Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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August 30, 2019
- NEW: Peace Now Releases Updated 2019 Settlement Map
- Netanyahu Promises 300 New Units in Dolev Settlement in Response to Terror Attack
- Following New Ruling, Settlers Move Back in to Contested Hebron Property
- Israel Demolishes Palestinian Home & Business Near Bethlehem After High Court Rules in Favor of Settlement Organization
- Israeli Govt Approves School Trips to Contested West Bank Religious Sites; Settlers Storm Joseph’s Tomb in Violent Celebration
- Israeli Economic Minister Promises to Compensate Settlements if they are Hurt by South Korea FTA
- Ayelet Shaked Rolls out Campaign Pledge to Build 113,000 New Settlement Units — & Thereby Solve the Israeli Housing Shortage & Erase the Green Line
- Israeli Occupation & the Case of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, where Rep. Tlaib’s Family Lives
- Pro-settlement U.S. group Brings GOP Codel to the West Bank
- Pro-Settlement Propaganda Continues to Grease Gears for Israeli Annexation of AreaC
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
Peace Now recently released an updated version of its 2019 Settlement Map, available online and for download here. New on this version is the site (a garbage dump adjacent to Abu Dis) where Israel wants to forcibly transfer residents from Khan al-Ahmar, as well as a detailed outline of the E-2 settlement plan, and the 11 outposts established since 2018.
On August 26th, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the Civil Administration to give final approval to a plan for 300 new settlement units in the Dolev settlement, located west of Ramallah. The move was framed as a response to a terror attack on a nearby spring (called Ein Bubin) in which an Israeli teenager was killed.
In response to Netanyahu’s approval for 300 units in the Dolev settlement, Peace Now said in a statement:
“Netanyahu has adopted the morbid conception of the settler Right that there is a payoff in the form of settlement expansion for the blood of terrorism victims. This calculation cynically turns terrorism into a political tool to promote an ideological vision, without bringing up the issue for national debate on whether we want to forever control the West Bank at the cost of our democracy.”
Notably, the Ein Bubin spring, like many others across the West Bank, was historically a Palestinian, taken over in recent years by Israeli settlers. According to settlement expert Dror Etkes, as reported by Haaretz, there are:
“60 springs in the central West Bank that settlers coveted and seized as part of a project of plunder that began 10 years ago. The landscaping and renovation work at about half of them has been completed, the dispossession made absolute, the Palestinians blocked from even approaching the springs and their lands. Other springs targeted by the settlers are in various stages of takeover.”
Israeli settlers once again illegally moved into a disputed home – called “Beit Machpelah” by the settlers and the Abu Rajab House by Palestinians (named for the building’s owners, the Abu Rajab family). Settlers previously illegally entered the Beit Machpelah/Abu Rajab building several times – in 2012, 2013 and most recently in 2017 – but each time were forced to evacuate by the IDF. The disputed building is located on Shuhada street in downtown Hebron, across the street from the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Settlers moved back into the property following a recent ruling by Israel’s Civil Administration (the arm of the IDF that acts as the sovereign authority in the West Bank) affirming that the settlers own 50% of the three-story building. They did not coordinate the move with Israeli authorities, and it appears to have been premature and illegal. This is because the Isreeli Civil Administration ruled that there still must be a process to adjudicate how the settlers will share the building with the Palestinians who own the other 50%.
The ruling – issued by the Civil Administration’s Israeli First Registration Committee – validated the settlers claim that they legally purchased a portion of the building from members of the Abu Rajab family in 2017 — based entirely on circumstantial evidence. For example, committee members cited as the fact that the Palestinian Authority arrested members of the Abu Rajab family as proof that family members must have sold the building to settlers. The committee’s ruling (accompanied by reports of Netayahu’s personal intervention in the case to help the settlers) – and subsequent illegal re-entry into the home by the settlers – comes just one week before a planned visit by Netanyahu to Hebron to attend a ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the 1929 Hebron massacre, in which 67 Jews were killed by Arab rioters.
Israel Demolishes Palestinian Home & Business Near Bethlehem After High Court Rules in Favor of Settlement Organization
On August 26th, Israeli authorities demolished the home and business of the Cassia family, located just west of Bethlehem, in Area C of the West Bank (documented in real time on Twitter by Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, here). The demolition followed a campaign waged by Himunata – a pro-settlement group associated with the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) – which claims that it legally purchased the land in 1969.
The Cassia family fought against the state and Himunata’s legal assault on their property rights for years, arguing they have lived on the land for decades and never sold the rights to it, and furnishing documents showing the paid property tax on the land from the period when Jordan ruled the West Bank. Nonetheless, on July 29, 2019, the High Court dismissed the family’s latest effort to defend their rights, allowing the demolition to move forward.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“KKL-JNF has become The Fund for the Expulsion of Palestinians. Through greed and cruelty of the JNF, it has thrown its weight its resources to the interests of the settlement agenda. Even if it were true that Himanuta was the owner of the land (which is under dispute), still, it could have come up with different solutions rather than demolition. It could have tried to negotiate with the family about renting or buying the land. The interest of evicting the Palestinian family that has been living in the area for decades, and destroying the restaurant from which it subsists, is not in the interest of the Jewish National Fund and does not reflect the desire of thousands of Jews in the world who donate their money to it.”
Peace Now also notes that this case is part of Himanuta’s long-running campaign to expel Palestinians from their homes in recent years, a campaign which has been reinvigorated over recent years in partnership with other pro-settlement groups including Elad and Regavim. Victories include a November 2018 ruling against Palestinian landowners south of Bethlehem.
Israeli Govt Approves School Trips to Contested West Bank Religious Sites; Settlers Storm Joseph’s Tomb in Violent Celebration
On August 20th, the Israeli Education Ministry announced that it will fund school programs to bring Israeli students (from schools located inside the Green Line) to religious sites – including Joseph’s Tomb and Tel Shiloh, under the control of settlers in the West Bank. Until now, Israeli schools have been prohibited from taking field trips into the occupied West Bank. This shift is part of a growing trend in Israeli policies of formally treating the West Bank as part of Israel.
The same day the decision was announced, the IDF escorted buses of Israeli settlers to Joseph’s Tomb – a site located in Nablus, in an area dotted by violent outposts and settlers. Predictably, the visiting settlers clashed with Palestinians who attempted to prevent their entry to the site; the IDF used live gunfire and tear gas to disperse the Palestinians, injuring several.
Peace Now said:
“the Ministry of Education should not be the information arm of the Yesha Council and the messianic right…We will not let Rafi Peretz [the current Israeli Education Minister] brainwash our kids! Declare that you will not send your children to lend a hand to the occupation.”
Since being appointed to the position in June 2019, Peretz has advanced a controversial agenda, and has begun instituting policy changes called for by the religious right-wing parties. For example, Peretz announced that the Nation-State Law – which last year declared Israel the “national home of the Jewish people” and stated that “the state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development” – will be added to Israeli school curriculums.
Israel and South Korea signed a free trade agreement on August 21st, ending three years of negotiations over South Korea’s insistence that the deal excludes Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Israeli and international media reported that Israel agreed to the South Korean demand, allowing the terms of the trade deal to make a hard legal distinction between businesses located what the international community recognizes as sovereign Israel versus business located in settlements in what the international community views as occupied territory. Since the text has not yet been published, the exact terms of the deal are unclear.
Economic Minister Cohen, a strong advocate for the settlers, initially denied that Israel had agreed to this distinction (“there is no agreement that we sign which includes territorial separation. As far as we are concerned, Judea and Samaria are part of the State of Israel. There is no change in that, period”). He then clarified that if the terms of the deal,did in fact, make any such distinction, “there will be complete compensation by the Israeli government for manufacturers in Judea and Samaria,” and made clear the settlers have already been assured that this is the government’s position.
Surprisingly, Cohen’s statement was publicly endorsed by the Yesha Council, the umbrella group which represents all settlements in the West Bank, which issued a statement saying:
“In a conversation between Economy Minister Eli Cohen and Yesha Council Chairman Hananel Dorani, it was clarified that the agreement makes no mention of a territorial distinction that discriminates or could hurt businesses and entrepreneurs in Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley or the Golan Heights, and that the agreement was crafted on the model of existing agreements with the European Union…[Cohen] promised that if South Korea does not grant customs benefits to businesses from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, that the Economy Ministry intends to fully compensate them.”
Why would the Yesha Council be giving the green light for the government to sign an international agreement that distinguishes between Israel and settlements (a position that, when adopted by Europe of anti-occupation activists has consisently been case as anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, similar to the Nazis, and even supportive of terrorist)? Veteran Israeli analyst Akiva Eldar speculates:
“This strange reaction to the agreement that discriminates against the settlements may lie in internal right-wing politics on the eve of the elections. Another possible explanation could lie in the equanimity with which the news was received. Israel has decided on a mechanism — similar to the one it adopted vis-a-vis the free trade deal with the EU — which would compensate exporters from the settlements in the occupied territories. The compensation reflects the difference between the duties paid on their exports and the duties that would have been paid under the beneficial terms of the free trade agreement. This mechanism significantly eases these exporters’ discrimination compared to those exporting goods and services from sovereign Israeli territory.”
Ayelet Shaked Rolls out Campaign Pledge to Build 113,000 New Settlement Units — & Thereby Solve the Israeli Housing Shortage & Erase the Green Line
Speaking at a campaign press conference on August 21st, former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – who heads the newly formed Yemina Party – announced a five-year plan to build 113,000 new settlement units in the northern West Bank as a means of solving Israel’s affordable housing shortage and of furthering Israel’s annexation of Area C. If built, the plan envisions bringing an estimated 500,000 new settlers to the West Bank, which would more than double the number of settlers living there currently.
Shaked also promised to extend the length and lanes of Route 5 (called the “Trans Samaria Highway,” which Palestinians have only restricted access to). The road project would allow settlers a short commute to Tel Aviv and would facilitate future settlement growth. Bezalel Smotrich, the third-ranking member of Yemina, boasts that the plan will “erase the Green Line” dividing the West Bank from Israel.
The Democratic Bloc party said in response:
“Shaked and Smotrich have decided to turn the entire population into settlers. Not only [do they want] religious coercion in the education system, but they want to transfer the citizens of the state to live in the settlements where they can re-educate them in the laws of halacha.”
The Peace Now issued a statement:
“Instead of investing in unnecessary settlements and harming the prospect of peace, the State of Israel should focus on addressing actual distress and on strengthening the periphery communities in the Negev and the Galilee.”
Dror Etkes – founder of the Israeli NGO Kerem Navot and long-time settlement watchdog – published the timely analysis of how Israeli settlements have negatively impacted the village of Beit al-Fauqa, the Palestinian village where the family of U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is from (and where members of her family, including her elderly grandmother, still live).
“…the real story of Beit Ur al-Fauqa is not the settlement of Beit Horon [built nearby on land taken by Israel from the village] but Route 443, a highway built through the West Bank in the early 90s to connect northern Jerusalem and its adjacent settlements to Israel’s coastal area. To pave this road, the Israeli army confiscated 50 acres of the village’s land in the late 80s. Hearing that their land would be confiscated, landowners from Beit Ur al-Fauqa and the neighboring villages petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice. The High Court would eventually dismiss the petition, accepting instead the IDF claim that the road would also serve the ‘local population,’ who will be able to drive on it faster and more securely.
“When the road was finally paved, 425 acres of Beit Ur al-Fauqa’s cultivated and grazing land were practically disconnected from the village, remaining southwest of Route 443. What about an access road to these 425 acres or a tunnel under the newly-built highway? Not in the West Bank. Once the road was constructed, the villagers were forced to make a seven-kilometer detour to reach their land
“…At the end of 2000, as the violence of the Second Intifada was beginning to unfold, Palestinians were sporadically banned by the IDF from using Route 443. Following several cases of Palestinian gunfire at Israeli vehicles on the road, in which six Israeli citizens and one resident of East Jerusalem were killed, Israel entirely prohibited Palestinians from using the road in 2002. Yet the IDF had officially committed to the High Court’s demand that Palestinians be allowed to use the road. For this, the army uses ‘temporary seizure orders.’
“Between 2005 and 2006, the IDF issued seizure orders for 30 more of the village’s acres in order to pave two ‘fabric of life’ roads — an alternate network of roads and tunnels intended for Palestinian use only — that would serve as Palestinian bypass roads on Beit Ur al-Fauqa’s land. It is true that Beit Ur al-Fauqa does not suffer the worst consequences of Israel’s occupation and its land grabbing enterprise. In many ways, it’s just ‘another village’ — and that’s bad enough.”
A delegation of four Republican members of Congress recently toured the Hebron and Ariel settlement industrial zones in the West Bank and met with members of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce. The delegation was hosted by Heather Johnson of the US Israel Education Association (USIEA), a U.S. evangelical group deeply involved in supporting and normalizing settlements, working in partnership with the Israeli government. USIEA is also works with the Family Research Council to lead Congressional delegations to Israel and runs a bible camp in the Ariel settlement.
A darling of the Trump adminstration diplomatic trio, the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce is a group formed by Israeli settlers from Hebron and Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari, who has been slammed as a traitor by the Palestinian Authority, shunned and dismissed by his fellow Palestinian business people, and disowned by his family in light of his ongoing role with the committee. As FMEP has repeatedly explained, initiatives like this perpetuate Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources), and that it is Orwellian to label such initiatives as “coexistence” programs, or to suggest that they offer the Palestinians benefits they should welcome.
The Congressional delegation hosted by such a pro-settlement group has not received a hint of criticism from other members of the U.S. Congress. FMEP President Lara Friedmand notes that:
“While folks are still bashing @IlhanMN & @RashidaTlaib for having [the] temerity to try to visit Isr/Pal w/ group other than AIPAC, right-wing media is crowing re: Members visiting ‘Judea & Samaria’ with group devoted to getting Congress to back ‘Greater Israel’ 1-state solution.”
Two recent articles continue an effort to normalize the concept of Israel’s annexation of land in the West Bank.
The Times of Israel published an op-ed by Andy Blumenthal entitled, “The Coming Annexation.” The piece goes on to outline eight reasons why Israel’s annexation of the West Bank is completely legitimate, including this:
“Reality on The Ground: Israel has around 450,000 settlers in the West Bank in about 130 settlements (the vast majority in Area C) and 300,000 live in East Jerusalem (the later which Israel already annexed in 1967). These Israelis are living in and working the land and building it productively, and many are deeply nationally, religiously and ideologically tied to the biblical Promised Land of the Jewish people that includes the West Bank (and even beyond). It is wholly irrational to think that this multitude of Israeli citizens would be uprooted or abandoned under any circumstance.”
The settler-run outlet Arutz Sheva published analysis of a report by the radical settler group Regavim. The report surveys five years of Palestinian construction in Area C – which Regavim decries – and claims that there have been upwards of 10,000 “illegal” projects undertaken by Palestinians as part of the Palestinian campaign to create a de facto state. The author, Edwin Black, adds commentary that attempts to further paint Palestinian existence in Area C as illegal, ill-intentioned, and a problem that the Israeli government must end.