Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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March 11, 2022
- Settler Population Continues to Surge
- Bennet Government Delays Khan al-Ahmar Decision
- Major Ma’ale Adumim Settlement Expansion Advanced
- Palestinians Continue Weekly Protests Against Expansion of “American Road” in Jerusalem
- High Court to Rule on Expulsion of Palestinians in South Hebron Hills “Firing Zone”
- Former U.S. VP Mike Pence Hangs out with Kahanists in Hebron
- Further Reading
The Israeli Ministry of Interior released new figures on the growth of the West Bank settler population over the past 13 months (January 1, 2021 through Jan 31, 2022). The data shows that growth in the Israeli settler population, which surged during President Trump’s overtly pro-settlement term in office, has continued to accelerate. This population growth follows the surge in settlement construction that took place during the Trump presidency.
The data was compiled by Yaakov Katz, who is the former Chair of the Board of Directors of the settler-run Arutz Sheva media outlet. Katz currently publishes West Bank Jewish Population Stats (a project of “Bet El Institutions”, associated with the settlement of Beit El – a settlement closely associated with Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman). The data reveals that over the reporting period:
- The number of West Bank settlers grew to a total of 490,493 (not including the ~330,000 East Jerusalem settlers), representing a nearly 3.2% rise over 13 months.
- The following settlements increased their population size by over 10% over the reporting period:
- Rechan, located in the northern West Bank;
- Alei Zahav, located in a string of settlements stretching across the northern West Bank. Alei Zahav and its settlement neighbors create a contiguous Israeli populated areas linking Israel proper (west of the Green Line) all the way to the Ariel settlement, located in the heart of the West Bank (the eastern end of Ariel is closer to the Jordan border than to the Green Line). Notably, Alei Zahav is one of the settlements in which the “market principle” has been applied to legalize settlers theft of land recognized by Israel as belonging to Palestinians (see our July 2019 report).
- Amichai, a brand new settlement established by the Israeli government in 2017 and continuously expanded, located in the central West Bank;
- Naaleh, in the central West Bank;
- Bruchin, in the central West Bank;
- Yitzhar, the radical and violent settlement located near Nablus in the central West Bank. The Yitzhar settlement serves as the home base of the “Hilltop Youth” settler movement;
- Nokdim, located south east of Bethlehem;
- Metzad-Asfar, located south east of Bethlehem;
- Kfar Etzion, located south of Bethlehem;
- Beit HaArava, located in the Jordan Valley;
- Maskiot, located in the Jordan Valley;
- Negohot, located in the South Hebron Hills;
- Susya, located in the South Hebron Hills;
- Pnes Hever, located in the South Hebron Hills;
- Sansena, located in the South Hebron Hills.
The report goes on to predict that the settler population will cross the 1 million threshold in 2046.
This week the Bennett-led government asked the High Court of Justice to extend the deadline for submitting its position on the forcible relocation of the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community (a war crime). The State was facing a March 6th court deadline (which has already been delayed once at the request of the State), and initially requested a two-day extension – which the Court granted. On March 8th, the State requested a 30-day extension, citing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a time consuming matter for senior officials whose input is needed on the Khan al-Ahmar plan.
Regavim – the settler group behind the Court case seeking to force the government to demolish Khan al-Ahmar – slammed Bennett for the repeated delays and also stated that they might challenge the latest delay, saying:
“As far as we know, Prime Minister Bennett has already returned from his trip to Europe, and the additional rejection request smells like smearing. We will consider appealing to the Supreme Court for a ruling.”
Prior to this most recent delay, reports suggested that the government was preparing a plan that would see the demolition of the Khan Al-Ahmar only to (bizarrely) rebuild the community some 300 meters from where it currently stands. As a reminder, the High Court has ordered the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, which it declared to be illegally built (i.e., lacking Israeli building permits that are virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain).
It’s also worth recalling that the Supreme Court, in its September 2020 decision to grant the government a six-month delay, explicitly expressed its impatience to bring this matter to a close. It called the government’s request “embarrassing” and said:
“the expectation is that at the end of [the six-month] period a clear decision will be presented to this Court, after all options have been explored and exhausted. The period of mapping out alternatives and exploring courses of action is about to run its course, and what follows is the decision stage. Our aim is to conclude the hearing of this petition immediately after the [government’s updated statement] is submitted, and the plaintiff’s response is received, one way or another.”
On March 3rd the local building committee of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, located just east of Jerusalem, approved what is reportedly the largest settlement expansion plan in over a decade. The plan would allow for 3,300 new settlement units as well as areas for public buildings. Assuming (conservatively) an average family size of 5, this means construction for at least 16,500 new settlers. The plan will now be sent to the Israel High Planning Council for its consideration and approval.
Ma’ale Adumim is the largest settlement by size and population. In past negotiations, Israel has always included Ma’ale Adumim and the surrounding area as one of the “settlement blocs” that would be annexed to Israel under a final agreement. The Israeli political consensus around the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim (which has not been meaningfully challenged in past negotiations) has, by and large, resulted in the implied acceptance that expansion of Ma’ale Adumim is treated as non-controversial or not as geopolitically consequential as new units built in settlements and outposts in other locations. However, it should be emphasized that the term “settlement bloc” has no legal definition or standing — not under Israeli law, or under international law, or in the context of the Oslo agreement — and the fate of Ma’ale Adumim, like all settlements, is a matter for future negotiations. Nonetheless, the Israeli government has for years deployed the “settlement blocs” terminology in an effort to legitimize settlement expansion in areas it wants, in effect, to unilaterally take off the table for any future negotiations. For more context, see resources from Americans for Peace Now here and here.
For the past month, Paelstinians have gathered in front of Jerusalem’s City Hall to protest a plan to expand the so-called “American Road” — expansion that will come at the expense of 62 residential structures that are home to 750 Palestinians in the Jabal al-Mukaber neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
As a reminder, the so-called “American Road” is a section of north-south highway that is meant to more seamlessly connect settlements located in the north and south of Jerusalem to one another, and to serve as a bypass for settler traffic to cut through East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods. While the road will be accessible to Palestinians (a fact touted by Israel as proof of Israeli good intentions), its clear primary purpose is to entrench Israel settlements, expand Israeli control over all of East Jerusalem, and close off Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the rest of the West Bank, thereby (further) torpedoing Palestinian hopes of one day establishing a capital in East Jerusalem.
The second phase of construction directly threatens Palestinians, involving the demolition of 62 buildings in Jabal al-Mukhaber. According to Middle East Eye, the Jerusalem Municipality has come up with a proposal, as reported by one of the threatened homeowners:
“The municipality suggested alternatives for residents with demolition orders, but they are neither realistic nor fair, Muhammad says. The proposal stipulates erecting buildings upwards on each side of the road. In them, four stories must be exclusively allocated for parking, another four for commercial use, and only two stories for residential use, each containing four apartments. The estimated cost for each of those buildings is between 20 and 25 million shekels ($6m to $7.7m), which many Palestinians in the area can’t afford without loans. The options left for residents are either expulsion or indebtedness. One strategy the municipality is taking is to empty the area completely of its inhabitants and replace them with commercial centres, Muhammad says. ‘They want to force the residents to resort to local or external investors, or to resort to banks to take out loans, which would mean that the landowners would only receive a single residential apartment, while the investors or banks would retain the lion’s share,’ Muhammad told MEE. ‘The Jabal al-Mukaber residents refuse this unequivocally, considering vertical building to be incompatible with the rural context to which they have grown accustomed to’.”
See Orly Noy’s reporting for a detailed history of this plan’s evolution as well as a moving portrait of some of the Palestinians who are affected by this plan.
In a deeply researched report on how infrastructure like roads is a means for settlement expansion and annexation, Breaking the Silence explains:
“While Israeli authorities justify many of the projects described in this document by claiming that they serve both the settler and the Palestinian populations in the West Bank, it is important to note that these roads are designed with Israeli, not Palestinian, interests in mind. Many of the roads that are technically open to Palestinian traffic are not intended to lead to locations that are useful to Palestinians.16 Instead, these roads are primarily designed to connect settlements to Israel proper (and thus employment and other services) via lateral roads, rather than to connect Palestinian communities to one another. Further, roads intended to connect Israeli settlements to Jerusalem (many of which are currently under construction) do not serve West Bank Palestinians outside of Jerusalem, as they are not allowed to enter Jerusalem without a permit. In addition, an extensive system of checkpoints and roadblocks allows Israel to control access to bypass roads and the main West Bank highways, and it can restrict Palestinian access when it so chooses.
This prejudice against Palestinian development is even starker when one considers that, according to an official Israeli projection, the expected Palestinian population in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) in 2040 is 4,600,000 individuals. Even if the vision of settler leaders to arrive at 1,000,000 settlers is realized by 2040, the Palestinian population would still be four times the size of the settler one. Despite this discrepancy, priority is still given to settler infrastructure development.
West Bank road and transportation development creates facts on the ground that constitute a significant entrenchment of the de facto annexation already taking place in the West Bank and will enable massive settlement growth in the years to come. By strengthening Israel’s hold on West Bank territory, aiding settlement growth, and fragmenting Palestinian land, this infrastructure growth poses a significant barrier to ending the occupation and achieving an equitable and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
On March 15th, the Israeli High Court is expected to issue a ruling on the mass expulsion of 12 Palestinian communities in the Massafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills. These 12 villages are located on land that Israel declared a “firing zone” – Firing Zone 918 – in the early 1980s. Palestinian and Israeli activists have launched an international campaign to bring attention to the matter in the hopes of stopping the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land.
In a recent article for +972 Magazine, Ali Awad – a journalist and activist from Massafer Yatta – contrasted the plight of his community to the success of chicken farms established by settlers on nearby land, writing:
“In Umm al-Khair, we find it especially absurd that the chicken farms have better infrastructure than our residents. We suffer from a constant lack of water and are prevented from connecting to the electricity grid; the farms, meanwhile, have constant access to water, and are not only permanently connected to electricity but also have backup generators in case of an emergency. Seeing the electricity lines pass directly over our village is a constant reminder that the animals get rights that we as Palestinians are deliberately denied. More importantly, we know that building these farms in Masafer Yatta is yet another strategy of the occupation to displace us Palestinians from our homes, and is no less dangerous than its policy of declaring 12 of our villages as falling under Firing Zone 918 — thereby sanctioning our displacement. Israel is even still using the outdated Ottoman Land Code in the occupied territories to transfer Palestinian pasture into “state land,” which it then leases to settlers in order to establish other kinds of farms. They are multiple laws and policies, but they all serve one goal: to take over Palestinian land.”
Over the past months, FMEP has hosted a series of webinars and podcasts highlighting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Massafer Yatta, including:
Israeli Apartheid, the Supreme Court, and Land Confiscation: The Case of Masafer Yatta (March 9, 2022) featuring Ali Awad (journalist and activist), Maya Rosen (activist) in conversation with FMEP’s Sarah Anne Minkin
“We don’t have another place to go:” Dispossession, Settler Violence, & Resistance in Masafer Yatta (January 2022) featuring journalist and activist Ali Awad in conversation with FMEP’s Sarah Anne Minkin
- Israeli Government Escalates Pressure on Israelis Who Stand in Solidarity with Palestinians (December 2021) featuring activists Oriel Eisner and Maya Eshel in conversation with FMEP’s Lara Friedman.
During his visit to Israel this week, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence found time to meet with far-right settler leaders including Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir while visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs/al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, a city that is perhaps the clearest example of Israeli apartheid policies.
According to the Hebron Fund (the U.S. 501c3 charity that raises funds for the Hebron settlers), Pence was accompanied by Simon Falic (Duty-Free America), who is a major supporter of the Hebron settlers. Photos showed Pence also accompanied by Baruch Marzel, the former right-hand man of the Kach party’s Rabbi Meir Kahane. For extra fun, here’s video of Marzel introducing Pence to Ben-Gvir, who Marzel says “represents us in the Knesset.” Pence shakes Ben-Gvir’s hand and says: “stay strong – we’ll stand with you… It’s my great honor.” Falic is also visible in the video.
During his time in Israel, Pence also received an honorary degree (alongside former U.S. Ambassador David Friedman) from Ariel University, at a ceremony held at the settlement. During the ceremony, Pence made his thoughts on settlements clear, saying:
“It’s great to be here in Ariel. I’m told that some people say that you shouldn’t go to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. I obviously have a different opinion.”
Pence also received an award from a group of Evangelical supporters in recognition of his support for Israel. That ceremony was held in Jerusalem. Many speculate that Pence is prepping for a run for the 2024 Republican nomination for the presidency, and making stops in Israel to court the Evangelical vote.
As a reminder, the parties associated with the now deceased Rabbi Meir Kahane – Kach and Kahane Chai – are U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations. Ben Gvir’s political party, Otzma Yehudit, is a clear present-day incarnation of those parties and is devoted to Meir Kahane’s teachings. For more on Kahanism in Israel, please see “Mainstreaming the Extreme: How Meir Kahane’s Vision of Jewish Supremacy Conquered Israeli Politics” and FMEP webinar hosted in March 2021 featuring Amjad Iraqi (+972 Magazine), Shaul Magid (author & Dartmouth College professor), Natasha Roth-Rowland (University of Virginia) in conversation with Lara Friedman (FMEP).
- “Editorial | Jewish Settlers in La La Land” (Haaretz)
- “ Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Weekly Update, March 3 – 9, 2022)” (PCHR)