Settlement & Annexation Report: June 9, 2023


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

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June 9, 2023

  1. NEXT WEEK – E-1 Back On the Agenda
  2. Israel Advances Plan for Massive New Industrial Zone
  3. Israel Quietly Expropriated Land to Facilitate the Retroactive Legalization of Havat Gilad
  4. Israel Allows Settlers to Operate Farms inside the Masafer Yatta Firing Zone, From Which Palestinians Are Being Forcibly Displaced
  5. Armenian Orthodox Church Sells Key Jerusalem Properties to an Israeli Investor
  6. Israel Preps New Laws to “Judaize” the Galilee, Subsidize Jewish-Only Communities in Galilee, Negev, and West Bank
  7. 17 Israeli Human Rights Orgs Issue Status Report on Occupation
  8. Yesh Din Re-Releases “Annexation Database”
  9. Bonus Reads

NEXT WEEK – E-1 Back On the Agenda

The High Planning Council’s Subcommittee for Objections is set to hold a third and final meeting on Monday June 12th to discuss objections that have been filed against the construction of the E-1 settlement, planned for an area just northeast of Jerusalem. Construction of this settlement would have severe geopolitical implications (cutting the West Bank in half, cutting it off from East Jerusalem); would necessitate the forcible transfer of several bedouin communities (a war crime); and affect thousands of Palestinians (shredding the fabric of life).

Assuming there is not another last-minute decision to take E-1 off the agenda (something that could well happen, and has happened repeatedly) this upcoming meeting promises to be a decisive one for the long-pending E-1 plan. It could very well result in the Committee – which is now under the authority of longtime settler advocate, Israeli Minister Bezalel Smotrich – granting final approval to the highly contentious plan.

As a reminder: in its current form, the E-1 plan provides for the construction of 3,412 new settlement units on a site located northeast of Jerusalem. The site is home to several Palestinian bedouin communities, comprising 3,000 people, including Khan al-Ahmar, which Israel is planning to forcibly relocate. Long called a “doomsday” settlement by supporters of a two-state solution, construction of the E-1 settlement would sever East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland, preventing East Jerusalem from ever functioning as a viable Palestinian capital. It would also cut the West Bank effectively in half, isolating the northern West Bank from the southern West Bank and foreclosing the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. 

Israel’s “answer” to that latter concern has long been to argue that Palestinians don’t need territorial contiguity, and that new roads can instead provide “transportational continuity,” via a plan called the “Sovereignty Road. If built, the “Sovereignty Road” will seal and divert Palestinian traffic around the area where Israel intends to build the E-1 settlement. In March 2023 Israel announced that construction of this so-called “Sovereignty Road” was set to begin in May 2023. There have since been reports that Israeli authorities have issued notices to Palestinian landowners whose land will be seized for construction of the road,  undertaken prep work for construction, and has allocated millions of shekels to fund components of the road. 

And another reminder: there have been attempts to promote the E-1 plan since the early 1990s, but due to wall-to-wall international opposition, the plan was not advanced until 2012. At that time Netaynuahu ordered it to be approved for deposit for public review (a key step in the approval process), ostensibly as payback for the Palestinians seeking recognition at the United Nations. Following an outcry from the international community, the plan again went into a sort of dormancy, only to be put back on the agenda by Netanyahu in February 2020, when he was facing his third round of elections in two years.  Also, as a reminder: under the Trump Plan (which the Biden Administration has yet to comment on), the area where E-1 is located is slated to become part of Israel.

Peace Now said in a statement

“The advancement of construction in E1 is another step in the current Israeli government’s actions, which since its establishment, has been establishing new settlements, returning settlers to the northern West Bank, and now working to create conditions for the annexation of the West Bank. Just last week, the Israeli government violated its commitment to the US government and re-established the outpost of Homesh in the northern West Bank. Next week it will violate an Israeli commitment again by promoting the construction plan in E1. This pro-settler and annexationist government seems to continue to act according to a systematic plan that leads us to a reality of apartheid, undermining the chances of a political solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli public and our friends around the world must wake up and stop Israel from falling into the abyss.”

Israel Advances Plan for Massive New Industrial Zone

Peace Now reports that on June 2nd the Israeli High Planning Council deposited for public review a plan for the establishment of a massive new settlement industrial zone (called “Sha’ar Shomron”) to be located on lands historically belonging to the Palestinian villages of Siniria, Rafat, and Az-Zawiya in the northern West Bank. In addition to planning for industrial complexes and commercial areas, the plan also provides for the construction of educational buildings, office complexes, sports facilities, recreational areas, and tourism sites – and there is a future plan to connect the new industrial zone to the Israeli railway grid. The new settlement industrial zone is slated to be built directly adjacent to the Green Line, contributing to the erasure of the Green Line and Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.

Peace Now further reports that if the plan is approved, this will likely be the largest Israeli industrial zone in the West Bank, with 2,700 dunams of land, of which 2 million square meters will be for industrial use. Further, Peace Now notes that there is a “lack of need for an additional industrial zone”, especially in this area given that the Ariel and Barkan Industrial Zones are nearby.

Peace Now said in a statement

“The settlement enterprise is about to receive tremendous economic support in the form of a 2 million square meter industrial zone that will greatly benefit the Shomron Regional Council, strengthen its economy, and, as in previous cases, provide very little, if anything at all, to the Palestinian villages and Palestinians themselves. The Sha’ar Shomron industrial zone is set to deeply integrate Israel’s economy into the occupation mechanism and turn thousands of Israelis into workers for the benefit of the settlement enterprise. This is a hazardous industrial settlement, not only for the Palestinians whose lands it is being built on but for the entire Israeli and Palestinian public. There is no economic prosperity here but rather another expression of the settlement enterprise and the occupation.”

For decades Israel has used industrial zones as another tool to expand and deepen control over West Bank land and natural resources. Industrial zones perpetuate Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources). Presented as benefiting both Israelis and Palestinians, it is in fact Orwellian to label such initiatives as “coexistence” programs, or to suggest that they offer the Palestinians benefits they should welcome. Importantly, jobs in industrial zones – often the only jobs available for Palestinians living under an Israeli occupation that prevents the development of any normal Palestinian economy – are widely viewed by Palestinians as a double-edged sword. The NGO Who Profits explained:

“Israeli Industrial Zones constitute a foundational pillar of the economy of the occupation. They contribute to the economic development of the settlements, which are in violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, while relying on the de-development of the Palestinian economy and the exploitation of Palestinian land and labor…The Industrial Zones in the oPt form part of a practice of ‘financial annexation’ which is an essential component of the broader policy of annexation taking place.”

Israel Quietly Expropriated Land to Facilitate the Retroactive Legalization of Havat Gilad

The anti-settlement watchdog Kerem Navot (aka Naboth’s Vineyard) reports that on May 2, 2023 the Israeli Custodian of Abandoned and Government Property – Yossi Segal – signed a military order declaring a small tract of land in the West Bank to be “state land.” The small tract of land happens to be where settlers have been allowed to illegally build the Havat Gilad outpost, despite the fact that aerial imagery shows that that area had been continuously cultivated by Palestinians prior to settlers taking over the land (and therefore cannot be taken over by Israel as “state land”). Nonetheless, settlers have been allowed to illegally build on this land, illegal activity which is now being rewarded and further incentivized by Segal’s move to expropriate the land – a move that paves the way for the retroactive legalization of the outpost.

As Kerem Navot chronicles, the Havat Gilad outpost has been the subject of controversy since it was first established by settlers in 2002. Since then, the outpost has become a source of radical, serious, and frequent violence against Palestinians. In 2014, two Havat Gilad settlers were sentenced to prison for setting Palestinian vehicles on fire in a price-tag attack; its residents have also been documented harassing Palestinian farmers and denying them access to their own lands. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din – which has documented violence emanating from Havat Gilad, including against Yesh Din employees – has filed several petitions against the outpost, including a 2010 case that resulted in the demolition of some of the outpost’s structures that were built on land Israel recognized as privately-owned by Palestinians. Yesh Din’s investigation shows that Havat Gilad was built on lands that the Israeli Civil Administration has now declared to be “state land” have in fact been continuously cultivated and privately owned by Palestinians; most of the outpost’s structures have standing (but unenforced) demolition orders issued against them.

In 2018, the Israeli government came under intense pressure from the settler lobby to legalize Havat Gilad in response to a Palestinian terror attack that killed a Havat Gilad settler — and came very close to doing so. At the time, the government ran into difficulties in legalizing the outpost because some of the illegal buildings were located on land Israel recognized as privately-owned by Palestinians, and the government could not – at that time – find a legal means by which to expropriate it.  Meanwhile, the settler killed in the attack was subsequently buried at the outpost, and as Al-Monitor explains, the presence of a cemetery in the outpost makes its future evacuation nearly impossible. Kerem Navot’s Dror Etkes spoke to Haaretz around this same time about the phenomenon of settlers being buried in the West Bank:

“Etkes tells Haaretz he believes the choice of where the cemeteries are situated – particularly when they lie on private land some distance from the nearest homes – is not a coincidence. ‘I work on the assumption that there are always deliberate intentions afoot,’ he says. The placement of a cemetery ‘is not chosen for no reason. It is a very long-term investment – and in Judaism, whoever buries people in a certain place does so on the understanding they will not be removed. Obviously, there is deliberate intent lurking behind the location of these cemeteries,’ Etkes continues, ‘and it may be assumed that whoever buries the dead on private Palestinian land knows exactly what he’s doing.’”

Israel Allows Settlers to Operate Farms inside the Masafer Yatta Firing Zone, From Which Palestinians Are Being Forcibly Displaced

Amira Hass reports for Haaretz that Israel is allowing settlers to operate six sheep herding farms [what Americans would call “ranches”] in the Masafer Yatta area of the South Hebron Hills, which Israel has declared a “firing zone”, thereby making it illegal for civilians to enter, live, or farm on the land. This settler activity is being allowed while Israel is simultaneously pursuing the mass forcible expulsion of Palestinians from the area, based on the argument that their lives and homes in a firing zone are illegal. According to a settler from an illegal outpost, the IDF has even provided “grazing permits” to settlers authorizing their activities in the area.

The phenomenon of settlers using agricultural and farming outposts as a highly efficient means of taking control of land (a few farmers can easily take control over vast amounts of herding/grazing lands) has been thoroughly documented by Kerem Navot, which calls it “Israel’s most significant mechanism for dispossessing Palestinian communities.” 

Two of the settler farms were established before the May 2022 ruling by the Israeli High Court which authorized the expulsion of Palestinians from the area, the other four were established after. Predictably, though these farms may have started as bare-bones operations, Palestinians now report:

 “continuous and brisk activity around these farms, with trucks unloading, a cement truck laying down a concrete surface and all-terrain vehicles entering and leaving the farms, as well as people on horseback…Palestinians in the area say that they often see soldiers in the vicinity of Israeli shepherds, accompanying them within the firing zone.”

In stark contrast to the tolerance and assistance the IDF gives to settlers in the area who have illegally built outposts and these sheep farms, the nearby Palestinians living in Masafer Yatta are ruthlessly tormented, harassed, and attacked by Israeli settlers and the IDF. In a shocking and heartbreaking examination of what life in Masafer Yatta have become for Palestinians, Palestinian journalist and activist Hamdan Mohammed Al-Huraini quotes Issa Makhamra, a resident, who said:

“Everything is forbidden under the pretext that we live in a firing zone, even grazing sheep. Whenever we go anywhere, they set up a checkpoint. When I want to go to the city, I have to pass through this checkpoint, and I am stopped and detained for long hours. I swear to you, if the army could keep sunlight and air from us, they would do it.”

Armenian Orthodox Church Sells Key Jerusalem Properties to an Israeli Investor

The Associated Press reports that in a highly controversial move, the Armenian Orthodox Church signed a 99-year lease giving several church properties in the Old City of Jerusalem to an Australian-Israeli businessman, Danny Rothman (sometimes referred to as Danny Rubenstein). The lease reportedly includes the Hadiqat Al-Baqar (The Cows’ Garden) and its surrounding properties, including the Qishla building in Bab al-Khalil (Jaffa Gate), located in the Armenian Quarter. Rumors of this sale first surfaced in 2021, but recently a sign was placed on one of the tracts saying the land is the property of Xana Capital, the company which Danny Rothman owns. According to a bishop involved in the sale, Rothman and his business Xana Capital plans to develop the land into a luxury resort managed by a Dubai-based company.

The Armenian Archbishop, Nourhan Manougian, alleged that the Church’s real estate official and priest – Baret Yeretsian – sold the land in a “fraudulent and deceitful” deal that he was unaware of. Yeretsian, in turn, said he carried out the deal at the direction of Manougian. Both Manougian and Yeretsian have been forced into hiding due to communal outrage, with Yeretsian fleeing a mob attack with help from Israeli security forces and then relocating to California. Manougian has barricaded himself inside of a convent in the Old City, and protesters have staged weekly protests outside. 

Dimitri Diliani, president of the National Christian Coalition of the Holy Land, told the AP: “From a Palestinian point of view, this is treason. From a peace activist point of view, this undermines possible solutions to the conflict.

Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Ambassador to Denmark, told the New Arab: “It’s a huge tract of land. By conceding it, they are erasing the Armenian presence historically, demographically, and culturally.”

In the wake of this deal coming to light, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II have both suspended recognition of Manougian’s authority, rendering him unable to sign contracts, complete transactions, or make decisions in the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

Israel Preps New Laws to “Judaize” the Galilee, Subsidize Jewish-Only Communities in Galilee, Negev, and West Bank

Two weeks ago, the Israeli security cabinet quietly organized an effort to draft and pass new laws designed to encourage Israeli Jews to move to the Galilee region of Israel, where Palestinian citizens of Israel are the majority. There are two main components of this effort so far:

  1. Amending the “admission committees” law to expand the number of Israel communities permitted to use such committees to screen future residents — a tool used primarily if not exclusively to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from moving into communities that residents want to preserve as Jewish-only towns and neighborhoods. The Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation granted government-backing to this proposed law weeks ago, and it recently passed its first reading in the Knesset.
  2. A law that will see the government subsidize land for “communities” that (in the eyes of the Israeli government) suffer from “demographic or security hardships” (which per a key backer of the law does not include Arab areas of Israel, as “Arab settlement does not suffer from similar hardships” as Jewish settlement). This law would in effect see the Israeli government subsidizing Jewish Israelis moving to areas like the Galilee and the Negev — and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being pushed by Religious Zionism lawmakers to extend this plan to settlements in the West Bank.

Haaretz Editorial Board writes:

“The bill is part of a broader agenda that is euphemistically called ‘Zionism,’ but whose essence is Jewish supremacy in the spirit of the nation-state law. It’s a follow-up to the cabinet discussion of a resolution meant to give Jews preference in land allocations.”

17 Israeli Human Rights Orgs Issue Status Report on Occupation

On the 56th anniversary of the Occupation, a group of 17 Israel human rights organizations came together to author and publish a concise and highly relevant joint “Situation Report” on the state of the occupation. The report covers four main themes: security forces’ violence, annexation, displacement, and attacks on NGOs.

On annexation, the report covers several important issues that are being closely monitored:

  1. Structural changes to Israeli governance which amount to annexation of the West Bank;
  2. Settlement expansion;
  3. The completion of the Eastern Ring Road (aka the Apartheid Road); 
  4. The “seam zone” permit regime; and,
  5. Gaza.

The report’s annexation section concludes with the following warnings:

» Changes advanced by Israel’s 37th government, even if not implemented in full, will lead to an irreversible transformation of the West Bank and will cement Israel’s control of the oPt’s Palestinian population and its property. The government’s policies are concurrently advanced via administrative tools, structural changes, legal reforms and huge budget allocations to settler causes. These should not be viewed piecemeal, but as a harmonized policy to accelerate the West Bank’s annexation. 

» An exponential increase of the settler population is planned, paired with an unprecedented settlement-expansion drive. Building plans in over 37 settlements have already been approved and ten illegal outposts legalized – with legalization of a further 70 in the pipeline. 

» Israel’s current government policies and its Jewish-supremacy ideology will further erode Palestinians’ rights and legal protections under military law, augmenting the West Bank’s dual legal system’s apartheid character. Palestinians’ diminished capacity to be served by the ICA has already been further hampered, and additional restrictions are expected. 

» Large-scale construction plans are in place for the E1 area, including the Eastern Ring Road and a new settlement of 3,400 housing units. If realized, these projects will de facto annex strategic parts of Area C, east of Jerusalem, depleting much of East Jerusalem’s land reserves and further fragmenting the West Bank. Annexation of this area has been vehemently and successfully opposed by the international community in the past. 

» With all eyes on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Gaza and its population continue to be largely overlooked and its isolation from the West Bank and the outside world has been accepted as an insoluble reality. Palestinians in Gaza continue to live on the perpetual edge of a humanitarian crisis. Israel’s current government’s annexation policies and cementing of an apartheid regime will further increase Gaza’s isolation and its population’s unbearable predicament.

Yesh Din Re-Releases “Annexation Database”

The Israeli NGO Yesh Din has re-released an updated and incredibly useful database of Israeli laws – past, present, and pending; enacted and abandoned – that amount to annexation of West Bank land. The Annexation Legislation Database categorizes annexation bills into four types:

  1. The application of Israeli law and sovereignty; 
  2. Direct legislation by the Knesset on the occupied territory; 
  3. The transfer of authorities away from the military commander; 
  4. The blurring of the Green Line.

The re-released database is complemented by a powerful article by Yesh Din’s longtime legal advisor Michael Sfard (who is a legal advisor to a host of anti-occupation, anti-apartheid, anti-settlement groups) in Foreign Policy, entitled “Israel Is Officially Annexing the West Bank.” Sfard writes

“The high road to legal annexation is an official, public declaration, as Putin made when he annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. But annexation does not necessarily involve pomp and ceremony. It can happen in dull, windowless offices and through seemingly dreary administrative and bureaucratic actions.

Exposing Israel’s annexation requires zooming out. This is what the international community fails to do, and it is why Israel’s brazen violation of international law has not drawn the ire it deserves. International discourse is hung up on the ceremonial, formal version of annexation—Putin’s annexation, which was rightly met with rebuke and sanctions. The world does not know how to deal with Netanyahu’s tactics.

Though it was not accompanied by a grand statement, the Israeli defense ministry’s portfolio transfer to Smotrich amounts to an act of de jure annexation of the West Bank—and is a dangerous step toward entrenching apartheid within the territory.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Tantura massacre: Palestinian families call on Israel to mark site of mass graves” (Middle East Eye)
  2. “Israeli settlers encircling Jerusalem, EU envoys warn” (EU Observer)
  3. “Palestinian Forum Highlights Threats of Autonomous Weapons” (Human Rights Watch)
  4. “Settlement expansion is obstacle to peace, Blinken tells US Israel lobby” (Reuters)