Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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January 14, 2022
- Israeli Attorney General Supports Settler-Led Dispossession of the Sumreen Family in Silwan
- Tender Published for 300 New Units in East Jerusalem Settlement of East Talpiyot
- Israel to Advance Expansion of East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo
- Israel Advances Plan that Will Pave Way for Expansion of East Jerusalem Settlement Enclave of Nof Zion
- IDF Evacuates Oz Zion Outpost (Again)
- Fight Over Homesh Outpost & Yeshiva Continues (Both Physically and Politically)
- Settlers Seek Outpost Gains from Divided & Fragile Government (With Some Success)
- Construction Begins on Key Stretch of the “Tunnels Road” for Settlements South of Jerusalem
- Israel Gives U.S. Army Officers Tour of Hebron Led by Settlement Spokesman
- Further Reading
On January 9th, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit submitted a legal opinion to the Supreme Court arguing in support of the immediate eviction of the Sumreen family from their home of 60+ years in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The Supreme Court is expected to announce its next steps on the case in the coming days, which might include setting a new hearing date to again consider legal arguments from both sides (now that the Attorney General has weighed in).
The case to evict the Sumreen family, spearheaded by the JNF, with the secret funding/backing of the Elad settler group, is a key test of the State’s use of the Absentee Property Law to seize Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. If dispossessed of their home, the Sumreen family case sets a broader precedent for many other ongoing eviction cases in Silwan that could result in the mass displacement of Palestinians in favor of settlers.
In his opinion, the Attorney General did not address the broader political context of widespread dispossession of Palestinians in Silwan, or legally dubious actions on the part of the Elad settler group and the Jewish National Fund in having the property declared to be absentee (see a detailed history of that scandal here) in order to take control over it. Instead, the Attorney General decided simply that there is no new basis on which to overturn the 1999 ruling that legitimized the JNF’s ownership of the home, and that the Sumreen family does not have a legal right to reside there.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“Instead of intervening and doing justice, the Israeli government, through the Attorney General, becomes a direct partner in crime and unforgivable injustice. The Attorney General chooses to ignore the context and the injustice behind the eviction suit and dives into quasi-legal questions to help settlers take over another property in Silwan. The Government’s fingerprints are smeared all over the Sumerin case. This is a political move in which government mechanisms such as the Custodian of Absentee Property and the Israel Land Administration and the JNF have been utilized in order to dispossess Palestinians of their property in East Jerusalem and replace them with settlers.”
It’s worth noting that the Sumreen house is located only a very short distance from the Al-Aqsa Mosque (approximately 10 meters) at the entrance to the Silwan neighborhood, and is adjacent to the “City of David” visitors center built and operated by the Elad settlers. The home is also located in the middle of what today has been designed by Israel as “the City of David National Park.” The entire area is managed by the radical Elad settler organization, which for years has also been pursuing the eviction of Palestinians from the homes in Silwan. For nearly three decades, the Sumreen family has been forced to battle for legal ownership of their home, after the state of Israel, prompted repeatedly by the JNF, declared the Sumreen’s home to be “absentee” property, despite the fact that this was manifestly not the case. Under that designation – which was not communicated to the Sumreen family – Israeli law permitted the State to take over the rights to the building. The State then sold the rights to the home to the JNF in 1991. The JNF has pursued the eviction of the Sumreen family ever since. Israeli courts ruled in favor of the Sumreen family’s ownership claims to the home for years, until a September 2019 ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court granted ownership of the family’s home to the JNF, a decision the family immediately appealed to the Jerusalem District Court.
A full history of the saga involving the Sumreen family – which is similar to dozens of other Palestinian homes in Silwan that were declared Absentee Property in the 1990s – can be found on the Peace Now website here.
On January 5th the Israel Lands Authority published a tender for the construction of 300 settlement units in the East Talpiyot settlement, located in East Jerusalem. Ir Amim reports the tender is scheduled to be opened for bids on February 14th.
The new units will expand the built-up footprint of East Talpiyot in the direction of the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher, a neighborhood that is facing multiple new settlement plans that encroach on its historic land (including the Givat HaMatos, Har Homa, and Lower Aqueduct plans). Sur Baher has also been targeted by the Israeli Custodian General in its efforts to gain control over more land that was owned by Jews previous to 1948.
On January 10th the Jerusalem District Planning Committee convened to discuss two plans that would add 1,538 settlement units to the Gilo settlement in East Jerusalem. The plans are being advanced under the banner of “urban renewal” and will involve demolishing existing settlement units and replacing 470 existing settlement units with 2,008 new units (representing a net expansion of the settlement by 1,538 units). Ir Amim notes that, “while the plans will not necessarily enlarge Gilo territorially, it will increase the Israeli population in the settlement and hence the number of Israelis living in East Jerusalem.”
Israel Advances Plan that Will Pave Way for Expansion of East Jerusalem Settlement Enclave of Nof Zion
On January 11th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee held a meeting to discuss public objections to a plan connected to the expansion of Nof Zion, a settlement enclave located inside the Palestinian East Jerualem neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber. One such objection was filed by Palestinian residents of Jabal Mukaber with assistance from Ir Amim. That objection argues that the plan is an affront to the planning needs of the local community and continues Israel’s systematic, city-wide discrimination against the housing, educational, and service-based needs of Palestinian neighborhoods. The Committee closed the meeting without reaching a decision, and has scheduled further private (closed to the public) continuation of its discussion of the plan.
The plan under consideration provides for the construction of a large, new Israeli police station on the border of Jabal Mukhaber neighborhood, on a plot of land that is across the street from the existing police station. The new station, according to Ir Amim, will “constitute a massive security headquarters and border police base, replete with detention facilities and laboratories.” Under the plan, after the new station is built the site of the current station will be designated for public buildings; however, Ir Amim warns that the land is currently allocated for the construction of hotels directly connected to plans to expand the Nof Zion settlement enclave. The relocation of the police station is a step towards the construction of those two hotels, which is part of the larger plan to expand Nof Zion to include the construction of commercial centers, educational institutions, and a sports field.
Ir Amim comments:
“In light of the dearth of public buildings and/or public spaces in the neighborhood, the objection [to the police facility plan] underscores the complete planning error and misuse of the respective plot of land. Rather than allocating the space to meet the dire public needs of the community, the authorities see it fit to utilize the land for a massive security base on the edge of the neighborhood. According to the objection [filed by Ir Amim and Palestinian residents], a plan of such magnitude implies that members of the community are seen as constituting a ‘threat’ rather than actual residents of Jerusalem entitled to equal socioeconomic rights and equitable access to municipal services. The depletion and appropriation of public spaces in East Jerusalem to serve Israeli interests and the expansion of setter enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods not only erode the fabric of these communities, but severely impinge on Palestinian individual and collective rights and further entrench Israeli control of East Jerusalem.”
Israel has been working consistently to expand and entrench Nof Zion — which it should be underscored is an enclave located wholly inside a Palestinian neighborhood. On July 8, 2021 settlers and their allies held a cornerstone-laying ceremony to mark the beginning of construction on hundreds of new units in Nof Zion. The new construction is just preliminary work on a project that will triple the settlement in size and make it the largest settlement enclave in East Jerusalem.
As a reminder: In 2017, the Israeli government approved a plan to build a new synagogue and mikveh in Nof Zion on private Palestinian land that was expropriated from the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood in 2016. Then, in September 2017, rumors emerged that the government was set to issue 176 building permits for the already-approved project. According to Ir Amim, those permits were ultimately issued in April 2019.
On January 10th, settlers sought to obstruct Israeli forces that were dismantling structures at the unauthorized outpost site called Oz Zion, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Settlers reportedly chained themselves to structures at the scene, and clashed with Israeli forces when they arrived to remove them.
Oz Zion has been dismantled by the IDF several times in the past (most recently in June 2021). Yet, the settlers – who have violently resisted Israeli forces carrying out the demolition – have repeatedly been allowed to reestablish it. It is one of the outposts for which a standing demolition order was recently re-issued by the IDF.
On January 10th, settlers clashed with Israeli forces attempting to confiscate property from the illegal yeshiva settlers have established at the site of the evacuated settlement of Homesh — a yeshiva that the IDF continues to permit settlers to visit and operate. It’s worth recalling the great lengths to which the IDF has gone to offer protection for the settlers to access the yeshiva, at the cost of the freedom of movement and obstruction of normal life to entire nearby Palestinian villages.
In the wake of the killing last month of a settler connected to the illegal yeshiva, national furor – spearheaded by settlers protesting in front of the Prime Minister’s residence – has kept the heat on the government over the fate of the Homesh outpost and yeshiva. Key settler leaders are threatening to bring down the current coalition if the yeshiva is dismantled. While the government has not clearly signaled what it intends to do with the yeshiva, settlers and their political allies outside of the governing coalition are now aggressively pushing the government to undertake hugely consequential efforts on behalf of the settlements — including but not limited to re-establishing the settlement of Homesh and normalizing the status of the illegal yeshiva at the site — in order to prove it allegiance. See below for more details.
As part of their campaign to push the government to authorize the Homesh yeshiva and reestablish the Homesh settlement, key settler leaders are raising at least two additional major initiatives in their aggressive push on the government to compensate the settlers in response to the recent death of settler Yehuda Dimentan.
- To pass a bill – or act unilaterally – to connect unauthorized outposts to the Israeli electric and water grids. To that end, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked reportedly held a meeting on this topic on January 9th. The settler-run news outlet Artuz Sheva optimistically reports that dozens of outposts might meet Israeli criteria for being connected to Israeli infrastructure, and that Gantz would support the move if the Defense Ministry Legal Advisor gives it an OK. This has been a longtime demand of settlers, and has typically included the demand to connect outposts to Israeli water, sewer, power, garbage collection, and other municipal services. Doing so would further entrench the permanence of these outposts and furthers the de facto annexation of Palestinian land. It would also continue and expand on Israel’s long practice of copiously rewarding settlers for breaking Israeli law (by illegally building outposts), and directly incentivizing further settler lawbreaking.
- To more aggressively police Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank (some 60% of the land). This demand is grounded in an Orwellian twisting of reality to treat Palestinian construction on Palestinian private land in Area C without permits required by Israel (permits Israel consistently refuses to issue) as theft of Israeli land. For more on this long running, and particularly pernicious, tactic of the settlement movement, see FMEP’s previous reporting.
Arutz Sheva reports (gleefully) that ground has been broken on a final stretch of the new tunnel road that will connect settlements to the south of Jerusalem (the Etzion settlement bloc) more seamlessly to the heart of the city. The tunnel is part of Highway 60, which Israel has already begun work to widen, which runs from Jerusalem all the way to the Kiryat Arba in Hebron.
In a deeply researched report on how infrastructure like roads is a means for settlement expansion and annexation, Breaking the Silence explains:
“While Israeli authorities justify many of the projects described in this document by claiming that they serve both the settler and the Palestinian populations in the West Bank, it is important to note that these roads are designed with Israeli, not Palestinian, interests in mind. Many of the roads that are technically open to Palestinian traffic are not intended to lead to locations that are useful to Palestinians.16 Instead, these roads are primarily designed to connect settlements to Israel proper (and thus employment and other services) via lateral roads, rather than to connect Palestinian communities to one another. Further, roads intended to connect Israeli settlements to Jerusalem (many of which are currently under construction) do not serve West Bank Palestinians outside of Jerusalem, as they are not allowed to enter Jerusalem without a permit. In addition, an extensive system of checkpoints and roadblocks allows Israel to control access to bypass roads and the main West Bank highways, and it can restrict Palestinian access when it so chooses.
This prejudice against Palestinian development is even starker when one considers that, according to an official Israeli projection, the expected Palestinian population in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) in 2040 is 4,600,000 individuals. Even if the vision of settler leaders to arrive at 1,000,000 settlers is realized by 2040, the Palestinian population would still be four times the size of the settler one. Despite this discrepancy, priority is still given to settler infrastructure 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.”
Raising many eyebrows, the secretariat of the Israeli Central Command reportedly arranged a settler-led tour of Hebron for a delegation of U.S. army officers. The full-day tour designed by the settlers included a visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs/al-Ibrahimi Mosque and a visit to the settler-run museum (in the Beit Hadassah enclave). The visit empowered settlers to present their version of the religious, historic, geo-political, and security significance of Hebron (including with respect both to settlers/settlements, and presenting Palestinians through the settler lens). The U.S. delegation did not engage any Palestinians while in Hebron, creating an obvious and problematic imbalance in perspective on all matters.
Haaretz reports that the Israeli army has refrained from engaging the settlers for diplomatic tours of Hebron in recent years. In a statement to Haaretz about the tour, the IDF issued a bland statement saying:
“Last week, a few U.S. army officers came for a tour of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Beit Hadassah led by the commander of the Central Command, for the purpose of learning about the history of the site. As part of the ongoing tours that are held regularly, the American delegation meets with various people in the State of Israel as well as in the Palestinian Authority. This is in order to learn about the area in the best way possible. Dr. Noam Arnon [a far-right-wing settler activist and spokesman for the Hebron settlements] was chosen to guide this tour. The tour was held according to the established regulations in the IDF.”
- “Who Do Israeli Settlement ‘Sheriffs’ Report To? Even They’re Not Sure” (Haaretz)
- “West Bank settlements are annexing land in Israel, too” (+972 Magazine)
- “Fresh Sheikh Jarrah eviction threatens to roil capital anew” (The Times of Israel)
- “From Iron Dome to supply chains, US Christian group quietly shaping US-Israel ties” (The Times of Israel)
- “Editorial | As Israel Bends Over Backwards for Homesh, Palestinians Pay the Price” (Haaretz)
- “The International Community and Israel: Giving Permission to a Permanent Occupation” (Michael Lynk in Just Security)
- “Congress launches bipartisan Abraham Accords Caucus” (Jewish Insider)