Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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- “Disappointment” So Far for Settlers in the Trump-Bibi Era, But…
- Sheikh Jarrah Project Recommended for Deposit for Public Review
- Long Delayed “Apartheid Road” Possibly Moving
- Beit El Housing to Advance After a Settlers Throw a Tantrum
- Bibi Vows that Israel will Keep Ariel
- Efrat and “How the Borders of Settlements Expand While No One is Watching”
- Yitzhar & Its “Hilltop Youth” Continue to Terrorize Nablus Area
- Bonus Reads
For questions and comments please contact FMEP’s Director of Policy & Operations, Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett – and staunch settlement advocate – expressed disappointment with the lack of settlement growth since Donald Trump assumed office. Bennett said, “Unfortunately from our perspective, he [Trump] is sort of going down the same unsuccessful path that his predecessors did…So yes, there is disappointment out there.” When Trump was elected, many settlers hoped that his administration would allow some, if not all, of the most problematic settlement plans to proceed. That includes several projects that, if built, would destroy the possibility of contiguous Palestinian state (Givat Hamatos, E1, etc). These projects have not moved forward…yet.
But Mr. Bennett need not be too disappointed. In fact, there has been a sharp rise in the number of settlement units and plans advanced and in construction so far in the Trump-Bibi settlement era, as detailed extensively by Peace Now and covered by FMEP in last week’s Settlement Round Up.
There are also new alarming developments this week that suggest the floodgates might be beginning to open….
Ir Amim reports that plans for a 6-story Israeli commercial building at the entrance of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah have been recommended for deposit for public review. The land designated for this project is adjacent to a plot designated for settlers to build a religious school and dormitories, known as the Glassman Campus project.
Located just north of Jerusalem’s Old City, Sheikh Jarrah has endured years of aggressive settlement activity by radical settlers, employing various means, including Israel’s court system to strip Palestinians of their ownership rights. Sheikh Jarrah’s plight was featured in a 2013 film by Just Vision, “My Neighborhood.” Just Vision also produced “Home Front,” a series of video interviews with the Palestinian residents and Israeli activists fighting together against settlement expansion in Sheikh Jarrah. For more on Sheikh Jarrah and the protest it sparked, 972+ Magazine has a compilation of resources online here.
Depositing settlement plans for public review is a significant step in the East Jerusalem planning process; it sends a signal that the political echelon may no longer be blocking the advancement of projects in the Jerusalem area that have been considered to be especially inflammatory to Palestinians and Muslims, and detrimental to peace negotiations. This could be an early sign of the opening floodgates.
Ir Amim reports that a budget has been approved for construction of the northern part of the Jerusalem “Eastern Ring Road,” following years of delays and protests. If constructed according to existing plans, the northern section of the Eastern Ring Road will have separate lanes for Israeli settlers and Palestinians, with a physical barrier dividing the two. It will not allow the Palestinian lanes to access East Jerusalem. As noted in Haaretz, “This is the only highway in the West Bank that will have a separation wall running right down the middle. For that reason, the plan’s opponents are already dubbing it ‘Apartheid Road.’” Adalah, a legal group for minority rights in Israel, previously filed a petition to block the road’s construction.
Ir Amim notes that this is one of several projects that prepares the way for building in the E-1 area. E-1, as Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann has long explained, is a “doomsday” project; if implemented, an E-1 settlement will end the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state and completely sever East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The “Eastern Ring Road” seeks to “solve” one of these problems – by providing the Palestinians with “transportational contiguity” between the northern and southern West Bank – even as it would cement the cutting off of East Jerusalem from the West Bank.
Late last week, Netanyahu said he will approve the construction of 300 housing units in the Beit El settlement by September. The announcement came after a very public (and embarrassing) series of confrontations with members of his own political party as well as settlers. The leaders of the Beit El settlement threatened to petition the High Court over the issue, and staged a demonstration in front of the Prime Minister’s office to issue the threat. Beit El’s leaders replayed footage of Netanyahu promising to build the units in 2012, after several structures were taken down because they were built on land recognized even by Israel as privately owned by Palestinians.
The Beit El spat erupted after the Jerusalem Post reported an alleged freeze brokered between Israel and the U.S. The report suggested that Israel agreed to stop publishing construction tenders (the final step in the planning process) for all settlements through the end of 2017. The Beit El units had reached that final phase of planning, but would ostensibly not move forward if the report was true.
Beit El has deep connections to the current U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; Friedman ran a U.S. fundraising effort for Beit El before being appointed Ambassador.
At the ground-breaking ceremony for a new medical school in “Ariel University,” Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed, “Ariel will always be part of the State of Israel.” Alongside Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the Prime Minister Netanyahu attended a ceremony dedicating the school to American casino magnate and settlement financier, Sheldon Adelson – who donated funding for the new facility.
As explained last week, the future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces.
Three structures in the settlement of Efrat were found to have been built outside the border of the settlement’s jurisdiction. Dror Etkes (founder of Kerem Navot, a settlement watch group) petitioned Israel’s Civil Administration (the arm of the Israeli military that is effectively the sovereign authority in the West Bank, and therefore has authority over all construction ithere) over the buildings. This week the Civil Administration confirmed that the buildings were built without permits, had stop-work orders issued against them at the time, and might potentially be built on land recognized by Israel as privately owned by Palestinians. There are no reports of demolition orders against the illegal structures.
Located south of Bethlehem and west of the route of the separation barrier, Efrat poses many of the same challenges to a peace agreement as Ariel (discussed above). Connecting it to Israel means cutting deep into the West Bank, severing the route of Highway 60 between Jerusalem/Bethlehem and the southern West Bank, and contributing to the near total isolation of Bethlehem.
Recent arrests of Yitzhar settlers have not deterred the terror coming from Yitzhar and/or its Hilltop Youth, with this week’s target being the Palestinian village of Burin. On Sunday, Rabbis for Human Rights documented 45 olive trees in Burin that were destroyed and spray painted with the words “revenge.” The suspected hate crime was precipitated by a violent clash between Yitzhar settlers and the Israeli army during the razing of an illegal structure in the settlement. On Wednesday, settlers from Yitzhar set fire to an olive grove – burning over 400 trees – according to the Israeli Army. Video of the incident shows masked settlers clashing with Israeli soldiers.
This week’s violence follows a warning to Yitzhar’s leaders from the Shin Bet earlier this month to keep the “Hilltop Youth” who call Yitzhar their home under control. In response, Yitzhar’s governing body has taken several actions, including forcing the youth to sign a code of conduct under threat of expulsion. But the code of conduct did not stop one Hilltop Youth religious leader and teacher at a yeshiva in Yitzhar – Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg – from urging his students to “cause a revolution” without getting caught because it is “a shame to waste time in prison.”
Israel’s Ynet news agency reports that the terror tactics of the Hilltop Youth are increasingly targeting Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Jerusalem. One Hilltop Youth whines, “all we want to do is sit on the hill. Just imagine how we feel each time a detective destroys our tent or confiscates our stuff. We have no peace and quiet.” And from a soldier’s perspective on his time serving in the Yitzhar area: “The scariest thing in the area was to clash with Jews. Give me an Arab terrorist and I’ll know how to deal with him. Give me a Jew who is throwing stones at me and I’ll simply flee.”
A lawyer with Yesh Din, an Israeli organization deeply involved in protecting the area from Yitzhar settlers, said “violence will not cease if there is no real deterrence, protection for Palestinians, a thorough investigation, prosecution of offenders and an imposition of significant penalties.” Though the Shin Bet has said it take the matter seriously, the violence continues. Yesh Din’s legal work documents the impunity with which settlers perpetrate crimes: A March 2017 report reveals only 8.2% of allegations of crimes committed by settlers in the West Bank result in indictments.
- “City on a Hilltop: American-Jewish Settlers“ w/ Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn, Ori Nir, and Lara Friedman (A podcast by Americans for Peace Now, June 25, 2017).
- Settlements: The Real Story, by Gershom Gorenberg (The American Prospect, Summer 2017)