Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
June 17, 2021
- The New Israeli Government: Key Figures, Items on the Agenda, & Early Indications Related to Settlements & Annexation
- Struggle Against New Outpost Sparks West Bank Protests & Israeli Army Violence
- 30 Palestinian Families in Hebron Receive Demolition Notices to Make Way for Kiryat Arba Settlement Expansion
- Settlers Continue Persistent Invasions of Sebastia Archaeological Site Near Nablus
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – firstname.lastname@example.org.
The New Israeli Government: Key Figures, Items on the Agenda, & Early Indications Related to Settlements & Annexation
A new Israeli government was sworn into office on June 13, 2021. For settlement watchers – here are key facts to know.
Key figures involved in settlement and annexation policy:
- Prime Minister: Naftali Bennet (Yamina)
- Alternate Prime Minister & Foreign Affairs Minister, to rotate to Prime Minister in 2023: Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)
- Defense Minister: Benny Gantz (Blue and White)
- The Israeli Defense Ministry oversees the Civil Administration, the oddly-named arm of the Defense Ministry responsible for administering the occupation in the West Bank. The Civil Administration has total civilian and security control over Area C including the settlements (60% of the West Bank), and security control over Area B (21% of the West Bank). Press reports suggest that Labor’s Merav Michaeli – who is now serving as the Transportation Minister – attempted to bring West Bank roads under her purview (which would be an act of de facto annexation – West Bank roads are outside of Israel’s sovereignty and not under its domestic control). That was rejected by Gantz, who will retain control of West Bank matters as Defense Minister. One settler recently paraphrased Gantz as saying: “Only I will decide on settlement construction and negotiate with the Americans on issues pertaining to Judea and Samaria.”
- Settlement Affairs Minister: Nir Orbach (Yamina)
- Construction and Housing Minister & Minister for Jerusalem Affairs: Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope)
- Justice Minister: Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope)
- Minister of the Interior: Ayelet Shaked (Yamina)
- Shaked, who previously served as Justice Minister, hard-bargained her way into a second highly consequential posting as the government representative to the Knesset’s Judicial Selection Committee. Ynet reports that the coalition has agreed to name Shaked to the post only after a representative from the Labor Party (reportedly Merav Michaeli) is seated on the panel.
- The coalition’s Security Cabinet will include: Bennett, Lapid, Gantz, Sa’ar, Shaked, Elkin, in addition to: Avigdor Liberman (Finance Minister – Yisrael Beiteinu) Merav Michaeli (Transportation Minister, Labor), Omer Barlev (Public Security Minister – Labor), Nitzan Horowitz (Health Minister – Meretz), Matan Kahana (Religious Minister – Yamina), and Yifat Shasha-Biton (Education Minister – New Hope).
The new government, headed by Nafatli Bennet, published a list of the agreements made by the new coalition – terms that were agreed by all parties as a condition of forming the new government. Those agreements include the following settlement- and annexation-related commitments:
- “Establish a budget for the unfunded students of Ariel University.”
- Reminder #1: Ariel University is located in the Ariel settlement in the West Bank. As it is not within Israeli sovereign territory, establishing the university, bringing it under domestic authorities like the Israel High Education Council, and establishing a state budget for it, are all acts of de facto annexation.
- Reminder #2: While serving previously as Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett was intimately – and inappropriately – involved in bringing Ariel University under the domestic jurisdiction of the Israeli Higher Education Council.
- Reminder #3: During the Trump Administration, the U.S. signed agreements with Ariel University, a de facto recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the West Bank. In addition, Florida Governor Rob DeSantis (a close Trump ally and rising political powerhouse in the Trump-aligned Republican party) also signed several agreements establishing academic partnerships between schools in Florida and Ariel University
- “Overall plan for transportation in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley.”
- For a deep dive into how Israel uses roads and infrastructure as means of de facto annexation and towards the forced displacement of Paelstinians, read this fantastic piece by Break the Silence: “Highway to Annexation: Israeli Road and Infrastructure Development in the West Bank”
- “Ensuring Israel’s national interests in Area C. Allocation of resources to the Ministry of Defense for enforcement in cases of construction violations and illegal takeover of land in Area C.”
- In his first speech to the Knesset after being sworn in as Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett paid particular attention to this promise, saying: “We will ensure Israel’s national interests in Area C – and we will increase standards to that end after much neglect in this area.”
- Reminder #1: This is the continuation of an ongoing campaign – led by settlers and their allies in government, including Bennett and Shaked – to entrench and expand Israel’s control over (and de facto annexation of) the entirety of Area C, which represents around 60% of the West Bank. While in the Knesset, Bennet and others were highly critical of the Netanyahu government’s alleged failure to robustly “defend” Israel’s rights/interests in Area C (e.g., preventing “illegal” Palestinian construction, preventing foreign projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area, clearing out Palestinians, expanding settlements, consolidating state-built settlement infrastructure). Knesset has also repeatedly hosted forums to discuss the alleged “Palestinian takeover of Area C.”
- Reminder #2: In September 2020 the Netanyahu government allocated 20 million NIS ($6 million USD) for the newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry to survey and map unauthorized (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C (construction for which Palestinians can virtually never obtain Israeli approval, and which Israel has been aggressively demolishing). This funding further empowers a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already annexed by Israel.
- The Times of Israel reports that the coalition has also agreed to allow the High Planning Council – the body within the Defense Ministry that considers and approves all settlement construction plans – to continue to meet on a quarterly basis, as has been the practice since 2017. The body has not met since January 2021, during the waning hours of the Trump Administration.
Prior to the new government’s swearing-in ceremony, one settler leader – David Elhayani, who heads the Yesha Council (a settler umbrella group) and the Jordan Valley settlement council, and may be the only settler leader who has come out in support of the new coalition – told the Times of Israel that the new coalition had promised that there would be no freeze on settlement construction.
Palestinians have continued their weekly protests against the new illegal outpost – which settlers call “Evyatar,” built on on Mount Sabih, which is land belonging to the village of Beita – located south of Nablus. The Israeli army continues to violently suppress these protests, killing two young Palestinians from Beita over the past two weeks: on June 11th, the IDF shot in the chest (with a live round) and killed 16-year old Palestinian Mohammed Said Mohammad Hamayel; on June 16th, the IDF fatally shot 16-year old Ahmed Bani Shamsa in the head. Seven other protestors have also been shot and a total of five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during protests related to Beita and the Evyatar outpost in the past two months.
A representative from Defense for Children International – Palestine said:
“Israeli forces frequently use live ammunition for crowd control to disperse protesters, ignoring their obligation under international law to only resort to intentional lethal force when a direct, mortal threat to life or of serious injury exists/ Systemic impunity has fostered an environment where Israeli forces know no bounds.”
As a reminder, last week Defense Minister Gantz marked this outpost for evacuation and demolition. But in the week since the military orders were issued against the outpost (during which a new Israeli government was sworn in) those orders have not been carried out. Instead of evacuating and dismantling the illegal outpost, uniformed IDF soldiers this week were pictured helping the settlers install new construction at the site.
Explaining the situation, an activist and resident of Beita, Ibrahim Dawoud, told Middle East Eye:
“On every level, the Israeli state is assisting these settlers in the takeover of our land, even though their outpost is illegal under Israel’s own laws. Within 40 days of establishing their outpost, the Israeli government has given these settlers running water, electricity, and have paved a settler-only road for them straight up the mountain…For years the soldiers have prevented [Palstinians from Beita] from accessing their land on the mountain, and it is ours. We have the papers to prove ownership, they do not. They have no right to this land. If someone from Beita even tried to erect a tent on the mountain, just a small tent, the soldiers would be there within seconds, shooting at them and kicking them off their own land. And this is not just in Beita, it’s happening all over Palestine. Israeli settlers are allowed to steal our land freely, but when we try to defend it, we are killed.”
A Facebook page updated by settlers at the outpost states explicitly that the purpose of the outpost is to prevent contiguity between the surrounding Palestinian villages while connecting the Israeli settlement of Tapuah to the Za’atara Junction and Migdalim settlement. [photo]
30 Palestinian Families in Hebron Receive Demolition Notices to Make Way for Kiryat Arba Settlement Expansion
Al-Monitor reports that 30 Palestinian families (approximately 300 people) are under threat of forced displacement from their longtime homes and agricultural land in an area called Khirbet al-Aida, near the Kiryat Arba settlement just outside of Hebron. Israel has asserted the land is “state land,” despite the fact that, according to the nearby Palestinian municipality, all of the families possess Ottoman-era land titles proving their ownership.
Samer Jaber, one of the Palestinians under threat of displacement, recently received an eviction notice after submitting a building permit application to the Israeli authorities. That application was rejected and returned with a notice that Israel has classified Jaber’s land “state land,” and ordered his family’s eviction from the site. Israeli authorities have previously demolished sheds that Jaber built on his land.
WAFA reports that on June 16th, hundreds of settlers invaded the Sebastia archaeological site under the protection of the Israeli army. The site is located in the town of Sebastia, near Nablus, a town that is in Area B of the West Bank where Israel – as stipulated in Oslo – should not be operating in. The Mayor of Sebastia, Mohammed Azzem, told WAFA that a large number of Israeli soldiers shut down the town and took up positions in the streets and several rooftops near the site in order to provide security for the settlers.
Settlers have been openly agitating – with some success – for Israel to assert control over the archaeological site in Sebastia for years. In January 2021, Emek Shaveh (an Israeli NGO expert in – and focused on – archaeology) wrote about what is happening in Sebastia, saying:
“The archaeological site of Sebastia is identified with Samaria, the capital of the Kingdom of ancient Israel in 9-8 BCE. The site also features ruins from the Hellenistic, Roman and later periods. The village of Sebastia is situated within Area B while the site itself is located mainly in area C. Over the past few years, the Samaria Regional Council has been organizing tours to the site, particularly during the school holidays. Several times this year, the Civil Administration has removed a Palestinian flag from the village and the site. In the most recent incident, a flag was raised following renovation works funded by the Belgian government. In their response the regional council blamed the Palestinians for destroying a site central to Jewish history and UNESCO for supporting the Palestinians. Sebastia is on the tentative list of World Heritage sites in Palestine….the integration of ancient sites into an organized strategy designed to weaken Palestinian hold on Area C is worrying. The formalization of this approach is likely to result in a steep rise in actions over ancient sites and structures, from water cisterns found in many villages, to major sites such as Sebastia. The justification for preserving and developing ancient sites familiar to us from East Jerusalem is now being applied wholesale to hundreds of places in the West Bank to the detriment of the Palestinians living near the sites and to the multilayered heritage inherent in the ruins which will be distorted for political ends.”
As FMEP has chronicled, settlers and their allies are intent upon taking control of archaeological sites and artifacts that are currently under Palestinian control, claiming the sites are neglected and/or damaged. For example, in February 2021 settlers used a construction mishap to raise claims to the Mt. Ebal site.
In January 2021, the state of Israel committed funding to a new settler initiative to surveil archeological sites under Palestinian control. While the objective of protecting antiquities might appear uncontroversial and apolitical, the true (and transparently self-evident) objective behind this effort is to support yet another pretext to surveil and police Palestinians, and yet another means to dispossess them of their properties. It is the result of a campaign that has taken place over the past year in which settlers have escalated their calls for the Israeli government to seize antiquities located in Palestinian communities across the West Bank, especially in Area C, which Israel today treats as functionally (and legally) indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory. The controversy that erupted over the Mt. Ebal archaeological site in February 2021 should be understood in this context.
Previous victories for the settlers include the Israeli Civil Administration’s recent issuance of expropriation orders for two archaeological sites located on privately owned Palestinian property northwest of Ramallah. The expropriations – the first of their kind in 35 years – come amidst a new campaign by settlers lobbying the government to take control of such sites, based on the settlers’ claims that antiquities are being stolen and the sites are being mismanaged by Palestinians. The settlers’ pressure is also credited as the impetus behind the government’s clandestine raid of a Palestinian village in July 2020 to seize an ancient font. The Palestinian envoy to UNESCO, Mounir Anastas, recently called on the United Nations to pressure Israel into returning the font to the Palestinian authorities.
In June 2020, a settler group calling itself “Shomrim Al Hanetzach” (“Guardians of Eternity”) began surveying areas in the West Bank that Israel has designated as archeaological sites in order to call in Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction in these areas. The group communicates its findings to the Archaeology Unit of the Israeli Civil Administration (reminder: the Civil Administration is the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry which since 1967 has functioned as the de facto sovereign over the West Bank). The Archaeology Unit, playing its part, then delivers eviction and demolition orders against Palestinians, claiming that the structures damage antiquities in the area.
As a reminder, in 2017, Israel designated 1,000 new archaeological sites in Area C of the West Bank. The “Guardians of Eternity” group, not coincidentally, is an offshoot of the radical Regavim organization, which among other things works to push Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction (on Palestinians’ own land) that lacks Israeli permits (permits that Israel virtually never grants). The group raised public alarm about the Trump Plan, alleging that hundreds of biblical sites in the West Bank are slated to become Palestinian territory.
- “Former Attorney General Discovers Settler Group Took Over His Family’s Sheikh Jarrah Home” (Haaretz)
- “Israeli settler assaults Jerusalemite activist Muna al-Kurd” (WAFA)
- “Karim Khan, new ICC chief prosecutor, to decide Israel’s fate” (Jerusalem Post)
- “How Israel’s Occupation Came Home” (NewLines // Elizabeth Tsurkov)
- “Saving Lifta: Palestinians rally against latest threat to depopulated Jerusalem village” (Middle East Eye)
- “Palestinian mom fights to stave off punitive home demolition” (AP)
- “Israel to halt nighttime ‘mapping’ of Palestinian homes” (AP)
- “Family left in shock by shooting of young Palestinian woman” (AP)
- “Roadblocks upend Palestinian family’s life in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah” (Reuters)