Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
June 3 ,2021
- Critical Updates from Silwan & Sheikh Jarrah
- Tender Published for Givat Hamatos Groundwork, Even as Petition is Pending
- Final Approval Given to Har Homa E Settlement
- Expansion of the Beit El Settlement Begins
- High Court Bans Settlers from Farming Palestinian Land…But Continues to Deny Palestinians Access
- Resources on Israel’s New Prime Minister Naftali Bennet
- New Report on Settler Violence Against Palestinians in Area B
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions? Email Kristin McCarthy – firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the weeks since FMEP’s last Settlement & Annexation Report was published (apologies for the gap) there have been several key developments in the cases of forced displacement of families from their longtime homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, including new scrutiny of the legal basis on which Israeli settlers claim to own the land and the homes from which they wish to expel Palestinians. It must be recalled that the Israeli Court has for the time being decided to postpone these expulsions – a decision clearly influenced by the fact that Palestinians are currently mobilized and the international community is closely engaged.
At this point, the most pressing eviction cases in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah are awaiting the opinion of the Israeli Attorney General. That position is currently held by Avichai Mandelblit (though this might change under the new governing coalition). The Attorney General’s opinion will carry a tremendous amount of weight in deciding not only the fate of the families facing imminent displacement, but scores of other Palestinian families whose homes are being similarly targeted by settlers. Mandelblit, it is worth recalling, has among other things actively worked to craft legal mechanisms to launder illegal settler construction in the West Bank.
For additional background on the historic and legal context of these cases, see the new, excellent and thorough analysis by the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem (PDF available here). To understand why these cases are not a simple real-estate dispute – and why it is improper to call them eviction cases – please see this analysis by Ir Amim’s Amy Cohen and Yudtih Oppenheimer. For updates on settlement-related developments in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, see below.
- On June 1st, the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry issued an order to freeze the construction of a “Yeminite heritage center” in the home of an evicted Palestinian family in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan.
- The order was issued in light of a newly launched investigation into the means by which Ateret Cohanim came to manage the “Benvenisti Land Trust,” an historic trust that Ateret Cohanim revived in order to claim ownership of swathes of land in Silwan, and then to initiate eviction proceedings against Palestinians living there. The investigation will have major consequences, not only for the fate of the planned heritage center (to commemorate a small Yemenite Jewish community that lived in the area before 1948), but also for the many eviction cases Ateret Cohanim is pursuing on the basis of its management of the land owned by Benvenisti Trust.
- Haaretz explains the background on why the investigation is being launched: “…in September 2020, the religious trusts registry began investigating the Benvenisti Trust in response to a petition filed in court by the Ir Amim organization. Ir Amim charged that the trust was a shell organization run by Ateret Cohanim for its own purposes, and that these purposes deviated from the founding goals of the trust, which was established in the late 19th century. Around six months ago, Ir Amim also petitioned the court against the planned heritage center, arguing that it was unreasonable for one government agency to be investigating the trust while another government agency was pouring money into it. Moreover, the organization said, it is improper for the state to finance a heritage center on private property that essentially serves Ateret Cohanim’s needs.”
- For background on Ateret Cohanim’s plans to build a heritage center, see FMEP’s August 2018 report.
- On May 26th, the Jerusalem District Court delayed the forced displacement of seven Palestinian families from their longtime homes in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan, awaiting a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court on two related cases.
- All three cases challenge the underlying legal status of the land and the buildings on the land – which the settler organization Ateret Cohanim claims to own via the resuscitation of the Benvenisti land trust.
- The two related cases are awaiting the submission of an opinion by the Israeli Attorney General, and that opinion will be applied to all three cases (and likely any additional cases brought on the same grounds). The Supreme Court ordered the Israeli Attorney General to submit his opinion on one of the cases – the Duweik family case – by May 31st. On June 1st, the Court granted the Attorney General a 30-day extension of that deadline.
- The Ateret Cohanim settler organization has led a campaign to forcibly displace some 100 Palestinian families from the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan, claiming the land is rightfully owned by the Benvenisti Trust, over which Ateret Cohanim members have controlling power.
- Solidarity protests in Silwan have been violently suppressed by the Israeli authorities.
- Qutaiba Odeh, a resident of Silwan whose house is threatened with a demolition order, told Middle East Eye during a protest: “The Israeli settler groups behind the eviction cases in Sheikh Jarrah are the same ones coming after these houses in Silwan. It’s the same shared struggle, against the same occupation. We said save Sheikh Jarrah yesterday, we say save Silwan today.”
In Sheikh Jarrah
- Families continue to face the threat of displacement, the next court hearing has been delayed until August 2021, as the Court waits for the Attorney General to offer his opinion on the case, separate from the Silwan cases.
- An investigative report by Uri Blau revealed that a New York-based lawyer, Seymour Braun, is financially connected to settler efforts to displace Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. At the same time, the identities of those behind these eviction proceedings remains largely unknown, as they have been concealed by settlers and their backers.
- The neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah remains under Israeli-imposed closure, actively (and violently) enforced by Israeli police.
- Ir Amim writes on the closure: “The closure of the neighborhood is seen as an intentional brazen move by the Israeli authorities to suppress Palestinian mobilization and deprive the residents of Sheikh Jarrah of the freedom of expression and the right to protest against their forced displacement. The Palestinian families at risk of eviction are now essentially living inside a cordoned-off, military-like zone. They are subject to ongoing arbitrary harassment and aggressive police measures, marked by forced entry into homes and the use of stun grenades, skunk water, and rubber-tipped bullets against neighborhood residents. With the closure’s intensification, police often force residents to stay in their homes and hostilely remove those sitting outside as is common practice in the neighborhood. Yesterday, a 15-year-old girl was severely wounded inside the confines of her own home when a soldier wantonly fired rubber-tipped bullets into the family’s house.”
- Journalists are reportedly being barred access to the area. Last week, to Palestinian journalists reporting from Sheikh Jarrah were arrested by Israeli authorities; reportedly after 5 days in jail “ the judge at Jerusalem’s Central Court released them on bail of 4,000 shekels ($1,230) each and ordered them to be under house arrest for a month, forbidding them from communicating with each other for 15 days.”
Ir Amim reports that a private company has gone ahead and published a tender for the construction of roads, electrical infrastructure, and sewage systems at the Givat Hamatos settlement site. The tender is set to close June 6th.
The Israeli High Court has not yet dealt with a petition filed by Ir Amim alleging that the planned construction of government-subsidized housing at Givat Hamatos has discriminatory eligibility guidelines. A hearing was scheduled on May 27th, but was delayed at the request of the State. The hearing has been rescheduled for October 20th, and Ir Amim secured the Court’s condition that applications for Givat Hamatos housing will not be accepted in the intervening period.
Ir Amim writes:
“Publication of the tender is yet another indication that advancement of this new settlement/neighborhood on Givat Hamatos continues to move forward at a heightened pace. In the coming months, wide-scale road construction and infrastructure works are expected to already begin. It is estimated that the building of housing units could commence within two years, even before completion of the infrastructure works…Although advancement of these plans is continuing at full throttle, it is still possible for the government to suspend construction as a result of concerted pressure and opposition. Legal provisions within the tender as well as within Israeli contract law grant the Israeli government the right to rescind contracts should it be within its interest. There is likewise legal precedent for such measures.”
On May 20th, a notice was published announcing the final approval of a plan to build the Har Homa E settlement in East Jerusalem. This comes on the heels of the conditional final approval granted to the project earlier in May (conditioned on a few minor changes that have since been made). Now that the plan has been published, construction on Har Homa E can begin. Ir Amim notes:
“Since the Har Homa E plan is designated for privately owned land, the planning process does not entail a tendering stage and in principle, the landowners can begin to apply for building permits. However, it is worthwhile noting that the District Committee conditioned the procurement of building permits on the start of expansion of the access road to Har Homa E. Since the road’s expansion is a municipal project, the timing of the work’s commencement is unknown. In addition, construction of new sewerage infrastructure to serve the new neighborhood/settlement is necessary since the location does not border an existing built-up area. The timetable for such construction is likewise unknown.”
Reminder: Although the Har Homa E plan is framed as merely an expansion of the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem, it is more properly understood as a brand new settlement. The plan calls for 540 new settlement units to be built in the area between the Har Homa settlement and the site of the planned Givat Hamatos settlement (tenders for which were issued in January 2021) — an area where the new construction will be non-contiguous with the built-up area of the existing settlement of Har Homa. Meaning that the new construction is a significant step towards completing a ring of Israeli settlements on Jerusalem’s southern edge and towards the encirclement of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa.
On June 1st, the Beit El settlement hosted a ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of 350 new settlement units (housing for approximately 1,750 new settlers, assuming a family size of 5). The ceremony was attended by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud), Education Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud), Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud), and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud), in addition to more members of the Knesset.
In a 2018 report, B’Tselem assessed the severe impact the Beit El settlement has on the 14,000 Palestinians who live in the nearby Jalazun refugee camp.
Following a 13-year legal battle, the Israeli High Court issued an order to evict settlers from 42-acres of land they had been illegally cultivating for in the Shiloh Valley, located in the northern West Bank. Over the course of those 13 years, settlers had established a profitable olive grove and vineyard. With the ruling, the settlers have been ordered to remove all of the olive trees and the vineyard by October 2021.
Yet, despite recognizing the settlers’ actions on the land as illegal, the High Court refused to recognize Palestinians as the rightful owners of the land. Instead, the Court said that it is not in a position to determine ownership because the land was never formally registered. As a reminder, at the start of the occupation Israel closed the land registry in the West Bank to Palestinians. This has meant that Palestinians who were not able to formally register their land before the 1967 War (Jordan was in the process of carrying out such a registration process when the war took place), there is no longer any path to do so. For more, see B’Tselem’s landmark report “Land Grab”, p.52)
With it now looking all but certain that there will soon be a new Israeli government in place, led by Yamina’s Naftali Bennet, several media outlets have taken a deep dive into Bennet’s past. Longtime Settlement Report readers are likely familiar with Bennet’s intense devotion to annexation and the settlements, but these resources are a well-timed refresher.
- “Quick Facts: Naftali Bennett” (IMEU)
- “Israel’s likely new government, explained” (+972 Magazine)
- “Who is Naftali Bennett, Israel’s potential prime minister?” (Al Jazeera)
- “Who is Naftali Bennett, the man who could be Israel’s next prime minister?” (The Times of Israel)
- “What to know about Naftali Bennett, the Israeli politician who could succeed Benjamin Netanyahu” (Washington Post)
A new report by Yesh Din documents and analyzes the crimes committed by settlers in Palestinian communities located in Area B, from 2017 to 2020. In so doing, Yesh Din documents the lawlessness of settlers (who feel safe enough to enter built-up Palestinian areas to attack property and people), the cumulative deleterious effect these attacks have on Palestinian rights and wellbeing, and the abject failure of Israeli authorities to protect Palestinians and to hold Israeli settlers accountable to even Isareli for violations of the law (Israeli law).
Yesh Din writes:
“In recent years, violence perpetrated in Palestinian spaces – village streets, schools, public buildings and even homes – has proliferated. Secluded homes and structures, and those located near settlements, unauthorized outposts or access roads, have become standing, preferred, targets…Attacks on Palestinians and their property take a physical, financial, social and psychological toll on Palestinians, especially when they are widespread. Settlers have a clear advantage over the Palestinians: They are citizens of the country that holds the West Bank under military occupation. They have the protection of the Israeli police and military. Palestinians, on the other hand, are abandoned by the law enforcement system that is tasked with keeping them safe and protecting them from harm. This state of affairs, where one national group dominates another and oppresses it by denying rights, practicing legal segregation and employing different legal systems for each group, is part of Israel’s apartheid regime. This regime’s objective is to entrench and cement Israeli colonization of the West Bank.”
- “Questions and Answers: Israel’s De Facto Annexation of Palestinian Territory” (Al-Haq)
- “An Israeli Winery Guide, With Undertones of Occupation” (Haaretz)
- “Irish parliament denounces Israeli West Bank policies as ‘de facto annexation’” (The Times of Israel)
- ”Mapping Israeli occupation” (Al Jazeera)