Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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January 17, 2020
- Bennett Announces 7 New “Nature Reserves” in Area C of West Back (Partially on Private Palestinian Land) as Part of Ever-Expanding Annexation Drive
- Settlers Are Pushing Israel to Police Palestinian Construction in Areas A & B
- High Court Dismisses Settler Petition to Stop Outpost Demolition Order
- Emek Shaveh Report: Israel’s Action In Jerusalem Aimed at Obliterating the Green Line
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions – email Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com).
Bennett Announces 7 New “Nature Reserves” in Area C of West Back (Partially on Private Palestinian Land) as Part of Ever-Expanding Annexation Drive
On January 15th, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet announced that he has ordered the creation of seven new “nature reserves” in the West Bank and the expansion of 12 existing reserves. The act of designating land as a “nature reserve” is a political tool that the state of Israel has used to take control over vast tracts of land in the West Bank. This latest move, if carried out, will mark the first time since 1995 (the signing of the Oslo Accords) that the Israeli state has declared a new nature reserve in the West Bank.
“Today we provide a big boost for the Land of Israel and continue to develop the Jewish communities in Area C, with actions, not with words. The Judea and Samaria area has nature sites with amazing views. We will expand the existing ones and also open new ones. I invite all the citizens of Israel to tour and walk the land, to come to Judea and Samaria, sight-see, discover and continue the Zionist enterprise.”
Meir Deutsch, CEO of the radical settler group Regavim Movement, said in celebration:
“Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s announcement of the declaration of new nature reserves in Judea and Samaria is a welcome and worthwhile step that has not been implemented for years. Bennett’s refreshing change in direction in maintaining Area C shows that there is an important and significant perceptual change here. At the same time, the petition demonstrates just how important the actual conservation of nature reserves is, and what the strategic significance of the PA is to take control of its nature reserves and its ambition to do so as far as it wants. Enforcement should look and be done, and one hour earlier.”
There are currently 76 Israeli-declared nature reserves in the West Bank, covering approximately 13% of the land. Under the Israeli Civil Administration’s regulations for the occupied territory, any activity deemed to damage the land (like construction) is prohibited, and must go through a special process for approval by Israeli authorities. This process, in theory, allows activities like construction to take place if Israel recognizes that they were ongoing prior to the declaration of the area as a nature reserve. In practice, by declaring nature reserves Israel is barring Palestinians and Bedouin communities from future building, growing crops, and/or grazing their livestock on their own land. Unsurprisingly, when Israeli settlers violate these same regulations concerning nature reserves, the Civil Administration and IDF habitually look the other way and even assist the settlers, allowing settlers to build in the parks and even manage them.
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry said in response to Bennett’s annoucement:
“The Foreign Ministry condemns in the strongest terms Bennett’s colonialist and expansionist decisions and affirms that the so-called nature reserves are just another scheme for the appropriation and seizure of Palestinian land. This goes, in the end, for the benefit of shoring up settlements in the occupied West Bank.”
The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh also condemned Bennett’s move and the underlying motivation for the declarations, writing:
“… an examination of the conduct of [Israeli authorities] demonstrates that the declaration and management of parks serve as a political tool to promote Israeli interests at the expense of the basic rights of Palestinians living in or near the sites. This political tool is apparent in several ways:
A. The way national parks prominently feature a narrative that stems from Jewish-Israeli heritage and from Israeli interests. Other legacies and narratives are almost absent, including archaeological layers from the Byzantine and Muslim periods.
B. In each of the sites discussed here, the National Parks Law was used to stop construction and development by Palestinians, to prevent access, and restrict their ability to gain a livelihood at the parks.
C. Palestinian residents do not benefit from the economic and cultural resources of the national parks, which they perceive as inaccessible and threatening.”
Moreover, according to Peace Now, 6.5% of the land Bennett has designated for the new nature reserves is, in fact, privately owned by Palestinians. The Spokesman for Peace Now, Brian Reeves, told The Independent:
“These reserves serve a larger function of keeping land off-limits to Palestinians. Nature reserves and national parks have also been used to prevent Palestinian construction….[Israel is] trying to slowly take over Area C as if this wasn’t occupied territory. No two-state solution could envision 61 per cent of the West Bank being part of Israel.”
In a 2007 report, Peace Now explained:
“Lands on the occupied territories have systematically been seized on various pretexts, in order to prevent the Palestinians in the West Bank from using them, and to undermine any Palestinian territorial contiguity. One of the means employed by Israel in order to annex lands was to declare broad tracts as nature reserves, and to include them in land blocks that the planners had intended for the settlements. This report shows that Israeli building of settlements infiltrated the bounds of many nature reserves. As such, it should be viewed as part of the wider phenomenon of the building of settlements in contravention to the construction and planning laws in effect in the West Bank. All this is in service of the goal of accelerating and deepening the process of ‘creeping annexation’ that the settlements create in the West Bank.”
According to a report published in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper on January 13th, settler leaders have been working with a right-wing Israel organization, the Kohelet Policy Forum, to convince the Israeli government’s Security Cabinet that Israel has both the right and the obligation to intervene to stop Palestinian construction in Areas A & B (areas in which, under the Oslo Accords, Israel has no authority over construction), when such construction is located anywhere near Israeli settlements and outposts. It’s worth recalling that, in July 2019, the Israeli government demolished 13 Palestinian apartment buildings in Wadi al-Hummos, a Palestinian neighborhood adjacent to East Jerusalem, in Areas A & B. The argument used to justify those demolitions? The homes posed a security risk to Israel.
Kohelet Forum’s Executive Director Meir Rubin said:
“If the Israeli government does not stop the Palestinian construction, the entire area will be filled with ghettos. The settlements will find themselves surrounded by Palestinian villages, like Gush Katif. How long can they last? How long did Gush Katif last? What normal person will want to live in a place where the army has to clear the roads before the children can go to school? Look at how they are taking over, they can see the houses of Amihai, they can see Keida, and beyond the hill is Esh Kodesh. Look at the bus now driving on the road that goes through the Shilo settlements, it is carrying children, why do they have to build specifically here?”
Kobi Eliraz, who was recently appointed by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to lead a new government taskforce to lead Area C annexation efforts (including enforcement action against Palestinian construction) told the paper that when it comes to Israel’s reluctance to police construction outside of Area C:
“It [Israel] is sleeping stand up. I’ve been shouting and warning for years about what is taking place on the ground and nothing happens.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s Office issued a statement in response to the paper’s inquiry, saying:
“The Civil Administration, together with the IDF, are responsible for enforcing planning and construction laws pertaining to the Palestinian sector solely in Area C. Therefore, the IDF, together with the Civil Administration, is monitoring the illegal construction taking place in Area C and is taking steps to prevent it. In those places where new construction in Area B poses a new security challenge, steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the residents. Any steps taken against construction in Area B is only in the security context.”
The Office of the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT) also issued a statement on the story, saying:
“The Civil Administration is responsible for implementing civilian authorities in Area C only, according to the Oslo Accords. Palestinian construction outside of these areas is not the responsibility of the Civil Administration.”
Peace Now’s Settlement Watch co-Director Shabtay Bendet told the paper:
“With the help of the backing that the settlers receive from the extremist government that has been functioning without a mandate for over a year..they are taking steps to change reality and to regress us 30 years back. Time after time we pay the price for the fact that the security establishment does the bidding of an extremist minority and accedes to its dangerous whims. The extreme right wing wants to erase all the diplomatic achievements that were made up until today with the Palestinians and to reinstate the Israeli occupation in the heart of Palestinian civilian life.”
Ironically, this effort to ramp up Israeli policing of Palestinian construction outside of Area C comes at the same time that radical settlers associated with the Yitzhar settlement (who frequently clash with and criticize the Israeli government) are telling the High Court of Justice that the Israeli government has no authority to demolish an illegal outpost located outside of Area C…because, the settlers argued, the government of Israel has no authority over construction there. See the following entry for more detail.
On January 15th, 450 Israeli Border Patrol officers were dispatched to demolish two unauthorized outpost structures near the radical Yitzhar settlement in the central West Bank. Anticipating clashes, the police set up roadblocks, preventing settlers from Yitzhar from accessing the area – which was declared a closed military zone by the Civil Administration last year following repeated clashes with settlers.
The two structures were a part of the “Kumi Ori” outpost, and were inhabited – illegally – by two settler families. Extraordinarily, the settlers attempted to convince the court that Israel did not have authority to demolish the structures, because the outpost is not located in Area C (where Israel has complete control), but rather in a Palestinian-administered area (Area A or B) [raising the question, would the settlers recognize/respect the Palestinian Authority’s authority to evict them?]. Last week the High Court rejected this argument, ordering the demolition to go forward. .
In a new report entitled “When Green Zones Meet the Green Line”, the archeologists at Emek Shaveh surveys ongoing projects in national parks along the Green Line in East Jerusalem, concluding that Israeli is systematically undertaking projects that eliminate any meaningful acknowledgement of the Green Line and which seek to displace Palestinians from these areas.
The report reviews, in detail, the a handful of the most significant settler-backed projects in the Ben Himmon Valley as well as the Peace Forest, just south of the Old City. In doing so, Emek Shaveh shines a spotlight on the role of the radical Elad settler group in promoting and carrying out projects and excavations – supposedly meant to protect Jerusalem antiquities – at the behest of the state of Israel, and to serve a political agenda.
Emek Shaveh concludes:
“What began a decade ago as a slow process of establishing a presence in a number of specific sites, has in recent years, developed into a substantial initiative by Elad to reshape the identity of the green areas along the seam. The changes to the sites attest to the fact that it is neither heritage nor preservation of antiquities and the public space that is the chief priority of the entities operating in the area, but rather political interests, where the ends justify the means. The development plans are intended to strengthen Israeli presence, exclude Palestinians from the area and eliminate the the Green Line, both physically and psychologically.”
- “Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know About Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank” (MEMO)
- “Jordan’s King Abdullah warns of Israeli annexation, ‘untold chaos’ of possible U.S.-Iran war” (Ynet)