Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
December 4, 2020
- Israeli Courts OK (Again) Settlers’ Mass Displacement of Palestinians from Silwan, Eviction Notices Issued to 8 Palestinian Families
- Har Homa E Settlement Plan Approved for Deposit
- High Court Rules Against Ottoman Land Registration Laws, Paving Way for More Retroactive Legalizations and Presaging Ugly Land Registration Battle
- Planning Committee Rejects Appeal Against Overtly Political Hebron Elevator Project
- Likud Minister Calls For Israel to Enforce “Symmetry” of Construction in Area B + C of West Bank
- Benny Gantz Make Clear His Support for Retroactive Legalization of Outposts on “State Land”
- Bahrain: No Annexation. Also Bahrain: Settlements Are Israel
- Aid to Amb. Friedman Appointed to Key Post, Will Stay In Control of U.S. Normalization Programs
- Bonus Reads
Questions/Comments? Email Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Israeli Courts OK (Again) Settlers’ Mass Displacement of Palestinians from Silwan, Eviction Notices Issued to 8 Palestinian Families
On November 30th, eight Palestinian families (45 individuals) received eviction notices ordering them them to vacate their longtime family homes as early as December 18, 2020, and if they do not they may be forcibly removed by Israeli forces any time between December 18, 2020-January 1, 2021. Ir Amim reports that the families intend to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee that the Court will agree to hear the case.
The issuance of eviction notices follow two significant court rulings on cases in late November 2020. In both cases, Israeli courts sided with the Israeli settler group Ateret Cohanim in seeking the eviction of a total of eight Palestinian families (45 individuals) from their long time homes in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan, located on the southern slope just outside of the Old City in East Jerusalem. The rulings further consolidate growing Israeli case law recognizing Ateret Cohanim as the legal owner of a significant amount of land in Silwan (and the buildings on it), entitling the group to pursue the eviction of as many as 700 Palestinians who in many cases have lived on that land for generations. If executed, this would be the largest displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem since 1967.
Ir Amim explains:
“The Ateret Cohanim settler organization is waging one of the most comprehensive state-backed settler takeover campaigns in East Jerusalem through initiating mass eviction proceedings against Palestinian families in Batan al-Hawa. Eighteen families have already lost their homes with over 80 other households facing eviction demands, placing some 600-700 individuals of one community at risk of displacement. See Ir Amim’s and Peace Now’s joint report, “Broken Trust” for further details and analysis.
Peace Now said:
“This is an attempt to displace a Palestinian community and to replace it with an Israeli one, in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The settlers could not have succeeded without the Israeli authorities’ close support and assistance. In addition to the hard blow to the prospects for a two-state solution by preventing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, this is an injustice and an act of cruelty to throw out families who have lived lawfully in their homes for decades. For every dunam in East Jerusalem that was owned by Jews and had been lost in the 1948 war, there are tens of thousands of dunams in Israel that were owned by Palestinians who lost them in the 1948 war. The settlers’ demand to disposes the Palestinians based on pre-1948 ownership is a strategic threat on the moral justification of hundreds of thousands of Israelis living on lands that were owned by Palestinians.”
As a reminder, Ateret Cohanim has waged a years-long eviction campaign against Palestinians living in Silwan, on property the settler NGO claims to own. This claim is based on Ateret Cohanim having gained control of the historic Benvenisti Trust, which oversaw the assets of Yemenite Jews who lived in Silwan in the 19th century. Palestinians have challenged the legitimacy of the Benvenisti Trust’s claims to the currently existing buildings, saying that the trust only covered the old buildings (none of which remain standing) and not the land. Israeli Courts have continued to rule in support of Ateret Cohanim’s claims and against Paelstinians who have been living there for decades. Taking a different approach, in June 2020 Palestinians filed a new petition challenging the legality of the functional operations of the Trust/Ateret Cohanim, asserting that Ateret Cohanim is using the Benvenisti Trust as nothing more than an (illegal) front for displacing Palestinians, pointing out that the trust does not have a separate organizational structure, bank account, lawyer, or accountant – and that Ateret Cohanim has folded the operations of the trust into its own operations and there is no distinction between the management or assets of the two entities.
As a reminder, in 2001 the Israeli Charitable Trust Registrar granted Ateret Cohanim permission to revive the trust and become its trustees, (following 63 years of dormancy). In 2002, the Israeli Custodian General transferred ownership of the land in Batan al-Hawa to the Trust/Ateret Cohanim. Since then, Ateret Cohanim has accelerated its multifaceted campaign to remove Palestinians from their homes, claiming that the Palestinians are illegally squatting on land owned by the trust.
As expected, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved for deposit for public review the Har Homa E settlement plan which provides for the construction of 540 units on an open area of land which will significantly expand the Har Homa settlement to its west, tightening the noose around the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem.
The plan has been approved for deposit but as of this writing not yet deposited; Ir Amim predicts the Committee will deposit the plan in short order in light of the impending U.S. presidential transition. Once deposited, a sixty day comment period begins after which the Committee can reconvene to issue final approval for the plan. Ir Amim writes:
“As demonstrated by the swift developments in plans for Givat Hamatos and Har Homa E, it is likely that Israel will continue to exploit this narrow window of time before the US presidential inauguration to advance further measures the Biden administration is anticipated to oppose, including advancements in the E1 area.”
The plan for 570 units currently set for deposit represents the first detailed plan under a much larger Master Plan for Har Homa E, which involves a total of 2,200 units. Plans to build the remaining units permitted under the Master Plan are not yet being advanced.
The construction in Har Homa E will solidify a continuum of Israeli settlement construction within the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem – from Har Homa, to Givat Hamatos, to Gilo – detaching East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and completing the encirclement of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa.
High Court Rules Against Ottoman Land Registration Laws, Paving Way for More Retroactive Legalizations and Presaging Ugly Land Registration Battle
On December 1st, the Israeli High Court of Justice issued a ruling that provides yet another basis on which the State is permitted to grant retroactive legalization to outposts and settlement structures built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. The ruling also, and perhaps even more significantly, establishes the Court’s willingness to sidestep Ottoman and Jordanian land registration practices when deciding land ownership claims (which since 1967 Israel has recognized as applicable in the West Bank and East Jerusalem) . This latter fact is particularly alarming given Israel’s reported intention to begin a new land registration process in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The specific case before the Court related to structures in the Kochav Yaakov settlement built on land that was declared to be “state land” by Israel in 2013. Palestinians petitioned the Court to reverse the state land declaration, arguing that they are the rightful owners of land. Their ownership claims are based on their having cultivated the land for at least ten years prior to 1967, and the fact that they were in the process formally registering their ownership of that land through the Jordanian real estate registration procedure – a procedure that was frozen by Israel shortly after it occupied the West Bank.
The lawyer representing the Kochav Yaakov settlement, Harel Arnon, argued that the Court should care more about what has happened on the land since the Jordanian land registration process was frozen, not on what existed at the moment the law was frozen. This argument, by design, favors the settlements and the settlers, who have been able – with the backing of the state and the permission of the Courts – to illegally establish settlements and outposts while also preventing Palestinians from accessing their land.
Rejecting the significance of the Palestinians’ attempt to register their ownership of the land under Jordanian law (which was still in process and not complete at the time the process was frozen by Israel), the Court ruled on the basis of aerial photos which showed the land was not cultivated between 1969-1980. The ruling punishes Palestinians who, having cultivated land during the period before Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, did not (and likely could not) continue to cultivate that land following the 1967 war. It establishes a new legal precedent according to which Palestinians who established land ownership under Ottoman law through the cultivation of that land for 10 years, can now have that ownership declared “lost” if they have subsequently left the land uncultivated for three or more years.
Shlomi Zacharia, a lawyer from Yesh Din that is representing the Palestinian petitioners, explained:
“The ruling offers a wide opening for a huge takeover of Palestinian land, and in effect this is a cancellation of Jordanian regularization procedures, just at a time when Israel is interested in renewing regularization procedures. The ruling contradicts itself on numerous points, and fails to address the huge complexity of the issue, certainly in light of the fact that the area is occupied territory. The undermining of Palestinian rights, with an emphasis on absentees, but not exclusively, is major, and it is evident that the court is aware of that but chooses nevertheless to approve a practice that already four decades ago was ruled illegal.”
After the court decision on Tuesday, Israel was reportedly planning to legalize two additional outposts, Netiv Ha’avot and Sde Boaz, as well as structures in as many as 20 settlements, using the same legal basis.
The Netiv Ha’avot outpost, in particular, has a long history of being at the forefront of Israel’s hand-wringing over its desire to retroactively legalize even outposts clearly built on land that even Israel recognizes is privately owned by Palestinians. See Peace Now’s comprehensive recap of the Netiv Ha’avot saga, in addition to FMEP’s reporting.
On November 19th, the Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Council rejected two appeals against a plan to build accessible infrastructure, including an elevator, at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarch in Hebron — a plan which requires Israel to seize land from the Islamic Waqf. The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh, which was behind one of the rejected petitions, raised several objections to the plan’s archeological and planning deficits. The Palestinian Municipality of Hebron submitted a second objection (now rejected) citing how the plan and Israel’s advancement of it violates agreements signed by Israel relating to governance and planning in Hebron.
Emek Shaveh announced that it will not pursue further legal appeals against the plan, citing the consequences of a law passed by the Knesset in July 2018 which brought West Bank land disputes under the domestic jurisdiction of the Jerusalem District Court. Before the passage of that law (and since 1967), the court of first jurisdiction for cases related to Palestinians living in the West Bank — such as cases in which Palestinians want to challenge State actions (and inactions) regarding planning and construction, travel permits, freedom of information, and freedom of movement — was the Israeli High Court of Justice, reflecting the extraordinariness of Israeli judges issuing extra-territorial legal rulings. The 2018 law stripped Palestinians of this direct avenue to the High Court of Justice and compelled Palestinians living in the West Bank to file petitions with the Jerusalem District Court. The High Court of Justice now only hears Palestinians’ cases on appeal from the district court, adding more time and higher costs to any potential appellant. In a statement, Emek Shaveh said that it fears that if it brings this specific case to the Jerusalem District Court – which has a clear pro-settlements bent, openly manufactured by former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – it risks setting a “dangerous precedent for building at holy sites.”
Emek Shaveh further said:
“Following a prolonged process which revealed that the plan to build a lift at the most important ancient site in the West Bank was approved without serious attention to the historical, archaeological, and architectural aspects, the Civil Administration has decided to approve the plan. The frequent statements by politicians that they had instructed the planning bodies and the Civil Administration to approve the plan as soon as possible, and the speed of the approval process do not leave any room for doubt that political motivations were driving of this decision. The decision to violate the status quo of the fragile arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians may have long-term implications. Unfortunately what happens in Hebron does not remain in Hebron. Often, the dynamics at the Tomb of the Patriarch correspond with developments at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. The approval of the plan and the involvement of politicians in the planning processes could constitute a precedent that will impact other sites. We have looked into our legal options and decided not to pursue a petition to the Jerusalem District Court. In the past, petitions pertaining to the West Bank were discussed at the High Court of Justice, but this is no longer the case. It is our understanding that a hearing at the Jerusalem District Court will not improve our chances of reversing the plan and may even create a dangerous precedent for building at holy sites.”
Two noteworthy events over the past week have led Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue & White) to clarify his position with respect to support for granting retroactive authorization to some of the 124 outposts and settlement structures that were built without Israeli authorization. The events highlight a growing division within the Blue & White Party, which was previously seen as representing a liberal-centrists ideology within the currency (crumbling) coalition government.
First, on November 25th, Israeli Community Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) announced that he is working with Blue & White Defense Ministry official Michael Biton to prepare a government decision to grant authorization to the outposts. Hanegbi’s insinuation that Blue & White is advancing a plan to issue a broad authorization for illegal outposts elicited a contradiction from Biton, who quickly distanced himself (and his party) from Hanegbi’s comments, insisting that he would only consider a decision that has the support of Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and that Hanegbi did not coordinate the announcement of that project with him.
Following that incident, Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Omer Yankelevich (Blue & White) caused even more controversy when she not only offered her support for the retroactive authorization of settlements to a crowd of pro-settlement protestors, but also told the protestors – who were gathered outside of the Prime Minister’s office to push for outpost regulation – that Benny Gantz supports the move as well.
Yankelevich’s comments resulted in a discussion of the matter at the recent Blue & White faction meeting, during which Gantz reportedly clarified for members of his party that he only supports granting retroactive legalization to outposts built on “state land.” Gantz also said that Michael Biton’s work concerns sorting out what outposts are built on state land and which have more complicated land ownership claims (i.e., outposts built on land that even Israel has been forced to recognize is privately owned by Palestinians).
The statements and reports about Blue & White party members over the past week suggest that Gantz’s party has lined up behind the position of Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit (known as “market regulation”) which is not as sweeping as most settlers would like to see, but nonetheless stands to see some 2,000 illegal structures magically become legal.
Adding to the crescendo of voices pushing for Netanyahu to act on outpost legalization, longtime right-wing settlement supporter and Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett called on Netanyahu to issue the approval swiftly. Politically, Bennett is on the ascent according to Israeli public polling, and is predicted to gain seats for his right wing alliance if new elections are indeed held. Clearly politicizing his position, Bennett said:
“There are more than 60 fledgling settlement communities…The Prime Minister promised in public to apply sovereignty over every settlement, but in practice hasn’t extended sovereignty over a single inch [of Judea and Samaria]….Don’t be afraid. They tried to scare me off of approving the establishment of a new neighborhood in Hebron, but I made the decision, ending 20 years of a building freeze. We are currently in a window of opportunity that will be closing. For years we heard all sorts of excuses. But the truth is, the decision is up to the prime minister.”
During a tour of Area C in the West Bank – where settlers and their allies allege that the Palestinian Authority is orchestrating a brilliantly effective campaign to “steal” land from Israel – Likud MK and former Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat said that Israel should not only undertake a concerted effort to stop Palestinian construction in Area C but should enforce “symmetry” in Area B construction as well, enabling equal construction by settlers and Palestinians.
As a reminder, Area B (in which Israel retains security control, but the Palestinians have civilian control) makes up some 21% of the West Bank; Area C (in which Israel retains full control) accounts for around 60% of the West Bank. In effect, Barkat is calling for Israel to treat Area B the same as it treats Area C — that is, to assert settlers’ right to build on fully 81% of the West Bank (meaning all of the West Bank except Area A, the 18% of the West Bank comprised of the narrowly-defined built-up area of Palestinian cities and adjacent villages).
“Today’s tour showed me that we need to perform a large series of actions to make sure that in the open areas, both in Area C and in Area B and in Judea and Samaria in general, there is symmetry between the activities we do and those of the Palestinians. It cannot be that one side blatantly builds in the open spaces and the other side converges inward into the settlements. This is unthinkable. In Jerusalem I was very strict about symmetry. What is good for Jews is good for Arabs. When you go up here you can also go up there. This symmetry is the key to success in looking ahead. I’m glad I was here today on the tour. I’m happy about the determination and what I saw. I will do everything I can with the tools I have, to see how they take the plan I made, the Barkat development plan for two million people for settlement. On this plan should now be added a second phase. Make sure the open spaces aren’t no man’s land. That Israelis and Palestinians use it appropriately – either no one uses or both sides use it symmetrically. This will be a key to what we need to do going forward.”
In a not-so-surprising yet shocking announcement, a senior Bahraini official announced that Bahrain will not differentiate between Israel and its settlements, in effect recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. The Bahraini announcement – which relates to how Bahrain will require Israel to label goods imported into the country – follows the significant shift in U.S. policy on labelling a few weeks ago. With respect to settlement products, Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani said:
“we will recognize them as Israeli products. And all Bahraini products, hopefully, will be recognized in Israel as Bahraini products. I don’t see, frankly, a distinction on which part or which city or which region it was manufactured or sourced from.”
Efrat settlement leader Oded Revivi rejoiced at Bahrain’s support for settlements, saying:
“Now we must adopt this view with our neighbors within and without Israeli borders. Buying products from Judea and Samaria strengthens the joint industrial areas, brings together cultures and actually strengthens peace. This is a message to Israelis and the world.”
Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone – who has served as a key aide to Ambassador David Friedman – has been installed as the Director of the Abraham Fund, a new investment fund that is the direct outgrowth of the normalization agreement signed by the U.S, Israel, and the UAE. Prior to serving in government, Lightstone was a prominent fundraiser for the radical far-right, proto-fascist Israeli group Im Tirtzu. Im Tirtzu makes it its business to attack and smear human rights organizations, accusing groups like the New Israel Fund and Breaking the Silence (and the individuals who work there) of being anti-Israel and seeking to defund them.
The fund is supposed to serve as the vehicle by which the U.S. advances business ties and investments between Israel, the U.S., and the Arab world – and has already raised $3 billion. The Fund, according to JTA, has been directly attached to the U.S. International Development Finance Corp (DFC), the U.S. government’s development bank. The relationship between the Fund and the DFC has already alarmed at least one Democratic Senate aide, who told JTA that the DFC must act in a strictly non-political manner, whereas the Abraham Fund is already engaging in highly political issues with its first project devoted to “modernizing” checkpoints across the West Bank.
JTA reports that Democrats in Congress are alarmed at Lightstone’s appointment to this post because it is a career government role, not a position which can be easily replaced by the incoming Biden Administration. Lightstone’s leadership at the Abraham Fund is clearly an effort to ensure that the Trump Administration’s legacy of pro-settlement, pro-annexationist policies will continue to be a part of how the U.S. will engage the region.
- “Trump administration to name political appointee with ties to Israel’s right wing to Middle East development post” (JTA)
- “Inside Trump and Netanyahu’s ‘end of season’ settlement bonanza” (+972 Magazine)
- “Israel and PA push for control of West Bank’s Area C via land registration” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Eight climate activists arrested in protest against new West Bank industrial zone” (+972 Magazine)
- “Palestinians voice concern over new colonial settlement in Hebron’s Old City” (Wafa)
- “Jerusalem cable car taken to Israel’s highest court” (Al-Monitor)
- Would Trump Recognize Israeli Sovereignty in East Jerusalem? – analysis” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Trump-Heights settlement in Golan here to stay” (Al-Monitor)
- “A Life Exposed: Military invasions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank” (Yesh Din, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Breaking the Silence)