Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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November 12, 2021
- Settlers Secure Deal for Eventual Eviction of Another Sheikh Jarrah Family
- Increasing Pressure on the Government, Settlers to Operationalize Plan to Increase Control Over Area C
- JNF Stops Funding 18-Year Legal Battle Over Beit Bakri in Hebron
- Demolitions in East Jerusalem Continue, Including in Al-Walaja
- Settler Violence & Expansionism Continue to Escalate in the South Hebron Hills
- Bennett Pledges Evyatar Outpost will be Legalized, Sparking Palestinian Ire & More Coalition Threats
- Government Punts on Outpost Legalization Bill, Knesset Might Move Forward Anyway
- Bonus Reads
Israel Hayom reports that a Palestinian family in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has reached a Court-approved “deal” with settlers to recognize settler ownership of their home (where they have lived since 1956), in exchange for being allowed to stay as paying tenants for a period of at least ten years. The “deal” follows the broad outline of a Court-authored compromise that was rejected last week by four other Palestinian families (the cases are separate, but not unrelated).
Israel Hayom additionally speculates:
“The compromise, which was given the force of a legal ruling in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court a few days ago, could serve as a precedent for other local Arab families and is seen as a blow to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which are both pressuring Arab residents of Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon HaTzadik to refuse any proposed deals to vacate the properties.”
Increasing Pressure on the Government, Settlers to Operationalize Plan to Increase Control Over Area C
In a closed meeting on November 10th, the heads of settler regional councils met to discuss their ongoing effort to get the Israeli government to annex Area C of the West Bank. According to Arutz Sheva (the settler media outlet), the meeting resulted in significant decisions that create a more unified settler operation on the matter, including the formation of a “joint command center” through which all of the councils will act together, and a commitment by all the regional leaders to form a unified front to pressure the government.
Following the meeting, the participants released a statement saying:
“This struggle is over whether we continue to exist or to fold. This is an existential battle involving the entire Nation of Israel. We are all committed towards working together in order to stop the hostile takeover of our lands and in order to preserve the future of Jewish life in Judea and Samaria.”
An op-ed published in Israel Hayom on November 11th – entitled “In Area C, the time has come to get off the fence” – seemingly making the case for such an effort, the settlement activist Sara Haetzni-Cohen writes:
“Efrat’s dedicated residents have established their own war room. They track every brick and every bit of cement that is spilled and report it to the authorities. They know every demolition order that is issued but not enforced, and they do not give up. But the state quite simply does not exist. The Civil Administration is failing at its task and by choice…We’ve reached a stage where there is no state on which to rely on major issues. Real leadership from leaders who will get off the fence is needed. Local leadership in Judea and Samaria, whether elected or civilian organizations, must get off the fence and protect state lands, settlement lands, our homeland. It should be done intelligently, responsibly, and in a law-abiding manner. We should not resort to violence or vandalism against the Arab population, but rather go about this in a positive way, by planting trees and working the land, by showing our presence on the ground. If we will not be for ourselves, who will be for us? There simply isn’t any choice. We must get off the psychological and physical fence and defend our land.”
As a reminder, under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided into 3 “areas” – Area A, B, and C – pending a permanent status Israeli-Palestinian agreement that would determine final control over all the land (an agreement that was supposed to have been reached by by May 1999). The Oslo Accords gave Israel complete control over Area C, which accounts for around 60% of the West Bank. Throughout the 28 years since the Oslo Accords were signed (and with no peace agreement achieved or in sight), Israel has systematically denied Palestinians in Area C permits that would enable them to build “legally” (under Israeli law) on their own land. As a result, Palestinians have been forced to build without Israeli permits (i.e., “illegally” in the eyes of Israeli authorities), and Israel has responded by issuing wide-scale demolition orders and carrying out frequent demolitions. In recent years, Israel has increasingly treated Area C as indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory, effectively extending its laws and regulations to the area and its Israeli settler inhabitants. In parallel, settler groups – most notably the notorious “Regavim” – have lobbied Israeli authorities to crack down on “illegal” Palestinian construction, claiming that Palestinians are trying to “take over Israeli land”.
As part of these ongoing efforts — by settlers and the Israeli government — to entrench and expand Israel’s control over/de facto annexation of the entirety of Area C, in September 2020 the Israeli government allocated 20 million NIS ($6 million USD) for the newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry. That ministry was given the mission of surveying and mapping “unauthorized” (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C (the same construction which Israel has been aggressively demolishing). This funding further empowers a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already annexed by Israel.
The Knesset has also repeatedly hosted forums to discuss the alleged (by settlers and their allies/advocates) “Palestinian takeover of Area C” — framing predicated on the assertion that Area C belongs to Israel (an assertion that is not supported by the Oslo Accords) and must be defended against Palestinian efforts to “steal” it. Consistent with this framing, and under pressure from various outside groups, many members of the Knesset have criticized the Israeli government’s alleged failure to robustly “defend” Israel’s rights/ interests in Area C (e.g., failure to prevent/destroy “illegal” Palestinian construction, failure to block foreign government-funded humanitarian projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area; failure to clear out Palestinians from the area, expand settlements, and consolidate state-built settlement infrastructure; etc.).
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Board of the Jewish National Fund in Israel has decided to stop funding the legal costs of a group of settlers battling to win control over a contested home in Tel Rumeida, in the heart of downtown Hebron (and to that end, forging documents). Israeli Courts have ruled against the settlers’ claim to the home twice, most recently in December 2019, in a ruling which affirmed that the Palestinian Bakri family is the rightful owner (the house is known as “Beit Bakri”).
At the request of the settlers, the JNF has agreed to pay installments on a legal guarantee to Israeli courts in order to allow the settlers to avoid eviction while pursuing an appeal against the December 2019 ruling against them. Since 2019, the JNF has paid some $35,000 (110,000 NIS) towards the case.
The Palestinian homeowners – the Bakri family – temporarily fled their home under constant settler harassment during the Second Intifada, a time when Tel Rumeida could have been accurately described as an “urban battlefield.” While the family was gone, settlers broke into the house, damaged it, destroyed the Bakri’s property, and ultimately took up residence there.
The Bakri family has spent the past 18 years petitioning Israeli police and the courts to remove the settlers — cases the Bakri family repeatedly won. The settlers have managed to repeatedly delay their eviction by essentially exploiting every possible legal defense, no matter how absurd or contradictory. For example: At different points over the past 18 years, settlers argued in court that they had a rental agreement; that they purchased the home; that the plot of land was owned by a Jewish trust prior to 1948 and they are “reclaiming” the property; and that because they had invested so much money in improving the land since taking it over, under Ottoman Law it now legally belongs to them, regardless of the means by which they acquired it. When at one point some years ago the courts ruled that the settlers had to evacuate, the settler occupants of the Bakri home did, indeed, leave, only to be immediately replaced by other settlers — at which point the Israeli Attorney General told the Bakri family that they had to start eviction proceedings anew. For a detailed timeline of the Bakri family’s saga, see this report from Peace Now.
Throughout the course of this saga, the settlers’ effort to hold on to the Bakri home was aided by the State’s unwillingness to implement court orders against the settlers. Peace Now said in a statement:
“This is not only a matter of cruelty, deceit and theft of settlers who are not loathe to take control of assets that are not theirs, but also a matter of the lack of government accountability. For 18 years the government did not enforce the law against the invading settlers, and even assisted them and allowed them to continue to steal the house and terrorize their Palestinian neighbors in Tel Rumeida. Furthermore, it should be remembered that Hebron is under Israeli occupation and the Palestinian residents cannot remove the settlers from their homes by appealing to the Palestinian Authority. The power lies in the hands of the Israeli government, which does nothing to fulfill its responsibilities to protect abandoned Palestinian property.”
Over the past week the Israeli government has moved forward with demolitions in Palestinian neighborhoods across East Jerusalem, including:
- The demolition of three Palestinian homes in the village of Al-Walajah on November 9th. For more on Israel’s systematic campaign to demolish homes in Al-Walajah – including its refusal to approve building plans initiated by Palestinians – see FMEP’s September 9, 2021 settlement report;
- Israeli authorities delivered demolition notices to 10 Palestinian families (70 individuals) living in an apartment building in the al-Tur neighborhood. The notice ordered the families to self-demolish the four-story building within one week, or have Israeli forces demolish the building, with the cost of the demolition billed to the residents. The families reportedly began removing their belongings from the building on November 5th in anticipation of demolition;
- Under coercive Israeli policies, a Palestinian family opted to self-demolish an apartment building in the Beit Hanina neighborhood;
- Under coercive Israeli policies, a Palestinian family opted to self-demolish its house in the Jabel al-Mukaber neighborhood.
As is always the Israeli position, the State asserts that the homes being demolished and under threat of demolition have been built by Palestinians without the required Israeli permits (often on land that even Israel recognizes they privately own). Such permits are generally all but impossible for Palestinians to obtain; in the case of al-Walajah, they are literally impossible to obtain, since the area lacks the required Israeli-approved “outline plan,” without which permits are an impossibility. Facing the reality of having Israel demolish their homes and being required to pay excessive costs and fees associated with such demolitions, Palestinians sometimes choose to self-demolish their homes.
On Wednesday, November 10th a group of settlers attempting to install a campsite and graze their flocks on land near the Palestinian village of Khilet al-Daba clashed with local Palestinians, who worried that the settlers were making an attempt to take over the land – an understandable concern giving the growing phenomenal of farming outposts as a means for settlement expansion. The clashes – which took place at night after a full day of building tensions – took a violent turn when settlers set a Palestinian agricultural structure on fire. The evening ended with two Palestinians being shot by settlers with live rounds, three Palestinians wounded by settlers throwing rocks, and damage to several cars owned by Palestinians.
The land on which the settlers were grazing their flocks and attempting to install a campsite was declared to be a firing zone by the Israeli government, making it illegal for Palestinians to build there or even enter. According to Haaretz, the Israeli state has plans to evict Palestinians who live in this area (who have ostensibly lived in the area prior to it being declared by Israel to be a firing zone).
The IDF, which had been at the scene intermittently during the day, eventually sought to separate the groups by declaring the area a closed military zone. South Hebron Hills activist Basil Al-Adraa explained how this practice works to allow settlers to accomplish their goals, saying:
“The army arrived, declared it a closed military zone and kicked us out. But they didn’t kick out the settlers or take down the tent they put up today.”
The South Hebron Hills is a hotbed for settler violence, and was the scene of a settler attack – a Jewish pogrom – in September. Earlier this week, settlers from a nearby outpost – aided by the IDF – temporarily blocked Palestinian access to a playground in the village of Susiya. In addition to settler violence, the Israeli government is also acting to significantly expand settlements and retroactively legalize outposts in the South Hebron Hills.
Notably, two U.S members of Congress – Mark Pocan (D, WI-2) and Jamaal Bowman (D, NY-16) – visited the village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills on November 10th (prior to the outbreak of violence that night). They pair met with local Paelstinian activist where they were told of the violence settlers inflict on the local population.
In an interview with Jewish Currents in October 2021, Basil Al-Adraa explained how violence and land takeovers are two sides of the same coin in the South Hebron Hills,
“Settlers have long been attacking the communities here. The [Israeli] Civil Administration gives them land stolen from the Palestinians: They declared it state land so they can take it by force, for settlers to build settlements and outposts and farms. This year, the settlers have started these new sheep farms around the West Bank, where they bring volunteers to work on these farms. But the settlers aren’t content with the tens of thousands of dunams [one dunam equals 1,000 square meters] they’ve been granted: They bring their animals to our private fields, which the state can’t take from us. They bring them to our orange trees, to drink from our water systems—like the well where we collect rainwater—and to graze on our grass. And what’s been happening recently, especially since May, is they’ve been organizing big attacks on Shabbat and holidays because settlers don’t have much work to do on those days. Dozens of settlers will come masked, with hammers, machine guns, sticks, and stones. The army escorts them two or three kilometers from their settlements to our villages. They burn houses, cut down olive trees. If the army sees some Palestinian trying to defend themselves, then they will shoot at [that Palestinian] with live stun grenades, or tear gas, or rubber bullets. They use all the force. We are under army law as Palestinians in Area C, but the settlers are under civilian law, so the soldiers in the area can’t deal with the settlers, who are under the jurisdiction of the police. But the police take three or four hours to come, only after the attacks have finished. In my community, al-Tuwani, there have been at least seven organized attacks. A lot of people look at these as [isolated] incidents, and this time, there was more media attention to the issue because there was a three-year-old child who was wounded. But it’s part of a policy, in which settlers and the Israeli army don’t want us to feel safe where we live. Like the home demolitions, the blocking of roads, the cutting water and electricity networks, it’s all leading to one goal: They want to kick us out of this land, out of Area C toward Area A [areas under Palestinian administrative and police control, like Ramallah]. But our land is here, our life is here.”
Bennett Pledges Evyatar Outpost will be Legalized, Sparking Palestinian Ire & More Coalition Threats
In a press conference on November 7th, Prime Minister Bennet affirmed his commitment to granting retroactive legalization to the unauthorized outpost of Evyatar – which was built on a strategic hilltop named Mount Sabih, located just south of Nablus on land historically belonging to nearby Palestinian villages Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. Even before Bennett’s most recent statement, several members of his fragile coalition have spoken out to insist that the reestablishment of Evyatar is a redline that, if crossed, could bring down the coalition (FMEP covered a few such statements two weeks ago). In the wake of Bennett’s press conference, more continued to do so, which only adds to the growing public fracture in the coalition over outposts and settlement building more broadly.
Public Security Minister Bar Lev (Labor) pledged to block the legalization of Evyatar, said this week:
“There are enough ways to dissolve this agreement. The Evyatar community [outpost] was illegal and illegal communities should be evacuated.”
The Mayor of Beita predicts that Bennett’s pledge to legalize the outpost (coupled with the end of the olive harvest season, which consumed protestors’ time elsewhere) will spark renewed energy in Palestinian-led protests in the town of Beita. Since settlers struck a deal with the government to temporarily vacate the outpost back in July 2021, Palestinians have staged regular protests against Evyatar outpost, and against the continue denial of access to the land on which the outposts continues to exist (the area is a closed military zone, where Palestinians are denied the ability to access). The protests over the summer were particularly violent, resulting in the killing of at least five Palestinian protestors by Israeli soldiers.
An organizer of the protests, Amal Bani Shamseh, told The New Arab:
“the people in Beita can not stand the idea of a single settler moving back to Mount Sabih and are willing to intensify protests, and women are the first to affirm it.”
As a reminder, the fate of the Evyatar outpost was the first controversy that threatened to divide the fragile Bennett-led government when it was sworn in. Bennet’s partners were bitterly divided on whether to evacuate the outpost or let it be, while the government sought to grant it retroactive legalization. In the end, the government reached a “deal” which saw the settlers (temporarily) vacate the outpost on Friday, July 2nd. In return, the government left the settlers’ illegal construction at the site in place (i.e., did not demolish it) — including buildings and roads — while it “examines” the status of the land to see if it can be declared “state land” and therefore “legally” turned into a settlement (opening the door for the settlers to return). Under the agreement, the outpost is being used as a military base in the interim.
The fact that the “compromise” left in place the settlers’ structures and allowed Israel to maintain complete control over the site during the “survey” process signalled from the start that the government is not concerned with enforcing Israeli law, but rather is focused on finding a political solution that works for the settlers. It was further clear from the terms of the “compromise” that the Bennet government believed it will be succeed in finding a pretext to assert that the land on which the outpost stands is “state land” which can be used by the state as it sees fit (i.e., give it to the settlers). If the state decides, pursuant to the investigation, that it has a basis on which to declare the site to be “state land,” the settlers will be allowed to return and resume the establishment of what would from that point no longer be an illegal outpost, but a new “legal” settlement.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Ministerial Committee on Legislation has decided to delay by four months its decision on whether to grant government backing to a bill that would grant retroactive authorization (i.e., legalize) nearly 70 West Bank settlement outposts that Israel has failed to find any other way to legalize (because they are built on land even Israel recognizes is privately owned by Palestinians). As a reminder, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation is composed of government Ministers, and decides whether or not the governing coalition will throw its support behind a bill in the Knesset – ensuring either its passage or defeat.
In response to this news, MK Orit Struck (Religious Zionist Party) — who is also a longtime Hebron settlement leader — said that she intends to bring the bill to the Knesset for an initial reading despite lacking government-backing. Struck believes a strong majority of Knesset Members, regardless of the government’s position, will support the bill. Members of the Knesset attempted to fast-track the passage of this same bill in May 2021, while Bennett and Lapid were in negotiations to form the current governing coalition.
The bill introduced in May 2021 included an explanatory text claiming that the proposed law is in line with a decision the Security Cabinet took in 2017, when it tasked a new committee – headed by notorious settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein – to prepare individualized plans for each outpost to gain retroactive legalization based on the passage of the Regulation Law and the recommendations in the Zandberg Report. Bills similar to this have been filed several times in the past, and the Israeli government has debated granting retroactive authorization to the outposts via a government decision – and came close to doing so in the waning days of the Trump Administration.
- “Israeli Settlers Escalate Violence in West Bank” (Foreign Policy)
- “Nearly 20 years on, Israeli barrier shapes Palestinian lives” (AP)
- “Far-right protestors clash with cops in Jerusalem over settler teen’s death” (The Times of Israel)
- “They should have been lawyers. Instead they’re at Israeli construction sites” (Basil al-Adraa in +972 Magazine)
- “How the Occupation Harms Not Only the Palestinians, but the Planet Too” (Haaretz)
- “Palestinians say no to work in settlements” (Al-Monitor)