Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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September 15, 2023
- New from FMEP
- Israel Advances Plan for New, Heavily Fortified Settlement Enclave in East Jerusalem – “Kidmat Tzion”
- Israel Advances Plan to Massively Expand of Givat Hamatos Settlement (New Talpiyot Hill/Hebron Strip Plan)
- Settlers Forcibly Seize East Jerusalem Home, Later Removed
- Oslo & The Settlements
- Bonus Reads
- This week FMEP launched a new microsite dedicated to tracking Palestine-related lawfare. Lawfare refers to efforts that seek to exploit U.S. laws and courts in order to quash criticism and activism challenging Israeli policies, to delegitimize Palestinian organizations and the Palestinian cause, and to undermine and even criminalize support for and/or solidarity with the Palestinian people. This includes legislation and policies targeting Americans’ rights to boycott Israel and/or settlements. Notably: these efforts almost universally mandate, explicitly or implicitly, that Israeli settlements in the OPT be treated as part of Israel. You can visit the new site here: lawfare.fmep.org
- This week FMEP hosted a webinar entitled, “Forcible Transfer is a War Crime: West Bank Pogroms are Working” featuring B’Tselem’s Sarit Michaeli and Kareem Jubran in conversation with FMEP’s Sarah Anne Minkin. The discussion highlights the role settler terrorism is playing in forcibly displacing entire Palestinian communities from Area C. You can watch or listen to the discussion here.
On September 11th, the Jerusalem Local Planning & Building Committee met, and subsequently approved for deposit, plans to build a massive new settlement enclave inside of the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The new enclave – called “Kidmat Tzion” – was approved for the construction of 384 settlement units, to be 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.
The settlement enclave 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 this week while U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf – a senior U.S. official – was in Israel. 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.
On September 11th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee also approved for deposit a plan that will expand the Givat Hamatos settlement. The plan – referred to as “New Talpiot Hill” and/or Hebron Strip – stands to double the number of housing units in the Givat Hamatos settlement and increase its land mass by 40%, introducing not only 3,500 new settlement units but 1,300 hotel rooms in highrise buildings, posing a direct competition to the Palestinian tourism industry in nearby Bethlehem.
Further, the new settlement will be built on a strategic strip of land that will expand the area of Givat Hamatos eastward, connecting it with another new settlement plan – the “Lower Aqueduct Plan.” These plans ultimately create a string of settlements — spanning from Gilo to Givat Hamatos to Har Homa — that, together with the planned “Givat HaShaked” settlement to its north, completely encircle the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa with Israeli settlement construction.
Peace Now reports that the project is a joint initiative of the Greek Orthodox Church and a private company. The Church has said that part of the development is intended for use by the city’s Christian community, though previous reports indicate that the plan calls for five synagogues and two mikvehs, clearly showing that the construction is designed to serve Israeli Jews.
Ir Amim writes:
“Together, Givat Hamatos A and New Talpiyot Hill along with concurrent settlement advancements in the area are cumulatively sealing off East Jerusalem’s southern perimeter from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank. These measures likewise further fracture the Palestinian space and deplete all remaining land reserves in the area for Palestinian development. Such conditions severely undermine the prospects of an agreed political future of Jerusalem, while depriving Palestinians of their fundamental right to housing and shelter.”
On September 12th, a group of settlers forcibly seized a Palestinian home belonging to the Idris family in the Old City of Jerusalem. At the time, the matriarch of the family was in the hospital. The family arrived back home to find their house taken over by settlers. They were told to file a complaint in order to prove their ownership of the house.
The settlers were guarded by the Israeli security forces while they removed the families furniture, changed the doors and locks on the home and installed metal bars on the windows and roof. PCHR also reports the settlers built a “steel staircase and a mobile room to be later attached to the house.”
The settlers were later removed from the house by the Israeli police.
Peace Now has published a host of information looking at how the settlement enterprise has thrived since the signing of the Oslo Accords thirty years ago. Key facts are:
|110,000 settlers living in the West Bank||465,000 settlers living in the West Bank|
|128 settlements in the West Bank||300 settlements and outposts in the West Bank|
|140,000 settlers living in East Jerusalem settlements||230,000 settlers living in East Jerusalem settlements|
|800 settlers living in enclaves inside of Palestinians East Jerusalem neighborhoods||3,000 settlers living in enclaves inside of Palestinians East Jerusalem neighborhoods|
Peace Now concludes:
“The thirty years following the Oslo Accords were characterized by a significant expansion of the settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, growing from approximately 250,000 in 1993 to nearly 700,000 by 2023. This population growth is a result of Israel’s ongoing expansion of settlements, the establishment of new settlements in the form of outposts, and the construction of hundreds of kilometers of bypass roads, making it easier for settlements to connect to Israel. Additionally, a significant reinforcement of the settler population comes from the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), who have no ideological connection to the settlements and had not settled in the West Bank before the Oslo Accords, except for a few neighborhoods in East Jerusalem (Neve Yaakov, Ramat Shlomo, and Ramot).
The conclusions drawn from the data are clear. The settlement enterprise did not suffer from the Oslo Accords but rather thrived. Israel continued to expand, develop, and authorize settlements in the West Bank unabated. Even in years when few new settlements were established (1993–1997), infrastructure work continued. When factoring in agricultural land and pastures seized by settlers, it can be concluded that the settlement enterprise has never been in a better position, while the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank remains difficult and fraught with challenges.”
- “The Palestinian Boy Whose Village Was Destroyed Turned Into a True Freedom Fighter” (Haaretz)
- “Settlers Assault Palestinian and Left-wing Israeli Activists in Separate West Bank Attacks” (Haaretz)
- “Israel to close West Bank, Gaza Strip crossings over Rosh Hashanah” (i24 News)
- “Israel’s finance minister now governs the West Bank. Critics see steps toward permanent control” (AP)