Settlement Report: March 8, 2019


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

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March 8, 2019

  1. Settlers Take Over Two Palestinian Homes in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City
  2. Jerusalem Planning Authority Nullifies Only Way Palestinians Can Prove Land Ownership in East Jerusalem
  3. Report: Jerusalem City Council to Approve Plan to Build Two New Settlements, Expand Others
  4. Israeli Court Rejects Another Petition to Stop the Eviction of the Sabbagh Family from their Home in Sheikh Jarrah
  5. Ambassador Friedman Takes Over Palestinian Relations & Settlement Reporting
  6. Congressional Funding for Settler Business Council?
  7. UNHCR Delays (Again) Publication of Database Identifying Businesses Operating in Settlements
  8. Bonus Reads


Settlers Take Over Two Palestinian Homes in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City

On March 6th, settlers, in coordination with Israeli security forces, moved into a house in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The settlers have elected to name the house after slain American-Israeli settler Ari Fuld, who was killed in a knife attack perpetrated by a Palestinian in September 2018.

The house in question was acquired by  the radical Ateret Cohanim settler organization last year. The sale of the home, which is just 100 meters from the Dome of the Rock/Al-Haram al-Sharif,  sparked intense controversy in the local Palestinian community and political factions, leading to the arrest and alleged torture of the Palestinian-American who was responsible for the transaction, Issam Aqel, by the Palestinian Authority.

An attorney for Ateret Cohanim told Haaretz:

“Happily another house in the Old City was redeemed. The racist Palestinian Authority, which uses terror against Arabs who dare sell a house to Jews, suffered another defeat today.”

Knesset Member Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) visited the new settlement house and said:

“the house was purchased by Jews and will house Jewish residents, despite efforts by the Palestinian Authority, which tortured Aqel and manufactured forged documents showing ownership of the house, while imposing terror within sovereign Israeli territory, at the heart of our eternal capital Jerusalem.”

Map by OCHA

In an unrelated report, Maan News reports that settlers have evicted the al-Halabi family from its home and taken over their property in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Settlers reportedly used pepper spray against Palestinians who attempted to prevent them from entering the apartment while the al-Halabi family was out shopping; five Palestinians were detained by the Israeli forces. The home is in a 4-unit building in which, according to Ma’an, Israeli settlers have succeeded in acquiring a majority ownership from its Palestinian owners.

According to OCHA-OPT, there are 20 Palestinian families (74 adults and 30 children) living in Jerusalem’s Old City under threat of eviction. FMEP recently reported on two families under imminent risk of eviction at the behest of settlers.

Jerusalem Planning Authority Nullifies Only Way Palestinians Can Prove Land Ownership in East Jerusalem

In what appears to be a significant change in Israeli policy in governing East Jerusalem – where Palestinians live under Israeli domestic law but are not citizens and do not the same rights as citizens –  the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee annulled the long-standing Israel-accepted procedure which was the only means by which Palestinians could document their land ownership claims in East Jerusalem. Known as the “mukhtar protocol” under this procedures Palestinian East Jerusalemites could document/prove ownership by collecting signatures from local Palestinian leaders acknowledging that the land in question was, indeed, owned by the claimant. The longstanding policy was developed by the Israeli government as an alternative to the formal land-registration process, which has been frozen in East Jerusalem since 1967, after the Six-Day War.

With this shift in policy, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee reportedly denied 20 applications for building permits submitted by Palestinians at a meeting in early March 2019, where the applications relied on the “mukhtar protocol.”

Mohammed Abu Ghanem, an architect whose plan for 12 homes in the Silwan neighborhood was rejected this week, called the shift in Israeli policy a “catastrophe,” saying:

“we have no other ownership documents to present, and 90 percent of the land is not registered.”

Haaretz reports that settlement impresario Aryeh King is reportedly behind the campaign for the government to stop recognizing Palestinian land ownership based on this procedure.

In May 2018, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced funding for a new initiative to start the process of registering land in East Jerusalem as a means of consolidating Israeli claims to Palestinian neighborhoods (and undoubtedly find more “unowned” land for the settlers). At the time, Israel’s Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked said:

“the start of land settlement of title and registration in East Jerusalem [is] a step toward promoting Israeli sovereignty and control over the city….[t]he day before the strengthening of Jerusalem through the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, and after decades of Israeli sovereignty in eastern Jerusalem, we are strengthening the city and actually applying sovereignty through the program of land regulation in East Jerusalem.”

The Palestinian human rights group Al-Mezan responded:

“This policy violates Palestinian rights and breaches international humanitarian law, whereas this situation almost always results in the conversion of lands into ‘state property’ due to lack of availability of ‘proof of ownership’ by Palestinian current landowners. This will also allow the re-implantation of the Absentee Property Law, which allows the state to seize, manage, lease, transform, and sell the properties of Palestinians who are declared ‘absentees’.”

Report: Jerusalem City Council to Approve Plan to Build Two New Settlements, Expand Others

The settler-run news outlet Arutz Sheva reports that the Jerusalem City Council is preparing to approve a huge plan for new construction in both East and West Jerusalem. If implemented, the plan will allow the construction of two brand-new settlements in East Jerusalem. One, called “Ramot 07,” will consist of 2,000 units built north of the existing Ramot settlement; the second, called “Moradot Neve Ya’akov,” will also consist of 2,000 new units built between the settlements of Pisgat Ze’ev settlement and Neve Ya’akov. Both new settlements are specifically for ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Israelis.

Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann notes that the Arutz Sheva report – specifically in regards to the large scale settlement construction in East Jerusalem – which has not been confirmed by other outlets, might not be accurate. Seidemann tells FMEP:

“The report sounds highly questionable. Large scale construction can take place only within the boundaries of the expropriated lands, and the potential there has all but been exhausted. I am unaware of other sites where building of this scale or anything like it is possible elsewhere, and I doubt such sites exist.”

Israeli Court Rejects Another Petition to Stop the Eviction of the Sabbagh Family from their Home in Sheikh Jarrah

On March 3rd, the Israel Law Enforcement and Collection Authority, a support unit for the courts under the Ministry of Justice, dismissed a petition objecting to the eviction of the Sabbagh family from its home of 60+ years in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem at the behest of Israeli settlers.

The ruling puts the 45-member Sabbagh family, once again, at imminent risk of eviction.

The Sabbagh family has been struggling against eviction proceedings initiated by the settler organization Nahalat Shimon, which was awarded ownership rights of their house through use of the “Legal and Administration Matters Law,” which allows Israeli Jews (but not Palestinians) to reclaim property lost/abandoned during the 1948 war. Nahalat Shimon managed to find the Jewish Israeli family who owned the home prior to the war and convinced that family to hand over their ownership rights.

The Norwegian Refugee Council writes:

“The risk of imminent forced eviction of the Sabbagh family in Sheikh Jarrah; the eviction of the Abu Asab family in the Old City and its replacement by Israeli settlers in mid-February; and the progress of settler compounds and touristic settlement in Silwan indicate a bolder intent to further entrench and tighten Israeli control over key locations across East Jerusalem, including through altering the demographic composition of the territory.”  

There have been weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah against the eviction of the Sabbagh family.

Peace Now writes:

“This is part of an organized and systematic campaign of settlers, with the assistance of government agencies, to expel entire communities in East Jerusalem and to establish settlements in their stead. Dozens of other families face the risk of eviction by legal proceedings in which settlers and government officials exploit discriminatory laws that allow Jews to return to pre-1948 assets yet forbid Palestinians from doing the same. In this way, settlers seek to create a buffer inside the Palestinian neighborhood and make it difficult to reach a territorial compromise in Jerusalem so essential to a two-state solution.”

Ambassador Friedman Takes Over Palestinian Relations & Settlement Reporting

On March 4th, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem was formally closed, and a new “Palestinian Affairs Unit” began operating under the supervision of U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, as part of the U.S. Embassy to Israel, recently established in Jerusalem by the Trump Administration.

The U.S. has been represented in Jerusalem by a Consulate General since 1844; from the start of the peace process in the 1990s until this week, the Consulate served as the de facto U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, and was a central player in advancing U.S. efforts to broker a negotiated end to the conflict.

Explaining the significance of the closure – and batting down headlines that suggest the consulate was merely “merging” with the new Embassy – Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann tweeted:

“No, the Consulate (the de facto US mission to Palestine) will NOT ‘merge’ with the Embassy. It will be subsumed into the Embassy to Israel. This is no mere technicality, and precisely reflects current US policies: all things Palestinian are subservient to Israeli interests.”

Notably, the Consulate General in Jerusalem reported directly to Washington, covering not only Palestinian affairs but also, notably, all issues related to settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (consulates in nearly all other cases are subsidiaries of the U.S. embassy in a given country, and any reporting they do flows through the embassy and the Ambassador). Now, all that reporting will be overseen by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman.

Friedman, it should be recalled, is a long-time and unabashed settlements supporter. In addition to personal donations to the settlements, prior to his appointment as Ambassador, Friedman served as the President of a U.S. organization dedicated to fundraising for the Beit El settlement. Friedman recently declared to the press that he is a proud “right-wing” defender of Israel. According to reports, Friedman has tried to eliminate the words “West Bank” from the State Department’s lexicon in favor “Judea and Samaria” (the term used by settlers), and, n a departure from longstanding U.S. policy, frequently visits the settlements.

All of this suggests that Friedman – who has made clear that he regards the settlements as part of Israel, does not oppose settlement construction, and that he does not believe the U.S. should or will ask Israel to withdraw from settlements in the context of a peace “plan” or negotiations with the Palestinians – will likely stem the flow of information to Washington regarding settlements, and re-focus it in support of a pro-settlement political agenda.

Notably, in his capacity as Ambassador, Friedman has publicly embraced and promoted economic co-existence initiatives -between settlers and Palestinians – as a core U.S. priority on the ground (FMEP has repeatedly explained the perversity of labeling Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory, including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources, “coexistence,” or suggesting that it brings to the Palestinians benefits they should welcome.

Regarding the consulate closure, the PLO said in a statement:

“The decision of the American administration to close the American consulate in Palestine, which was opened in Jerusalem in 1844, as of this morning and merge it with the US embassy in Israel after moving it from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and operating a special unit for Palestine in the embassy reflect the level of audacity of the American administration in striking the international decisions, which it has contributed to writing, and a denial of the historic rights of our people and the international conventions and laws that support the right of our people to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories started in 1967, the establishment of the independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return for refugees as per United Nations resolution 194. This decision is the implementation of the policy and decision of the colonial settlements council in the West Bank.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO central committee, said that the merger:

“is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity.”

Congressional Funding for Settler Business Council?

U.S. Senator James Lankford created confusion recently by suggesting that a new U.S. law provides a funding for the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Congress,” a purported group of Israeli and Palestinian businesspeople cooperating on new ventures in the settlements for the benefit of both peoples (a claim which, as FMEP has repeatedly explained, is ultimately aimed at normalizing and entrenching the exploitative nature of Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank).

The confusion stems from the fact that Sen. Lankford’s suggestion appears to be factually incorrect – Congress has not approved any such funding. One bill which U.S. congresspeople might use for this purpose, the Palestinian Partnership Fund (HR 7060/ S. 3549), was introduced in the last Congress, but has not yet been moved in the new Congress. The bill’s authors intended (and ostensibly continue to intend) to provide funding for people-to-people exchanges that bring Palestinian and Israeli civil society together, with the understanding that such programming is an important complementary track to good-faith peace negotiations.

If and when (and with whatever motive) the U.S. Congress acts on HR 7060/S. 3549, or introduces any legislation relating to financing these economic coexistence endeavors, it will be reported and analyzed by FMEP President Lara Friedman in her weekly legislative roundup (subscribe here).

UNHCR Delays (Again) Publication of Database Identifying Businesses Operating in Settlements

On March 5th, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet announced that the Human Rights Council has once again delayed the publication of a database listing companies that do business inside of Israeli settlements. In a letter, Bachelet committed to publishing the database “in coming months.”

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on March 24, 2016 mandating the creation of the database listing the business enterprises that “have, directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.” The database is meant to assist UN member states in complying with their legal obligations under international law. International legal scholar Valentina Azarova explained:

“The UN database is a mechanism to document, report, and engage primary interested parties. It does not have the mandate to adjudicate the responsibility of concerned parties, nor to act as a coercive tool of law enforcement. Thus, commentators who refer to it as a “blacklist” misrepresent it and undermine its legitimacy.”

Human Rights Watch issued a statement regarding the latest delay, saying:

“Israeli authorities’ brazen expansion of illegal settlements underscores why the U.N. database of businesses facilitating these settlements needs to be published,” Bruno Stagno Ugarte, an advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Each delay further entrenches corporate involvement in the systematic rights abuses stemming from illegal settlements.”

Israel and the United States have fought tooth-and-nail against the publication of the database, labeling it an anti-Israel “blacklist.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Are Palestinian Police Protecting Settlers?” (Al-Monitor)

  2. “One Israeli’s Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Settler to Peace Activist” (NBC News)

  3. “At West Bank High School, Knesset Candidates’ Discuss Future of Pupils’ Home” (Times of Israel)

  4. “What Netanyahu’s Election Strategy Shows About How Settlers Vote” (Times of Israel)

  5. “By Force of Forgery: How Settlers Claim Palestinian Homes” (Middle East Eye)