Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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January 7, 2022
- E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed
- E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 1): Israel Advances New Settlement Plan in East Jerusalem
- E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 2): Israel Approves Expansion of French Hill Settlement in East Jerusalem
- E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 3): An Update on Two Families Facing Displacement in Sheikh Jarrah
- Al-Walajah Hearing Postponed but Remains Likely
- Report: Gantz Intends to Turn Evyatar Outpost Into New “Legal” Settlement
- Settlers Still Pressing Govt to Authorize Homesh Outpost, & Terrorizing Nearby Palestinians
- IDF Evacuates Kumi Ori Outpost, Yitzhar Start Clashes
- IDF Renews Standing Demolitions Orders Against Six Unauthorized Outposts
- Israel Earmarks Millions for Seven New Synagogues in Settlements & Outposts
- Bonus Reads
The Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Council has removed consideration of the E-1 settlement plan from the agenda of its scheduled January 10th meeting. Haaretz reports that the plan has been indefinitely postponed due to “the expert opinions of certain officials in the Civil Administration.” No further information regarding the identity of the officials nor their opinions has been made public, and neither Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz (who oversees the Civil Administration and all planning in the West Bank) nor Prime Minister Bennett have made any public comments. Haaretz further notes that the decision to add and remove items – particularly contentious items such as the E-1 plan – requires the approval of political leadership.
The High Planning Council – which is the body within the Israeli Defense Ministry which oversees all construction in the occupied West Bank – was expected to convene on January 10th to hold a third hearing to consider public objections to the E-1 plan. The Council’s previous hearings on public objections to the plan have been riddled with drama. The first was held on October 4th, but Palestinians were effectively denied the ability to participate, as it was held online and was thus inaccessible to the many Palestinians affected by the plan who do not have internet access. The second was held on October 18th; at that hearing three objections were presented (one by the Palestinian village of Anata, a second by the Palestinian village of Al-Azariya, and a third joint submission filed by Ir Amim and Peace Now). Ir Amim reports that there was no substantive discussion of these objections, with the Civil Administration panel offering no questions or comments on them. This third hearing – which was scheduled for January 10th – was set by the Court (originally for November 2021, but delayed) to compensate for the exclusion of Palestinians from the first hearing.
E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 1): Israel Advances New Settlement Plan in East Jerusalem
On January 5th, the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee advanced a plan – referred to as the “Lower Aqueduct Plan” – to build a new settlement with 1,457 units in East Jerusalemn land located between two already controversial settlements on the southern flank of East Jerusalem: Givat Hamatos and Har Homa. The new settlement is intended to connect the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa, establishing an uninterrupted continuum of Israeli settlements on the southern rim of Jerusalem, and destroying the contiguity of Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. With approval from the municipal planning authority, the plan now goes to the Jerusalem District Planning Committee which will convene on January 17th to consider depositing the plan for public review.
In addition to severing East Jerusalem from the West Bank in the south, the new settlement will impinge on two neighboring East Jerusalem Palestinian villages of Sur Baher and Umm Tuba, and will involve the expropriation by Israel of privately owned Palestinian land. Most notably, in order to pave a new access road for the new settlement, the State will likely expropriate land privately owned by Palestinian residents of Umm Tuba. Ir Amim explains:
“According to the plan, an access road to the new neighborhood will be built over the Green Line on private Palestinian land belonging to residents of Umm Tuba. These lands will likely be expropriated. Despite the probable expropriation, the plan does not offer any development for the remaining privately-owned Palestinian land and will likewise not grant building rights to Palestinian landowners for areas alongside the road not intended for expropriation.”
Adding insult to injury, two years ago the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs initiated a plan to build a new Palestinian business center in the precise area targeted by the “lower aqueduct” plan, as part of an Israeli government initiative to reduce poverty in East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Municipality subsequently abandoned the plan for the Palestinian business center under pressure from settlers, specifically from the Har Homa settlement which borders the area. Ir Amim comments:
“Not only is this yet another example of severe planning discrimination, but construction of this new neighborhood will serve to further create Israeli territorial contiguity along East Jerusalem’s southern perimeter while depleting more land reserves for Palestinian development.”
Peace Now notes that the majority of the land on which the new settlement will be built (half of which is in East Jerusalem and half in West Jerusalem) is privately owned, or managed by the Israeli Custodian General. Although recent reporting suggests the Custodian General is moving to advance settlement construction on lands it manages across East Jerusalem, its legal ability to do so is questionable (and doing so has historically not been its practice).
It’s worth recalling that in December 2021, reports surfaced that the Israeli Custodian General is planning to establish a new settler enclave in Sur Baher, and is hoping to add more land in the village to its existing portfolio of 3.3 dunams.
Terrestrial Jerusalem writes:
“This Plan is not promoted in a vacuum, and constitutes yet another significant link the chain of new settlement schemes currently being expedited by Israeli authorities on the southern flank of East Jerusalem. Connecting Har Homa to Givat Hamatos, the Lower Aqueduct Plan joins these other schemes: Givat Hamatos, Har Homa West, Ahuzat Nof Gilo and Har Gilo West. The cumulative impact of these plans is to create a continuous built-up buffer, sealing East Jerusalem off from its sister city, Bethlehem. Viewed in context, the Lower Aqueduct Plan is a significant component in a strategic thrust with the objective of consolidating sole Israeli rule over East Jerusalem, and cutting it off from its environs in the West Bank. The physical detachment of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem will be viewed as unilateral act that causes concern not only among Palestinians and the international community, among the major Christian denominations around the world.”
Peace Now said in a statement:
“As in the case of the Atarot plan, right-wing elements in the government are taking advantage of the lack of coalition agreement on the issue of settlements to advance far-reaching plans that post facts on the ground that undermine the possibility of peace. The plans add to the tension on the ground and highlight the blatant discrimination that the government is building in East Jerusalem for Israelis only, while the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the city can build almost nothing. The coalition parties that support the possibility of two states for two peoples must do everything so that these plans are not promoted and do not reach a discussion in the District Committee.”
E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 2): Israel Approves Expansion of French Hill Settlement in East Jerusalem
On January 5th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee gave its final approval to several plans that will add a total of 2,092 new units to the French Hill settlement in East Jerusalem, on the edge of Mount Scopus.
Several plans relate to the Hebrew University campus on Mt. Scopus. Notably, while Mt. Scopus is in East Jerusalem, it is not considered by the international community to be occupied territory (reflecting the fact that in 1948 the area was designated as a demilitarized zone). These new plans, which expand the footprint of the Hebrew University campus but on land that is in the French Hill area (i.e. occupied territory), are:
- The “Bronfman Dormitory” plan to build 672 settlement units on land located in the French Hill settlement area (beyond the borders of the Mt. Scopus campus). Ir Amim raises alarm that this plan will completely encircle a Palestinian neighborhood (leaving it as an enclave surrounded by Israeli development), which “will greatly increase the construction in areas marked as Israeli, while blocking any further development of the Palestinian neighborhood.”
- The “Lerner Complex & Lower Resnick Dormitory” plan calls for the construction of 1027 units , the majority of which are designated for land east of the Green Line where there are currently student dormitories for the Hebrew University.
- The construction of 528 settlement units on land just north of the Jerusalem British War Cemetery, on land that is cut in half by the Green Line.
Ir Amim said in a statement:
“Beyond the geopolitical implications of constructing more housing units over the Green Line in Jerusalem, these plans are yet another example of the acute housing discrimination facing East Jerusalem Palestinians. These four plans follow close on the heels of other major housing projects advanced for Israelis in East Jerusalem over the course of 2021. The Israeli authorities continue to promote plans at full force for thousands of housing units for Israelis, while systemically refraining from advancing plans for Palestinians to meet their severe housing needs.”
Peace Now writes:
“it should be noted that some of the plans are adjacent to Palestinian land and houses (a neighborhood considered to be the fringe of Sheikh Jarrah), but all the huge building rights planned in these plans are not given to Palestinian homeowners living adjacent to the planned area. The Israel Land Authority has chosen to plan only the complexes under its control and not to allow the private construction of Palestinians next door. Since 1967, the government initiated and planned approx. 56,000 units for Israelis in East Jerusalem, while for Palestinians the government supported only 600 units, in the 1970’s. The planning of so many units in East Jerusalem for Israelis alongside with the increase in house demolition for Palestinians, raises the frustration and anger in East Jerusalem.”
E-1 Settlement Reportedly Delayed, BUT (Part 3): An Update on Two Families Facing Displacement in Sheikh Jarrah
New details have emerged regarding the delayed forcible displacement of the Salem family from their longtime home in Sheikh Jarrah in favor of settlers. Though the eviction notice stated that the family would be evicted from their home on December 29th, a last minute delay was granted based on a request submitted to the Court by the setters. The settlers requested that the court postpone the evacuation and instead require that it be carried out between January 20 and February 8th.
The settlers’ lawyers’ request was in line with concerns raised by the Jerusalem police, which also submitted a letter to the Court that warned a set date for the eviction, known in advance by the family and the public, “could endanger the forces and foil the evacuation’s success.”
Also in Sheikh Jarrah and in keeping with the police’s warning, the Saliha family received another eviction notice from Israeli authorities warning them that an eviction order against their home can be carried out anytime between January 10 and January 25. There are two households in the Saliha family living on a plot of land that Israel expropriated (in 2017) for “public use”, and on which it now intends to build a school (it is as yet unclear what population the school will serve).
Ir Amim provides essential and comprehensive information on what is going on with regards to the Salhia family case:
“The Jerusalem Municipality is demanding the eviction of the entire Salhia family, comprised of two households and totaling 12 individuals, under the pretext that expropriation of the property is necessary for the construction of a school. Following the court’s dismissal of one petition, one of the households received the aforementioned eviction order. The second household’s petition will be heard tomorrow (January 6) at the Jerusalem District Court.
While the municipality is evicting the family to build an educational institution, in recent years it relinquished a plot of land in Sheikh Jarrah originally designated for a school and transferred it into the hands of an ultra-Orthodox association for the construction of a massive yeshiva. The municipality appears to perceive it as reasonable to dispossess a Palestinian family for the sake of a school rather than utilizing open land initially allocated for such purposes.
When the District Planning Committee discussed the objections to the Ohr Somayach yeshiva plan (TPS 68858) at the end of 2020, the representative of the Jerusalem Municipality’s planning department claimed that there was no shortage of educational institutions nor a lack of space for such buildings in Sheikh Jarrah.
Today, Ir Amim sent an urgent letter to the Director of the Municipality’s Education Administration (MEA) in which it detailed the contradiction in the municipality’s actions and demanded MEA act to retrieve the parcel of land it transferred to the ultra-Orthodox association. Such a measure could in fact obviate the “need” to seize the Salhia family’s land and prevent the violation of their property rights and forced eviction.
Members of the Salhia family are Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from their homes in Ein Kerem in 1948 and now stand to be displaced for a second time. According to the family, their parents purchased the plot of land and have lived in homes they built since before 1967. The property also houses a well-known and thriving garden center called Peace Nursery.
Situated directly across from the British Consulate, the homes are strategically located between Kerem Al’ajoni and the Shepherd Hotel complex where settler groups are acting to establish major settler enclaves (see map below). In Kerem Al’ajoni, Nahalat Shimon is working at the behest of settlers to evict some 30 Palestinian families, while the Ateret Cohanim settler organization has constructed 22 housing units in the Shepherd Hotel complex to house a new settlement. The organization received the compound from the state decades ago after it was declared “absentee property.” There are reports that Ateret Cohanim intends to build additional floors, and therefore the units are not yet occupied.
It should be underscored that this development is taking place in parallel to the impending eviction of the 11-member Salem family from Um Haroun, Sheikh Jarrah (western section) for the benefit of settlers. As reported previously, the family was handed an eviction notice in early December citing that they would be subject to forcible removal as of December 29. That eviction order was cancelled, and an administrative hearing was held on December 30 at the Enforcement and Collection Agency concerning a request for a new eviction order with a flexible implementation date. Although the hearing concluded without a decision nor the issuance of a new eviction order, the family’s legal representation has made it clear that all potential legal channels have been exhausted. Therefore save for government intervention, there appears to be no other means to prevent the family’s displacement. Continued public pressure and concerted engagement with the Israeli government on this matter is hence vital.
A total of some 70 families, numbering over 300 Palestinians, are under threat of eviction from Sheikh Jarrah due to lawsuits filed by settler groups working in close collaboration with state bodies, including the General Custodian. Driven by political and ideological motives, these efforts aim to establish settler enclaves by forcibly uprooting Palestinians and supplanting them with Jewish settlers as a means to Israelize the area and further entrench Israeli control. Such measures carry severe humanitarian and geopolitical ramifications.”
The Israeli Supreme Court hearing on the demolition of 38 homes in the beleaguered Palestinian village of al-Walajah, scheduled for December 26th, was ultimately postponed by the Court. The delay followed a new request submitted to the Court by the lawyer representing the Palestinian families facing imminent homelessness, though it’s not clear what the request was exactly. Ir Amim makes it clear that the delay is not cause for celebration, and stems from a technical matter.
The Court has not set a new date for the hearing.
As a reminder, the State of Israel has longstanding demolition orders against 38 Palestinian homes – in which around 300 people live – in the village of Al-Walajah, though the orders have been contested by Palestinians and, until this point, frozen by the Court as the matter is litigated. In December 2021, the State asked the Court to lift a freeze on the demolition orders, arguing (as it had in the past) that the houses – built by Palestinian residents of al-Walajah s on their own land – were illegal, because the were built without the required Israeli permits. This argument points to the Kafkaesque nightmare in which al-Walajah’s residents are trapped.
In point of fact: It is all but impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from Israel to build “legally” on their own land in East Jerusalem and in Area C of the West Bank. In the case of al-Walajah, such permits are, literally, impossible to obtain. This is because Israel has actively chosen not to approve an “outline plan” for the area, without which permits are an impossibility. Al-Walajah residents, with the help of planning experts, prepared and proposed an outline plan for the area, and for more than 15 years have worked to get Israel to approve it — to no avail. Israeli authorities have repeatedly (in January 2021 and again in March 2021) refused to approve the resident-backed plan, and have also refrained from initiating their own planning process. Indeed, the Jerusalem District Committee, as part of a January 25, 2021 ruling against the outline plan proposed by residents, deemed the area in question — where Palestinians have lived for decades — an “agricultural area” where no building would ever be permitted. The result: Al-Walajah’s residents have been left with zero hope of obtaining the permits required to build on their own land – or keep their current homes located there.
Over the past few weeks, reports have surfaced indicating the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is planning to approve the retroactive authorization of the Evyatar outpost, located on a strategic hilltop named Mount Sabih just south of Nablus on land historically belonging to nearby the Palestinian villages Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. This follows Prime Minister Bennett’s November 2021 promise to legalize the outpost.
The decision to authorize Evyatar as a full-fledged, new, and “legal” settlement is supposedly dependent on the outcome of an Israeli-led investigation into the status of the land. If the land is “discovered” to be “state land,” the government will authorize EVyatar. The results of the “investigation” are not public at this time. [map]
The Evyatar outpost has been at the core of sustained settler violence and Palestinian protest over the course of 2021, ever since the government agreed to a deal with settlers to evacuate the outpost temporarily (leaving its structures intact) until the government determines whether it can find a pretext upon which to declare the land to be state land.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“There is no justification in the world for establishing a new settlement in the West Bank, which will be a security burden, a political blow and a reward for outlaws. The small settler group who established the outpost in Evyatar did so illegally, with the aim of dragging Israel to deepen the occupation and prevent its end, and they led to daily risk of IDF soldiers and severe escalation of violence in the area. The government must come to its senses and stop this madness and not be dragged after a small minority.”
In addition to reportedly preparing to grant approval to formally establish the Evyatar settlement, the settler news outlet Arutz Sheva reports that Gantz has suggested making the new settlement the new home for the illegal yeshiva settlers have established as the site of the former Homesh settlement – a yeshiva that has likewise been at the center of ongoing violence (including settler violence targeting Israeli forces). Settlers have come out in opposition to this suggestion – unsurprisingly, given that the explicit objective of the settlers targeting the Homesh site is the re-settlement of that specific area (more below).
As a reminder, the fate of the Evyatar outpost was the first controversy that threatened to divide the fragile Bennett-led government when it was sworn in. Bennet’s partners were bitterly divided on whether to evacuate the outpost or let it be, while the government sought to grant it retroactive legalization. In the end, the government reached a “deal” which saw the settlers (temporarily) vacate the outpost on Friday, July 2nd. In return, the government left the settlers’ illegal construction at the site in place (i.e., did not demolish it) — including buildings and roads — while it “examines” the status of the land to see if it can be declared “state land” and therefore “legally” turned into a settlement (opening the door for the settlers to return). Under the agreement, the outpost is being used as a military base in the interim.
The fact that the “compromise” left in place the settlers’ structures and allowed Israel to maintain complete control over the site during the “survey” process signalled from the start that the government is not concerned with enforcing Israeli law, but rather is focused on finding a political solution that works for the settlers. It was further clear from the terms of the “compromise” that the Bennet government believed it will be succeed in finding a pretext to assert that the land on which the outpost stands is “state land” which can be used by the state as it sees fit (i.e., give it to the settlers). If the state decides, pursuant to the investigation, that it has a basis on which to declare the site to be “state land,” the settlers will be allowed to return and resume the establishment of what would from that point no longer be an illegal outpost, but a new “legal” settlement.
There has been continuing fallout and violence surrounding the Homesh oupost and yeshiva following the murder of settler Yehuda Dimentan by a Palestinian in December 2021. Settlers have used Dimentan’s death to press the government to formally reestablish the Homesh settlement (evacuated in 2005 as part of the Gaza disengagement plan, at which time it was declared by Israel to be a closed military zone – but settlers have been allowed to frequent the site and even operate a yeshiva there. That yeshiva, according to Kerem Navot, became one of the West Bank’s “hardcore centers of settler terror”). Settlers have also wreaked terror on nearby Palestinian villages, most notably Burqa. One Israeli politicians even said that settlers are carrying out a pogrom in Burqa.
Most prominently to date, Israeli Justice Minister Gidon Sa’ar (Likud) offered his support for reestablishing the Homesh settlement – directly tying his support to the death of Yehuda Dimentan. On January 1st, Yesha Council leader Yossi Dagan and MK Yuli Edelstein inaugurated a new caucus in the Knesset specifically dedicated to the cause of reestablishing the Homesh settlement along with the other two settlements that were dismantled by the Israeli government in 2005 as part of the Gaza Disengagement Plan.
Since the murder, the IDF has imposed severe movement restrictions on Palestinians living near the Homesh site and the Shavei Shomron settlement (where Dimentan lived). This includes road closures, and IDF-imposed closures of the Palestinian towns of Burqa and Sebastia. In addition, two new Israeli-controlled checkpoints positioned near Shavei Shomron and Homesh in practice now prevent Palestinians from using the roads, while allowing settlers to reach the Homesh site (which, again, is supposedly a closed military zone). The closures have not prevented settlers from regularly attacking Burqa, including “three large scale attacks”. According to the PA’s settlement monitor, Palestinians in Burqa fear a massacre.
In addition to the now-routine closures and movement restrictions on Palestinians, the IDF chose to completely shut down the highway connecting Shavei Shomron and Homesh on December 23rd to allow a massive march led by Dimentan’s widow – estimated to have included 15,000 Israelis (including several elected officials) – following Dimentan’s funeral. The march and the closures resulted in clashes, particularly in Burqa, between Palestinians and IDF forces. The night of the march, settlers raided Burqa where they attacked Palestinian homes and desecrated the village’s cemetary.
The marchers told Ynet that they intend to maintain a presence at the yeshiva to prevent the government from dismantling it. The Dimentan family has personally asked government officials to authorize the Homesh yeshiva in Dimentan’s honor.
Amidst the ongoing violence and political agitation, on January 2, 2022 a delegation of Israeli lawmakers, including several senior members of the Likud party, paid a visit to the illegal yeshiva at the dismantled Homesh settlement site. Their tour of the yeshiva was used to offer support to the settlers’ effort to push for retroactive authorization.
On December 31st, Israeli forces once again removed caravans from the unauthorized “Kumi Ori” settler outpost, which serves as the home of 20 extremist “Hilltop Youth” settlers and is a satellite outpost of the notoriously violent and radical Yitzhar settlement. Dozens of settlers from Yitzhar attacked Israeli forces, resulting in injuries to three soldiers and one settler.
Haaretz reports that despite an order issued two years ago declaring the land to be a “closed military zone,” Israeli border police – who maintain a checkpoint at the entrance of the outpost – have continued to allow settlers to live and visit the area if they had lived there (illegally) prior to the eviction order being issued. The caravan that was removed on December 31st was new, and therefore subject to the eviction order.
Kumi Ori was previously evacuated by the IDF in April 2020 and in January 2020, and also in August 2017 – each time resulting in violence. The battle between the outpost settlers and the Israeli army has played out for many years, and the IDF has demolished the outpost at least 10 times. In one extraordinary attempt by the settlers to preserve the outpost, settlers attempted to convince the court that Israel did not have authority to demolish the structures, because the outpost is not located in Area C (where Israel has complete control), but rather in a Palestinian-administered area (Area A or B) [raising the question, would the settlers recognize/respect the Palestinian Authority’s authority to evict them?]. The Court rejected that argument.
The Israeli military recently re-issued standing demarcation orders that allow (should Israeli authorities so choose) for the demolition of the outposts without any legal hoops or holdups. Of course, the orders have been in place for years, and while the IDF has occasionally dismantled the outposts, settlers have been able (or allowed) to reestablish the illegal encampments.
The orders were renewed for the following outposts:
- Ramat Migron outpost, located in the Shiloh Valley in the northern West Bank. The IDF recently dismantled the Ramat Migron settlement in November 2021.
- Oz Zion outpost, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The Oz Zion outpost has been demolished by the IDF several times but the settlers have been allowed to reestablish it. The outpost was most recently dismantled by the IDF in June 2021.
- Guelat Zion outpost, located in the Shiloh Valley in the northern West Bank. Guelat Zion was most recently demolished in November 2021. Established in 2011, the outpost is adjacent to the new “Amichai” settlement, which Israel built as a pay-off to settlers it was forced by the courts to remove from the illegal Amona outpost.
- Givat Assaf outpost, located east of Ramallah. The Givat Assaf outpost was rumored to be included in a list of 66 outposts the Knesset sought to retroactively legalize via legislation.
- Givat Tekuma (“Hill 725”) outpost, located near the Yitzhar settlement in the Nablus area of the northern West Bank.
- Shaked farm outpost, located near the Yitzhar settlement in the Nablus area of the northern West Bank
Israeli Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana approved the allocation of millions of shekels (exact figure unknown) for the construction of 30 new synagogues – seven of which will be located in settlements or unauthorized outposts. In addition, Kahana earmarked 25% of his ministry’s aid budget for the construction of mikveh’s (Jewish ritual baths) in the West Bank.
Meretz MK Mossi Raz said in response:
“Kahana has decided to discriminate against residents within the green line, and to build a quarter of the synagogues in his ministry’s budget over the green line. This does not only strengthen the settlement enterprise, which is harmful for Israel’s future, it acts inequitably in allocating resources to every worshiper within Israel’s borders.”
- “First Settlers Beat Them Up, Then Ismail and His Family Were Jailed” (Haaretz)
- “Why Palestinian Kids’ Playgrounds Are Such Prime Targets for Israeli Settlers” (Haaretz // Ali Awad)
- “Power struggle: Bill to hook up illegal Arab homes to grid passes in stormy session” (The Times of Israel)