Settlement & Annexation Report: March 18, 2022


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

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March 18, 2022

  1. Court Delays Decision on Mass Expulsion in Massafer Yatta
  2. Settlers Construct New Outpost on World Heritage Site in Battir
  3. Ma’aleh Adumim to Challenge Government of Delay of E-1 Settlement Construction
  4. This Week in Settler Terrorism
  5. U.S. Ambassador Has Harsh Words for Settlements, But Admits Some Construction Will Proceed
  6. Further Reading

Court Delays Decision on Mass Expulsion in Massafer Yatta

On March 15th, the Israeli High Court held what was expected to be a decisive hearing regarding the fate of eight Palestinian communities facing expulsion — at the hands of the Israeli State — from a large area in the South Hebron Hills known as Massafer Yatta. This is an area that Israel declared to be a closed “firing zone” in the 1980s (known as Firing Zone 918). 

At the conclusion of this week’s hearing the Court did not issue its final ruling, but indicated it will convene another hearing in the coming months at which time it will issue its ruling. If given the green light, the forced expulsion in Massafer Yatta would constitute the largest displacement of Palestinians by Israel in decades — displacement that would be entirely illegal under international law.

This week’s court proceedings were live tweeted by the Israeli human rights group Breaking the Silence, and also covered by Palestinian journalist and activist Basel al-Adraa, who lives in Massafer Yatta. Adraa noted that it is “extremely likely” that the Israeli High Court will rule in favor of the State, and in so doing provide a green light (and legal cover, as far as the Israeli legal system is concerned) to the State’s plans to forcibly relocate some 1,300 people from the their homes and destroy their villages and  their unique way of life.  The State has maintained its argument that the firing zone is essential to state security, specifically for military training exercises because the terrain resembles Lebanon.

+972 Magazine, in a helpful explainer on this topic, explained why this effort to establish a pretense of legality for Israel’s actions against Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills flies in the face of international law and Israel’s obligations under treaties it has signed, writing:

According to international law, and as detailed in treaties to which Israel is party, it is illegal to use occupied territory for a purpose that serves only the occupier and not the occupied population. In addition, international law prohibits the forcible transfer of the occupied population. The state has further claimed that one reason it needs the land in Masafer Yatta is to train soldiers for a possible war in Lebanon. But here, international law stipulates that such military use of occupied land can only be for the direct management or security needs of the occupied territory itself, making Israel’s declared purpose regarding Lebanon also illegal.”

A lawyer representing the eight communities under threat, Shlomo Lecker of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, told Reuters:

“This case is not about a firing zone, it is about taking control of land because unlike other areas, most of this land is privately owned,” said Shlomo Lecker who, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, is representing 200 of the Palestinian families under threat of displacement. In effect this is land expropriation without compensation.”

Basel al-Adraa wrote for +972 Magazine:

“Our expulsion from Masafer Yatta has never ceased over the last two decades. Lacking the ability to expel everyone at once, like in 1999, the army has tried to slowly dispossess us. To immiserate us until we leave. Every year, I have watched as Israeli soldiers seal our wells, cut water lines, and destroy the roads that connect our villages. The dangerous road conditions here are a constant reminder of a racist reality governed by an army that denies us our ability to live on our land legally. Even our vehicles are confiscated by soldiers when they feel like it. Our lives have become nearly impossible. We want to build families and homes, but know the army will destroy those as well.”

Settlers Construct New Outpost on World Heritage Site in Battir

In the early morning hours of March 14th, a group of settlers accompanied by Israeli soldiers set up a new outpost on a piece of land in the Palestinian village of Battir, located near Bethlehem, on land that is registered UNESCO world heritage site. Settlers reportedly moved in two caravans, a large tent, and sheep – suggesting an intent to establish a so-called agricultural outpost. The sheep pen was reportedly removed from the area on the same day it was brought in. 

Since the outpost was set up, Middle East Eye reports that Israeli soldiers have been continuously patrolling the area to prevent any Palestinians from approaching the site – and attacking those who attempt to protest the new outpost. This is the fourth time settlers have attempted to establish an outpost in the area of Battir.

An local activist from Battir, Hassan Muamer, explained the settlers strategy:

“The settlers want to connect these two outposts [the new outpost and an outpost established in 2019 in the nearby Al-Makhrour Valley] together, and confiscate hundreds of acres of land in the process..This is all part of their plan, to shorten the distance between the two outposts, confiscate more land, and eventually connect these outposts to the settlements of Har Gilo, Gilo, and Gush Etzion, creating a massive settlement bloc that extends from Jerusalem, through Bethlehem, all the way to Hebron.”

Peace Now said in a statement:

 “It is no coincidence that this illegal outpost is established while most of the public’s attention is drawn towards the war in Ukraine. The current government has already failed several times in stopping a handful of settlers in Eviatar, Homesh, and other places and has refrained from evicting illegal outposts immediately upon their establishment. The government must not fail this time, so the outpost will not be established.”

Ma’aleh Adumim to Challenge Government of Delay of E-1 Settlement Construction

The Jerusalem Post reports that the settlement council of Ma’aleh Adumim is preparing to submit an appeal against the State of Israel for delaying construction of the E-1 settlement, contending that Prime Minister Bennett and Defense Minister Gantz lack the authority to freeze the plans at this stage. The petition will be submitted to the Jerusalem Local Court, according to the report.

As a reminder, the E-1 settlement plan remains on the precipice of construction. In January 2022, the Bennett government intervened to stop a key hearing on the project. At the time, reports suggested that the political echelon had put on “indefinite hold” on the plan, largely due to U.S. pressure. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides seemed to confirm that U.S. pressure was exerted at that time to stop E-1 from moving forward, telling Peace Now recently:

“I went full board [sic] on E1… It is a very important area which if [built] could cut off any possibility of a capital for the Palestinians.”

Also 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, including Khan al-Ahmar, which Israel has already undertaken to forcibly displace (many attempts). 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 the latter criticism has long been to argue that Palestinians don’t need territorial contiguity, and that new roads can instead provide “transportational continuity.” To this end, Israel has already built the so-called “Sovereignty Road” – a sealed road that enables Palestinians to pass through, but not to enter, the E-1 area. That road is wholly under Israel’s control (meaning Israel can cut off Palestinian passage through it at any time). In January 2021, then-Prime Minister  Netanyahu promised to increase funding for the “Sovereignty Road” as part of the drive to get E-1 built.

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, when 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 the 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.

This Week in Settler Terrorism

On March 14th, an Israeli-licensed car drove into an IDF checkpoint, in an apparent attack, near the illegal Homesh outpost, lightly injuring two Israeli soldiers. It’s unclear what happened next, as the IDF has not said if the perpetrator – who is thought to be an Israeli settler, given the license plate on the car – was arrested. What is clear is that the IDF did not respond with lethal force, as is almost always the case when Israeli soldiers perceive themselves to be under attack by a car driven by a Palestinians.

This week’s apparent car ramming attack transpired two days after settlers from the site of the former settlement of Homesh (which is supposed to be a closed military zone) arrived at the checkpoint to stage a stone-throwing attack on Palestinian cars. The settlers ended up battling IDF soldiers who attempted to stop their terrorism. An IDF soldier subsequently filed a complaint with the Israeli police about the incident.

Elsewhere, Israel arrested two settlers on suspicion of involvement in vandalism and destruction of Palestinian property in the village of Fara’ata on March 15th. One of the detained settlers serves as the security coordinator for the Gilad outpost, and the second arrestee is a bodyguard. Following the arrest and remand of the settlers, security coordinators for various other Israeli settlements and outposts announced they will be going on strike.

It’s also worth noting that Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed an order this week to place an unnamed 21-year old settler under administration detention on suspicion of involvement with terrorism against Palestinians and Israelis. Though administrative detention is a familiar military tool used to keep Palestinians incarcerated without charge, Haaretz reports this will be the first such order signed against an Israeli since February 2020.  There are currently 490 Palestinians being held as administrative detainees according to Addameer.

The detained settler is believed to be from the Givat Ronen outpost, an outpost from which settlers attacked Palestinians and Israeli activists who were planting trees on privately owned Palestinian land near the village of Burin in the northern West Bank in January 2022. Footage of the attack shows settlers wielding clubs, throwing stones, and burning a car — in the process injuring six people. Following the attack, the Israeli authorities delivered demolition notices to five structures at the Givat Ronen outpost (also known as Sneh Ya’akov), where the attackers are believed to be illegally living. The notices were posted on January 23rd.

Subsequently, the apparently undaunted settlers attacked an IDF soldier during riots near the Givat Ronen outpost. Haaretz reports that dozens of settlers participated in the attack, which included stone throwing and tear gassing Israeli troops.

Kerem Navot – an anti-settlement watchdog – provides critical history on the Givat Ronen outpost and how violence is at the center of settlers’ drive to takeover Palestinian land, tweeting:

“The outpost of ‘Givat Ronen,’ known also as ‘Sneh Yaakov,’ is named after the man who founded it in 1998–Ronen Arusi…Givat Ronen is one of two outposts located around the isolated, violent, and extremist settlement of Har Bracha, which was established overlooking the city of Nablus in 1983. Givat Ronen is located about a kilometer south of the settlement…The two outposts surrounding this settlement (like all outposts in the West Bank) are used for the same function: to take over land surrounding the settlement. In this case, the lands of the village of Burin. The approach is simple: you build an outpost on land that was looted by the state by declaring it to be “state land”; from there you continue to take over cultivated agricultural land surrounding the outpost by way of violence ​​most of which were previously cultivated by Palestinians. In practice, as a result of the settler violence that is backed by the army, Palestinians are not able to access any of this land, or any of the land within the much larger area around the settlement covering about 5,400 dunams that this land is located in, unless they work in construction in the settlement of Har Bracha. The scumbags who carried out this pogrom below the outpost have learned this tactic well: employing murderous violence in order to increase the size of the territory that Palestinians cannot enter. They have every reason in the world to assume that in this case, as in every case, no one will bother to leverage the law against them.”

U.S. Ambassador Has Harsh Words for Settlements, But Admits Some Construction Will Proceed

Speaking to a virtual event organized by Americans Peace Now, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides called Israeli settlement construction “infuriating” and “stupid.” Nides, while deriding the settlement growth, conceded that the U.S cannot (or will not?) stop Israel from all settlement construction,  saying:

“We can’t do stupid things that impede us for a two-state solution…We can’t have the Israelis doing settlement growth in east Jerusalem or the West Bank. I’m a bit of a nag on this, including the idea of settlement growth – which infuriates me, when they do things – just infuriates the situation, both in east Jerusalem and the West Bank… [I] would be lying [if he said that it was possible to avert] every single house that is built. I can’t stop everything, just so we are clear.”

Bonus Reads

  1. Major New Developments: Plans being advanced around the Old City and the Court verdict regarding Sheikh Jarrah evictions” (Terrestrial Jerusalem)
  2. “Instead of Army Service, Israel Allows People to Volunteer at Illegal West Bank Outposts” (Haaretz)
  3. “US envoy looks to bolster West Bank economy with 4G service, tech offerings” (The Times of Israel)
  4. “PA complains to US over ‘settler terrorism’” (Arutz Sheva)