Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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February 1, 2019
- Jerusalem Cable Car Plan Advances Again, Despite Israel’s Refusal to Release Report Justifying its Necessity
- Bibi Tells Settlers: Evacuating Illegal Outpost Was A “Mishap,” Will Never Happen Again
- Bibi Cancels Mandate for International Observer Force in Hebron
- WZO Caught Giving Mortgages for Illegally Built Settlement Homes, Again
- Amnesty International: Online Tourism Companies Are Enabling and Profiting from Occupation
- Israel Arrests Settler for 2018 Murder of Palestinian Woman; Settlers Respond with More Attacks on Palestinians
- Roseanne Barr’s 2019 Israel Victory (and Settlement Propaganda) Tour
- Bonus Reads
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Jerusalem Cable Car Plan Advances Again, Despite Israel’s Refusal to Release Report Justifying its Necessity
The Israeli Interior Ministry announced its plan to deposit the Jerusalem cable car plan for public review on February 1st, which will mark the beginning of a 60-day public commenting period. At the close of the public commenting period (appx. April 1st), the National Infrastructure Committee (NIC) will consider objections submitted against the plan as part of the process of granting it final approval.
As FMEP has previously covered, the Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative of the Elad settler organization (which is building a massive tourism center – the Kedem Center – in the Silwan neighborhood, which will be a stop along the cable car’s route). The cable car project is intended to further entrench settler activities and tourism sites inside the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there.
The NIC is a body within the Finance Ministry that fast-tracks projects deemed a national priority, circumventing the scrutiny and delays that are part of the normal planning processes for non-priority plans. In order to justify the cable car line, the Israeli government has advanced the project as a public transportation “solution” to address traffic congestion in and around the Old City and to serve the needs of everyday residents of Jerusalem (the government actually changed a law in order to give the NIC jurisdiction over its planning process). The government has so far refused to release an internal economic feasibility report supposedly backing up that claim.
Israeli experts counter that the plan manifestly has nothing to do with the transportation needs of the city and its residents. Non-governmental groups like Emek Shaveh, Who Profits, and Terrestrial Jerusalem have repeatedly discredited the government’s line, and have clearly enumerated the obvious political drivers behind the plan, the archeological heresies it validates, and the severe impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan if implemented.
Emek Shaveh released a statement this week once again explaining:
“The cable car plan is a political ploy aimed at strengthening the Elad [settler] association in Silwan and the tourist sites that present the Jewish past, like these sites, the cable car will contribute to rendering the Palestinian presence in the region invisible. The passengers and tourists arriving at the Western Wall by cable car will descend at the station of Elad’s Kedem Center and from there continue through an underground passage to the Western Wall, thus moving from one Jewish area to another without seeing and sensing the presence of Palestinian residents and the Arab spaces of Jerusalem. Although the entrepreneurs tend to present the cable car as a transportation initiative, to the best of our understanding, based on the extensive information we have gathered, the plan will not provide a transportation solution at all. It is not coordinated with the Ministry of Transportation and, by its very nature, cannot serve as part of the mass transportation system for Jerusalem, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry. These basic facts refute the entrepreneurs’ claims that the cable car will constitute a transportation solution. Furthermore, the actual plan that was deposited lacked any content by which it could be considered a transportation plan…We at Emek Shaveh, together with a coalition of organizations and individuals, will not be deterred from the struggle against the cable car project. As we have stated in the past, this is a destructive plan for Jerusalem. The cable car clashes with the character and uniqueness of Jerusalem as a historical and religious city for the three religions and promotes the political interests of the settlers in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods.”
Following the public deposit of the plan, Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann, who has also written extensive critiques of the cable car project, wrote:
“this project is part of the government’s and settlers’ joint efforts to aggressively promote an agenda that seeks to marginalize and to the greatest extent possible over-write the Palestinian presence in Old City and Historic Basin, replacing it with a Biblical-Jewish Disneyland. Both the project itself and the context of its approval – celebrating the ‘reunification’ of the city in a location that is at the core of the tensions between Israel and the Palestinians – are blunt statements that Israel is determined to take ownership over Jerusalem holy sites, in total denial of the sensitive nature of the place for faiths other than the Jewish one.”
The Israeli non-governmental organization Who Profits – which produced a detailed brief on the cable car project and the French engineering company that has been contracted to design it – also released a statement, saying:
“If carried out, the cable car project would give a major boost to the settlement tourism industry in East Jerusalem and strengthen the ongoing Judaization and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Silwan and the Old City.”
Hitting the campaign trail, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that Israel will never evacuate settlements or outposts again. His promise was notable not only for its content, but also for when and where he delivered it: during a meeting with settlers as part of a high-profile visit to the site of an illegal outpost.
The outpost in question, Netiv Ha’avot, was the center of a lengthy battle which culminated in the Israeli government evicting settlers from a number structures, after the Israeli High Court ruled the structures were built on land privately owned by Palestinians.
Addressing the settlers (ones living in structures also built illegally, but permitted to remain in place since the land on which they were built is not recognized by Israel as privately owned by Palestinians), Netanyahu called the court-ordered evacuation and demolitions in the outpost as a “mishap” that would not happen again. Netanyahu went on to say.
“As far as I am concerned, there will not be any more uprooting of communities or the cessation of (building in) communities, but rather the exact opposite. The Land of Israel is ours and it will remain ours. What has fallen will be rebuilt. It is ours. We are building here, and you are living here.”
Indeed – Israeli lawmakers are working assiduously to prevent any future court-ordered evacuations of outposts and illegal settlement structures, as FMEP details in its comprehensive tracking of such moves. The Israeli cabinet recently endorsed a bill that gives the government 2 years to retroactively legalize 66 outposts across the West Bank, including Netiv Ha’avot. The bill also directs the government to immediately begin treating those outposts as if they are legal, meaning that if the bill becomes law, the illegal outposts will be connected to Israel water and electricity grids, receive municipal services, and receive government-approved and government-funded budgets. The bill also allows the finance minister to guarantee mortgages in the outposts.
The Israeli government is also planning to retroactively legalize and expand the Netiv Ha’avot outpost – proving once again that Israel not only doesn’t punish settler law-breaking, it rewards it. FMEP has previously covered how the Israeli government has exploited the evacuation of settlers from 15 homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost as an opportunity not only to advance construction in another settlement (Elazar), but also to build an entirely new outpost as “temporary” housing for the settlers. The “temporary” outpost – where 15 mobile homes have been placed and are connected to Israeli water, power, sewage, roads, and other infrastructure – is located outside the borders of the Alon Shvut settlement. That fact did not stop the High Planning Council (a body within the Israeli Civil Administration, which regulates planning and building in the West Bank) from approving the plan, noting that “the plan is improper, but we will have to approve it as a temporary solution.” As part of its approval of the plan, the Council ordered the government to take steps towards expanding the borders of the Alon Shvut settlement to include the outpost, underscoring the meaninglessness of the word “temporary” in this context.
On January 28th, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he will not renew the mandate allowing the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) to continue to operate. The TIPH has been observing and documenting incidents between Palestinians, settlers, and the Israeli army in Hebron since 1997 – when Netanyahu (who was then in his first stint as Prime Minister) signed the Hebron Protocols which laid out arrangements for a divided Hebron. Many Israeli lawmakers, including Netanyahu, have levied heavy criticism against the TIPH over the past year, particularly after an internal TIPH report was leaked in December 2018 that detailed Israel’s “severe and regular” breaches of international law in Hebron.
Peace Now said:
“Netanyahu is frightened. He is so afraid of the settlers that he gives in to a fringe agenda that only harms Israel. The removal of TIPH whose only role is to observe, puts Israel in line with countries like Iran and China, which are afraid of criticism and have something to hide”
Senior Israeli politicians have ratcheted up calls for annexation of Hebron. Most recently Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein participated in a conference focused on the goal of establishing Israeli hegemony over Hebron.
Avner Gvaryahu, President of Breaking the Silence – a group which regularly guides tours for tourists willing to see the impact of Israelis settlers and policies in Hebron – told Al-Monitor:
“This isn’t just about the observers. It is part of a much broader and bigger effort…There is a deep-rooted process underway to empty downtown Hebron of its Palestinian residents and turn it into a ghost town.”
Indeed, over the past year Israel advanced numerous settlement plans entrenching and expanding the Israeli settler presence in the city’s most sensitive areas, including plans for the first new settlement construction in Hebron in 16 years. Those settlement plans are:
- Advancing a plan for a new settlement industrial zone inside of the boundaries of the Kiryat Arba settlement, but in a location that is not contiguous with the built-up area of the settlement (expanding the footprint of the settlement on the ground).
- Advancing plans for a new settlement to be located above the historic Palestinian vegetable market in downtown Hebron.
- Approving a plan to build a new 31-unit settlement at the site of an Israeli army base in downtown Hebron.
- Creating and funding a new settler municipal body for the settlers living in small enclaves in downtown Hebron.
The Israeli settlement watchdog NGO Kerem Navot discovered yet another case where the World Zionist Organization (WZO) provided a mortgage for an illegally built settlement structure, in this case a house in the Eli settlement, “owned” by a settler named Gilad Ach. Ach heads the radical Ad Kan organization which is known for infiltrating organizations that are working to end the occupation in order to undermine them. FMEP has repeatedly covered reports of evidence that the Settlement Division of the WZO (which is entirely funded by Israeli taxpayer money) engages breaks Israeli law in order to advance the settlement enterprise; this latest report continues to add to that body of evidence.
In the case of Ach’s house in Eli, the WZO decided to issue the mortgage despite the fact that not a single structure in the Eli settlement is legal. Though the Eli settlement has received Israeli government approval, a “Master Plan” – which officially zones land for distinct purposes (residential, commercial, public) – has never been issued. Meaning, Ach’s house lacks a valid building permit.
Kerem Navot told Haaretz:
“As is known, Gilad Ach works energetically to promote law enforcement and transparency, and therefore we are certain that he would be pleased to know that in the settlement of Eli, where he lives, the Settlement Division is granting mortgages for the purchase of homes in violation of the law. We are convinced that Ach and his organization, Ad Kan, will act diligently to eliminate this serious phenomenon as they have done in other instances in the past in which there has been suspected violation of the law.”
Despite the WZO’s criminal track record, the Israeli government is actively transferring more land in the West Bank over to the WZO for management. A government-backed bill to expedite the transfer more land to the WZO was recently stalled in the Knesset by the Israeli Attorney General, who assured the Knesset that the legislation was unnecessary because the transfer was already proceeding at the administrative level.
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].
Amnesty International (AI) published a new report – entitled “Destination: Occupation” – outlining how AirBnb, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and Expedia (the largest global online booking and travel companies) are fueling human rights violations and the expansion of settlements through their decision to list rental properties located in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In a press release about the report, Seema Joshi, AI’s Director of Global Thematic Issues, said:
“Israel’s unlawful seizure of Palestinian land and expansion of settlements perpetuates immense suffering, pushing Palestinians out of their homes, destroying their livelihoods and depriving them of basics like drinking water. Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor model themselves on the idea of sharing and mutual trust, yet they are contributing to these human rights violations by doing business in the settlements. The Israeli government uses the growing tourism industry in the settlements as a way of legitimizing their existence and expansion, and online booking companies are playing along with this agenda. It’s time for these companies to stand up for human rights by withdrawing all of their listings in illegal settlements on occupied land. War crimes are not a tourist attraction.”
AirBnB, one of the companies scrutinized both by AI and in a complementary report published by Human Rights Watch, announced in November 2018 that it would no longer list properties located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, excluding about 100 listings in East Jerusalem settlements. The AI report calls on AirBnB to extend its decision to East Jerusalem settlement listings. The report goes on to detail settler activities in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, showing how TripAdvisor in particular is supporting settlers and their initiatives. The report observes:
“…at the time of writing, TripAdvisor featured the City of David and Elad prominently. TripAdvisor did not just provide its standard listings and page for reviews (where the City of David is ranked ‘#15 of 318 things to do in Jerusalem’), but also promoted four tours which feature the City of David and are managed by Elad. These include tickets to an underground tour for US$11, a ‘Night-Time Spectacular Show’ for US$18 and a “2 hour Segway tour” for US$43. TripAdvisor allowed users to book and pay for these attractions through its site and charged a fee when a booking was made. By actively encouraging users to visit the City of David and take guided tours of the site, TripAdvisor has boosted Elad’s business and derived a profit itself from every booking made through its site. In this way, the company has contributed to the illegal situation created by the presence and growth of settlement enclaves in East Jerusalem. The company has also been a key participant in the expansion plans of the Israeli government and Elad in the city, which are putting the human rights of Palestinians at risk. It has also, arguably, heightened the risk of forced evictions.”
Israel Arrests Settler for 2018 Murder of Palestinian Woman; Settlers Respond with More Attacks on Palestinians
Despite political interference, on January 24th the Israeli Shin Bet announced that it had filed an indictment charging a settler with manslaughter, for the 2018 murder of Aisha al-Rabih. Rabih, a Palestinian mother living in the West Bank, was killed by a large rock thrown through the windshield of a car she was riding in with her family. The settler charged with the crime – based on DNA evidence – is a 16-year-old from the Rehelim settlement, where he attended yeshiva (Jewish religious school).
Following the indictment, violently skirmishes erupted in hotspots in the West Bank known for the activities of radical settlers.
- On January 26th, settlers living in the Adei Ad outpost reportedly approached the Palestinian village of al-Mughayir, resulting in clashes during which the settlers are believed to have shot and killed Hamdi Nassan. The murder resulted in widespread international attention and concern, though Israel has reportedly not yet questioned settlers who were present at the crime scene.
- On January 26th, video cameras caught settlers vandalizing property in Turmusaya – located within sight of the Adei Ad outpost in the Shiloh Valley.
- Clashes between IDF forces and Palestinians also erupted on January 27th at the entrance of Turmusaya. That morning, Israeli forces erected a new checkpoint along the road leading to Turmusaya in anticipation of a funeral parade for Hamdi Nassan, killed by settlers in al-Mughayir the day before. During the clashes, Israeli forces reportedly fired live ammunition, tear gas, and stun grenades at the Palestinians.
As a reminder, the illegal Adei Ad outpost is built on land that has historically belonged to Turmusaya. Yesh Din published a lengthy report chronicling how Adei Ad outpost settlers use violence as a means of land confiscation. Rewarding their criminality, in August 2018 the Israeli government approved a plan to included the Adei Ad outpost within the expanded borders of the Amichai settlement, the first new government-backed settlement in 25 years. The massive expansion of the Amichai settlement and the transformation of Adei Ad into a brand new settlement, if implemented, will be a significant step towards creating an uninterrupted corridor of settlements connecting sovereign Israel to the Ariel settlement, through the isolated Shiloh Valley settlements, all the way to the Jordan Valley. In so doing, It will completely bisect the northern part of the West Bank.
In response to the violence and the escalation in Israeli settlement planning, Michael Lynk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, issued a statement on Wednesday saying in part:
“…Israeli forces, obligated to protect the Palestinian population under international humanitarian law, stand idly by while olive trees are destroyed, livelihoods are damaged, and even while people are injured or, at worst, killed. The events in the West Bank village of Al Mughayyir on 26 January are a sobering example of this extremely troubling phenomenon, where a Palestinian villager was shot dead in the presence of Israeli settlers and soldiers. These incidents not only violate numerous human rights such as the rights to life, security of the person, and freedom of movement of Palestinians, but also serve to expand the area of land over which Israeli settlers have control. It is impossible to square the international community’s rhetorical support for a genuine two-state solution with its persistent unwillingness to confront Israel with any meaningful injunctions to halt and reverse these steps towards annexation. The Israeli settlements are the engine of the 51-year long occupation. This occupation will not die of old age, but only with the resolute imposition of consequences on Israel for ignoring international law and numerous United Nations resolutions.”
Disgraced American actress Roseanne Barr was shepherded on a tour of Israeli settlements and settler installations by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a prominent American activist and settlement supporter. The two were accompanied by fawning senior Israeli politicians, including Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. Barr’s trip was funded by Rabbi Boteach’s group, World Values Network.
Barr’s tour – which she said was aimed at pushing back against the growing calls to boycott Israel and/or its settlements – included several public speaking engagements, a visit to the West Bank settlement of Peduel (a history of the Peduel settlement can be found here), a visit to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to visit a home owned by the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim.
“There is no occupation. The only occupation I see is they built a dome on top of our Temple and I’m not allowed to pray at my holiest site.”
At a media spray at the Peduel settlement, Barr told the settlers:
“You are pioneers. The people of Samaria are standing on the front line of the State of Israel.”
Barr was famously fired from her eponymous tv show after she posted racist public comments posted to Twitter. Commenting on her firing to an Israeli audience, Barr joked that she was “BDSed by ABC,” suggesting that the real reason she was fired was Hollywood’s intolerance for her support for Trump (who is widely loved in Israel) and her Zionism.
- “Israel’s Growing Settlement Force Stark Choices About Its Future” (The Economist)
- “Can the Shin Bet Stop Hilltop Youths’ March to Armageddon?” (Al-Monitor)
- “Education According to Bennett: More Judaism, Less Democracy” (Haaretz)
- “I Was a Settler. I Know How Settlers Become Killers” (Haaretz)
- “Helipad Completed in Liberman’s Settlement, After His Exit From Defense Ministry” (Times of Israel)