Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
June 25, 2021
- Defense Ministry Approves 31 New Projects in Settlements
- Settlers Pressure Bennet Over Fate of (Illegal, even under Israeli law) Evyatar Outpost, Plan to Appeal to the High Court for Protection
- Demolish “Oz Zion” Outpost
- Gantz Orders Construction of Settler-Backed “Accessibility” Project at Tomb of the Patriarchs/al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron
- Settlers Raid Homes of Prominent Activists in Sheikh Jarrah
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – email@example.com.
On Wednesday, June 24th – just two weeks after Naftali Bennett became Prime Minister – the Israeli Defense Ministry advanced the construction of 31 settlement zoning plans (with 18 receiving final approval), in settlements across the West Bank. This is the first time this particular subcommittee inside the Defense Ministry – which handles smaller settlement plans, while the Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council considers larger plans – has met since January 2021.
The plans which were advanced provide for the construction of public buildings, including a special needs school in the Elkana settlement, a new shopping mall in the Mishor Adumim settlement, and the Kfar Adumim and Karnei Shomron settlements both received approval for new synagogues and seminaries. As of the time of publication, final details of each plan are not publicly available.
The settler Yesha Council, led by David Elhayani (who had been publicly hopeful about the Bennett-led government), released a statement deriding the government for its failure to advance not just public buildings but also settlement housing units. The statement demands that Bennet convene the High Planning Council in order to issue more approvals.
The Joint List’s Ayman Odeh denounced the new government, including its left-wing members, over the settlement advancements:
“The government has existed for less than two weeks, and already, 31 construction plans have been approved in the settlements…the left is surrendering to the right and setting the diplomatic issue aside, but the right continues to sabotage the chances of peace and to deepen the occupation, repression, and dispossession of millions of Palestinians. Only the end of the occupation and a just peace will bring equality, democracy, and social justice to both peoples.”
Settlers Pressure Bennet Over Fate of (Illegal, even under Israeli law) Evyatar Outpost, Plan to Appeal to the High Court for Protection
New Israeli Foreign Minister (and Prime Minister in waiting) Yair Lapid has told press that the unauthorized outpost of Evyatar, located Palestinian land south of Nablus, will be razed as ordered by the Civil Administration. Yet, the dozens of settler families who are illegally squatting in approximately 50 buildings at the site are hoping to avoid that fate, and have until Monday June 28th to file an appeal with the Israeli Supreme Court or else face removal from the outpost barring political interference from PM Bennett (who is facing pressure from within his own party to save the outpost). The outpost continues to be a central flashpoint of violence in the West Bank over the past month, so far five Palestinians have been killed by IDF fire while protesting the land takeover.
Late last week, the settlers submitted plans – which outlined 100 housing units in addition to land for parks, a synagogue, a daycare center, and a school – to the IDF’s Civil Administration, in hopes of gaining retroactive legalization for the structures they already illegally built on the land. The plan framed the outpost as an extension of the nearby (but not contiguous) Kfar Tapuah settlement. This tactic – issuing retroactive approval to outposts under the premise that they are new neighborhoods of existing settlements – has in the past proven effective, and is a tactic promulgated by the Israeli government. For a few examples, see the following cases: the Adei Ad outpost, the Har Homa E settlement, Shvut Rachel East, and New Migron.
Speaking about the settlers’ hopes of gaining retroactive legalization of Evyatar, prominent settler leader and head of the Samaria settler municipal council, Yossi Dagan, said:
“The Council only submitted a request to authorize construction for the town of Evyatar after establishing beyond doubt that it is not situated on privately held land. Rather, it is situated on state-held land, and only the lack of a clear decision on the part of politicians is preventing its authorization. After going through such a difficult period, the State of Israel should be mobilizing all its forces to take this step, which would be both moral and ethical – it should be strengthening the 50 families who live here and giving Evyatar equal legal status to any other town in the country.”
Nonetheless, the Civil Administration (the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry responsible for running the West Bank) rejected the settlers’ plans, based on the fact that the outpost was built illegally in blatant violation of Israeli planning laws. The military has also said the outpost undermines “security [and] stability” in the area. Further, the authorities said that the plan was not “properly developed” and that settlers do not have rights to the land. Following the Civil Administration’s rejection of their plans, Evyatar settlers plan to appeal to the Israeli High Court of Justice to stop the demolition, which is set for June 27th.
Notably, the Civil Administration’s rejection of the settlers’ plans for Evyatar does not mean that the IDF recognizes Palestinian ownership of the land, even though aerial photos obtained by the NGO Kerem Navot show that Palestinians cultivated the land at least until 1980. Rather, the IDF is now investigating the status of the land, leaving open the possibility that the land may be declared “state land” – at which point (based on past practice) it is a near certainty it would be allocated for Israeli settlement.
Peace Now also provides a key insight on the settler group which is behind the creation of this new outpost, and why it matters, writing:
“The body behind the establishment of the outpost is the settler organization of Nahala, with the close assistance of the Shomron municipality and its mayor, Yossi Dagan (a central member of the Likud party). The Nahala organization and the main activists of the new outposts are not the mainstream old-guard settlers (like the Amanah organization who is behind many other settlements and outposts and gets much more support from the authorities), however they are not a small fringe. This outpost is an example of a rift that is being created within the Israeli right wing. The more extreme right, which is willing to challenge the system more strongly, and the old-guard settlers who continue the mentality of working ‘with’ the government as much as possible. On the partisan level we see this rift in the creation of two different parties: Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennet, and the Jewish Zionism, headed by Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir. The challenge of the new outpost puts the new shaky government, which is a coalition of parties which don’t agree about many things, to face its first big political test. The extreme right is signaling that it is planning to continue to challenge the new government, like it had done in the flags march in East Jerusalem, and in yesterday’s settlers’ marches throughout the West Bank.”
Peace Now called for the outpost to be expeditiously demolished, saying:
“A small group of people is creating facts on the ground that effect dramatically Israel’s security and its foreign policy without any authority. The new government must not accept that. This outpost must be evicted not only because it is deepening the occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank but because it is bad for the security of Israel and bad for the possibility of future peace for Israel”.
On June 23rd, the Israel IDF dismantled an illegal outpost – called “Oz Zion” by the settlers – located between Ramallah and Jerusalem. The Times of Israel reports that the IDF removed more than 20 settlers and demolished several structures. Seven settlers were arrested for throwing objects at Israeli soldiers. This particular outpost has been built by settlers, and then demolished by the IDF, several times previously.
Opposition MK Bezalel Smotrich railed against the new government for its demolition of the outpost, saying:
“As we feared, within days of the formation of the government the destruction of communities has begun… Arab construction is out of control in the Negev, Galilee and Judea and Samaria and Bennett and [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked are choosing to demolish for Jews.”
As a reminder, Naftali Bennet once served as the head of the settler Yesha Council – which is effectively the main body lobbying the Israeli government on behalf of the settlement movement. That fact does not sit well with Kahanist MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who said in a statement:
“The person who was once the director of the Yesha Council is now leading the demolition and destruction of the settlements. It is amazing that without blinking, Bennett approved the demolition of a settlement, at a time when he and his friends are making sure that there won’t be demolitions in the Bedouin sector. There is one law for the Bedouin, and a different law for the Jews. What an embarrassment.”
Gantz Orders Construction of Settler-Backed “Accessibility” Project at Tomb of the Patriarchs/al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron
On June 10th, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz gave instructions to COGAT – the body within the Defense Ministry which coordinates civilian affairs in the occupied territories – to issue a building permit and sign a contract for the construction of accessible infrastructure, including an elevator and wheel chair ramp, at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. The project, which required Israel to seize land that is owned by the Islamic Waqf, strengthens Israeli control over the site and its immediate surrounding area.
The orders from Gantz follow a decision by the Israeli High Court of Justice to dismiss a petition against the plan filed by the Palestinian-run Hebron Municipality. The petition argued that the plan violates agreements, including the Hebron Protocols, signed by Israel specifying that the Palestinian-led municipality has planning authority over the site.
Emek Shaveh – an Israeli NGO with expertise in archaeology and settlement planning – also filed a petition against the plan, describing the plan as “unprofessional” and “a farce.” Emek Shaveh said previously:
“One need not be an archaeologist or architect to review the council’s plan and understand that it is destructive in a manner which is unprecedented. We are convinced that the plan, as approved, would never have been promoted had it not been driven by political motives.”
Emek Shaveh has previously provided critical context as to why this plan is not really, or not fully, being advanced out of humanitarian concerns, explaining:
“Israel’s decision to seize responsibility for the site from the Hebron municipality and the Palestinians sends a clear political message that Israel is reneging on agreements that were signed with the Palestinians in Hebron. Beyond the precedent that will enable the settlers in the future to demand additional changes at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, this is also a precedent that could play out at other sites under the responsibility of the Islamic Waqf. Experience has shown us that what begins in Hebron percolates into other places including Jerusalem. It begins with a seemingly rational demand to benefit the disabled or the general public and evolves into a new status quo. The expected change in Hebron has not escaped the attention of members of the Temple movement and they will know how to present their demands to the government. If Israel can repudiate agreements with the Palestinians in Hebron and expropriate land from the Waqf, it would seem that accepting what appears to be the far more modest demands by the Temple movement to pray or to walk about the Temple Mount complex freely is not so far-fetched. In the reality of Hebron and East Jerusalem, a change involving only several meters at a historic or holy place is not free of political considerations and often it is part of long-term strategy. While it is necessary to tend to the needs and interests of persons with disabilities, the extremists who presume to speak on their behalf must be prevented from forging Israeli policy, even if it is only a matter of a lift and an access path.”
Read Emek Shaveh’s full analysis here: “Humanitarianism Hebron Style.”
Settlers Ramp Up Battle for Area C with Provocative West Bank Marches
In recent years, Israel has increasingly treated Area C as indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory. In parallel, settler groups – most notably Regavim – have lobbied Israeli authorities to crack down on “illegal” Palestinian construction, claiming that Palestinians are trying to use “illegal” construction to “take over” Israeli land.
In line with this effort, on June 21st, hundreds of settlers participated in marches throughout friction zones in the West Bank, in an effort to push the newly sworn-in Israeli government to increase their persecution of Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank. In advance of the march, settler leaders (excluding Yesha Council head David Elhayani) released a joint statement saying:
“It is our duty to do everything legally passive to stop the savage Arab invasion of Area C to stifle Jewish settlement and establish facts on the ground. Together we will head out to explore the area, to occupy the space with our feet and demand that the authorities enforce the law in the area out of a deep belief that this land is ours.”
Making clear that the settlers have no sense of irony, one of the settler marches was held near the unauthorized Evyatar outpost – which the settlers built illegally and over which they are now engaged in a struggle with the government to prevent Israeli law from being applied to their (Jewish Israeli) illegal construction.
As a reminder, Area C accounts for around 60% of the West Bank. The Oslo Accords gave Israel complete control over Area C, and Israel for years has systematically denied Palestinians in Area C permits that would enable them to “legally” build on their own land. As a result, members of these communities have been forced to build without Israeli permits, and then face Israeli demolition orders, and demolitions, for having done so.
On Tuesday, June 22nd, a group of settlers attempted to force their way into three homes belonging to the El Kurd, Diab, and Qasem families – all of which are living under imminent threat of forced displacement – in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The families were able to prevent their entry.
Israeli MK Bezalel Smotrich and the head of Nahalat Shimon (the settler organization behind the campaign to displace Palestinians from their homes in Shiekh Jarrah) were among the group of settlers who tried illegally invade the homes and threatened the Palestinian occupants. Eventually, Israeli police calmly escorted the settlers away from the homes.
These home invasions followed one of the most violent days Sheikh Jarrah has seen in recent months. During protests against settler takeovers in the neighborhood on June 21st, 21 Palestinians were wounded including three who were hit with live bullets fired by the IDF and three Palestinians who were beaten. As a reminder – a recent investigative report revealed that a New York-based lawyer, Seymour Braun, is financially connected to settler efforts to displace Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah.
- “’Silent intifada’: West Bank is at boiling point” (Ynet)
- “Israeli forces launch violent crackdown on protesters in Beita” (Middle East Eye)
- “Reality of a West Bank Outpost: Four Dead Palestinians and a Drone Spraying Tear Gas” (Haaretz)
- “Ariel University opens medical school in honor of Sheldon Adelson” (Arutz Sheva)
- “ Israel Stops Its Nighttime ‘Mapping’ Raids, but Constant Surveillance of Palestinians Continues” (Haaretz)
- “Amazon’s Investments in Israel Reveal Complicity in Settlements and Military Operations” (The Nation)
- “The Photos Exposing What Israel Is Trying to Hide” (Haaretz)
- “Israel’s Demographic Warfare Rages on Both Sides of Green Line. With One Difference” (Haaretz)
- “The Trilemma of Power, Aid, and Peacebuilding in the Israeli-Palestinian Context” (Middle East Institute/Dr. Carol Kasbari)