Settlement Report: January 11, 2019


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

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January 11, 2019

  1. Israel Opens “Apartheid Road” – Divided Road Eases Settlers’ Access to Jerusalem, Routes Palestinians Around the City,  Significant Step Towards Advancing E-1 Settlement Construction
  2. Israeli Businessman Opens Huge Mall in East Jerusalem Settlement Industrial Zone
  3. In Parting Gift to Settlers, Housing Minister Greenlights Construction of New Settlement Units for Outpost Evacuees
  4. Settlers Blame Obama for Slowed Israeli Population Growth in the West Bank
  5. Israeli Justice Minister Stands with Families of Suspects in Deadly Jewish Terror Attack
  6. Breaking the Silence Launches New Tour of Central West Bank Settlements
  7. Bonus Reads

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Israel Opens “Apartheid Road” – Divided Road Eases Settlers’ Access to Jerusalem, Routes Palestinians Around the City,  Significant Step Towards Advancing E-1 Settlement Construction

A key section of the “Eastern Ring Road” (Route 4370), located in the West Bank on the eastern flank of Jerusalem in the area of the planned E-1 settlement, officially opened to traffic on January 10th. Dubbed the “Apartheid Road” because a concrete wall runs literally down the middle of the highway, separating Palestinian and Israeli traffic, the road allows Israeli-approved traffic from the West Bank (i.e., settlers and the small number of Palestinians who have Israeli-issued permits) to more easily access Jerusalem than ever before — advancing the seamless integration of settlements into Israel proper and the erasure of the Green Line; the other side of the road is sealed, shunting traffic between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank while preventing any access to Jerusalem (East or West).

Map by Haaretz

Ir Amim warns that the opening of this section of the road may signals that Israel is on the verge of issuing building permits for the E-1 settlement plan, which received final approval but has been held up by the political echelon for years due to international pressure. The international community has long opposed E-1, in part based on the argument that territorially, it cuts the West Bank in half, preventing the possibility of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

Israeli officials have argued that the now-open road should resolve international objections to building the E-1 settlement, since it preserves “transportational continuity” by providing a route for Palestinians to travel between between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, as a substitute for territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state). 

When construction on the road resumed in 2017 after being stalled for a long period, Peace Now explained:

“If the road will be completed…Israel will be able to argue that Israeli construction in the area does not separate the West Bank because there is a transportation route for Palestinians. This argument, of course, is baseless because a thin line of road that connects separated territorial sections (creating ‘transportational continuity’) does not meet the need for the territorial contiguity essential for the development of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian metropolis. Without these territories, a viable independent Palestinian state cannot be built and prosper, and this could mean the death of the two-state solution.”

In a 2008 objection against the road that was rejected by the Israeli High Court of Justice, Adalah explained:

“The road further aims to consolidate and develop the Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and link them directly and conveniently to each other and to West Jerusalem. The road is simultaneously intended to isolate the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem from the main route of the Eastern Ring Road, from each other and from the West Bank. It would thereby turn these neighborhoods into islands that are isolated – geographically, economically and in terms of transportation – from their immediate surroundings and would end Palestinian geographical contiguity within and around East Jerusalem, thereby precluding any future economic and social development or expansion of these neighborhoods. The plan stands to cut the owners of agricultural land off from their lands, to dramatically reduce the accessibility of schools, health services and workplaces for residents of these neighborhoods, and severely disrupt their family and social lives.”

Ir Amim researcher Aviv Tartarsky said:

“Anyone with eyes in his head understands that it is impossible for years to maintain such a separation regime — it is immoral and impractical.”

At the ceremony marking the opening of the road this week, several senior Israeli government official boasted about the importance of the road. The newly inaugurated Mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Leon, said:

“the road is a true blessing for residents of Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill [Israel settlements in East Jerusalem]. Opening this road during high congestion periods will distribute more evenly some of the pressure on existing highways, leading to significant easing…in addition to solving traffic congestion problems, we are strengthening the Binyamin Regional Council [the settlement council in the area north of Jerusalem] and inaugurating the natural link between this area and Jerusalem.”

Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said the road is:

“an important step in linking Binyamin Council residents [settlers living north of Jerusalem] to Jerusalem and in strengthening metropolitan Jerusalem.”

The Jerusalem Municipality – whose public infrastructure company recently renovated the road, despite the fact that the road is located outside Jerusalem’s Municipal borders (not to mention outside of Israel’s sovereign territory) – issued a statement saying:

“this was a transportation project that came about as a result of cooperation between itself, the Binyamin Regional Council and the Transportation Ministry. The road was rehabilitated by Moriah, with funding from the ministry. It will serve Arab residents, especially those living in the Shoafat refugee camp. It will ease congestion in the Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill neighborhoods, distributing traffic more evenly.”

Israeli Businessman Opens Huge Mall in East Jerusalem Settlement Industrial Zone

A new Israeli-owned shopping mall opened in the Atarot settlement industrial zone in East Jerusalem, located in sight of Ramallah but inside the security barrier and within Israel’s municipal border, as expanded by Israel after the 1967 war.

The massive new mall is the crown jewel of the shopping empire built by Israeli businessman Rami Levy, who already operates a network of supermarkets in settlements. Like all of Levy’s projects (and settlement industrial zones in general), the new mall is branded as a socially-conscience, “coexistence”-building business initiative, with Levy and government officials praising the fact that the new mall will attract both Israeli and Palestinian shoppers and be home not only to Israeli businesses, but to to a few Palestinian-owned/operated businesses as well.

Levy recently told The Times of Israel:

“I see things from a social angle. What I have built, I built with the social aspect in mind. My instincts and my gut tell me this will be the most prosperous place in the country. There is very high demand for the project due to the size of the surrounding population. I’m not afraid of the security situation… When we started marketing there was a reluctance on the part of the (Israeli) chains because of the location of the project, but at the end of the day they understood the great commercial potential.”

Back when the project was first unveiled, the Israeli watchdog group Who Profits explained the falseness of this “coexistence” branding:

“The Jerusalem mall would mark a new stage in Levy’s involvement in the occupation economy…[which] began with providing services to Israeli settlers and continued with the exploitation of Palestinians as a cheap labor force in his supermarkets. He now appears to be turning his attention to massive construction projects on occupied Palestinian land and the exploitation of a Palestinian captive market in the East Jerusalem…Rami Levy is in a position that would allow him establish a large mall on “virgin land” because the Israeli authorities have prevented Palestinian businesses from competing with Israelis. Levy’s plan would take advantage of the fact that Palestinians do not have other large-scale retail facilities. A flourishing market in Bir Nabala was destroyed by Israel’s wall in the West Bank. And venturing into West Jerusalem is not an option for Palestinians, most of whom live below the poverty line. Although there is every likelihood that the Israeli authorities will portray Levy’s mall as beneficial to Palestinians, there are important facts to be remembered. Palestinians entering his mall will not be exercising the right of a consumer to informed choice. Rather, they will be captive clients — belonging to an occupied people.”

The Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq also wrote in advance of the project’s completion:

“Al-Haq further calls attention to the severe impact that the ‘Rami Levy’ project will have on local residents… and the economy as a whole. Because Israeli authorities rarely issue building permits for Palestinians, individuals living in East Jerusalem neighborhoods near Atarot, like Beit Hanina and Shu’fat, do not and will not have comparable large retail facilities. Smaller businesses will likely be unable to compete with the settlement mall.  Al-Haq reminds business owners that businesses benefiting from Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, and the violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that it propagates, may be found complicit in aiding and abetting these violations even where they do not positively assist in orchestrating the abuse.”

All of Levy’s stores are a target of Palestinian-led boycott campaign against Israeli goods in the occupied territories. Palestinian businessman Munib al-Masri has recently come under fire for a July 2018 meeting with Levy at one of his settlement supermarkets to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative. Masri defended the meeting, saying that he has undertaken an effort to revive the API to Israelis outside of the traditional peace camp. The Palestinian Boycott National Committee released a statement saying:

“The warm relationship revealed recently between a segment of Palestinian capital and Israeli capital is among the worst kinds of normalization. It gives the occupation-state a fig leaf with which to cover its continued occupation, ethnic cleansing, and racism.”

In Parting Gift to Settlers, Housing Minister Greenlights Construction of New Settlement Units for Outpost Evacuees

In June 2018, despite high profile political opposition and violent resistance by settlers and their allies, the Israeli IDF implemented a High Court order to demolish 17 structures (15 residential units) in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost, which were built without Israeli authorization on land that the High Court ruled is privately owned by Palestinians (leaving most of the illegal outpost still standing).

This week, with Israeli elections in sight, Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Gallant resigned from the Kulanu Party and joined Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party (and in doing so, forfeited his position as Housing Minister). Before resigning, Gallant delivered a parting gift to Netiv Ha’avot settlers: a last minute decision to fast-track the construction of new settlement units for them in the Elazar settlement.

Map by Peace Now

In addition to Peace Now’s comprehensive recap of the Netiv Ha’avot saga, FMEP has covered the efforts of the Israeli government to exploit the evacuation of settlers from 15 homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost as an opportunity not only to advance construction in the Elazar settlement, but also to build an entirely new outpost as “temporary” housing for the settlers. The “temporary” outpost – where 15 mobile homes are parked – and connected to Israeli water, power, sewage, roads, and other infrastructure – is located outside of the borders of the Alon Shvut settlement. That fact did not stop the High Planning Council (a body within the Israeli Civil Administration which regulates planning and building in the West Bank) from approving the plan, noting that “the plan is improper, but we will have to approve it as a temporary solution.” As part of its approval of the plan, the Council ordered the government to take steps towards expanding the borders of the Alon Shvut settlement to include the area on which the outpost has been established, underscoring the meaninglessness of the word “temporary” in this context.

In addition to the new outpost/expansion of the Alon Shvut settlement, the State is also planning to retroactively legalize and expand the Netiv Ha’avot outpost – proving once again that Israel does not punish settler law-breaking, but instead handsomely rewards it.

Settlers Blame Obama for Slowed Israeli Population Growth in the West Bank

According to new data published by the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, the 2018 settler growth rate came in at 3%, compared to 3.4% in 2017. This is the tenth consecutive year that the settler growth rate has declined. In explaining the numbers, settlers are pointing fingers at former U.S. President Barack Obama, citing his policies opposing settlement construction (which was in line with the policies of every previous U.S. president since 1967) as the reason for the decline in the settler population growth rate. The head of the Council, Hananel Dorani, said:

“We’re happy to see that the number of residents in the area is growing, but in recent years there hasn’t been enough construction in the settlements…the relatively slow rate of construction is the result of, among other things, an eight-year construction freeze [there was no such freeze], and today only small-scale plans are being approved [demonstrably incorrect]. These figures are a shout out to the next government: We will be demanding more of an effort to clear obstacles to construction in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley. This is the way to continue promoting the settlements and even increase the housing available in Israel, and as a result lowering [housing] prices.”

Israeli Justice Minister Stands with Families of Suspects in Deadly Jewish Terror Attack

Five Israeli settlers from the Rehelim settlement were arrested in connection with the murder of a Palestinian woman in October 2018. The suspects – who are minors and therefore unidentified in the press – are alleged to be responsible for throwing stones at a Palestinian vehicle, resulting in the death of Aisha Rabi, a mother of nine. The Israeli Shin Bet has since come under fire from Israeli politicians for the way it has handled the case, and settler leaders have offered blanket public support for the suspects and their families while leveling harsh criticism at the Shin Bet for its work to close the case. Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked went as far as to meet with the suspects’ parents in a display of solidarity with the families’ in their accusations against the Shin Bet’s work on the case.

Meretz chairwoman and Member of Knesset Tamar Zandberg sharply criticized Minister Shaked for the meeting, saying that Shaked has:

“different standards for Jews and Arabs…Instead of doing soul searching, (Shaked) is making an electoral calculation and running into the arms of families accused of terror.”

Breaking the Silence Launches New Tour of Central West Bank Settlements

The Israeli organization Breaking the Silence has launched a new political tour of the West Bank, focusing on settlements, Israeli government policy, and the goal of the occupation. After previewing the new tour, Haaretz columnists Gideon Levy and Alex Lavec write:

“during this seven-hour journey, an unvarnished picture emerges: The goals of the occupation were determined immediately after the 1967 war. Every Israeli government since, without exception, has worked to realize them. The aim: to prevent the establishment of any Palestinian entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, by carving up the West Bank and shattering it into shards of territory. The methods have varied, but the goal remains unwavering: eternal Israeli rule. That goal hasn’t been implemented only by right-wing zealots, but by the very establishment of Israel, its governmental agencies, with the backing of the judiciary and the media. On the road to a million settlers, the first million – all means were justified. Now, as that target draws closer, the central goal is the development of infrastructures. The separate roads, deceptive with their bypass routes, the tunnels and the interchanges, all of these are more fateful than another flood of settlers. They allow every settler to live in relative security, not to see Palestinians and not to hear about their existence, to live cheaply and to get to work in Israel fast. That’s the secret that’s made it possible for 650,000 Israelis to violate international law and norms of justice, to live in occupied areas and feel good about themselves. The occasional few bones that the occupier throws the occupied allows life under the boot to continue without excessive resistance.”

Breaking the Silence continues to run its flagship tours of Hebron and the south Hebron Hills, which attract approximately 5,000 participants each year to see the impact of Israeli occupation policies and radical settlers living in Hebron. Breaking the Silence staff are veteran combatants who speak out about the reality of what it means to serve as an occupying power over the Palestinians. Breaking the Silence has been a central target of the Israeli government in attempts to silence groups critical of Israeli policies by cutting their funding, criminalizing and restricting their operations, and waging smear campaigns against staff members.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Expanding the Limits of Jewish Sovereignty: A Brief History of Israeli Settlements” (Haaretz)
  2. “Israeli Housing Project in West Bank Would Surround Bethlehem with Settlements” (Haaretz)
  3. “Palestinians Are Right to Outlaw Selling Land to Settlers” (The Forward)
  4. “How Israel Usurps Palestinian Land In Calculated Stages” (Haaretz)
  5. “Peace Cast: West Bank Settlements” (Americans for Peace Now)
  6. “Minister Shaked says she changed the judicial system’s mindset” (World Israel News)