Settlement Report: December 14, 2018


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

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December 14, 2018

  1. Israel Seizes on Palestinian Attacks as Pretense to Advance Settlement on Multiple Fronts
  2. The WZO Used Non-Existent Land Plots as “Collateral” for Loans to Build Illegal Outposts
  3. Israeli AG Freezes New Grants Program for Illegal Outposts
  4. At the Opening of New West Bank Highway Interchange for Settlers, Netanyahu Celebrates Erasing the Green Line
  5. Hanukkah Event Draws Political Support for Settlers’ Bid to Take Over Site in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter
  6. Huge Holes Open on Streets of Silwan…Above Settler Excavations
  7. Israel’s Top Court Slams State Rail Company for Moving Debris to Private Palestinian Land as Part of Plan to Build a Settlement Park
  8. Bonus Reads

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Israel Seizes on Palestinian Attacks as Pretense to Advance Settlement on Multiple Fronts

Seizing on a series of deadly Palestinian attacks this week as his pretext, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced he will:

  • retroactively legalize thousands of settlement structures and outposts;
  • initiate a plan to build 82 new units in the Ofra settlement;
  • build two new settlement industrial zones (one near the Avnei Hefetz settlement and one near the Beitar Illit settlement); and,
  • implement a range of policies that collectively punish Palestinians in the West Bank.

In addition, the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation (a committee within the Israeli cabinet that decides whether to give government-backing to Knesset legislative proposals) will consider supporting a bill written by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) which would allow the government to provide municipal services, like water and electricity, to some illegal outposts. The bill assumes the series of outposts will be retroactively legalized, an assumption based on the work to achieve that end spearheaded by settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein (who has his own history of ignoring the law).

Many other senior Israeli officials joined Netanyahu in advocating for the immediate legalization of every unauthorized (i.e., illegal under Israeli law) structure in the Ofra settlement. The Ofra settlement – located northeast of Ramallah – was first established by settlers on land that had been expropriated in 1966 by the Jordanian government in order to build a military base (which was never built, as Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967). The Israeli government used this pretext to expropriate the land in 1977 in order to recognize the Ofra settlement, which had been established in the area illegally (i.e., without government approval, but with its tacit cooperation) two years prior. However, the majority of the Ofra settlement was not built on the land expropriated by the Israel in 1977, but instead on land that is registered to Palestinian owners from the nearby village of Ein Yabroud. In light of the legal status of the land, no Israeli government has yet been able to find a way to fix the legal status of these homes (not for lack of trying) – meaning that the majority of the structures in Ofra were built without permits, making them illegal under Israeli law.

Peace Now elaborates:

“Most of the houses built in Ofra (approximately 413 out of 625) were built on an area of ​​550 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land. In addition, hundreds of dunams of Palestinian private land were seized for roads in Ofra, as well as infrastructure and agricultural lands for the settlers. The only way to regulate the theft of these lands would be to expropriate them from the Palestinian landowners for the benefit of the settlers, in complete contradiction to the positions of previous Israeli governments and legal advisors, and contrary to binding rulings of the High Court. Although the current legal advisor (Avichai Mandelblit) allowed land expropriation in some places for settlement purposes (for example, in Haresha), in the regulation of massive land theft such as in Ofra the Israeli government would be crossing a new red line.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that she already has a draft resolution and a legal opinion supporting retroactive legalization of Ofra. Shaked further threatened:

“Facing the price tag of Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas], we pose our own price tag. Every terror attack will strengthen the settlement establishment instead of weakening it, and every potential attacker will know in advance that he will be considered responsible for strengthening settlements.”

Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein vowed to push a plan through the Knesset to regulate Ofra, saying:

“The immediate answer to such an incident is to finally regulate Ofra, one of the oldest and most beloved communities. The 20th Knesset has been good and the Government has been positive towards the settlement enterprise. There have been important achievements and laws, but it’s not enough…  I pledge to support the plan that will be formulated and advance it myself in the Knesset. This is our duty towards millions of citizens. The fate of Ofra must be the same as the fate of Petah Tikva.”

Yisrael Gantz, the new chairman of the Binyamin Regional Council, called for the:

“immediate approval of thousands of housing units… in order to deepen our roots here.”

The WZO Used Non-Existent Land Plots as “Collateral” for Loans to Build Illegal Outposts

The Israeli NGO Kerem Navot discovered more proof that the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division is directly financing the construction of illegal outposts with public funds — by providing loans to settlers based on non-existent assets, including fictitious plots of land in the West Bank. This reporting builds on previous revelations about the WZO’s complicity in illegal settlement construction on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank, including in the cases of the Mitzpe Kramim outpost and the Ma’aleh Rahavam outpost. Nonetheless, the Israeli government is rapidly advancing plans to hand over even more West Bank land to the WZO for settlement expansion.

On its latest findings, Kerem Navot founder Dror Etkes told Haaretz:

“This story exposes again the Settlement Division’s swindling ways and dirty dealings. [Like in the case of MK Bezelal Smotrich] who received a mortgage in the Kedumim settlement for a plot that doesn’t exist. It’s obvious from that and from the other cases that this is only the tip of the iceberg of a much broader practice.”

As a reminder, the WZO’s Settlement Division was created by the Israeli government in 1968 and is funded entirely by Israeli taxpayers. Its mandate is to manage West Bank land expropriated by Israel, in order to facilitate the settlement of Israeli Jews in the occupied territories. To make this possible, the Israeli government has allocated approximately 60% of all “state land” in the West Bank to the WZO’s Settlement Division [over the past 50 years Israel has declared huge areas of the West Bank to be “state land,” including more than 40% of Area C, where most of the settlements are located]. In addition, settlement and human rights watchdogs have repeatedly documented how the WZO’s Settlement Division has worked to take over additional land, including privately owned Palestinian land, in order to build more settlements.

Israeli AG Freezes New Grants Program for Illegal Outposts

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has reportedly frozen the implementation of a resolution, passed by the Israeli cabinet last week, designating three outposts as “national priority areas” for development. The resolution would direct enormous amounts of state resources to the outposts for construction.

Mandelblit wrote a letter slamming Housing Minister Yoav Gallant for bypassing the Attorney General in approving the resolution. According to Haaretz, Mandelblit had previously told the Housing Minister that the inclusion of settlements in the list of national priority areas needs to be thoroughly reviewed before the resolution was passed. Ignoring Mandelblit, Gallant advanced the resolution without a thorough review and without the permission of the government’s top legal official.

At the Opening of New West Bank Highway Interchange for Settlers, Netanyahu Celebrates Erasing the Green Line

Map by OCHA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a ceremony marking the opening of a newly renovated traffic interchange on Highway 60 (the main north-south highway in the West Bank). Located near the Adam/Geva Benyamin settlement and the Palestinian village of Hizma, the new interchange is meant to ease traffic congestion for settlers travelling to Jerusalem from the northern West Bank. More importantly, it advances the seamless integration of infrastructure serving Israeli settlements and sovereign Israeli territory – a key effort by settlers and their government allies to effectively erase the Green Line.

At the event, Netanyahu said:

“We are not stopping here. We will yet complete the paving of bypass roads, the widening of lanes and the improvement of infrastructures. There is a combined transportation-security aspect here. We are making yet another great link. While we are joining the country geographically, we are also joining the present to the future. Today and in this place we are doing something else, we are also joining the present to the past. Our ancestors walked here and took in this view of these valleys and these hills. The greatest dramas in the history of our people and of humanity took place here in this place; therefore, we are also joining our past to our future and this is a very great privilege.”

Minister Katz, who was also in attendance, said:

“We’re promoting a strategic plan on a very wide range with light rail routes at high-risk areas and traffic lights to make Judea and Samaria part of the Israeli norm of a developed and connected country…After we completed these two projects (Adam Interchange and Givat Assaf Traffic Light) we’ll work to enable this connection with a road with better conditions. This is part of the large and complementary projects to allow traffic to flow here.”

In September 2018, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHAS) released a report looking at the impact of Israeli roads on the the village of Hizma, as a case study of the effects road closures have on Palestinian rights. OCHA wrote:

“Hizma is a Palestinian village of over 7,000 residents in Jerusalem governorate. The bulk of its built-up area is in Area B but small parts of the village lie in Area C or within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, although it is separated from the rest of the city by the Barrier. Between 28 January and the end of March 2018, the three access roads into the village were either totally or partially closed to Palestinian traffic. The Israeli army hung posters on village shops stating that the army ‘will continue its work so long as you [residents] continue to be disruptive’. Other posters showed broken windshields. Following communications with the Israeli military, the head of the village council reported that the posters justified the closures as a response to stone throwing by Palestinian youths at vehicles with Israeli number plates. In 2017 and the first two months of 2018, OCHA recorded 11 incidents of Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli vehicles near Hizma that resulted in Israeli injuries or damage to vehicles.

The closures disrupted access by Hizma’s residents to services and livelihoods. Traffic between the north and south of the West Bank that passed through the village was diverted, undermining the commercial life of the village. Service providers, including a third of the teachers in village schools who commute on a daily basis, faced delays reaching the village. Over 50 shops/businesses that are the main source of income for 150 households were affected by the diversion of Palestinian traffic away from the village. Family life was also affected by the unpredictable nature of the closures.”

Hanukkah Event Draws Political Support for Settlers’ Bid to Take Over Site in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter

The Israeli archeological group Emek Shaveh reports that the Ateret Cohanim settler organization hosted a Hanukkah celebration –  drawing the participation of the incoming Mayor of Jerusalem Moshe Lion, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elk, and the son of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Netanyahu – at the “Little Western Wall.”  The site (which Israelis call the “Kotel Ha’Katan”) is a section of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif located within the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. It is viewed by some religious Jews as the closest point to the Holy of Holies at which Jews are permitted to pray. For historical background on the site and Ateret Cohanim’s role and goals related to it, see this 2016 report by Haaretz’s Nir Hasson.

Emek Shaveh writes:

“The recent Hanukkah ceremonies demonstrate an increase in political support for Ateret Cohanim and, no less important, the growing importance of the Little Western Wall, a politically and religiously charged place, attesting to a growing consensus among the Israeli Right regarding strengthening Jewish presence in areas immediately adjacent to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”

Ateret Cohanim is a radical settler organization working to increase the presence of Israeli Jews living inside Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem – including in the Old City, where the group recently succeeded in purchasing a Palestinian house in the Muslim Quarter (a property sale that continues to stoke controversy within the Palestinian community). Ateret Cohanim, along with their compatriots in the Elad settler group, also leads efforts to take over land and evict Palestinians from their homes in the Silwan neighborhood. Ateret Cohanim’s recent efforts in Silwan include using the guise of a Yemenite cultural center to build a new settlement in Silwan with government financing, and winning a High Court ruling that permits them to continue their campaign to evict 700 Palestinians from their homes.

Huge Holes Open on Streets of Silwan…Above Settler Excavations

The Israeli archeological group Emek Shaveh reports that holes have begun appearing in the ground of Silwan, along the route of an underground excavation run by the Israeli Antiquities Authorities and funded by the Elad settler group. Elad has invested heavily in archeological excavations in Silwan in a campaign to co-opt the ancient history of Jerusalem to strengthen the Jewish hold on and presence in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Emek Shaveh writes:

“There’s rarely a dull moment in Silwan. Last weekend, after the rain came, large holes opened up in the ground. This is not normal. And no amount of cement poured into the holes will make it so. Perhaps the reason for this odd occurrence can be found in the fact that Israel Antiquities Authority is excavating a tunnel along an ancient Roman road which runs right underneath the places where the holes opened up. There are 15 houses along the route of the tunnel. In some of them cracks have shown up. Others have shown signs of sinking into the ground. A few months ago we asked the Antiquities Authority to examine the homes and were assured the engineer would look into it. We’re still waiting for answers.”

The new holes are just the latest in a long series of above-ground damage related to excavations which the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) started in 2013. The IAA began the excavations without notifying Palestinian residents of the project. Palestinians began complaining about the work when cracks began appearing in their homes, threatening their structural integrity, and forcing many to leave their homes.

Emek Shaveh has repeatedly asked the IAA to investigate the issues caused by the excavations, but has not received an answer to date. Emek Shaveh also shared footage of Israelis haphazardly attempting to fill in the new holes with concrete.

Israel’s Top Court Slams State Rail Company for Moving Debris to Private Palestinian Land as Part of Plan to Build a Settlement Park

The Israeli High Court of Justice sharply criticized Israel Railways, the state rail company, for moving debris on to privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank, as part of a plan to use the debris to develop a new park in the nearby Nili settlement. The debris comes from tunnelling a path for the Tel Aviv to Jerusalem rail line, meaning the debris was transported from sovereign Israeli territory into the West Bank, where it was deposited on Palestinian land.

Back in 2011, the Court chastised Israel Railways for its actions and ordered the debris to be removed. Seven years later, the Palestinian land is still a dumpsite while the Israeli government and Israeli Railways bicker over who is responsible for clearing the refuse. This week the Court rebuked the company and hinted that it would soon issue a ruling against it.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Q&A with Naftali Bennett” (The Forward)
  2. “A Plan for Perpetual Conflict” (Carnegie Endowment)
  3. “The New Capital of Israel” (Haaretz)
  4. “Annexation Legislation is Imminent, and Dangerous” (Commanders for Israeli Security)
  5. “Forged Jerusalem Home Sale Gets Jordan’s Attention” (Al-Monitor)