Settlement & Annexation Report: November 17, 2023


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

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November 17, 2023

    1. West Bank Stats via OCHA (as of November 16th)
    2. Settlers Take Over Large Amount of Property in the Armenian Quarter
    3. Plan for New National Park in East Jerusalem Resurfaces (Mount Scopus Slopes National Park)
    4. “Lower Aqueduct” Settlement Plan on the Agenda Again
    5. Israel Opens Huwwara Road for Settlers, While Keeping Palestinians Under Lock Down
    6. Sheikh Jarrah Eviction Case Postponed
    7. Accountability as Settlers Terrorize South Hebron Hills
    8. B’Tselem: H-2 Area of Hebron Suffering Under Collective Punishment
    9. Bonus Reads

West Bank Stats via OCHA (as of November 16th)

OCHA reports that in the West Bank since October 7th:

  • 248 settler attacks against Palestinians have been recorded, resulting in Palestinian casualties (30 incidents), damage to Palestinian-owned property (182 incidents), or both casualties and damage to property (36 incidents). This reflects a daily average of six incidents, compared with three since the beginning of the year. Over one-third of these incidents included threats with firearms, including shootings. In nearly half of all incidents, Israeli forces were either accompanying or actively supporting the attackers. 
  • At least 143 Palestinian households comprising 1,014 people, including 388 children, have been displaced amid settler violence and access restrictions. The displaced households are from 15 herding/Bedouin communities.
  • 186 Palestinians, including 51 children, have been killed by Israeli forces; and an additional eight, including one child, have been killed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Four Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians.  
  • Israeli forces have injured 2,661 Palestinians, including at least 282 children, over half of them in the context of demonstrations. An additional 74 Palestinians have been injured by settlers. Some 33 per cent of those injuries have been caused by live ammunition. 
  • A total of 48 Palestinians, including 24 children, have been displaced since 7 October following punitive demolitions.  
  • An additional 135 Palestinians, including 66 children, have been following demolitions in Area C and East Jerusalem, due to lack of permits.  

Settlers Take Over Large Amount of Property in the Armenian Quarter

Terrestrial Jerusalem reports that on November 16th a group of settlers guarded by Israeli police entered and took control over several tracts of strategically located  land in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem owned by the Armenian Patriarchate. The settlers assert that the lands were leased to them by the Armenian Patriarchate, a lease the Patriarchate contests the legality of and then formally canceled on October 26, 2023.

The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued the following statement on Nov. 16th:

“The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem is under possibly the greatest existential threat of its 16-century history. This existential-territorial threat fully extends to all the Christian communities of Jerusalem. 

The Armenian Patriarchate has recently canceled a contract tainted with false representation, undue influence, and unlawful benefits.

Instead of providing a lawful response to the cancellation, the developers attempting to build on the Cow’s Garden have completely disregarded the legal posture of the PAtriarchate toward this issue, and instead have elected for provocation, aggression, and other harassing , incendiary tactics including destruction of property, the hiring of heavily armed provocateurs, and other instigation.

In recent days, the cast destruction and removal of asphalt on the grounds of the Armenian Quarter have been done without the presentation of permits from the municipality by neither the developer nor the police. Despite this fact, the police have chosen in the last few days to demand that all the members of the Armenian Community vacate the premises.

We plead with the entirety of the Christian communities of Jerusalem to stand with the Armenian Patriarchate in these unprecedented times as this is another clear step taken toward the endangerment of the Christian presence in Jerusalem and the Holy Land”

Rumors of this sale first surfaced in 2021, but it wasn’t until June 2023 the details of the sale were publicly reported. At the time, the Associated Press reported that the Armenian Orthodox Church signed a 99-year lease giving several church properties in the Old City of Jerusalem to an Australian-Israeli businessman, Danny Rothman (sometimes referred to as Danny Rubenstein). The lease reportedly includes the Hadiqat Al-Baqar (The Cows’ Garden) and its surrounding properties, including the Qishla building in Bab al-Khalil (Jaffa Gate), located in the Armenian Quarter. In total, 

In June 2023, settlers placed a sign on one of the tracts saying the land is the property of Xana Capital, the company which Danny Rothman owns. According to a bishop involved in the sale, Rothman and his business Xana Capital plans to develop the land into a luxury resort managed by a Dubai-based company.

The Armenian Archbishop, Nourhan Manougian, alleged that the Church’s real estate official and priest – Baret Yeretsian – sold the land in a “fraudulent and deceitful” deal that he was unaware of. Yeretsian, in turn, said he carried out the deal at the direction of Manougian. Both Manougian and Yeretsian have been forced into hiding due to communal outrage.”

Terrestrial Jeruslame’s Danny Seidemann stresses the active role of the Israeli government in collaborating with settlers to take control of these properties, as in the case of other settler takeovers  across the Old City. He writes.:

“We have seen this pattern all too often. In the past, both distant and recent, settlers succeeded to take over strategically located Church sites of great historical, religious and cultural value. These include enormously important Greek Orthodox properties only meters away: the Imperial and Petra Hotel at Jaffa Gate, the St. John’s Hospice in Muristan, adjacent too the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, etc…

The most important aspect is the least visible: the location suggests that this property has been singled out, and is likely an integral part of an ambitious and highly consequential Government plan. For many years, and under the radar, the Government of Israel has been implementing projects to encircle the Old City w/ Biblically motivated settlements and settlement-related projects: a planned Israeli National Park over the Christian holy sites on the Mount if Olives, a cable car from West Jerusalem to the settler headquarters n Silwan, the opening of an Israeli Night spot at the entrance to the Christian Quarter at New Gate, etc. are just a few, of the prominent examples. There are dozens more. More than a billion sheqels have been invested in this Government project. Its goals are to encircle the religious, historical and cultural core of Jerusalem with settlement enclaves, and projects that will etch the Biblically motivated settler narrative into the landscape and urban fabric. 

This is no mere “bad thing”. The Government plan will radically undermine the character of Jerusalem, fragmenting Palestinian Jerusalem and marginalizing the already challenged Christian presence in the city. This is so impactful, that one prominent Christian cleric cautioned that the tome is not far off when Jerusalem will no longer be hospitable to Christians.”

Plan for New National Park in East Jerusalem Resurfaces (Mount Scopus Slopes National Park) 

Ir Amim and Bimkom jointly report that the Israeli government appears to have renewed its efforts to designate the open area between the Palestinian neighborhoods of al-Isawiyyah and a-Tur in East Jeruasalem as a new national park, called the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park.

Ir Amim and Bimkom explain:

The plan aims to turn the large vacant space between the aforementioned neighborhoods into a national park, which would extend eastward from Hebrew University towards the edge of the city and the E1 corridor. This will severely limit proper development of both neighborhoods, including the ability to adequately expand, which is essential. In addition, a large national park in this location would contribute to Israeli territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and the E1/Maaleh Adumim area. It will likewise serve as a form of touristic settlement, which increases Israeli control over more land and fractures the Palestinian space in the city.

The designation of areas as national parks and/or green spaces is a common practice in East Jerusalem used to alter the character of the space, fragment the Palestinian environs, and suppress urban planning, while enabling the seizure of their lands for Israeli interests.”

“Lower Aqueduct” Settlement Plan on the Agenda Again

Ir Amim reports that the JErusalem District Planning Committee is scheduled to meet on November 21st to discuss objections submitted against the “Lower Aqueduct” settlement plan, located in East Jerusalem. This plan would see a new settlement of 1,465 units built on a sliver of land located between the controversial settlements of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa – and is intended to connect the two. In so doing, it will establish a huge, uninterrupted continuum of Israeli settlements on the southern rim of Jerusalem, and will destroy Palestinian contiguity between the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  For more background on the Lower Aqueduct plan, see resources by: Terrestrial Jerusalem and Ir Amim.

Adding insult to injury, two years ago the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs initiated a plan to build a new Palestinian business center in the precise area targeted by the “lower aqueduct” plan, as part of an Israeli government initiative to reduce poverty in East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Municipality subsequently abandoned the plan for the Palestinian business center under pressure from settlers, specifically from the Har Homa settlement which borders the area. Ir Amim comments:

“Not only is this yet another example of severe planning discrimination, but construction of this new neighborhood will serve to further create Israeli territorial contiguity along East Jerusalem’s southern perimeter while depleting more land reserves for Palestinian development.”

Peace Now notes that the majority of the land on which the new settlement will be built (half of which is in East Jerusalem and half in West Jerusalem) is privately owned, or managed by the Israeli Custodian General. Although recent reporting suggests the Custodian General is moving to advance settlement construction on lands it manages across East Jerusalem, its legal ability to do so is questionable (and doing so has historically not been its practice).

Israel Opens Huwwara Road for Settlers, While Keeping Palestinians Under Lock Down

Peace Now reports  that the first section of the Huwara Bypass Road – near Nablus – opened for vehicular traffic on Sunday, November 12, 2023. Settlers – along with Bezalel Smotrich, who is effectively the governor of the West Bank – have pressed for this road to open for settlers since before the October 7th attacks. With the opening of the Huwara Bypass road, settlers now have exclusive use of two highways in the area, while Palestinans do not have access to either one.

The Huwwara Bypass Road is designed for residents of Nablus-area settlements to bypass the Palestinian village of Huwwara (which is an area with heavy traffic congestion from daily commuters), in order to more easily/directly access Jerusalem. This bypass road has long been a top priority for the settlers, who have complained about the long commute to Jerusalem and the limits this puts on the potential for growth of Nablus-area settlements. Building the road also gained urgency for the settlers after the release of the Trump Plan’s conceptual map, which left the area where the road is slated to be built within the borders a future Palestinian “state.” On October 6th (the day before Hamas’ heinous massacre of civilians in the south of Israel), Smotrich and settlers pressed for the road to be completed and opened after a spate of Palestinian attacks on Israeli persons and cars in the area.

Peace Now reports:

“Despite the ongoing war, the government is investing considerable efforts to open the road quickly, and construction continued even during the Gaza war, despite interruptions in other building and infrastructure projects during this period. The road’s trajectory required the confiscation of private Palestinian lands from the villages of Burin, Huwara, Beita, Awarta, Yasuf, Yatma, and A-Sawiya. The old Huwara Road, which until recently served both settlers and Palestinians, has been a central artery for Palestinian traffic from the Nablus area to Ramallah and southern West Bank. The road has been closed to Palestinian traffic since the beginning of the war. The Central Command Chief decided to reopen the road to Palestinians in parallel with the opening of the bypass road. However, settlers opposed its reopening, arguing that the old Huwara Road should also serve as a secure passage only for settlers. Eventually, the old Huwara Road was reopened to limited Palestinian traffic only on the evening of Sunday, November 12, 2023.”

Sheikh Jarrah Eviction Case Postponed

FMEP has been informed that the Israeli Enforcement and Collection Authority (ECA)  has postponed its discussion of the eviction of the Salem family from their home of 60+ years in the Umm Haroud section of Sheikh Jarrah, which was scheduled for November 14th. The Salem family is one of approximately 40 Palestinian families under threat of forcible displacement by settlers from the Um Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah.  

The Salem family has been fighting efforts by settlers to evict them from their home since 1988.  The individuals behind the years-long effort to evict the Salem family are Yonaten Yousef, a Jerusalem city councilmember, and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Aryeh King. Yousef and King claim to have bought the house from the Jewish family that owned it before 1948 — based on an Israeli law known as the Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970. This law provides Jewish Israelis the right to “reclaim” properties lost in the 1948 War. In contrast, under Israeli law the Salem family lacks any legal basis to claim both its home in Sheikh Jarrah – where the family has lived since being displaced from their home inside the Green Line during the 1948 War – or to their original home inside Israel, which they lost in the 1948 War (Israel law recognizes no such property claims by Palestinians who fled or were otherwise absent from the areas that became Israel in the course of that war)/.

In February 2022  the Jerusalem Magistrate Court froze an impending eviction of the Salem family based on the family paying the court a $7,700 “guarantee”. Around that same time the Israeli government seized a piece of the Salem property, located adjacent to the home that is now under demolition threat. Itamar Ben Gvir (who is now serving as the National Security Minister, with authority over demolitions in East Jerusalem) subsequently set up a tent on that seized property and called it his parliamentary office – a deliberate provocation.

For further background on the Salem family’s case (including on the Israeli laws that were expressly designed to enable the eviction of Palestinians in favor of settlers), see reporting by Ir Amim and Peace Now.

Accountability as Settlers Terrorize South Hebron Hills

The intensification of settler terrorism and displacement efforts in the South Hebron Hills has continued to escalate. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote an urgent appeal to the head of the IDF, calling for the IDF to intervene on behalf of Palestinians. Citing many specific incidents, ACRI writes:

“settlers living in outposts in the South Hebron Hills, have presented themselves in Palestinian communities dressed in military uniforms, sometimes masked, and intimidated residents, violently attacked them, damaged property and even ordered them to leave their homes.”

B’Tselem: H-2 Area of Hebron Suffering Under Collective Punishment

B’Tselem has called the IDF-imposed curfew on Palestinians living in the H-2 area of Hebron “collective punishment.” It also collected testimonies of families living in H-2 under highly restrictive and frightening conditions. B’Tselem writes:

“Since the war broke out on 7 October 2023, the military has been imposing a curfew on 11 neighborhoods in Area H2 in Hebron. Stores and businesses have been shut down and thousands of people, amounting to about 750 families, are imprisoned at home. Only after two weeks of full curfew, on 21 October 2023, did the military permit residents to leave home on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. 

Venturing out of the house requires crossing checkpoints and engaging with soldiers. This invariably involves humiliating treatment and meticulous body searches, and takes up most of the brief window of time allotted to the residents. As a result, many cannot get back in time to the checkpoint and have to stay out an entire day or night until it reopens. This prevents residents from getting what they need, and some are running low on food, water, medication and cooking gas.

The curfew has completely disrupted life in H2. Residents cannot get to work and school or visit family, and all the businesses are closed. They are living in complete uncertainty, without knowing when they will return to normal. Meanwhile, settlers in Hebron are enjoying full freedom of movement, which they use to harrass residents and damage their property. 

There is no justification for keeping hundreds of people under a blanket movement ban, locked up at home for weeks on end. Israel is taking advantage of the fact that local and international attention is currently diverted from the West Bank to impose far-reaching measures that constitute collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law. This conduct is integral to Israel’s apartheid regime, which is at its most flagrant in Hebron.” 

Bonus Reads

  1. “West Bank olive harvest ‘more dangerous than ever’ under shadow of war” (+972 Magazine)
  2. ”​Coalition of 11 right-wing organizations unveils Gaza strip resettlement initiative” (Jerusalem Post)
  3. “From Montana to Samaria – The cowboys who came to help” (Arutz Sheva)
  4. “‘They Don’t Want People to Know We Exist’ Palestinians across the West Bank describe what life has been like since October 7.” (New York Magazine)
  5. While It Bombs Gaza, Israel Is Now Shooting to Kill Palestinians in the West Bank” (Haaretz)