Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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January 5, 2024
- Tenders Issued for Settlement Unites on Mount Scopus
- Israel Advancing Plans to (re)Build the Homesh Settlement
- New Outpost Established in Battir, A UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Israel Supreme Court Orders State to Defend Settler Leaders or Face Investigation
- Israeli Governments Diverts $20 Million to Illegal Outposts, Contemplating $20million More
- Questions Raised Over “Israel Gives” Fundraising in U.S. After October 7th
- Peace Now Report: “Unmatched Surge in Settlement Activity in the West Bank Since the Onset of the Gaza War”
- Bonus Reads
Ir Amim reports that on December 25, 2023 the Israel Land Authority published two tenders ]for the construction of 1,539 new settlement units in the French Hill area of East Jerusalem. The Land Authority also opened one new tender for bidding, which calls for the construction of 300 new settlement units in the East Talpiyot settlement in East Jerusalem.
The tenders published for construction in French Hill are for two plans on the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, plans which will replace campus dormitory buildings with residential housing not intended for students. Tellingly, the two tenders that were published without having received formal approval and neither had been published in the public record. Ir Amim explains that the plans can’t move forward without these steps, so the publication of the tenders shows the “authorities’ intent on advancing these plans at a rapid pace.”
The Hebrew University Campus falls on both sides of the GReen Line in the French Hill area, though the plans advancing now are almost entirely for areas beyond the Green Line. Those plans are:
- The “Bronfman Dormitory Complex” area. This calls for 500 settlement units to replace an existing dormitory building. If built, the new buildings will encircle a Palestinian residential area.
- The “Lerner Complex & Lower Resnik Dormitory” area. This plan calls for 1,039 settlement units on land which straddles the Green Line. 90% of the units are designated for an area beyond the Geen Line.
For details on the plans, see Ir Amim’s reporting.
Peace Now reports that the Israeli government is actively advancing plans to build the Homesh outpost in the northern West Bank, a settlement which was dismantled by the government in 2005 along with three others (Sa-Nur, Ganim, and Kadim). Homesh was built on lands historically belonging to the Palestinian village of Burqa. The land was never returned to its Palestinian owners even after the settlement was dismantled in 2005, though settlers have been permitted to establish (and recently re-locate) an illegal outpost in the area, from which settlers operate a yeshiva.
Prior to the October 7th war, the construction of Homesh was a central agenda item for the Netanyahu government – as promised to the far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition as part of the coalition agreement that brought him back to power. In the months between Netanyahu’s return and the war, the government passed laws and changed others in order to provide a legal basis by which to build the settlement. With that basis esstablished, on December 21, 2023 the Commissioner of Government Property and Abandoned Lands (a body within the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration) signed an authorization to allow the settlement planning to begin.
Peace Now speculates that the timing of the authorization is linked to a petition against the Homesh plan submitted by Yesh Din, which calls on the State to allocated the land for the benefit of Palestinians in Burqa who have been deprived of their land for decades. Peace Now writes:
“The timing of the publication appears to be linked to the appeal of the Yesh Din organization, legally demanding the annulment of the newly designated jurisdiction for the establishment of the Homesh settlement, allocating public land for the benefit of the residents of the Palestinian village of Burqa. As part of the appeals process, it was argued in court that the Civil Administration did not announce the authorization for the planning area, thus preventing the residents of Burqa from lodging objections. The publication would enable the state attorney’s office to argue in court that the subject of the authorization was indeed publicized. It cannot be overlooked that the process is being made public now, while attention is focused on the conflict in Gaza and Lebanon, and as the world celebrates Christmas. The fact that the process is now being made public, at a time when attention is focused on the war in Gaza and Lebanon, and the world is celebrating the Christmas holiday, underscores that this is a maneuver designed to prevent public and international scrutiny. In June 2023, the government decided that Minister Smotrich would be responsible for approving planning authorizations.”
Peace Now reports that on December 12, 2023 settlers established a new outpost on state land a mere 500 meters from the Palestinian village of Battir, a village known for its ancient terraced hills and recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This is the third time settlers have illegally moved into this area of land in an attempt to establish permanent control over the area. This time, instead of once again removing the criminal settlers, the IDF created a perimeter around the outpost in order to keep Palestinians out of the area.
Peace Now reports:
“It is important to note that the outpost is situated approximately 500 meters away from the village of Battir and is considered a strategic and significant point for the settlers. The location of the outpost is part of an attempt to create a buffer of Israeli presence between the city of Bethlehem and the Palestinian villages to its west, namely Husan and Battir, aiming to prevent the possibility of a territorial continuum for a future Palestinian state. In this area, two additional outposts were established in recent years: the Makhrour outpost (also known as ‘Neve Uri’) and the Eden Farm Outpost, and a plan for the expansion of the settlement Har Gilo (“Givat Hagamal“) was recently promoted.”
On December 28, 2023 the Israeli Supreme Court issued a Decree Nisi instructing the State of Israel to submit its arguments within 60 days as to why the Court should not open a criminal investigation into the violation of Israeli law governing construction in the settlements of Haroeh, Alonei Shilo, Ramat Gilad and Shvut Rachel. The issuance of a Decree Nisi signals that the Court has accepted the principle claim in a petition filed by Peace Now, and shifts the burden of proof to the State.
It should be noted that the petition is limited in its scope – not challenging the legality of settlement construction wholesale – but of settlement construction that was done in violation of Israeli legal processes for planning and building in the West Bank.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“Today, the court sends a clear signal to law enforcement authorities that there is no longer room for the years of immunity granted by the state to leaders of the settlement movement. They have acted against the law and utilized public funds to determine facts on the ground, affecting the future of Israel as a whole. We hope that this message resonates, leading to an end to lawlessness in the settlements and outposts.”
Haaretz reports that over $40million dollars were secretly diverted from existing budgets in order to boost funding to illegal outposts.
Of the total, $20million was diverted out of the Interior Ministry into the hands of Orit Struck and the National Missions Ministry. The re-allocation of these funds was done so secretly at a cabinet meeting, not having appeared on the agenda. Haaretz speculates that the proposal was hidden “most likely because of reservations on the part of professional and legal government offices. They argued the budget allocation is illegal…”.
Another $20million diversion is being pushed by Finance Minister and minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich over the objections of legal and professional counsel. The funds would be taken from the Settlement Division for the “provision of security elements” for outposts.
The Guardian published an investigation into a fundraising platform called “Israel Gives” (very much like GoFundMe), which has raised millions from U.S. donors since October 7, 2023, inlcuding for illegal causes like outposts and paramilitary forces.
The Guardian reports it:
“identified at least 450 fundraising campaigns that are currently live on the site. Some 204 of these, initiated after 7 October, sought donations for tactical equipment or logistical support. Named beneficiaries included the IDF, individual IDF units, or paramilitary squads attached to specific Israeli communities, including many attached to West Bank settlements.
After conversion to US dollar amounts at market rates at the time of reporting, the Guardian determined that donors had pledged $5.3m to military, paramilitary or settlers since 7 October. A high proportion of these donors indicated that they are US residents.
Campaigns raising funds specifically for illegal settlements included campaigns in support of Efrat, Tene (called Tene Omarum by settlers), Shavei Shomron, and Ma’on (also called Havat Ma’on). All of these fundraisers appear to ask for funding for paramilitary units attached to the settlements.”
One of the founders of IsraelGives, Ben-dor, defended his platform to The Guardian, and explained that one of the campaigns to raise funds for illegal outposts was “created automatically on our platform through a war-time program designed to provide emergency assistance to communities and families directly affected by the October 7th attacks”. Ben-dor told The Guardian that the funds raised for these causes have not yet been released and, like every campaign, will be put through an “extensive [know your customer] and compliance process.” Specifically on a campaign to benefit the outpost Ma’on, Ben-dor said the fundraiser “has yet to be vetted, approved, or funded, and on the face of it is not a cause that we will support, for the aforementioned reasons”.
Peace Now Report: “Unmatched Surge in Settlement Activity in the West Bank Since the Onset of the Gaza War”
Peace Now issued a new report summarizing settlement activity since October 7, 2023 – including construction of roads, establishment of outposts, and the imposition of roadblocks and other obstacles to prevent Palestinians from accessing roads and land in Area C of the West Bank.
Key points covered in the report include:
- A record number of 9 new outposts in a span of about three months.
- A record number of 18 illegal roads paved or authorized by settlers.
- The settlers returned to Amona. An outpost that was evacuated in 2017 following a court order. Settlers evacuated it in exchange for financial compensation, and the settlement of Amihai was established.
- The Huwara Bypass Road has been nearly deserted since the efforts to open it.
- A new phenomenon of settlers closing Palestinian traffic routes against military orders.
- Building fences instead of new settlements.
- A significant portion of the outposts and roads are located on private Palestinian land.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The three months of war in Gaza are being exploited by settlers to establish facts on the ground and effectively take control of extensive areas in Area C. Settlers decide where to build roads and outposts continuously, disregarding the legal status of the land. They persist in constructing outposts on private Palestinian lands, defining open areas, and restricting Palestinian movement in the West Bank. The permissive military and political environment allow the reckless construction and land seizure almost unchecked, with minimal adherence to the law. The result is not only physical harm to Palestinians and their lands but also a significant political shift in the West Bank. The unchecked rampage of the settlers must be stopped now.”
- “Stay Inside: Hebron Residents Face Restrictions Like Never Before, Unable to Leave Their Homes or Neighborhood“(Haaretz)
- “Smotrich touts revival of Gaza settlements after war, wants Gazans encouraged to leave” (The Times of Israel)
- “Rejection of Irresponsible Statements on Resettlement of Palestinians Outside of Gaza” (U.S. Department of State)