Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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May 31, 2019
- Israel Publishes Tenders for 805 Settlement Units in East Jerusalem; More May Be Coming
- The World Zionist Organization Continues to Finance Illegal Settlement Construction
- Yitzhar Settlers Attack Israeli Police Officers, Again
- Israel Cut-Off & Trapped a Palestinian Family on the Israeli Side of the Wall, Then Banned Them from Entering Israel
- Palestinians React to Latest Annexation Rumors Amidst Israeli Government Chaos
- Florida Governor Leads Headline-Grabbing Trade Delegation to West Bank Settlements
- Scheindlin: Israel’s Democratic Decay is Happening for the Sake of Annexation
- Bonus Reads
For questions and/or comments contact Kristin McCarthy – firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 30th, the Israel Land Authority published tenders for a total of 805 new settlement units in East Jerusalem, a decisive step towards the start of construction. The 805 tenders were issued for 345 units in the Ramot settlement and 460 new units in the Pisgat Ze’ev settlement. These are the first tenders published for East Jerusalem settlement construction since April 2018, and collectively are the most tenders published in a single year (let alone simultaneously) since 2014. Moreover, as Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann explains, this batch of tenders allows for more construction in East Jerusalem settlements than the government has approved for East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods since Israel gained control of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Furthermore, the Jerusalem settlement watchdog group Ir Amim warns that this batch of tenders may only be the first of an oncoming wave:
“For several years after the collapse of the Kerry initiative in April 2014, there was a significant decrease in the approval of master plans in East Jerusalem and as a result, few tenders were announced. This dramatically changed in 2017 and 2018 with the advancement of master plans reaching near record levels. Today’s tenders are primarily a result of plan approvals from last year, potentially signaling impending large-scale announcements of tenders based on additional plans which have been approved over the last year.”
Peace Now, the veteran settlement monitoring organization, said in a statement:
“Continued construction in East Jerusalem does not contribute to Jerusalem and does not contribute to Israel. As long as we have not reached a permanent agreement with the Palestinians on Israel’s borders, building beyond the Green Line is illegitimate and only harms the prospects for peace and trust between the sides.”
According to documents acquired by Israel’s Movement for Freedom of Information, over the past two years the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization continued to finance illegal settlement construction while simultaneously trying to hide this information from the public.
As a reminder, the Settlement Division is technically part of the World Zionist Organization, but in practice the unit was created by the Israeli government in 1968 and is funded entirely by the Israeli government (and Israeli taxpayers). Its mandate is to manage West Bank land expropriated by Israel, in order to facilitate the settlement of Israeli Jews in the occupied territories. To make this possible, the Israeli government has allocated approximately 60% of all “state land” in the West Bank to the WZO’s Settlement Division [over the past 50 years Israel has declared huge areas of the West Bank to be “state land,” including more than 40% of Area C, where most of the settlements are located]. Together, the WZO and the Israeli government work in coordination to develop West Bank settlements and encourage Jews to move into them, working together so closely that the Settlement Division even splits its real estate profits with the Israeli Housing and Construction Ministry.
According to the WZO’s financial documents for 2017-2018, the WZO subsided settlement projects that are illegal under Israeli law — to the tune of $734,577 USD (NIS 2,668,427).
In addition, the WZO failed to specify how it spent an additional USD $16 million (NIS 58 million) in support of new construction projects, leaving the exact location and legal status of the construction unknown. This represents 43% of the WZO’s overall budget for subsidizing projects.
The settlement projects known to have been subsidized by the WZO in 2017-2018 include:
- $640,000 USD (NIS 2,330,973) for the establishment of a community center in the Eli settlement. Though the Eli settlement previously received Israeli government approval, a “Master Plan” – which officially zones land for distinct purposes (residential, commercial, public) – has never been issued for Eli, meaning all construction there is illegal under Israeli law.
- $85,816 USD (NIS 311,736) on projects in the unauthorized Brosh outpost (the Israeli government is advancing a plan that would legalize Brosh retroactively, but until it does, all projects in it are illegal).
- $42,000 USD (NIS 153,127) for infrastructure development in the unauthorized Givat Eitam/E-2 outpost, which according to Peace Now appears had not been transferred as of the end of 2018. FMEP has covered the settlers efforts to establish the Givat Eitam/E-2 outpost and the government’s plan to retroactively authorize it as an official settlement in detail. It is worth recalling that the location of the Givat Eitam/E-2 has dire geopolitical consequences for the fate of the two state solution as well as the development of Palestinian communities just south of Bethlehem.
- $6,000 USD (NIS 22,445) for projects in the unauthorized Mitzpe Kramim outpost. Funding for Mitzpe Kramim over the past two years is particularly galling, given ongoing litigation that has included evidence that the Settlement Division knowingly gave land privately owned by Palestinians to settlers in order to build the outpost.
- $900 USD (NIS 3,273) for renovation of illegal structures in the unauthorized outpost of Haresha. The Israeli government has successfully used the Haresha outpost as a test case for new legal tools the government of Israel developed in order to justify the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land in order to retroactively legalize outposts. Using these tools, the government has found a way to “legally” build an access road to the settlement through privately owned Palestinian land; once the road is built, there is nothing preventing the government from retroactively legalizing Haresha.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The Settlement Division is a body that was born in sin immediately after 1967 in order to carry out the dubious works of building settlements for the government. It turns out that even today, after regulating the activities of the Settlement Division, it still operates without transparency and continues to finance illegal activity. The time has come to dismantle the Settlement Division and to restore to the government the governmental activities it has privatized.”
Despite the WZO’s ongoing defiance of Israeli planning and building laws — or perhaps in light of its direct and very effective role in entrenching and expanding the settlements — the Israeli government is actively seeking to transfer more West Bank land to the WZO for management. In the last Knesset session, a government-backed bill to expedite the transfer of more land to the WZO was stalled by the Israeli Attorney General only because the bill, in the view of the Attorney General, was duplicative of his own efforts to enrich the Settlement Division at the administrative level.
On May 26th, dozens of masked Israeli settlers violently attacked Israeli police officers who approached an illegal outpost near the settlement of Yitzhar, forcing the Israeli army to intervene in order to get the police officers to safety.
Not a single settler was arrested for the attack.
The event started when Israeli police arrived at the Kippah Sruga outpost in response to calls saying that clashes had broken out between Palestinians and Israelis in the area. According to Israeli police, when they arrived masked settlers began launching stones at them and slashed their car tires with a knife.
Haaretz reporting on this incident reminds readers:
“Over the past several weeks, settlers from Yizhar and surrounding settlements have been involved in several altercations, yet police have not arrested a single suspect. Last week, Israelis and Palestinians reported a field set ablaze and clashes in the Palestinian towns of Burin, Urief and Asira al-Qibliya. In a video disseminated by Asira al-Qibliya’s council, settlers are seen throwing stones at Palestinians, while soldiers nearby do nothing to arrest them. In response to the video, the IDF spokesman said that ‘Palestinians started a fire near Asira al-Qibliya. The IDF, the Border Police and civilian volunteers worked to extinguish the fire, which was spreading towards a military position and the edge of Yitzhar.’ After a B’Tselem video surfaced, showing settlers setting fire to fields, the army revised its response and confirmed that Jewish settlers also took part in setting fires.”
Israel Cut-Off & Trapped a Palestinian Family on the Israeli Side of the Wall, Then Banned Them from Entering Israel
On May 27th, Haaretz published a gut wrenching profile of the Hajajla family who lives on the Israeli side of the separation wall that cut them off from their hometown of al-Walajah, a Palestinian village just south of Jerusalem. Two days after publication of the profile – which FMEP shares in brief below – Israel issued an order banning the patriarch of the family, Omar Hajajala, from entering Israel, though he lives on the Israeli side of the wall in a spot where the route of the wall juts into the West Bank.
Before jumping into the full story, here is a reminder about the situation facing all of the residents of al-Walajah, in the words of Danny Seidemann:
“Walajeh is a village on Jerusalem’s southern flank that is entirely surrounded by the separation barrier. Since 1967, Walajeh’s inhabitants have lived in a Kafka-esque situation, with their village technically located inside Israel’s expanded borders, but with villagers never given Israeli residency (they are considered West Bankers and thus are not permitted inside Jerusalem). As a result, the villagers’ presence in their own village is, under Israeli law, illegal, and their homes there are, by definition, illegal.”
The Hajajla family was the only home in al-Walajah disconnected from the village when the separation barrier was built, leaving the family home on the Israeli side of the wall since 2014. The family refused to abandon their home despite the coercive and legal efforts by Israel to force them to do so. In 2014, after a petition before the High Court of Justice, the Defense Ministry opted to build the family a special passage underneath the barrier so it could reach the village, at a cost $1.1 million USD (NIS 4 million).
After the tunnel was constructed, the Israeli government began to impose new, burdensome, and compounding restrictions on the family regarding its use of the passageway. In 2017, the government decided to install a locked gate at one end of the passageway to control who enters and exits, which could be opened only by a single remote control given to the family. That single remote meant that whenever one member of the family left the home (impossible without taking the remote control with them), the rest of the family was left trapped, literally, until the remote-holder returned.
To make the situation more workable, Omar Hajajla, the family’s patriarch rigged an electric bell near the gate so that the single remote control can stay at the house while family members leave and return (the bell enables someone in the home to know that someone is at the gate needing to be let in). The bell has been in place for over a year, but only recently the Israeli Border police opted to make it an issue. This month, the police took Omar in for questioning and changed the lock so that the family could not open the gate at all. Omar Hajajla was ultimately fined and released, but the lock on the gate remained — until Haaretz filed an inquiry on May 26, 2019.
Omar Hajajla speculates that a recent court ruling in his family’s favor prompted the Israeli Border police to escalate their harassment of the family and make an issue of the bell. About a month ago, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected the state’s assertion that the family’s home is illegal – allowing the Hajajla family to stay put.(Note: The state of Israel has initiated demolition proceedings against dozens of homes in al-Walajah claiming that they were built without Israeli building permits – which are next to impossible for Palestinians to obtain, let alone Palestinians on coveted land like al-Walajah) –
In response to the May 27th Haaretz profile, Israeli police stated:
“At issue is a security passage that provides a short passage for the family from their home in Israeli territory to the Palestinian Authority areas. As you can see from the attached video and photos, the gate was shut last Monday to repair security cameras that were broken, to repair damage to the gate and to remove an electric bell that the father of the family had installed against the law, by attaching an unapproved electric wire from his home, a distance of dozens of meters from the passage. After the repair the passage was opened on Wednesday but when the father was seen exploiting it to illegally allow Palestinians to enter it was shut again and the suspect was taken for questioning. The passage was opened again yesterday, but because of a technical problem that was discovered it was shut again and we are working to fix it quickly. The Israel Police will not allow any damage to the security passages it is responsible for and will bring to justice anyone who vandalizes them and tries to harm the State of Israel’s security.”
The treatment of the Hajajla family should be seen in context of Israeli efforts to seal off al-Walajah from Jerusalem. As FMEP has previously reported, residents of al-Walajah have long been struggling against the growing encroachment the nearby Etzion settlement bloc and the Israeli government’s attempt to de facto annex the bloc as part of “Greater Jerusalem.” Ir Amim explains several prongs of this effort, including a particularly problematic section of the separation barrier around al-Walajah that has been planned in order to (a) almost completely encircle the village, (b) turn its valuable agricultural land into an urban park for Jerusalem, and (c) enable construction of a highway that will connect the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem with Israeli-only bypass roads.
Al-Monitor reports reactions from Palestinian leaders who are increasingly fearful that rumors about Israeli annexation of the settlements will be acted upon. Those rumors – as FMEP wrote last week – suggest that Israel will strip the Israel Civil Administration of its authority over the settlements and bring all settlements under Israeli domestic law, making settlement affairs the responsibility of the various Israeli ministries.
Wasel Abu Youssef, member of the PLO Executive Committee in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor:
“Expanding the powers of the Israeli ministries at the expense of the civil administration is an attempt to impose occupation and establish it in the West Bank, to end the [idea of a] two-state solution and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, which falls within the framework of denying the Palestinian people their rights to freedom and independence. These efforts mean practically annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel. Unfortunately, this comes with the blessing of the administration of US President Donald Trump, who doesn’t recognize the option of a two-state solution and gives Israel the green light to do whatever it wants in the West Bank.”
Walid Assaf, head of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, told Al-Monitor:
“The efforts to transfer the powers of the civil administration to the Israeli ministries directly mean the annexation of the West Bank settlements to Israel. This will lead to annexing Area C — which amounts to over 60% of the entire area of the West Bank — to Israeli sovereignty…Annexing West Bank settlements to Israel would pave the way for Israel to perpetuate a policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, and this will push the Palestinians in Area C to migrate to PA-controlled Areas A and B.”
Hanna Issa, an international law professor at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, told Al-Monitor:
“The Israeli occupation has always been there. It is essential that the Palestinian territories [including the Israeli settlements] remain administered through the civil administration of the Israeli army [in cooperation with the Palestinians] until this occupation ends…“Limiting the powers of this administration and giving its responsibilities to the Israeli ministries is a dangerous step aimed at annexing occupied areas under international law.”
In a new paper for The Century Foundation, Israeli pollster and political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin writes an important analysis regarding Israel’s path to annexation:
“This report argues that Israel’s slide into illiberal democracy can only be understood as part of an attempt to go beyond military or physical control and establish a political and legal foundation for permanent annexation of both land and people. The assault on Israel’s democratic norms over the past decade initially appeared only indirectly related to a future of permanent annexation, as they suppressed the mechanisms of dissent and undermined the basis for minority rights. Then, in the recent elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made explicit his goal to annex occupied territory in the West Bank, which represented the culmination (to date) of increasingly open policies and legislative initiatives from the previous term that explicitly advance annexation.”
The entire paper is worth reading, and is available online here.
From May 25-31, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis led a trade mission – purposefully and prominently also visiting settlements in the West Bank. While on the ground, DeSantis made headlines by blasting BDS, endorsing Israeli settlements, and gloating about Florida’s role in AirBnB’s reversal of its decision to remove rental listing located in Israeli settlements.
DeSantis signed several formal partnerships between Florida universities and Israeli schools, most notably including an agreement between Florida Atlantic University and Ariel University – the first such deal between a U.S. school and an Israeli school located in a settlement. In recognition of the historic deal, Ariel University presented DeSantis with an Honorary Fellowship Award at an event in the settlement, attended by U.S. casino magnates and settlement financiers Sheldon Adelson and Dr. Miriam Adelson. In his acceptance speech, the Governor invoked the Bible to lend his support for Israel’s permanent control of the West Bank, saying:
“We are now in the heart of the Holy Land of Israel. When you think about Israel’s history and the tradition that connects Israel and the U.S., it’s inspiring. On my last visit to Israel in 2014, the U.S. embassy was in Tel Aviv and we were on the verge of signing a destructive agreement with Iran, and I am happy that today we have achieved real progress. We have an American embassy in Jerusalem with an American acceptance of the sovereignty of the State of Israel on the Golan Heights and the agreement with Iran has been removed from the stage of history. I, personally, have fought Airbnb’s discriminatory policy against Jewish-owned properties in Judea and Samaria, and only recently have they changed their discriminatory policy. I say here: BDS has no place in Florida. The memorandum of understanding signed today between the University of Ariel and Florida State University is a blessed agreement that will bring these two institutions forward. I am happy to say that Florida is a very diverse state, but not when it comes to its unequivocal support for the State of Israel.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman also hosted DeSantis for a reception and Israel’s Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan joined DeSantis on a visit to additional West Bank settlements, this time in Gush Etzion, for a briefing about the fight against BDS. Friedman said:
“Israel has no greater friend in all the 50 governor mansions than Ron DeSantis. I welcome you and the Cabinet members and your delegation to this small but incredibly important country.”
As mentioned by Ambassador Friedman, DeSantis was joined by members of the Florida Cabinet on the trade mission, including Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried. In a controversial move, DeSantis convened a Florida cabinet meeting on May 29th at the Embassy in Jerusalem, despite a lawsuit filed in Florida seeking to stop him from doing so. The lawsuit was filed by a government watchdog group and several news outlets, arguing that convening the Cabinet in Israel violated a state law that requires government meetings to be accessible to the public. The lawsuit was dismissed because the court could not serve paperwork to DeSantis and the other named defendants – who were, obviously, in Israel.
At the Cabinet meeting on may 29th, DeSantis signed a bill to prohibit anti-Semitism in Florida’s public schools and universities. The new law wrongly conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel by including in the definition of anti-Semitism, “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” ″blaming Israel for all interreligious or political tensions,” and/or “requiring behavior of Israel that is not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
The next day, DeSantis met with Prime Minister Netanyahu while the larger delegation visited the City of David national park, which is run by the radical Elad settler group.
- “Israel’s High Court Seeks Order, Not Justice” (Haaretz)
- “Another Company Withdraws from Israeli Light Rail Project” (IMEMC)