Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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September 10, 2021
- Israeli Supreme Court to Hear Al-Walajah Case on October 6th
- JNF to Start Massive Land Registration Process, Threatening Widespread Eviction of Palestinians
- Bennett Government Requests Six Month Extension to Finalize Plan to Forcibly “Relocate” Khan Al-Ahmar
- Bennett Meets with Settler Council, Promises Settlement Growth (i.e. De Facto Annexation)
- Bonus Reads
Ir Amim and Bimkom jointly report that the Israeli Supreme Court has set October 6th as the date it will hold a hearing on 38 demolition orders issued against Palestinian homes in the Al-Walajah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. In July of this year, the State moved to dismiss the current petition filed by Palestinians that, for the moment, has frozen demolition proceedings against their homes. If the Court chooses to dismiss the petition, those 38 houses – homes to some 300 individuals – will likely face immediate demolition.
The State’s argument is that the houses – built by Palestinians on their own land – were built without the required Israeli permits. As a reminder, such permits are in general all but impossible for Palestinians to obtain; in the case of al-Walajah they are literally impossible to obtain, since the area lacks a required Israeli-approved “outline plan,” without which permits are an impossibility. In an effort to overcome this obstacle, Al-Walajah residents, with the help of planning experts, prepared and proposed an outline plan for the area, and for more than 15 years have worked to get Israel to approve it — to no avail. Israeli authorities have repeatedly (in January 2021 and again in March 2021) refused to approve the resident-backed plan, and have also refrained from initiating their own planning process. Indeed, the Jerusalem District Committee, as part of a January 25, 2021 ruling against the outline plan proposed by residents, deemed the area in question — where Palestinians have lived for decades — an “agricultural area” where no building would ever be permitted. The result: Al-Walajah’s residents have been left with zero hope of obtaining the permits required to build on – or keep their current houses – on their own land.
Due to its location and unique political situation Al-Walajah is a village besieged by Israel from every angle. In the words of Danny Seidemann:
“ Since 1967, Walajeh’s inhabitants have lived in a Kafka-esque situation, with their village technically located inside Israel’s expanded borders, but with villagers never given Israeli residency (they are considered West Bankers and thus are not permitted inside Jerusalem). As a result, the villagers’ presence in their own village is, under Israeli law, illegal, and their homes there are, by definition, illegal.”
For decades, the Israeli government has carried out a multi-prong effort to push Palestinians off of their land in al-Walajah. This has included demolition campaigns, construction of the separation barrier along a route that encircles the village and cuts residents off from their land, refusal to grant building permits, and the declaration of state parks over lands on which Palestinians have lived for generations. In October 2020, it was revealed that Israel, in order to build the Har Gilo West settlement, plans to extend the separation barrier to completely encircle al-Walajah, which is already surrounded on three sides by the separation wall. The new section of the barrier will be a 7-meter high concrete slab along the western edge of the built-up area of Al-Walajah.
On September 2nd, the Board of the Jewish National Fund in Israel (called the KKL-JNF) voted to initiate a new effort to register its ownership of land that the JNF claims to have purchased from the Israeli General Custodian. The JNF claims to have internal records of these purchases, despite the fact that the organization never formally registered its deed of ownership after the purchases.
According to Haaretz, the KKL-JNF Board has allocated over $31 million (100 million shekels) to a five-year plan that will see the organization pursue the formal registration of the following:
- A total of 530 files pertaining to acquisitions in the West Bank, of which the KKL-JNF says it has documentation for 360 deals, but only has formal contracts for 170. With respect to the fact that the JNF cannot fully document closed deals for most of these properties, Peace Now warns:
“…in some of the cases the documents only show intent to broker deals, and/or a negotiation that didn’t become a deal, and yet, legally, it could be argued that intent for a deal existed, and on this basis the land could be registered in JNF- KKL’s name. In addition, according to JNF- KKL, past experience shows that JNF- KKL succeeds in convincing the courts to register properties in its name and the chances to succeed in various files is great.”
- A total of 2,050 files pertaining to acquisitions in the Jerusalem area, totalling over 1 square mile in East Jerusalem – where the JNF is actively colluding with settler organizations to displace Palestinians from land it claims to own.
Ir Amim explains further:
“The decision to suddenly transfer this land to the KKL-JNF, which was initiated by a high-ranking individual within the General Custodian who is known to be active in settler projects, follows Ir Amim’s uncovering of a series of alarming Israeli decisions that aim to misuse land registration mechanisms in East Jerusalem for registering sizable areas of land to Israeli authorities or settlers on behalf of settler organizations. These moves are being conducted without proper disclosure or publication, therefore preventing Palestinians from challenging and protecting their property rights. 75 Palestinian families on an area of 35 dunams are currently under threat of eviction from ownership lawsuits levelled by settler organizations in Sheikh Jarrah. 85 families on an area of 5 dunams face a similar threat in Batan al-Hawa, Silwan. Transferring 2,500 dunams of land from the General Custodian to the KKL-JNF will lay the groundwork for potentially thousands of more eviction demands.”
As a reminder, the JNF, established in 1901, devoted itself to buying land for Jews. Today, the JNF owns about 15% of all the land inside the Green Line (a figure which stands to increase if the review process leads to more properties being registered to the JNF). In addition, the JNF has used two subsidiary companies – both called Himanuta – to purchase land in the West Bank, even though the stated JNF policy (until now) did not support such purchases. Peace Now reports that the JNF, via Himanuta, has already purchased over 160,000 acres (65,000 dunams) across the West Bank. Settlements established on some of those lands include Itamar, Alfei Menashe, Einav, Kedumim, Givat Ze’ev, Metzadot Yehuda (Beit Yatir), Otniel and more. At the same time, the JNF and the settler group Elad have been partnering together to pursue the mass eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem neighborhoods, including Silwan.
Bennett Government Requests Six Month Extension to Finalize Plan to Forcibly “Relocate” Khan Al-Ahmar
On September 5th, the Israeli government asked the Supreme Court for a six-month extension of its deadline to submit its position on the situation of the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community – which the Court has set to be forcibly evicted from its current location in the West Bank, just east of Jerusalem (on land that Israel wants to develop for the settlements). In its filing with the Court, the State suggests that there has been “significant progress” towards reaching an agreement with community leaders on the future of the community, which has lived at its present location since being relocated there from the Negev during the 1967 war.
In July 2021, when Khan al-Ahmar was set to be forcibly relocated/demolished, the Court granted the newly formed Bennett government a six-week extension to review the plan that had been negotiated by the Netanyahu government. At that time the Court hinted that it would not be amenable to issuing further extensions on the case.
The terms of the Netanyahu era deal would reportedly see the Khan Al-Ahmar community agree to its forced relocation to a site several miles east of their current homes (the new site is near Abu Dis) in exchange for Israeli residency.
It must be noted that, if reports are correct, Khan al-Ahmar leaders signed the deal after prolonged coercive circumstances. Previous allegations regarding the nature of the Khan al-Ahmar relocation – specifically B’Tselem’s accusation that it is tantamount to a war crime – have not necessarily been assuaged by the community’s agreement. Since the 1950s – when the community was forced to leave their land in the Negev during the 1948 war – the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community has lived and worked the lands located just east of Jerusalem, in the shadow of the land marked for the construction of the E-1 settlement (which is once again in the headlines).
The settler group Regavim – which petitioned the Court to force the government to demolish Khan al-Ahmar last year (in the midst of a global pandemic) – rejected the possibility of another delay, saying:
“Lapid’s announcement is a political move intended to signal to Bennett and his partners that none of their election promises can be fulfilled. Not in the Negev, not in the Galilee, and not in Khan al-Ahmar.” [Regavim called on Bennett] “to show who’s in charge. We call on you to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar immediately!”
Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann has previously written:
“the story of Khan Al-Ahmar is not only about the tragedy for the village and its inhabitants, or about Israel’s readiness to carry out an ostensible war crime in the face of the world. It is also about Israel’s determination to clear the entire area of the West Bank east of Jerusalem, and located within the line of the built and planned barrier, of any Palestinian presence. This clearing will prepare the ground for the future construction of E1 and de facto annexation of this so-called bloc, which extends well beyond the built-up area of Maale Adumim.”
On September 9th, Prime Minister Bennett held his first meeting with leaders of the settler Yesha Council (a leadership body that Bennett himself once served as the head of) and promised that his government would not freeze settlement construction, while also stating that his government will not annex West Bank land. Bennett also reportedly told the settlers that he was clear with the Biden Administration that he would not stop settlement building. Crisis Group analyst Maraiv Zonzein puts it:
“Bennett tells settler council the government will consider all requests for settlement construction. ‘We won’t annex but we won’t stop building.’ That is de facto annexation”
Last week, a government source told The Times of Israel that the Trump-era understandings on settlements remain the standard operating practice – meaning that the High Planning Council will be allowed to convene quarterly meetings to advance settlement construction, and that settlement construction should be “limited” in a way that does not expand the existing footprint of settlements. The official said:
“The [Trump-era] understanding may well be adapted, but, as of now, it is still the only game in town,” the official said. “President Biden only spoke generally about his opposition to settlement building, and his team has not gotten into specifics with us.”
As a reminder, settlement construction and de facto annexation soared during the Trump Administration, under these so-called “limitations.”
- “Growth rate of settlements plummets to all-time low” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Israel’s New Government Wants to ‘Shrink’ the Occupation. Meet the Man Behind the Idea” (Haaretz)
- “SCOOP: An event marking the one year anniversary of the signing of the Avraham Accords will be held in Washington on September 14.” (Twitter // @amichaistein1)