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July 9, 2021
- Palestinians Submit Petition Against Settler-Government “Deal” Regarding Evyatar Outpost
- Settlers Take Over House in Wadi Hilweh, Silwan [East Jerusalem]
- In Ongoing Attempt at Erasure, Israel Demolishes Khirbet Humsa for the Sixth Time
- Israel Moves to Dismiss Petitions Delaying Mass Demolitions in Al-Walajah
- Construction to Begin on New Units in Nof Zion Settlement Enclave Inside Jabal Al-Mukaber [East Jerusalem]
- New Israeli Government, Same Settlement Policy, Despite Including the “Left”
- Bonus Reads
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On July 8th, Palestinians submitted a petition with the Israeli High Court of Justice that challenges key agreements the Israeli government and settlers struck last week regarding the Evyatar outpost – which was built by settlers illegally (even under Israeli law) on land Palestinians know as Jabal Sabih. Under the terms of that deal, settlers agreed to leave the outpost on July 9th while the government examines the legal status of the land; the settler-built structures and roads will remain in place while that examination takes place. 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.
The petition against the deal is led by the local councils of Beita, Yatma and Qabalan (whose land is impacted by the outpost) and a group of nine individual Palestinian landowners. The petitioners seeks the demolition of all illegal settler structures and infrastructure at Jabal Sabih, and the lifting of a military seizure order for the land issued by the Israeli army in the early 1980s (in order to build a military base at the site, a strategic hilltop in the middle of Beita, Yamta, and Qablan). The petition further seeks an investigation into the officials and entities that assisted the settlers in establishing the outpost, including Defense Minister Gantz, the Israeli Civil Administration, and the settler regional council governing the area (the Shomron Regional Council).
The petitioners also seek to prove to the Court that they are the rightful owners of the Jabal Sabih land. Since the land was not registered under the Jordanian government at the time Israel took control over the West Bank (after which Israel promptly froze the land registration process, making it impossible for Palestinian to register land), the petitioners are using Ottoman tax records as well as aerial photos to document and demonstrate that they own the land and cultivated it prior to the time the area was seized by the Israeli army in the 1980s – based on Israeli security needs, not on declaring the area “state land.” Though by the 1990s the army no longer used Jabal Sabih as an army base, Israel continued to define the area as a closed military zone and continued to actively prevent Palestinians from accessing and cultivating their land. Now, as Palestinians seek to have Israel recognize their ownership, the fact that Israel has forcibly prevented them from cultivating the land might become the basis for Israel declaring that the land qualifies as “state land”, since it has not been actively cultivated for a period of at least 10 years.
Sliman Shahin, one of the two attorneys representing the petitioners, told Haaretz:
“The new government is continuing its predecessors’ policy with a vengeance, encouraging the culture of taking over Palestinian lands in the West Bank. With this agreement the state is enlisting the army as a trustee for the squatters to protect the illegal structures at the outpost.”
Alaa Mahajna, the second attorney involved, added:
“In Evyatar’s case, the government intervened on behalf of the squatters and forced an unprecedented, corrupt mechanism that spits in the face of the law. The government has signaled to the settlers that it’s possible to act like the West Bank is the Wild West.”
On the night of July 1st, Israeli police accompanied a large group of Israeli settlers as they moved into a Palestinian home in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood of Silwan, in East Jerusalem. Reports suggest that the large piece of property – including the home, stores, a plot of land, and another building that is currently under construction – was sold by its Palestinian owners to a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who in turn sold it to individuals associated with the Elad settler organization. Those owners had denied selling the home in the days prior to the takeover; the Palestinian citizen of Israel involved as the middle man confirmed buying the house, but claimed he intended to renovate it into a clinic and denied selling it to Elad. The Wadi Hilweh Information Center obtained footage of the Palestinians who lived in the home leaving in a hurry in the early morning hours of July 1st – suggesting that they did indeed sell the home and knew of the transfer of the home to the settlers later that day.
Peace Now, noted the importance of the broader significance of this new settler-controlled site in Silwan, as well as the context in which Palestinians “sell” homes to settlers, writing:
“A settlement within Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem is harmful to Jerusalem and harmful to Israel. Settler houses in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods make it difficult to reach a future peace agreement and a compromise in Jerusalem, and they severely damage Jerusalem’s delicate fabric and regional stability. The so-called “purchase” of Palestinian properties, is an ugly and despicable matter, almost always involves the exploitation of the structural inequalities and the fact that Palestinian residents are discriminated against in all areas of life in Jerusalem…
“Elad has dozens of properties in Wadi Hilweh in Silwan, and the government has handed over the management of one of the most important and sensitive tourist sites in Israel, the “City of David” site. With the help of archeology and tourism as legitimating mechanisms, Elad association gains control of a vast area of Silwan and hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. For more information, see: Settlement under the guise of tourism.
“These days are very tense days in East Jerusalem. More than a thousand residents in Silwan (Batan Al-Hawa) and Sheikh Jarrah are facing eviction claims by settlers; More than a thousand residents of Bustan in Silwan are under threat of demolition of their homes because of government plans to build the “King’s Garden” park on the site. On Tuesday, the municipality demolished a store in the Bustan neighborhood (about 700 meters from the new house that the settlers entered today), and in protest of the residents after the demolition, several residents were arrested a dozen wounded by police sponge bullets and stun grenades.”
On July 7th, Israeli border police demolished the tiny Palestinian village of Khirbet Humsa, located in the northern Jordan Valley. The bulldozers leveled some 27 tent homes in addition to all of the village’s agricultural structures. Israeli forces also seized the remnants of those tents and their residents’ personal belongings, in addition to the community’s water tanks and food parcels. This demolition left 70 Palestinians – including 36 children – homeless, and left them and their livestock without shelter, shade, food, or water in the hot summer heat (expected to reach 102/39 degrees that day). This is the sixth time in less than a year that Israel has demolished Khirbet Humsa, the last time being in February.
The Israeli Civil Administration proceeded to dump the confiscated items at the site where the Israeli government has proposed relocating the Khirbet Humsa community, a place called Ein Shibli. The community has continually rejected and resisted this plan for their forced displacement.
“House demolitions in this community are part of the policy Israel employs throughout the West Bank in an effort to create unbearable living conditions with the ultimate aim of pushing Palestinians to leave their homes, concentrating them in enclaves and taking over their lands. This policy is an attempted forcible transfer of the residents – a war crime under international humanitarian law. The responsibility for this policy lies primarily with the government, which directs it, the top military command, which implements it, and the justices of the Supreme Court, who lend it legal legitimacy. Israel’s actions are also a badge of shame for the international community, which has absolved itself of the obligation to demand Israel respect the human rights of Palestinians living under its control and allowed itself to be satisfied with empty rebukes lacking any practical consequences.”
Khirbet Humsa is located in Area C of the West Bank, in an area of the Jordan Valley that Israel declared a closed military zone even though Palestinians had been living there for decades, and using the land for agriculture and herding. Israel has long used the pretext of military firing zones to pursue the forcible displacement of Palestinians, while simultaneously ignoring (and in some cases openly assisting) settlers to establish a presence in the very same areas. Firing zones constitute nearly 30% of Area C, including the native lands and current homes of 38 Palestinian Bedouin and herding communities.
Ir Amim reports that the state of Israel filed a motion seeking the dismissal of appeals that have delayed the demolition of 38 homes — housing around 300 people — in the Palestinian village of al-Walajah, located just south of Jerusalem (a small part of the city actually within the expanded municipal borders of Jerusalem), based on the argument the houses were built without the required Israeli permits. The Court has given the Palestinians until July 11th to file a response to the State’s motion to dismiss.
The state’s motion comes four months after it rejected a proposed outline plan for al-Walajah, which was developed by experts working with the community. The plan would have provided a way for the 38 homes facing demolition to retroactively receive Israeli building permits. Israel rarely issues such permits to Palestinians anywhere in Area C. For residents of al-Walajah the situation is even worse: given the fact that the Israeli government has refused to approve an official outline plan for the area, they have zero hope of obtaining the permits required to build on their own land, as without an outline plan permits simply cannot be issued.
In an effort to overcome this obstacle, Palestinians, with the help of planning experts, initiated their own outline plan for this section of Al-Walajah in the hopes of getting it approved by Israeli authorities — to no avail. Israeli authorities have repeatedly refused to approve the resident-backed plan, and have also refrained from initiating their own planning process. The result: Al-Walajah’s residents were left in limbo – that is, until the Jerusalem District Committee, as part of a January 25, 2021 ruling against an 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.
Construction to Begin on New Units in Nof Zion Settlement Enclave Inside Jabal Al-Mukaber [East Jerusalem]
Peace Now reports that on the evening of July 8th, a cornerstone laying ceremony was scheduled to be held to mark the beginning of construction on hundreds of new units in the settlement enclave called Nof Zion, which is located in the center of the Jabal al-Mukaber Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon was scheduled to partake in the celebration
Preliminary work on the expansion of Nof Zion – a project that will triple its size and make it the largest settlement enclave in East Jerusalem – first began in December 2019. The project will add 182 homes to the existing 91 units that were approved for construction in 1994 (and built in the early 2000s). The Israeli government originally approved plans for a total of 395 units but the first phase of construction bankrupted the developer and the remaining building 304 permits were never issued. A drama ensued over the fate of the project, after a Palestinian-American made a bid to buy the development rights. His winning bid was ultimately blocked by right-wing Israelis [with a key role played by Jerusalem settler impresario Aryeh King], who objected to the sale of the property – in a Palestinian neighborhood – to an Arab. Plans then stalled until settlers were able to recruit Australian billionaire Kevin Braimster and Israeli entrepreneur Rami Levy (read about Levy’s settlement superstore empire here), to fund and acquire the rights to the project — preventing its transfer to Palestinians.
Nof Zion received significant investment from the Israeli government in 2017, when the government approved a plan to build a new synagogue and mikveh 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.
Peace Now, in its appeal to Mayor Leon to cancel his attendance at the ceremony, writes:
“Nof Zion is a failed settlement project in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. The first incarnation of the settlement proved that the vast majority of Israelis are not interested in buying houses in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods and the only ones willing to live there are a minority driven by ideological motives. It so happened, as is well known, that in the end the entrepreneurial company of the project went bankrupt. The fact that the current project is funded by philanthropists is the clear proof that the new project has no economic or real estate interest and does not constitute anything in line for the city’s residents, but only another political attempt to prevent the possibility of compromise and coexistence in Jerusalem.”
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) recently told settler leaders that the new Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (Yamina) and alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), will continue the same basic practices of the recent Netanyahu government when it comes to settlement policy. That includes planning to convene the Civil Administration’s High Planning Council (within the Defense Ministry) once per quarter in order to consider settlement construction plans. Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz (Blue & White), publicly criticized Shaked for telling settler leaders about decisions that fall under the authority of his Ministry.
When asked to confirm Shaked’s announcement that the High Planning Council will meet once per quarter, as was the agreed arrangement between Netanyahu and Trump, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry said:
“We will run things as we see fit. [The council] didn’t meet once a quarter in the previous administration. There has been no decision.”
Shaked and Gantz recently clashed over the fate of the unauthorized Evyatar outpost, with Shaked advocating for the community’s permanent settlement and Gantz pushing for enforcement of Israeli law and, thus, the demolition of the outpost. Shaked ultimately won out (see above for details of the Israeli government’s “compromise” with settlers that likely paves the way for Evyatar to become a brand new, “legal” settlement).
- “The draconian law used by Israel to steal Palestinian land” (Al Jazeera)
- “’With God’s Help, We Will Return Legally’: Israeli Settlers Quietly Leave Illegal Outpost” (Haaretz)
- “In order to expand settlement, Israelis fence off tract of Palestinian land southwest of Bethlehem” (WAFA)
- “Apartheid, the Green Line, and the Need to Overcome Palestinian Fragmentation” (EJIL:Talk // Rania Muhareb)
- “US freezes Abraham Fund, as Israel-UAE business ties falter” (Globes)
- “Israeli-UAE investment projects in uncertainty as US indefinitely ends support for Abraham Fund” (The New Arab)
- “How Israel is automating the occupation of Palestine” (The New Arab)
- “U.S. Slams Israel for Razing Home of Palestinian-American Who Murdered an Israeli” (Haaretz)