Settlement & Annexation Report: February 25, 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 25, 2022

  1. The Israeli Plans to Expand “National Park” Onto Church (& Palestinian) Property in East Jerusalem
  2. Israel Freezes Salem Family Eviction in Sheikh Jarrah
  3. U.S. Ambassador Nides Reiterates His No-Visiting-Settlements Policy, Invites Settlers to Meet with Him
  4. Further Reading

The Israeli Plans to Expand “National Park” Onto Church (& Palestinian) Property in East Jerusalem

News broke this week that the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee was scheduled to take up at its April 10th meeting a plan to take control of more land in East Jerusalem – including church-owned land on the Mt. of Olives, where many sacred Christian sites are located, as well as privately-owned Palestinian land. Following widespread outcry, the Israeli government postponed (but by no means permanently abandoned) the Committee’s consideration of the plan, after the Israeli National Parks Authority, which has authority over the initiative, announced that the plan is no longer considered ready for discussion.

Map by Haaretz

First reported by Terrestrial Jerusalem, the plan was initiated over a year ago and outlines a significant expansion of the boundaries of the territory designated as the “Jerusalem Walls National Park” — to add land on the Mt. of Olives, in the Ben Hinnom Valley, and in the Kidron Valley. Christian church leaders (who are already in conflict with the Israeli government over settler actions) immediately protested, with the heads of three major Christian churches – the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, the Catholic Custos Francesco Patton and the Armenian Patriarch Nurhan Manougian –  writing an unusually pointed letter to Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), stating:

“In recent years we cannot help but feel that various entities are seeing to minimize, not to say eliminate, any non-Jewish characteristics of the Holy City by attempting to alter the status quo on this holy mountain. They have failed due to the objection and lack of cooperation from the Churches. After their attempts failed, they resorted to statutory powers by advancing a plan to declare vast parts of the mountain as a national park…This is a brutal measure that constitutes a direct and premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land, on the churches and on their ancient, internationally guaranteed rights in the Holy City. Under the guise of protecting green spaces, the plan appears to serve an ideological agenda that denies the status and rights of Christians in Jerusalem.”

In addition to the impact on church-owned properties, the plan has enormous significance for the viability and contiguity of Palestinians in Jerusalem, as Terrestrial Jerusalem explained:

“The ramifications of this plan are not routine. While the ringing of the Old City on the north and the south is proceeding apace by means of settlement expansion in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, respectively, the expansion of the National Park will remove the remaining obstacles for the development of settlement-related activities to the East. By doing so, it will complete the total encirclement of the Old City by means of settlements and settlement-related projects that are fragmenting the Christian and Palestinian expanses in the visual basin surrounding it.”

Terrestrial Jerusalem then predicted, correctly

“the Plan will no doubt be interpreted as part of a systematic Israeli policy that seeks to engrave the increasingly hegemonic Jewish-Biblical narrative of East Jerusalem settlers on the landscape surrounding the Old City. This will marginalize both the Christian and Islam equities in that landscape.”

Indeed, the Israeli government has already outsourced a significant part of the operations of the Jerusalem Walls National Park to the settler group Elad, specifically in the Silwan neighborhood where Elad is establishing touristic settlements while waging a house-by-house campaign to evict Palestinians from their homes in favor of Jewish Israeli settlers. 

Regarding the relationship between (and goals of) the Israeli government and Elad, Terrestrial Jerusalem explains:

“For many years, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (“the INPA”) together with other similar governmental bodies, such as the Israel Antiquities Authority, served as the long arm and subcontractors of the East Jerusalem settler organizations. The objective of these symbiotic relationships are clear and coherent:

– encompassing of the Old City through settler-controlled built-up areas, national and municipal parks and trails towards the end of securing the territorial integration of the Old City and its visual basin into the borders of pre-1967 Israel;

– creating a public domain in which the landscape is embedded with distinct expressions of the pseudo-Biblical ideology of the East Jerusalem settlers, while marginalizing the Christian and Muslim presence and ties to Jerusalem;

– fragmenting the urban fabric of Palestinian East Jerusalem in a manner that further undermines the very possibility of a future permanent status agreement.

“These policies are not new and have driven the actions of Israel in and around Jerusalem’s Old City for many years. What IS new is the aggressive application of these policies to Jerusalem’s holy sites, in the framework of a strategic thrust to galvanize sole Israeli control and rule over all of Jerusalem, East and West. The Plan is not an isolated event. One of the major manifestations of these policies may be found in numerous Israeli projects currently being implemented in and around the settlement enclaves to the north of the Old City, in Sheikh Jarrah, and to its south in Silwan. This entails a number of major government and settler projects that aspire to create a pincer maneuver that will surround the Old City with settlements and a settler-inspired public domain, effectively cutting off the Old City and its visual basin from the rest of East Jerusalem.”

A number of Israeli peace and human rights organizations — Bimkom, Emek Shaveh, Ir Amim and Peace Now — issued a joint statement laying out how this “national park” expansion plan fits into other settlement related developments and policies in Jerusalem:

“There is a direct link between what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah [the ongoing evictions of Palestinian families from their homes] and the expansion plan. These are various mechanisms used by Israel in East Jerusalem to entrench its sovereignty, to marginalize non-Jewish presence and to prevent much needed development of Palestinian neighborhoods hereby increasing the pressure to push them out of the Old City basin. This plan is part of a process of transforming the symbolic and political importance of the Historic Basin, by increasing the Jewish religious and national significance of this area while increasing the pressure on the Palestinian residents. We object to the cynical misuse of heritage and environment protection as a tool by Israeli authorities for justifying settlement expansion, for re-shaping the historical narrative and for determining ownership over the historical basin.”

Israel Freezes Salem Family Eviction in Sheikh Jarrah

On February 22nd the Jerusalem Magistrate Court published a decision that would temporarily freeze the eviction orders against the a Palestinian family living in Sheikh Jarrah (the Salem family) as soon as the family deposits a 25,000 shekel ($7,700) “guarantee” with the Court related to a new petition it has filed. 

The Salem family has been fighting efforts by settlers to evict them from their longtime home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The settlers claim to have bought the house from the Jewish family that owned it before 1948 — based on an Israeli law that gave Jewish Israelis the right to “reclaim” properties lost in the 1948 War. In contrast, the Salem family, under Israel law, lacks legal claim both to the home in Sheikh Jarrah where they have lived since being displaced from their home inside the Green Line during the 1948 War, and to their original home inside Israel. With Israeli law fully on their side, the settlers obtained a court-order for the eviction of the Salem family, scheduled by the Court to happen sometime between March 1st and April 1st (the exact date was left vague, in order to give security forces the element of surprise, thereby preventing Palestinians from organizing any protest). That eviction order is now considered frozen until the Court rules on an appeal submitted by the Salem family. 

Meanwhile, Kahanist Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir continues to operate a makeshift “parliamentary office” on a plot of land directly adjacent to the Salem family home — a deliberate provocation that has succeeded in stoking tensions and conflict in Sheikh Jarrah.

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.

U.S. Ambassador Nides Reiterates His No-Visiting-Settlements Policy, Invites Settlers to Meet with Him

In a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on February 21st, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides reiterated that he will not travel to Israel’s illegal settlements. Instead, Nides declared that he will meet with “anyone who wants to meet with me,” and invited settlers to visit the Embassy [note: this is a return to the pre-Trump/Friedman status quo]. Nides went on to note that he had gone out for drinks with a right-wing rabbi who had taken offense to earlier comments Nides made on his decision to not travel to the settlements. This week Nides also appeared to downplay any policy implications of such a travel ban, saying instead that traveling to a settlement with a large motorcade would stoke controversy. 

Bonus Reads

  1. “Palestinian Teen Suffers Head Wound by Rubber-tipped Bullet During West Bank Protests” (Haaretz)
  2. “The Palestinian village squeezed dry by Israel’s tight water control“ (Middle East Eye)
  3. “Two Unprecedented Scenarios Emerge in Battle for Control of Jewish Agency” (Haaretz)