Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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June 14, 2019
- Court Rules in Favor of Israeli Settler Group, Against Greek Orthodox Church, un Battle Over 3 Claiming Old City Properties
- Israel Gave German Construction Giant More Palestinian Land for Quarrying
- Settlers Retaliate Against Palestinians for Israel’s (Rare) Demolition of Outpost Buildings
- IDF Cuts Budget for Civilian Security Guards in Settlements
- New International Crisis Group Report on Israel’s Ongoing Annexation of East Jerusalem
- Shadowy Group Wants to Go After All Companies Not Currently Operating in the Settlements – Starting with McDonald’s
- European Court of Justice Issues Opinion Upholding EU Differentiation Policy
- Anger [& Joy] at U.S. Ambassador Reiterating Support for Israeli Annexation of West Bank Land
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Court Rules in Favor of Israeli Settler Group, Against Greek Orthodox Church, un Battle Over 3 Claiming Old City Properties
Ending a nearly 16-year legal battle, on June 11th the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the settler group Ateret Cohanim has legal rights to three prized properties in strategic locations in the Old City of Jerusalem, including two famous hotels currently operated by Palestinians. Until now, the properties were owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, which had been fighting to invalidate the transactions at the root of the settlers’ claim to them.
As a reminder, 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. Ateret Cohanim, along with its compatriots in the Elad settler group, is also leading efforts to take over land and evict Palestinians from their homes in the Silwan neighborhood.
The properties awarded to Ateret Cohanim by the Israeli High Court are:
The Petra Hotel, a four-story building near the Jaffa Gate, one of the key entrances to the Old City. Under the ruling, Ateret Cohanim has a valid 99-year lease with an option for an additional 99 years afterwards. The price Ateret Cohanim paid in the transaction the Church said was improper? A meager $500,000, far below market value.
The Imperial Hotel, located directly across the street from the Petra Hotel – meaning that a radical Israeli settler group now controls a substantial amount of land at a key entrance to the Old City (the Jaffa Gate). The Imperial Hotel is a two-story building. Ateret Cohanim’s lease for the Imperial Hotel is also for 99-years with an option for 99 more. The price paid in, again, a transaction the Church argued was improper and invalid? $1.25 million – far higher than the price paid for the Petra Hotel but still well below the fair market value of the property.
Beit Amziya, a building in the Bab a-Kuta neighborhood of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Ateret Cohanim paid $55,000 for this property, again, far below fair market value.
The legal battle over the properties dates back to 2004, when the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate agreed to sell the three properties to a foreign real estate company under three separate contracts. It did so not knowing that the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim was behind the transaction. News of the sales made headlines in early 2005.
Upon the revelation that Ateret Cohanim was the real buyer, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was deeply embarrassed and immediately sought to retain control of the properties. The Patriarchate alleged that the transactions involved corruption and bribery, arguing that the legal documents had been signed without permission by a finance employee. Dismissing the church’s arguments, this week the Supreme Court upheld prior rulings that the signatures on the lease documents were valid, with the finance employee acting as a legal proxy of the Patriarchate.
The Greek Orthodox Church has received significant blowback from the sale of these properties. In January 2018, Palestinians protested in Bethlehem in an attempt to block the arrival of Patriarch Theophilos III for Christmas celebrations.
In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, multi-denominational Christian leaders in Jerusalem issued a rare joint statement criticizing the Court’s action. The statement says:
“The actions of this radical group do not only mean an assault on the property rights of the Greek Orthodox Church, but an assault on the status quo protections for all Christians in this holy city of Jerusalem and deeply threatens the Christian presence in our beloved Holy Land. An attempt to undermine the presence of one church here undermines all the churches and the wider Christian community around the world. We reaffirm our belief that a vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the preservation of Jerusalem’s historically diverse society and a prerequisite for peace in this city; Jerusalem must maintain its multicultural and multi-religious mosaic character, being home to the three monotheistic religions.”
Kerem Navot has produced government documents showing that in February 2019 the Israeli Civil Administration – the arm of the IDF that is effectively the sovereign ruler over the West Bank – signed over rights to 25 acres of Palestinian land to the German construction company HeidelbergCement. The purpose? To expand the Nahal Raba quarry, located on 145 acres of Palestinian land near the Elkana settlement in the West Bank.
HeidelbergCement is the world’s largest cement producer and has a global footprint. In a comprehensive brief, the Israeli organization Who Profits details the situation of the Nahal Raba quarry and the larger context of Israel’s illegal exploitation of natural resources in the West Bank:
“The Nahal Raba quarry is a 600 Dunam aggregate quarry, owned and operated by Hanson Israel [which HeidelbergCement owns]. The quarry is located in Area C of the West Bank and is licensed by the Israeli Civil Administration. The adjacent Palestinian village of Alzawiyah owns the Palestinian land on which the quarry is situated. This land was taken by Israel’s Civil Administration after declaring it to be state land, despite the fact that it was privately owned by the Palestinian villagers in the adjacent town of Al-Zawiyah. As mentioned by Human Rights Watch in its recent report, Occupation Inc., in 2004 Israel built the separation wall in the area to encompass the quarry from the east, unlawfully diverting the route of the wall into occupied territory beyond the pre-1967 armistice line. Today, the quarry is enclaved into Israeli territory, while the separation wall separates the village of Zawiyah and its rightful owners from their land and quarry. Article 55 of the Hague Regulations (1907) establishes that ‘the occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary’ of the natural resources of the occupied territory, and therefore it is prohibited from exploiting them for commercial purposes. Moreover, Article 43 of the Hague Regulations has been interpreted as obliging the occupying State to exercise its powers for the benefit of the residents of the occupied area.”
In 2009, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din submitted a High Court petition demanding that Israel end all mining and quarrying activities in the West Bank, observing that the activity constitutes a brutal economic exploitation of occupied territory for Israel’s exclusive economic interests. In December 2011, the High Court rejected the petition, giving permission for the continuation and expansion of Israel-regulated quarrying in the West Bank. Yesh Din’s 2017 report, “The Great Drain: Israeli Quarries in the West Bank,” provides a comprehensive accounting of the damage imposed on Palestinians by quarrying activities.
Palestinians in the Einabus village woke up on June 13th to find the words “Price tag [for the] Yitzhar evacuation” spray painted on the town mosque and adjacent buildings, and several car tires were slashed. The tagged phrase suggest the settlers have taken revenge on the Palestinian village in respose to these demolition of illegally built settlement structures near the radical Yitzhar settlement by Israeli security foces last week.
Following documentation of the damage by Yesh Din, the IDF announced it had opened an investigation into the incident.
This price tag attack is just the latest in a string of violent attacks by settlers on Palestinian villages in the Nablus region. Over the past few weeks, settlers have set several fields on fire and were caught on video hurling stones at Palestinian school, homes, and cars.
Ynet reports that the IDF Central Command has informed settlements that budgetary constraints are forcing it to reduce the number of civilian guards working in several settlements across the West Bank. The reductions will see eight security outposts eliminated completely, including posts in the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron. A security officer from Kiryat Arba said in response: “This is abandonment of human life, and the Defense Ministry must come to its senses as soon as possible,”
The IDF said that:
“It’s clear to everyone the reduction in the number of guards in not ideal, but – all things considered – it’s necessary.”
In a new report, the Crisis Group provides a comprehensive overview of Israeli settlement and annexation policies affecting East Jerusalem, starting with Israeli actions in the immediate aftermath of 1967 through to present day. The report, entitled “Reversing Israeli’s Deepening Annexation of Occupation,” calls on the international community to stop Israel’s creeping annexation of East Jerusalem and reverse decades of intentional neglect designed to push Palestinians out of East Jerusalem and adjacent areas.
Shadowy Group Wants to Go After All Companies Not Currently Operating in the Settlements – Starting with McDonald’s
Following up on FMEP reporting last week, Haaretz has new details on the organization behind a new drive to ban McDonald’s from participating in the Israeli government’s tender process — because McDonald’s doesn’t operate in any Israeli settlements.
The group, named “Forum of Disabled IDF Veterans for Israel’s Security,” is not registered in Israel as a charitable organization. It thus has the luxury of operating in near total secrecy – not required to disclose who is behind the effort or funding it.
In a statement, the group made its ambitions clear:
“We want every company that isn’t interested in opening branches over the Green Line to be prevented from competing on these tenders. We’ll reach everyone.”
Sources told Haaretz that the group is made up of only a handful of activists, all of whom are disabled veterans of the IDF, and works primarily in cooperation with larger pro-settlement, pro-annexation groups like Im Tirtzu and Ad Kan. The group has hired Rosenbaum Communications to steer the campaign against McDonald’s, though the funding source for the project is unknown.
On June 13th, an advocate general for the European Court of Justice (the top court for the EU) issued a legal opinion holding that products made in the Israeli settlements must be clearly labeled as such. The ruling upholds the enforcement of European Union’s legal obligations with regard to the settlements (a policy known as differentiation). The labelling requirements, as required by EU law, necessarily distinguish between sovereign Israeli territory and Isareli settlements built illegally in the occupied territories.
The new legal opinion, which is not binding but nonetheless sets the tone for rulings to come, was issued in response to a petition filed by Psagot Winery, located in the Psagot settlement, which argues that French labelling laws discriminate against its products by requiring them to specify the origin of their wine. Rejecting that argument the advocate general stressed that EU law requires labelling products based on their true origin in order to give customers the necessary information to make informed purchasing decisions.
Psagot Winery is part of a broad global effort to blur the legal context around Israeli settlements, pushing nations to treat Israeli settlements as indistinguishable from sovereign Isareli territory.
Coming quickly on the heels of Jared Kushner’s disastrous interview with Axios, Ambassador David Friedman attracted even more outrage over his recent interview with the New York Times in which Friedman reiterated his support for Israeli annexation of land in the West Bank (a position he has held, clearly, since long before becoming ambassador). The interview sparked a barrage of media coverage, worldwide concern about the possibility of unilateral Israeli annexation of its settlements, glee among pro-annexationist lawmakers in Israel, and indignant rationalizing by American Greater Israel apologists like Alan Dershowitz.
Notably, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – who in the waning days of his April election promised to extend Israeli sovereignty over the settlements – has not commented on Friedman’s statement. Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer observed:
“The easiest way for Netanyahu to counter the settlers’ demands while keeping them in his coalition was to complain about pressure from the Americans. That was his answer every time he was asked why Israel wasn’t building more settlements or evicting more Palestinians. Friedman has taken away Netanyahu’s excuse. It is certainly no coincidence that Netanyahu — usually so quick to praise the slightest gesture coming from the Trump administration — has yet to say a word publicly about the interview. Friedman has done Netanyahu no favors. In less than 100 days — assuming the right wing/religious bloc wins another majority in 2019’s second election, which is almost a certainty — Netanyahu will be more vulnerable than ever.”