Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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September 27, 2019
- Israeli Cabinet Votes to Legalize the Mevo’ot Yericho Outpost, Pledges to Legalize More
- Israel Evicts Another Palestinian Family from its Home in East Jerusalem’s Silwan
- On Israel’s Agenda: Letting Settlers Directly Purchase West Bank land
- A Jerusalem Suburb is Building a Cemetery in the West Bank
- New B’Tselem Report: Apartheid in Hebron
- New Al-Haq Report: Israel Means to Crush Palestinian Life in the Old City of Jerusalem
- Bonus Reads
Questions/Comments? Email Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com)
On September 15th – two days before elections — the Israeli security cabinet voted to start the process of legalizing the Mevo’ot Yericho outpost, located just north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. If given final authorization by the next Israeli government, Mevo’ot Yericho will be the sixth official new settlement established by the state of Israel since it signed the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The Israeli Cabinet approved the plan during a meeting held, exceptionally, in a Jordan Valley settlement. The choice of the location for the meeting, which is a de facto expression of Israeli sovereignty over the area, is especially notable given Netanyahu’s recent promise to annex the majority of land in the Jordan Valley. Dismissed by some as a campaign stunt, the idea was nonetheless supported in principle by Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue & White party, who claimed that the idea was his first. The Cabinet’s choice to legalize the outpost and meet in the Jordan Valley was condemned by Palestinians and senior Jordanian government officials.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“This official establishment of another settlement proves yet again that the government is unencumbered by the thought of international backlash or the end to Israeli democracy on its way to annex Area C. The government continues to show blatant disregard for reaching a two-state conflict-ending agreement with the Palestinians. Instead, it prefers to take new strides in formalizing the acquisition of occupied territory and to control the area’s resources while permanently keeping the Palestinian population confined without full rights in isolated cantons.”
Paving the way for the Cabinet to approve the plan, Israeli Attorney General Mandleblit rescinded his earlier objection to the timing of the approval, apparently having been convinced that granting retroactive legalization to the outpost was an “urgent” matter. According to a source who spoke to The Times of Israel, Netanyahu convinced Mandleblit of the plan’s urgency by informing him that the Trump’s “Deal of the Century” will put outposts, including Mevo’ot Yericho, at risk for evacuation, and that Israel must “combat” the plan before it is published.
Israel’s move to legalize Mevo’ot Yericho is just the latest in the state’s efforts to effect the mass retroactive legalization of outposts that were built in the West Bank without required legal approvals of the Israeli government and its planning authorities. FMEP has documented this effort, and the legal manipulations that make it possible, in its Annexation Policy Tables. As Israeli calls for annexation become more common, this repository of policies is an illustrative, living archive of how Israel has already acted (and continues to act) to annex land in the West Bank.
On September 20th, a Jerusalem Magistrate judge ruled to evict the Palestinian Sumreen family from its longtime home in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The ruling is the latest boon to two powerful organizations, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Elad settler organization, which have for nearly 30 years been trying to evict the 18-member Sumreen family.
The Sumreens are expected to continue their fight to stay in their home, by appealing the latest eviction order to the District Court (and then, if necessary, the High Court of Justice).
The Sumreen family has been forced into the battle over its legal ownership of the home after the state of Israel, prompted repeatedly by the JNF, declared that the Sumreen’s home as an “absentee” property. After that designation – which was not communicated to the Sumreen family – Israeli law permitted the state to take over the rights to the building, after which the state sold the rights to the JNF in 1991. Since then, the JNF has been working to evict the members of the Sumreen family who continued to live there. The JNF ran into many obstacles in their pursuit, and for years Israeli courts ruled in favor of the Sumreen family’s ownership claims to the home. A full history of the saga involving the Sumreen family – which is similar to dozens of other Paelstinian homes in Silwan that were declared Absentee Property in the 1990s – can be found on the Peace Now website here.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“This is a cruel story that did not need to happen. KKL-Jewish National Fund has become a settler fund. It has repeatedly tried to throw a Palestinian family out of its home by exploiting a legal method that is stacked against Palestinians, and has not let go for nearly 30 years even after losing in court. This is part of an ugly process of using absentee property law based on questionable evidence to take Palestinian assets and give them to settlers, and to destroy the delicate fabric of life in Jerusalem.”
As Peace Now mentioned, the JNF’s activities in Silwan have been a source of repeated misery for the Paelstinians. For background, see this report on +972, as well as this commentary from Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran. Notably, controversy over the issue in 2009 prompted the JNF to issue a denial of any role in the efforts; this denial was contradicted by the facts, including the actual wording of the eviction order.
When Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967, it kept in place a pre-1967 Jordanian law barring private land sales to non-Arabs. Now, the Israeli Defense Ministry and the Israeli army have reportedly drafted legal opinions in support of canceling this law in order to allow settlers to directly purchase West Bank land. Those opinions have been submitted for consideration by the Israeli Deputy Attorney General, who, according to Haaretz, is expected to approve them with the backing of the Attorney General.
FMEP’s Lara Friedman weighs in here to explain the background of this issue and the magnitude of the proposed change:
“In 1967, Israel established a military government apparatus to run the West Bank, that eventually became the ‘Civil Administration’ (an Orwellian name, since it is an arm of the Israeli military). Israeli military governance in the West Bank was set up, at least in principle and at the start, to operate in a manner consistent with international law. International law requires an occupying power to leave in force the existing laws in the territory it occupies, with limited leeway for that power to issue new administrative orders or laws, but only in cases of military necessity or for the benefit of the local population.
Over the past 52 years of occupation, Israel has re-purposed this international law-based approach into a system of ‘rule by law’ (versus ‘rule of law’). Israel holds on to and enforces pre-1967 laws where those laws can be interpreted and used to serve Israeli objectives. Where those old laws obstruct or fail to sufficiently facilitate Israel’s objectives, Israel supplants them with IDF-promulgated rules, Israeli court rulings, and Israeli domestic laws (i.e., laws passed by the Knesset that apply inside sovereign Israel and are extended to the settlers – as citizens – and to matter that relate to settlers in the West Bank, in what increasingly constitutes a form of “legislative annexation.” [for more details, see Yesh Din’s excellent report, “Through the Lens of Israel’s Interests”: The Civil Administration in the West Bank].
As a result, since 1967, Palestinians in the West Bank have been governed by an ever-evolving legal system that includes: (1) pre-1967 laws (including exploitation of old Ottoman land laws as a means for Israel to declare huge areas of the West Bank to be ‘state land’); (2) international law of occupation (including exploitation of the Occupier’s right to use land for military necessity or the public good as a pretext for massive land expropriation and using land for the sole benefit of the IDF and settlers); (3) Israeli military orders (governing nearly every aspect of Palestinians’ day-to-day lives, including orders closing off access to land); (4) Israeli court rulings (like rulings that legitimize settlers taking over ‘disputed’ houses in Hebron); and (5) increasingly in recent years, Israeli laws, like the Regulation Law (passed by the Knesset and allowing Israel to transfer Palestinian private property to settlers who built on it illegally, based on the argument that the settlers were unaware that the land was privately owned by Palestinians).
Israel’s decision to leave the Jordanian-era law barring the sale of private land in the West Bank to settlers in place for the past 52 years should be understood as an Israeli government decision, reflecting Israel’s own calculation of what policy served its interests. Why would Israel want to limit the ability for settlers to buy West Bank land? For a number of reasons:
(a) security: wherever settlers move in the West Bank, their presence has the potential (even likelihood) of sparking violence and conflict that would compel an IDF response. Even absent such conflict, wherever there are settlers, the IDF is required to invest enormous resources in protecting them (including manpower, physical infrastructure). In short, if settlers can purchase land wherever they want, they can, in effect, hijack the IDF, at great expense to Israeli taxpayers and regardless of security considerations.
(b) international relations: settler activity in the West Bank has for most of the past 52 years been closely watched and sharply criticized by the international community, and especially the United States; so long as Israel maintained an official policy of being the sole authority that could permit the establishment of new settlements, it could limit (to some degree) wildcat settler activity and, where such activity did take place, it could disavow responsibility. Notably, in the earliest days of the settlement movement of the early 1970s, settlers did find a limited method of circumventing the Jordanian law (by purchasing property via front companies – a practice that continues to this day); while it is telling that the Israeli government did not at the time intervene to close this loophole in the law, it is equally tellingly that it did not dare use that loophole as pretext for annulling the law.
(c) diplomacy/peace process: unrestrained settler activity across the entire West Bank, undertaken at will and with an official green light from the Israeli government, contradicts even the thinnest pretense that Israel is not engaged in annexation — and annexation not just of settlement blocs, or Area C, or the Jordan Valley, but of the entire West Bank.
Today, all of these calculations appear to have changed. Israeli military and Defense Ministry advisers are reportedly advocating for Israel to change the law. To this end, they have come up with multiple legal arguments designed to forestall international criticism by arguing that such a change is, in fact, entirely consistent with international law. For example, they suggest playing cynical games with the requirement under international law that laws made by the occupying power be for the benefit of the local population. One idea is to argue that settlers are the “local population” and that Israel thus has an obligation under to adopt laws that are to their benefit (as FMEP has previously explained, in 2016 Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran opened the door to including settlers in Israel’s understanding of what constitutes the “local population” of the West Bank). Another idea is to argue that allowing settlers to buy West Bank land would provide an economic benefit to Palestinians. And a third is to argue that Israel has the right as the occupier, under international law, to annul the Jordanian law simply on the basis that Israel views it as racist and discriminatory laws — and citing the actions of the United States in Iraq as a precedent.
In sum, after 52 years of using every legal strategy available to ignore the protection afforded to Palestinians and their land under international law, today Israel is resuscitating the idea of international law in the West Bank — but only as a pretext for a new policy that, if implemented, should put an end to any debate over whether there is any real difference, in practice, between Israeli policies of de facto annexation, and an Israeli policy of official annexation. Israeli authorities and political leaders from across most of the political spectrum no longer even feign commitment to negotiating the future of the land and talk openly of annexation; and it appears that Israeli concerns that settler actions will hijack the IDF are outweighed by the desire to take concrete steps that demonstrate that — even without a formal statement of annexation — Israel has shifted to openly treating the entire West Bank as part of Israel.”
With conditional approval from the Israeli army, the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Mevasseret Zion is moving ahead with plans to build a cemetery in the West Bank. The Israeli army had to give its sign off on new cemetery because there is a standing no-construction order – issued by Israel – for the areas adjacent to separation barrier (which was recently used as a legal pretext to demolish 13 Palestinian buildings in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood, located in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank).
The IDF gave a conditional approval to the scheme, requiring the neighborhood to obtain additional approval for a plan that includes elaborate security measures for the cemetery. Those requirements include cameras, a 10-foot tall metal fence, and armed civilian guards at every funeral.
This is not Mevasseret Zion’s first step to extend into the West Bank. In June 2018, the anti-settlement watchdog Kerem Navot discovered that Mevasseret Zion had expanded into the no-man’s land between the internationally recognized 1967 Green Line and the Israeli separation barrier. That encroachment – which was unnoticed up to that point – is plain to see on Google maps.
In a new report, the Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem argues that Israel’s policies in Hebron are reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. Entitled, “Playing the security card: Israeli Policy in Hebron as Means to Effect Forcible Transfer of Local Palestinians” the report outlines the history, policies, legal decisions, and key events that convey the segregation and misery inflicted by Israel on Palestinians in Hebron.
“Some features of the regime employed in Hebron recall certain aspects of the apartheid regime in South Africa…This regime has created what is known as a coercive environment, in effect leading to the forcible transfer of thousands of Palestinians and the closure of hundreds of businesses. This violates the prohibition on forcible transfer enshrined in international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime. Twenty-five years of this segregation have normalized a shameful reality, in which the lives and rights of tens of thousands of Palestinians are trampled underfoot while the interests of several hundred settlers are promoted by violent means.”
In a new report, the Palestinain human rights organization Al-Haq analyzes Israeli policies vis a vis Palestinians living in the Old City of Jerusalem since 1948. Entitled, “Occupying Jerusalem’s Old City: Israeli Policies of Isolation, Intimidation and Transformation,” the report concludes:
“In the course of its 52-year occupation and annexation of Jerusalem, Israel has implemented an array of methods in order to isolate and intimidate Palestinians, and transform the city into its so-called ‘united capital.’ In doing so, Israel has unlawfully appropriated and demolished properties, closed Palestinian institutions, restricted religious practice, obstructed the economy, and implemented countless other measures with the aim of forcibly transferring Palestinians from Jerusalem. At the same time, Israel has attempted to Judaize the city through establishing residential and tourism settlements, changing the names of streets, and altering the landscape. Nowhere are these policies more apparent than in Jerusalem’s Old City, which has been a central target of Israel’s objective of erasing Palestinian presence.”
- “Even if the Settlers’ Party Lost, the Settlements Won“ (Haaretz)
- “Isarel’s War of Attrition Against A Palestinian Christian Town” (Haaretz)
- “Cable Cars Over Jerusalem? Some See ‘Disneyfication’ of Holy City” (New York Times)
- “[Letter from Silwan] Common Ground: The politics of archaeology in Jerusalem” (Harper’s Magazine)
- “[Podcast] Common Ground: Feet of clay: on the troublesome uses of archeology, past and present” (Harper’s Magazine)
- “Last Time a Jewish State Annexed Its Neighbors, It Disappeared for 2,000 Years” (Foreign Policy)