Settlement Report: January 25, 2019


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

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January 25, 2019

  1. A 45-person Palestinian Family Will Be Evicted from Home in Sheikh Jarrah for the Benefit of Settlers
  2. Bidding War Between Settlers and Palestinians Drives $3.27 Million Price for Sheikh Jarrah House
  3. Settlers Impose Sabbath Closure on Palestinian Residents of Silwan; High Court Asks: Why?
  4. Israel to “Examine” Two Cases of lllegal Outpost Construction
  5. MK Bezalel Smotrich – A Radical Settler – Elected to Lead National Union Party
  6. European Union Statement Lambasts “Givat Eitam/E-2” Settlement Plan
  7. Bonus Reads

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A 45-person Palestinian Family Will Be Evicted from Home in Sheikh Jarrah for the Benefit of Settlers

With the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to refuse consideration of new information in the Sabbagh family eviction case, the Court has given a greenlight for Israeli settlers and their allies to not only evict the Sabbaghs but to continue pursuing the large-scale eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem based on the discriminatory “Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970.”  The Sabbaghs were ordered to vacate their home by January 23, 2019; as of publication, there have been no news about the status of the Sabbagh’s. United Nations officials Jamie McGoldrick (Humanitarian Coordinator), Gwyn Lewis (Director of West Bank Operations for UNRWA), and James Heenan (Head of OHCHR in the occupied Palestinian territory) released a statement calling on Israel to halt the eviction of the Sabbagh family “to prevent further displacement of these refugees, cease settlement construction, and abide by their obligations as an occupying power under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

According to Peace Now, the Sabbagh family is one of 175 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem that face eviction under the discriminatory law: 75 families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and 100 families in the Silwan neighborhood (specifically in the Batan al-Hawa section, where several Palestinian residents were recently handed eviction notices). What’s more, the Sabbagh family was believed to have the best chance at escaping eviction based on historic Ottoman documents relating to the land obtained by the family’s lawyer. These are the documents that Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut declined to consider this week. The Sabbagh family lawyer told Haaretz:

“Once again, families from Sheikh Jarrah are facing eviction and a second refugeehood. In Israeli courts, which refrain from hearing the residents’ just and substantive arguments, people are sentenced to refugeehood on procedural grounds.”

In advance of the Sabbagh’s eviction, protests erupted, and have continued for a second straight day, in support of the family and against Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem. Israeli and international protestors marched from the center of Jerusalem to Sheikh Jarrah, where they were joined by Palestinians in front of one of the homes where Palestinians are facing eviction. Daniel Roth, one of the protestors told +972 Mag:

“At the core of this whole thing is the idea that all people have a right to a home, and what’s going on here is that the powers that be are taking homes from some people because of their national identity, period. What we’re looking at is racist policy and action around people’s very homes, and that should wake people up to stand up with these folks.”

Under the “Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970,” which is being used to evict the Sabbagh family,  Jewish owners are afforded a legal avenue to reclaim property that they owned prior to the 1948 war which, as a result of the war, came under Jordanian rule. It should be noted that Palestinian refugees from that same war – who lost property in what became Israel – are not afforded an equivalent right to reclaim their abandoned property, creating a dual legal system in which ethnicity is the sole determinant factor when it comes to rights.

Exploiting the special standing granted to historic Jewish property owners, the settler group “Nahalat Shimon” has undertaken a campaign to track down the Jewish owners of coveted land in East Jerusalem that was under Jordanian rule, in order to purchase from them the property rights and then evict Palestinian tenants, most of whom have lived in these properties for more than 50 years. This is the context against which the 45-member Sabbagh family (who are themselves refugees of the 1948 war, but are not allowed to legally reclaim their family property in Jaffa) is being forced to leave their home of 60+ years. Following the Supreme Court’s January 10th decision to refuse the family’s request to consider new evidence in the case (based on the argument that it was too late), Israeli authorities delivered an eviction notice telling the family to leave before January 23rd.

Peace Now writes:

“This is part of an organized and systematic campaign of settlers, with the assistance of government agencies, to expel entire communities in East Jerusalem and to establish settlements in their stead. Dozens of other families face the risk of eviction by legal proceedings in which settlers and government officials exploit discriminatory laws that allow Jews to return to pre-1948 assets yet forbid Palestinians from doing the same. In this way, settlers seek to create a buffer inside the Palestinian neighborhood and make it difficult to reach a territorial compromise in Jerusalem so essential to a two-state solution.”

Bidding War Between Settlers and Palestinians Drives $3.27 Million Price for Sheikh Jarrah House

A bidding war erupted over a house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, pitting the Palestinian family living in the building against Aryeh King, a radical settler impresario behind many  settlement schemes across East Jerusalem. When the price hit $3.27 million (12 million shekels), King decided to withdraw his bid – allowing the Palestinian Abdel Razeq family to purchase the home, should they be able to raise the necessary funds.

If the family is able to raise the funds to buy the house, this would be a rare, albeit astronomically expensive, victory for Palestinians fighting to remain in their homes against an ongoing campaign by Israeli settler groups to “reclaim” Jewish property in East Jerusalem that was abandoned during the 1948 war.

As discussed above, under Israeli law, Jewish property owners are entitled to reclaim property in East Jerusalem that was abandoned during the war, while Palestinians who lost property in what became Israel have no similar right. King and other pro-settler activists take advantage of this law by tracking down Jews who owned property in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem prior to 1948 (Sheikh Jarrah being a key target), and convincing the owners (or their heirs) to sign over the property rights – all in order to evict current Palestinian tenants and move in Israeli settlers.

The case involving the Abdel Razeq family’s house did not go according to the settlers’ script.  A dispute broke out between members of the Jewish family who, under Israeli law, are heirs to the property. The case went to a Family Court, which ruled that the house should be sold through a public bidding process, with the proceeds to be split amongst the heirs.

Explaining his decision to drop out of the bidding, King took to social media to attack the Jewish family that is selling the property, saying:

“[it is] a black day for the Jewish people. A Jewish family is negotiating with the enemies of the Jewish people to sell a property that the family’s grandfather purchased a hundred years ago in East Jerusalem….I am full of shame that people act this way about a place that their grandfather bought out of Zionist motives and a place where soldiers paid with their lives and were wounded, and they sell it just to make another profit.”

King’s perspective on this – in essence, that Jews should sell only to other Jews – is notable, given recent controversy over a Palestinian who sold property to settlers. Israel and many supporters of Israel were outraged at what they saw as the anti-Semitic demand that Palestinians not sell property to settlers. In this latest case, the seller was arrested by the PA, leading the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, to tweet: “The Pal Authority has been holding US citizen Isaam Akel in prison for ~2 months. His suspected ‘crime’? Selling land to a Jew. Akel’s incarceration is antithetical to the values of the US & to all who advocate the cause of peaceful coexistence. We demand his immediate release.”

Settlers Impose Sabbath Closure on Palestinian Residents of Silwan; High Court Asks: Why?

On January 16th, the Israeli High Court of Justice ordered the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and the radical Elad settler group to defend its practice of closing parts of the “City of David National Park” – a name that Israel has applied to an area that includes a large Palestinian residential section of Silwan – on the Jewish Sabbath, evenings, and on Jewish holidays. The closures deny Palestinians, including residents of Silwan, access to parts of the neighborhood.

As FMEP has repeatedly covered, the radical Elad settler group has managed the City of David National Park on behalf of the INPA since 2001. This arrangement that gives the settler group authority over not only areas controlled by settlers – whose interests Elad shares and promotes – but also thousands of Palestinians, to whom Elad has no legal responsibility and whose very presence is part of a “demographic balance” Elad is working actively to flip.

The petition which prompted the Court’s order was filed by the residents of Silwan and the Israeli nongovernmental archaeological group Emek Shaveh. Explaining the situation caused by Elad’s mismanagement of the City of David National Park, Emek Shaveh writes:

The City of David National Park is situated at the heart of a populated, urban space. Extensive areas in the park are public spaces in a neighborhood that suffers from a chronic deficiency of such spaces. In 2015, the Elad Foundation placed gates and closed archaeological areas known as Area E and Area G (No. 6 and 7 and No. 3 on the map). These public spaces had been open to the residents at least as far back as the British Mandate. The gates that were placed are locked at closing time, thus blocking passage between two neighborhoods within the village. The site closes on the Sabbath and on Holidays as the Elad Foundation observes the Sabbath, thus restricting the local residents’ freedom of movement and use of public spaces. As most of Silwan’s residents work in West Jerusalem, Shabbat (Saturday) is their day of rest, yet it is on this day that the nearby green public areas are closed off to them.” 

Elad and the INPA have previously tried to defend the park closures on security grounds – citing alleged incidents of vandalism on park grounds. That defense was rejected by the Israeli Attorney General, who noted that no formal complaints about vandalism had been filed, and neither the Israeli police nor the Israel Antiquities Authority had be informed about the problem or Elad’s decision to close the park on religious occasions. Following the January 19th court order, Elad and the INPA have 60 days to submit a new defense.

Israel to “Examine” Two Cases of Illegal Outpost Construction

In response to petitions filed by Peace Now, on January 7th the State of Israel announced that it will “examine” two specific cases of illegal (under Israeli law) outpost construction: the Kerem Reim case and the Hayovel case, both located in the area controlled by the Binyamin Regional Council (the Israeli government-funded settlement municipal authority in charge of the area located north of Jerusalem stretching to north of Ramallah). The examination will be led by a police anti-fraud unit and the State Prosecutor’s Office.

As summarized in a recent report, Peace Now has previously filed numerous complaints and has provided evidence to the State Prosecutor’s office regarding the involvement of the Binyamin Regional Council and the Amana settler organization in the illegal construction of outposts and settlement structures.

Given the State’s demonstrated refusal to promptly respond to the complaints by opening an official investigation into the criminal activity, Peace Now cautions that this latest move to “examine” the cases is problematic, saying:

“an examination is an ambiguous, non-legal term that comes in lieu of a proper, legal investigation. An ‘examination’ may just be the state’s tactic to mollify the High Court by showing that it is serious looking into the matter, though without actually taking any substantive action.”

In addition to Peace Now’s documentation, the Israeli State Comptroller’s office published a July 2018 report exposing the criminal involvement of the Binyamin Regional Council and the Amana settler organization in illegal settlement construction.  

Peace Now also released an official statement saying:

“For 50 years now, a handful of settlers have been using public funds through the settlement councils and Amana to put facts on the ground that affect the future of all of us in violation of the law and of the government’s decisions. The hesitation of the State Prosecutor’s Office and the police to investigate the organized crime of illegal construction in the settlements is tantamount to granting immunity to the offenders and shows a lack of respect for the rule of law. The message the government is sending to the settlers is that they are above the law.”

In 2017, Peace Now published a comprehensive report outlining how government and private entities are systematically using Israeli taxpayer money to establish new settlements and outposts.

MK Bezalel Smotrich – A Radical Settler – Elected to Lead National Union Party

MK Bezalel Smotrich has been elected to take the reins of the extreme right-wing nationalist political faction, called the National Union Party. With leadership secured, Smotrich aims to next be chosen to lead Habayit Hayehudi – an umbrella group which unites the far-right factions into a single voting bloc – following Naftali Bennett’s decision to leave Habayit Hayehudi and form a new political party alongside Ayelet Shaked.

Smotrich currently lives in the Kedumim settlement, but his house is located inside of an enclave of privately owned Palestinian land that is not included in the settlement’s Master Plan, making it illegal even under Israeli law.

Smotrich is a co-founder of Regavim, a radical settler group that works to dispossess Palestinians of their land and property in the West Bank by “helping” the Israeli government to enforce planning and building laws. Like Smotrich, many of Regavim’s key staff live in illegally built settlement units, but instead of seeking to enforce Israeli law against their own illegal building, Regavim and Smotrich are working to retroactively legalize their own homes through legislation.

Beyond the headlines, Smotrich has been an extremely active member of the Knesset, and is behind many of the boldest and most brazen legislative attempts at annexation. Some of Smotrich’s recent efforts include:

  1. Introducing the “Young Settlements Bill,” which would direct the government to treat 66 illegal outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land as legal settlements, while giving the government 2 years to find a way to retroactively legalize those outposts. The bill would also freeze any/all legal proceedings against the outposts and requires the government to connect the outposts to state infrastructure including water and electricity; provide garbage removal; and approve budgets for them. The law also allows the finance minister to guarantee mortgages for settlers seeking to buy units in these outposts, even before the legal status of the land is resolved (a remarkable state-directed violation of normal practices in the mortgage industry). The bill received government backing on December 16, 2018, and will next need to be introduced in the Knesset, where it must pass three readings to become law.
  2. Calling for the Israeli Civil Administration to be disbanded, in a scheme that would annex the entire West Bank to Israel, leaving the Palestinians bantustans to be governed by “Regional Liaison Committees.”
  3. Leading the charge for the Knesset to fund a new municipal body for Israeli settlers in Hebron, despite a court injunction freezing government plans to create such a body.
  4. Introducing a bill that would hand over more land in Area C of the West Bank to the World Zionist Organization.

European Union Statement Lambasts “Givat Eitam/E-2” Settlement Plan

On January 22, 2019, the European Union presented a statement at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate representing the view of its member states that:

“Today there is a risk of further escalation that would move Israelis and Palestinians further away from an end to the conflict. This risk is compounded by the advancement in December 2018 of Israeli plans for over two thousand settlement units and renewed plans to “legalise” West Bank outposts. The allocation of an area south of Bethlehem for the purpose of planning a new settlement (Givat Eitam) constitutes a serious blow to the viability of a two-state solution. The European Union’s position on Israeli settlement policy – including eviction of Palestinians – for example in Sheikh Jarrah – and related activities in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace – as reaffirmed by UNSCR 2334.”

For FMEP reporting on the Givat Eitam/E-2 settlement, see the January 4th edition of the Settlement Report.

Bonus Reads

  1. “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is Not a Bankruptcy Sale” (Lawfare Blog)
  2. “When Freud Visits Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank” (Haaretz)
  3. “A Guided Tour of Hebron, From Two Sides of the Occupation” (The New Yorker)
  4. “Another Step Toward the Annexation of the West Bank” (Haaretz)
  5. “Israel’s Apartheid Road is About More Than Segregation” (+972 Mag)