Settlement & Annexation Report: March 22, 2024


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

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March 22, 2024

  1. Jordan Valley, Part 1: Israel Declares Massive Swathe of Land in Jordan Valley as “State Land”
  2. Jordan Valley, Part 2: Israel Expands Three West Bank Nature Reserves – Including an Outpost in the Jordan Valley
  3. Jordan Valley, Part 3: B’Tselem Documents Post-Oct 7th Acceleration of Settler-Terrorism in the Jordan Valley
  4. HR Group Petitions for the Demolition of Outpost Affiliated with U.S.-Sanctioned Settler
  5. Smotrich Moving to Appoint Settler as Top Dog on Outposts Demolitions, Over the Authority of High-Ranking Military Authorities
  6. Bonus Reads: Sanctions
  7. Bonus Reads

Jordan Valley, Part 1: Israel Declares Massive Swathe of Land in Jordan Valley as “State Land”

Peace Now reports that the Israeli Ministry of Defence is prepared to announce the declaration of 2,000 acres (8,000 dunams) in the northern Jordan Valley near the Yafit settlement as “state land”. According to Peace Now, this is the largest declaration of “state land” since the Oslo Accords were signed.

Peace Now explains

The declaration of state land is one of the main methods by which the State of Israel seeks to assert control over land in the occupied territories. Land declared as state land is no longer considered privately owned by Palestinians in the eyes of Israel, and they are prevented from using it. Additionally, the state leases state land exclusively to Israelis.

This declaration comes just a few weeks after Israel issued another “state land” declaration, for 652 acres of land east of Jerusalem between the Ma’ale Adumim and Keidar settlements.

Jordan Valley, Part 2: Israel Expands Three West Bank Nature Reserves – Including an Outpost in the Jordan Valley

Haaretz reports that the Israeli Civil Administration has signed orders expanding the boundaries of three nature reserves in the West Bank, a move which not only closes off more West Bank land from Palestinians, but is also designed to include an illegal outpost. Under Israeli law, no construction is allowed to occur in areas designated as a nature reserve. 

Two of the nature reserves – Umm Zuka and Petza’el, are located in the Jordan Valley. The third, Kana and Samar, is located near the northern shore of the Dead Sea.

The illegal outpost Havat Ori/Ori’s Farm is now included within the expanded boundaries of the Umm Zuka nature reserve in the northern Jordan Valley. Over the past few years, the outpost – which grazes herds of cattle – has already successfully forced Palestinians off of large amounts of land in its vicinity while facing no enforcement against its illegal construction. In the past, when the IDF has been called to assist Palestinian herders in their struggle to graze cattle in the area, Israeli soldiers have removed Paelstinians from their land and confiscated their cattle (a practice which Yesh Din has recently filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to stop). The settlers, even when entering a nearby firing zone, have been protected and allowed to continue taking over more land and entrenching their illegally constructed outpost.

The story is repeated throughout the Jordan Valley and the West Bank, as so-called “herding outposts” have proven to be extremely successful and efficient way for a small number of settlers (and their cattle) to take over a large amount of land.

In 2019, a group of Israeli human rights activists petitioned the Israeli High Court to revoke the special status of the Umm Zuka nature reserve and firing zone in the West Bank, saying the Israel’s designation of the land as a protected area has only served as a pretext to remove Palestinians and allow settlers to take over. Part of the petition cited the impacts of an unauthorized outpost near Umm Zaka, which had essentially turned the wilderness area into a private settler park where Palestinians are not allowed to enter. The Civil Administration spokesperson told Haaretz that it is undertaken unspecified “enforcement proceedings” against the unauthorized outpost.

After the petition was filed, Israeli lawyer Eitay Mack who made the filing, told Haaretz:

“the reserve and the firing zone have effectively become a private settler farm that receives personal security service from Israel Defense Forces soldiers and bars entry to the farm’s enormous territory on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, religion and political opinions.”

Jordan Valley, Part 3: B’Tselem Documents Post-Oct 7th Acceleration of Settler-Terrorism in the Jordan Valley

In a new paper and accompanying video, B’Tselem documents how settlers and the Israeli government have “ramped up efforts to drive Palestinian shepherding communities out of the northern Jordan Valley.” The paper documents testimonies from Palestinian communities at risk of forced displacement, and unpacks several methods employed by settlers and the Israeli government pushing their removal. Those methods are: land takeover, settler violence, travel restrictions, soldier violence, and harassment by the settler regional council.

B’Tselem writes:

Since the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October 2023, Israel has stepped up its efforts to drive dozens of Palestinian shepherding communities in the northern Jordan Valley out of their homes and lands. Through cooperation and collaboration among the military, police, settlers and the Jordan Valley Regional Council, Israel has reduced grazing areas available to Palestinians, blocked regular water supply and took measures to isolate the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank. This policy is nothing new. Israel has been undermining these communities’ subsistence for decades, in part, by denying Palestinians’ access to nearly 80% of the Jordan Valley declared as firing zones, nature reserves or the municipal area of settlements. Israel uses these zoning declarations to justify its refusal to approve building plans that would allow residents of these pastoral communities to build homes legally and connect to water and electricity infrastructure. On top of this, with full backing and protection from the military and the police, settlers subject residents of these communities to severe violence on a daily basis. This policy imposes impossible living conditions on Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley.”

HR Group Petitions for the Demolition of Outpost Affiliated with U.S.-Sanctioned Settler

While the reach and impact of U.S.-led sanctions against Israeli seven settlers and two illegal outposts continues to grow, the Israeli anti-settlement group Torat Tzedek and five Palestinian landowners have filed a petition with the High Court of Justice seeking the demolition of the HaMahoch Farm outpost, which is affiliated with an Israeli settler (Neriya Ben Pazi) who was recently sanctioned by the U.S. government.  The outpost, located east of Ramallah, was not one of the two outposts also sanctioned. 

Neriya Ben Pazi and his associates are alleged to have organized and participated in a particularly gruesome attack and subsequent torturing of Palestinians who were in the process of abandoning the Wadi al-Seeq village (having chosen to abandon their longtime homes in light of routine and severe harassment by settlers). 

TIn addition to calling for the HaMahoch Farm outpost to be demolished, the petition asks the Court to order the IDF and Civil Administration to adopt a protocol that prioritizes enforcement actions (evacuation and demolition) of any/all outposts which are a staging ground for violent settlers should be a high priority for demolition. Though the IDF apparently has criteria for prioritizing along these lines, it has not translated to practice. The Times of Israel reports that in May 2023 Bezalel Smotrich intervened to stop the Israeli Civil Administration from demolishing the HaMahoch Farm outpost in May 2023.

Torat Tzedek, led by Rabbi Arik Ascherman, alleged in its petition:

These settlers have constantly and daily attacked and harassed Palestinian residents who use private Palestinian lands in the area, harming them, their animals and their property, destroying trees and vegetation, and causing them to abandon the area after decades in which these territories were cultivated and used by Palestinians. Even after the departure, the settlers continue to harass and loot the property of the Palestinians, to invade the private lands and prevent the return of the Palestinians to the area.”

Rabbi Ascherman further explains:

“Because of him and the series of outposts he has set up since 2019, there are thousands of dunams of land where Bedouin who’ve lived there for 40 years are no longer there. What is new about this petition is that it challenges the standard defense by the state that it carries out the demolition of illegal structures according to a [pre-determined] timetable.”

Smotrich Moving to Appoint Settler as Top Dog on Outposts Demolitions, Over the Authority of High-Ranking Military Authorities

Haaretz reports that Bezalel Smotrich – who serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry who oversees the Settlement Administration, enjoying near unchecked authority over Area C -plans to install one of his allies as a Deputy head of the Civil Administration. The move is seen as a reaction to the Civil Administration’s enforcement of building law against unauthorized outposts, which Smotrich wants to protect and authorize as settlements. In recent weeks, the Civil Administration has dismantled two outposts (1, 2 and 3).

Haaretz explains that in tandem with the installation of his ally, Smotrich wants to force Israeli district brigade commanders to explain any/all decisions to demolish structures in settlements and outposts. This would subordinate high ranking IDF personnel to a civilian, political appointee.

That appointee is reportedly set to be Hillel Roth, who lives in the Yitzhar settlement – which is notoriously violent and defiant of Israeli enforcement actions against its illegal activities.

Bonus Reads: Sanctions

There was a tremendous amount of analysis and news regarding international sanctions on settlers and outposts. Including a few:

  • “From Drones to Construction: U.S. Sanctions Liable to Hurt Donations to Illegal West Bank Outposts” (Haaretz)
  • “The Settler-run Government Is Mortgaging Israel’s Future(Haaretz Editorial Board) Excerpt: “These measures are highly significant. However, because the criminal settler infrastructure is deep, and it has many accomplices, these sanctions are only the start of dismantling the occupation and settlement enterprise.”
  • How will new US sanctions impact the illegal West Bank farming outposts they target?”​​ (The Times of Israel)
  • “Israeli minister calls for expanding West Bank settlement activity due to EU sanctions” (Al Andalou)

Bonus Reads

  1. “How Israeli settlers are expanding illegal outposts amid Gaza war” (Al Jazeera)
  2. “Israeli study says settlement policy in occupied West Bank’s ‘Area C’ has failed” (The New Arab)
  3. [INSANE headline alert] “The grandmother who wants to lead Israelis back to a Gaza without Palestinians” (CNN)
  4. “​​’Israeli Settlers Can Now Do Whatever They Please. They Want to Drive Off Those Who Live There’” (Haaretz)
  5. “Delayed Ambulances and Traffic Holdups: Israeli Army Blocks Entry to West Bank Villages Since Start of Gaza War” (Haaretz)
  6. “The Israeli public is dispirited. So why is the right euphoric?” (+972 Magazine)