Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
November 10, 2023
- Smotrich Calls for West Bank Land Grab To Create “Sterile” Areas Near Settlements
- After 30 Years, Israeli High Court Orders Settlers Off Palestinian Land
- With Settlers Acting as a West Bank Militia, U.S. Transfers 24,000 Rifles to Israel
- On Reestablishing Gaza Settlements
- Bonus Reads
Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli Finance Minister and deputy minister in the Defense Ministry who operates as the de facto governor of Area C in the West Bank – wrote a letter to PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant calling for the establishment of extensive “sterile security zones” (i.e. closed to Palestinians) to form a wide perimeter around settlements and key roads throughout the West Bank. The recommendation is tantamount to a call for unilateral annexation of more West Bank land to the settlements and a proposal for removing Palestinians from their land under the guise of security. This would include seizing actively cultivated agricultural land that is privately owned by Palestinians (ownership which is recognized by Israel).
Smotrich made a point to say that the “sterile security zones” would be used to stop Palestinians from harvesting their olives during peak season (now). Palestinian farmers in the West Bank are already struggling to harvest olives this season due to the near total military shutdown of the West Bank. Smotrich, in his proposal for creating these “sterile” zones around settlements and roads, also argued that the creation of these zones would accomplish “the removal of left-wing [Israeli] anarchist activists who set the area on fire.” Israeli and international activists have long accompanied Palestinians during the olive harvest season in part to offer protection to the farmers posed by settlers and the IDF.
Commenting on Smotrich’s proposal Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Committee, said on X:
“Israel’s Additional Minister of Defence Bezalel Smotrich has called to establish extensive closed military zones around illegal Israeli settlements + along major routes in occupied West Bank, which would prevent Palestinians freely moving & increase risk of forced displacement. In Gaza, we have witnessed the transfer, en masse, of Palestinians without any guarantees of their safety, survival, and eventual return to their homes. Public statements by Israeli officials are also calling for the deportation of millions to Egypt. Israel must not further perpetrate forcible transfer, and should allow the safe return and compensate for damages caused to displaced Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza according to international law.”
Haaretz reports that on November 8th, the Israeli High Court ordered settlers to vacate a land in the Jordan Valley that they had been given illegally and improperly by the State over 30 years ago. The judge sharply criticized how the State, which originally seized the privately owned land via a temporary military seizure, proceeded to allocate the privately owned land to the World Zionist Organization. The State was ordered to pay the legal fees of the petitioners and also intimated that the State could be liable to pay for its illegal profit off the land for the past 30 years.
This case dates back to a 1969 military seizure order for a vast tract of land in the Jordan Valley, including a parcel of land privately owned by Palestinians. Instead of canceling the seizure order and returning the land to its owners, the state instead gave control over that land to the World Zionist Organization. Then, on the 1980s, the World Zionist Organization allocated the land to settlers without any documentation of either having received control of the land from the government, or documentation allocating the land to the settlers. Since then, settlers have developed the land into profitable date farms. In 2018, several Palestinian landowners have filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to have the settlers removed from the area and the land returned to their control. In a contentious court hearing in June 2022, in which the State conceded that it does not know how or why the settlers were allocated the land in the first place, High Court Justice Esther Hayut told the State lawyer: “Given that you cannot explain how the land was given to those to whom it was given, does that give them the right to remain there forever?”
On November 7th, a coalition of 26 Palestinian human rights groups appealed to the third state parties to press for an immediate intervention to protect Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem from state-backed settler violence. On the day the letter was sent, OCHA reported that Israeli settlers killed at least nine Palestinians, including at least one child, and injured 62. In addition, at least 905 Palestinians, including 356 children, have been forcibly displaced because of Israeli settler violence and access and movement restrictions. These numbers continue to grow. Since the Oct. 7th Hamas attack, there has been an average of seven settler attacks a day and the scale of displacement has escalated sharply, with nearly four times as many West Bank communities depopulated in the past month as in the preceding year and eight months combined.
In a rare public criticism, President Biden and the U.S. Secretary of State Blinken have both raised concern about the scale of settler violence in the West Bank in the wake of the October 7th massacre by Hamas and Israel’s war on Gaza. On Oct. 25 President Biden warned that settler violence was “pouring gasoline on fire,” and Secretary Blinken raised concerns while in Israel on November 3rd.
Nonetheless, the Biden Administration finalized the sale of 24,000 assault rifles to Israel despite the settler violence and loosened gun regulations in Israel. Before the sale was complete, the U.S. reportedly received assurances from the Netanyahu government that these particular guns will not end up in the hands of settlers policing Palestinians in the West Bank. The government said these guns would arm Israeli civilian response teams that operate within sovereign Israeli territory, under control of the Israeli police (which, it should be recalled, are under the control of Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir).
In the wake of rare public concerns from the U.S. administration, on November 8th, PM Netanyahu convened a meeting with settler leaders during which he was reported to have told them that he would not tolerate a “handful of extremists[settlers]…[who] cause great damage to the State of Israel.”
In a new report on settler violence since Oct 7th, Peace Now writes:
“The war in Gaza has created a new reality where the security system in the West Bank increasingly relies on settlers within the framework of operational activities, becoming more dependent on them. Ideological and violent settlers leverage the war to coerce the military for their own goals of expulsion and harm to Palestinians, even interfering with IDF activities. This blurring of boundaries between the army and civilians, which has always been a significant problem in the Israeli occupation system in the territories, might cause a dire deterioration, potentially leading to the creation of a third front in the West Bank. Meanwhile, amid the war, a group of settlers managed to strengthen their hold over Area C, advocating for the coercive displacement of Palestinians and exacerbating the discriminatory practices and oppression against them in the West Bank. A decisive political decision to evacuate violent outposts not to disrupt security during wartime could prevent numerous attacks. Initiating law enforcement against violent settlers could restrain and deter others. Preventing the conscription of violent settlers into the reserves and the immediate dismissal of reservist soldiers involved in or enabling violence are essential steps, not mandating political decisions”
Several senior Israeli officials have been publicly proclaiming their hope to reestablish settlements in the Gaza Strip, which were removed by the Israeli government as part of the 2005 Disengagement Plan. In fact, members of Netanyahu’s Likud party have introduced a piece of legislation in the Knesset that would cancel the part of the Disengagement Law that bars Israelis from entering the Gaza Strip.
Amira Hass warns that these statements should be taken seriously, writing in Haaretz:
“As the last 50 years have shown, any single settler’s hallucination should be taken seriously, and treated as a plan of action by the next government, if not the current one. And when the hallucination is built on overt plans for total destruction and mass expulsion, wars are the most suitable ground for its realization.”
- ““‘Leave or Die’ An account from a Palestinian in the West Bank” (Slate)
- “Trending: Israeli Soldiers Document and Proudly Post Their Own Abuse of Palestinians” (Haaretz)
- “How a Campaign of Extremist Violence Is Pushing the West Bank to the Brink” (New York Times)
- “Local Construction Firm for Secret US Base in Israel Also Built an Illegal Settlement” (The Intercept)
- “The Gaza-fication of the West Bank” (The New Yorker, interview with Hagai El-Ad)
- “Kathy Hochul’s Israel Trip Bankrolled by Group Funding Illegal Settlements” (The Intercept)