Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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November 11, 2022
- Israel Gives Settler Group $7.8 Million for East Jerusalem Projects
- Israel Supreme Court Holds Hearing on Silwan Displacement Case
- Israeli Lawmakers Join Settlers on Provocative Visit to Joseph’s Tomb; 1 Palestinian Killed
- Peace Now Video Shows Impact and Tragedy of the Planned E-2 /Givat Eitam Settlement
- A New Israeli Government: Implications for Settlements & Annexation
- Bonus Reads
A Haaretz investigation has revealed that various arms of the Israeli government have transferred a combined total of $7.8 million to the Elad settler organization to develop and manage new tourist projects in the Ben Hinnom Valley in East Jerusalem. This figure is double the State’s original budget for Elad – a settler organization which Israel also pays to manage the City of David National Park.
The additional funding came from three sources: the Jerusalem Affairs & Heritage Ministry, the Israel Lands Authority, and the Jerusalem Municipality. All funds were used to fuel the expansion of integrated tourism projects which underpin Elad’s control over land in the Ben Hinnom Valley, located near Silwan. This is an area where most of the land is privately owned by Palestinians and rich with olive groves. Over the past few years Israel has begun seizing land – plot by plot – mainly via the issuance of ”landscaping” (or “gardening”) orders which allow the government to take control of and develop any land that it deems “neglected.” The land, once seized, is then handed over to Elad..
The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh responded:
“The settlement project of Elad, one of the richest nonprofits in Israel, is being funded by the citizens of the State of Israel and the residents of the poorest city in Israel – out of their own pockets! But the real price and the irreversible damage will be paid by the heritage sites of Jerusalem. At the end of the day, the ancient landscapes of the Hinnom Valley will become a playground, with a suspension bridge, a cable car and a biblical farm for ancient agriculture with sprinklers, an artificial waterfall and an electric outdoor oven – all in order to push the Palestinians out of the valley.”
In addition to its increasing control of the Ben Hinnom Valley, Elad and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have had a contract, since 2020, to transfer the management and development of the City of David National Park to Elad. Elad carries out this contract with brutal implications for Palestinians who live inside the borders of this national park – borders Israel imposed on Palestinians residents, many of whom had been living in the areas for generations, with what appears to be total disdain/disinterest in their rights or welfare. Elad’s management of the park also weaponizes archaeology in the service of its explicit agenda: increasing Israeli control and imposing an exclusively Jewish religious and historical narrative over the entire city of Jerusalem. Elad is also a main actor behind the widespread house-by-house dispossession of Palestinians living in Silwan. In addition, Elad is pioneering a never growing slate of touristic settlement projects which increase Israeli control over the area and help reinforce a settler narrative of the city of Jerusalem which emphasizes its Jewish history while erasing past, present, and future Palestinian heritage.
Ir Amim reports that on November 9th, the Israeli Supreme Court held a hearing on an appeal against the pending eviction of the Shahadeh family from their longtime home in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan. A decision is expected to be issued by the Court within a few weeks.
The Shahadeh family is one of 85 families in Batan al-Hawa facing displacement at the behest of the Ateret Cohanim settler organization. The legal fate of all of the families is bound together, with the Duweik family’s case being the furthest advanced and setting an dangerous precedent for the Shehadehs and others. Indeed, this week the Supreme Court discussed several of the decisions made in regards to the Duweik family, and their relation to the Shehadehs’ case. Notably, in July 2022 a 3-judge panel of the Supreme Court could not agree on the Duwiek’s family’s petition, which resulted in the petition being sent back to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court – where it currently awaits further consideration. One of the judges accepted the argument that the family should be allowed to continue living in their homes because a statute of limitations prohibits Ateret Cohanim – through its management of an historic land trust – from making a claim to the land after such a long period of absence.
As a reminder, Ateret Cohanim has waged a years-long eviction campaign against Palestinians living in Silwan, on property the settler NGO claims to own. In total, Ateret Cohanim’s campaign stands to ultimately dispossess 700 Palestinians (85 families) in Silwan. The group’s claim is based on having gained control of the historic Benvenisti Trust, which oversaw the assets of Yemenite Jews who lived in Silwan in the 19th century. In 2001 the Israeli Charitable Trust Registrar granted Ateret Cohanim permission to revive the trust and become its trustees, (following 63 years of dormancy). In 2002, the Israeli Custodian General transferred ownership of the land in Batan al-Hawa to the Trust (i.e., to Ateret Cohanim). Since then, Ateret Cohanim has accelerated its multi-pronged campaign to remove Palestinians from their homes, claiming that the Palestinians are illegal squatters.
On November 9th, a Palestinian teenager was killed in Nablus during clashes between Palestinians and the IDF. These clashes resulted from a deliberately provocative visit carried out by settlers and Israeli lawmakers – under IDF protection – to the site of Joseph’s Tomb, which is located inside of Nablus. The settlers and eight current and incoming members of the Knesset visited the site despite a public threat to attack the delegation which was issued the day before by a Palestinian armed faction.
On a monthly basis (and sometimes more often) the IDF arranges for settlers to visit Joseph’s Tomb. 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 Israel 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.
While some Jewish Israelis may want to visit the site of Joseph’s Tomb for non-politically-motivated religious purposes, this latest story should be viewed in the larger context of settlers weaponizing claims to sites like Joseph’s Tomb, and archaeology in general, to expand Israel control over (i.e., de facto annexation of) parts of the West Bank that per the Oslo Accords are under Palestinian Authority control.
In advance of a High Court hearing scheduled for Nov. 14th, Peace Now has released a 10 minute video explaining the unfolding tragedy of E-2/Givat Eitam. Peace Now is leading the petition alongside the Palestinian landowners.
The Supreme Court – courtesy of a petition filed by Palestinian landowners with the assistance of Peace Now – is due to continue its consideration of the Palestinians’ challenge to the allocation of “state land” to the Israeli Ministry of Housing for the construction of a new settlement called Givat Eitam on a strategic hilltop – which Palestinians call a-Nahle – located just south of Bethlehem.
As a reminder, the High Court held a hearing in June 2021 on this same petition. Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran told FMEP that at the conclusion of that hearing the Court had given the government of Israel 90 days to respond to a proposal to either allocate to the individual petitioners some of the “state land” directly involved in the case, or to allocate to them “state land” nearby. This decision by the Court purposely narrowed the scope of Peace Now’s legal challenge by addressing only the case of the land in a-Nahle and the individual petitioners involved, thereby dodging the more fundamental question put forth in the petition challenging Israel’s discriminatory practice of allocating 99.8% of “state land” for settlement purposes. This is the first time the issue of state land allocations to settlements is being challenged in an Israel court.
Likud Party leader and Israel’s longest-serving (over multiple tenures in office) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is once again poised to lead the Israeli government, this time relying on a governing coalition that includes extremist/racist/Islamophobic/homophobic Jewish supremacist figures like Itamar Ben Gvir (a longtime supporter/devotee of Rabbi Meir Kahane) and Bezalel Smotrich. Settlers are giddy, with notable settler leaders Daniela Weiss describing the election results as a “revolution,” and saying there will certainly be an acceleration in settlement growth.
Here are key demands being made of Netanyahu that will likely define the new government and influence its policies on settlements and annexation:
- Itamar Ben Gvir – who has called for the expulsion of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who was disqualified from IDF service for his extreme views, and who is closely allied with the settlers in Sheikh Jarrah – is demanding to be named the Minister of Public Security. This would put him in charge of the Israeli police and their power over Palestinians living in Israel and East Jerusalem. The Ministry would also hand Ben Gvir a large role over security at the Temple Mount, which Ben Gvir has advocated for Israel to take unilateral control over – a dangerous proposition. Ben Gvir has also publicly proclaimed that, should he be appointed, he will change the rules of engagement so that Israeli soldiers have broader leeway to shoot at Palestinians (for reasons as minimal as suspected stone-throwing), and he will push for broad immunity for Israeli security officials (which combined appear to be a directive to kill Palestinians under the promise of immunity).
- Bezalel Smotrich – who continues to demand either the Defense, Finance, or Justice Ministries – is making two key legislative demands:
- Passage of the Override Clause, which would allow a simple majority in the Knesset to vote to reinstate any law that the Supreme Court rules is unconstitutional. This is particularly relevant for the Settlement Regulation Law, which the Court struck down by the Court in 2020. The Knesset had passed the Settlement Regulation Law in order to create a legal basis to allow Israel to retroactively legalize outposts and settlement structures which had been built on land that Israel acknowledges is privately owned by Palestinians. Smotrich and many of the coalition members have been longtime supporters of the Override Clause in order to reinstate this law in particular.
- Annexation of settlements. Smotrich is demanding that settlements come under domestic Israeli law, which would implement the annexation of the settlements to Israel. This is also a widely-popular initiative, with Yariv Levin – Netanyahu’s Likud partymate – recently saying that annexation is high on the government’s agenda.
- “West Bank Settler Accused of Terrorism After Attacking Palestinian in East Jerusalem” (Haaretz)
- “Israel Resumes Construction of Jewish Town Planned Over Ruins of Yet-to-be-demolished Bedouin Village” (Haaretz)