Settlement & Annexation Report: February 4, 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 4, 2022

  1. Israeli Attorney General Approves Retroactive Legalization of the Evyatar Outpost (Final Decision to be Made by Government)
  2. Another Palestinian Family to Be Forcibly Dispossessed of its home in Jerusalem
  3. New Tender Issued for Settler Foot Bridge Over Ben Hinnom Valley
  4. Knesset Committee Recommends Expanding Israel Antiquities Authority Oversight into the West Bank
  5. Further Reading

Israeli Attorney General Approves Retroactive Legalization of the Evyatar Outpost (Final Decision to be Made by Government)

Haaretz reports that in the final hours of his tenure outgoing Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit issued a legal opinion that provides a basis for granting retroactive legalization to the Evyatar outpost (which would mean authorizing Evyator as a fully-approved new settlement, “legal” under Israeli law). 

As a reminder: the Evyatar outpost was illegally built by settlers on land located just south of Nablus, in the very heart of the northern West Bank. The site of the outpost is known to Palestinians as Mount Sabih, and has historically belonged to the nearby Palestinian villages of Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. With this new opinion, the Israeli Attorney General has decided that enough of the land on which the illegal outpost was built can be declared as “state land,” which means the Israeli government can give the area to the settlers.

As another reminder, this time from Peace Now

“the declaration of state lands is a procedure that was used by Israel since the 1980’s in order to take over nearly one million dunams in the occupied territories. The declaration is based on a draconian Israeli interpretation of the Ottoman Land Law according to which if land is not cultivated for a certain period it becomes public land and is managed by the state (and in the case of Israeli occupation of the territories, it is managed by the Civil Administration).”

With the legal opinion of the Attorney General, the Bennett government is now in a position to authorize Evyatar as a new settlement. If granted government approval, Defense Minister Benny Gantz can issue a formal declaration of “state land” (more on that process here). In January 2022, reports indicated that Gantz had agreed to the plan to legalize Evyatar.

That said, the Bennett government could, theoretically, still elect to not authorize the outposts, but that outcome is extremely unlikely, to say the least – notwithstanding the fact that Foreign Minister (and alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid has reportedly warned Prime Minister Bennett that authorizing Evyatar will damage Israel-U.S. relations. Also, the Israeli Labor and Meretz parties (both part of the governing coalition) oppose the legalization of Evyatar. 

Palestinian Authority settlement officer Ghassan Daghlas told Haaretz:

“Israel is trying to establish facts on the ground and the timing of the announcement is not coincidental, a day after the publication of the Amnesty report.”

Map by Peace Now

In the very early days of the Bennett-Lapid coalition government, it was decided that the government would undertake an “investigation” into the status of the land on which the outpost was illegally established. That investigation was part of a package deal meant to both appease the settlers who were illegally squatting at the site and their allies. The package was also intended to quell Palestinian protests against the outpost and the international attention they were increasingly gaining – attention linked in larger part to the violent reaction against Palestinians by settlers and IDF soldiers, including most notably in Beita, which saw the death of several protestors, including children.

In addition to the “investigation,” the package also sought to balance bitter divisions within the Bennett government over whether to evacuate the outpost or grant it retroactive legalization. In the end, the government reached a “deal” which saw the settlers (temporarily) voluntarily vacate the outpost on July 2, 2021. In return, the government agreed to leave the settlers’ illegal construction at the site in place (i.e., did not demolish it) — including buildings and roads —  while it carried out its investigation into the status of the land. In this way, the “compromise” left the outpost intact and allowed Israel to maintain complete control over the site during the “survey” process, clearly signalling that the government’s objective was never to enforce Israeli law, but, rather, was always about finding a legal and political “solution” to enable them to launder the settlers’ actions and accommodate their demands. Indeed, the terms of the Evyatar “compromise” made clear that the Bennet government was confident that it would find a pretext on which to assert that the land on which the outpost stands is “state land,” which can be used by the state as it sees fit (which nearly 100% of the time means, will be used to benefit the settlers)).

Peace Now said in a statement

“Instead of stopping the ideological delinquency of a handful of settlers who allow themselves to establish facts on the ground against the law, and contrary to the Israeli interest, the government seeks to encourage them and give them a reward. The establishment of a new settlement in the depths of the West Bank is a security burden, and a threat to the chances for peace. Coalition members who oppose the occupation and support two states must demand that the Defense Minister stop the madness and not approve the settlement in Eviatar.”

Another Palestinian Family to Be Forcibly Dispossessed of its home in Jerusalem

Ir Amim reports that Israeli authorities have officially cleared the way for the Palestinian Salem family to be evicted from its longtime home in Sheikh Jarrah. The eviction can take place at any time between March 1st and April 1st. Once evicted, the Salem family home will be handed over to two settlers, one of whom is Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King – suggesting that, at least in this case, the Israel government’s agenda and the settlers’ agenda are one and the same. 

The Israeli registrar, in publishing its approval of the eviction window, also ordered the Salem family to pay 5,000 shekels (~$1,500 USD) for legal expenses.

The Salem family told WAFA news that they intend to appeal their eviction to the Israeli High Court, though a member of the family made it clear that the Israeli courts are part of a system designed to dispossess them:

“The Israeli court is biased. It only aims at emptying Jerusalem from Palestinians to give our place to settlers…even if we appeal, we don’t trust the Israeli court system. We depend only on solidarity in Palestine and beyond…We are three brothers living with our families, including seven children and our 74-year-old mother, Fatima Salem, the head of the family…We were all born here and have nowhere else to go. If they do expel us, we will continue to live in the street, right here”. 

On the possibility of delaying the Salem family’s forcible displacement, Ir Amim notes:

Although the Selam family’s legal representation may appeal the Enforcement and Collection Authority’s decision authorizing the family’s eviction and request an injunction to freeze it, there is no guarantee the court will approve such a request. The family’s attorney has hence made it clear that the remaining legal remedies are extremely limited. Therefore the only real effective means of preventing the family’s impending displacement is through state intervention.”

Israeli settlers and police had specifically requested a window in which to carry out the eviction to enable them to carry out the eviction by surprise — thereby (theoretically) making it harder for the family and protesters to prepare and for large crowds to gather. It must be understood that this flexible date is just the latest twist on the cruelty and hardship endured by the Salem family for years. It’s also worth recalling that earlier this month, in the context of a similar approval for the eviction of a Palestinian family living in the same neighborhood (the Salihiya family), Israel chose to implement the eviction in the dead of night, on one of the coldest nights of the year.

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.

New Tender Issued for Settler Foot Bridge Over Ben Hinnom Valley

Ir Amim reports that the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation issued a tender for a settler-initiated project to build a new pedestrian footbridge over the Ben Hinnom/Wadi Rababa Valley in Jerusalem. Bidding on the tender is set to close on February 28, 2022. An appeal against the plan, filed in 2018 by Israeli NGOs Peace Now and Emek Shaveh, was rejected by the Courts.

The bridge will serve to connect two settler-operated tourist facilities located on opposite sides of the valley – one in the  in the Palestinian Abu Tor neighborhood and the other in the Silwan neighborhood.

On the Abu Tor side of the bridge, the Elad settler organization runs and operates a cultural center and cafe named “House in the Valley,” which opened in 2019 after Elad evicted a Palestinian family and renovated the space. A week after Elad’s new cultural center was opened, the Jerusalem Municipality issued “gardening orders” to take control, for a period lasting 5 years (with the likelihood of extensions after that), of 12 nearby plots of privately owned Palestinian land. “Gardening orders” allow Israel to “temporarily” take over privately owned land for what are ostensibly public purposes (like establishing a parking lot or public garden), based on the argument that the private owners are not presently using the land. In this case, Israel has in effect made rules that guarantee that the latter condition applies: as Emek Shaveh has noted, the 12 plots in question are located in an area declared by Israel to be a national park, meaning that private landowners are legally barred from using their own land. 

On the Silwan side – a neighborhood where Elad (alongside other settler organizations, including Ateret Cohanim) is waging a house-by-house campaign to displace Palestinians in favor of settlers and settler-run tourist sites – the bridge will end near the Sambuski cemetery, which until recent years was a relatively unknown, neglected site that even Israel did not recognize as a holy site. Under the Trump “Peace to Prosperity” plan, the Sambuski cemetery suddenly became a place of prime historical and religious importance to Israel. The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – which has a special expertise on archaeology and the weaponization of archaeology to serve the political agenda of the settlers and the state – wrote a report on exactly how the Trump “Vision” supports settler efforts to use Jerusalem’s history and antiquities to promote Israeli-Jewish hegemony and control over the city.

Ir Amim writes:

“As part of the intensifying band of settlement around the Old City, the Wadi Rababa/Hinnom valley area is of particular significance as it stretches along the seam between Silwan and West Jerusalem and serves as the main entrance into the neighborhood from this direction. In recent years, there has been an increase of tourism projects in and around this location promoted by the government and the Elad settler organization, which together create a more seamless link between West Jerusalem and Elad’s constellation of settlement sites in Silwan.”

Knesset Committee Recommends Expanding Israel Antiquities Authority Oversight into the West Bank

On January 24th, the Knesset’s Education Committee held a hearing to discuss the alleged destruction of Jewish antiquity sites in the West Bank by Paelstinians and the Palestinian Authority, and what Israel should do to stop it. The Committee made several recommendations, including the suggestion for the government to expand the jurisdiction of the Israeli Antiquities Authority to include Area C, which would amount to yet another act of de facto annexation of some 60% of the West Bank. The Committee also recommended offering formal authorization for settler regional councils to “protect” and manage antiquity sites in Area C, which settlers are already doing on their own accord (with State funding and the help of the IDF in some cases). These archaeologically-focused annexation efforts run in parallel to other ongoing efforts by settlers and their political allies to unilaterally (and openly) annex Area C.

The hearing  was based on a report on this very subject authored by a group calling itself the “Guardians of Eternity.” That group is an offshoot of the settler group Regavim. Emek Shaveh – an Israeli NGO focused on archaeology – called the report “highly questionable,” noting that the scientific editor of the report is anonymous, the report did not use acceptable archaeological methodology when surveying different sites, and the data on which the report based its conclusions and recommendations has not been made public.

Emek Shaveh’s Executive Director, Alon Arad, briefly addressed the Knesset Committee, urging the Members to understand the political agenda at play. Arad said:

“​​The destruction of antiquities should not constitute a pretext for political action and I think we should also refrain from camouflaging the political nature of this discussion as an archaeological act. Blurring the lines between archaeology and heritage on the one hand, and settlement and annexation, on the other endangers the future of archaeology.”

Emek Shaveh later said in a statement:

“There are approximately 6000 antiquity sites in the West Bank. The significance is that practically in every village or town there are archaeological remains of varying scale from a watering hole to a multilayered mound. It follows that there is always a tension between the need for modern development and the safeguarding of heritage sites. It is also clear that the problem of antiquity destruction is used by settlers and right-wing MKs as a justification for displacement…in just two years from 2017-2019, there was a 162% rise in demolition orders citing archaeology…Emek Shaveh believes that the destruction of antiquities should not be used as a justification for settlement expansion nor for promoting actions which advance de facto annexation. The appropriate approach to safeguarding antiquities in Area C must include the following: Israel must respect International Humanitarian Law and conventions which outline its duties vis-à-vis cultural heritage sites as the occupier in occupied territory, including maintaining separation between the IAA and the Staff Officer for Archaeology. Israel should promote cooperation with the Palestinian Authority on all levels: information sharing, oversight, and enforcement – something that was mutually agreed in the Oslo Accords. Israel must outlaw the trade in antiquities which gives impetus to antiquity theft.”

The Knesset Committee’s discussion of this subject comes on the heels of a decision by Israeli Minister of Heritage and Jerusalem Affairs, Ze’ev Elkin, to allocate $1.57 million (5 million NIS) towards “reconstruction” of the Sebastia archaeological site (located in the northern West Bank, near Nablus), pending approval from the Israeli Civil Administration. The Ministry further said that an additional $787,000 will be allocated towards the “rehabilitation” of other archaeological sites in the West Bank, as well as about $470,000 towards the Civil Administration’s ramped up efforts to “protect” West Bank archaeological sites.

As FMEP has chronicled, settlers and their allies are intent upon using claims of Palestinian damage/neglect as a pretext for Israel taking control of archaeological sites and artifacts across the West Bank. For example, in February 2021 settlers used a construction mishap to raise claims to the Mt. Ebal site

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israeli soldiers force closure of Palestinian stores in Hebron’s Old City” (Basel al-Adra – +972 Magazine)
  2. “The purpose of settler terrorism” (Edo Konrad – +972 Magazine)
  3. THREAD: “During a discussion in the government about settler violence the Chief of Staff stated Israeli soldiers don’t have the authority to detain Israeli settlers who attacked Palestinians…” (Oren Ziv – Twitter)