Settlement & Annexation Report: November 18, 2022


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

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November 18, 2022

  1. Jerusalem Planning Committee to Discuss (Another) Plan to Significantly Expand Nof Zion Settlement Enclave
  2. As Court Tries to Avoid Underlying Issue of Land Allocation Practices in the West Bank, Palestinians Reject “Deal” that Would Allow Construction of Givat Eitam/E-2 Settlement,
  3. Mass Displacement/Dispossession in Silwan Advances, Court Rejects Shahadeh Family Petition
  4. Elad Continues Illegal Work in East Jerusalem Cemetery
  5. Bibi’s Coalition Promises on Settlement: Outposts, Homesh, Evyatar, Infrastructure, Override Clause, & More
  6. Settler Violence Continues to Surge
  7. U.S Ambassador Visits a Settlement, Less Than a Year After Saying He Won’t
  8. Bonus Reads

Jerusalem Planning Committee to Discuss (Another) Plan to Significantly Expand Nof Zion Settlement Enclave

Ir Amim reports that on November 23rd the Jerusalem District Planning Committee is scheduled to discuss a plan to expand the Nof Zion settlement enclave, located in the heart of the Palestinan neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber in East Jerusalem. The plan would allow for 100 new residential units and 275 hotel rooms in the settlement enclave, and is part of a larger scheme to connect the enclave to the built-up area of East Talpiot – a scheme which would cut deeply into the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood and entrench the expanding continuum of Israeli settlements surrounding Jerusalem.

Commenting on the plan, the Israeli NGO Ir Amim writes:

“Beyond its geopolitical implications, this is yet another example of the severe discrimination in urban planning and housing in East Jerusalem. Despite the plan being slated for the entrance of Jabal Mukabber, it is not designated for the community’s development needs but rather for the expansion of a Jewish settlement in the middle of a Palestinian neighborhood. It should be noted that Jabal Mukabber is among the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem with the highest number of demolitions per year.”

Specifically, the Nof Zion expansion plan to be discussed by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee on November 23rd is interconnected with another plan (last discussed by the Committee in January 2022). That plan seeks to move an Israeli police station [the Oz station] currently located on the border of Jabal Mukaber, to a new site across the street (where it will become a massive Israeli security headquarters), leaving its current location free for the planned expansion of Nof Zion. Ir Amim filed a petition against the police station plan, saying that it is an affront to the planning needs of the local community and continues Israel’s systematic, city-wide discrimination against the housing, educational, and service-based needs of Palestinian neighborhoods. A decision on the police station relocation plan is expected soon. 

Ir Amim further explains the impact of these plans:

“Expanding the settlement towards the main entrance of Jabal Mukabber will infringe on the residents’ freedom of movement and further disrupt the fabric of life in the neighborhood. Prior experience show that during clashes and periods of tension and instability, Israel rushes to impose collective restrictions under the pretext of protecting Israeli settlers.”

These plans are just the latest efforts to expand and entrench the Nof Zion settlement enclave. Prior plans include:

  • In 2017, the Israeli government approved a plan to build a new synagogue and mikveh for the settlement, to be located on private Palestinian land that had been expropriated form Jabal Mukaber the year before. 
  • In April 2019, after two years of rumors, the Israeli government issued 176 building permits for the already-approved project to build . According to Ir Amim, those permits were ultimately issued in April 2019. 
  • In 2019, construction began on a plan to triple the size of the settlement enclave, making it the largest such enclave in East Jerusalem. After a two-year stall, construction on the expansion resumed in 2021 with new financing.

As Court Tries to Avoid Underlying Issue of Land Allocation Practices in the West Bank, Palestinians Reject “Deal” that Would Allow Construction of Givat Eitam/E-2 Settlement

On November 14th, Peace Now tweeted updates from a courtroom where the Israeli Supreme Court was attempting to resolve the ongoing petition against the allocation of “state land” for the construction of the Givat Eitam/E-2 settlement, slated to be build on a strategic hilltop – which Palestinians know as a-Nahle – located just south of Bethlehem. The construction of Givat Eitam/E-2 would significantly expand the Efrat settlement in the direction of Bethlehem. It would also effectively cut Bethlehem off from the southern West Bank and complete the city’s encirclement by Israeli settlements.

In the hearing, the State of Israel proposed a deal to the Palestinian petitioners, according to which the State would allocate to them a total of 54 dunams (out of the 1,400 dunams originally planned for the construction of the new settlement). The Palestinian landowners rejected the deal, with their lawyer Michael Sfard noting:

“The main problem is that the solution proposed by the court…does not remove the evil of the decree from their heads, and therefore we oppose this proposal…that offer, whether it is 50 or 100 dunams, does not help the Palestinian communities. Since we, and everyone who sits around here, knows that if this neighborhood is built, it’s likely that they won’t even be able to cultivate those acres.”

Peace Now tweeted its sense of where the judges opinions might land, writing:

The hearing is over. The petitioners rejected the state’s offer. It seems that the judges are trying to avoid a decision on the central question regarding the entire land – whether it should be allocated to the settlements or the Palestinians. The judges keep trying to walk between the drops. On the one hand, they cannot ignore the blatant discrimination in Israel’s land allocation policy. On the other hand, they are trying to avoid the fundamental question of the legality of this land allocation to the settlement.”

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.

Mass Displacement/Dispossession in Silwan advances, as Court Rejects Shahadeh Family Petition

On November 13th, the Jerusalem District Court announced that it had rejected an appeal by the Palestinian Shehadeh family seeking to cancel eviction orders that seek to dispossess them of their longtime homes in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan in favor of the Ateret Cohanim settler organization. The announcement follows a hearing the Court held on the appeal on November 9th.

As a reminder: the Shahadeh family is one of 85 families in Batan al-Hawa facing displacement at the behest of Ateret Cohanim. The legal fate of all of the families is bound together, with the Duweik family’s case being the furthest advanced and setting a 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.

Elad Continues Illegal Work in East Jerusalem Cemetery

Emek Shaveh & Ir Amim tweeted footage of construction work at the site of the Sambuski cemetery, an ancient Jewish cemetery located in the Ben Hinnom Valley in East Jerusalem. The Elad settler group – which is paid by the Israeli government to manage and expand a web of settler-tourist sites and the City of David National Park – has been conducting work on the Sambuski Cemetery despite apparently lacking a permit. Emek Shaveh – an Israeli NGO with expertise in archaeology –  notes that any construction within a national park should be heavily scrutinized by professionals and the public before being implemented.

In August 2022,  Elad unilaterally closed the main access road leading to the Palestinian neighborhood of Wadi Rababa, which travels past the Sambuski cemetery.  150 families were trapped in the neighborhood while Elad worked on the site.

The Sambuski cemetery was a relatively unknown, neglected site until recent years – but it is deeply integrated into Elad’s overarching, comprehensive plan to take control of the Silwan neighborhood. In 2020, the-president Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan identified the Sambuski cemetery as a place of prime historical and religious importance to Israel, elevating the status of the cemetery. The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – which has special expertise on archaeology and the way archeology has been weaponized to serve the political agenda of the settlers and the state of Israel – wrote a report on exactly how the Trump plan supports settler efforts to use Jerusalem’s history and antiquities to promote Israeli-Jewish hegemony and control over the city.

Emek Shaveh explains how the cemetery is connected to other settler endeavors in Silwan:

“For the Elad Foundation the cemetery is a strategic site as it links together two important focal points of its enterprise – the neighborhood of Silwan, home to the City of David archaeological park and specifically to the Pool of Siloam at the southern tip of the site, and the Hinnom Valley an area which Elad has been developing for the past two years (more below).”

Bibi’s Coalition Promises on Settlement: Outposts, Homesh, Evyatar, Infrastructure, Override Clause, & More

Netanyahu continues to negotiate a final coalition agreement in order to form a new government, and has reportedly committed to virtually all of the main demands of the settler movement (short of outright annexation of all the land between the river and the sea), including:

  1. Passage of the Supreme Court Override Clause (see this new explainer by ACRI). This law would obliviate judicial oversight in Israel, giving ultimate power to the Knesset. Under the new Israeli government and with the current Knesset, this law would likely be used  to reinstate the Settlement Regulation Law – the law that seeks to establish a legal basis for Israel to retroactively legalize outposts and settlement structures which are built on land that Israel acknowledges is privately owned by Palestinians. As a reminder, that law was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court in June 2020. Peace Now estimates that the law stands to convert some 55 unauthorized outposts into official, authorized settlements, seizing some 8,000 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land in the process.
  2. Full recognition & integration of outposts (i.e., retroactive legalization and de facto annexation). This was reportedly promised to Bezalel Smotrich, who has authored Knesset legislation to grant full status to outposts irregardless of the status of the land on which the outposts were built illegally. Separately, Netanyahu agreed with Itamar Ben Gvir that the outposts would be provided infrastructure services within 60 days of the new government being sworn in.
  3. The reestablishment of the Homesh Settlement. Netanyahu reportedly committed to Itamar Ben Gvir, a longtime supporter/devotee of Rabbi Meir Kahane, that the settlement of Homesh will be reestablished on the land where it stood prior to being dismantled by the Israeli government in 2005. To do so would require the government to amend the 2005 Disengagement Law that not only ordered the dismantling of the Homesh settlement along with three others in the northern West Bank, but provided for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. For more on the long-running campaign by settlers and their allies to reestablish the Homesh settlement – and its consequences for Palestinians who live nearby and own the land on which Homesh once stood – see here
  4. The legalization of a yeshiva at the Evyatar Outpost. Netanayhu and Ben Gvir agreed to grant retroactive authorization to a yeshiva established at the Evyator outpost. For more on the Evyatar outpost & yeshiva saga – see here.
  5. A commitment to expanding settler road infrastructure across the West Bank. Netanyahu agreed with Ben Gvir to allocate $434 million ($1.5 billion shekels) for the paving of new and expanded bypass roads in the West Bank and for the expansion of Highway 60, and to expedite the planning process for doing so. For more analysis on how infrastructure such as roads contribute to Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank, see this report by Breaking the Silence.

In addition, Netanyahu is coming under increasing pressure from inside his coalition to name far right-wing MK Bezalel Smotrich as the next Defense Minister. Haaretz reports that Itamar Ben Gvir supports Smotrich’s demand because it will, 

help implement a full right-wing policy, establish new settlements in the West Bank, approve construction of thousands of new housing units in them, stop Palestinian construction in Area C and halt the evictions of illegal outposts.” 

Of note, in 2021 Smotrich suggested that a “solution” to Palestinian “illegal” construction in Area C (construction by Palestinians on their own land, but without Israeli-required building permits, that Israeli makes it nearly impossible to obtain) could be to give settlements the authority to demolish Palestinian construction they believe to be unauthorized. 

American officials, including Ambassador Nides, have expressed concern over Smotrich’s potential appointment to such a key – and powerful – post. In addition to his pro-settlement, pro-annexation positions, Smotrich is also a self-proclaimed homophobe and has lobbied for the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel.

Lastly, and underscoring the extent to which the settlers’ agenda and the governing coalition’s agenda are one and the same: a newly elected Member of the Knesset, Limor Son Har-Melech of the Religious Zionism  coalition, has appointed a member of the radical hilltop youth movement to serve as his spokesperson.  Har-Melech’s new spokesman, Elisha Yered, lives in the outpost of Ramat Migron in the northern West Bank, and is under ongoing investigation following his arrest in August 2022 for “racist conspiracy” — amongst other charges for crimes against Palestinians. Yered is quoted as saying: 

“the hills are the scene of a war that according to Jewish law one is required to wage…what the hills do is to bring Jewish control to hundreds of dunams – that is something that no soldier in the greatest reconnaissance unit can do during his service.”

Settler Violence Continues to Surge

Following a Palestinian stabbing attack near the Ariel settlement that left 3 Israelis dead and 3 injured, settlers across the West Bank rampaged to take their revenge, committing over 20 attacks against Palestinian and their property, as well as Israeli soldiers, in the 24 hours that followed.

In addition, in its weekly report on Israeli human rights violations covering Nov. 10-16, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that settlers conducted 4 attacks on Palestinians’ vehicles in different areas in the West Bank during the reporting period Nov. 10-16.

“On 14 November 2022, Israeli settlers moved into Haris village in Salfit, north of the West Bank, and burned four vehicles belonging to the villagers.

On 15 November 2022, Israeli settlers attacked and set fire to a vehicle belonging to a
Palestinian who was in his way back from ‘Attil village in northern Tulkarm to Nablus.

On the same day, Israeli settlers intercepted a bus for a women’s trip in Hebron and
prevented it from moving for few hours, enticing fear among the passengers.

On 16 November 2022, Israeli settlers threw stones at four vehicles near Ramin village, east of Tulkarm, breaking their windows. On the same day, Israeli settlers damaged a vehicle belonging to a Palestinian doctor near Jit village in Qalqilya.”

PCHR concludes, noting: “Since the beginning of the year, settlers conducted at least 236 attacks. In two of the attacks, 2 Palestinians were killed.”

U.S Ambassador Visits a Settlement, Less Than a Year After Saying He Won’t

This week U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides visited the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Netafim to offer his condolences to the grieving family of a victim of Sunday’s stabbing attack that killed three and wounded three. Nides’ trip marks the first time any representative of the Biden Administration has undertaken official travel to any Israeli settlement. A U.S. Embassy spokesperson said that “the shiva visit in no way signals a change in US policy toward settlements”

In January 2022 Ambassador Nides was quoted as saying he “will absolutely not” visit a settlement. It’s worth recalling that the Biden Administration has not reversed or publicly rejected the Trump Administration’s “Pompeo Doctrine,” which made it U.S. policy to view Israeli settlements as not “per se inconsistent with international law.” 

Kiryat Netafim is located about half way between the Ariel settlement and the cluster of settlements close to the 1967 Green Line that are slated to be united into a “super settlement” area (Oranit, Elkana, Shiva Tikva, and others). The string of settlements creates a contiguous corridor of Israeli construction and control stretching from sovereign Israeli territory to Ariel. As FMEP has repeatedly pointed out, the Ariel settlement is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel (with a finger of land running through settlements like Kiryat Netafim) will cut the northern West Bank in half..

Bonus Reads

  1. “Gantz approves upgrade to stretch of West Bank barrier after spate of terror attacks” (The Times of Israel)
  2. On the U.N.:
    1. “Key UN committee seeks legal opinion on Israel’s occupation” (Washington Post)
    2. “Opinion | Israel’s Chutzpah at the United Nations” (Haaretz / Noa Landau)
    3. “Lapid, Gantz slam UN panel’s call on ICJ to probe Israeli ‘occupation, annexation’” (The Times of Israel)
  3. “Adalah and Center for Constitutional Rights demand US cancel its plan to build embassy compound in Jerusalem on private Palestinian land” (Adalah)
  4. “Expulsion by Other Means: Israel’s Campaign Against Palestinians in Masafer Yatta” (J Street)
  5. Ben & Jerry’s board bemoans West Bank, east Jerusalem sales” (AP News)
  6. “Wild boars in Palestine are being weaponized by Israeli colonialism” (Mondoweiss)
  7. “IDF soldier suspended for cursing left-wing activist in Hebron: ‘You’re a traitor’” (The Times of Israel)