Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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October 20, 2023
- Israel Advances Plan for New East Jerusalem Settlement Enclave, “Kidmat Tzion”
- Settler Terrorism & the Ongoing Displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank
- Bonus Reads
WATCH: On October 17th, FMEP hosted a webinar entitled “The Situation in Gaza: A Briefing” featuring Tania Hary (Gisha), Nour Odeh (political activist), Omar Shakir (Human Rights Watch) and Lara Friedman (FMEP).
Peace Now reports that on October 9th the Jerusalem District Planning Committee met to review amendments to the “Kidmat Tzion” settlement plan, which calls for 384 settlement units to be built in the heart of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood Ras al-Amud. The plan was initially approved for public deposit on September 11, 2023 but the Committee had requested further input from the Israeli Ministry of Transportation and the Defense Ministry, given the particularly sensitive location of the enclave, which is designed to be heavily fortified and only accessible via road that goes through densely populated areas of Ras al-Amud. At the October 9th meeting, the Transportation Ministry proposed a plan to pave a new access road to the east; the Defense Ministry was unable to attend given the major attack and massacres by Palestinian militants from Hamas on Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. The Committee again approved the settlement plan, but also scheduled another hearing to consider the details of the proposal for an alternate road.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“Even in times of war and just two days after the largest security disaster in the history of the State of Israel since its establishment, the Israeli government does not forget to advance additional flashpoints and confrontations. It seems that the fact that the entire country is entangled in the southern, northern, and western frontlines and the tension in the West Bank does not prevent the Israeli government from promoting potential sources of future conflict. The East Jerusalem settlement is a clear statement of the government’s priorities. We have already seen who pays the price.״
As a reminder, the Kidmat Tzion settlement enclave will located on a tiny strip of land between the Ras al-Amud neighborhood and the Israeli separation barrier, with the Abu Dis neighborhood on the other side of the wall. Kidmat Tzion will be accessible only by driving through densely populated areas of Ras Al-Amud. To deal with the reality of its location, the architects of the plan have designed the enclave to be a heavily guarded and gated community. It will be surrounded by an electric fence, a patrol road, a concrete guard station at its entrance, and the roofs of the houses will have cameras and spotlights installed. The security plan for the enclave had to be prepared and filed by the IDF’s Central Command, which specified that four armed security guards will patrol the neighborhood at all times, as well as a security chief and an armored vehicle.
Haaretz notes that – despite its sensitivity – the plan has been flying through the planning process at a much faster speed than is typical, and was brazenly approved while U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf – a senior U.S. official – was in Israel in September. Sari Kronish of the Israeli NGO Bimkom told Haaretz:
“The lightning speed with which the District Committee is promoting a plan to build a Jews-only, gated village in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood in [East] Jerusalem raises the suspicion that this is a political ploy.”
Amy Cohen, Ir Amim’s Director of International Advocacy told Haaretz:
“Israel promotes tens of thousands of housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem every year, while systematically denying Palestinians the same housing rights, all with the aim of pushing them out of East Jerusalem and influencing the city’s demographic balance in a crude and artificial way,” said “This proposal severs the single access road leading to Palestinian homes and is being advanced with a speed we have never seen before. The move is doubly problematic since the City Engineer himself notes that necessary basic tests were not conducted.”
Originally introduced in April 2023, the plan is the product of the Ateret Cohanim settler group – rather, its affiliate the Bahorim Company – which filed documents with the planning committee that show it (Bahorim) only owns 10% of the land where Kidmat Tzion is planned for. The land is unregistered, but Bahorim submitted a table of ownership purporting to show that dozens of plots were owned by Jews prior to 1948, still other plots are owned by settler affiliated groups including one run by U.S. millionaire and settlement financier Irving Moskowitz, and 1 or 2 plots are owned by Palestinians. Part of the land is owned by the Israeli Custodian General.
Construction of this settlement could well achieve the considerable geopolitical consequences the settlers hope for — most notably by complicating if not outright blocking any future division of Jerusalem (or sharing agreement) under any possible Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is worth recalling that Abu Dis has been repeatedly suggested by Israel and its allies (including in the Trump Plan) as the capital of a future Palestinian state (as a substitute for Jerusalem), and an unfinished building in Abu Dis was designed to be the future home of a Palestinian parliament. This settlement plan would scuttle all such ideas. Indeed, in the planning documents Ateret Cohanim explained:
“Palestinian institutions in Abu Dis were built with the vision of turning the town into the capital city of Palestine and building a corridor and passage to the center of Jerusalem, and thus promoting the takeover of the entire city…The significance of establishing and developing the neighborhood is to create a shield for Jerusalem against Palestinian ambitions. The neighborhood will disturb the contiguity [of the area] and protect us from dividing the city.”
The new settlement enclave will also further solidify the infrastructure connecting settlements south of Jerusalem to the city. Kidmat Zion will be located adjacent to the so-called “American Road,” which will tunnel underneath parts of Abu Dis. The “American Road” is a section of north-south highway that is meant to seamlessly connect settlements located in the north and south of Jerusalem to one another, and to serve as a bypass for settler traffic to cut through East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods. While the road will be accessible to Palestinians (a fact touted by Israel as proof of Israeli good intentions), the obvious primary purpose is to entrench Israel settlements, expand Israeli control over all of East Jerusalem, and close off Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the rest of the West Bank, thereby (further) torpedoing Palestinian hopes of one day establishing a capital in East Jerusalem.
Settler terrorism – which was already at an astonishing high level of frequency and violence – is actively displacing more Palestinian communities across the West Bank. OCHA has recorded 100 settler attacks since October 7th, which on average is eight incidents per day, resulting in 79 deaths and 1,434 injuries. The violence and terror are resulting in the significant displacement of Palestinians from Area C of the West Bank. On October 17th, OCHA reported that “at least seven Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank have been fully or partially displaced amid settler attacks and threats. At least 43 Palestinian households comprising 283 people, including 146 children, were displaced from the herding Bedouin communities in the Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nablus governorates.”
In a particularly horrific incident on October 12th, three Palestinians were blindfolded, brutally assaulted, and urinated upon by a gang of 20-25 settlers and uniformed IDF soldiers. The victims are residents of the Wadi al-Seeq bedouin community, and while most of the village residents had fled their homes weeks before under the constant and escalating violence of settlers, the three victims returned to gather the remaining belongings when the attack occurred.
In an piece entitled, “Israel’s Expulsion of Palestinians in West Bank Amid the Fog of War” the Haaretz Editorial Board writes:
“What is happening in the territories calls for military intervention and governmental attention. This time it isn’t “just” deepening the annexation and apartheid. Against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, the settlers’ crimes may push the Palestinians in the West Bank to violence, and bring about the opening of another front, which will make it difficult for the IDF to defend the country. The fact that the military and government allow these crimes to take place during wartime is itself a crime and a security failure. Unlike the failures that brought the current disaster upon Israel, this one can be stopped. The question is whether a government populated by settler representatives, who dream of Nakba 2.0 – or worse – is interested in, and capable of, enforcing limits upon these people.”
In a report on surging settler violence, Peace Now says:
“The IDF and the police must do everything possible to stop the escalating violence. During the past week, settler violence has intensified and reached new peaks. Meanwhile, Palestinians are experiencing a lack of security forces and protection from Israeli authorities. It seems that the first week of the war in Gaza is marked by security chaos. The bodies of law and order on the West Bank do not prevent violence and, at times, even align with settler demands. Revenge and harm to the innocent do not constitute a policy. If the legal authorities and the IDF do not take action, the West Bank will become a war zone. Like in any cycle of violence, the price will be paid by all residents, Israelis, and Palestinians.”
Notably, the surging violence and Israel’s war footing in the West Bank coincides with the start of the annual olive harvest season. HaMoked reports that Palestinian farmers are being systematically denied access to their land in the Seam Zone (i.e. on the Israeli side of the West Bank barrier inside of the West Bank), and Palestinians living the Seam Zone are being subjected to new restrictions on crossing the barrier into the West Bank. Palestinian farmers risk losing an entire year’s salary if denied the ability to tend to and harvest their crop.
- “Collective Punishment and Aggressive Policing in East Jerusalem Infringe on Palestinian Rights and Liable to Ignite Violence in the City” (Ir Amim, October 16, 2023)