Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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June 7, 2019
- Visualizing 52 Years of Occupation and Settlement Growth
- Settler-Backed Jerusalem Cable Car Project Advances, Despite Objections from Public & Experts
- One Spring Tells the Tale of How Israel Settlement Councils Succeed in Taking Over More and More Palestinian Land
- Netanyahu Appoints Pro-Annexation Settler Leader as Key Settlement Advisor
- McDonalds: Either Open in Settlements or Face Sanctions Under Anti-Boycott Law
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the 52nd anniversary of the Israeli occupation, the human rights group B’Tselem published a remarkable interactive visualization of the devastating impact that Israel’s occupation policies have had on contiguity of Palestinian space in the West Bank and Gaza. Along with the portal, entitled “Conquer & Divide: The Shattering of Palestinian Space,”B’Tselem writes:
“Ever since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it has marshaled all its legislative, legal, planning, funding and defense authorities in order to fragment Palestinian space, dividing it into dozens of separate sections, which are easier to rule and exploit, and in order to break up Palestinian social and spatial fabric: In the West Bank, Israel minimized Palestinian presence, condensing it into dozens of densely populated and unconnected enclaves, while exploiting the majority of West Bank resources for its own benefit. In addition, Israel annexed thousands of hectares of West Bank land, which it then placed within Jerusalem’s municipal borders. In the Gaza Strip, nearly two million Palestinians are essentially imprisoned on a small bit of land in appalling conditions, due to the Israeli policy of cutting off Gaza from the rest of the world, including from the West Bank. This interactive map follows a timeline illustrating the implementation of the various measures Israel has implemented to achieve this reality.”
On Monday June 3, 2019 the Israeli government’s National Infrastructure Committee (NIC) elected to ignore all public objections submitted against the settler-backed plan for a cable car in Jerusalem, approving the plan and paving the way for it to be submitted for final approval by the government.
Following the NIC’s decision, the Israel NGO Emek Shaveh asked the Israeli Attorney General to postpone a government discussion on the plan until after the elections, citing concerns about a transitional government exercising power – concerns backed by Israeli Supreme Court precedent.
As FMEP has previously covered, the Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative of the Elad settler organization (which is building a massive tourism center – the Kedem Center, which will be a stop along the cable car’s route – in the Silwan neighborhood). The cable car project is intended to further entrench and advance settler activities and tourism sites inside Silwan, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there.
One of the many (rejected) complaints filed against the cable car project was submitted by Emek Shaveh. Signed by Israeli intellectuals and hundreds of residents, it expressed deep concern regarding the irreparable damage that the construction of a cable car will wreak on the historic archeological landscape and environment surrounding the Old City and the harm it will do to the residents of Silwan. In addition, the objection argued that, while marketed as a “solution” to transportation needs around the Old City, the cable car plan has nothing to do with actual transportation needs, but rather is designed to implement the settlers’ agenda in the area. Emek Shaveh writes:
“Besides destroying the view of the Ben Hinnom Valley and the Old City walls along its planned route, the cable car is a political project intended to strengthen the Elad Foundation’s hold on Silwan and is central to development plans by the Israeli government and settler organizations for East Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann tweeted in response to the project’s advancement:
“This crass disney-fication is a crime against Jerusalem, regardless of politics. It’s also part of the settler scheme to turn Silwan into a pseudo-biblical theme park.”
And in a piece in The Forward, entitled “Israel Is Using Archeology To Erase Non-Jewish History,” two experts at Emek Shaveh write:
“The exploitation of archaeology in Jerusalem has been spearheaded by the Elad Foundation, a group of settlers turned archaeology entrepreneurs, who are using ancient sites to take over land and shape the historical narrative. Elad, which emerged 30 years ago with a mission to settle Jews in Palestinian homes in the neighborhood of Silwan, manages the popular archaeological park, the City of David. Visitors to the site are treated to a heavily biblical narrative where discoveries that resonate with the story of King David or the Kingdom of Judea are highlighted. The fact the archaeologists dispute the evidence of a kingdom in the 10th century BCE often goes unmentioned. Furthermore, not many of the half a million people who visit the park annually know about life in the Palestinian neighborhood since Elad arrived on the scene. They will probably never hear about how Elad took over 75 homes in the neighborhood, or closed off virtually the last of the public areas used by the residents and annexed it to the archaeological park. With an annual budget of approximately 100 million shekels, the Elad Foundation now commands several excavation projects in the City of David, including tunnels along an ancient Roman street, which it is marketing as a Second Temple era pilgrims’ route to the Temple. It has recently branched out to establish new projects within the Old City and in other areas throughout the Historic Basin. But Elad couldn’t have done it on their own. If at first they were greeted with mistrust by the authorities in the 1990s, today they have an open door to many government agencies and ministries. From the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is in charge of most of the excavations at the City of David, and the Nature and Parks Authority, which subcontracted Elad to run the site, to the minister of tourism, who is aggressively advancing a cable car to link West Jerusalem to the City of David, to the mayor of Jerusalem, the government and all the relevant agencies are committed to the project of shaping a large tourist zone dedicated to the First and Second Temple periods.”
One Spring Tells the Tale of How Israel Settlement Councils Succeed in Taking Over More and More Palestinian Land
Deep in northern West Bank, near the settlement of Eli, settlers have illegally taken control over a natural spring they call “Ma’ayan Hagvura,” Hebrew for “Spring of Courage.” To claim the site, the Mateh Benyamin Regional Council – which is funded by the Israeli government – financed and carried out its “upgrading,” actively guard the area, and continue to promote it as a destination in nearby settlements. The regional council did all of this despite the fact that the spring is located on Palestinian land in an area that is outside of of its jurisdiction. By doing so, the settlement council has de facto extended the borders of its jurisdiction and increased the amount of land under its control – and in the process seized more natural resources from the Palestinians.
The situation of the spring near Eli is not unique. It is in fact just one of dozens of West Bank springs settlers have taken over. And in case after case, the Israeli Civil Administration – which is responsible for enforcing all planning and building laws in the West Bank – has failed to intervene to prevent the settlement councils from taking land beyond their jurisdiction and violating the rights of Palestinians. Haaretz writes:
“The Civil Administration knows that the lack of law enforcement leads to the regional councils operating in many areas that are not under their jurisdiction, but it claims it has no authority to enforce the ordinance. ‘Their jurisdiction does not include closed areas or private land’ says the Administration, ‘even if the area is included in maps defining the regional council’s jurisdiction. The boundaries are examined from time to time and are updated according to circumstances. The regional councils are only authorized to operate within their defined jurisdictions.’”
In addition to the dozens of natural springs settler councils have taken over in this manner, an investigation by the Israeli settlement watchdog Kerem Navot reveals that settlement councils have used similar tactics to illegally take over 50,000 acres of land in the southern Hebron hills, and 200,000 acres in the Jordan Valley. Based on its findings, Kerem Navot estimates that, according to Israeli law, fully half of the territory settler councils control has been taken illegally (according to international law, all control of land by Israeli settlers is illegal). Kerem Navot writes in detail:
“…[there are] six regional councils in the West Bank: Samaria, the Jordan Valley, Binyamin, Gush Etzion, Megillot, and Mount Hebron…Each of these councils has a separate map of jurisdiction, signed by military commanders of the West Bank. These maps, which have not yet been updated nearly 40 years after their signing, include a total area of 2,675,000 dunams, or approximately half of the total area of the West Bank. However, comparing these maps with the language of Order 783, noted above, indicates that nearly half of the areas included in the regional councils maps, are either private Palestinian-owned territories or land included in military firing zones (there is considerable overlap between these two groups, which was offset to calculate the area set to be cleared from the maps): two categories, which can’t be included in the regional councils’ territory according to the order.”
In 2012 OCHA published a report on the seizure of Palestinian springs specifically, detailing the humanitarian impact on Palestinians well-being in addition to the loss of land. OCHA writes:
“The impact of the above practices and policies is not limited to those directly affected by settler violence and property losses. The continuous encroachment on Palestinian land for the purpose of settlement expansion is a key cause of humanitarian vulnerability of the Palestinian population and the most significant reason behind the ongoing fragmentation of the West Bank, which undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”
Settler leaders were surprised, and initially upset, when Prime Minister Netanyahu fired Kobi Eliraz from his post as the adviser on settlement affairs in the Israeli Defense Ministry, where he had served for the past five years. Their mood likely changed again a few days later when, Netanyahu – who is acting Defense Minister – appointed Avi Roeh as Eliraz’s successor.
Roeh previously served as the Chairman of the settler Yesha Council – an umbrella group that coordinates and leads settlement relations between settlers and the government – and has remained an outspoken figure in Yesha strategy since leaving that role in 2017, typically playing the role of Netanyahu’s ally in quieting settler fury at perceived government inaction for the settlements. Roeh has called for the annexation of the West Bank and for one million Israeli Jews to move there.
Roeh’s appointment may not completely appease the settlers. He does not have the government expertise for which the settlers loved Eliraz, particularly when it comes to understanding and managing the levers of government needed to advance settlement construction. Moreover, many settlers reportedly believe that Eliraz was an innocent victim of Netanyahu’s vendetta against former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (for whom Eliraz worked). Lieberman, it should be recalled, was a key figure in blocking Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new governing coalition, leading to yet another Israeli elections scheduled for September 2019.
Prior to the appointment of Roeh, the Yesha Council published a letter asking Netanyahu to reverse Eliraz’s firing, and suggesting that Eliraz’s absence will hinder government efforts to retroactively legalize outposts. The letter notes:
“Kobi has taken care of Israeli settlement and its residents with great professionalism. He is credited for many advancements [on our behalf] in the fields of construction, infrastructure development, security and more.”
The Times of Israel observes, significantly, that the Yesha Council was able to get every single settlement Mayor to sign the letter, explaining:
“The Yesha Council in recent years has struggled to get all of its members on board with its initiative, but the umbrella group’s ability to gather the signatures of every Israeli mayor beyond the Green Line is testament to the broad respect that Eliraz holds among settler leader.”
As of this writing, there has been no official reaction from the Yesha Council to the appointment of Roeh.
Yossi Dagan, the head of the settlers’ Samaria Regional Council, is demanding that the Israel ban McDonald’s from operating in Ben Gurion airport, claiming that the franchise owner (who happens to be a co-founder of the anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now) is violating Israel’s punitive anti-boycott law by refraining from opening a branch in a settlement.
In a letter to the Israeli Transportation and Finance Ministries, Dagan argued that McDonald’s must be barred from participating in the tender process for the airport, where McDonald’s currently operates. In response, the Transportation Ministry said it “does not deal with commercial tenders at the Airports Authority,” and the Finance Ministry said “the issue does not concern us.”
Dagan’s contention stems from a 2013 decision by Omri Padan, the McDonald’s franchisee, to decline an offer to open a McDonald’s branch in the Ariel settlement. At the time, Padan stated that it had always been McDonald’s policy not to operate beyond the 1967 Green Line.
Praising Padan and McDonald’s, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy writes:
“McDonald’s has issued a resounding statement: The West Bank and Gaza aren’t here. It has said yes to Israel, no to the occupation, which counts for more than 1,000 protest signs at a demonstration. The franchisee never had a license in a piece of land to which Israel also never had a license.”
Israel’s anti-boycott law – passed in 2011 – was specifically designed to make it illegal for Israeli citizens to advocate or engage in a boycott of Israel or settlements. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel explains:
“The purpose of the law is, first and foremost, to squelch legitimate boycotts against goods produced in the settlements. In so doing, it seriously undermines a means of protest that is non-violent, legitimate, legally recognized and accepted worldwide (including in Israel), while violating the freedom of speech, freedom of dissent, and freedom of association of Israeli citizens.”
In addition to the boycott law, Israel passed an amendment to the Entry Law in 2017, which gives Israel an avenue to punish non-Israeli citizens for their association with boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements. The amendment authorizes the Israeli interior minister to refuse entry to activists or representatives of organizations who publicly call for a boycott of Israel or the settlements. Famously, Israel tried and failed to bar American student Lara Alqasem from entering the country under the new Entry Law provision. Israeli is currently trying to deport Human Rights Watch director Omar Shakir from Israel based on that law.