Settlement & Annexation Report: March 29, 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 29, 2024

  1. Israel to Legalize Ahiya Outpost, Framing it as a Neighborhood of the Shilo Settlement
  2. Israel Expedites New West Bank Road for Settlers, Foreshadowing Mass Expansion of Settlement Growth West of Ramallah
  3. U.S. Undercuts Its Own Sanctions on Settlers, Says Israel Banks Can Continue Hosting Accounts
  4. Haaretz Reveals Mortgage Fraud Behind Some Outposts Construction
  5. Palestinian NGOs Issue Alert on Israeli Crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem
  6. The Health & Psychological Impacts of Settler Terrorism
  7. Settlement Wastewater is Damaging Palestinian Land, Livelihood & Contributing to Forcible Displacement
  8. Bonus Reads

Israel to Legalize Ahiya Outpost, Framing it as a Neighborhood of the Shilo Settlement

Peace Now reports that the Israeli Civil Administration announced that it will grant retroactive authorization to the Ahiya outpost by massively expanding the jurisdiction of the Shilo settlement to include the land on which the outpost was illegally constructed. The outpost is not contiguous with the built up area of the Shile outpost, and is more properly understood to be a new outpost, not simply an expansion of an existing one. 

Peace Now explains:

“According to Peace Now’s estimation, the decision to approve the outpost of Ahiya as a neighborhood of Shilo rather than a new settlement is intended to prevent international criticism and the need to pass the decision in the security cabinet. On the other hand, the decision serves Minister Smotrich, who in the past month has exerted increased authority over settlements and declared a record number of dunams as state lands, promoted thousands of housing units, and more. In 2023, Israel approved five outposts as new settlement neighborhoods, reaching a record number of 15 outposts approved as settlements in 2023. In 2018, Minister Smotrich proposed legislation to regulate approximately 70 outposts as settlements. Since assuming office, he has announced several initiatives to achieve this objective.”

The Shilo settlement is located  in the heart of the northern West Bank, in the Shiloh Valley, in an area of settlements that are designed to form an uninterrupted corridor of Israeli control connecting sovereign Israel to the Ariel settlement, through the isolated Shiloh Valley settlements, all the way to the Jordan Valley. In so doing, It will completely bisect the northern part of the West Bank. 

The Shiloh settlement has spun off several illegal outposts (Amichai, Adei Ad, Shvut Rachel) which have systematically been added to the Shilo settlement by expanding the settlements borders, a move which rewards illegal construction and land theft and further encourages it. This pattern is exemplified by the Amihai outpost. 

The Amichai settlement was approved for construction in 2017, making it (at that time) the first new settlement formally approved by the Israeli government in 25 years. Aerial imagery from 2021 show the massive growth Amichai has enjoyed in the years that followed its establishment, a previously empty hilltop with cultivated fields nearby have been transformed into a sizable suburban neighborhood. In addition to new construction, Amichai was also massively expanded, subsequent to its initial construction, when the Israeli Civil Administration announced that its plan to retroactively legalize the Adei Ad outpost by significantly expanding the borders of the Amichai settlement to turn Adei Ad into a (non-contiguous) neighborhood. In effect, this was a slight-of-hand by Israel to turn the Adei Ad outpost into an entirely new official, legal settlement. In 2013, Israel allocated additional land near the Amichai settlement to the World Zionist Organization, in order to expand the settlement. This has all come at the continued cost to Palestinians from the nearby village of Turmus Ayya on whose land Amichai was established and whom settlers from the Amichai outpost and others nearby routinely harass and terrorize.

In a statement, Peace Now says:

“Establishing another settlement is the last thing Israel needs. Deepening Israeli presence in the West Bank serves only a small and extremist group in Israel and harms the entire Israeli public. The Israeli government, under Minister Smotrich’s leadership, continues to evade a political solution and imposes facts on the ground that will escalate violence and deepen the dispossession and oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Israel Expedites New West Bank Road for Settlers, Foreshadowing Mass Expansion of Settlement Growth West of Ramallah

Peace Now reports that Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Transportation Minister Miri Regev announced plan to fast-track the planning and construction of a new road for settlers in the West Bank, designed to connect the Gush Talmonim settlement area west of Ramallah to Route 443. This road will give the settlements in this area (including Dolev, Almon, Haresha, and others) a more direct route to Jerusalem through Palestinian land, which Israel will expropriate. – and, according to Peace Now, will facilitate the massive expansion of the Gush Talmonim settlement by the tens of thousands.

Peace Now writes:

“The Gush Talmonim Road – Route 443 is an extremely dangerous project for the area west to Ramallah. Its construction will create a wide and densely populated settlement bloc, exacerbating friction between settlers and Palestinians and further complicating a political solution. The road will not reduce violence in the area but rather escalate it to new heights. The political solution lies not in such illogical roads but in a political horizon and hope for both peoples.”

U.S. Undercuts Its Own Sanctions on Settlers, Says Israel Banks Can Continue Hosting Accounts

According to reporting by the Times of Israel, this week the U.S. government sent a letter to the Israeli Finance Ministry saying that, in effect, Israeli banks can maintain accounts for the seven individuals sanctioned by the U.S. government without facing repercussions. The letter is reported to have stated that the sanctions were not intended to cut off sanctioned individuals from all of their assets, only from international/foreign transactions, and that the individuals should be permitted access to their bank accounts for basic purchases.

The letter was prompted by a series of events stemming from recently announced sanctions on Israeli settlers who have participated in violence against Palestinians. Following the U.S.’s announcement, several European countries (and possibly the EU) followed suit, and Israeli banks moved to close accounts for those individuals in fear of being locked out of international banking systems for violating sanctions. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, seeking retaliation against the banks for the decision to close the accounts, threatened to take steps to cut Palestinian banking off from Israeli banks (the Palestinian economy operates in shekels and is largely dependent on the Israeli banking sector). 

Muhammad Shehada, Chief of Communications at the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, posted on X: 

“Biden quietly reverses the (feckless) sanctions he put on 7 individual settlers, removing the freeze on their accounts & effectively emptying the sanctions of any practical content according to Israel Hayom! It was purely a PR stunt all along to whitewash his complicity in Gaza.”

Tariq Habash, a former political apointee in the U.S. Department of Education who recently resigned in protest of the Biden Administration’s Israel policy, posted:

The Biden Admin has now eroded the primary policy to deter illegal settlement expansions in the West Bank, undermining the entire purpose of issuing sanctions and compromising U.S. policy yet again.”

Hugh Lovatt, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, posted on X:

“Once again, the U.S. is scared of its own bark and inherently unable to put any meaningful pressure on Israel.  It has promised to undermine the potency of its (secondary) sanctions regime.  What could potentially have turned into a game changer is now barely an inconvenience.”

Former J Street lobbyist Dylan Williams posted:

“Between this bizarre move to ease the impact of sanctions on violent settlers and accepting Israel’s patently false assurance that it’s following US and international law per NSM-20, the Biden administration is regressing when it comes to standing up for US interests with Israel.”

Haaretz Reveals Mortgage Fraud Behind Some Outposts Construction

Haaretz and Kerem Navot recently revealed a pattern or mortgage fraud behind the construction of some outposts. The investigation shows that Israeli banks issue mortgages to settlers for the construction of homes in a settlement (with specific land parcel numbers recorded), but the actual construction happens elsewhere – thereby enabling the costly construction of outposts. The complicity/knowledge of the banks in issuing these mortgages is unclear and different for each case – but it is clear that the World Zionist Organization is deeply involved in these dealings.

Most flagrantly, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich – who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry overseeing settlement affairs – himself engaged in this fraud. He took a mortgage for a lot in the Kedumim settlement, but built the house on totally unrelated land located outside the settlement’s zoning plan. 

In addition, Yehuda Eliyahu – who Smotrich appointed as head of the Settlement Administration that Smotrich created – also participated in this scheme. He received a 2004 mortgage on a land parcel in the Neria settlement, but built in what is now called the Haresha outpost.

Dror Etkes, founder of the Kerem Navot settlement watchdog group, told Haaretz: 

“The two main protagonists of this story, Finance Minister Smotrich and his longtime friend-partner Yehuda Eliyahu, together with their friends in the settlement department, were part of a group of settlers who obtained mortgages while misleading the banks. This may be the reason why 11 years later, as an MK, it was so important for Smotrich to exempt the activity of the settlement department from the Freedom of Information Act.

Palestinian NGOs Issue Alert on Israeli Crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem

Amidst ongoing genocide in Gaza, the three preeminent Palestinian human rights groups – Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, and the Palsetinian Center for Human Rights, have issued a new report on spike in Israeli violations and crimes in the West Bank in the first months of 2024. These crimes include extrajudicial killings, attacks on medical personnel, raids and arrests, demolitions and land razings, land confiscation, settlement expansion, settler violence, and more.

In conclusion, the groups write:

“Our organizations believe that the main target of the Israeli crimes and violations in the West Bank is the existence of the Palestinian people in Mandatory Palestine, for the purpose of entrenching the Zionist settler-colonial project. This is particularily evident in Gaza as well, where the Israeli military aggression has led to the forced displacement of approximately 1.9 million Palestinians within the Gaza Strip amid systematic targeting and destruction, rendering the Strip unlivable and thereby forcing its people to flee. The absence of accountability and concrete enforcement of international law, the international community’s inaction and third states’ complicity are fueling the continuation of Israel’s settler-colonial project and ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Our organizations emphasize that these crimes and violations would not have continued without Israel’s long-enjoyed impunity and third states failure to hold perpetrators accountable and put an end to these crimes, according to Common Article 1 of the Four Geneva Conventions and Articles 146 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Our organizations also call upon the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to expedite the investigation into the situation in Palestine initiated more than two years ago and issue arrest warrants  to hold the perpetrators accountable for these crimes, particularly the ongoing genocide in the Gaza Strip.

As Israel attempts to eliminate the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination, our organizations reiterate that addressing the situation in Palestine requires tackling the root causes of the Palestinian struggle, emphasizing that the international community and the United Nations member states hold the primary responsibility for the violence in Palestine through their inaction and complicity in Israel’s systematic and widespread violations. We urge the international community to assume its responsibilities to stop the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people.”

The Health & Psychological Impacts of Settler Terrorism

Physicians for Human Rights has released a new report detailing the multifaceted trauma inflicted on Palestinians in the West Bank by settler terrorism. PHRI writes in the intro:

For over five years, we’ve been flooded with reports chronicling settler violence. However, this worn-out term obscures a grim reality: life beside settler outposts and farms entail daily exposure to oppressive and coercive mechanisms, systemic discrimination, and a continuous sense of insecurity and fear. Our latest position paper explores how constant exposure to such routine violence is detrimental to the health of Palestinians, highlighting the social and psychological repercussions.”

The paper can be downloaded here.

Settlement Wastewater is Damaging Palestinian Land, Livelihood & Contributing to Forcible Displacement

The Norwegian Refugee Committee has issued a new report on the damage that settlement wastewater is inflicting on Palestinian land and livelihoods. The organization investigated two sites in the West Bank and found human sewage and animal waste flowing from settlements into Palestinian land, destroying crops and land. This, in turn, severely impacts the productivity of Palestinian agriculture, and contributes to the many pressures from Israeli settlers and the government which force Palestinians off their land. The Israeli Water Authority is responsible for water and sewage management for settlements in the West Bank.

One Palestinian farmer who has land close to Immanuel settlement industrial zone, told NRC:

 “Wastewater has extensively flooded my land. A salt layer now covers the soil, significantly impacting the quality of the produced oil from my olive groves. Olive trees each used to yield no less than 25 kilograms of olives, but today production has dropped by half.” 

Samah Hadid, NRC’s Middle East and North Africa Head of Advocacy said

“Israel’s settlements routinely contaminate critical water systems and agricultural lands with wastewater, exacerbating environmental risks, further destabilising the already fragile Palestinian economy, and heightening the likelihood of various diseases like diarrhoea and kidney failure.”

In 2017, B’Tselem published a comprehensive report criticizing the illegal Israeli practice of exporting its waste to the occupied territories. The report provides more context for the extent to which hazardous wastewater poses significant damage to Palestinian land and futures. The report says: 

“Israel regards the facilities built in the West Bank as part of its local waste management system, yet it applies less rigorous regulatory standards there than it does inside its own territory. Whereas polluting plants located within Israel are subject to progressive air pollution control legislation, polluting plants in the industrial zones of settlements are subject to virtually no restrictions. Moreover, the facilities in settlements are not required to report on the amount of waste they process, the hazards their operation pose, or the measures they adopt to prevent – or at least reduce – these risks. B’Tselem sent requests for information on these matters to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Civil Administration. The requests have gone unanswered.

…For many years, Israel has been taking advantage of its power as occupier to transfer the treatment of waste (including hazardous waste) and sewage from its sovereign territory to the West Bank. To that end, it has created a situation in which environmental legislation in the West Bank is much laxer than inside Israel, conveniently overlooking the long-term impact of environmental hazards on the Palestinian population and on natural resources, and neglecting to prepare future rehabilitation plans. This has created a financial incentive to transfer the treatment of environmental hazards from Israel to the West Bank. The Palestinians who live in the occupied territory are the ones to pay the price for this environmental damage, even though they were never asked their opinion on the matter and although, as a population under occupation, they have no political power and no real ability to resist.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israeli settlers step up attacks on Palestinian farms, expanding West Bank outposts” (NPR)
  2. “In a West Bank settlement, Israelis tend red cows and plan the Third Temple” (Middle East Eye)