Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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September 8, 2023
- Israel Establishes Official Borders for Three Outposts
- IDF Demolishes Illegal Settler Structures Near Yitzhar
- Settler Leader Pushes Campaign to Seize Mt. Ebal, Located in Area B
- New Civil Admin Head Nominated, Without Input or Approval of Smotrich
- Real Estate Developer Files Suit Against Settlers, IDF
- Blistering New UN Report Calls Israeli Occupation Illegal & Calls for Reparations
- Settler Terrorism as a Means of State-Sanctioned Ethnic Cleansing
- Bonus Reads
On September 6th, the head of the IDF signed a military order establishing municipal borders for three outposts – Avigail, Asa’el, and Beit Hogla – a significant step towards the retroactive legalization of the outposts, which was directed by the Israeli government in February 2023 (along with five others). The Avigail and Asael outposts are located in the South Hebron Hills; the Beit Hogla outpost is south east of Jericho.
The next step in the legalization of the outposts is creating a masterplan to designate the area for residential construction, so that the existing buildings can be granted retroactive legalization and future building can commence planning.
Bezalel Smotrich (who is effectively governor of the West Bank in his capacity as a minister within the Defense Ministry) celebrated this step towards legalization of the outposts, saying:
“Great things are happening in the settlements, and the nationalist government is advancing right-wing, Zionist and nationalist policies that see the development of the settlements in Judea and Samaria as an asset to the State of Israel,”
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The annexation has for a long time stopped creeping. The Israeli government led by Netanyahu and Smotrich has officially decided to promote with all its vigor the annexation of the West Bank. The decision of the commander of the IDF Central Command regarding the municipal boundaries is yet another step in this process. Not only is the State of Israel promoting more settlements, which do great damage to Israelis and Palestinians, it is also giving each settlement a huge and disproportionate area for its boundary jurisdiction…The main goal of the regime and the messianic [judicial] coup is to enable such processes, and to import the reality of apartheid in the [West Bank] territories into the territory of the State of Israel,” it added. “Anyone who opposes the regime coup must oppose this process that will lead us to the end of the State of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state.”
Reported last week, the Israeli non-profit Kerem Navot says that the proposed new boundary of the Asa’el settlement is eighteen times larger than the outpost, which currently has 71 (illegal, even under Israeli law) buildings. The boundary of the Avigail settlement is nearly three times the size of the outpost.
The Avigail outpost, currently composed of 48 buildings, is located in Firing Zone 918 in the South Hebron Hills. This is the same firing zone that is home to the Palestinian communities of Masafer Yatta — whose existence pre-dates Israel’s declaration of the area as a firing zone. Those communities are today in the process of being ethnically cleansed by Israel. Both Avigail and Asael have, illegally, built access roads on privately owned Palestinian land. Legalization of the Avigail outposts will undoubtedly also include the theft of the Palestinian-owned land these roads were illegally built on.
The Beit Hogla outpost is located in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea, and has 22 buildings currently.
On September 4th, an estimated 150 Israeli soldiers and police arrived on land near the radical Yitzhar settlement to forcibly remove settlers and demolish three illegal structures. One of the structures, described as a lookout point, was located in Area B, while two others were built on land that the Oslo Accords designated as Area C. The Times of Israel reports this is only the third time the current government has carried out a demolition order against illegal settler construction.
Settlers expressed fury following the demolition of the structures, which settlers say were constructed in the memory of Rina Schnerb – an Israeli settler who was killed by a bomb placed by a Palestinian at a West Bank spring. The fury, almost entirely, was directed at Bezalel Smotrich who is single handedly responsible for overseeing demolition actions in Area C of the West Bank.
Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria settlement council and a prominent leader, went on Israeli TV to push the government to unilaterally annex the area of Mt. Ebal in the northern west bank, known as el-Burnat by Palestinians. Mt. Ebal/el-Burnat is located in Area B of the West Bank, some 22% of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords does not afford Israel control over civilian matters like archaeology. Dagan alleges that the Palestinian Authority is “systematically trying to destroy the heritage sites of the Jewish people.” As FMEP has chronicled, settlers and their allies are intent upon using claims of Palestinian damage/neglect as a pretext for Israel taking control of archaeological sites and artifacts across the West Bank.
Dagan pushed for action, saying:
“I am very upset because we will not be able to chase the mosquitoes. We need to dry up the swamp. The Israeli government must regain full control over Joshua’s Altar on Mount Ebal. It must fence it and place a guard there. Netanyahu said two years ago that we would place a guard there and I expect that the promise will be kept and a guard will be posted. No nation would accept a situation where its most important heritage sites are abandoned to systematic destruction and looting.”
Mt.Ebal/el-Burnat is purported to be an antiquity site where the biblical prophet Joshua built an altar, originally identified as such in the 1980s by an Israeli archaeologist though the majority of professional archaeologists do not support that conclusion. Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO with expertise in archaeology, called the settler campaign to seize Mt. Ebal as a “watershed in Israeli archaeology.” In July 2023, Emek Shaveh reported that a triad composed of settlers, an American Christian evangelical organization, and the Israeli army collaborated on a recent unlicensed excavation on Mount Ebal, which Emek Shaveh called antiquity theft. Further, the groups transferred some 80 cubic meters of soil from Mount Ebal to the Shavei Shomron settlement, where settlers then promoted an opportunity for members of the public to join the archaeologists in sifting through the materials (thereby promoting tourism to the settlements). Haaretz called the excavation “is mainly used as a tourist attraction to the West Bank and is of little scientific significance.”
“The archaeological site at Mount Ebal is becoming a watershed in Israeli archaeology. The activity on the site has turned from a pirate operation led by a group of Messianic Jews and Christians into a state sponsored operation under the auspices of the Civil Administration led by Minister Bezalel Smotrich.This is yet another violation of the Oslo Accords and suspected violation of domestic and international law that is whitewashed by Israeli authorities and intended to serve as a method for advancing the annexation of the West Bank to Israel.In addition to the alleged violation of the law, the excavation constitutes an ethical failure by the entire archaeological community in Israel whose silence continues to grant legitimacy to such projects. A comprehensive and immediate investigation is required by all the relevant parties as well as independently by the Israeli Archaeological Association.”
As a reminder, on July 17th the Israeli government approved a three-year $33 million (NIS 120 million) plan to take control over archaeological sites throughout the West Bank, including plans to establish 4-7 new settlement tourist sites. The $33million budget came in addition to $9 million dollars in funding that the government approved in May 2023 to develop and “renovate” the archaeological site of Sebastia, located near the Palestinian village of Sebastia, north of Nablus in the heart of the West Bank. The project includes plans to pave a new access road for Israelis to reach the site, which they currently have to access by traveling through the Palestinian village of Sebastia, which will increase and entrench Israeli control not only over the site itself but the surrounding area – effectively weaponizing archaeology as a tool for dispossession.
In January 2021, the Israeli government committed funding to a new settler initiative to surveil archeological sites under Palestinian control. While the objective of protecting antiquities might appear uncontroversial and apolitical, the true (and transparently self-evident) objectives behind this effort are: to support yet another pretext to surveil and police Palestinians; to establish and exploit yet another means to dispossess Palestinians of their properties; to expand/deepen Israeli control across the West Bank; and to further entrench Israeli technical, bureaucratic and legal paradigms that treat the West Bank as sovereign Israeli territory. It is the result of a campaign that has taken place over the past year in which settlers have escalated their calls for the Israeli government to seize antiquities and “heritage sites” located in Palestinian communities across the West Bank, especially in Area C, which Israel today treats as functionally (and legally) indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory. Funding committed by Israel for West Bank “heritage sites” should be understood in this context
Previous victories for the settlers in this same arena include the Israeli Civil Administration’s issuance in 2020 of expropriation orders – the first of their kind in 35 years – for two archaeological sites located on privately owned Palestinian property northwest of Ramallah. The settlers’ pressure is also credited as the impetus behind the government’s clandestine raid of a Palestinian village in July 2020 to seize an ancient font.
In June 2020, the “Guardians of Eternity” group began surveying areas in the West Bank that Israel has designated as archaeological sites, looking for Palestinian construction (barred by Israel in such areas) that they could then use as a pretext to demand that Israeli authorities demolish it. The group communicates its findings to the Archaeology Unit of the Israeli Civil Administration (reminder: the Civil Administration is the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry which since 1967 has functioned as the de facto sovereign over the West Bank). The Archaeology Unit, playing its part, then delivers eviction and demolition orders against Palestinians, claiming that the structures damage antiquities in the area.
And one more reminder: in 2017, Israel designated 1,000 new archaeological sites in Area C of the West Bank. The “Guardians of Eternity” group, not coincidentally, is an offshoot of the radical Regavim organization, which among other things works to push Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction (on Palestinians’ own land) that lacks Israeli permits (permits that Israel virtually never grants).
On September 3rd,, the IDF Chief of Staff appointed Brig. Gen. Hisham Ibrahim as head of the Civil Administration, the body within the Israeli Defense Ministry which acts as administrator of the occupation. The appointment was made without the approval of Bezalel Smotrich, who wields virtually unchecked power over civilian matters in Area C of the West Bank as a minister within the Defense Ministry and head of the “Settlements Administration” and as entitled to appoint the Deputy Chief of the Civil Administration.
Israel Hayom further reports that Smotrich recommended his own candidate for the post, but was rebuffed by Defense Minister Gallant and the head of the IDF.
Haaretz reports that the Union Construction and Investment company has filed a $5.2million lawsuit with the Tel Aviv District Court against six settlers, the IDF, and Israeli police – a lawsuit which documents 74 raids by Israeli settlers into the land and construction site the company is developing in the Palestinian village of Turmus Ayya in the northern West Bank. The company is owned by Palestinian-Canadian Khaled Al-Sabawi, who purchased land in Turmus Ayya in 2019, planning to build a housing project on the land.
The lawsuit alleges that settlers damaged the construction site in 26 separate incidents, which include damaging construction equipment and physical attacks on the company’s employees and clients. The settlers also have been repeatedly video-taped intimidating Palestinian workers and clients who go to the site, telling them “This isn’t your land,” “You can’t be here,” “If you love your children, don’t bring them here.” The Israeli police and IDF are accused in the lawsuit of failing to stop the settlers’ violence.
One of the six defendants is Elisha Yered, a well-known, radical, and violent settler who has been repeatedly in the news cycle, most recently for his involvement in the murder of Qosai Jammal Mi’tan in Burqa. 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 also serves as the spokesman for Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Limor Son Har-Melech.
Al-Sabawi – represented by prominent human rights lawyer Michael Sfard and Hussein Abu Hussein – told Haaretz that he is suing for $5.2 million in damages the company incurred due to the settlers attacks, saying that because of the settlers he cannot sell the properties and some of his clients have even asked for refunds.
The six settlers listed in the lawsuit have filed a response, claiming that their actions are legal forms of protest, that the statute of limitations has expired, and that the development is located in Area B where the Israeli court does not have jurisdiction.
On August 30th, the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) released an exhaustive 106-page report on the conduct of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, concluding that the occupation is illegal and that “reparations should be accorded to… Palestinian individuals, corporations & entities, for the generational harm caused by Israel’s land & property appropriations, house demolitions, pillage… denial of return & other war crimes & crimes against humanity.” The report calls for the immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of Israel’s military forces; the withdrawal of colonial settlers; and the dismantling of the military administrative regime” and more.
Former UN Special Rapporteur on PalestineMichael Lynk called the report:
“the most comprehensive, the most detailed, the most thorough documentation addressing the questions that the UN General Assembly has put before the International Court of Justice regarding its advisory opinion on the legality of Israel’s now over 56-year occupation of Palestine.”
There have been several must-read articles detailing how settler violence towards Palestinian herding communities amounts to ethnic cleansing. FMEP recommends reading:
- “The End of Widady” (Jewish Currents)
- “Settlers Have a Very Effective System for Forcing Palestinians Out of Their Homes” (Avishay Mohar for Haaretz)
- “Israeli Settlers Target the Weakest Link as Ethnic Cleansing Becomes Policy” (Gideon Levy for Haaretz)
- “Important Update on the 6 Homes at Risk of Imminent Demolition in Al-Walaja (East Jerusalem)” (Ir Amim)
- “’There Is an Apartheid State Here’: Ex-Mossad Chief on Israel’s West Bank Occupation” (Haaretz)
- “Far-right activists in Ma’ale Adumim try to curb Palestinian presence in settlement” (The Times of Israel)
- “The Druze ‘Hilltop Youth’: Young men building illegal outposts on Mount Carmel” (Arutz Sheva)