Settlement & Annexation Report: February 18, 2022


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

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February 18, 2022

  1. Israeli Court Agrees to Hear Case on Settlements & Discriminatory Land Allocation 
  2. Government Data Shows: Over Past 5 years, in Area C Israel Granted 33 Building Permits for Palestinians, compared to more than 16,500 for settlers
  3. A Perfect Storm – For a Major Crisis – Gathers Over Sheikh Jarrah
  4. Maaleh Ahuvia Outpost Demolished, Immediately Rebuilt
  5. Settlers are Running a Government-Backed Program for Israeli Kids on Palestinian Land in East Jerusalem
  6. Lapid: Israel Will Refrain from the Most Problematic Settlement Expansion
  7. Further Reading

Israeli Court Agrees to Hear Case on Settlements & Discriminatory Land Allocation 

The Israeli High Court has moved forward with a case challenging Israel’s discriminatory allocation of “state land” in the West Bank, 99.8% of which Israeli authorities have summarily handed over for the benefit of settlements. On February 10th, the Court gave the Israeli government a May 1st deadline to submit an explanation for why — in the context of this specific case — it refuses to consider allocating to Palestinians any of the “state land” previously allocated for the expansion of the Efrat settlement (to build the new “Givat Eitam/E2” settlement on a hilltop known to Palestinians as a-Nahle ). 

This is the first time the High Court has elected to take up the matter of discriminatory land allocation. The decision to do so was prompted by a petition filed by over a dozen Palestinian landowners in May 2020, with the assistance of Peace Now. This petition was filed after previous legal efforts failed to overturn Israel’s declaration of their land, part of the Palestinian village of a-Nahle, as “state land”. Past attempts to use litigation in Israeli courts to challenge Israel’s use of “state land” declarations in order to expand settlements have typically not continued past this point. This is in part because in order to challenge how “state land” is allocated, the Palestinian petitioner must, in effect, concede that the land in question (which Israel has seized from them) is legitimately “state land” in the first place — something Palestinian landowners are understandably loathe to do. Thus, this petition represents a novel challenge for the Court.

While the Court’s decision to allow the case to go forward is significant, it is important to note, too, that the wording of the Court’s order to the government indicates that the Court is only considering a limited part of the petition. That is: rather than examining the underlying principle of discriminatory land allocation practices, it is pursuing a limited consideration of why the State chose not to allocated parts of the land to these specific petitioners, in this specific case.

Peace Now said in a statement

“For more than 50 years, Israel has allocated the precious resource of land in the West Bank to Israelis only. This policy confirms the claims of those who accuse Israel of applying an Apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories. The allocation of the land in E2 for a settlement is immoral, illegal and disproportionate in a way that cries to heaven. Although the order given by the court does not cover the entire area of ​​the petition, the court signals that this discrimination must not continue.”

As a reminder, the settlement at the heart of the case is called Givat Eitam by settlers, but it is called “E-2” by anti-settlement watchdogs, in light of its dire geopolitical implications for any future Palestinian state (similar to those of the E-1 settlement on Jerusalem’s eastern flank). The construction of Givat Eitam/E-2 would significantly expand the Efrat settlement in the direction of Bethlehem, effectively cutting Bethlehem off from the southern West Bank and completing the city’s encirclement by Israeli settlements. 

Government Data Shows: Over Past 5 years, in Area C Israel Granted 33 Building Permits for Palestinians, compared to more than 16,500 for settlers

Directly relevant to the court case regarding the allocation of state land to the Efrat settlement for the construction of a new settlement (see above), new data released by the Israeli government has revealed that over the past five years, Israel has issued only 33 building permits to Palestinians living in Area C while over the same period and for the same area, it issued over 16,500 building permits to settlers.

As a reminder, Area C is the 60% of the West Bank where Israel enjoys total authority and in which Israel has systematically denied Palestinian building rights, while promoting the expansion of settlements and unauthorized outposts, and in parallel systematically demolishing Palestinian un-permitted construction. This trend pre-dates the 5-year period covered in the new government data — for example, from 2016-2018, Israel issued only 21 building permits to Palestinians, while  during that same period issuing 2,147 demolition orders against Palestinian construction.

These trends are part of the continuing efforts of Israeli settlers and the Israeli government to entrench and expand Israel’s control over (and de facto annexation of) the entirety of Area C. Notably, in September 2020 the Israeli government allocated 20 million NIS ($6 million USD) for the newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry to survey and map unauthorized (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C — construction which Israel has been aggressively demolishing. In addition to funding the expansion of policies that systematically discriminate against and dispossesses Palestinians in Area C, this funding further empowers a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already annexed by Israel. 

The Knesset has also to a great extent adopted the narrative of settlers and pro-settler organizations — a narrative predicated on the idea that Area C belongs to Israel and must be defended against Palestinian efforts to steal it (framing that in effect dismisses the legitimacy of any Palestinian landownership in Area C). The Knesset has repeatedly hosted forums to discuss the alleged (by settlers and their allies/advocates) “Palestinian takeover of Area C.” Consistent with this framing and pushed by outside groups, many members of the Knesset have criticized the Israeli government’s alleged failure  to robustly “defend” Israel’s rights/ interests in Area C — demanding that the government do more to prevent and demolish “illegal” Palestinian construction (even as it refuses to issue permits for Palestinians to build “legally), that it must prevent foreign projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area, that it must clear Palestinians out of areas targeted by settlers, and that it must do more to expand settlements and consolidate state-built settlement infrastructure.

A Perfect Storm – For a Major Crisis – Gathers Over Sheikh Jarrah

Israeli settlers and police have provoked significant violence and rising tensions in Sheikh Jarrah ahead of Israel’s imminent forced displacement of the Salem family from their home of 60+ years in favor of settlers. That eviction is slated to be carried out by Israel sometime between March 1 and April 1. The latest violence has centered on the area around the Salem family home, where on February 13th, Kahanist Knesset Member Itamar Ben-Gvir erected a makeshift outpost — which he calls a “parliamentary office”– directly outside of the home.

Ben-Gvir’s action — which he clearly intends as a provocation — sparked a series of events that continue to result in violence, injury, and an increasing Israeli police presence in the neighborhood.

The escalation of conflict in Sheikh Jarrah has caused many – including in the Israeli government and the Biden Administration – to worry about a repeat of the events of May 2021, when a crisis centered on Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mt/Haram al Sharif ultimately sparked direct conflict between Hamas in Gaza, and the Israeli military, with devastating results for Gaza. The looming eviction of the Salem family mirrors the events which sparked those events last summer, with the added context of the convergence of three important religious holidays: Passover, Ramadan, and Easter. A U.S. official called this a “recipe for disaster in Jerusalem.”

Mohammed El-Kurd (whose family is also facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah) writes about events transpiring around the Salem family home this week:

“While the Israeli regime has long managed to conceal its practices of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and colonial expansion behind a mix of complex legislation, Hasbara, and the rhetoric of “war and peace,” politicians like Ben-Gvir increasingly do not bother to play that game. And they are not so fringe. Palestinians know that Ben-Gvir’s eliminationist rhetoric is cemented, albeit in more polished form, in Israeli policies of mass transfer. His office stunt is merely a more explicit version of the Zionism that Israeli leaders have governed with for the past seven decades—one predicated on replacing Palestinians with settlers. As I write this, colonial violence continues in my neighborhood and across colonized Palestine. Israeli forces have shot and killed Nihad Barghouti, a Palestinian teenager who was protesting in occupied Nabi Saleh, Ramallah; attacked protesting students with tear gas canisters at Abu Dis University; assaulted a disabled activist in Sheikh Jarrah while providing protection for Ben-Gvir’s entourage; and demolished a Palestinian’s home in the South Hebron Hills, shortly before brutally detaining him. As the injuries and arrests mount, it’s hard not to see the parallels between today’s events and the events that sparked last year’s Unity Uprising and the devastating assault on the besieged Gaza Strip. Many hold their breath, anticipating the repression that accompanies resistance, the steep price of revolt.”

For further background on the Salem family’s case (including on the Israeli laws that were expressly designed to enable the eviction of Palestinians in favor of settlers), see reporting by Ir Amim and Peace Now.

Ma’aleh Ahuvia Outpost Demolished, Immediately Rebuilt

On February 8th, the IDF dismantled the illegal outpost of “Ma’aleh Ahuvia.” Hours later, the IDF failed to prevent settlers from promptly (and illegally) rebuilding and improving the outpost – demonstrating the lack of either willpower or lack of efficacy of Israeli officials in the West Bank to constrain settler activity. That evening, settlers from the outpost carried out a so-called “price tag attack” on the nearby Palestinian village of Deir Jarrar, damaging cars and inflicting terror.

Prominent Israeli solidarity activist, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, documented settlers rebuilding the site, and wrote:

“Army vehicles pass by every day on the way to a base the message to Palestinian victims of violence, of ravaged vineyards, orchards and fields, and of theft Palestinians even susect that the water container and other items in the outpost were stolen from them.) will continue with no relief from Israel. The message to settlers is they have nothing to fear. They continue to wreak terror.”

As a reminder, this outpost is a named for Ahuvia Sandak, a settler “hilltop youth” who died when the car he was traveling crashed as it was fleeing Israeli police with a group of settler youth who allegedly has been stoning Palestinian cars. Settlers and their supporters have painted Israeli police as perpetrators of a crime of negligence (or worse) against the settler youth; the Knesset has taken up the issue; and Sandak has been memorialized as a hero and a martyr to the cause of Greater Israel.

Settlers Are Running Government-Backed Program for Israeli Kids on Palestinian Land in East Jerusalem

Haaretz reports that the radical settler group Elad is running a program that enables Israeli students to earn school credit for doing work on land in the Ben Hinnom Valley. The land in question is privately owned by Palestinians (and recognized as such by Israel). However, the government of Israel has issued “landscaping orders” (also called “gardening orders”), and order which allows Israel to “temporarily” (at least in theory) take over privately owned land for what are ostensibly public purpose.

Elad’s student program on the private Palestinian land has been operating under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality in partnership with the Israel Nature & Parks Authority, once again demonstrating how settlers and the Israeli state work hand-in-hand to assert Israeli control over Palestinian land.

Fearing that the setters’ control over the land will become permanent, the Palestinian owners of the land in question have filed an appeal against the landscaping orders. The Jerusalem District Court recently heard arguments on the appeal, where a lawyer representing the Palestinian landowners argued that there is no precedent for using “landscaping orders” to take over so much land.  The judge hearing the appeal did not issue a decision, instead postponing judgment.

As a reminder: In June 2019, the Jerusalem Municipality used the issuance of “landscaping orders” to take control of 12 plots of privately owned Palestinian land near an area where the Elad settlement group has been active – again, based in part on the argument that the owners were not presently using the land.  However, the land in question is located in an area that Israel has declared to be a national park. With that “national park” declaration, Israel legally barred the private landowners from using their own land. With its subsequent “landscaping orders,” Israel has in effect asserted that since the owners weren’t using the land (that they were legally barred, by Israel, from using), that land can now, in effect, be seized by Israel for its own purposes (the landscaping orders last for a period of 5 years, with the likelihood of extensions after that — tantamount to expropriation). 

Emek Shaveh’s Executive Director Alon Arad told Haaretz:

“People who love Jerusalem and care about its heritage don’t harm its landscapes or push out its people. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, through Elad, is promoting development that essentially changes the landscapes, damaging the historical heritage of the valley and reshaping it to fit political interests. It is shameful that this work is being done by a political organization that drafts teens and children for its own needs under the framework of fulfilling their educational obligations.”

Lapid: Israel Will Refrain from the Most Problematic Settlement Expansion

Standing alongside the German Foreign Minister at a press conference, Israel Foreign Minister (and alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid stated that Israel will not build settlements that prevent a two-state solution (a statement that reflects an Israeli mindset according to which there can be “peace” based on Israel dictating to Palestinians what areas of the West Bank will become part of Israel). Lapid insisted that Israel will only approve plans that accommodate the “natural growth” of settlements (of course, there is nothing “natural” about growth of settlements, given that such growth is possible only due to Israeli government policies that support and enable the establishment and expansion of settlements, and policies that actively incentivize and support Israel citizens moving to and living in the West Bank).

A quick survey of recent settlement plans and projects, as summarized weekly by this report (archived here), highlights the dishonesty in even this weak commitment by Lapid to keeping the two-state solution alive. These include the State’s efforts to retroactively legalize the Evyatar outpost, to reestablish the Homesh settlement, and to advance plans for six new settlements in East Jerusalem; in addition to the myriad of unofficial mechanisms by which the State grants increasing control over land in the West Bank to the settlers.

Bonus Reads

  1. “One Year Report on Demolitions and Seizures in the west Bank, Including East Jerusalem (Reporting Period: 1 January 2021 – 31 December 2021)” (European Union)
  2. “Opinion: Palestinians have denounced Israeli apartheid for decades. As the world catches up, how will it react?” (Mariam Barghouti in the Washington Post)
  3. “Violent Israeli Settlers Are Starting to Resemble the KKK” (Michael Sfard in Haaretz)
  4. “Terrorizing a Nation: Israeli Settler Violence Against the People of Palestine – A Yer in Review (2021)” (PLO-NAD)
  5. “A broken ankle, a demolished home, and a crushed water cistern” (Ali Awad in +972 Magazine)
  6. “The “Father of the Settlements”” (Arutz Sheva)