Settlement & Annexation Report: February 19, 2021


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

February 19, 2021

  1. Mass Dispossession in East Jerusalem: Israeli Courts Rule to Evict 11 Palestinian Families from Homes in Sheikh Jarrah & Batan al-Hawa
  2. Israel Close to Construction on Three Key Settler Bypass Roads
  3. JNF Leadership Approves Policy to Expand Settlements, But Defers Final Approval to Board
  4. Israeli Plan to Build West Bank Sewage/Power Plant Delayed Over Settlers’ Environmental Concerns
  5. Al Haq Requests “Immediate Intervention” by UN to Stop Settler Violence
  6. Bonus Reads

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Mass Dispossession in East Jerusalem: Israeli Courts Rule to Evict 11 Palestinian Families from Homes in Sheikh Jarrah & Batan al-Hawa

In two separate decisions, Israeli courts have continued to rule in favor of settlers in cases that threaten the mass dispossession and displacement of Palestinians from some of the most sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. The decisions this week – one dispossessing six families in Sheikh Jarrah and the second dispossessing five families in Silwan (details below) – extend the guise of legality to the ongoing campaign by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians in favor of Jewish Israelis.

These evictions are based on an Israeli law (the Administrative and Legal Matters Law) designed to enable Israeli Jews, but not Palestinians, to “recover” properties abandoned during the 1948 war. From the beginning of 2020 until now, based on this law, Israeli courts have ruled in favor of the settlers in a total of 14 cases – seven cases in Batan al-Hawa (Silwan) and seven cases in Sheikh Jarrah. The rulings (so far) affect – in a devastating manner –  36 Palestinian families with 165 individuals – 107 people in Silwan and 58 individuals in Sheikh Jarrah;  as a legal precedent, these rulings open the door for dispossession on a massive scale, threatening the homes of approximately 700 people in Silwan alone.

Painting the larger picture of what is happening in these neighborhoods, Ir Amim says:

“Since the beginning of 2020 until now, there has been a record number of court decisions upholding eviction claims against Palestinian families filed by settler organizations. Over the past year, the Israeli courts authorized the evictions of over 30 Palestinian families, totaling more than 100 individuals, from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa. While the families are in various stages of appeal proceedings, many have exhausted the relevant legal remedies, which could lead to a devastating wave of evictions in the coming months. If the evictions are not halted, a total of over 1000 Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa could ultimately be uprooted from their homes and communities and supplanted by settlers, potentially amounting to a form of forcible transfer. These measures not only constitute a flagrant violation of human rights, but also erode conditions necessary for any future political resolution on the city.”

Peace Now said in a statement

“The story here is not legal but political. The court is only the tool by which settlers use with the close assistance of state authorities to commit the crime of displacing an entire community and replacing it with settlement. The Israeli government and settlers have no problem to displace thousands of Palestinians in the name of ‘the Right of Return’ to properties before 1948, while they strongly claim that the millions of Israelis living in Palestinian properties before 1948 cannot be evicted. Since the evacuation of the Mughrabi neighborhood for the purpose of expanding the Western Wall plaza in 1967, there has been no such deportation in Jerusalem. On the table of the prosecution in the International Court of Justice in The Hague is a complaint about the displacement process led by the government in Sheikh Jarrah and in Batan Al-Hawa. The government can still stop this injustice”.

In Sheikh Jarrah

On February 15th, the Jerusalem District Court upheld the eviction of six Palestinian families (27 individuals) from their homes of 70+ years in the Sheikh Jarrah nieghborhood of East Jerusalem in favor of the Nahalat Shimon settler group. The Court gave the families until May 2nd to vacate their homes, or file an appeal to the Supreme Court of Israel.

Nahalat Shimon is a U.S.-registered company which takes advantage of the “Legal and Administration Matters Law,” to reclaim property lost/abandoned during the 1948 war. Nahalat Shimon sought out the Jewish Israeli families that owned homes in Sheikh Jarrah prior to the 1948 War, and then “purchased” the properties from those families. Since then, Nahalat Shimon has been undertaking legal action to evict Palestinians. In 2009 the first eviction took place – sparking a sustained protest in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood which has garnered international attention.

Commenting on the case, Peace Now said:

“The lawsuit is part of an organized move designed to dispossess a Palestinian community of its home and establish a settlement in Sheikh Jarrah in its place. Hundreds of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah are in a similar situation in court proceedings, and hundreds more in Batan Al-Hawa in Silwan.”

In December 2020, FMEP hosted a webinar specifically looking at these eviction cases in Sheikh Jarrah, featuring Mohammed El-Kurd whose family was a party to the rejected appeal this week. The El-Kurd family has struggled to remain in their home in the face of settler campaigns to evict them for over a decade, part of which was captured in the Just Vision documentary “My Neighborhood.”

In Silwan

Following a hearing on February 9th, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled in favor of the Ateret Cohanim settler organization and ordered the eviction of five families from their homes in the Batan al-Hawa section of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The Court ordered the families to vacate their homes — where they have resided for 50+ years — by August 2021. Ir Amim reports that the families are expected to appeal the case to the Jerusalem District Court.

The ruling also upheld and advanced the use of the Legal and Administrative Matters Law which, as is the case in Sheikh Jarrah, is being used by Ateret Cohanim in a house-by-house manner in Silwan. To date, Israeli courts have repeatedly upheld Ateret Cohanim’s claim to own a large swath of land in the tiny Batan al-Hawa neighborhood, most recently ruling to evict Palestinians in January 2021, as well as in November 2020. In total, Ateret Cohanim’s campaign stands to ultimately dispossess 700 Palestinians in Silwan.

The group’s claim is based on having gained control of the historic Benvenisti Trust, which oversaw the assets of Yemenite Jews who lived in Silwan in the 19th century. 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 (i.e., to 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.

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, but the courts have so far rejected their argument.

Israel Close to Construction on Three Key Settler Bypass Roads

Peace Now reports that Israel is nearing the start of construction on several roads designed to serve settlers across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, including: the so-called “Sovereignty Road” (which will allow Israel to build the E-1 settlement); and the Qalandiya bypass tunnel road; and, the Huwarra Bypass Road. Israel’s investment in these roads is explicitly about increasing the settler population and finally building the E-1 settlement. 

Peace Now said in response to the totality of these advancements.

“The Israeli government is de facto annexing the West Bank by investing billions of shekels into roads designed to double the number of settlers to a million and even more.”

In a recent report examining several of these road projects in East Jerusalem,  Who Profits writes:

“In the oPt infrastructure is primarily about control. In the words of Brigadier Ofer Hindi, head of the Rainbow of Colors15 administrative division of the Israeli Ministry of Defense (hereafter: IMOD): “priorities are not only the result of traffic and congestion, but of security needs, and the perspective must be integrative.” … the Israeli roads system functions as an instrument of exclusion, land grabs and economic de-development vis-à-vis the occupied population. At the same time, transport projects are also instruments of (segregated) integration, normalization and pacification. Projects such as the bus-only lanes and bus terminal currently under construction at the Qalandia checkpoint operate in tandem with recent technological and infrastructural investments in the checkpoints, described as an “upgrade” by the Israeli Civil Administration (hereafter: ICA), the administrative arm of the Israeli military in the oPt. The so-called upgrade includes features such as: moveable connectors at pedestrian checkpoints, expanded use of facial recognition and other biometric identification technologies and significantly, terminals, bus lanes and parking areas with the objective of “maximizing utility […] and enabling the passage of goods with greater throughput and efficiency.” Transport planning is thus incorporated into Israel’s strategic move to recast Palestinians as clients and users of the occupation. In this way short-term quality-of-life improvements work to consolidate, normalize and sustain Israel’s highly restrictive mobility regime.”

In another recent report – “Highway to Annexation” – Breaking the Silence speaks to the role of roads and infrastructure in Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank:

“The ultimate vision of the road and transportation projects currently planned and underway in the West Bank involve entrenching the segregation between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. These infrastructure projects, of course, do not provide for “separate but equal” development but are rather guided primarily by the interests of the settler population and come at the expense of Palestinian development… West Bank road and transportation development creates facts on the ground that constitute a significant entrenchment of the de facto annexation already taking place in the West Bank and will enable massive settlement growth in the years to come. By strengthening Israel’s hold on West Bank territory, aiding settlement growth, and fragmenting Palestinian land, this infrastructure growth poses a significant barrier to ending the occupation and achieving an equitable and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.“

The Sovereignty Road

According to Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Israel signed a contract with a company owned by the Jerusalem Municipality for the construction of the “Sovereignty Road” in the Maale Adumim/E-1 area in the West Bank, just east of Jerusalem (called the “a-Zaim road to Al-Azariya” by Peace Now). In Regev’s press release announcing this development, her office makes it perfectly clear what this road is intended to do:

“This will be a separate road for Palestinians in the E1 area, the purpose of which is to separate the transportation connection between the Palestinian and Israeli populations in the area so that Palestinian vehicles will be allowed to pass without entering the Ma’ale Adumim bloc, near Jewish communities…At the political level, the road will connect Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim and enable construction in the Jewish settlements in the E1 area.”

For decades, construction of the E-1 settlement – which is now actively advancing through the planning process – has been adamantly opposed by the international community. A key criticism of the plan is that it would effectively cut the West Bank in half — thereby preventing any two-state solution. The “Sovereignty Road” has long been Israel’s answer to that criticism, with Israel arguing that it will replace territorial contiguity with limited “transportational continuity” – via a sealed road that is under Israel’s total control (meaning they can cut off passage through it at any time). 

If built, a section of the Palestinian-only road is projected to run under the separation barrier (which is not currently built in this area). The rest of the road will run relatively adjacent to the route of the planned separation barrier, in order – in the words of former Defense Minister Bennet – to prevent Palestinian traffic from coming “near Jewish communities.” This new section of road connects to the infamous “apartheid road” (aka, the Eastern Ring Road) which has a high wall down the middle dividing Israeli and Palestinian traffic, and which was opened for Palestinian traffic in January 2019

The Qalandiya Bypass Tunnel Road

Following the recent closing of the tender period, the Israeli government is expected to soon select a contractor to build a new tunnel road that will go underneath the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, which is perhaps the busiest access point for Palestinians entering Israel. Peace Now writes that construction of the tunnel road is expected to begin approximately in April 2021. This plan is designed to serve a cluster of settlements that Netanyahu has recently dubbed a “fourth settlement bloc.” This group of settlements is located deep inside the West Bank — including the settlements of Adam, Kochav Yaakov, Ofra, and Beit El — in an area that under any reasonable sense of a two-state solution cannot become part of Israel. By defining these settlements as part of a “bloc” Netanyahu is in effect asserting that Israel will never relinquish control over the area. 

Who Profits recently detailed this road project and the larger context of the Qalandiya checkpoint, writing:

“The Qalandia Grade Separation and Underpass Project is part of Israel’s concerted effort to reconfigure the space of the checkpoint. The Qalandia military checkpoint, located 10 kilometers north of Jerusalem and staffed by the Israeli military and private security companies, is one of the main checkpoints for Palestinians seeking to cross into East Jerusalem or the Green Line for work, health or any other purpose. Long infamous for its inhuman and crowded conditions and human rights violations, Qalandia has recently undergone major infrastructural and technological changes, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Under the guise of reducing wait times and improving conditions, the renovated checkpoints  introduce heightened forms of surveillance, including facial recognition technology. The checkpoint upgrade plan also includes investment in transport infrastructure, such as pedestrian bridges and bus services….Part of the project involved the creation of a planning corridor for a future underpass and grade separation, connecting Route 60 to Route 45 to form an uninterrupted east-west axis between the Binyamin settlement bloc northeast of Jerusalem and Route 443 and Route 50 (Begin Highway), integrating them into Jerusalem and the Green Line…land for the project has been expropriated using military seizure orders rather than civil procedures, a move designed to accelerate the process and limit the ability of Palestinians to object.”

Peace Now adds more context around how the tunnel is a key part of Israel’s grander vision for settler-serving infrastructure criss-crossing the West Bank:

“It should be noted that in recent months, the planning process for a new road, known as Road 45 or the “Quarries Road”, is underway to connect the Ramallah bypass road near the Kochav Ya’akov settlement, and the Qalandiya checkpoint has been progressing. In June 2020, the road plan (Plan No. 926/1), was approved for deposit in the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration, and was published for objections in October 2020. The road is intended to bypass the Palestinian settlements of Jaba’ and A-Ram, and allow settlers to travel quickly and safely without passing Palestinian homes.”

The two roads together will make all the settlements east of Jerusalem and Ramallah, as well as the settlements in the Jordan Valley and along Road 60 towards Nablus much more attractive for Israelis.

The Huwarra Bypass Road

Map by Peace Now

Peace Now also reports that, according to Transportation Minister Regev, the tender for the Huwwara Bypass Road has closed, meaning construction might begin imminently. The Huwwara Bypass Road is designed to enable settler traffic from the Nablus area to bypass the the Palestinian village of Huwwara (which is an area with heavy traffic congestion from daily commuters) in order to more easily/directly access Jerusalem. This bypass road has long been a top priority for the settlers, who have complained about the long commute to Jerusalem and the limit this puts on the potential for growth of Nablus-area settlements. The radical/violent Yitzhar settlement will benefit from the bypass road, along with the settlements of Har Bracha, Itamar, and Elon Moreh. Building the road also gained urgency for the settlers after the release of the Trump Plan’s conceptual map, which left the area where the road is slated to be built within the borders a future Palestinian “state.”

JNF Leadership Approves Policy to Expand Settlements, But Defers Final Approval to Board

The Jewish National Fund’s executive leadership voted this week to approve the adoption of a new policy making the expansion of settlements in the West Bank part of the group’s core mission and function, and allocated nearly $12 million (8 million NIS) towards the purchase of land in the West Bank. However, in a concession to JNF members and donors threatening to leave over the new policy, the organization’s leadership has decided to defer a final decision on to its Board of Directors, which is expected to hold a vote on the matter only after the March 23rd elections in Israel. 

Notwithstanding the significant controversy this “new” policy has provoked, the reality is that the JNF has long worked in support of settlements. What is different now is that, where in the past the JNF preferred to leave its settlement-related activities deliberately obscured, under the new policy the JNF would openly claim and promote its support for settlements. As such, the shift under consideration is not so much in policy as in public relations (a public relations approach that does not shy away from blatant racism, evidenced by the JNF Chairman’s recent TV appearance in which he said that the JNF’s goal is to stop land from ending up in Arab hands).

There has been significant opposition to the adoption of the new policy, on both administrative and moral grounds. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote to the JNF shortly before it met to approve the plan, asking for the matter to be delayed in order to allow Israeli security officials and the Civil Administration (which oversees civilian affairs including land regulation in the West Bank) to examine the matter. Gantz reportedly said that the JNF’s decision is “extremely sensitive,” potentially having national security consequences.

Diaspora Jewish groups have voiced strong opposition to the JNF moving to openly support settlements, with many focusing on why the new policy is bad for Israel. This includes Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who said that he “intends to mobilize the Jewish community to fight JNF’s plan through political and legal channels.”

J Street called on the U.S. branch of the JNF to work to oppose the policy, saying:

“For Jews around the world who contributed through the JNF to the creation and building of the state of Israel, it is beyond upsetting that the organization is being turned into an arm of the West Bank settlement movement, acting in a way that violates international law, shows total disregard for the rights of Palestinians and dangerously undermines Israel’s future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people along with the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. While JNF-KKL funds have a complex history of being used at times to help fund and facilitate land purchases and settlement growth beyond the Green Line in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they have not previously officially committed to this harmful project in such a brazen and explicit fashion.”

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote in an op-ed this week:

“The rot in the JNF can be smelled from far away. The fact that the Labor Party and Meretz are partners in this stinking nationalist enterprise testifies as much as 1,000 witnesses about the Zionist left. A “public benefit corporation,” most of whose land is land that was stolen from its owners in the Nakba and was never returned to them; which covered over the ruins of hundreds of villages in forests, just to erase their memory from the face of the earth and block the possibility of their owners returning. A body which, throughout all the years, in practice sold lands only to Jews, and since 2009 even legalized this practice in an official decision; a body for which there is no occupation and no Green Line – just one state between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, in which you buy land only for members of one people; and which has now officially declared its partnership in the war crime called settlement too, after years of doing so via a front company…Anyone who still has their doubts, yes apartheid or no apartheid, needs to get to know the JNF. With members of the right and left in its top posts and positions for Meretz too – here you have the Jewish national fund for apartheid, the Israeli consensus.”

Israeli Plan to Build West Bank Sewage/Power Plant Delayed Over Settlers’ Environmental Concerns

Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to delay the construction of a new waste-to-energy plant near the Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank until an environmental impact study can be done, a study which was requested by the leadership of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

The plant is planned to be built on land that is within the jurisdiction of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, where several Palestinian Bedouin communities currently live. As noted in this Peace Now report, the land under the jurisdiction of this settlement is the largest of all of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank” spreading “over a very large region which begins west of the settlement and extends into the Jericho valley. If compared with the size of the jurisdiction of cities within Israel, Ma’ale Adumim’s area is similar in size to that of the largest (most populated) cities within Israel.”. 

The plant – which is expected to cost USD $284 million (1 billion NIS) – will treat waste generated inside Israel and exported to the West Bank. B’Tselem published a comprehensive report criticizing the illegal Israeli practice of exporting its waste to the occupied territories – writing:

“For many years, Israel has been taking advantage of its power as occupier to transfer the treatment of waste (including hazardous waste) and sewage from its sovereign territory to the West Bank. To that end, it has created a situation in which environmental legislation in the West Bank is much laxer than inside Israel, conveniently overlooking the long-term impact of environmental hazards on the Palestinian population and on natural resources, and neglecting to prepare future rehabilitation plans. This has created a financial incentive to transfer the treatment of environmental hazards from Israel to the West Bank. The Palestinians who live in the occupied territory are the ones to pay the price for this environmental damage, even though they were never asked their opinion on the matter and although, as a population under occupation, they have no political power and no real ability to resist.”

Al Haq Requests “Immediate Intervention” by UN to Stop Settler Violence

In an urgent appeal to several key figures in the United Nations, the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq requests the UN’s “immediate intervention to protect the Palestinian protected population from systematic and ongoing settler attacks, which are conducted with institutionalised impunity.” 

The appeal goes on to illustrate six recent cases of settler terrorism stemming from the Yitzhar settlement, which is the home base of the “Hilltop Youth” settler movement – which is notoriously violent, inlcuding towards Israeli security forces in addition to violence directed at Palestinians and their property.

Al Haq writes:

“The incidents above exemplify the widespread, long-term, and worsening phenomenon of settler attacks against the Palestinian population and their property. Such attacks are a direct result of the transfer of Israeli civilians into occupied territory perpetrated by Israel, the Occupying Power. Israel, as Occupying Power, is obliged to “ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety” in the occupied Palestinian territory…Settler violence is a direct result of Israel’s failure to take the necessary measures to prevent settler violence. The systematic lack of any law enforcement by the Israeli police forces on criminal acts perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians reveals an institutional unwillingness to hold settlers to account. This constitutes a further violation of international law by the Israeli occupying authorities in so far as they deny to Palestinians an effective legal remedy for such attacks.57 This systematic lack of law enforcement against settlers, coupled with institutional unwillingness to investigate and prosecute settlers, encourage settlers to repeat their violence knowing that they enjoy impunity for crimes against Palestinians and benefit from the protection of Israeli domestic laws, in violation of international law.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Six Lies About Israel’s Wilde West Settlement Outpost” (Haaretz)
  2. “Palestinians Should Drag Architects of Settlements to the ICC” (Haaretz)