Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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June 5, 2020
- U.S. Pumps Brakes on July 1st Date for Annexation; Israel Keeps Foot on the Gas
- Netanyahu Tries & Fails to Woo Settler Support for His (Not Trump’s) Annexation Plan
- Trump Admin Supports Netanyahu’s Plan to Annexing Jordan Valley Without Annexing Palestinians
- Silwan Residents Petition High Court Against Ateret Cohanim
- HaMoked Files First-Ever Petition Seeking Removal of Section of the Separation Barrier
- E-1 Settlement Plans Are Moving Again, Following West Bank “Planning Freeze” During COVID Emergency
- Jerusalem Municipality to Destroy 200 Palestinians Businesses in East Jerusalem to Build “Silicon Wadi” Industrial Zone
- American Duty Free Millionaire Involved in Fraudulent Acquisition of Palestinian Land Case
- Tightening Control Over Area C, 91% of IDF Eviction Orders for Construction on “State Land” Are Against Palestinians
- >Al-Haq Report on the Atarot Industrial Settlement Zone
- Emek Shaveh Releases New Interactive Map of Settler Projects in Jerusalem’s Historic Basin
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Reports this week suggest that top U.S. officials – including the influential voices of Trump-whisperers Jared Kushner, Avi Berkowitz, and Amb. David Friedman – have told Netanyhu and Gantz (in separate meetings and phone calls) that the Trump Administration wants to delay annexation and is “highly unlikely” to approve annexation on July 1st. One report suggests that the work of the joint U.S.-Israeli mapping committee will likely take several more weeks if not months because key American members of the committee have not been able to travel to Israel during the coronavirus pandemic. Another report suggests that the Trump administration has lost enthusiasm for annexation in the short term because it is “preoccupied” with nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, who is also a member of the joint mapping committee, seemed to publicly confirm the slow-down, saying that the July 1st date for annexation possibly won’t happen, suggesting instead that “sometime [later] in July” is more likely.
Nonetheless, Israeli officials are proceeding with its plans to implement annexation – which makes sense, even assuming annexation may be delayed, reports are talking about days/weeks, not years or indefinitely. Over the past week, Israel has taken the following preparatory steps:
- On June 1st, Defense Minister (and Prime Minister designate) Benny Gantz ordered the IDF to “step up” its preparations for annexation, and gave a select few IDF generals their first glimpse of the annexation map Israel has been working with the U.S. administration to finalize.
- Gantz also announced that he plans to form a “joint team” to “bring together recommendations — on an operational level — for the efforts that are on the agenda for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” He also said he would appoint “a point-person” to coordinate between the different government bodies involved in the annexation process.
- Following Gantz’s order to accelerate the IDF’s preparations, Israel’s top security chiefs met on June 3rd to discuss a variety of scenarios that might play out in Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza after annexation is announced. The IDF was reportedly scheduled to hold a massive war game on June 3rd
- Israeli Mossad chief Yossi Cohen reportedly met with Egyptian officials to discuss the annexation plan.
- According to Israel Hayom (the paper owned by Sheldon Adelson), Israeli officials reportedly participated in secret talks with Saudi Arabia and the U.S., with Jordan’s approval, about increasing Saudi Arabia’s role vis-a-vis the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif as a means of curbing the growing Turkish presence there. The paper reported that these talks included the possibility of allowing Saudi Arabia to appoint representatives to the Islamic Waqf, the religious body which plays an important role in managing the Islamic Holy sites. While Israeli media pitched this effort as having the support of Jordan (which controls the Waqf), ICG analyst Ofer Zalzberg reported that this is not the case, and suggested “Team Netanyahu seems to be using Israel Hayom to give Israelis the sense that the Trump administration isn’t alone in supporting Israeli annexation, by giving the impression KSA has something to gain from such a move — namely influence over al-Aqsa.”
- Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior PLO and Fatah official, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel has already begun removing signs that warn Israeli citizens from entering certain areas in the Jordan Valley (i.e., areas that are outside of Area C) which are slated to be annexed under the Trump Plan.
Settlers and Netanyahu sparred over the Trump Plan in private and public over the past week. On June 2nd Netanyahu met with leading settler opponents of the Trump Plan in a bid to win their silence, if not their outright support. Details of the meeting were quickly leaked and sparked a war of words in the press.
Second, Netanyahu tried to persuade the settlers to stop public criticism of the Trump Administration and its plan, saying: “Your campaigns and statements against the Trump plan are only hindering the goal of annexation in as wide a scope as possible. You’re tickling the tail of the bear, and the bear isn’t even here yet.”
Third, Netanayahu sought to assure the settlers that he is, in fact, in total control of the annexation process, and has not – and will not – accept the elements of the Trump Plan to which the settlers most strongly object (namely, the acceptance, in principle, of a future Palestinian state and the creation of non-contiguous settlement enclaves). The Hebrew-language Maariv outlet reports that Netanyahu said to the leaders something along the lines of “You can relax. We haven’t agreed to what you’re afraid we’ll agree to.” Haaretz reports that Netanyahu told the settlers that he will not acquiesce to all of the Trump Plan’s conditions, and that he does not plan to bring the entire Trump Plan up for a vote, but will instead bring up only the pieces of the plan he likes. He further promised that acceptance of (the legitimacy of theoretical, future) Palestinian statehood would not be included in the annexation proposal for which he will seek approval, a key concern of the settlers [in the recent words of Bezalel Smotrich, “Either the settlements have a future, or the Palestinian state does — but not both.”]. Netanyahu said that his commitment to the future possibility of a Palestinian state would be declarative and not a firm commitment.
Netanyahu was apparently not able to placate the settlers – who left the meeting focused on and furious over the fact that Netanyahu refuses to show them the proposed annexation map – which one settler said was an even bigger concern for the leadership than the future possibility of a Palestinian state (bearing in mind that, at least in theory, that map is still being delineated/negotiated by the US-Israel mapping team).
One day after the meeting in which Netanyahu beseeched settlers to withhold their criticism of the Trump Plan, David Elhayani, chairman of the umbrella Yesha Council representing the settlers, said that Trump is “not a friend of Israel.” The harsh comments prompted a swift response from Netanyahu, who released a statement saying: “President Trump is a great friend of Israel’s. He has led historic moves for Israel’s benefit…It is regrettable that instead of showing gratitude, there are those who are denying his friendship.”
The spat continued to escalate, with an anonymous settlement mayor telling The Times of Israel that a group of settlers were prepared to “blow up” the Trump deal if Netanyahu continues his refusal to share the annexation map with the settlers, and that the Trump Plan is like being forced to eat cake at gunpoint. These comments might have been a bridge too far, even for Elhayani who has been a bombastic and outspoken leader since his election to Yesha Council chairman in November 2019. According to The Times of Israel, Elhayani’s fellow settler leaders have called for his resignation, saying that he is “humiliating” the settlers.
One settler who has been critical of Elhayani’s defiant approach is Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, who supports the Trump Plan. Revivi penned an op-ed in Haaretz (not a media outlet known to be a settler favorite), pleading with his fellow settler leaders to join him in welcoming the Trump Plan’s offering of sovereignty. Revivi pleads:
“For the first time ever, we are not talking about our border being the ceasefire lines of 1948 or 1967. We are talking about ensuring and securing what is already ours. What can the settlements guarantee our children? Have we forgotten the recent national campaigns by settlement leaders to apply sovereignty over just Ma’ale Adumim? And later, the calls to apply sovereignty calls over Gush Etzion, and only much later to other regions? Those were attempts to secure only ‘settlement blocs,’ one at a time, with no likelihood of international recognition. But Trump’s plan allows us to achieve sovereignty for every town in Judea and Samaria – and right away. We can debate the merits of the Trump plan’s parameters for negotiating towards a Palestinian state, but like it or not, the Palestinians are not going anywhere. We must now take a look inside, at ourselves. We, as settlers, have achieved great things. We, settlers, are part of Israeli society. We, settlers, understand the importance of international recognition. This self-introspection reveals how far we have come, and why it is now our responsibility to embrace the Trump program – and apply Israeli law according to its framework throughout Judea and Samaria.”
A Trump administration official supported comments by Prime Minister Netanayahu last week suggesting that Israel will annex the Jordan Valley without annexing Palestinians living in it (and therefore not granting the rights as citizens or residents of Israel). The U.S. official said, “I don’t anticipate Palestinians becoming Israeli, based on the principles laid out in the plan.”
If annexation plays out along those lines, Palestinians living in areas of the Jordan Valley that will be annexed to Israel (with the approval of the Trump Administration) will apparently live in enclaves of territory under the “control” of the Palestinian Authority, though completely surrounded by the state of Israel and whatever military/security presence it inflicts upon the encircled and dispossed Palestinian population. That is, of course, if they are not forcibly displaced by Israel to other areas.
Ir Amim and 22 Palestinian families filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to stop a settler-run land trust from forcefully seizing land and homes in the Batan al-Hawa section Silwan, a Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood where 700 people are facing eviction from their longtime homes as a result of the settlers’ effort. The petition argues that the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim is using the Benvenisti Trust as a front for displacing Palestinians, pointing out that the trust does not have a separate organizational structure, bank account, lawyer, or accountant – and that Ateret Cohanim has folded the operations of the trust into its own operations and there is no distinction between the management or assets of the two entities. [map]
Ir Amim’s attorney Ishay Shneydor told Haaretz:
“[The materials show] that this is a planned process of Ateret Cohanim in order to use the trust as a platform to forcefully seize the property.”
The trust itself was founded in 1899 and built houses in what is now the Batan al-Hawa section in order to resettle Jewish Yemenite immigrants. The houses were later abandoned under British pressure in 1938, during the Arab Revolt against British rule. The buildings the trust had built were later demolished.
In 2001, the Israeli Charitable Trust Registrar granted Ateret Cohanim permission to revive the trust and become its trustees, (following 63 years of dormancy). In 2002, the Israeli Custodian General transferred ownership of the land in Batan al-Hawa to the Trust/Ateret Cohanim. Since then, Ateret Cohanim has accelerated its multifaceted campaign to remove Palestinians from their homes, claiming that the Palestinians are illegally squatting on land owned by the trust. Palestinians have fought back against Ateret Cohanim-initiated evictions, unsuccessfully arguing against the validity of the Trust/Ateret Cohanim’s ownership of the land. Most recently in January 2020, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected the Palestinians’ arguments and upheld the Trust/Ateret Cohanim’s ownership of the land. That ruling set a key precedent paving the way for the mass eviction of as many as 700 Palestinians from their homes in Silwan.
The new petition filed this week does not take up the same arguments, and instead challenges the legality of the functional operations of the Trust/Ateret Cohanim.
In reaction to the January 2020 rulings, Peace Now added important context in a statement:
“This is an attempt to displace a Palestinian community and to replace it with an Israeli one, in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The settlers could not have succeeded without the Israeli authorities’ close support and assistance. In addition to the hard blow to the prospects for a two-state solution by preventing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, this is an injustice and an act of cruelty to throw out families who have lived lawfully in their homes for decades.”
Also in reaction to the January 2020 rulings, Ir Amim said:
“The Ateret Cohanim settler organization is waging one of the most comprehensive settler takeover campaigns in East Jerusalem through initiating mass eviction proceedings against Palestinian families in Batan al-Hawa. Seventeen families have already been evicted with over 80 other households facing eviction demands, placing some 600-700 individuals of one community at risk of displacement. See Ir Amim’s and Peace Now’s joint report, “Broken Trust” for further details and analysis.”
HaMoked filed a petition with the High Court of Justice seeking the removal of a section of the separation barrier which is preventing Palestinian farmers (7 of whom joined HaMoked in filing the petition) from accessing their lands in the northwest of the West Bank. The petition argues that the barrier in this area does not serve a security need and has caused severe harm to Palestinian landowners. This is the first-ever petition seeking the removal of part of the barrier.
The petition focuses on a roughly 6-kilometer (3.7 mile) section of the barrier just east of the 1967 Green Line. Since the construction of the separation barrier in this area in 2005, the Israeli military has granted permits for Palestinian landowners to walk through a gate in the fence to access their land beyond to fence (this area is known as the seam zone). The 7 Palestinian farmers who submitted the petition argue that the Israeli military has gradually reduced the number of permits issued to landowners and implemented a series of policies that have further limited their ability to cultivate the land and make a living.
Jessica Montell, HaMoked Executive Director said in a statement
“This petition is the inevitable result of 15 years of experience with the military’s seam zone permit regime. Rather than facilitating access, as the military promised, this cumbersome bureaucracy serves to dispossess entire Palestinian communities of their land, stripping people of their livelihoods and their sources of income, without even the pretense of a security justification. In fact, there’s no security reason for the fence to be built inside the West Bank in this area. So we expect the High Court to make sure that where the fence is designed to dispossess Palestinians rather than protect security – it will be dismantled.”
Shaul Arieli, an Israeli expert on the separation barrier, submitted an opinion in support of the petition, noting that dismantling this section of the fence and relocating it to the west, along the Green Line, would not only end the disruption of life for the Palestinian famers, but would also better serve Israel’s security needs. A barrier along the Green Line in this area would be preferable according to the security parameters the military itself defined: topographical superiority, observation, advance warning, pursuit and other operational considerations.
On June 3rd, the Israeli military order that froze planning processes in the West Bank during the COVID19 emergency period expired.
Now, the clock is once again ticking on two separate plans for the construction of the E1 settlement just east of Jerusalem. A few days prior to the planning freeze, the E-1 plans had been deposited for public review and submission of objections. Now, Ir Amim reports the public commenting period is set to close on July 23rd.
Jerusalem Municipality to Destroy 200 Palestinians Businesses in East Jerusalem to Build “Silicon Wadi” Industrial Zone
According to the Jerusalem Post, the Jerusalem Municipality is poised to demolish buildings rented by some 200 Palestinian-owned businesses in the Wadi al-Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem – located just north of the Old City – as part of plans to develop “Silicon Wadi,” a project the Municipality claims will build a large industrial zone for hi-tech, commercial, and hospitality businesses.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the government’s investment in the “Silicon Wadi” project is part of the Israeli government’s five-year plan for economic development in East Jerusalem. A Municipality official claimed that the Palestinian businessowners have agreed to this plan, and have been compensated for their eviction.
The chairman of East Jerusalem’s Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kamal Obeidat, called the planned demolitions a “racist order” to to change the character of the Palestinian city and use the land to build Israeli structures.
Grassroots Jerusalem explains the history and current reality facing the Wadi al-Joz neighborhood:
“Overlooking the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley, Wadi al-Joz was once the city’s industrial zone until the First and then the Second Intifada. The area is under the jurisdiction of Israeli civil law under the Jerusalem Municipality. As with many neighbourhoods in the area surrounding the Old City, Wadi al-Joz is experiencing severe challenges with the 2009 approved ‘Master Zone Plan’ and the subsequent aggressive expansion of Jewish presence in the area.”
A Palestinian family is fighting to reclaim rights to their land near the Beit El settlement from Simon Falic – a prominent Netanyahu and Trump donor whose family owns the “Duty Free Americas” retail chain. Falic was transferred rights to the land via a highly unusual, and allegedly fraudulent, process.
According to Haaretz, the complicated transfer of ownership started when the original landowner – Palestinian Sadki Hamdan – allegedly signed over his power of attorney to Doron Nir-Tvi, a lawyer who lives in the West Bank outpost of Havat Yair. The power of attorney document authorized Nir-Zvi to transfer ownership of the land to another Palestinian, the late Ramadan Abu Halal. Abu Halal then allegedly transferred the land ownership to Simon Falic, whose signature is on a deed of sale even though the land was later registered to a settler-run organization, named Hakeren Liyad Midreshet Yisrael.
The family of Sadki Hamdan has pointed out numerous issues with the documents associated with the deal, including: Hamdan’s signature on the power of attorney document is not one they recognize from other papers he signed; the notary who certified the power of attorney document testified that no such document was ever signed in his presence; and the chronological order of documents is incongruent (Abu Halal appears to have transferred the land rights to Falic one month before he legally owned the land). Further, the heirs of Abu Halal (to whom the power of attorney transferred the land) believe the deal was fraudulent, saying they did not know about the land at all.
In July 2019, a report by the Associated Press revealed that the Falic family is a major source of financial support for some of the most radical settler groups in Israel. According to documents uncovered by The Democratic Bloc, the Florida-based Falic family is the single largest donor to Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and has given over $5.6 million to settler groups over the past decade. For more on that story, see FMEP’s coverage here.
Tightening Control Over Area C, 91% of IDF Eviction Orders for Construction on “State Land” Are Against Palestinians
A new report by Kerem Navot and Haqel revealed that the Civil Administration systematically targets Palestinians with evacuation orders for entering/using land Israel has declared “state land.” Data from 2005-2018 shows that 91% of all evacuation orders (and 96% of the total acreage of land involved) related to incursions into “state land” were against Palestinians, while just 8.5% were against Israeli settlers. The data demonstrates, in part, that since 2005 Israel has acted in a manner contrary to its commitments in the Oslo Accords, seeking to remove Palestinians from land in Area C of the West Bank, while simultaneously and systematically allocating “state land” to the settlers.
The authors argue that the nature of eviction orders – which require more management, enforcement, and draw more appeals compared to seizure orders – makes the data revealed by their issues particularly indicative of Israel’s political vision for the West Bank, which, as noted above, does not accord with the notion of a temporary occupation.
The authors further observe:
“A closer examination reveals that solely one quarter (24.7%) of the territory included in the eviction orders is located within settlements’ areas of jurisdiction, while the rest is located on land that does not belong to any specific settlement. This fact indicates that the Civil Administration is attempting to curb Palestinian development in much more expansive areas than those alloted to settlements to date.”
The report also notes how settler organizations – most prominently Regavim – have aided the state (with the encouragement of the state) in monitoring Palestinian “trespassing” (the vast majority of eviction orders were against agricultural activity) onto “state land,” and have assisted in enforcing eviction orders against them.
Dror Etkes of Kerem Navot said:
“When you examine the locations of the eviction notices, you see a strong correlation between territory Israel has for many years devoted great efforts to annex and the numbers of orders, as well as their sizes.”
The full report and analysis of the eviction orders can be read online here.
In a new report entitled “Atarot Settlement:The Industrial Key in Israel’s Plan to Permanently Erase Palestine,” Al-Haq takes a deep dive into the details of Israel’s plan to build the Atarot settlement industrial zone (in the northern part of East Jerusalem) and its consequences for Palestinians, individually and collectively.
The report provides essential data and background information on the role of industrial settlements in Israel’s occupation and seizure of Palestinian land and resources and then closely documents Israel’s development of plans for the Atarot industrial zone.
“The Atarot industrial settlement is constructed on layers of human rights abuses. This is evidenced in Israel’s deliberated disregard of the presence of Palestinian residents and appropriation of their land where the Atarot industrial settlement has been established. Moreover, it is continued through the imposition of unacceptable living conditions for Palestinian residents therein. In addition, the case of the Atarot industrial settlement reflects Israel’s wider discriminatory planning and zoning regime. The regime entails the confiscation and appropriation of Palestinian land, the systematic denial of building permits, and creates an uninhabitable environment for Palestinians. Currently, the Atarot industrial settlement highlights the immediate and longterm environmental impacts of the existence of similar industrial settlements in the OPT, directly affecting the health of the Palestinian communities. While the deepest impacts of the Atarot industrial settlement are contained in Israel’s long term plan to accelerate economic development there, as a key to economically supporting a radical and all-consuming colonisation of Palestine and erasure of Palestinian presence.”
Emek Shaveh released a new multifaceted interactive map showing settler initiatives that impact Jerusalem’s archeological sites. Along with their analysis of the settler projects, the map provides a clear picture of the totality of initiatives that settlers and the Israeli government are advancing to increase their claim to, control over, and presentation of sacred sites around Jerusalem – and the manipulation of archeology to serve their agenda.
Emek Shaveh said in an email:
“In the 53 years [since 1967] that have ensued, the historic center of Jerusalem has undergone enormous change. Although in the 1970s and 1980s large areas of the Jewish Quarter and Silwan were under excavation, most of the significant changes to the character of the city have occured over the past 25 years with the rise of the settlers as key players in defining the agenda for archaeological excavations and tourism development in the Historic Basin. The goal of advancing historic sites as a means to promote exclusive Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s historic core has now been coopted as government policy. Today, the settlers and government agencies work together practically seamlessly to create a narrow historic and symbolic landscape.
The reality around Jerusalem’s historic sites is complicated by the multiplicity of private and government players with varying responsibilities. It makes any objection to projects an extremely complex bureaucratic process. We, in Emek Shaveh, often find ourselves trying to explain the intricate map of interests and players at key historic sites. To make this information more accessible we are pleased to offer you this interactive political and historical map of Jerusalem. The map features two separate, but related, layers. The historical layers present the wealth of historical periods and the history of Jerusalem’s monuments and sites over the centuries. The other layer maps the central private and governmental bodies currently managing and operating major archaeological sites in the Historic Basin.”
- “A Would-Be Netanyahu Nemesis Snipes From the Sidelines“ (New York Times)
- “Letter to HeidelbergCement Regarding Nahal Raba Quarry Expansion” (Human Rights Watch)
- “For the Settlers in the West Bank, It Will Never Be Enough” (Haaretz)
- “Peace Now activists warn: Annexation will lead to war” (Jerusalem Post)