Settlement & Annexation Report: May 26, 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 26, 2023

  1. IDF & Settlers Move Ahead with Re-Establishment of Homesh Settlement
  2. Israeli Authorities Approve New East Jerusalem Settlement of “Kidmat Zion”
  3. State & Settler Violence Coerce the Forcible Transfer of Ein Samia Bedouin Community
  4. Israel Attempts to Assuage U.S. Concern Over Smotrich’s “Double the Settlers” Planning
  5. Israeli State Budget Awards “Several Billion” Shekels to Settlements & Outposts
  6. Government Gives Settler Group $41 Million for East Jerusalem Archaeological Projects
  7. Annexation, End of Civil Society on the Government’s Agenda This Weekend
  8. Bonus Reads

IDF & Settlers Move Ahead with Re-Establishment of Homesh Settlement

On May 18th the IDF Commander signed a military order that finalizes the Knesset’s recent repeal of key sections of the 2005 Disengagement Law, allowing Israelis to enter the area in the northern West Bank where the Homesh settlement stood before it was dismantled by the Israeli government in 2005 as part of Disengagement. In parallel, the Israeli Defense Minister announced that the government plans to relocate the Homesh outpost – a yeshiva (that is, a Jewish religious school) established illegally by settlers as part of their drive to re-establish the Homesh settlement – from its current location, which is on land that Israeli courts have recognized as private Palestinian property, to a small plot of nearby “state land.”  The Times of Israel further reports that the IDF Commander signed additional orders on May 15th that temporarily bar Israelis from entering the existing Homesh outpost until the outpost’s yeshiva is relocated to the “state land” plot, and that add the Homesh outpost as an official community under the umbrella of the Shomron Regional Council (a settlement municipal body).

Following the IDF Commander’s order, Yesh Din said in a statement:

“The Homesh outpost is on private land belonging to residents of the Palestinian village of Burqa. The entry of Israelis into the area is an additional tool in the expulsion of residents from their lands. The process of authorizing the outpost is a prize and an incentive for criminals and a violation of international law.” 

On May 25th, Haaretz published photos of settlers using tractors to clear the plot of “state land” for construction, ostensibly in preparation for the relocation of the existing Homesh outpost/yeshiva. Israel’s plan to relocate the outpost is an attempt to sidestep a pending petition filed in 2009 by the Palestinian landowners and Yesh Din seeking removal of the Homesh outpost/yeshiva from the Palestinians’ land and providing for the landowners to access the area (discussed in greater detail below). To state the obvious, moving the Homesh settlement to the tiny plot of “state land” in the area will not cure any of the underlying infringements on Palestinian rights. Yesh Din explainsIsrael is well aware that as long as there is an Israeli presence in the area, the Palestinian landowners will not be able to access their lands safely and the violation of their rights will continue.”

 This land clearing by settlers is taking place despite the fact that, according to Haaretz, the settlers do not have the permits legally required by Israel to carry out work at the site, resulting in the IDF attempting to stop the illegal work. Reportedly Defense Minister Gallant and Minister Smotrich ordered the IDF to back off and allow the settlers land-clearing to continue, lack of permits notwithstanding. On May 24th Yesh Din submitted an urgent appeal with the Israeli Central Command to stop the settlers’ work at the site; the appeal is still pending, even as the settlers’ work continues because the Israeli government has instructed the IDF to allow it.

Israeli actions on the ground send strong signals that Israel will soon act to transform the Homesh outpost, relocated to its new site, into an official new (or in this case, resuscitated) settlement. Yet, following U.S. criticism of its policies and actions vis à vis Homesh, the Israeli government reportedly sought to assuage U.S. concerns by drawing a (manufactured, meaningless) distinction between establishing a settlement and relocating an existing outpost. Axios reports that “the Israeli side made it clear to the Biden administration that it has no intention of rebuilding the Homesh settlement and stressed the new order was signed only to allow the moving of the Homesh outpost from private land to state land.”  

As a reminder – the legalization of Homesh was explicitly agreed to in the coalition deals which formed the current Israeli government. And despite the message to the U.S. behind closed doors, Israeli lawmakers and settler leaders hailed the Israeli government’s moves on Homesh as concrete steps toward the realization of this commitment. Otzma Yehudit MK and settlement activist Limor Son Har Melech hailed the news and said that the real goal is to reestablish all four settlements located near the Homesh outpost which were dismantled by the Israeli government in 2005 (the order issued by the IDF Commander on May 18th that allows Israelis to enter to the Homesh area did not extend to the areas of the other three settlements – Sa-Nur, Ganim, and Kadim).

Kerem Navot adds more detail to the settlers’ grand ambition in this area of the West Bank – between the major cities of Nablus and Jenin where there is currently no official Israeli settlement or control. Kerem Navot writes:

“the settlers have already made it clear that from their perspective, returning to Homesh is only the beginning. And that it is their intention to also re-establish the settlement of Sa-Nur, which was located on a hill a few kilometers to the north, next to the Nablus-Jenin road. At the same time as the takeovers of these sites, the settlers have also been pursuing a plan to take over the Al-Mas’udiyya train station, which is located north of the violent and isolated settlement of Shavei Shomron. As we reported here last September, they intend to establish the “Settlement Museum” there…the racist and violent settler right that, in practice, controls the Israeli government, plans on taking over an area where there haven’t been settlements since 2005. At this stage, the intention is to 1. Re-establish two settlements (Homesh and Sa-Nur) that were evacuated in 2005. 2. Take over two new spots (the archeological site in Sebastiya and the Al-Mas’udiyya train station), by turning them into tourist sites. The wider Israeli public will provide the money and the soldiers required to realize this plan. And the land, and most of the blood that will be spilled in order to realise this plan, will, as always, be supplied by the Palestinians.”

And a further reminder: The Israeli government has for nearly three years delayed its response to a 2019 petition filed by Yesh Din seeking both the removal of the illegal outpost and yeshiva at the site of the dismantled Homesh settlement, as well as the site’s return to its Palestinian landowners. Despite Homesh being dismantled in 2005, Israel never permitted Palestinians to regain access to or control of the land, declaring it a closed military zone. That status has prevented Palestinians from entering the area, even as the IDF permitted settlers to routinely enter the area, to live (illegally, under Israeli law) at the site, and to illegally establish a yeshiva there. That yeshiva, according to Kerem Navot, has become one of the West Bank’s “hardcore centers of settler terror”. Settlers have also wreaked terror on nearby Palestinian villages, most notably Burqa and Sebastia. One Israeli politician even went so far as to say that settlers are “carrying out a pogrom” in Burqa.

Proving Kerem Navot’s point, on May 24th, on the heels of a visit to the area by foreign diplomats, a group of settlers attacked Burqa, near the Homesh site, throwing stones and setting homes on fire.

Israeli Authorities Approve New East Jerusalem Settlement of “Kidmat Zion”

The Jerusalem District Planning Authority gave initial approval to a plan to build a new settlement enclave, “Kidmat Zion,” to be located between the Ras al-Amud neighborhood and the Israeli separation barrier, with the Abu Dis neighborhood on the other side of the wall. The settlement enclave will be accessible only by driving through densely populated areas of Ras Al-Amud. 

The plan – which calls for 400 settlement units [translating, conservatively, to at least 2,000 settlers] – is being promoted by the Ateret Cohanim settler organization. Speaking publicly about the plan, Ateret Cohanim said it will:

 “change the map of the eastern part of the city. The neighborhood sits in a strategic location, and can gradually change its image to Jewish and prevent the Arab takeover of the city’s eastern neighborhoods.” 

Construction of this settlement could well achieve the considerable geopolitical consequences the settlers hope for — most notably by complicating if not outright blocking any future division of Jerusalem (or sharing agreement) under any possible Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is worth recalling that Abu Dis has been repeatedly suggested by Israel and its allies (including in the Trump Plan) as the capital of a future Palestinian state (as a substitute for Jerusalem), and an unfinished building in Abu Dis was designed to be the future home of a Palestinian parliament. This settlement plan would scuttle all such ideas. Indeed, in the planning documents Ateret Cohanim explained:

“Palestinian institutions in Abu Dis were built with the vision of turning the town into the capital city of Palestine and building a corridor and passage to the center of Jerusalem, and thus promoting the takeover of the entire city…The significance of establishing and developing the neighborhood is to create a shield for Jerusalem against Palestinian ambitions. The neighborhood will disturb the contiguity [of the area] and protect us from dividing the city.”

The new settlement enclave will also further solidify the infrastructure connecting settlements south of Jerusalem to the city. Kidmat Zion will be located adjacent to the so-called “American Road,” which will tunnel underneath parts of Abu Dis. The “American Road” is a section of north-south highway that is meant to 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), the obvious 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. 

State & Settler Violence Coerce the Forcible Transfer of Ein Samia Bedouin Community

On May 22nd, the approximately 200 residents (27 families, including 80 children) of the Ein Samia bedouin community were forcibly coerced to leave their homes and abandon their land. The community faced nearly constant and often violent harassment by settlers from a nearby settlement, Kochav HaShachar and its shepherding outpost, as well as state-backed violence, including the looming demolition of the community’s only school. 

The Ein Samia community lived on the land for 40 years, and its residents have endured violence and oppression for decades. However, as +972 journalist Basel Adra reports, the community has been living through a true nightmare over the past week. Adra writes:

“Residents say they were compelled to leave after a fierce spate of violence over the previous five days, during which settlers attacked them at night, blocked the roads to the village, and threw stones at the old homes. The mental toll of the attacks, especially on the children, was the decisive factor in the residents’ choice to destroy the village and move away…‘Ein Samia is located next to the Kochav HaShachar settlement and is east of Tzir Alon, an area settlers have been attempting to take over in recent years. It is one of 180 Palestinian villages in Area C of the West Bank that are “unrecognized” by the Israeli authorities and whose residents are denied permits for any construction or connection to basic utilities, like water and electricity.”

Yesh Din said in a statement:

“Yesterday, a Bedouin Palestinian family was forced to leave their home in Ein Samia due to escalating settler violence. This heartbreaking incident is not an isolated case. Rather, it has become a distressing phenomenon in the West Bank, growing worse with each passing day. In Ein Samia – like other areas in the west bank – the plight of Bedouin communities has been unfolding for decades. For approximately 60 years, Bedouin communities have resided and worked on the agricultural lands surrounding Kafr Malik – an area called Ein Samia. These families were first displaced in the 1960s and have since relied on these lands for their livelihoods. They have endured hardships and harassment, but recent events have taken a sinister turn. The establishment of ‘Micha Farm,’ a settler shepherding outpost, marked a turning point. (5/10) It not only disrupted the lives of the Bedouin communities but sparked a surge in violence. With increasing frequency, settlers armed with guns and attack dogs invade their lands, stealing livestock, damaging crops, and subjecting Palestinian residents to physical assaultsThe situation has become unbearable. The attached photo captures the heartbreaking moment when a family had no choice but to pack their belongings, forced out of their home by the constant terror they could no longer endure.”

B’Tselem said in a statement:

Israel’s policy, whose goal is to allow the state to take over more and more Palestinian land to be used by Jews, is applied across the West Bank against dozens of Palestinian communities. This policy is illegal. Forcible transfer is a war crime.”

Israel Attempts to Assuage U.S. Concern Over Smotrich’s “Double the Settlers” Planning

Last week it was reported that Bezalel Smotrich, who has been granted vast authority over civil affairs in the West Bank, has set out to initiate wide-scale planning with the goal of adding  500,000 new settlers within the next two years. This week, Haaretz reports that Israeli government officials told the Biden Administration that, notwithstanding Smotrich’s intentions and plans, the government does not have an official policy seeking to add 500,000 new settlers in the next two years.

Israeli State Budget Awards “Several Billion” Shekels to Settlements & Outposts

On May 24th, the Knesset approved a state budget which, among other things, provides (at least) several billion (yes, with a “b”) shekels for settlements and outposts.

In particular, the State budget invests massively in West Bank infrastructure projects. Fully one-fourth of the total Transportation Ministry’s budget is for projects in the West Bank, even though settlers are just X% of the total Israeli population. Specifically, the budget provides the Transportation Ministry with NIS 3.5 billion ($941 million) to invest in upgrading and paving new roads in the West Bank over the next two years. The Times of Israel details the settlement-related budgets and projects that this funding includes:

  • NIS 2 billion ($538 million) will go to upgrading Highway 60, the main north-south highway which runs from Jerusalem to Hebron;
  • NIS 500 million ($134 million) will go toward expanding a road between the Ariel settlement and Tapuach Junction in the northern West Bank;
  • NIS 366 million ($98 million) will go to upgrading the access road to the Beit El Regional Council area; 
  • NIS 300 million ($81 million) will pay for a new road between the Migron settlement and Qalandia north of Jerusalem; 
  • NIS 200 million ($54 million) for a road circumventing the Palestinian village of Al-Funduq in the northern West Bank west of Nablus; and, 
  • NIS 150 million ($40 million) for a road in the Alfei Menashe settlement. 
  • Hundreds of millions more were allocated for roads in and around East Jerusalem.

The newly created Settlements and National Missions Ministry, headed by Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock (a longtime settler activist from the Hebron settlements) received NIS 268 million ($72 million) in funding, including NIS 399 million ($107 million) that will be funneled to the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division and NIS 74 million ($20 million) to support settlement municipal authorities in their efforts to monitor “illegal” Palestinian construction in Area C.

Yoni Mizrachi, a researcher with Peace Now told The Times of Israel:

“All Israeli governments prioritize the West Bank settlements in the budget, but this government has gone even further and has taken money from core funds and given it to a small group living in the West Bank which in a political agreement with the Palestinians Israel will leave. We are seeing an effort here to deepen Israel’s presence in the West Bank.”

Government Gives Settler Group $41 Million for East Jerusalem Archaeological Projects

On May 21st, at a ceremonial cabinet meeting held in the Western Wall tunnels of the Old City of Jerusalem (timed to coincide with Jerusalem Day celebrations), the Israeli government approved 41 million shekels ($11 million) for archaeological sites in East Jerusalem, almost all of which are managed by the Elad settler organization. Another 6 million shekels ($1.6 million) were budgeted for programs which bring Israeli soldiers and students to Jerusalem’s archaeological sites. The Chairman of Elad, David Be’eri, attended the meeting.

Emek Shaveh, an association of left-wing archaeologists, said in a statement:

“The government will invest millions of shekels in developing tourism and promoting an ideology dictated by the radical settler organization Elad. This year, large swaths of the funding were also earmarked for bringing students and soldiers to participate in archeological and tourist settler activities. Consequently, not only will our taxes go toward Judaizing East Jerusalem, but so will our children.”

Peace Now said in a statement

“Like in every year, the Israeli government celebrates Jerusalem Day by transferring funds to settlers in East Jerusalem. The cabinet meeting in the Western Wall tunnels is a direct continuation of the hate march we witnessed last week on Jerusalem Day. Both of these actions are intended to increase hostility, tension, and hatred between Israelis and Palestinians in the city, rather than finding a peaceful solution between the peoples.”

Annexation, End of Civil Society on the Government’s Agenda This Weekend

The Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs (a body of ministers who decide whether or not the government will back legislative proposals in the Knesset) is set to meet on Sunday, May 28th to vote on multiple bills that are particularly concerning for settlement watchers.

The committee may (rumor has it the government is reconsidering) vote on a resolution, authored by Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf (Otzma Yehudit), that seeks to make the commit the whole of the Israeli government to advancing “Zionist values” as described in the Nation-State law. The Times of Israel reports the resolution is specifically aimed at promoting settlement growth across the West Bank, and the resolution’s language uses “The Land of Israel” to refer to the entirety of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The Times of Israel further details:

“Wasserlauf’s proposed resolution appears to be expressly focused on the issue of advancing the Jewish presence in the West Bank and throughout Israel, with the text of the resolution stating that it is applicable to government agencies involved in land allocation and construction planning, such as the Israel Land Authority and the National Council for Planning and Construction…It appears likely that a central objective of Wasserlauf’s resolution will be to further expand the West Bank settlements.”

The committee is also expected to vote on a bill to de facto annex national parks and nature reserves in the West Bank. The bill, proposed by Likud MK Danny Danon, seeks to transfer the power to declare “national sites” in the West Bank from the Defense Ministry (which is hte occupation government) to the Interior Ministry (an entirely domestic body), which is currently headed by acting Minister is Michael Malchieli (Shas). Revealing the bill’s true goal – to bring every archaeological and heritage site in the West Bank under Israeli control –  the explanatory note filed with the bill reads:

​​“The lands of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] are full of heritage sites of great national and historical importance to the development of settlement in the Land of Israel. In these lands, our forefathers walked, established their homes, and were exiled from these places twice in history. After nearly 2,000 years of exile, the people of Israel have returned to their land, and during the Six Day War, the lands of Judea and Samaria were liberated as well. We must recognize the history of the Jewish people that can be found in every clod of earth in Judea and Samaria.”

Amid international outcry, the committee is also expected to vote on an extremely dangerous bill targeting civil society organizations and, in particular, the human rights sector. The legislation would in effect remove the tax-exempt status of these groups and replace it with an onerous, and quite openly punitive, vindictive tax rate of 65% applied to the groups’ income and/or endowments. Please listen to a new FMEP podcast with Lara Friedman, Jessica Montell (HaMoked) and Francesca Albanese (UN Rapporteur), entitled “Israel’s new anti-NGO legislation: An Effort to Eradicate Opponents of Illiberalism”

Another bill seeks to penalize students flying the Palestinian flag on Israeli school campuses, making it a punishable offense with suspension and/or expulsion.

Bonus Reads

  1. “The Palestinian Village in Smotrich’s Sights” (Jewish Currents)
  2. “Opinion | Israel’s Absent Finance Minister Serves the Settlements” (Nehemiah Shtrasler, Haaretz)