Settlement & Annexation Report: May 19, 2023


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

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May 19, 2023

  1. Peace Now Reports: 613 New Settlement Units Advanced, Including Tender for A New Settlement – “Ariel West”
  2. March of Flags Expanded Route
  3. Gallant Orders IDF To Allow Israeli Jews to Reestablish Homesh Outpost & Yeshiva
  4. Smotrich is Leading a Push to Double Settler Population
  5. Al Walajah Checkpoint Construction Blocks Palestinians from Land
  6. Settler Visit to Joseph’s Tomb Causes Conflict
  7. MKs Oppose New Section of Security Wall, Say it Will Divide Settlements from Israel
  8. Bonus Reads

Peace Now Reports: 613 New Settlement Units Advanced, Including Tender for A New Settlement – “Ariel West”

Peace Now reports that Israeli planning authorities convened on May 17th to advance plans for a total of 613 new settlement units, including a move by the Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction to re-publish a tender for the construction of 58 units constituting a new “neighborhood” of the Ariel settlement which is, in effect, a new settlement. The Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee also convened on the 17th and is expected to have issued final approval to a plan for 552 units in the Givat Ze’ev settlement, and also to have deposited for public review a plan for 2 more units in Givat Ze’ev as well as a plan for 1 new unit in the Itamar settlement (final confirmation of the Committee’s decision was not available at the time of publication). Peace Now warns that construction could commence quickly on the plan to build 552 new units in the Givat Ze’ev settlement because a contractor has already been selected. Givat Ze’ev is located south of Ramallah in an area that is on the Israeli side of the barrier.

The Ministry of Housing and Construction’s issuance of a tender to build 58 units in the Ariel settlement is final approval to build a brand new settlement, dubbed “Ariel West.” Plans for the Ariel West settlement were first made public in November 2021, after the tenders were issued under the guise of a plan to “expand” the Ariel settlement [for more on how this plan was kept quiet, see Peace Now’s detailed history]. The units for the new Ariel West settlement will be built on a hilltop located 1.2 miles away from Ariel, in an area that is non-contiguous with the built-up area of the current Ariel settlement. The new settlement will be directly adjacent to the Palestinian village of Salfit, further limiting the future development of Salfit and restricting Palestinian agricultural workers’ access to land, as illustrated in this video by Peace Now. [map]

Peace Now said in a statement

“It is clear that annexing the West Bank is the main agenda of the Israeli government. Promoting more than 600 housing units in settlements, among them a tender for the construction ‘Ariel West’, an entirely new settlement established under the official guise of a neighborhood an Ariel settlement, joins previous devastating annexationist decisions advancing annexation, made by the government, such the decision to legalise 15 outposts, the advancement of nearly 10,000 housing units in settlements, the cancelation of the disengagement law from the North part of the West Bank, the promotion of the apartheid road east of Jerusalem and the transfer of powers from the military to Minister Smotrich. Each decision alone demonstrates that the government is acting with an intention to annex the occupied territory, prevent the possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian State, and to escalate tensions between Palestinians and Israel.”

March of Flags Expanded Route

Tens of thousands of ultra-nationalist extremist Israeli Jews participated in the annual Jerusalem Day “Flag March” through Jerusalem in celebration of Israel’s (illegal) annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. The parade drew security support from over 3,200 Israeli security forces and aerial drones, which sealed off the route of the parade and shuttered large parts of Jerusalem for Palestinians. The parade poses an annual threat of erupting into large-scale violence because it is a direct provocation – which Israeli lawmakers egg on and participate in – against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Israeli Jews participating in the parade chant Jewish Supremacist slogans and anti-Palestinian slurs including “Death to Arabs” and “May Your Village Burn,” the latter of which is particularly horrific given the pogrom Israeli settlers committed against the Palestinian village of Huwara earlier this year.

This year the Israeli government extended the route of the Flag March, which Haaretz estimated to impact at least an additional 50,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. The longer route will include stops at two East Jerusalem settlement compounds, bringing the parade for the first time through the Palestinian neighborhood of A-Tur and near the village of Ras Al-Amud. Haaretz also reports that march organizers will hold tours in Sheikh Jarrah.

Ir Amim’s Yudith Oppenheimer explained the motivation of the marchers:

“At the parade’s core lies an ideology that Palestinians ought to be humiliated and pushed to their limit; they should be reminded at every moment that they live in an occupied city where they have no authority and no place; every reaction by Palestinians must be exploited to justify increased use of force and establish more facts on the ground.This is why the parade organizers and their sponsors insist on the route going through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter. And if necessary, may our city burn just to prove it.”

The Haaretz Editorial Board wrote:

“The essence of the Flag March is to poke a finger in the eye of the city’s Palestinian inhabitants, to humiliate them and to drive home the fact that 40 percent of the residents of Israel’s capital live under occupation. Absurdly, the march actually underscores the fragility of Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. It takes place under heavy security provided by thousands of police officers, after the police impose severe restrictions on the Palestinian public and merchants.”

Gallant Orders IDF To Allow Israeli Jews to Reestablish Homesh Outpost & Yeshiva

On Wednesday May 17th, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issued an order instructing the head of the IDF Central Command – Yehuda Fuchs – to sign a military order that makes it legal for Israeli Jews to enter and reside in the area of the Homesh settlement in the northern West Bank, including the Homesh settlement which settlers have been pushing to reestablish. The military order is needed even after the Knesset repealed clauses of the 2005 Disengagement Law in March 2023, which it did explicitly in order to facilitate the reestablishment of the Homesh settlement which was dismantled under the law, along with three other settlements in the area.

The Knesset’s repeal of the Disengagement Law faced international criticism, which Prime Minister Netanyahu, at the time, assuaged by issuing a statement that his government has ““no intention of establishing new settlements in the area.” 

The U.S. State Department issued a statement to Israel Hayom in reaction to Gallant;s order, reiterating opposition to the reestablishment of Homesh, saying:

“The United States strongly urges Israel to refrain from allowing the return of Israeli settlers to the area covered by the legislation passed in March, consistent with both former PM [Ariel] Sharon’s and the current Israeli government’s commitments to the United States…We have been clear that advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and the achievement of a two-state solution. This certainly includes creating new settlements, building or legalizing outposts, or allowing building of any kind on private Palestinian land or deep in the West Bank adjacent to Palestinian communities”

Further reports suggest Gallant and Smotrich are working on a plan to build the Homesh settlement on a small plot of “state land” in the settlement’s former location, which was built almost entirely on land that belongs to (and is recognized by Israel as registered as belonging to) Palestinian owners. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din noted that the repeal of clauses related to Homesh in the Disengagement Law did not change the legal status of the land, and did not create a legal option for reestablishing the Homesh settlement there. Smotrich and Gallant are apparently advancing a plan to build Homesh on the small parcel of “state land” in the area, which in effect will allow settlers – and the security apparatus that enables, accompanies, and entrenches their presence – to retain total control over the Homesh area even though the land is privately owned by Paelstinians.

As a reminder, even after the Homesh settlement was dismantled in 2005, control over the land was never returned to its owners. The area was instead declared by the Israeli army to be a closed military zone, with Palestinains, including the owners of the land, barred from access. The Palestinians owners have been fighting for the right to access their own land since 2009, with no success. At the same time, the Israeli army allowed Jewish Israeli settlers to access the area regularly, and even permitted the settlers to illegally (under Israeli law) establish a religious school and settlement outpost at the site. Rather than enforce Israel’s own laws against the settlers, the current Israeli government has agreed to grant retroactive approval to the settlers’ illegal presence, the first step towards doing so being the aforementioned repeal of clauses in the Disengagement Law that make any Israeli presence there illegal. A

Smotrich is Leading a Push to Double Settler Population 

Haaretz reports that since Bezalel Smotrich was granted vast authority over civil affairs in the West Bank, he has set out to initiate wide-scale planning to add 500,000 new settlers, essentially doubling the current number of Isarelis living in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem). This push includes orders to improve the infrastructure for every settlement and outposts (regardless of legal status) within the next two years. Smotrich is also pursuing ways by which to make it easier for settlers to cross into Israel without the hassle imposed on currently by the checkpoint system.

Haaretz further reports that Defense officials are expected to oppose Smotrich’s planning, even though detailed information has not yet been provided. In addition to security challenges to Smotrich’s plan, he also lacks the massive budget that such an effort would require.

Al Walajah Checkpoint Construction Blocks Palestinians from Land

Ir Amim reports that the Jerusalem Municipality has formally announced the start of work on a project to relocate a key IDF checkpoint leading to the Palestinian village of Al-Walajah, a village which is located on (and partially within) the southern perimeter of Jerusalem’s expanded municipal borders. The effort to move the checkpoint closer to the built-up area of Al-Walajah is part of the Israeli government’s long running effort to take control over an increasing amount of land – and importantly, the Ein Haniya spring – that historically belongs to Al-Walajah.

By relocating the checkpoint to a point closer to Al-Walajah, Palestinians from the village will no longer have unfettered access to approximately 1200 dunams of agricultural land, including the site of the Ein Haniya springs. The Ein Al-Hanya spring, which the Jerusalem Municipality declared a national park in 2013 and then spent years and millions of dollars renovating into a tourist destination, is located on land historically part of Al-Walajah and it long served as a main source of water for households, farms, and recreational purposes for the village’s residents.

Since 1967, Al-Walajah has suffered due to its location and its complicated status (much of the village’s lands, including areas with homes, were annexed by Israel in 1967, but Israel never gave the villagers Jerusalem legal residency by Israel – meaning that under Israeli law, their mere presence in their homes is illegal). Today it is acutely suffering from a multi-prong effort by the Israeli government and settlers to grab more land for settlement expansion in pursuit of the “Greater Jerusalem” agenda. This land grab campaign includes home demolitions (four homes in Al-Walajah were demolished by Israel on November 2, 2022, for example), the construction of the separation barrier and bypass roads in a way that seals off the village on three sides, and the systematic denial of planning permits.

You can join a webinar entitled “What’s Next for al-Walaja”on May 24th at 12pm eastern to learn more about al-Walajah (hosted by Ameinu, Peace Now, T’ruah, and Telos on May 24th at 12pm eastern. Register here.

Settler Visit to Joseph’s Tomb Causes Conflict

On the night of May 17th, thousands of Israeli Jews – including at least two elected officials – staged a trip to the Joseph’s Tomb site in Nablus under the heavy protection of the IDF, which attempted to enforce a curfew on nearby Palestinian neighborhoods. Clashes erupted as Palestinian confronted the parade of settlers, resulting in at least two injuries.

In response to the violence, settler leader Yossi Dagan called on Israel to take complete control over the site, to build a yeshiva there, and to “restore the ISraeli flag at this holy site and show everyone, both ourselves and our enemies, that we are not afraid.”

The tomb is located within Area A of the West Bank (where Israel does not, under the Oslo Accords, have direct control). However, Joseph’s Tomb is one of two sites in Area A which the Oslo Accords stipulate are under the control of the Israeli military. As such, it has been a perennial flashpoint, largely due to deliberately provocative actions by settlers. The whole circumstance – of settlers visiting Joseph’s Tomb – was recently called “absurd” by former IDF Major General Gadi Shamni.

MKs Oppose New Section of Security Wall, Say it Will Divide Settlements from Israel

Israel Hayom reports that the Israeli Defense Ministry is moving towards the start of construction on a very controversial section of the West Bank separation barrier near the Etzion settlement bloc. This particular section has not been built since its initial approval in 2006 because of fierce opposition to the proposed route that, even though the barrier’s route cuts deeply into the West Bank in order to keep the majority of settlements in the Etzion Bloc on the “Israeli side” of the barrier, it leaves a few settlements including Nokdim on the “Palestinian side.”

The IDF said in a statement that the project does not include the construction of concrete walls, but will feature different types of construction that cater to wildlife and the area’s topography – to include “special monitoring technology and sensors.” 

Israeli lawmakers reacted negatively to the news of this project, saying that it has the potential to create a “de facto border” between the settlements and Israel proper and that it would  turn settlements in the area into enclaves. This opposition is in line with the right wing demands to annex the West Bank to Israel, in which context building a barrier is viewed as conceding land to Palestinians.

For background on the separation barrier, please see B’Tselem’s explainer.

Bonus Reads

  1. The Settler Terrorists in Palestinian Vineyards” (Amira Hass, Haaretz)
  2. “A precious resource: how Israel uses water to control the West Bank” (The Guardian)
  3. “When Israel’s Highest Court Assaults Human Rights” (Jessica Montell, Haaretz)