30/2021)
- “Scorched Earth & Settlements in Jerusalem” ft. Daniel Seidemann and Kristin McCarthy (FMEP podcast – 12/2/2021)
Isaac Herzog – the former head of the Jewish Agency who was sworn in as the new Israeli President in July 2021 – opted to make a highly political statement by attending a celebration of the first night of Hanukkah in Hebron, at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/al-Ibrahimi Mosque. Herzog’s choice is correctly understood to be an intentional embrace and legitimization of settlers in Hebron, and of the apartheid reality Palestinians experience everyday. In his speech at the event, Herzog emphasized recognition of “the historical affinity of the Jewish people to Hebron, to the Cave of the Patriarchs,” and spoke about the 1929 massacre of Jews in Hebron. He said nothing about Palestinian links to the city, the 1993 Hebron Massacre, or anything else related to Palestinian equities in the city.
Palestinian and Israeli activists protested the event, which led to clashes with the IDF.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry responded:
“The Israeli government bears full and direct responsibility for this event…[this is] a defiant move aimed at embracing the settlement enterprise and a blatant violation of international law and the international effort to curb unilateral measures.”
MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List) tweeted:
“Herzog did not go to light the first candle, he went to light Hebron…Whoever celebrates with fans of the killer Goldstein cannot be the president of all the citizens of the country.”
Peace Now, commenting on Herzog’s activities, said:
“[Hebron is] the ugliest face of Israeli control over the territories..It is inconceivable that the president, who is supposed to be a unifying figure, would choose, of all places, to light a candle in a place that has become a stronghold of oppression and violence.”
Commenting on the IDF’s preventing protests of Herzog’s appearance, Peace Now also said:
“While the president lights a candle with Baruch Marzel and the Kahanists, security forces are preventing law-abiding citizens from exercising their right to protest”.
In speculating that Herzog’s appearance in Hebron is indicative of his higher political ambitions [to become Prime Minister], Israeli analyst Anshel Pfeffer writes:
“Herzog’s decision to light the first candle of Hanukkah on Sunday night with the settlers of Hebron, [Kahanist MK] Ben-Gvir’s core constituency, should come as no surprise to anyone. These were the kind of people he courted before being elected president and he’s not about to shun them now, or anytime… The visit to Hebron is not an afterthought or a symbolic gesture of ‘unity.’ This was the very first Hanukkah-lighting of Herzog’s presidency, and his choice of venue signals how he intends to build his political brand throughout his term and beyond.”
The Haaretz Editorial Board – in an editorial entitled “Herzog Decided He Wants to Be the President of the Settlements. It’s Not Too Late to Change It” – pleaded with Herzog to cancel his plan, writing:
“Of all the places in Israel, the president chose Hebron, the ultimate symbol of the ugliness and brutality of the occupation and the violence and domineering of the settlers.
“The visit by Israel’s No. 1 citizen to that place – most of whose Palestinian inhabitants have been forced to flee in fear of the settlers and abandon their homes and stores, turning the heart of Hebron into a ghost town – is tantamount to granting official legitimacy to the appalling injustices perpetrated there every day, both before and after Dr. Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Arab worshipers in the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
“In no other place in the West Bank is Israeli apartheid so horrifyingly flagrant: segregated streets on which Palestinians are prohibited from walking; vehicle entry barred to the Palestinians still living there; checkpoints at every turn – only for Palestinians, of course. Violence and humiliation are the daily fare of every Palestinian resident at the hands of the settlers and their children, as well as the army and Border Patrol personnel who are stationed on every corner.
“That is where Herzog believes he must go. His planned visit to Hebron is a gesture of recognition of and solidarity with the most violent settlers and additional proof that occupied Hebron has been annexed to Israel, at least de facto. Otherwise, the president has no reason to go there.”
On November 28th the Jerusalem District Court cleared the way for the immediate demolition of 58 Palestinian homes in the Wadi Yasul section of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem – adjacent to an area known as the “Peace Forest”. The basis for the order is the Israeli claim that the homes lack Israel-issued building permits. The Court rejected an appeal to continue freezing demolition orders, filed by Palestinian homeowners, ruling that demolition orders can no longer be justifiably suspended because there appeared to be no prospect of Israel legalizing the homes, despite a 15-year effort on the part of Wadi Yasul’s residents to advance planning schemes that could have enabled Israel to rezone the land and legalize the homes.
An attorney representing the Palestinian homeowners told Haaretz:
“The residents have spent millions of shekels on these plans, but in the end, [city officials] broke their promises, posed insurmountable obstacles and insist on implementing the demolition orders and throwing the families out onto the street with no alternative.”
The brutal outcome Israel is meting out to the Palestinian residents of Wadi Yasul stands in stark contrast to the Israeli State and judicial system’s treatment of illegal settler construction in the same area — a reality that underscores the systematic discrimination that characterizes Israeli planning policies and enforcement facing Palestinians in Jerusalem. While pursuing the demolition of Palestinian construction and refusing efforts to address the issue, FMEP reported in 2019 how the Israeli government is working hand-in-hand with Israeli settlers to pursue every avenue to secure the retroactive legalization of the Elad settler group’s illegal construction. Even more brazenly, Israeli officials have been working to rezone the “Peace Forest” [something it refuses to do for Palestinians] in order to allow the Elad settler group to build more infrastructure in the area, including a tourist zipline and a promenade meant to connect settlement enclaves in the area.
Haaretz previously explained how Jerusalem authorities have repeatedly assisted Elad in its illegal activities:
“At first the NGO simply trespassed and built illegal structures there [the “Peace Forest”]. But things changed and gradually various local and national bodies – including the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel Land Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the JNF – began to grant Elad assistance. This assistance has included granting building permits retroactively, allocating land to the group without a proper bidding process, and generous funding to the tune of tens of millions of shekels… It has been sponsoring activities in the Peace Forest since 2005, despite the fact that it has no ownership rights there or permits from the ILA (the legal owner of the land, which was expropriated from private Palestinian owners).”
Ir Amim explains:
“The scope of settlement projects in the vicinity of Wadi Yasul – and the breadth and depth of state support awarded to Elad, including authorities’ overt efforts to retroactively legalize their own unpermitted buildings – illuminate the stark discrimination in planning that empowers the expansion of radical settlement inside Palestinian neighborhoods while putting their native residents at risk of displacement.”
In a 2019 report on Wadi Yasul, B’Tselem told the story of what’s transpiring there:
“The residents of Wadi Yasul built [their homes] adjacent to a forest, also located on privately owned land that was expropriated from its Palestinian owners in 1970. In 1977, the Jerusalem Municipality zoned the forest and the area where Wadi Yasul was later established as a green space, where construction is prohibited.
“In 2004, the neighborhood’s residents submitted a detailed plan to the District Planning and Building Committee for retroactive authorization of their homes. The committee rejected the plan in 2008, citing incompatibility with the Jerusalem 2000 Outline Plan, which states that the area where the neighborhood was built must remain a green space.
“At the same time, the municipality and the JNF (Jewish National Fund) – the body in charge of managing the forest – gave their approval to settler organization El-Ad to move forward with plans for group campgrounds, including building the longest recreational zipline in Israel. Some of the facilities have already been built in the forest, without building permits. While the city did issue demolition orders against them, it has refrained from following through.
“In contrast, over the last decade, the city has filed indictments with the Court of Local Affairs against all Wadi Yasul homeowners. The court then issued demolition orders for all of the homes and imposed heavy fines, fining each family tens of thousands of shekels. Three of the families appealed these decisions with the District Court. The appeals were dismissed in April on the grounds that “there are no clear and near planning prospects” for the approval of a plan that would see the appellants’ homes, or other homes in the neighborhood, approved. An appeal the families filed with the Supreme Court was also rejected. In late April, 47 other families filed a motion with the District Court seeking an interim injunction staying execution of the demolition orders. The court’s decision is still pending. Consequently, all of the homes in the neighborhood are still under immediate threat of demolition.
“Ever since 1967, planning policy in Jerusalem has been geared toward establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic majority in the city. Under this policy, it is nearly impossible to obtain a building permit in Palestinian neighborhoods. The outline plans the city has prepared for these neighborhoods are largely aimed at restricting and limiting building opportunities in Palestinian neighborhoods. One way the plans do so is by designating vast areas as open green spaces, thereby barring Palestinians from building there. The resulting housing shortage forces Palestinian residents to build without permits.”
On November 23rd, Israeli forces carried out a demolition campaign targeting Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, under the pretense that these homes lack Israeli-required Israeli-issued building permits (permits Israel systematically refuses to issue to Palestinians in East Jerusalem and in Area C). As a result of these demolitions, 22 people, including 15 children, were rendered homeless in a single day.
The demolitions included:
- 3 homes in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood of East Jerusalem. One of the buildings was a multi-unit apartment buildings;
- 1 home and a burial building (perhaps a funeral home) in villages in the South Hebron Hills;
- 1 tent and 3 livestock structures belonging to bedouin families living east of Ramallah;
- An agricultural road near Nablus. The road was used by the residents of ‘Asirah al-Shamaliyah to reach their farmland and also connects the town to Nablus.
“The wave of demolitions expresses the perception of the Israeli regime, which holds that land is a resource intended primarily to serve the Jewish population. This regime uses a variety of administrative, planning and bureaucratic tools to implement this concept. Governments come and go, but the apartheid regime remains untouched.”
On November 28th, the Israeli High Court of Justice held what was scheduled to be the final hearing to determine the fate of the Jerusalem cable car project — a project which has been promoted by the government and the Elad settler organization until this point. But instead of reaching a decision, the Court ended up giving the Israeli government a 21-day extension, by the end of which the government must explain its position on the project.
The proximate cause of the Court’s action was Israeli Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli’s (Labor) statement, delivered two days before the Court hearing, saying that “the cable car has no significant transportation role, and the harm will exceed the benefits.” That statement contradicts and completely undermines the rationale for the project that the government has put forward until this point — i.e., that the cable car will provide a legitimate transportation benefit. Given Michaeli’s statement, the Court issued its order for the State to clarify where it stands.
Commenting on the Court’s action, the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – which specializes in archaeology – said:
“We are pleased that after three years, the transport minister has said what we have been saying all along: that the Jerusalem cable car project is not a transportation project and is not an answer to the traffic issues near the Old City. We believe that its value for tourism has also been greatly misrepresented and although the plan is being advanced by the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Tourism Ministry it will primarily benefit a powerful interest group (the Elad Foundation) by transporting thousands of tourists to its hub at the City of David to the detriment of the historic city and its residents. We hope that the judges will rule that the approval process for the cable car plan severely undermined principles of good governance and on those grounds decide to put a stop to the plan.”
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. The State of Israel – which has pushed the project forward in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and despite commitments by the government to focus on public health matters only – was previously 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.
While public efforts to “sell” the cable car plan have 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. 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).
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.
On November 22nd a group of Knesset members – all hailing from political parties considered to be part of the Israeli Left – convened a hearing on settler violence against Palestinians.
As part of the hearing, several experts were asked to testify, including Ali Awad, a journalist and anti-settlement activist in the South Hebron Hills. Awad testified regarding his experience growing up in Tuba (read about that here), saying:
“I grew up in Tuba in the South Hebron Hills, under the threat of settlers my whole life. The military and settlers are working to steal our resources, rob us of our freedom, and take our land. There is full cooperation between the settlers and the army” [paraphrased by Breaking the Silence]
Peace Now Executive Director Shaqued Morag also testified, and emphasized that unauthorized outposts radiate settler terrorism and violence, serving as a tool for settlers (and the state) to take over more and more land.
A group of retired Israeli commanders – called Commanders for Israeli Security – delivered a written testimony for the hearing, writing:
“Groups of settlers have been perpetrating deadly acts of violence against Palestinians — for the most part helpless villagers — in areas under our control…This is completely unacceptable from an ethical and humanitarian perspective, and it stands in contradiction to Israel’s Jewish values.”
The hearing was not without controversy, as it was held the one day after a Palestinian killed one Jewish Israeli and injured four others in a shooting attack in the Old City of Jerusalem. Right-wing members of the Knesset, including Kahanist MK Ben Gvir, asked for the hearing on settler violence to be cancelled altogether. When it was allowed to proceed, Ben Gvir used the podium to shout his criticism of the Knesset members who organized the hearing, eventually resulting in his removal from the hearing room.
Decrying the lack of participation of many MKs, Meretz Party Chairman Nitzan Horowitz said:
“Their silence and lack of interest is tantamount to the endorsement and encouragement of continued violence.”
Horowitz also said:
“Some people in the Knesset minimize its existence or even deny it entirely. I invite them to visit the area, to meet with the victims of this violence, and to see the photos and video clips they produce.’’
- “Highway of hope and heartbreak” (Washington Post)
- “The Gaza Bantustan – Israeli Apartheid in the Gaza Strip” (Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights)
- “‘Hate crime’ attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians spike in the West Bank” (Washington Post)
- “Democratic Lawmakers Warn Against ‘Doomsday’ Israeli Settlement Plan” (Haaretz)
- “‘The occupation is trying to uproot us. Art can bring us back’” (+972 Magazine)
- “Israelis attacked, car set on fire after entering Ramallah” (i24 News)
- “The Long Reach of Restraint: For Israel’s Supreme Court, to exercise power might be to lose it.” (Jewish Currents // Elisheva Goldberg)