Settlement & Annexation Report: March 10, 2023


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

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March 10, 2023

  1. As Part of Nof Zion Settlement Expansion, Israel Approves PlanNew Police Complex in East Jerusalem
  2. Prime Minister Convenes Summit on Evyatar Outpost Legalization, No Decision Made (Yet)
  3. Knesset Finalizes Draft of Bill to Reestablish Four Settlements in Northern West Bank
  4. Key Developments on De Facto Annexation via Archaeology
  5. Bonus Reads

Listen to FMEP’s Kristin McCarthy speak with Rafat Sub Laban (human rights lawyer) and Amy Cohen (Ir Amim) about the Sub Laban eviction case. On March 15th or anytime after, the Sub Laban family can be forcibly displaced from their home of 60+ year at the behest of settlers with the support of the State. You can listen, or watch, the conversation here.

As Part of Nof Zion Settlement Expansion, Israel Approves PlanNew Police Complex in East Jerusalem

As anticipated, in its meeting on March 8th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved a plan to build a massive new Israeli security headquarters on the border of the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood, where the Nof Zion settlement enclave is located. The construction of the new police installment will allow the old station – currently located in Jabal Mukaber –  to be handed over to the Nof Zion settlement enclave for the already-approved expansion of that settlement, which includes the construction of a hotel on the site of the former police installment.

The new station faced opposition both Palestinians, anti-settlement groups (the station will be located over the Green Line) as well as ecological groups, the latter because the hill on which the new station will be built is known for its rare flowers as well as panoramic views of Jerusalem. The committee dismissed all objections to the plan, saying that the station is necessary for Israel’s security.

Prime Minister Convenes Summit on Evyatar Outpost Legalization, No Decision Made (Yet)

Channel 13 News reports that on March 5th, Prime Minister Netanyahu convened a high level meeting to discuss the government’s plan to reestablish the Evyatar outpost and yeshiva, a promise made by the Prime Minister to Ben Gvir in their coalition deal.  The meeting disbanded without a final decision, much to the dismay of Ben Gvir, Smotrich and the settlers who regularly (and illegally) go to the Evyatar site.

Map by Peace Now

In attendance,was National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Finance Minister and Minister in the Ministry of Defense Bezalel Smotrich, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Chief of Staff Major General Herzi Halevi, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Colonel Ghasan Alyan, and other senior defense officials. Gallant and his allies opposed an immediate decision on Evyatar, citing security risks and rising tensions – especially with Ramadan around the corner.

Settlers attempted to visit the Evyatar outpost to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, but were removed by Israeli security forces. 

As a reminder, settlers agreed to temporarily leave the site of the Evyatar outpost in 2021 under terms of a government-brokered deal in which the government promised to undertake an “investigation” into the status of the land. That investigation has reportedly been concluded, and found that part of the land the outpost was illegally built on is “state land,” and part is privately owned by Palestinians. This report agrees with a 2022 opinion issued by then Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit supporting the retroactive authorization of Evyatar. The government deal with settlers also stipulated that the settlers’ illegal construction at the site would be left in place (i.e., did not demolish it) — including buildings and roads —  while the government carried out its investigation into the status of the land. In this way, the “compromise” left the outpost intact and allowed Israel to maintain complete control over the site during the “survey” process, clearly signaling that the government’s objective was never to enforce Israeli law, but, rather, was always about finding a legal and political “solution” to enable it to launder the settlers’ illegal actions and accommodate their demands. Indeed, the terms of the Evyatar “compromise” made clear that the government was confident that it would find a pretext on which to assert that the land on which the outpost stands is “state land,” which can be used by the state as it sees fit (which nearly 100% of the time means, will be used to benefit the settlers).

The Evyatar outpost was built illegally by settlers on a hilltop that Palestinians have long known as Mt. Sabih, land which has historically belonged to the nearby Palestinian villages of Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. Evyatar became a recurring headline news story mostly as a result of the determined effort by Palestinians from the nearby village of Beitar to protest the outpost and to resist the Israeli government’s efforts to retroactively legalize it. Palestinians staged regular protests near the site of Evyatar outpost, which resulted in no fewer than seven Palestinian protesters dying as a result of the harsh and violent actions by the IDF to quash the protests. 

Knesset Finalizes Draft of Bill to Reestablish Four Settlements in Northern West Bank

On March 9th, a Knesset panel finalized a draft bill that will repeal clauses of the 2005 Disengagement Law, which is required for the government’s plan to reestablish settlements in the northern West Bank that it dismantled as part of the disengagement deal (most notably, the Homesh settlement). The bill is now ready for its first reading and vote in the Knesset.

The agreed-upon draft will repeal clauses from the 2005 Disengagement Law that prohibit Israeli entry into the area of the former settlements, which brings the status of the land in line with the rest of Area C. Many lawmakers were pushing for the bill to also include articles that would give outright permission for the reestablishment of the areas – articles to permit Israelis to buy and own property/real estate – but the final text did not include those articles, nor does it apply any of the changes to Gaza.

Key Developments on De Facto Annexation via Archaeology

Emek Shaveh issued an update on several important issues that show how the Israeli government is continuing and in some cases accelerating the politicization of archaeology as a means to dispossess Palestinians and achieve the de facto annexation of lands in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

First, Emek Shave reports on structural changes in the ISraeli government that put some of the most radical members of the ruling coalition in charge of key archaeological portfolios with authority over West Bank heritage sites. A government decision transferred power over the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) from Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Heritage, which is headed by a member of Ben Gvir’s radical party (Amihai Eliyahu) – signaling “another step towards the extreme politicization of the authority.” In tandem, Amihai Eliyahu was given bureaucratic responsibility over the Civil Administration’s Staff Officer for Archaeology (SOA), effectively bringing this official (who is seated in the Defense Ministry) under a civilian authority. The SOA is responsible for overseeing all antiquity sites in Area C of the West Bank. 

Emek Shaveh explains:

 “It is not surprising that the far-right party would choose the heritage portfolio. According to the coalition agreement, the purpose of the Ministry of Heritage ‘is to care for national heritage assets, engage in the exposure, conservation and reconstruction of these assets alongside entrenching Jewish and Zionist heritage.’ Indeed, the plans and structural changes within the ministries show that consolidating heritage governance on both sides of the Green Line under the Ministry of Heritage indicates a strategic decision to use all the available statutory mechanisms in order to apply full Israeli control over ancient sites in the Occupied Territories.”

Second, Emek Shaveh reports that the IAA – as part of its expanding activities in the West Bank – conducted an excavation in the southern West Bank and announced its plan to display its findings in an Israeli museum (both of which are illegal under international law). Further, Emek Shaveh warns that archaeological digs such as the one conducted recently have served historically as a pretext for the establishment of new settlements – like in the case of the Shiloh and Amona settlements. Emek Shaveh writes:

“Even if the initial intention does not include turning the site into a settlement, the establishment of a camp is a means of laying hold to an area and displacing Palestinians from their land. It goes without saying that once a[n archaeological] camp is established, military presence is needed to guard the Israelis staying on site. We can assume that this trend will only intensify under the current minister of heritage.”

You can read the full update by Emek Shaveh, which discusses further news, here.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Six killed in Israeli raid on Jenin as settlers attack Palestinian town again” (Washington Post)
  2. “Police minister clowns around with settlers for Purim in flashpoint Hebron” (The Times of Israel)
  3. “West Bank, Gaza Palestinians to be banned from entering Israel during Purim” (The Times of Israel)
  4. “Shrinking the Conflict: Debunking Israel’s New Strategy” (Wallid Habbas, Al-Shabaka – March 6, 2023)