Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
July 31, 2020
- Knesset Convenes to Consider “Significant Move” to Annex Area C
- Settlers Step Up Effort to Build New Outpost on Strategic Land Between Bethlehem & Battir
- High Court Demands Evidence that Jerusalem Cable Car Project Will Boost Tourism
- Bonus Reads
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On July 29th, the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee convened, for the first time since the new government was formed, for a hearing “on the battle for Area C and illegal, European funded Palestinian Authority construction in areas under full Israeli jurisdiction.” The hearing was called by committee chair Likud MK Zvi Hauser after Hauser participated in a West Bank tour led by the the radical settler group Regavim, which (among other things) works to consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank. The setter-run Arutz Sheva media outlet reports that the goal in convening the hearing was to have the committee “initiate a significant move” to annex all of Area C.
The Director General of Regavim made his expectation of the Knesset hearing’s significance explicit, saying:
“We are confident that today’s hearing will be a significant step toward creating a comprehensive government strategy for facing this challenge.”
As framed by Regavim and its prominent allies in the Knesset, including MK Hauser, Palestinians are engaged in an illegal campaign to “take over” Area C (this, of course, is an Orwellian notion given Israeli de facto annexation policies in Area C, some 60% of the West Bank). The Yamina Party is also a prominent supporter of the push for unilateral annexation of Area C. Yamina MK Matan Kahane recently accused Netanyahu of conspiring with Trump to create a Palestinian state in Area C by overlooking illegal Palestinian construction in the area.
+972 Magazine reports that over the past month, armed settlers from the unauthorized outpost of “Neve Ori” have been working to establish a new unauthorized outpost near the Palestinian village of Battir (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), on land Israel claimed as “state land” that is strategically situated on high ground between Battir and Bethlehem.
The land was historically a part of the village of Battir and privately owned for generations by the Alyan family (which has an Ottoman-era deed showing their ownership). It was nonetheless declared “state land” by Israel in 1982 under the pretense that the land was not being actively cultivated – despite the fact that the owner of the land, Ghassan Alyan, was only taking a planned break from working that area in order to switch the crops he was growing there. Alyan has repeatedly tried to reclaim the land, but has been prevented from doing so by the Civil Administration.
Palestinians report that a group of eight armed settlers appeared on the land for the first time one month ago, and have since visited the area weekly with the increasingly obvious intent to build an outpost. Last week, a settler named Lior Tal (who told +972 Magazine that “I want all of Battir to go to hell…the State of Israel belongs to the Jewish people”), began knocking on the doors of several homes in Battir demanding that farmers produce documents proving their ownership of the land.
The IDF has responded to reports about the settlers’ armed incursions into Palestinian land, but has failed to remove the settlers and prevent them from returning to the area. Last week, the IDF not only failed to remove the lawbreaking settlers but actually put the weight of the IDF behind in the settlers’ efforts. An IDF soldier told Alyan that he was now forbidden from accessing that land, that the settlers are permitted to be there, and that in order to change the situation Alyan must take his complaints to the Civil Administration and prove his ownership.
Khaled Muammar, a resident of Battir, told +972 about the strategic importance of the land, saying:
“They [the settlers] want to take over this area for three reasons: first of all, because of its elevation; it overlooks the region. Secondly, it separates [Battir from] al-Walajeh; settling there creates a wedge between two Palestinian villages. And thirdly, because it creates geographical continuity between [the Israeli settlement] Har Homa and Jerusalem.”
Settlement expert and founder of Kerem Navot, Dror Etkes, added to the context for the settlers’ actions in Battir:
“Why? Because of the Trump plan. This area, according to the plan, is supposed to be Palestinian territory. They want to take over the area now, before the government signals that it is going to accept the plan. To create facts on the ground.”
Palestinian ecologist Vivien Sansour said:
“The land taken by this settler is Battir’s last room to breathe. People are being forced to emigrate to Bethlehem because they do not allow us to build here.”
The Neve Ori outpost was established in 2019 by Lior Tal, the settler leading the effort against Battir. That outpost also started as a small effort by a handful of settlers who built structures illegally. The Civil Administration told +972 Magazine that it is aware of the outpost and that with respect to dealing with these illegal structures, “on-site enforcement will be carried out in accordance with the authorities and procedures and subject to [the Administration’s] priorities” (based on long experience, demolition of “illegal” Palestinian construction — that is, constuction by Palestinains on their own land, but without Israel’s permission, since it will rarely give permission — is at the top of the Civil Administration’s priorities, while dealing with illegal settler construction is rarely even makes the list).
One month after the Israeli High Court of Justice heard arguments regarding the State’s plans to build a cable car line in East Jerusalem, the Court has ordered the State to submit a report by September 9th substantiating its claim that the cable car has the potential to be a tourist attraction in the city. According to Emek Shaveh, if the State fails to adequately explain how the cable car will attract tourism, then the Court may invalidate the plan, based on the argument that it was advanced improperly through an expedited planning process reserved for infrastructure projects of national importance.
Emek Shaveh said in a statement:
“This query calls the project’s entire approval process into question. We view the High Court’s demand as an opportunity to approach Minister of Tourism Asaf Zamir about the issue again after he had expressed support for the plan last month. We believe the court’s decision is an opportunity to explain to Zamir that the factual basis for advancing the cable car as a transportation project with touristic value is flimsy at best, and that the cable car project is not a touristic project but a damaging plan which will be highly deleterious to Jerusalem and its landscape.”
As a reminder, the Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative backed by the Elad settler group and advanced by the Israeli Tourism Ministry. Last month, when the High Court heard objections to the plan, the State publicly admitted that the implementation of the cable car project will require the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The cable car line is slated to terminate at the settler-run Kedem Center compound (Elad’s large tourism center currently under construction at the entrance of the Silwan neighborhood, in the shadows of the Old City’s walls and Al-Aqsa Mosque).
While efforts to “sell” the cable car plan have focused on its supposed role in growing Jerusalem’s tourism industry or serving transportation needs, in reality the purpose of the project is to further entrench settler control in Silwan, via archeology and tourism sites, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there. Emek Shaveh and other non-governmental organizations, including Who Profits and Terrestrial Jerusalem, have repeatedly challenged (and provided evidence to discredit) the government’s contention that the cable car will serve a legitimate transportation need in Jerusalem, and have clearly enumerated the obvious political drivers behind the plan, the archeological heresies it validates, and the severe negative impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan.
- “European states denounce ‘illegal’ Israeli building plans in Jerusalem area 15 countries and EU again submit protest letter to Fore” (The Times of Israel)
- “They live on West Bank’s only all-girl hilltop, but don’t call them feminists“ (The Times of Israel)
- “Peace Now warns of de facto annexation as E1 planning” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Israel’s Second Coronavirus Wave Stalled Annexation, but Netanyahu Still Wants It” (Haaretz)