New settler units on Palestinian land hand Israel a powerful demographic weapon

There has been “a major uptick” in efforts to create illegal settlements in East Jerusalem either within or alongside Palestinian neighborhoods. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 28 May 2024
Follow

New settler units on Palestinian land hand Israel a powerful demographic weapon

  • Israeli authorities accused of exploiting Gaza war to create “more facts on the ground” in occupied West Bank
  • Uptick noticed in approvals for illegal settlements in East Jerusalem within or alongside Palestinian neighborhoods

LONDON: On July 11 last year, 68-year-old Nora Ghaith and her husband Mustafa Sub Laban lost their battle to hold on to their home in Jerusalem’s Old City — in which Ghaith was born — when Israeli police broke down their door and forcibly evicted the elderly couple.

The eviction of the last remaining Palestinians in an apartment building now filled with settlers was carried out under a controversial law. This legislation enables Jews to claim properties that supposedly belonged to their families before they were evicted in 1948, and were subsequently occupied by Palestinian refugees.




Since Oct. 7, plans for no fewer than eight new settlements in East Jerusalem have been fast-tracked. (AFP)

The Legal and Administrative Matters Law was passed in 1970 after Israel annexed East Jerusalem. The same law does not, however, permit the far larger number of Palestinians whose families were evicted from West Jerusalem in 1948 to reclaim the properties they lost.

In fact, the Absentee Property Law, passed in 1950 and amended in 1973, prevents Palestinians from reclaiming lost properties.

Both laws are doubly unjust, critics say, because Jews who left East Jerusalem in 1948 were later given Palestinian properties in West Jerusalem as compensation, and in being allowed to “reclaim” properties in East Jerusalem are being doubly compensated.




Israeli troops patrol the Palestinian refugee camp of Al-Fara, in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

Last year, the “deeply shocking and heart-breaking” eviction of the Ghaith-Sub Laban family and many other Palestinian families in East Jerusalem was condemned by UN experts as “part of Israel’s apartheid machinery at work, designed to consolidate Jewish ownership of Jerusalem and racially dominate the city’s population.”

The human rights special rapporteurs said such evictions were “a gross violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime,” and evidence of “intention to annex and colonize the occupied territory in violation of international law.”




Between Oct. 7 last year and March 10, some 98 Palestinian homes were demolished, research reveals. (AFP)

Less than a year on, however, two Israeli human rights nongovernmental organizations said that while the global community’s attention has been focused on the death and destruction unfolding in Gaza, there has been “a major acceleration in the promotion and fast-tracking of new settlement plans in East Jerusalem and a dramatic spike in the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

The Israeli government “is clearly exploiting the war to create more facts on the ground to predetermine the final status of Jerusalem and thwart all prospects for a negotiated political agreement, while forcibly displacing Palestinians from their homes and the city,” Amy Cohen, director of international relations at Ir Amim, told Arab News.

Ir Amim, or City of Nations, is an Israeli NGO working “to render Jerusalem a more equitable and sustainable city for the Israelis and Palestinians who share it and to help secure a negotiated resolution on the city.”

Research, carried out jointly with Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights, reveals that between Oct. 7 last year and March 10, some 98 Palestinian homes were demolished — an almost two-fold monthly increase compared with the period preceding the war.

At the same time, there has been “a major uptick” in efforts to create illegal settlements in East Jerusalem either within or alongside Palestinian neighborhoods.

These plans provide for more than 12,000 housing units. With an average 6.5 births per woman among ultra-Orthodox Jewish families recorded in the period 2019 to 2021, this means tens of thousands of additional settlers will be moving into East Jerusalem.




From 2008 to May 12 this year, 1,498 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (AFP)

According to the most recent census, approximately 361,700 (61 percent) of East Jerusalem’s population are Palestinian Arabs. The remaining 234,000 (40 percent) are Jewish — all of whom are regarded by the international community as illegal settlers in the territory, which has been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967.

The growing number of illegal settlements is especially concerning in light of the statistics for violent assaults in the West Bank. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, from 2008 to May 12 this year, 1,498 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — 10 times as many as the 149 Israeli deaths reported.

There is an even greater disparity in the number of injuries on both sides — 95,383 Palestinians and 2,373 Israelis.

The Israeli authorities “are certainly exploiting the circumstances right now, taking advantage of the fact that the international community is obviously overwhelmed with the horrific, catastrophic conditions in Gaza and all of its implications,” said Cohen.




The growing number of illegal settlements is especially concerning in light of the statistics for violent assaults in the West Bank. (AFP)

“So, while the attention is diverted there — and the Israeli government is complicit in this — the activists in the settler movement are really taking advantage of the circumstances to create more ‘facts on the ground.’”

These “facts” are motivated by the Israeli government’s policy “to ensure that Jerusalem remains what they often call the ‘united, eternal capital of Jerusalem,’ and to preserve the essence of the city being a Jewish capital.

“That means not only do they have to secure control over as much space as possible, but also over the demographic balance of the population — the demographic majority must be in favor of Jewish Israelis, which is being achieved by targeting the Palestinian population.”

She added: “These policies and these measures essentially put a cap on the Palestinian demographic, which serves as a form of — and it’s horrific to even say this — but a form of displacement and population control, to ensure that there will be a Jewish demographic majority in the city.

INNUMBERS

98 Palestinian homes demolished in Oct. 7-March 10 period in East Jerusalem.

12,000 Housing units planned in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem.

“And this has been playing out in the form of demolitions.”

Since Oct. 7, plans for no fewer than eight new settlements in East Jerusalem have been fast-tracked.

The fear, said Cohen, was that the situation was approaching a tipping point beyond which the implementation of a two-state solution would become impossible.

“If the international community were to come together today with representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and begin to sit down and draw some sort of road map, it would look very, very different than it did 20 years ago, during Camp David or even before that during the Oslo Accords,” she said.




The Israeli government ‘is clearly exploiting the war to create more facts on the ground to predetermine the final status of Jerusalem,’ said Amy Cohen.

“Obviously, any road map would have to be adapted to the reality of today. You cannot reverse most of what has happened up until now in Jerusalem. But you can certainly prevent what Israel is trying to do right now.

“And so first and foremost is the need to really address the here and now, to halt the major developments on the ground for settlements and to halt the mechanisms of displacement, such as demolitions and evictions.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

She added: “If the international community is really serious about a two-state solution, it needs to act now to hold Israel accountable to international law and the parameters of a two-state solution, and so far we haven’t seen that.”

Since the outbreak of the war there has been renewed discussion about the need to jump-start a new peace process, to renew dialogue toward an agreed-upon negotiated resolution.




The Absentee Property Law, passed in 1950 and amended in 1973, prevents Palestinians from reclaiming lost properties. (AFP)

“But with that, we have to bring back the centrality of Jerusalem in the debate, because without Jerusalem there is really no two-state solution.

“And as we all know, without a two-state solution, we will not be able to achieve peace and security for all of us, Israelis and Palestinians, living between the river and the sea.”

Battleground: Jerusalem
The biblical battle for the Holy City

Enter


keywords

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

Updated 5 sec ago
Follow

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

  • America, the largest historical donor, is now a ‘shameful outlier’
  • Major aid cutoff in January followed unproven Israeli allegations

LONDON: The US must restore funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said Human Rights Watch on Friday.

The organization’s appeal also referred to the UK, which, until it was lifted today, had also suspended crucial funding to the largest relief group in Gaza.

In January this year, UNRWA said that 16 countries had suspended donations to the agency.

These included the US, UK, Australia, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden.

After today, the US is the only country with an active suspension.

The aid cutoff followed Israeli allegations that 19 UNRWA staff, out of the agency’s 3,000 employees, had taken part in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel.

But an independent review released on April 20, as well as a UN investigation, found no evidence to support the allegations.

UNRWA officials also said that Israeli authorities had failed to provide evidence supporting the claims.

Last week, the US and UK both endorsed a set of UNRWA commitments “recognizing the serious humanitarian, political and security risks that would result from any interruption or suspension of its vital work.”

But despite signing the statement, the US has yet to resume funding to the agency.

Akshaya Kumar, crisis advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The US is now a shameful outlier as most donors have resumed funding UNRWA.

“Cutting off aid was disproportionate to the allegations against UNRWA from the start. Palestinians in Gaza are facing catastrophic food insecurity, massive shortages of medical supplies, and repeated displacement, and there’s no substitute for UNRWA’s networks, experience, and capacity to provide relief.”

UNRWA, which relies on crucial donations from national governments to carry out its work, has warned that it faces a financial crisis as a result of the stalled funding.

Washington has historically served as the largest donor to UNRWA, and contributed one-third of the agency’s budget last year.

But the US Congress has passed a law forbidding any new funding to UNRWA until at least March next year.

In response to the Human Rights Watch appeal, officials from the Joe Biden administration claimed that US funds were diverted from UNRWA to other aid agencies operating in Gaza.

As a result of Israel’s war, 90 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, and 96 percent are expected to face crisis or worse levels of food insecurity by September this year.

Despite the agency’s urgent humanitarian work in the enclave, it has faced a sustained campaign by Israel resulting in reputational and physical damage.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January that “UNRWA’s mission has to end.”

The country’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, said that the agency would “not be part of the day after” in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch has also documented two cases of UNRWA aid workers being struck by Israeli munitions despite having relayed their locations to the army’s personnel.


UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’

  • War has raged since April 2023 between the Sudanese regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces
  • The conflict in Sudan has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 10 million people, according to the UN

GENEVA: Talks between a United Nations envoy and delegations from both warring parties in Sudan have proven an encouraging first step, the UN said Friday as the discussions neared a close.
War has raged since April 2023 between the Sudanese regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s personal envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, invited delegations from the army and the RSF for talks in Geneva, focused on humanitarian aid and protecting civilians.
The discussions have been taking place under the so-called proximity format, with Lamamra meeting separately with each delegation at a time, in different rooms.
The two delegations were not scheduled to meet each other.
The discussions began on July 11 and are set to conclude on Friday.
Former Algerian foreign minister Lamamra and his team have held around 20 meetings during the talks.
“The personal envoy is encouraged by the willingness of the delegations to engage with him on critical matters related to the situation in Sudan, on which he seeks the necessary cooperation of the warring parties,” UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told a press briefing in Geneva.
“He now counts on the parties to promptly translate their willingness to engage with him into tangible progress on the ground, both in the implementation of existing agreements and through possible unilateral commitments.
“The discussions held in Geneva have been an encouraging initial step in a longer and complex process. The personal envoy will remain in close contact with the leadership of the two warring parties.”
The two delegations were comprised of senior representatives of the warring parties and included humanitarian, security and military experts.
The conflict in Sudan has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 10 million people, according to the UN.
A recent UN-backed report said nearly 26 million people, or slightly more than half of the population, were facing high levels of “acute food insecurity.”
The two sides have been routinely accused of war crimes, including indiscriminately shelling residential areas and targeting civilians.


Israel army says signs increasing that Hamas chief Deif killed

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Israel army says signs increasing that Hamas chief Deif killed

  • Hamas official: Mohammed Deif, commander of the Islamist group’s military wing, is ‘well and directly overseeing’ operations despite the strike

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army said Friday there are mounting indications that a strike in Gaza killed Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif.
“There are increasing signs that imply a successful elimination of (Mohammed) Deif,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a press conference.
Israel has already said the July 13 strike killed Rafa Salama, commander of Hamas’s Khan Yunis Brigade.
A Hamas official, without providing proof, has said Deif, commander of the Islamist group’s military wing, was “well and directly overseeing” operations despite the strike.
But Hagari said the two Hamas leaders “were sitting next to each other at the time of the strike.” He accused Hamas of “hiding what happened” to Deif.
“We will find out, confirm and reveal it,” Hagari said.
Video of the attack showed a grey mushroom cloud billowing over a busy street. The blast left behind a huge crater strewn with the wreckage of tents and a building blown to bits.
Two weapons experts told AFP that a sliver of munition seen in a video of the blast site circulating online was a tail fin from a US-made Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) that converts an old-fashioned unguided bombs into a precision munition. AFP could not independently verify the video.
Trevor Ball, a former US Army explosive ordnance disposal technician, said the JDAM was most likely used with either a 1,000- or 2,000-pound (450 or 900 kilogramme) payload.
Israel has said that Deif and Salama were two of the “masterminds” of the October 7 attacks by Hamas that triggered the Gaza war.
The Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Israel’s military retaliation has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.


Mounting home demolitions and settler attacks plunge a Palestinian village into crisis

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Mounting home demolitions and settler attacks plunge a Palestinian village into crisis

  • Bedouin communities in the West Bank face a double threat of rampant, unpunished Israeli settler violence and a frenzy of state-backed demolitions
  • Threats are pushing a growing number of Bedouin from their land and making any eventual independent Palestinian state a more distant reality, rights groups say

UMM AL-KHAIR, West Bank: First came the Israeli military bulldozers, which tore down a quarter of the homes in the West Bank Bedouin village of Umm Al-Khair. Then came the settler attacks.
In the aftermath, dozens of people were left homeless and without consistent access to water and electricity. Several were injured from pepper spray and sticks, and the village’s water pipe was cut — all, they said, as Israeli soldiers looked on.
”Where shall I go?” said Yasser Hathaleen, sitting near the rubble of his family’s homes, exposed to the blazing heat of summer with little to protect him. “To whom do I complain? I want a law to protect me. Where are the people of law?”
Bedouin communities in the West Bank face a double threat of rampant, unpunished Israeli settler violence and a frenzy of state-backed demolitions. Together, the two are pushing a growing number of Bedouin from their land and making any eventual independent Palestinian state a more distant reality, rights groups say.
The threats have intensified since the start of the war in Gaza, as settler violence surges across the West Bank — even as Israel faces growing international pressure to clamp down. Settler advocates hold key Israeli Cabinet positions that grant them important say over the West Bank, giving settlers greater control over their destiny in the territory.
Residents describe the escalating attacks
Settler violence and demolitions are nothing new in Umm Al-Khair, founded in the 1950s by traditionally nomadic people known as Bedouin, who settled there just after being uprooted from the Negev desert during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
Two decades later, Umm Al-Khair fell under Israeli security control when Israel captured the West Bank. Though Palestinians seek the area as the heart of a future independent state, Israel has established a rash of settlements across the territory, viewed by the international community as illegal and an obstacle to peace.
Settler attacks, residents say, began in the 1980s, after Israel built the settlement of Carmel just meters away from Umm Al-Khair. Today, Carmel’s large houses and lush gardens sit across a barbed-wire fence from the village, whose pipes are not connected to the Israeli water network and whose homes of corrugated tin bake in the summer sun.
Settler attacks were sporadic but not debilitating, residents said, until settlers established an unauthorized outpost, called “Roots Farm,” on a nearby hilltop.
“Since then, this farm, their only goal is to target the community, to violate the people’s lives and to attack and insult people on a daily basis,” said 21-year-old Tariq Hathaleen, an English teacher in Umm Al-Khair. Most villagers bear the last name Hathaleen, all descendants of the village founder.
On July 1, in a particularly brutal recent attack described by residents and activists, settlers injured about 10 people in the village with sticks and pepper spray that made people’s eyes water.
“There were so many women on the ground, lying on the earth, struggling to breathe,” said Basel Adra, a Palestinian activist who was in Umm Al-Khair that day.
Videos taken by Palestinians in the village and sent to The Associated Press showed a man residents identified as the leader of the outpost clutching a rifle as he strides past Israeli soldiers into the village.
The military told AP the forces were there “to maintain the security of all residents of the area, and to act to prevent terrorism and activities that endanger the citizens of the State of Israel.”
In another video, taken July 3 by an Umm Al-Khair resident, young settlers are seen tampering with the village’s water pipes as soldiers look on. The military said soldiers helped repair the pipe soon after.
But residents said the pipe was damaged by settlers again days later, showing AP video of a settler near the freshly damaged pipe. When sent the video, the military told AP the pipe was damaged by erosion, not settlers.
To Tariq Hathaleen, the settlers and the state are working toward the same goal: expelling his community from their lands. Umm Al-Khair residents say they have lived there since they were expelled from the Negev during what’s referred to as the “Nakba” — Arabic for catastrophe — when roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of what today is Israel.
The residents showed AP handwritten contracts appearing to show land sales from neighboring Palestinian towns to the founder of the village, Tariq’s grandfather, during the period when Jordan controlled the West Bank.
COGAT, the Israeli military body coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, did not respond to a request for comment on land ownership in the area.
“There’s no legal pretext for soldiers to remove us from our land. So what the settlers do is they make our life the most hard life, so we eventually leave on our own,” said Tariq Hathaleen.
Outposts and settlements are growing
As some settlers expand their network of unauthorized farming outposts atop West Bank hilltops — which rights groups say are the primary drivers of violence and displacement in the territory — others in Israel’s far-right government turbocharge settlement in the territory. In the last month alone, Israel’s government has legalized five formerly unauthorized settlements and made the largest land grab in the West Bank in three decades, declaring a wide swath of the territory state land.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the UN says settler violence across the West Bank has displaced 1,260 Palestinians, including 600 children, from their homes in Bedouin villages such as Umm Al-Khair.
The UN documented 1,000 settler attacks in the West Bank in the nine months since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, averaging four attacks a day. That’s double the daily average during the same period last year, according to AIDA, a coalition of nonprofits and other groups working in the territory. The violence has killed 10 people in total, including two children, and has injured 234 people, the group says.
With the rapid and easy establishment of farming outposts, rights groups say, settlers can expand their control of the territory through violence, effectively pushing the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state further from reach.
Outposts are now “one of the primary methods employed by Israel to take over areas in the West Bank and to expel Palestinian communities,” said a July report from Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
The crisis in the West Bank has reached such heights that Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, the outgoing Israeli general overseeing the territory, used his farewell speech July 8 to denounce settler violence.
“Under the auspices of the war, and the desire for revenge, it sowed chaos and fear in Palestinian residents who did not pose any threat,” he said. He accused settler leaders of not doing enough to halt the violence.
Legality of structures is disputed
Naomi Kahn, head of the international division at settler organization Regavim, describes Umm Al-Khair as an “illegal squatters camp” on land that belongs to Israel.
Following the recent round of demolitions, the Israeli military told AP that the structures were illegal and that their construction had been carried out “in complete violation of the law.”
Palestinians have long said that securing Israeli permission to build in the West Bank is nearly impossible.
“They knock down our homes, and then we rebuild,” shepherd Bilal Hathaleen said. “They come to knock them down again, so we will rebuild. We are not going anywhere.”


Tel Aviv blast leaves 1 dead, caused by ‘falling aerial target’

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Tel Aviv blast leaves 1 dead, caused by ‘falling aerial target’

  • Emergency services said the explosion took place around 0015 GMT in a building in the center of the city
  • Police and bomb disposal units were deployed to the scene and conducted searches for suspicious objects

TEL AVIV: An explosion in Tel Aviv early Friday left one person dead, an Israeli emergency services spokesperson said, with the army saying a falling “aerial target” caused the blast.

Emergency services said the explosion took place around 03:15 am (0015 GMT) in a building in the center of the city. Two people were lightly injured, Zaki Heller of the Magen David Adom medical service said.

An earlier police report had said seven people were injured, but they were mainly in a state of shock, Heller added.

The army said an initial inquiry showed that the explosion was “caused by the falling of an aerial target.”

“No sirens were activated,” it said in a statement, adding that the air force had “increased its air patrols in order to protect Israeli airspace.”

A resident of central Tel Aviv said he had been woken by a loud explosion.

“Everything shook,” he said.

Police found a body bearing injuries caused by shrapnel in the building, which is located on the corner of Ben-Yehuda Avenue and Shalom-Aleichem Street, not far from an annex of the US Embassy in Israel, spokesperson Dean Elsdunne said.

“It may have been an aerial explosion... We were very lucky,” said Peretz Amar, a Tel Aviv police commander at the scene, adding an investigation was “ongoing.”

“The police, along with emergency and rescue forces, discovered a man in his 50s in a nearby building who was found dead in his apartment, with shrapnel wounds on his body,” a police statement said.

Another 10 people with minor injuries were taken for medical treatment, it said.

Police and bomb disposal units were deployed to the scene and conducted searches for suspicious objects and additional threats, the statement added.

Residents were urged to “respect safety instructions and not to approach or touch debris or shrapnel that may contain explosives,” it said.