Settlement Report: April 19, 2019


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

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April 19, 2019

  1. Israel Demolishes Palestinian Homes in East Jerusalem…While Re-writing the Law, and the zoning, to Cater to Settlers
  2. After Meeting with U.S. Ambassador, Jerusalem Mayor Predicts “Restrictions” on Settlement Plans Will Be Lifted
  3. U.S. State Department: Distinguishing between Settlers & Palestinians is “Discriminatory”
  4. Wild, Wild West Bank: Settler Nearly Downs IDF Plane Over West Bank
  5. Israel Reinstates Ability of East Jerusalem Palestinians to (Try to) Prove Land Ownership Claims
  6. Palestinian-Americans Continue Legal Case Against Settlements Despite AirBnB Reversal
  7. IDF Helps Cover Up Execution of a Palestinian
  8. Bonus Reads

Israel Demolishes Palestinian Homes in East Jerusalem…While Re-writing the Law, and the zoning, to Cater to Settlers

With the approval of the Supreme Court, on April 17th Israeli police began demolishing Palestinian buildings in the Wadi Yasul neighborhood of Silwan. The reason for the demolitions: the buildings lack legally-required Israel-issued building permits – which cannot be obtained by Palestinians the land in question has been designed by Israel as the “Peace Forest” [a designation that does not permit the Palestinians to build, even on their own land]. The “Peace Forest” was established by the Jewish National Fund following the 1967 war, on privately owned Palestinian land expropriated by Israel.

Map by Ir Amim

The Israeli NGO Ir Amim warns that the fate of these buildings likely signals the implementation of 63 additional demolition proceedings against Palestinian buildings in the same area, which could result in the wide scale demolition of 60 Palestinian homes, impacting approximately 500 Palestinians.

Importantly, for over a decade, Palestinians in Wadi Yasul have worked with architects and lawyers to try to obtain Israeli-issued permits to build in the area. Those plans and requests were rejected in 2008 because, according to Israel, they contradicted zoning laws for the “Peace Forest.”

On April 13th, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled against Palestinian appeals to stop the demolitions, appeals which challenged the self-evidently discriminatory patterns of Israel’s planning regime in East Jerusalem. Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron explained the court’s decision to reject Palestinian petitions without even considering claims of discrimination. As Haaretz noted, Justice Elron in effect said that the criminal justice system is not the place to discuss whether or not the Jerusalem municipality discriminated against the residents and avoided planning the neighborhood, which in turn prevented them from getting building permits for their homes [which raises the question: does Justice Elron believe Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have any other venues where they can expect to obtain justice?].” Rather, Justice Elron argued:

“I believe that the appellants’ claims that the defendant [Israel] discriminates against local [Palestinians] residents, and avoided advancing any zoning plan, are irrelevant to a discussion in the context of criminal wrongdoing. From the request in front of me I see that the residents are seeking a zoning plan for their needs and that should be welcome. But these efforts cannot retroactively legitimize so much illegal construction or justify any delay in carrying out demolition orders.”

Underscoring the brazen political motivations behind land-related decision in Jerusalem, even as Israeli officials have consistently refused to grant building permits for Palestinians to build on their own land in the area designed as the “Peace Forest,” and even as Israeli officials have actively pursued demolitions against the Palestinians living there, the radical settler group Elad has been engaged in its own illegal construction inside the “Peace Forest” for over 14 years. Rather than pursue demolitions, the Israeli government has worked with Elad to pursue every avenue to allow the retroactive legalization of Elad’s illegal construction. Even more brazenly, in tandem with the demolition of Palestinian homes in the area, Israeli officials have been working with the Elad to rezone the “Peace Forest” [something it refused to do for Palestinians] in order to allow the Elad to build a commercial/tourist project for tourists (a zipline).

Haaretz recently explained how Jerusalem authorities have repeatedly assisted Elad in its illegal activities:

“At first the NGO simply trespassed and built illegal structures there [the “Peace Forest”]. But things changed and gradually various local and national bodies – including the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel Land Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the JNF – began to grant Elad assistance. This assistance has included granting building permits retroactively, allocating land to the group without a proper bidding process, and generous funding to the tune of tens of millions of shekels… It has been sponsoring activities in the Peace Forest since 2005, despite the fact that it has no ownership rights there or permits from the ILA (the legal owner of the land, which was expropriated from private Palestinian owners).”

Ir Amim explains:

“The scope of settlement projects in the vicinity of Wadi Yasul – and the breadth and depth of state support awarded to Elad, including authorities’ overt efforts to retroactively legalize unpermitted building – illuminate the stark discrimination in planning that empowers the expansion of radical settlement inside Palestinian neighborhoods while putting their native residents at risk of displacement.”

After Meeting with U.S. Ambassador, Jerusalem Mayor Predicts “Restrictions” on Settlement Plans Will Be Lifted

This week, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion told the settler-run outlet Arutz Sheva:

“…I know what I want to accomplish, I know which projects the city needs – and the most important thing is to build, and I cannot do that alone. I need the Israeli government standing behind me, because we need a Jewish majority here, and we need to end the net negative migration. We need more young couples to move here…I sat down with the US ambassador to Israel, and we discussed the issue. I think that in the coming years, we’ll build a great deal in Jerusalem, and there won’t be a need for restrictions in this matter.”

Since Trump took office,  Israel has advanced numerous controversial and devastating East Jerusalem/Greater Jerusalem settlement plans which had previously been held up due to international pressure (mainly from the U.S.), including in Ramot/Ramat Shlomo and a slew of plans in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Based on this track record, and clear signals from the Trump Administration in support of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is unclear what if any “restrictions” the Trump Administration is imposing on construction in Jerusalem.

What is clear is that, to date, the Israeli government has refrained from moving on either of the two most problematic East Jerusalem/Greater Jerusalem settlement schemes, E-1 and Givat Hamatos – construction of either of which would represent a fatal obstacle to the realization of the two-state solution. That argument, however, may be nearing its sell-by date, given the increasing sense that Israel and the Trump Administration are getting set to formally walk away from that solution (accompanied by what appears to be the increasingly likelihood that Israel will annex part or all of the West Bank).

U.S. State Department: Distinguishing between Settlers & Palestinians is “Discriminatory”

In the wake of the drama over Airbnb (and its decision to walk back its policy of not listing rental properties in settlements, newly appointed U.S. Envoy to Monitor & Combat Anti-Semitism, Elan Carr was asked by reporters on April 11th  whether he made a distinction between boycotts of Israel and boycotts of settlements. In his response, Carr not only rejected the distinction, but went on to tell reporters distinguishing between settlements and neighboring Palestinians communities in the West Bank to be discriminatory (and implied that this discrimination between, in his words, “Jewish communities” and “Arab communities,” is based on anti- Semitism).

This position ignores the fact that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law (not surprising, given that the Trump Administration has made clear it views international law as irrelevant in the context of Israel and the occupied territories). But it also ignores an even more obvious fact that cannot be simply dismissed: Israel, as a matter of both policy and law, treats Israeli settlements and neighboring Palestinians communities differently. FMEP’s Lara Friedman summarized the situation for the UN Security Council in 2016, and the situation has only become magnified today:

“Israeli law follows Israeli citizens who enter or live in the Occupied Territories. This means that Israeli settlers live under Israeli law – no different than if they were living inside Israel – while Palestinians live under military law. This policy has created a dangerous and ugly political reality in the occupied territories – a reality in which two populations live on the same land, under different legal systems, separate and entirely unequal, with the governing authority serving one population at the expense of the other. One population is comprised of privileged Israeli citizens, enjoying the benefits of a prosperous, powerful state, with their rights guaranteed by a democratic government accountable to their votes. The other population is comprised of disenfranchised Palestinians, living under foreign military occupation explicitly designed to protect and promote the interests not of Palestinian residents of the territories, but of Israeli settlers.”

A transcript of the briefing reads:

QUESTION: Just to follow up… do you make a distinction between boycotting Israel per se and boycotting products that are produced in the settlements that’s considered illegal under international law?

MR CARR: So refusing to buy products made by Jewish communities and wanting to buy products made by Arab communities that live next door to each other seems to me to be discriminatory. That seems pretty clear to me.

QUESTION: But this is settlements. Settlements under international law is illegal. So I’m just – I’m trying to figure out, from a legal point of view, do you see that – okay, is it considered —

MR CARR: Like I said, if two communities are living side-by-side and one refuses to buy from Jews and one wants to buy from non-Jews, I think that’s pretty clear what that is.

QUESTION: Again, off the back of my colleagues’ questions, just to clarify: So the legal element about where Jewish settlements stand in international law as opposed to Arab villages makes no difference to you whatsoever?

MR CARR: Well, as you know, there is a peace plan being worked on currently, hasn’t been unveiled. The United States has long cared about this issue and on resolving the issues between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors in a way that’s fair for everybody. Resolution of those issues is not going to come about by attempting to strangle the Jews out of existence in their communities. That’s not how you’re going to get peace. And so I want to thank the administration for focusing on this issue, and all the work the White House is doing to try to really promote a plan that would finally have – get us to an agreement where the Israelis and the Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace.

Wild, Wild West Bank Skies: Settler Nearly Downs IDF Plane Over West Bank

A settler nearly flew his helicopter into an IDF transport plane conducting a training exercise in the Jordan Valley. The settler, Yedidya Meshulami, was charged with several crimes involved with illegally flying his helicopter and endangering lives in West Bank airspace, which is controlled by the Israeli military.

The IDF is no stranger to Meshulami and his illegal aerial activities. A former Israeli reserves pilot, in March 2018 Meshulami attempted to take control of the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah by landing his helicopter nearby, declaring “I don’t care what they do to me, I’ll take it [the checkpoint] over.” Following his arrest and release to house arrest, the IDF confiscated two helicopters and an ultralight plane from Meshulami’s personal airstrip, which he built illegally in an outpost near the Itamar settlement, south of Nablus.

Israel Reinstates Ability of East Jerusalem Palestinians to (Try to) Prove Land Ownership Claims

One month after the Jerusalem Planning & Building Committee annulled the “mukthar protocol” –  the only means by which Israel permits Palestinians to prove their land ownership claims in East Jerusalem –  the committee reversed itself and will once again allow Palestinians to use this protocol as a valid legal basis for land ownership claims. Likewise,  the committee will resume considering building permit applications that rely on the procedure. Without the mukthar protocol, and without building permits, Palestinians cannot legally build anything in East Jerusalem.

The “mukhtar protocol” was developed by the Israeli government as an alternative to the formal land-registration process, necessitated by the fact that Israel froze that process for land in East Jerusalem in 1967. The procedure requires Palestinian East Jerusalemites to collect signatures from local Palestinian leaders acknowledging that the land in question is, indeed, owned by the claimant.

Radical settler groups including Regavim campaigned to invalidate the mukhtar protocol, with the obvious goal of preventing development and improvement in East Jerusalem Palestinian communities. The protocol was reportedly reinstated following appeals to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon by a city council member. Haaretz reports that even though the mukhtar protocol has been reinstated, Jerusalem municipal officials suggested that they would be changing the makeup of the mukhtar committees.

Palestinian-Americans Continue Legal Case Against Settlements Despite AirBnB Reversal

Palestinian-Americans are moving to continue their legal claim against Israeli-Americans who own property in Israeli settlements and rent those properties on the AirBnB platform. Their lawsuit – which was filed not as a stand-alone case, but as an intervention in the Silber vs. AirBnB case brought by Israeli-Americans against AirBnB – was put in jeopardy when AirBnB reversed its decision to delist rental properties in West Bank settlements, a reversal which had the effect of settling the Silber vs. AirBnB case. With the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Palestinian-Americans have asked a judge to permit their legal claims to proceed.

The Center for Constitutional Rights explained:

“Today [April 11th], attorneys representing Palestinian landowners and West Bank residents urged a federal judge to permit their claims against Israeli settlers to proceed in the lawsuit over Airbnb’s listing of properties in illegal settlements in the West Bank. Dual Israeli-U.S. citizen settlers sued Airbnb after the booking platform announced its decision to remove the rentals. Palestinian landowners—including those who possess documents establishing their ownership of the land on which the rentals sit—moved to intervene in the case. A dual Palestinian-U.S. citizen, who cannot rent the properties because they are in Jewish-only settlements, also moved to intervene. The Palestinian intervenors also sought to countersue the settlers. The intervenors have argued that the Israeli settlers’ actions constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and discrimination on the basis of religion and national origin, as well as trespass and unjust enrichment. In today’s filing by the Center for Constitutional Rights, human rights attorneys argued that allowing the dismissal of the lawsuit before considering the motion to intervene would prejudice the intervenors’ rights.”

CCR Attorney Diala Shamas said:

“Our clients, Palestinians directly affected by these Airbnb postings, intervened in the lawsuit precisely because they have significant interests at stake, and to prevent an outcome that utterly ignored those interests. To dismiss this lawsuit without even considering the intervenors’ claims would be yet another affront to the rights of people who have had their land stolen and who have been discriminated against on the basis of their religion and national origin.”

IDF Helps Settlers Cover Up Execution of a Palestinian

An investigation by B’Tselem reveals that the IDF helped settlers to cover up evidence of their execution of a Palestinian man on April 3, 2019. The incident was widely covered by the press as an attempted stabbing. In fact, video evidence and eyewitness testimony show that two settlers opened fire on 23 year-old Muhammad ‘Abd al-Fatah while he was laying wounded on the ground. When the IDF arrived on the scene, the soldiers sought out and deleted surveillance footage captured by nearby businesses; they also dispersed Palestinians who gathered near the scene with stun grenades. No arrests were made.

B’Tselem reports at length:

“At 8:30 A.M. that morning, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Fatah…stopped by a dumpster across from the village square in the nearby village of Beita and started throwing stones at cars bearing Israeli license plates that were heading from the direction of Huwarah towards the village of Za’tarah and Tapuah Junction. ‘Abd al-Fatah threw stones at two passing cars and then threw a third stone, which hit a car. The driver, an Israeli named Yehoshua Sherman, pulled over. Then two gunshots were heard, apparently fired from inside the vehicle. The driver then got out of the car. At that point, ‘Abd al-Fatah was crouching among the dumpsters. Sherman approached him and fired several more shots at him. A truck driving along the road also stopped, and the driver got out. He came over to stand next to Sherman, and the two men fired several more shots at ‘Abd al-Fatah, who was lying wounded on the ground…Minutes after the two settlers opened fire, Israeli military jeeps arrived on the scene and soldiers used stun grenades to disperse the crowd that had begun to gather. Immediately after that, about eight soldiers went into two nearby shops to check their security cameras. They dismantled a DVR in one of the shops and left. About twenty minutes later, the soldiers returned to the shop, reinstalled the DVR and watched the footage. Two soldiers filmed the screen with their mobile phones. They then erased the footage from the DVR and left…The Israeli security forces that arrived on the scene ignored these facts. They did nothing to arrest the two settlers, promptly drove the Palestinians away from the scene, and then addressed the urgent task of eliminating any footage of the incident, to ensure that the truth never comes to light and the shooters would not face any charges or be held accountable in any way. The identity of both shooters is known. If the authorities so choose, they could easily track them down, at least for questioning. Yet given the troops’ conduct immediately after the incident, and Israel’s longstanding policy, the chances of this are slim to none.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “The True Cost of Israeli Settlers’ Annexation Dream” (Haaretz)
  2. “Who needs Bennett when Netanyahu is already annexing the West Bank?” (+972 Mag)
  3. “Stop Calling it Annexation” (+972 Mag)
  4. “The Illusion of Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan” (The American Prospect)
  5. “Easter Travellers to the Holy Lands Should Avoid Supporting Israel’s Settlement Tourism Industry” (Huffington Post)