Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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June 15, 2018
- “Greater Jerusalem” Annexation Bill Back on the Agenda
- Expanding a Settlement, Suffocating a Village – Har Gilo West vs. al-Walajah
- Full Steam Ahead on 325 New Settlement Units Near the E-1 Settlement Area
- Plans for Largest-Ever Settlement Industrial Zone, as Part of “Super Settlement” Area
- Israel Admits: We Gave Settlers Part of Silwan Without Checking Who Owned It
- Despite Pay-Offs and Promises, Settlers Violently Resist Netiv Ha’avot Demolitions
- New Bill Would Hand Over Area C to the World Zionist Organization
- Settler Whistleblower: Not Concerned With Law, Only Concerned with Dispossessing Palestinians
- MK Introduces Bill to Dismantle the Civil Administration, Annex the Settlements
- Settlers Kill Knesset Plan to Complete the West Bank Barrier
- While No One Was Watching, Jerusalem Suburb Has Been Annexing “No Man’s Land”
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jerusalem Settlement watchdog Ir Amim reports this week that, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation (the body of Israeli Cabinet members which decides whether or not the government will endorse legislation) is once again scheduled to discuss the “Greater Jerusalem” annexation bill. Members of the Ministerial Committee have long pushed for the Committee to consider the bill – with Ministers Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) eager to secure government support for it – but Prime Minister Netanyahu intervened at the last minute to take the bill off of the committee’s October 2017 agenda, relegating the bill to political uncertainty. At the time, reports insinuated that Netanyahu blocked consideration of the bill due to international pressure. At the time the Trump Administration publicly stated it would not oppose the bill, but reportedly it discouraged movement on the bill at that time, apparently over concerns that it would undermine ongoing US efforts to engage other regional parties.
FMEP has regularly reported on the “Greater Jerusalem” bill, which was introduced in July 2017 by two members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, Yoav Kisch and Yisrael Katz. The bill proposes absorbing 19 settlements into the Jerusalem municipality (an act of incremental de facto annexation), allowing the settlements to participate in Jerusalem elections and be counted in the Jerusalem census. Earlier versions of the bill also included a clause that would have applied Israeli domestic law to these same settlements – another means of de facto annexation – but the clause was stripped from the (ostensibly) final version that the Committee is now set to consider.
FMEP continues to track the Greater Jerusalem bill in its weekly settlement reports and in its tables tracking annexation policies.
The Planning and Building Committee of the Gush Etzion Regional Council met on March 25th to discuss a 330-unit plan to expand the Har Gilo settlement onto a non-contiguous plot of land that would effectively seal shut the Palestinian village of al-Walajah. The Council’s discussion of the plan kicks off the official planning process; the next step will be a discussion by the High Planning Council and then deposit of the plan for public review.
The plan – called “Har Gilo West” – will nearly double the population of Har Gilo by building what is by all measures a new settlement on the far side of the Palestinian village of al-Walajah. Ir Amim explains:
“Though publicized as an expansion of the Har Gilo settlement, the area demarcated for the plan is clearly distinct from Har Gilo, with the Palestinian village of Walaja and the Separation Barrier positioned in between the two… In effect, along with Har Gilo, the new development would create a wall of settlement around the West Bank portion of Walaja, completing a series of steps to entirely seal the village off from its surroundings.
…In the last decade, Israeli authorities have established several dramatic facts on the ground – including completion of the Separation Barrier around Walaja and a national park built on its land – to strategically address Walaja’s obstruction of Israel’s plan to absorb the Gush Etzion bloc into Greater Jerusalem. Har Gilo West should be seen in the context of this overarching geo-political goal. It is one more measure in a series of steps to disconnect the built-up area of Walaja from its surroundings, create an isolated enclave out of the village, and enable a contiguous Israeli controlled territory from Jerusalem to the Gush Etzion Regional Council.”
FMEP has repeatedly documented various Israeli efforts to seal off al-Walajah from Jerusalem. Residents of al-Walajah have fought the growing encroachment by the nearby Etzion settlement bloc and the Israeli government’s attempt to de facto annex the bloc as part of “Greater Jerusalem.” Ir Amim explains several prongs of this effort, including a particularly unbelievable section of Israel’s separation barrier planned to almost completely encircle the village, to turn its valuable agricultural land into an urban park for Jerusalem, and construction of a highway that will connect the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem with Israeli-only bypass roads.
On June 14th, the Israeli Defense Ministry deposited for public review a plan, previously approved by Israeli High Planning Council, to build 325 settlement units in the Alon settlement, situated on the northern edge of the area slated for the E-1 settlement, east of Jerusalem. The plan includes a residential zone, a commercial area, a park, roads and public buildings.
As FMEP has reported on repeatedly, the E-1 area has long been slated for Israeli settlement construction, but plans have been continuously delayed by the Israeli political echelon – due in large part to pressure from past U.S. administrations and others in the international community. E-1 is often called a “doomsday settlement” because it will seal Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the West Bank to its east, and creating a land bridge from Jerusalem to the Maale Adumim settlement that bisects the West Bank. The settlement will render the two-state solution impossible because it would preclude the ability to draw contiguous borders for a future Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.
East Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann issued numerous warnings in 2017 that E-1 might be slated for advancement under the current settlement policy of the Netanyahu government and with no discernable counter-pressure from the Trump Administration. Seidemann warned in January 2017, “The main obstacle preventing a green light for E-1 has, until now, been wall-to-wall opposition from the international community, led by the United States (dating back to the era of President Clinton).”
According to the settler-aligned Arutz Sheva media outlet, a number of settlement municipalities have agreed to a plan to build the largest-ever settlement industrial zone — in the area where Israel is planning to unite multiple settlements into one “super settlement area.”
FMEP reported on the future “super settlement” in February 2018, when rumors first broke about the government’s plan to unite several settlements (Elkana, Sha’arei Tikva, Etz Efraim, and Oranit). FMEP covered the story again in March 2018, when Palestinians began to protest the plan. By uniting the settlements, Israel will significantly increase the footprint of developed land, allowing for massive projects like the industrial zone. The four settlements and the land between them are located in the “seam-line” zone, the area created by the weaving route of the Israeli separation barrier that was built to keep many settlements on the Israeli side of the barrier despite being east of the 1967 Green Line.
The planning of the new mega industrial zone – which will cover 2 million square meters (nearly 500 acres) near the Shaarei Tikva, Elkana, and Etz Efraim settlements – has been delayed for nearly 10 years amidst disputes between competing settlement municipalities. Now, with the consensus amongst the planners, the proposal will be submitted for approval.
The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, said:
“this is a historic move that is expected to change the face of settlement in Samaria in general and the settlements of Samaria Gate in particular. The new industrial zone is planned on an area of 3,000 dunams (340 acres) north and south of Highway 5, and it will include areas for commerce and high-tech offices, areas for regional public buildings, and industrial areas.”
With a consensus around the location and details of the planned industrial zone, Arutz Sheva speculates that construction will begin by the end of 2018. The plan includes a major upgrade to a settler transportation hub, known as the Sha’ar Shomron interchange, which is expected to be a stop on the future settler-only light rail line slated to cut across the West Bank.
Arutz Sheva also reports that settlers are ready to submit another plan for a new cemetery to be located east of the area where the industrial zone will be built, to “provide a regional response to the needs of the towns in western Samaria.”
Palestinian residents of the Batan al-Hawa section of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem have petitioned the High Court to stop the government facilitated settler takeover of a large area of their neighborhood and the eviction of 700 Palestinian residents.
In a hearing on the petition held on June 10th, the Israel government’s lawyer admitted that the State gave the land to the settler organization Ateret Cohanim without a proper investigation into the underlying legal status of the land and the buildings on it, but argued that the Palestinians’ petition should be dismissed because the land was granted to Ateret Cohanim in 2002 (intimating that Palestinians should have petitioned against the move earlier). Ateret Cohanim facilitates and encourages Jewish Israelis to settle in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Ir Amim reports that Ateret Cohanim’s takeover of land in Batan al-Hawa is, “the single largest takeover campaign in a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem since 1967.”
According to Ir Amim, 17 Palestinian families have been evicted from the homes on the land since the deed was transferred in 2002. 83 Palestinian families, approximately 700 people, remain the target of eviction. Ir Amim writes:
“This well organized Ateret Cohanim campaign represents not only the displacement of an entire community but also the direct involvement of the Israeli government in facilitating private settlement in the Old City and surrounding band of Palestinian neighborhoods. The government has acted through the General Custodian and the Registrar of Trusts (both under the Ministry of Justice) to facilitate settlers’ seizure of Batan al-Hawa, as well as increasing its security budget by 119% from 2009 – 2016 to ensure the protection of radical Jews settling in the hearts of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.”
The Haaretz Editorial Board also weighed in vehemently criticizing the Israeli government’s handling of the case. The Board wrote:
“The settlement in Batan al-Hawa is the most problematic of all the settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. It is located in the heart of a crowded inner city, weighs heavily on the residents’ daily lives and is intended to prevent any diplomatic solution with the Palestinians. Every Jewish family there needs security that costs around 1 million shekels ($280,000) a year. But the damage doesn’t seem confined to Silwan. This settlement has also corrupted Israel’s bureaucracy.
When the administrator general and state prosecutors found that the 2002 decision had been mistaken, the only decent thing to do would have been to cancel it and freeze the eviction proceedings against the Palestinian families. Instead, government clerks and lawyers are fighting for eviction along with Ateret Cohanim. This is further proof of the extent to which the settlements have corrupted public administration in Israel. Now the issue rests with the High Court. Hopefully, despite the pressure being put on the justices, they will halt the oppression and corruption.”
On June 6, Peace Now published a backgrounder, “The Systematic dispossession of Palestinian neighborhoods in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.” Back in 2016, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem produced a comprehensive multi-media backgrounder on the threat to Batan al Hawa. Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann has also published extensive background and analysis on the assault on Batan al Hawa (here and here).
Approximately 1,000 Israeli settlers and their sympathizers gathered to protest the long-planned, court-ordered demolition of 15 structures built on privately owned Palestinian land in the unauthorized Netiv Ha’avot outpost. The demolitions were completed on June 14th. Dozens of settlers barricaded themselves inside the last two structures to be demolished, some of whom hurled stones and other objects at Israeli policeman who were forced to drag them out of the buildings, resulting in thirteen injuries to police officers. Three suspects were arrested, but released a day later.
Touting the growing governmental effort to compensate the settlers of Netiv Ha’avot for paying a price for their illegal activity, several prominent leaders from the Jewish Home party joined protesters at the outpost during the demolitions, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who said:
“The evacuation is the result of a serious mistake. It began with an erroneous response from the state several years ago, but that was fixed from the root, and ended with an erroneous High Court decision. The news is that it ends here. In the past three years, we have changed the discourse. Instead of asking, ‘When are we evacuating?’ we’re asking, ‘How do we regulate?’”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also attended and said:
“Whoever wishes to raze 15 homes will receive 350 on this hill. This is a difficult evening. It is incomprehensible to the residents of the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood and to anyone who has settled the precious Land of Israel. It’s absurd. I cannot recall a legal action as irrational as this. The campaign will not be won until the prime minister abides in full and builds a huge neighborhood here on this hill.”
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) was also on hand and said:
“There’s no benefit in demolishing homes and driving people from their homes. The High Court hearing was conducted as if it was in Sodom and Gomorrah, but we won’t give in. We won’t let this keep us from settling throughout the Land of Israel.”
In contrast, Peace Now declared a partial victory against illegal settlement growth, saying:
“After 17 years of theft, evasions, delays, and manipulation, justice is being served as the private land on which the Nativ Ha’Avot outpost was built is being vacated, in line with the High Court of Justice’s ruling. We hope these evictions will send a clear message that crime does not pay, and that anyone who builds on land without authorization or even purchasing it first will ultimately be compelled to leave. Peace Now will continue to monitor all settlement construction in the West Bank, and will fight against any land theft or attempt to destroy the viability of a two-state solution.”
However – as the Jewish Home party leaders made clear – the victory is not complete, as the Netiv Ha’avot settlers have successfully waged a public shaming campaign against the government for failing to prevent the enforcement of its laws against the settlers. As reported succinctly by The Times of Israel, various arms of the Israeli government are currently working in concert to retroactively legalize the remaining structures in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost and to prepare plans for 350 new units there. In addition, the government has already rewarded Netiv Ha’avot with what is effectively a new outpost built for the settlers affected by the demolitions – settlers who will additionally receive a monetary compensation package paid for by Israeli taxpayers for their misfortune of having built illegally on land that is owned by Palestinians. For more background, see Peace Now’s comprehensive recap of the Netiv Ha’avot saga.
Peace Now reports that the Knesset is moving a bill that would transfer the responsibility of “managing” rural land in Area C of the occupied West Bank to the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), a body dedicated to the establishment and development of settlements, whose activities have been dogged by fraud and illegalities for decades.
The bill was introduced by MKs Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), Yoav Kisch (Likud), and David Bitan (Likud), and it passed through the first of three Knesset readings on June 13th. Reportedly, the bill will be put on hold for two weeks so the government has time to examine the possibility of achieving the same result through a Cabinet decision, avoiding the politics and pushback that might come in Knesset debate.
As Peace Now notes, under international law Israel, as an occupying power, cannot grant non-governmental organizations the authority to manage lands outside of its borders.
Peace Now said:
“The Knesset today approved a bill allowing five decades of land theft, delinquency and corruption under the guise of ‘unique characteristics and development of settlement.’ Despite stacks of State Comptroller reports, complaints from legal advisers and evidence of criminal offenses, the government is scandalously planning to give the biggest land thieves responsibility for managing the land distribution, which will continue to be done under the cover of darkness if the bill passes into law.”
Peace Now also provides an excellent overview of the activities the WZO has engaged in since 1968, when the Israeli government gave the organization’s Settlement Division the authority and the funding to build settlements in the occupied territory. The arrangement worked for the Israeli government, by contracting out settlement building the government found a way to escape the rules, restrictions, and transparency norms that inhibit government bodies from operating freely. Peace Now reports:
“The Settlement Division manages the land without any transparency, contrary to the rules of proper administration, without supervision, and sometimes with corruption and fraud. Thus, for example, the Settlement Division gave settlers in Amona, Giv’at Haulpana, Mitzpeh Kramim and others the rights to build on what was private land belonging to Palestinians.”
For more information on the WZO, and for background on a High Court case seeking to make the WZO’s land holdings public, see the Peace Now report. The legal issues with the WZO’s operations were highlighted in the official report by Talia Sasson, commissioned by Ariel Sharon. Also see media reports: here, here, here, and here, for example.
The Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published a comprehensive investigation into the leaders of the publicly-funded Regavim settler group. The group’s stated mission is “to ensure responsible, legal, accountable & environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands and the return of the rule of law to all areas and aspects of the land and its preservation.” The investigation reveals, however, that the organization’s efforts to identify and stop illegal construction are merely a tool to dispossess Palestinians of their land.
The Investigation found, in fact, that Regavim and its leader have a demonstrable disregard for the Israeli planning and building laws that they purport to be dedicated to enforcing, evidenced most plainly by the fact that 15 Regavim officers are living in structures built on privately owned Palestinian land, some with demolition orders issued against them. These include the building where Yehuda Eliyahu, the current executive director of Regavim, lives.
The outlaw behavior of Regavim leaders is more consequential than just 15 units. The investigation also details how leaders of the group have helped to illegally establish settlements at the cost of Palestinians. Yediot Ahronot reports:
“Somehow, all this doesn’t prevent the movement and its representatives from appealing to the High Court of Justice in dozens of petitions, and to successfully act as the guarantors of law and order to eliminate construction violations. Among other things, Regavim operates in sensitive areas of international interest, such as a legal proceeding following which 76 members of [U.S.] Congress recently demanded that the government not demolish Palestinian homes.” [referring to Khan al-Ahmar]
Dror Etkes, founder of the anti-settlement watchdog Kerem Navot, commented:
“Regavim’s lie holds no water: they preach action against illegal construction, but live in illegally built homes. They talk about the ‘rule of law’ as they violently transgress it. The findings exposed today indicate that Regavim is in fact an enemy of the principle of ‘rule of law,’ which its members use manipulatively to strip it of its meaning.”
J Street weighed in on the investigation, urging:
“Yedioth Ahronoth’s report underscores the long-term impact and agenda of the settlement movement. For decades, they have moved aggressively to build housing in — and push Palestinians out — of key parts of the occupied territory, with varyingly strong degrees of support from successive Israeli governments…The fanatical ideology of Regavim and the broader settler movement — along with their allies in the Netanyahu government and the Trump administration — must be confronted.”
The report and investigation was published two weeks after the Israeli High Court of Justice upheld demolition orders against the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin community, a case that Regavim and its supporters in the government (including Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who founded Regavim in 2006) have been pushing for years. MK Smotrich and Regavim are simultaneously pushing legislation like the settlement “Regulation Law,” which seeks to retroactively legalize Israeli settlement activity that does not comply with Israeli planning and building law. The Regulation Law, which FMEP has reported on extensively, will resolve the conundrum of demolishing unauthorized Palestinian building while legalizing unauthorize Israeli building by gutting the rule of law entirely.
Punctuating a busy week, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) announced that he has submitted a new bill to dismantle the Israeli Civil Administration, the governing body of the West Bank (operating under the Israeli Defense Ministry). Smotrich also featured prominently in the investigative report into Regavim (covered above), participated in the protests at the Netiv Ha’avot outpost (covered above), and saw his bill to empower the World Zionist Organization to manage Area C pass through its first reading (covered above).
According to a report by the settler-aligned Arutz Sheva media outlet, Smotrich alleged that the Civil Administration’s “lack of modern computing and mapping tools” is the real culprit behind the accidental, illegal settlement construction that necessitate legislation like the settlement “Regulation Law.”
Speaking at a conference organized by Regavim, Smotrich said:
“The Civil Administration has no normal website, no access to the public. A lot of the mistakes that led to the enactment of the [settlement] regulation law were caused by a lack of modern computing and mapping tools. There is very little organizational memory in the Civil Administration system because many of them are military personnel who change positions every two years. If I want to buy an apartment in Tel Aviv, within three minutes a document will arrive in my email. In order to sell or buy a house in Judea and Samaria, I have to enter a military base and go through an archaic system with a clerk who still works with binders and then wait for weeks to receive any documents. The bill sets a target date for the dismantling of the Civil Administration, and the Administration’s responsibilities will be distributed to the various government ministries, as already happens today, for example, in the Education Ministry. This is the right thing in terms of democracy, it is the right thing in terms of values, [and it puts us] on the path to normalization in Judea and Samaria. Also on the practical level it improves services to the citizens.”
The report on Smotrich’s new bill does not mention anything regarding the future of the Palestinians, who lives are governed, in virtually every aspect, by the Civil Administration.
Israeli settlers have successfully lobbied the Knesset to kill, for a third time, a bill to compel the Israeli government to finish building the West Bank the separation barrier. The Knesset voted to reject the bill 42-23. The government has failed to complete the construction, which began in 2002 amidst international outrage and allegations of war crimes, despite the adamant arguments of the Israeli government that the wall is a security necessity. According to B’Tselem, only 65% of the barrier has actually been erected – leaving significant gaps that seem to undermine the security logic of the barrier. Adding to that, 85% of the barrier is located inside West Bank territory, creating one form of de facto annexation of the areas on the Israeli side of the barrier, which include a long list of Israeli settlements and surrounding lands for their expansion.
In Al-Monitor, Mazal Mualem explains:
“…the right is concerned that an Israeli initiative of putting up a fence that separates West Bank settlements from Palestinian villages around them would constitute an official endorsement of a future border between Israel and a Palestinian state.”
The bill was pushed by members of the Zionist Union coalition on the left – without the support of the Joint List MKs (representing Palestinian citizens of Israel) – who stress the security imperative of closes the existing gaps. Avi Gabbay, head of the Labor Party, slammed the government’s foot-dragging, saying that delaying the completion of the barrier risks allowing the next terrorist attack Israel. Gabbay said the Netanyahu government is:
“simply afraid of settlers who don’t want to close the gaps for political considerations. These so-called political considerations damage the security of the State of Israel.”
Gabbay’s coalition partner, Tzipi Livni who heads the Zionist Union, explained the left-wing coalition’s rationale for supporting the barrier. Livni said:
“If you support the idea of two states for two people, you need to support this fence. At the beginning, we need a border between us and the Palestinians and then maybe in 50 years, when we live happily ever after, we can dismantle it. For now, this is the concept: security for Israelis but also dividing the land into two states for two peoples.”
The annexation of the West Bank land on the Israeli side of the barrier is an implicit assumption of Gabbay and Livni’s statements.
For decades, the Israeli government has expanded the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mevasseret Zion into the no-man’s land between the internationally recognized 1967 Green Line and the Israeli separation barrier. Kerem Navot, an anti-settlement watchdog, recently discovered the cross-border expansion – which is plain to see on Google maps – of the neighborhood, along with a slew of other buildings, including a water facility and a synagogue. Additionally, the Israel Land Authority is advancing plans to build 300 new homes in the northern part of Mevasseret Zion, where it crosses over the Green Line.
Dror Etkes, the founder of Kerem Navot, told Haaretz:
“It’s obvious that the planners of this neighborhood knew very well where the Green Line runs. But they chose to ‘straighten’ the line there in order to make room for a few dozen more homes. It’s only natural that the state, which for decades has been investing massive resources in seizing control of the space of a neighboring people, should also expand communities situated within the Green Line into the West Bank. The amazing thing is that any sort of effort is being made still to maintain the distinction between communities within the Green Line and the settlements, since the declared policy of most of Israel’s governments in the past five decades was and remains the very opposite.”
A spokesman for the Mevasseret Zion neighborhood – whose residents almost certainly did not know they were living in a settlement – issued a disgruntled statement regarding the discovery and the Israel Land Authority’s plan to expand the encroachment:
“The plan currently being promoted [by the Israel Land Authority] is vigorously opposed by the council and the local residents, and they are working together to block the project. The council and residents object to the plan going ahead with regard to both the areas across the Green Line and those in the permitted areas.”