Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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March 20, 2020
- Israel Government Advances E-1 Plan to Next Stage
- Israel Starts Building on Private Palestinian Land in Silwan
- Likud MK Re-Introduces Jordan Valley Annexation Bill
- Peace Now: Israeli Settlement Planning & Construction Surged in 2019
- New Report Examines Impact of Settlers Digging on Palestinian Homes in Silwan
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Despite the COVID-19 virtual shutdown of all normal activity in Israel, Ir Amim reports that on March 18th, the Israeli government officially advanced plans for construction of the E-1 settlement to the next step in the approval process, depositing them for public review. Under normal circumstances, after plans are deposited the public has a 60-day period to submit objections/affirmations of the plans. However, Ir Amim states that it is unclear if government closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak will impact the planning process, including the public review period. Assuming the E-1 plan is subject to the normal planning process, at the close of the 60-day public review period (which would be 60 days after March 18th), the planning committee will convene to discuss objections and then decide whether to give final approval to the plan or to require more information or changes to it.
Despite the COVID-19 virtual shutdown of all normal activity in Israel, Emek Shaveh reports that on March 12th workers for Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority began development work on several plots of privately owned Palestinian land in the Ben Himmon Valley area, located just south of the Old City of Jerusalem between the Abu Tor and Silwan neighborhoods. These plots of land surround a cultural center and cafe run by the radical Elad settler group. They are part of an area over which Elad seeks to expand its control through elaborate plans involving touristic developments.
The legal status of the land in question has been the subject of an ongoing legal dispute for nearly a year — a dispute which has seen an Israeli judge revoke several of the “gardening orders” which the Jerusalem Municipality issued in order to seize the land.
Commenting on the action by the Municipality, Emek Shaveh said in a statement:
“Erasing the boundary between East and West Jerusalem is apparently vital and urgent for the economy. Otherwise it is unclear why when the entire country is in a state of emergency, thousands are quarantined and many have been instructed not to go to their work places, the Nature and Parks Authority has decided that this was the best time to carry out development work, the legality of which is being contested in court.”
In June 2019, the Jerusalem Municipality issued “gardening orders” to take control of 12 plots of privately owned Palestinian land near the Elad development, ostensibly to add new landscaping, new terraces and a new walking path. “Gardening orders” allow Israel to “temporarily” take over privately owned land for what are public purposes (like establishing a parking lot or public garden), based on the argument that the owners are not presently using the land. Importantly, as Emek Shaveh notes, the 12 plots in question are located in an area declared by Israel to be a national park, meaning that private landowners are legally barred from using their own land. Under these orders, this control would be for a period lasting 5 years, with the likelihood of extensions after that — tantamount to expropriation.
In short, this is an Orwellian situation wherein Israel has actively blocked Palestinains from using their own land, and is now using the fact that the Palestinians aren’t using their land as a pretext for seizing it. Adding insult to injury, the land is being taken ostensibly for public purposes – but the public the seizures are designed is Elad and its supporters, not the Palestinian residents of the area.
Likud MK Miki Zohar submitted two bills to the Knesset on March 18th, one of which provides for the annexation of the Jordan Valley by applying Israeli sovereignty over the area (the other proposes the death penalty for Palestinian political prisoners). Commenting on the bills, Zohar said that he hopes the legislation will “embarrass” Likud rivals Benny Gantz and Avigdor Liberman, saying:
“Let’s see this wonderful cooperation between the Joint List, Yisrael Beiteinu and Blue and White. We will see how they will work together [with] those who work against the state. Shall we see [Gantz and Lieberman] oppose these legislations in order to please their new friends from the Joint List?”
Numerous bills to annex the Jordan Valley have been introduced in all of the recent Knesset sessions, but have not yet been procedurally advanced by the Netanyahu government. In September 2019 Netanyahu announced his own plan for annexing the Jordan Valley, but his plan was not submitted to the Knesset as a bill nor considered by the Israeli security cabinet.
FMEP tracks all annexation-related policies in its regularly updated Annexation Policy Tables.
In a review of final 2019 settlement figures, Peace Now reports that Israeli settlement planning surged in 2019, growing from 2,100 units advanced in 2018 to 8,457 units advanced in 2019 (a 75% increase). Likewise, during the Trump-Netanyahu era (thus far), the average annual pace of settlement construction has been 25% higher than during the Obama era. Further, Peace Now notes that 2019 settlement planning and construction was “largely focused in isolated settlements and in areas that are highly problematic in terms of a two-state solution.” Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran notes:
“[the Israeli government is] trying to take advantage of the window of opportunity that they have under the Trump administration, knowing that it might change in a few months. There was no such supportive administration for the settlements previously, ever.”
Peace Now reports the following settlement-related developments that took place over the course of 2019:
New Outposts: 11 new outposts were established in contravention to stated Israeli law. Those outposts are:
- Tekoa E, located in the Bethlehem area
- Nofei Prat South (Hill 324), located east of Jerusalem
- Susiya East, located in the South Hebron Hills
- Mitzpe HaTorah, located east of Jerusalem
- Rimonim North, located east of Ramallah
- Maskiot South, in the northern Jordan Valley
- Nili West, located west of Ramallah
- Makhrour, located in the Bethlehem area
- Halamish East, located north of Ramallah
- Mitzpe Kramim East, located east of Ramallah
- Kedar East, located east of Jerusalem
New Residential Units in Settlements/Outposts: 1,917 new settlement units were constructed.
- 10% of the new units (195 housing units) were built illegally – i.e., in unauthorized outposts, without permits.
- 110 of these new settlement units were in the Jordan Valley.
New Non-Residential Construction in Settlements/Outposts: In addition to housing units, 2019 saw significant non-residential construction in settlements/outposts.
- Construction was started on 61 new public buildings (such as schools, synagogues etc.) in settlements;
- Construction was started on 87 new structures for industry or agriculture
- 53% of these new structures for industry or agriculture are located in illegal outposts.
Advancement of Plans for New Construction: Settlement planning surged in 2019, including:
- Plans for 8,457 settlement units — to be built across 58 settlements — were advanced through various stages of the planning process.
- Construction tenders were published for 1,761 settlement units
- 805 of the units under tenders are located in East Jerusalem settlements.
In a new report entitled, “Fissures and Cracks,” Emek Shaveh surveys the damage to Palestinian homes above the so-called “Pilgrims Road” in the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan. Palestinians believe the damage is the result of the extensive archaeological digs led by the radical settler group Elad, in cooperation with the Israeli Antiquities Authority. The report shares the stories of Palestinian families who have suffered because of structural damage to their homes.
Emek Shaveh writes:
“For over a decade, Palestinian residents of the neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh in Silwan have reported damage to their homes. Almost all the complaints come from families living along Wadi Hilweh’s main street which is situated above the archaeological excavation of a central tunnel in an underground network of tunnels, named the ‘Pilgrims’ Road’ by the Elad Foundation. Over time, damage to homes in the neighborhood has amassed and increased. In 2019, Emek Shaveh attempted to map the homes which have shown cracks in the walls or where walls have collapsed, to gauge the scope of the phenomenon, learn of the nature of the damage, and the degree of. proximity between the excavations and the damaged homes…the documentation…does not purport to substitute a comprehensive engineering investigation. However, it raises questions regarding the responsibilities of the authorities working in the neighborhood. The Jerusalem Municipality, the Nature and Parks Authority, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the Elad Foundation all boast of exciting archaeological discoveries, praising the stepped street excavations as one of the most important discoveries in recent times. In light of the touristic development and archaeological research, these bodies must recognize the collapses and detrimental effect to homes located at the heart of the antiquities site and examine how they were caused and whether they are linked to the excavations. The authorities must find a suitable solution for the dozens of families whose homes were damaged, whether inadvertently or not.”