Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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September 16, 2022
- Israel Quickly Advancing Plans to Build Har Gilo West Settlement to Encircle Al-Walaja
- Settlers Attack, Injure Palestinian in South Hebron Hills; IDF Arrests Him
- Bonus Reads
Israel Quickly Advancing Plans to Build Har Gilo West Settlement to Encircle Al-Walaja
Israel is rapidly accelerating the planning of the Har Gilo West settlement, located on geopolitically very sensitive – land on Jerusalem’s southern border. First, on September 11, the Israeli High Planning Council approved a plan to widen a road leading to the Har Gilo settlement, a road that is integral to the planning of the new Har Gilo West settlement. Then, on September 14th the High Planning Council announced that it would convene to consider the Har Gilo West plan on November 7, 2022. If built, Har Gilo West would – among other consequences – involve the construction of a new section of Israel’s separation barrier, a section that will complete the encirclement and isolation of the beleaguered Palestinian village of Al-Walajah (which is already surrounded by the Israel’s separation barrier on three sides).
The plan for Har Gilo West was deposited for public review in July 2022 (after having been approved for deposit almost two years prior, in October 2020), the Israeli High Planning Council Council has treated the Har Gilo West settlement plan as merely an expansion of the existing Har Gilo settlement. In actuality, Har Gilo West is territorially non-contiguous with the existing Har Gilo settlement and, if built, will have part of al-Walaja’s built-up area and the Separation Barrier lying between the two settlements. For all intents and purposes it represents the construction of a brand new settlement on Jerusalem’s southern border.
When, and if, the High Planning Council convenes to discuss objections filed against the plan, it will likely have to deal with an objection against the plan submitted jointly by the Israeli NGOs Ir Amim and Bimkom, in cooperation with Palestinian residents of Al-Walajah. The objection details its devastating impact on the community and its surroundings, specifically detailing how “the establishment of Har Gilo West will deplete al-Walaja’s remaining land reserves in Area C, preventing the village’s further expansion, while dispossessing community residents of their private land. Hedging in al-Walaja with settlements and the barrier will likewise jeopardize the community’s freedom of movement, disconnecting it from the surrounding Palestinian environs.”
In addition to involving the encirclement of al-Wallaja and representing a brand new settlement, the initial plan for 560 units in Har Gilo West is part of a larger plan to construct around 1004 units in the new settlement, extending its borders right up to the Jerusalem municipal boundary, with additional dire consequences for Palestinians. Peace Now explains:
- The settlement would sever the connection between the lands of al-Walajah and the lands of Battir, the latter of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The land allocated for the settlement is considered a “buffer zone” for Battir’s prized terraces, which are meant to help protect the heritage site from an ecological, scenic and hydrological standpoint.
- The land on which Har Gilo West is meant to be built is some of the only uninhabited and fertile land reserves for Bethlehem.
Ir Amim and Bimkom – who have previously filed a joint objection to the Har Gilo West plan – write:
“Beyond its destructive impact on the Palestinian village of al-Walaja, the plan’s ramifications on the prospects of any viable political agreement should be seen on par with Israeli construction in E1. Both plans contribute to the Israeli government’s acceleration of de-facto annexation of the West Bank, in particularly the Greater Jerusalem area, while carrying dire ramifications on Palestinian human rights. The advancement of Har Gilo West joins a spate of cumulative Israeli measures taking place along the southern flank of East Jerusalem and its surroundings in a bid to consolidate Israeli control and increase territorial contiguity with the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. This is exemplified by the major settlement advancements in the vicinity and mass home demolitions in al-Walaja juxtaposed with the state’s neglect in initiating a zoning plan for the village’s area located within the Jerusalem municipal borders.”
Settlers Attack, Injure Palestinian in South Hebron Hills; IDF Arrests Him
On September 12th, A group of settlers from the illegal outpost of Havot Ma’on in the South Hebron Hills attacked Palestinians farming on their own nearby private land. The attack resulted in a skull fracture for one settler and a broken arms for Hafez Huraini, the Palestinian landowner defending himself while grazing flocks on his land. [map]
The Havat Ma’on outpost has a history of violent harassment of Palestinians working land near the outpost and the settlers’ illegally-built access road (illegal under even Israeli law). Despite this history, initial reports of this week’s attack in the Israeli press relied on the account of the settlers and Israeli security sources, depicting the incident as an attempted lynching of settlers by a group of Palestinians. Video footage of the incident subsequently proved that this account was wholly fictional, with the footage documenting aggressive actions by settlers – armed with iron rods and at least one automatic weapon (which was fired repeatedly) – against the Palestinians.
Following the incident, Israeli authorities arrested Huraini and are reportedly investigating him on possible charges of attempted murder (apparently of the settler against whom he had the audacity to defend himself). Huraini remains in Israeli custody as of this writing, notwithstanding the video of the attack that is widely circulating (not to mention the accounts of Palestinians and internationals on the scene). Likewise, notwithstanding the clear aggression of settlers documented in that video, as of this writing no settlers have reportedly been arrested for the attack.
+972 reports that, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, settlers punctured the tires of the ambulance attempting to reach Huraini (before he was arrested), and then uprooted several olive trees in the area. All of this was done in the presence of Israeli soldiers. Later that night, Israeli officers raided the town of A-Tuwani, throwing tear gas and stun grenades into homes.
Following the incident, Kerem Navot tweeted the following context, which was provided by a Palestinian lawyer, Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, from the NGO Haqel:
“Due to the proximity of their ancestral lands to Havat Maon, the Huraini family has suffered at the hands of the settlers’ constant violence and attacks for years. On 12/20/2021, for example, Mr. Hafez Huraini went to his lands and saw about one hundred of his and his family’s five year-old olive, almond, and peach trees, as well as various vegetable plants had been destroyed by settlers. A complaint was submitted to the Israeli police, yet to this day, no suspects have been found.
Another example of the authorities’ total disregard and turning a blind eye to all attacks against Palestinians in this region- even when they have all the evidence needed to identify the attackers and bring them to justice- happened with Hafez’s son. On 30/03/2018, an ATV came down from Havat Maon and started to create a disturbance in the area next to Tuwani. At a certain point, the ATV started driving very fast towards residents and activists, trying to run them over. The driver succeeded, and ran over Hafez Huraini’s son, whose leg was broken as a result and was hospitalized. A complaint, along with pictures, was also submitted to the police after this attack. Included in the pictures was one showing the license plate of the ATV, despite this, the complaint was closed and the appeal against closing the complaint was rejected.” (The video – https://bit.ly/3qCIDrL).
This aggregate of incidents combined tells the long story of violent acts against Palestinians in the region that have taken place recently, some of which were reported in real time to enforcement agencies. This includes: sending attack dogs, violent assault, stone throwing, arson, cutting trees, shepherding on private agricultural lands, expelling Palestinians from agricultural lands, throwing stun grenades by military personnel and more.
Since the end of 2017, we have reported and asked for enforcement agencies’ to intervene in around 60 incidents of harassment and assault of residents of Tuwani by settlers and the army, around 20 of these complaints were submitted to the Israeli Police. Until today, we have not been updated about nor do we know of any example of the perpetrators being brought to justice. Indeed, we received a letter from the Attorney General of the West Bank, on 02/09/2021 who wrote that: ‘the army has been in conversation with the commanders in the regional brigade and that in the past months, there has been an increase in the scope of military force in the region.’ The letter also noted that: ‘the guidelines for the military forces working the area, in particular those obligating personnel to intervene in and stop violent incidents, and if necessary, detain suspects and bring them to the Israeli Police, have been made clearer.’ ongoing violations of the law and criminal activity continues in this region, showing that in reality and despite the ease with which one can expect such incidents to occur given that this region is so readily subject to disturbances, the security forces do not do a thing to prevent them in advance. This includes not evacuating the illegal outpost that sits on private Palestinian lands and whose residents are responsible for the majority of these violent incidents and the severe violations of the rule of law, public order and the safety of the Paelstinian residents.”
- “Desert council again seeking to build amphitheater in Ramon Crater” (The Times of Israel)