Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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October 25, 2018
- More Evidence of WZO Support for Illegal Settlement Activity
- Israel to Expropriate More Palestinian Land to Widen West Bank Highway
- Settlers Take Over Another Building in Silwan
- Hugely Disproportionate Amount of Government Grants to Regional Councils Go to Settlements
- Fearing Unfavorable Court Ruling, Palestinians Petition ICC to Stop Hebron Settlement Plan
- Cabinet to Consider Bill to Allow the Knesset to Overrule the High Court of Justice
- Knesset Advances Bill to Politicize Legal Advisors
- More Drama Surrounding Palestinians Who Sold Old City House to Settlers
- Israeli “Sovereignty Movement” Asks Candidates About Annexation Views
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Israeli non-profit organization Kerem Navot revealed new documents offering new evidence that the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization employs unlawful practices in its drive to help settlers build illegal outposts and unauthorized settlement structures on Palestinian land in the West Bank. The documents show that the WZO’s Settlement Division has regularly engaged in practices including:
- Granting loans – using taxpayer money – for illegal construction of settlement unauthorized outposts;
- Accepting highly questionable “collateral” from the settlers to guarantee such loans, including sheep, a chicken coop, date trees, and agricultural equipment; and
- Providing false confirmations to private banks that settlers owned or were legally working land, in order to enable settlers to acquiring private mortgages for homes in unauthorized outposts and/or homes built illegally in existing settlements.
Dror Etkes, founder of Kerem Navot, told Haaretz:
“It’s been obvious for years that the [Settlement] division has adopted unlawful patterns of operation after assuming the role of contractor carrying out the dirty work that state authorities have tried to distance themselves from having direct responsibility for. The documents show systematic and continuous unlawful conduct intended to support the most extremist and violent elements among the settlers, people who are responsible for the expulsion and expropriation of Palestinian communities from wide areas of the West Bank.”
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]. But apparently that wasn’t enough for the WZO’s Settlement Division: settlement and human rights watchdogs have repeatedly documented how it has worked to take over additional land, including privately owned Palestinian land, in order to build more settlements.
“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.”
According to Palestinian press reports, the Israeli Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz has greenlighted a project to confiscate vast tracts of Palestinian land in the West Bank, in order to widen a section of the West Bank’s main north-south highway, Route 60, in an area spanning between Bethlehem-area settlements to Hebron-area settlements. In addition to confiscating land to add two lanes to the road (doubling the number of lanes from 2 to 4), Palestinians fear that the highway expansion is part of a larger project seeking to expand the West Bank settler population to 1 million Israelis by 2030, as promised by Education Minister and the leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennet. The Israeli Transportation Ministry has reportedly allocated $50 million to the project.
Highway 60 is the sole major roadway providing north/south contiguity through the West Bank. Palestinian access to Route 60 is restricted in sections near settlements, and Route 60 has been completely severed between Jerusalem and Bethlehem by Israel’s separation barrier (there is literally a wall across the highway) in order to include the Efrat settlement on the Israeli side of the barrier. The economic, political, and social impacts of the closure of Highway 60 have been severe for the Palestinian population.
Ir Amim reports that the last remaining Palestinian tenants have been evicted from an apartment building located in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan, the site of the single largest settler takeover operation in East Jerusalem since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
The Abu-Sneina family was the last tenant in a 4-story, 10-unit building. The Israeli Custodian General transferred ownership of the building to the Ateret Cohanim settler organization (which works to establish Jewish enclaves inside densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem) in 2015, based on the settlers’ taking over management of the Benvenisti Trust, which oversaw the assets of Yemenite Jews who lived in the neighborhood in the 19th century. Palestinians have challenged the legitimacy of the Benvinisti Trust’s rights to the currently existing buildings, saying that the trust only covered the old buildings (none of which remain standing) and not the land. Indeed, the State admitted to the Courts on June 10, 2018 that the land had been transferred to the Benvenisti Trust/Ateret Cohanim without a proper investigation into its legal status. On June 17, 2018, the Israeli High Court of Justice ordered the Israeli government to provide more information and an explanation of the decision to give the land/buildings to the Trust. Nonetheless, in September 2018 the Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled that evictions could proceed in buildings that Ateret Cohanim controls, even though Ateret Cohanim’s ownership of the buildings – based on its control of the Trust – remains in legal question.
As FMEP has previously reported, Ateret Cohanim is implementing a multifaceted campaign to remove Palestinians from their homes in the Batan al-Hawa section of Silwan, claiming that the Palestinians are illegally squatting on land owned by the Trust. To date, Ateret Cohanim has managed to acquire the deeds to six Palestinian homes in Batan al-Hawa, inserting some 20 Israeli Jewish families in place of evicted Palestinian residents. The organization has eviction orders pending against an additional 21 homes, with 800 Palestinians at risk of eviction.
Yakoub al-Rajabi, a Palestinian resident of Batan al-Hawa, recently told The Washington Post:
“We know that this was a well-orchestrated plan to force us to leave. And if we stay, it will paralyze us and isolate us in our homes.”
In a 2016 report that covers the Batan al-Hawa situation in detail, Ir Amim and Peace Now underscore the significance of Ateret Cohanim’s efforts:
“If the settlers are successful, Batan al-Hawa is anticipated to become the largest settlement compound in a Palestinian neighborhood in the Historic Basin of the Old City, with the outcome of significantly tightening the emerging ring of settlements around the Old City and severely undermining the possibility of a future two state solution in Jerusalem.”
Celebrating the takeover of another building in Batan al-Hawa in August 2018, Ateret Cohanim director Daniel Luria told The Times of Israel:
“Every acquisition is very difficult. We’re up against a mobilized Arab world, parts of which are violent. There is huge pressure and millions of dollars are being pumped in to strengthen the Arab hold on the city…[the] biggest problem is trying to get the Jewish world to understand what needs to be done. We have the best relations ever with a US administration. For [US Vice President Mike] Pence and [US Ambassador to Israel David] Friedman and the others, [settling Jews in East Jerusalem] is a no-brainer. What’s our right-wing government waiting for? It’s not about what the US says. It’s about what we do. We are not doing anything to stop the peace process but will not compromise on a millimeter of Jerusalem. You have to show strength of conviction and sovereignty to have peace and coexistence. This can only happen when you live together under Jewish sovereignty.”
The Knesset Research and Information Center issued a report revealing that 25% of all state funds allocated to Israeli regional councils are given to West Bank regional councils, despite the fact these settlement regional councils account for just 5% of all regional councils operating on both sides of the Green Line.
Examining funding channels – including grants to regional councils for education, welfare, and for projects of the Interior Ministry – it was found that the settlement regional councils are far better funded than those located in sovereign Israel. Putting a fine point on the discrepancy, a student attending school in a settlement receives nearly twice the amount of government benefits per year as compared to a student studying in sovereign Israeli territory.
MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union), who ordered the report, points out that the report doesn’t even begin to document the total amount of money that the government diverts from sovereign Israel into settlements:
“This is only the tip of the iceberg, since the report doesn’t include the budgets that are transferred outside the budget plan, like the Settlement Division’s budgets that are mostly invested in the West Bank settlements and not in the State of Israel.”
The Adva Center, an Israel non-profit that documents and analyzes the cost of occupation on the state budget, published a report [full report in Hebrew, executive summary in English] in August 2018 showing that Israel is not only disproportionately funding settlement councils in general, but in particular is disproportionately funding settlement councils located deep inside of the West Bank, in areas that are most problematic to any future attempts to draw borders for a two-state solution. Adva writes:
“Non-Haredi settlements in the occupied territories are still to be found at the top on 3 measures. Compared to several other types of municipalities – the 15 most affluent Israeli localities, the largely Mizrahi “development towns,” the Arab localities within Israel, and Haredi settlements, the non-Haredi settlements continue to enjoy the largest per capita municipal expenditure, the largest per capita central government “designated” subsidy (mainly for education and social welfare services), and the largest per capita central government balance grant. The non-Haredi settlements, on the other hand, include, among others, the so called “ideological” settlements, many of them deep inside Palestinian territories and strongly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.”
On October 18th, top Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat sent a letter to the International Criminal Court (ICC) asking it to expedite the launch of a criminal investigation into Israeli settlement activity, citing the urgency of preventing the construction of a new 31-unit settlement in the heart of Hebron. Palestinians most recently referred a case against Israeli settlements to the ICC for investigation in May 2018, its eighth referral on the matter.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Tawfiq Jahshan – a lawyer for the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee – explained that Erekat’s letter might have been motivated by the Israeli government’s decision to approve the new settlement plan despite pending litigation against it. Jahshan said:
“There were deliberations [about petitions against the plan] and hearings. Most recently in June, the final hearing was postponed and the decision was to be notified — once issued — by way of email. But surprisingly Israel’s Cabinet approved Oct. 14 the financing of the project. By acting before the issuance of the judicial decision, the Israeli Cabinet gave the green light to the judges to refuse the objection…There is no competent Palestinian judicial body to examine such cases, so we have to resort to Israeli justice often unfair to us. Resorting to the ICC is a necessary step to face the injustice shown by the Israeli judiciary.”
To date, the Israeli Defense Ministry has not issued a response to either of the two formal complaints filed against the settlement plan. Both petitioners – the Hebron Municipality and Peace Now – have stated they will appeal the case to High Court of Justice if the Defense Ministry decides the settlement can be built.
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and her Jewish Home party have decided to advance a new, narrow version of the so-called High Court override law which will make it impossible for the High Court of Justice to strike down the Knesset’s plans to deport African asylum seekers and migrants. The new version has been narrowed in order to gain support from parties that are willing to see the High Court overruled when it comes to Africa asylum seekers, but opposed to a broader overrule law.
The decision to advance the narrower version increases the likelihood that the law will pass, and in so doing deals another body blow to Israel’s judicial system. At the same time, the decision drew protest from hardliners. Seeking to assuage right-wing critics of the limited plan, Shaked announced that Jewish Home will demand support for the broader version of the law as a part of a future coalition agreement (elections are widely expected to be called soon, meaning the governing coalition agreement will need to be renegotiated). If the broader version passes into law, the Knesset will be able to reinstate any law struck down by the High Court (including most relevantly, the settlement Regulation Law, if it is struck down as expected).
Economic Minister Moshe Kahlon (leader of the Kulanu Party, which is part of the current governing coalition) has effectively blocked the broader bill from moving forward by whipping his party members to stand firm against it. Kahlon has taken heat from all sides concerning his support for the limited version this week. From the left, Zionist Union MK Michal Biran said:
“Kahlon declared he would support a narrow notwithstanding clause, concerning the infiltrators. Meaning, in some cases it’s allowed to bypass the High Court, but in other cases it’s not. Kahlon’s attempt to run between the raindrops in this extremist right-wing government shows lack of ideology, lack of trust in the justice system, and lack of trust in the fact the public is not stupid. Kahlon’s voters wanted to see a man in the government who represents the sane center, and got a submissive slave of Netanyahu. With his own hands Kahlon is helping bypass Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty over political whims.”
From the right, MK Shuli Mualim said:
“This is a test Minister Kahlon, who has for months been preventing the enactment of the broader legislation on the issue … the bill formulated now is exactly the kind of bill Kahlon claimed he would support. I expect him to keep his promises to the residents of southern Tel Aviv.”
The narrow bill will be presented to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation at its next meeting on October 28th, and is expected to receive the seal of government-backing. If the committee votes to back the bill, it will then be sent to the Knesset where it will need to pass three readings.
On October 22nd, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee reviewed a bill being promoted by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that, if passed, will allow each government minister to select his/her own ministerial legal advisor, a move which politicizes a key office charged with ensuring that the rule of law is followed when implementing policy. Legal advisors have the authority to block actions of the minister if they are deemed unlawful, a critical power that requires political independence from the ruling coalition and party figure at the head of the ministry. The bill has already passed its first Knesset reading.
The Haaretz Editorial Board published blistering piece on the bill, writing:
“Instead of legal advisers who are honest, independent, loyal to the law and prepared to warn against illegal, corrupt and improper activity, we will have legal advisers who close their eyes to government corruption and who will be prepared to whitewash anything. Instead of independent advisers we will get dependent and submissive ones.”
There has been widespread criticism of Shaked’s bill, including from Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (who argued against the law before the Knesset), Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and many other legal luminaries.
The Israeli Shin Bet arrested (and later released) two Palestinian Authority (PA) officials suspected of abducting a Palestinian-American real estate dealer who was allegedly involved in the sale to an Israeli settler organization of a house in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, abutting the al-Aqsa Mosque. The two men arrested were Adnan Ghaith, who was appointed as the Governor of Jerusalem by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Jihad al-Fakih, the director of the PA’s intelligence efforts in Jerusalem. The PA claims that the Palestinian-American man surrendered himself willingly into its custody, where he reportedly remains under interrogation at the order of President Abbas. The unnamed individual’s family has submitted requests for help to the American Embassy in Jerusalem. The U.S. State Department has said it is in touch with the PA about the reports.
The settler organization known as the “Sovereignty Movement” has polled candidates running in the upcoming Israeli local elections on their support for annexation policies. The resulting compendium of candidate statements in support of annexation was published in the Arutz Sheva settler-aligned news outlet.
Local elections will be held October 30th across Israel and West Bank settlements. The Sovereignty Movement released a statement calling on candidates to support annexation, saying:
“Implementing Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria constitutes the next essential step in the Zionist vision of the return of the People of Israel to its Land, and a vital step in security, but is also necessary in order to provide civil rights for the residents of Judea and Samaria that is equal to those of the rest of the citizens of Israel. The heads of local authorities understand well the difficult challenges in dealing with military figures to promote even the elementary civil needs of the residents. Applying sovereignty will put a stop to the discrimination and harming almost a half-million Judea and Samaria residents. This is the time to tell the different candidates in the various authorities: Support sovereignty and we will vote for you!.”
- “Israel Has Chosen Settlements Over Security” (The Forward)