Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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March 30, 2018
- 2017 – A Record Year in Settlement Expansion
- Hebron Settlers Leave One Disputed Property, Only to Enter Two More
- Settlers Celebrate Moving to Amichai, the First New Government-Backed Settlement in 25 Years
- Housing Minister on Annexation: Settlements are a Non-Negotiable Security Asset, Israel Must Keep Building
- Ambassador Friedman: U.S. Will Not Intervene To Stop Israeli Annexation
- After Annexing Settlement Universities, Israeli Education Ministry Moves to Censor Campus Criticism of Settlements/Occupation
- Terrestrial Jerusalem Report: “The Creation of a Settler Realm in and Around Jerusalem’s Old City”
- Al-Shabaka Policy Brief: Israel’s Annexation Crusade in Jerusalem
- Yesh Din/Emek Shaveh Report: “Appropriating the Past: Israel’s Archaeological Practices in the West Bank”
- Emek Shaveh Report: The Jerusalem Cable Car Undermines the History & Multiculturalism of the Historic Basin
- You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Settler Lands Helicopter at Qalandiya Checkpoint (in Attempt to Seize It)
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org
In its annual report on settlement activity, the settlement watchdog group Peace Now documents two significant facts about settlement growth in 2017 – the first year in the era of the Trump Administration era. Peace Now figures show that there was a large spike in new settlement starts compared to previous years; and second, most of these new construction starts are located in areas that are beyond the area that Israel can realistically expect to retain under any negotiated two-state agreement.
Specifically, Peace Now reports that in 2017, construction began on 2,783 new settler housing units, an increase of around 17% over the yearly average rate since 2009. In terms of location of these new starts, Peace Now found that:
- More than three-quarters of the new housing starts are in settlements located deep inside the West Bank, beyond what would be a realistic border for a negotiated two-state agreement.
- Fewer than one-fifth of the new construction starts are located in areas west of the security barrier, as currently constructed (i.e., in settlements already de facto annexed to Israel by the barrier).
- At least one out of every ten of the new settlement starts is illegal according to Israeli laws (all settlements are illegal under international law), with most located in illegal outposts.
Director of the Peace Now Settlement Watch project, Shabtay Benet told i24News,
“If in the past, the government had focused on construction and housing within the blocs, it appears that the government is [today] openly working toward a reality of annexation.”
In addition, Peace Now documents in detail other major 2017 settlement-related developments, including:
- the establishment of three new illegal outposts in 2017: “Neve Achi” (near Ramallah ), “Kedem Arava” (near Jericho), and “Shabtai’s Farm” (south of Hebron).
- the establishment of the new “legal” settlement of “Amichai,” which is the first new settlement built with government approval in 25 years.
- Construction of a major new bypass road to link settlers more seamlessly to Jerusalem,
- The seizure by Israel of nearly 1,000 dunams of Palestinian land near Nablus in order to begin legalizing outposts in the area.
- The approval by the Israeli government of 31 new units for settlers in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron.
The report also provides a timeline of data showing the fluctuation of Israeli government policy regarding outposts from 1996-2017. The data indicate that a 2006 pledge by Netanyahu to cease funding the construction of new outposts (a pledge that followed the publication of the government-mandated report on outposts known as the Sasson Report) expired in 2012, at which time the government began allowing (if not supporting) the construction of new outposts. Since 2012, 16 new outposts have been built and allowed to remain, some of which are now in the process of being retroactively legalized by the government.
The full report is available online here.
After nearly eight months of illegally occupying a disputed property in Hebron, more than 100 settlers left the Beit Machpelah/Abu Rajab building. The High Court has ruled that the settlers must leave the residence while the Justices’ consider a case regarding rightful ownership of the property – a case that is not expected to wrap up in the near term.
In tandem with the departure of the settlers, the new head of the Israeli Army’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, signed an order declaring the area around the property – which is across the street from the the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrahimi Mosque – as a “closed military zone,” where civilian access is forbidden. Ostensibly intended to prevent the settlers from re-entering the property, the order will inevitably further restrict freedom of movement for Palestinians, who already face acute limitations resulting from segregated and closed-off streets, a maze of checkpoints, harassment by settlers living in the middle of the city, and the heavy IDF presence guarding a few hundred Israeli settlers living amidst ~150,000 Palestinians in Hebron.
Undeterred (or emboldened) by their experience with the Beit Machpelah/Abu Rajab building, Hebron settlers subsequently broke into and occupied two additional properties in downtown Hebron (which settlers are calling “Beit Leah” and “Beit Rachel,” and which Palestinians call the “Zaatari Compound,” after the Palestinian family who owns the buildings). Like in the case of the Beit Machpelah/Abu Rajab building, ownership of these two properties is disputed, with settlers claiming to have purchased the properties lawfully from Palestinian owners, and the Palestinians denying having sold them. And like the past nearly eight months in the case of the Beit Machpelah/Abu Rajab building, the settlers are for now being allowed to stay in the two disputed properties, under the protection of the IDF, in violation of Israeli law.
Breaking the Silence – an Israeli NGO recently barred from giving tours in Hebron – told The Times of Israel that the removal of the settlers from the Beit Machpelah/Abu Rajab building was “appropriate” but:
“Still, this is just only a drop of water in the sea of illegal invasions that we guarded as soldiers… For 50 years, settlers have been establishing facts on the ground and we are being sent to guard them at the expense of the Palestinians.”
With respect to the two new properties occupied by the settlers, Peace Now said:
“The settlers’ recent break-in into the Zaatari compound constitutes just the latest in a slew of such unauthorized incidents in Hebron. Their strategy is clear. Since they have failed thus far to obtain the ownership rights legally, instead they must resort to illegal means to establish facts on the ground by squatting, knowing that the right-wing government will be reluctant to attract negative publicity from its base by evicting settlers, and will in turn attempt to delay the eviction or perhaps find a way to legalize the take-over. Fellow Israeli citizens must not give in to this emotional blackmail, and the authorities must evict these squatters without delay.”
Settlers who were removed from the unauthorized Amona outpost last year held a ceremony March 26, 2018, marking the day that they moved into Amichai, the new settlement that was promised to them as compensation. Amichai is the first new settlement built with government approval in 25 years. The leader of the law-breaking Amona settlers, Avichai Boaran, said at the ceremony:
“After a long wait and a stubborn struggle – tomorrow it happens. Amichai residents enter their new community! We are looking forward to entering our new homes, which we were able to establish with the blood of our hearts, with determination and faith, love for the land and for Zionism.”
The settlers will be housed in temporary mobile homes while construction continues in the settlement. The Master Plan approved for Amichai permits 102 units on a hilltop in the Shiloh Valley, a third of which face additional legal proceedings as a result of petitions filed by Palestinian landowners.
As FMEP has covered many times in the past, Amichai is the first of two new settlements approved by the Israeli government in early 2017 as pay-off to settlers who were forced to leave the Amona outpost by the High Court of Justice. That Amona outpost was established without authorization from the Israeli government and was located on private Palestinian land; the government of Israel fought for years to retroactively legalize it, but eventually was forced by the High Court to evacuate its residents (evacuation that some residents resisted violently). The establishment of Amichai clearly demonstrates that settler law-breaking not only goes unpunished, but is handsomely rewarded by the Israeli government, and that establishing illegal outposts is an effective route to establishing new settlements.
Housing Minister on Annexation: Settlements are a Non-Negotiable Security Asset, Israel Must Keep Building
Minister of Housing and Construction, Yoav Galant (Kulanu), told settler leaders that he believes Israel must bolster the settlements, calling them “non-negotiable [security] assets” that Israel must always maintain “full control” over. Galant’s remarks were made during a meeting with leaders of the Yesha Council (a settlement umbrella group) during which he also bragged about doubling the budget for settlement construction. He said:
“The Ministry of Construction and Housing, headed by me, has invested twice the budgets of the previous government in planning and development in Yehuda and Shomron.” [Note: “Yehuda and Shomron” means Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the area in the West Bank]
Yesha Council Chairman Chananel Dorani thanked Minister Galant for his support, saying:
“Minister Galant leads the Housing Ministry to important goals and objectives for the development of the State of Israel, the area of Yehuda, Shomron and the Jordan Valley is a suitable space for massive construction and dispersal of the population of the country. I am thankful for your consistent support for the settlement, for the ideal, but also for the actions.”
In an interview with an Israeli Orthodox newspaper this week, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman was quoted as suggesting that the U.S. was ready to replace President Abbas if he refused to play ball with U.S. efforts. Friedman subsequently claimed he was misquoted. He did not, however, suggest that he was misquoted on another subject that came up in that interview: possible annexation of part of the West Bank. Friedman was asked in the interview if the U.S. would support partial annexation of the West Bank. Friedman reportedly answered:
“On these issues, Israel ought to decide for itself, we will not intervene with the government in Jerusalem regarding its way of handling the conflict. We will definitely express our opinion when asked, but we’ll avoid unnecessary involvement in decision making.”
Friedman’s remark come amidst a growing wave of legislation and legal opinions pushing Israeli annexation schemes forward, none of which the U.S. has publically intervened to stop, or even criticize. To date, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has held at bay the most forthright annexation legislation – like a bill to annex Ma’ale Adumim/E-1, the “Greater Jerusalem Bill,” a Jordan Valley annexation bill, and the Likud-inspired the “Annexation/Sovereignty Bill” – always citing concerns about coordinating with the United States. Friedman’s comments, which were neither clarified nor contradicted by anyone in Washington, suggest that the Trump Administration would not object to legislation of this kind moving forward.
Simultaneously, Netanyahu has allowed annexation to proceed on several more subtle fronts, including: giving government support to the “Ariel Bill” (now law) which effectively annexed settlement universities and colleges; giving government support to a bill that would transfer jurisdiction over West Bank land disputes from the High Court to the Jerusalem District Court (where a pro-settlement judge was recently installed by Justice Minister Shaked); defending the “Regulation Law” and, at least seemingly, beginning to implement it against the dictates of a court-ordered injunction; finding additional legal bases (1 and 2) to retroactively legalize outposts; installing radical settlers in government posts tasked with handling land disputes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; and much more. These annexation policies are, of course, in addition to the day-to-day settlement construction on the ground that is gobbling up more and more West Bank land (documented in detail in Peace Now’s comprehensive report on settlement activity in 2017, discussed above).
Americans for Peace Now responded to Friedman’s latest pro-settlement, pro-annexation remarks, saying:
“Friedman is a loose cannon, whose statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict routinely upend longstanding US foreign policy. Given Friedman’s advocacy on their behalf, it is not difficult to see why settler leaders see President Trump and his Middle East team as sent by God.”
After Annexing Settlement Universities, Israeli Education Ministry Moves to Censor Campus Criticism of Settlements/Occupation
A month after bringing settlement universities under Israeli sovereign control (affectively annexing them), the Israeli Council of Higher Education advanced a new code of ethics that seeks to ban professors in all Israeli universities from criticising settlements or the occupation.
The new code has five principles, most having to do with preventing discrimination based on political views and affiliation. The principles include clauses prohibiting lecturers from calling for or engaging in activity that promotes an academic boycott of Israel or its academic institutions (some of which are now in the settlements), and another clause that prohibits faculty from promoting the idea of boycotting Israel.
Israel’s Association of University Heads (VERA) slammed the move as an attempt to politically censor academia, saying they will not “serve as political thought police for the government.” The statement from VERA, representing the heads of Israeli universities, goes on to say:
“We are already seeing a dangerous deterioration on the edge of the abyss with regards to freedom of expression and academic freedom, as is customary in dark countries and not in a country that claims to be a democracy. [We] do not accept the dictation from ‘the top’ and do not intend to serve as a tool for narrow political interests. We will continue to fight for academic freedom, free speech and freedom of expression in the democratic State of Israel.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who requested the new code, called the statement from VERA “puzzling” and turned logic on its head to defend the new code from criticism, saying:
“We must keep the world of academic free of politics and foreign interests. Complete academic freedom – yes. Promoting political agendas and calling for a boycott – no. We are in fact limiting the freedom of condemnation and increasing the freedom of expression, so the academic discourse in Israel remains free of politics and discrimination. At the gates of academia, leave politics outside.”
Now that the new code has been adopted, the Council for Higher Education is seeking input from universities. After the input is collected, the Council will review and amend the code before bringing it up for a final vote. The Council said it aims to have the code adopted by universities by 2019, with required reporting on efforts to implement its provision due to the Council in 2020.
Terrestrial Jerusalem published a comprehensive look at how Israel is creating a “settler realm” in Jerusalem. The report opens,
“taken as a whole, the array of ongoing projects and plans centered on the Old City and its immediate hinterlands represents an unprecedented move to fundamentally change the character and fabric of life in these areas, turning them into – as we’ve termed it in the past – a Disneyland-style area in which one historical and religious narrative, the Jewish one, predominates and marginalizes/erases all others.”
The report focuses on 12 recent and ongoing projects that are taking place largely in the context of a 2005 decision of the Sharon government – following its withdrawal from Gaza – to pursue, “a thinly veiled scheme to consolidate the settlers’ control over the public domain in the Old City and its environs.” At that point, an ad hoc, what had been an incremental settler campaign to establish Jewish hegemony over East Jerusalem became a multi-million-shekel per year government-backed endeavor to fortify a Jewish Israeli settler control over all areas of East Jerusalem and the Old City.
Commenting on the settler regime, Terrestrial Jerusalem founder Daniel Seidemann writes:
“While these are all recent developments, they reflect the culmination of a process that has been going on for many years. The data … further illustrate the predominant role played by Elad and the JDA [the Jerusalem Development Authority] in advancing settlers’ control over East Jerusalem, and the complicity of the State in doing so, as detailed in the Comptroller Report published on November 2016 (see our analysis here). Indeed, the settler “DNA” has been injected into virtually all of the governmental organs with any relevant authority in and around the Old City: the Israel Lands Authority, the Custodian General, the Absentee Property Custodian, the Israel Police, the Planning Committees, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Finance and many more. Similarly, many of the authorities of these governmental agencies have been outsourced to the settlers. The governmental adoption of the settler ideology and the outsourcing of governmental authority create a situation in which the public interest and the settler interest have become virtually indistinguishable. No new master plan has been created, and none is necessary – the brakes that slowed these schemes have merely been removed. Israel remains a feisty, albeit increasingly challenged democracy: when it comes to the Old City and its visual basin, it morphs into something highly reminiscent of a regime.”
A new report from Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, titled “Israel’s Annexation Crusade in Jerusalem: The Role of Ma’ale Adumim and the E1 Corridor,” paints a picture of Israeli policies building towards the eventual annexation of the settlements bordering Jerusalem, paying particular attention to the history and centrality of the Ma’ale Adumim and E1 settlement areas. Though Netanyahu has delayed the outright annexation of these settlements by blocking the passage of the “Greater Jerusalem Bill,” Al-Shabaka’s brief examines several other bills, projects, resolutions, and regulations that effectively advance the annexation more subtly.
The report’s author, Zena Agha, concludes with key recommendations emphasizing the need to more stridently highlight and oppose the Israeli settlement enterprise and the creeping annexation inherent in recent policies. Agha writes,
“Since it is evident that the Trump administration will not be the restraining force on the right-wing coalition in the Knesset, nations other than the US as well as international bodies must apply pressure on the Israeli government to ensure any annexation bill is costly. Palestinian civil society and the Palestine solidarity movement must go further in raising awareness of how close the Israeli settlement project is to the point of no return in their current and planned campaigns with policymakers.”
Yesh Din/Emek Shaveh Report: “Appropriating the Past: Israel’s Archaeological Practices in the West Bank”
In a new joint report documenting a 4-year project, Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din reveal how Israeli organizations used a guise of archaeological preservation to dispossess Palestinians of privately owned land across the West Bank since 1967. The report, titled “Appropriating the Past: Israel’s Archaeological Practices in the West Bank,” introduces the topic by explaining:
“Israel continues to use its position as the administrator of archaeological sites in the West Bank as a means to deepen its control over West Bank land, to expand the settlement enterprise, and extend the policy of dispossession of Palestinians from their lands and cultural assets. Although the takeover of land through archaeology is not the main method of achieving Israeli control over land, it is significant because of its symbolic aspects and impact on public awareness.”
The report goes on to document several examples of how archaeology is used to advance settlements. Those include:
- Gerrymandering the jurisdiction of settlements to include antiquity sites, as in the case of the Anatot-Almon settlement and the Tel-Alamit antiquity site;
- Illegally invading of antiquity sites, as in the case of the Ain al Qaws spring near Nabi Saleh; and,
- Using archaeological excavations to retroactively justify the establishment of new settlements, as in the case of the Shiloh settlement and the now evacuated Amona outpost.
The report concludes:
“By controlling all aspects of archaeology – the excavations, management of the sites, the interpretation of the nds, and which knowledge is disclosed to (or concealed from) the public – Israel appropriates the archaeological treasures uncovered in the West Bank and exploits them in order to sustain a narrative of continued Israeli control over the OPT.”
The report is available online here.
Emek Shaveh Report: The Jerusalem Cable Car Undermines the History & Multiculturalism of the Historic Basin
In a recent paper, the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh analyzes the detrimental impacts of the new Israeli cable car project, including the dispossession and tangible economic consequences facing Palestinian Jerusalemites.
The paper concludes:
“The cable car is an experimental project driven by political interests in the most important and sensitive site in our region – the Old City of Jerusalem. Although this project is presented to the public as a response to transportation and tourism needs, its goal is political – strengthening Israel’s hold on East Jerusalem with a national-religious narrative and by “establishing facts on the ground” that will erase the chances of a historic compromise in the Holy Basin and the rich cultural diversity of the city. The cable car will also seriously damage the historical nature of the Old City and corrupt its famous beauty, which attracts visitors from all over the world.”
FMEP has tracked the planning process for the cable car, a project promoted by the settler group Elad. Elad aggressively pursues the eviction of Palestinians and the growing presence of Jewish Israelis across East Jerusalem, but particularly in the Silwan neighborhood where the Kedem Center is being built to serve as the final stop of the cable car line. The project has been harshly critiqued by the international community.
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Settler Lands Helicopter at Qalandiya Checkpoint (in Attempt to Seize It)
This week, Yedidya Meshulami – a settler living in an illegal outpost near Nablus – attempted to usurp the Israeli Army and take control of the Qalandiya checkpoint by landing his personal helicopter nearby, declaring “I don’t care what they do to me, I’ll take it [the checkpoint] over.” Israeli security forces arrested Meshulami and seized his helicopter (shortly thereafter he was released to house arrest; it goes without saying that had he been a Palestinian seeking to take over the checkpoint by any means whatsoever, he would still be in custody). The Qalandiya checkpoint is the most heavily trafficked checkpoint in the West Bank, through which 26,000 Palestinians (who are lucky enough to have permits to enter Israel) pass en route to Jerusalem on a daily basis.
Meshulami landed his helicopter at the site of the defunct Atarot airport, situated on a strategic strip of land between Jerusalem and Ramallah near the Qalandiya checkpoint he hoped to take control over. Rumors concerning plans to build a settlement at the Atarot site have been rumbling for over a year, fed by the Knesset’s decision to allocate millions of shekels to the project last October. Developing the airport into an Israeli settlement would deprive a future Palestinian state of the only airport in the West Bank, would cut through many Palestinian neighborhoods, and would further sever East Jerusalem from a Palestinian state (acting like E-1 on Jerusalem’s northeast flank, and like Givat Hamatos on Jerusalem’s southern flank).
Meshulami, lives in an unauthorized outpost called “Alumot” near the settlement of Itamar, south of Nablus. Meshulami helped establish the outpost in 1996 after serving in the Israeli Air Force and, despite lacking permits, he personally built an airstrip in the outpost in 2013. According to reports this week, Israeli security forces had previously revoked Meshulami’s pilot license for flying over the West Bank without a permit. Two days after his arrest, the IDF raided the illegal airstip and seized a second helicopter. They also found an ultralight plane that will reportedly be seized in the coming days.
- VIDEO: Times of Israel Settlements Correspondent Jacob Magid discusses internal settler dynamis w/ Ron Kampeas (FMEP)
- “Settler Violence Against Palestinians Is on the Rise, but Goes Regularly Unpunished” (Haaretz)
- “Israel’s government and the settlers want terror.” (Haaretz+)
- “Israel’s Separation Barrier: Legitimate in theory, malicious in practice” (Times of Israel)