Until mid-October, the Bennett Government could reasonably assert that all of the disturbing steps taken by Israel in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were not of their making, but had been inherited from Netanyahu. In contrast, the decisions of the last month, including the decision to designate six Palestinian human rights organizations as terrorist organizations, and the approval and tendering of thousands of new settlement units in the West Bank, are “owned” entirely by the Bennett Government.
The report below describes, in brief, recent developments in four sensitive East Jerusalem areas, each of which could have dramatic consequences for the stability of the city and the feasibility of any future political agreement: Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, E-1 and Atarot.
Each of these are important test-cases for the new government. Increasingly, this government will need to assume responsibility by actively preventing their implementation, or to be held accountable for these schemes and their ramifications.
Pending evictions in Batan Al Hawa, Silwan
On October 25, Israel’s Supreme Court held a hearing concerning eviction proceedings instituted by the Benvenisti Trust against the Dweik Family, which lives in the Batan Al Hawa quarter of Silwan, Jerusalem. The Benvenisti Trust is a family endowment founded in 1899, which acquired property in the Batan al Hawa section of Silwan, in order to house impoverished Yemenite Jews. In recent years, the Trust has been taken over by settlers associated with the East Jerusalem settler organization, Ateret Cohanim.
The hearing followed two lower courts’ rulings, which recognized the Trust’s claims of ownership, and included an eviction order against the Dweik family.
During the hearing, the Court dealt with the substantive claims of the parties and adjourned without reaching a verdict. We await further developments.
The Court refused to allow counsel for six internationally renowned experts in International Human Rights Law and to admit into evidence their amicus curiae brief, in which they concluded that international and Israeli law regarding the residents’ right to housing supersede that of the Trust to evict them. The Court rejected their motion to appear before it and state their claims.
Attorney General’s refusal to intervene
Representative of the Attorney General appeared at the court but declined to submit a substantive legal opinion addressing the questions raised by the Palestinian residents and the Court (i.e. the statute of limitations, claims regarding the abuse of Law of Endowments, and the status of building constructed in good faith on another’s property etc.). The Attorney General argued that the decision of the lower courts, in which the claim of the families were rejected, dealt adequately with these issues.
See Peace Now’s detailed report.
There are approximately 87 families in Batan al Hawa who are in a situation very similar to that of the Duweik family. It is possible that the Supreme Court ruling in the Duweik case will serve as a precedent in a number of these cases. Most specifically, there are pending cases currently before the Jerusalem District Court, in which the Trust is seeking to evict 19 families in Batan al Hawa. Last May, the Jerusalem District Court refrained from ruling on these cases, pending the Supreme Court ruling on the fate of the Duweik family.
For the historical background of the settlers’ effort to evict these families and the various decisions that have been made on the matter, see our detailed report from March.
After the October 25 hearing, a judgment may be forthcoming at any time, or another hearing set to continue the deliberations. We do not deem it possible to anticipate the outcome.
Launching the plan for a new settlement with 9,000 housing units in Atarot
On December 6, the Jerusalem’s district planning committee will hold a hearing to discuss the depositing of plan No. 764936 for the construction of 9,000 housing units in Atarot. Atarot is located at the northern tip of the city, within the boundaries of municipal Jerusalem as defined by Israel, and on the site of the defunct Qalandia Airport.
Even though this is at a very early stage of planning, it constitutes the first significant statutory step to advance a plan that could be as consequential and damaging as the construction of E-1.
The plan is not new (we reported that it was under consideration in 2012 and 2017). It has long been considered a settler fantasy with little prospect of being implemented. However, two years ago the Ministry of Housing announced its intention to implement the plan and the December 6 hearing is a major step towards doing so.
On December 6, if the committee will decide to deposit the plan for public review, Atarot may move from the realm of settler fantasy to that of a statutory plan that is being seriously expedited by the Government of Israel.
In December 2019 we reported: “This is by no means a routine scheme, and the construction of this settlement neighborhood will, like E-1 and Givat Hamatos, have a devastating impact on the very possibility of ever arriving at a permanent status agreement.”
At the northern tip of East Jerusalem, Atarot/Qalandia is geographically a part of Ramallah, separated from it only by the separation wall. Qalandia is part of an uninterrupted urban swath from Ramallah in the north, through Qalandia, Beit Hanina, Shuafat and extending to the neighborhoods in the urban core of East Jerusalem.
Due to its locations, Atarot is not dissimilar to E-1, and it will effectively fragment the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and form a buffer between East Jerusalem and its northern environs in the West Bank (Bir Nabala, Al Judeira, Al Jib, Rafat and Qalandia from the west; Ar-Ram, Dahiyat al Bareed and Jaba’ from the east; and Qalandia Refugee Camp, Kafr ‘Aqab and Ramallah from the north) and Ramallah. It will turn many of these neighborhoods into fragmented enclaves sandwiched between Israeli settlements to the north (Atarot), east (Pisgat Zeev, Neve Yaacov) and the West (Givat Zeev, Ramot), consolidating an Israeli grip on Greater Jerusalem.
Is the plan imminent?
In the past, we believed that location of Atarot is so problematic that it would require years of deliberations before the statutory planning committees grant their final approval. Given the persistent intensified efforts to expand the settlements, the approval process could be significantly shortened. The deposit of the plan for public review marks the beginning of the serious stages of the planning process, turning what has been until now a distant concept into a an operational plan being seriously pursued.
There is no room for complacency, and the earlier the Israeli authorities are engaged on this the greater the chances that such a dangerous plan can be stopped.
Last stage towards final approval of E-1
As we reported one month ago, the final statutory approval of the “doomsday” settlement of E-1 is approaching rapidly. Three hearings that dealt with the objections to the plan have already been held, the last of which took place on November 8 (the previous two having been conducted on October 4 and October 18). A fourth and final hearing will be held on December 13, when the Maale Adumim Municipality will respond to the objections.
This hearing will be the last stage of the planning process prior to the final statutory approval of the plan by the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration. After the hearings, we will be only one decision away from the final approval of the plan, which will basically rest on the Defense Minister’s decision to convene the Higher Planning Council.
See our recent report for more detail and our in-depth analysis regarding the importance of E-1 and its ramifications.
Sheikh Jarrah’s residents under threat of imminent eviction
On August 4, the Israeli Supreme Court proposed a compromise settlement to the parties in the first of tens pending eviction proceedings against Sheikh Jarrah residents. The Court instructed the residents and the Nahlat Shimon settler company to file their responses simultaneously, no later than November 2. It noted that if an agreed settlement failed to be reached, the Court would hand down its ruling based on the evidences before it. See our last report for an analysis of the proposed compromise.
The Palestinian residents in case decided to reject the court proposal. The settlement would have allowed them to remain protected tenants and avoid eviction for fifteen years, but would also have compelled them for all intents and purposes to acknowledge the ownership of the settlers.
One of the resident was quoted by Haaretz as saying: “We’re under huge pressure. […] We aren’t sleeping and don’t want to battle with everything around us. The talk is that if you’ve paid the settlers, then you are a traitor and that’s it. You’re finished. So in the end, we refused the offer.”
The Supreme Court explicitly stated that rejection of the compromise would lead them to hand down a verdict.
Given the court’s pace in hearing the case until now, we believe a verdict is likely to be handed down before year’s end. While anticipating the content of future court rulings his fraught with dangers and uncertainty, it appears more rather than less likely that the Supreme Court will not overrule the rulings of the lower courts, and the eviction orders will stand. There is no further appeal.
What to Expect on Sheikh Jarrah and E-1?
If our analysis and projections are correct, by year’s end or shortly thereafter there will likely be a Supreme Court verdict against the Palestinian families in Silwan, and the sub-Committee of the Higher Planning Board will approve E-1. Thereafter, the evictions can take place at any time, and the only step required for the final statutory approval of E-1 is its ratification by means of the signatures of the Minister of Defense, both technicalities which can be performed within a matter of hours.
In the weeks to come, we will likely hear from the senior members of the Bennett government: “don’t worry, we will not evict anyone in Sheikh Jarrah, nor will we build in E-1”. They will be very convincing, because they will likely be sincere. Yet, all it will take is a coalition crisis, a new election, or a terror attack with numerous casualties and the evictions will happen, and E-1 will be approved. The evictions in Sheikh Jarrah can be greenlighted at any time, and all it will take is one or two strokes of the pen – signatures on a dotted line by Defense Minister Benny Gantz – and E-1 will be approved.
There will be no trip wire, no advanced warning.