Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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July 26, 2019
- Annexation By Demolition in East Jerusalem-adjacent area of West Bank
- High Court Rules Settlers Can Stay in Hebron Compound Owned by Palestinians
- Peace Now Report: Return of Rampant Outpost Construction is Ushering in Annexation & “A Permanent Single Undemocratic State”
- Settlement Construction Boom Preys on Vulnerable Palestinian Workers
- Settler Groups: We Want Israeli Annexation, But Not Israeli Law
- Regavim Ups Pressure on Candidates to Promise Annexation of Area C
- Settler-Palestinian “Business Council” Visits Dead Sea
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On July 22nd, Israeli forces demolished 13 large apartment buildings (approximately 70 units) in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood, leaving the area – located in the West Bank just east of the Israel-declared municipal border of Jerusalem, but on the Israeli side of the separation barrier – looking like a war zone.
Israel’s decision to demolish the buildings was given the official seal of approval by a Supreme Court decision (much to the comfort and pride of U.S. Ambassador David Friedman). It its arguments, the Court held that the buildings, located mostly in Area A — where the Palestinian Authority is supposed to have full control — posed an unacceptable security risk to the Israeli state because of their close proximity to Israel’s separation barrier.
In so ruling, the Supreme Court set an alarming precedent that puts thousands of additional Palestinian buildings located near the separation barrier at risk of demolition. In addition, the Court provided yet another legal tool in the service of Israel’s ongoing campaign of de facto annexation of Palestinian land.
This case demonstrates yet again, that the Israeli court system affords no meaningful measure of protection or justice for Paelstinians, a fact clearly illustrated in a recent B’Tselem report. B’Tselem said in a statement:
“The Supreme Court ruling, written by Justice Meni Mazuz, fully accepted the State’s framing of the issue as one of purely security matter… Like in many past cases, the judges did not discuss in their ruling the Israeli policy almost completely preventing Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem, with the purpose of forcing a Jewish demographic majority in the city – a policy that forces the residents to build without permits…Instead, the judges ruled that the home demolitions were necessary for security considerations, because construction near the fence ‘can provide hiding for terrorists or illegal aliens’ and enable ‘arms smuggling.’ The judgment also clarifies the extent to which the ‘transfer of powers’ to the Palestinian Authority in areas A and B as part of the interim agreements has no practical meaning – except for the need to promote Israeli propaganda. When it serves its own convenience, Israel relies on that ‘transfer of powers’ to cultivate the illusion that most of the residents of the West Bank do not really live under occupation, and that actually, the occupation is almost over. Whereas when it is not convenient for Israel, like in this case, it sets aside the appearance of ‘self-government,’ raises ‘security arguments,’ and realizes its full control of the entire territory and all of its residents.”
The Israeli NGO “Terrestrial Jerusalem” (led by Danny Seidemann) writes:
“This one case, unfolding in remote areas of the Jerusalem municipal boundary that few Israelis or Palestinians have ever heard of, illuminates the inherent absurdity of the mythical ‘undivided capital of Israel’ and the lack of correlation between the location of a village, the laws that apply to its residents and the authority that governs them. Hence, the residents of Wadi Hummus live on the Jerusalem side of the barrier, but with no rights in Israel, in an area where governance is vested in those with no formal power to govern, where the only “legitimate” use of governmental power is by an occupier whose authorities are based exclusively on military necessity.”
Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, writes:
“…we know that Israel’s policy of home demolitions is not just about security. It is an ongoing policy that has been carried out for years that is part of a deliberate planning regime designed to prevent Palestinian demographic growth in East Jerusalem. We know this because our grantees have systematically documented Israel’s policies in East Jerusalem for decades, designed to secure a Jewish majority in the city by diminishing the possibility of Palestinian life and growth…Israel’s demolition of unauthorized Palestinian structures has accelerated massively under President Donald Trump. That makes a lot of sense. Prime Minister Netanyahu and pro-annexationist government know a green light when they see one. Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special envoy for negotiations, recently said, that he ‘hasn’t found anything to criticize’ in Netanyahu’s policies.”
On July 21st, a three-judge panel of the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that Israeli settlers may continue squatting in two disputed Hebron properties while litigation regarding ownership of the property remains ongoing. The property – called the Zaatari Compound after its Palestinian owners, but called “Beit Rachel and “Beit Leah” by the settlers – is located in the heart of downtown Hebron on Shuhada Street, within sight of the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrahimi Mosque. Settlers claim that they purchased the property from the Zaatari family. The Zaatari family rejects that claim. The case remains under consideration in the High Court of Justice.
The new ruling is in response to the Zaatari family’s petition to have the settlers removed from the property, where the settlers have been squatting under the protection of the Israeli military since March 2018, when they broke into the homes. The settlers tried to pull off this stunt once before in 2016 to much less success; that time around, instead of validating the settlers’ theft by allowing them to stay put, a court ordered the Israeli police to evacuate the settlers.
In response to the March 2018 invasion, Peace Now said:
“The settlers’ recent break-in into the Zaatari compound constitutes just the latest in a slew of such unauthorized incidents in Hebron. Their strategy is clear. Since they have failed thus far to obtain the ownership rights legally, instead they must resort to illegal means to establish facts on the ground by squatting, knowing that the right-wing government will be reluctant to attract negative publicity from its base by evicting settlers, and will in turn attempt to delay the eviction or perhaps find a way to legalize the take-over. Fellow Israeli citizens must not give in to this emotional blackmail, and the authorities must evict these squatters without delay.”
Peace Now Report: Return of Rampant Outpost Construction is Ushering in Annexation & “A Permanent Single Undemocratic State”
In a new report entitled, “Return of the Outpost Method,” the Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now documents the proliferation of new illegal outposts (i.e., new settlement sites established in contravention of Israeli law and regulations; according to international law, ALL settlement activity is illegal) in the West Bank over the past 7 years, with the direct assistance of the Israeli government. The report catalogues 32 new unauthorized outposts established deep in the West Bank since 2012; of those, 18 (56%) were established during the 2.5 years since President Trump took office.
Peace Now said in a statement accompanying the report:
“The Netanyahu government has established dozens of new settlement outposts quietly, without any public debate, in order to take over more territory and prevent the two-state solution. This comes despite talk of regulating the legal status of the more established outposts, in part to create a semblance of law enforcement in the West Bank. When the government and Knesset declare that they will do anything to legalize any unauthorized construction by settlers and even steal private land, settlers see this correctly as an incentive to build more outposts. This outpost method has consequently become a choice tactic in the process of de facto annexation of the West Bank, and it is leading us to a permanent single undemocratic state.”
For many years prior to 2012, settlers did not devote much effort towards establishing new outposts, a decision that bore in mind effective forms of international criticism of outpost construction in addition to the signals sent to the settlers by the Israel government’s decision to evacuate the unauthorized outposts. It was only after March 2011, when Netanyahu’s government declared its intention to legalize as many outposts as possible, that settlers once again set out to build outposts and claim more land in the West Bank. True to its word, the Netanyahu government has undertaken several legal projects aimed at retroactively legalizing these new outposts along with others, a campaign which FMEP has chronicled in detail (see here).
Additional key findings of the new Peace Now report include:
- Since 2012, 32 new outposts have been established, the majority after President Trump was elected. All of the new outposts (except one) are located deep inside the West Bank, in areas that Israel will likely have to evacuate within the framework of any imaginable permanent agreement.
- 21 of the outposts are agricultural farms, which take over large areas for pasturing and cultivation, while their settlers work to remove Palestinian shepherds and farmers from the vicinity.
- Around some of the new outposts there is an increase in violence and attacks against Palestinians.
- The outposts are established in an organized fashion with the involvement of the local settlement authorities, Amana and the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization.
- At the same time, the government is working to retroactively legalize existing outposts. To date, 15 outposts have been legalized (“regularized”) as independent settlements or “neighborhoods” in existing settlements. At least 35 additional outposts are undergoing the legalization process.
- One of the outposts established in 2012, Kerem Re’im, has already been legalized, thus becoming an official settlement with nearly 70 families living in dozens of permanent homes.
Al-Monitor spoke with several Palestinian construction workers about the risks of participating in the surge of settlement construction that has unfolded in the Trump-Netanyahu era, which has spurred a 39% increase in Israeli spending on infrastructure in the West Bank. The surge has exacerbated an employment “catch-22” facing Palestinians: many Palestinians see no other option but to work in the settlements, but by working in the settlements, they facilitate the expansion and entrenchment of Israeli occupation that ensures there can be no normal Palestinian economic development within which they could find alternate employment.
In addition to that moral/political dilemma that settlement jobs present to an exploited and severely underemployed Palestinian workforce, Al-Monitor columnist Miriam Deprez explains:
“Settlement construction thrives off systemic labor rights abuses of the Palestinian workers by denying proper wages, insurance and basic personal protection equipment, complain the workers and a handful of organizations who try to protect them.”
One Palestinian laborer, Naser Qaswal, worked in a settlement for 25-years before he was forced to leave his job because of injuries he sustained due to the physical demands of the job, yet the settlement employer has not paid Qaswal any form of compensation. According to Qaswal, his cousin lost two fingers in an accident while working at an Israeli settlement, but he did not hold ask his employer for compensation or support in fear that Israel would withdraw his permit to work in Israel. Another laborer, Ahmed, explained how his father fell three stories off a crane while working at a settlement. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. The employer paid wages and caregiver fees to Ahmed’s family for the next two years, until his father passed away at the age of 52. The family was left with no income.
The absence of labor safety regulations in the settlements does not only affect Palestinians, as tragically illustrated on July 26th by the death of an Israeli two days after he fell off of a ladder while on the job at a construction site in Neriya settlement. Haaretz reports that the 2019 death toll for settlement laborers stands at 48.
For years, settlers have been demanding that the Israel law treat the settlements exactly as part of Israel, with demands for Israeli law to apply and increasingly for outright annexation. Yet, now it seems settlers want to have their cake and eat it too, as illustrated by the Hebron Hills Regional Council – a settlement municipal association – which is fighting against a High Court petition that seeks to extend Israeli laws over settlements in its jurisdiction. Why? Because in this case, Israeli law would limit the Council’s ability to collect association fees from new homebuyers. The petition stems from a request by 26 settlers to who paid exorbitant fees to the association when they moved to the Eshkolot settlement, located in the southern tip of the West Bank but on the Israeli side of the separation barrier.
“…the Hebron Hills Regional Council as well as the Eshkolot community association are arguing before the court that the rule on fees should not apply to [the West Bank]. The Hebron Hills Regional Council’s stand is particularly surprising because like other settler regional councils, it has been insistently calling for Israeli law to be applied in the settlements. Against this, the government is arguing that the rule applies to the settlements because it is a policy of the government’s Custodian for Government and Abandoned Property. What applies inside the Green Line, applies outside it and to Eshkolot.”
On July 19th, the radical settler group Regavim placed full-page newspaper ads warning: “A Terrorist State – Just Around the Corner.” The group accused the Israeli government of ignoring the alleged “Arab takeover” of Area C, some 60% of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords placed under (temporary) full Israeli control, as an interim stage towards negotiating permanent status of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Specifically, Regavim accused the government of allowing the Palestinian Authority to build thousands of structures on “state-owned land in strategic locations,” construction which the settlers allege is funded by the European Union with the intention of propping up a “terrorist state” next of Israel. Regavim called on ministers and Knesset members to “take immediate action to prevent a terrorist state in our backyard.”
On July 9th, leaders of the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce” took a field trip to the Dead Sea. Ashraf Jabari – one of the few Palestinians who attended the recent U.S.-convened “Peace to Prosperity” shindig and the only Palestinian given a speaking role on-stage at the event (also the only Palestinian to publicly praise the event) – said that the trip was a “direct continuation of the economic workshop in Bahrain,” and mentioned that the group was exploring opportunities to expand cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian business communities.
As FMEP has previously covered, Jabari 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 Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, an initiative Jabari runs alongside Israeli settlers.
- “The US Law Restricting Satellite Imagery of Palestine-Israel” (Al-Shabaka)
- “How the Goliath of the Jerusalem settler movement persuaded the world it’s really David” (Mondoweiss)
- “Amnesty International Requests TripAdvisor Employees to Delist Jewish Settlements” (Jerusalem Post)
- “In Bethlehem basement, Palestinian distiller is toasted with global acclaim” (Times of Israel)
- “I’m an Israeli settler. This is why I spoke with J Street’s first ‘alternative Birthright’ group.” (JTA)