Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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November 21, 2018
- Supreme Court Upholds Eviction of 40 Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, More Likely to Follow
- New Report Calls on AirBnB, Booking.com to Stop Listing Rentals Located in West Bank Settlements
- Settler Council Uses Taxpayer Money to Finance Illegal Construction of a Racetrack in Jordan Valley
- Knesset is Advancing a Bill to Give More Land in Area C to the World Zionist Organization
- Conference in Knesset Will Make Case for Evacuating Settlers from Hebron
- Bonus Reads
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On November 15th, the Israeli Supreme Court denied an appeal that would have delayed the eviction of 40 members of a Palestinian family, the Sabags, from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The appeal asked the Court to take the time to reconsider ownership claims to the land. In denying the appeal, the Supreme Court upheld Israeli Jewish ownership claims to the plot of land based on its purchase in 1876. The eviction is expected to take place within months.
The land in question was abandoned during the 1948 war and was under Jordanian rule until 1967, during which time homes were built on it, including the those inhabited by the Sabag family. Notably, while Israeli law provides Jewish residents with the right to reclaim property lost in the 1948 War, it affords Palestinians no similar right to return to, or reclaim, property lost in that same war.
Responding the Supreme Court decision, 71-year old Mohammad Sabag said:
“We have two houses in Jaffa, on Hasneh Street and Hagidam Street, and we have 250 dunams [62.5 acres] in Yavneh and also in Ashdod. Why can’t I ask for my property from before 1948?”
In the early 2000s a company named Nahalat Shimon International (reportedly registered in Delaware, USA), “purchased” land in Sheikh Jarrah from the Jews who owned it prior to the 1948 war. Since then, Nahalat Shimon has been undertaking legal action to evict Palestinians. In 2009 the first eviction took place – sparking a sustained protest in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood which has garnered international attention.
The Sabag family has been fighting Nahalat Shimon’s attempts to evict them since 2008, claiming that the land was not properly registered with the Ottoman Empire prior to 1948, leaving ownership of the plot unclear. Settling the matter definitively, the Israeli Supreme Court refused to reconsider ownership claims to the land, saying that the statute of limitations has long since expired.
Looking at the broader impact of the ruling, Haaretz noted:
“The ruling will also make it very difficult for dozens of other Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to avoid eviction.”
A new report by Kerem Navot and Human Rights Watch details how online rental companies like AirBnB and Booking.com perpetuate Israel’s discrimination against Palestinians by listing rentals located in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The report, entitled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land,” details how rentals in West Bank settlements run afoul of the companies’ own business and human rights principles, and contribute to the economic viability and legitimization of the settlement enterprise.
On the eve of the report’s publication, AirBnB announced that it will remove 139 rental listings located in West Bank settlements, 15 of which are built on land which Israel has acknowledged is privately owned by Palestinians. Following AirBnB’s announcement, Booking.com signalled that it would not remove its listings from settlements, insisting that all their practices accord with all applicable local (Israeli) laws. According to Human Rights Watch, Booking.com has 26 rentals listings in settlements, 2 of which are located on privately owned Palestinian land that Israel expropriated for “public use” and then designated for the exclusive use of settlements.
Following AirBnB’s announcement, Human Rights Watch released a statement saying:
“By delisting rentals in illegal settlements off-limits to Palestinians, Airbnb has taken a stand against discrimination, displacement, and land theft. The continued business activities of Booking.com and other companies in settlements contribute to entrenching a two-tiered discriminatory regime in the West Bank.”
AirBnB’s decision sparked outrage and immediate calls for action from Israeli government officials, who are promoting several ways to retaliate against AirBnB. Officials have said that Israel will restrict AirBnB’s operations in sovereign Israeli territory and also levy a special new tax on its operations in light of its boycott of the settlements. Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan – whose responsibilities include fighting boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) – urged Israeli AirBnB hosts in settlements to sue the company. Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin announced that the Israeli government will consult with the U.S. government in order to assist Americans in suing AirBnB (which is based in San Francisco); 24 states including California have passed anti-boycott legislation intended to stop U.S. companies and individuals from participating in boycotts of Israel and/or Israeli-controlled territories (i.e. settlements), though unless AirBnB is competing for government-funded contracts in these states, there is no basis to use these laws against it. Eugene Kontorovich, who self-identifies as a key figure in drafting the anti-boycott (but really anti-free speech) laws for states, called AirBnB’s decision “anti-Semitic.”
Peace Now released a statement slamming the Israeli government response, saying:
“Even if Netanyahu and Bennett refuse to see the Green Line, the rest of the world differentiates between Israel and the occupied territories. International companies are interested in doing business with Israel but are not ready to accept the continuation of military control over millions of Palestinians.”
Two years ago, +972 Magazine was first to report on the discriminatory and illegal nature of companies which list rentals across the Green Line, in what the international community considers as territory being held by Israel under military occupation.
A freedom of information request filed by Peace Now and the Movement for Freedom of Information revealed that the Jordan Valley Regional Council – which Israeli municipal body thas authority for over settlements in the Jordan Valley and is responsible for enforcing building laws – is directly financing the illegal construction of a state-of-the-art car racing complex near the Jordan Valley settlement of Petza’el.
As +972 Mag and Kerem Navot revealed in August 2017, the large complex is being built partially on land that the Israeli army previously declared a closed firing zone, a designation which resulted in the forcible displacement of Palestinians who lived there. The land remains under this designation today.
In light of the track’s encroachment into the closed firing zone, the Israeli Civil Administration – the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry that acts as the sovereign power in the West Bank – issued a stop-work order against the construction in February 2017 (which settlers ignored). Demonstrating that, as usual, law-breaking pays off for settlers, the Civil Administration also announced that it was considering a “master plan” for a touristic site – including a hotel – in the same area (with the development designed not to cross into the firing zone).
Despite the Civil Administration’s intervention and promise of a pay-off, the Jordan Valley Regional Council transferred NIS 284,000 (around $8,000) in 2017 for the construction of the racetrack, and then approved NIS 5,615,000 (around $1.5 million) for the project in 2018, nearly all of which comes from a grant to the Council for the project from the Israeli Interior Ministry.
In response to the new budget documents, the Israeli Interior Ministry told Haaretz that the grant was approved but will not actually be transferred until plans for the racetrack receive retroactive authorization from the government.
Peace Now states:
“In recent years, the Jordan Valley has become the wild west of the West Bank, and it appears that the regional council, which is supposed to be the sovereign that enforces the law, is a full partner in the crimes taking place there. This is an absurdity that is unfortunately all too common in the settlements. The Jordan Valley Regional Council is following in the footsteps of its big sisters among the regional councils–Binyamin, Shomron, Gush Etzion and Har Hevron–which regularly funnel public funds to illegal activity to create facts on the ground intended to deny Israel the option for a two-state solution.”
Earlier this month, the New Israel Fund reported on the Knesset’s ongoing consideration of a radical bill that seeks to accelerate the transfer of almost all of the land in Area C to the control of the World Zionist Organization (WZO).
As we have reported previously, the WZO’s Settlement Division was created by the Israeli government in 1968 – and is funded entirely by 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” 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]. In addition, settlement and human rights watchdogs have repeatedly documented how the WZO’s Settlement Division has worked to take over additional land, including privately owned Palestinian land, in order to build more settlements.
At a hearing last week, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expressed his opposition to the bill (which is endorsed by the Israeli cabinet), saying it is unnecessary given that ministry staffs are already working to transfer more land to the WZO through an administrative process. MKs from the Jewish Home party have said they will bring the bill up for a vote at the committee level next week if they are not satisfied with the progress that the ministry staffs have made in transferring land to the WZO.
In June 2018, when the Knesset gave preliminary approval to the bill, Peace Now responded:
“the government is scandalously planning to give the biggest land thieves responsibility for managing the land distribution, which will continue to be done under the cover of darkness if the bill passes into law.”
For more information on this bill, read a complete background briefing by Peace Now.
Next week, the Knesset will hold a conference entitled, “Hebron First,” featuring Israeli civil society leaders making the case to lawmakers for the removal of Israeli settlers from Hebron. The event is being organized by MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List), Dov Khenin (Joint List), and Michal Rozin (Meretz). The President of B’Tselem, Hagai El-Ad, is expected to make a speech.
In a joint statement about the event, the MKs said:
“The settlement in Hebron is the expression of an extremist government policy that pours mass sums of money and endangers human lives to strengthen and maintain a handful of extremist settlers. The evacuation of the settlement in Hebron is a first and necessary step to promoting a diplomatic solution and bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end.”
Over the five months, the Israeli government has advanced highly controversial plans that promote the growth and permanence of settlements in Hebron. Earlier this month (November 2018), Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (who recently resigned) announced plans to build a new settlement above a section of the Palestinian market in the Old City of Hebron. In October 2018, the government announced a new settlement at the site of an Israeli military installment in Hebron, and in July 2018, the Cabinet decided to fund a new settler municipal body meant to empower Israeli settlers living in enclaves in downtown areas of Hebron, despite a court injunction against forming the body.