Facts on the Ground Peace Index, Volume VII
(Covering Period: February 2, 2014 to March 3, 2014)
See here for part one, here for part two, here for part three, here for part four,here for part five, and here for part six.
Note: The Peace Index is focused on the actions of the Israeli government and military, and statements of Israeli officials. It does not include frequent attacks carried out by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property and other non-official provocations and incitement, nor is it comprehensive in nature.
- On March 3, Israel’s central bureau of statistics reported that the number of new construction starts on settlement units in the occupied West Bank more than doubled in 2013 over the previous year. In 2012, construction began on 1133 new housing units in settlements compared to 2534 last year. During the same time period, there was a 3.4% increase in housing starts within Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders.
- On February 23, Haaretz newspaper reported that Israel’s Defense Ministry was in the process of legalizing (according to Israeli law) the settlement “outpost” of Avigayil, in the south Hebron Hills in the southern occupied West Bank, instead of demolishing it, as Israeli law currently requires. Avigayil was one of 26 “outposts” (nascent settlements built without official government approval) that then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged to evacuate as part of the US “Road Map” to peace in 2003. The article noted:
“Avigayil is part of a chain of Jewish settlements and unauthorized outposts in the area that is rapidly expanding into a bloc that also includes Beit Yattir, Havat Lucifer, Mitzpeh Yair, Susiya, Maon, Havat Maon and Carmel. The official combined area of the legal settlements in the area, excluding Maon and Avigayil, is 10,180 dunams [approximately 2515 acres].”
- Also on February 23, the Israeli government’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to reject a bill proposed by a member of the opposition that would have offered financial compensation for Israeli settlers to leave the occupied West BankOn February 16, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by Palestinians from the South Hebron Hills seeking the return of more than 75 acres of land taken by Jewish settlers from the settlement of Susiya.
- Also on February 16, the Israeli government approved new criteria for so-called “national priorities” areas, adding 35 isolated West Bank settlements to the program which grants income tax breaks and other housing, infrastructure, education, security and culture subsidies to residents. According to Haaretz: “None of the settlements expected to be included are in the settlement blocs that, it is widely assumed, will be annexed to Israel if an agreement with the Palestinians is ever reached. Most of the beneficiaries are in the Jordan Valley and the Hebron Hills.”
- On February 12, Israeli authorities advanced plans for the construction of a nine-story building to house a Jewish seminary, aimed at English-speaking Americans and other foreigners, in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah is one of several areas in the occupied eastern half of the city where Jewish settlers have been attempting to gain a foothold with the intention of driving the Palestinian residents out. One member of the planning committee who opposed the move called it a “provocation.”
- On February 5, Israeli authorities approved 558 new apartment units to be built in settlements in East Jerusalem.
PROVOCATIVE MILITARY RAIDS & KILLINGS OF PALESTINANS
- On March 3, 31-year-old Sharif Nasser and another man in his early twenties, Musaad Alzaneen, were killed by the Israeli air force in Gaza. Israel accused Alzaneen of being an Islamic Jihad member planning attacks against Israel.
- On March 1, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a mentally ill 57-year-old woman, Aminah Atiyeh Qudeih, in southern Gaza near the Israeli wall that surrounds most of the tiny besieged coastal strip. Witnesses reported that the Israeli military prevented an ambulance from reaching the scene until the next morning, at which point medical workers found the victim dead.
- On February 27, Israeli soldiers killed 24-year-old Muatazz Washaha in his home in Birzeit near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Soldiers knocked down part of the home with a bulldozer and opened fire on the building, including with an anti-tank missile after Washaha refused to come out. Upon entering the building soldiers shot Washaha dozens of times at point blank range. The Israeli military said that an assault rifle was found inside the home but did not claim the victim used it to fire on them. Washaha was wanted by Israel for his involvement with the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Washaha’s family and witnesses accused the army of murdering him, pointing out that soldiers refused the requests of relatives to be allowed to enter the home to try and convince him to surrender.
- On February 26, Amnesty International released a report entitled “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank,” which documented “mounting bloodshed and human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as a result of the Israeli forces' use of unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force against Palestinians since January 2011." The report found that “Israeli forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity.” It noted that Israeli forces killed more Palestinians in the West Bank last year than were killed in 2011 and 2012 combined. The director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, Philip Luther, concluded:
“The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers – and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators – suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy.”
The report called on the US, European Union, and the rest of the international community to suspend arms transfers to Israel until these abuses are addressed.
- On February 24, a 47-year-old man from Jerusalem, Jihad Abd al-Rahman al-Taweel, died several weeks after falling unconscious after being pepper sprayed by guards inside an Israeli prison. Al-Taweel was serving a three-month sentence for driving without a license.
- On February 13, 26-year-old Ibrahim Mansour was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers and another man wounded as they collected gravel and scrap metal near the wall that surrounds Gaza. According to a UN report, the next day Israeli soldiers used live ammunition against a group of civilians who approached the wall to protest the no-man’s land that Israel enforces along the wall inside Gaza, which covers approximately 17% of Gaza’s land area, including 35% of its agricultural land, wounding 17 people, including four children.
- The same UN report noted that between the start of 2014 and February 17, Israeli soldiers injured 41 Palestinians in the Jalazone refugee camp in the West Bank, including six children, with 83% of the injured shot with live ammunition. In December, 15-year-old Wajih al-Ramahi was shot in the back and killed in Jalazone by soldiers using live ammunition. In that case, Human Rights Watch issued a report concluding, “No evidence has been presented by the Israeli authorities” that al-Ramahi “posed any threat to life that would justify such a killing."
- The UN reports that between January 1 and February 24, the Israeli army launched an average of 84 arrest raids each week into Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank.
EVICTIONS & DEMOLITIONS OF PALESTINIAN HOMES & STRUCTURES
Note: Israel usually destroys Palestinian homes, both within Israel’s pre-1967 borders and inside the occupied territories, on the pretext that the structures were built without permission from Israeli authorities, however as the recently released 2013 US State Department Human Rights Report for Israel and The Occupied Territories noted, “In both the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli authorities placed often insurmountable obstacles in the way of Palestinian applicants for construction permits.”
- On February 28, Israeli authorities confiscated playground equipment donated by the Italian government to the children of a Bedouin village east of Jerusalem, Khan al-Amar. The village is home to members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, who were expelled from their ancestral lands in the Negev (Naqab to Palestinians) desert by the Israeli government in the 1950s. Israeli authorities have also issued demolition orders against the local school, an ecologically friendly building that was built with European financial aid. As is the case for Palestinians elsewhere in the occupied territories, Israel prohibits the people of Khan al-Amar from connecting to the electrical grid or water network and prevents them from building much-needed homes and other structures.
- On February 24, Israeli authorities issued demolitions orders against a number of structures in the Jabal al-Baba neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, affecting some 40 families, or about 300 people.
- On February 17, Israeli authorities destroyed five steel structures belonging to the Bedouin Jahalin tribe in occupied East Jerusalem, leaving 55 people homeless.
- On February 12, Israeli forces destroyed the entire village of Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank for the second time this year, leaving 24 people homeless, including nine children. Israeli soldiers also destroyed the only water pipe serving the village. A week earlier, the Red Cross stopped delivering emergency tents to Palestinians displaced in the Jordan Valley because the Israeli army was systematically confiscating them, leaving the remaining residents of Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah with one tent for shelter.
- On February 10, Israeli forces destroyed a home in occupied East Jerusalem, leaving an Arab-Jewish couple and their five children homeless, in addition to destroying a currently uninhabited caravan.
- On February 7, 25 aid agencies that operate in the occupied territories, including Oxfam and Christian Aid, signed a statement expressing alarm at a steep increase in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and other property, which they noted were at a five-year high. The statement also noted that the number of demolitions carried out by Israel between July 2013, when talks restarted, and December 2013, increased by almost half over the same period in 2012, while the number of Palestinians displaced increased by almost three quarters.
- On February 6, the UN reported that in 2013 Israel destroyed 390 shacks and other Palestinian structures in the Jordan Valley, more than twice as many as 2012, when 172 structures were destroyed.
- On February 5, Israeli authorities destroyed three Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem and forced another man to destroy his own home, leaving 28 people homeless. In response to the destruction, civil unrest broke out leading to the injury of 15 Palestinians, according to press reports. (See here for video of the demolitions and interviews with some of the Palestinians made homeless.)
PROVOCATIVE & INFLAMMATORY STATEMENTS FROM SENIOR ISRAELI OFFICIALS
- On February 26, Israeli media reported that a meeting between the US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, and a group of right-wing parliamentarians from Israel’s coalition government intended to improve relations between the Obama administration and Israel’s right turned ugly, with the legislators accusing the US of failing to support Israel strongly enough. The Knesset members in attendance from Netanyahu’s Likud party included governing coalition chairman Yariv Levin, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin and Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, along with a half dozen members of the Jewish Home party, and one member of the Yesh Atid party. David Rotem, of the Jewish Home, questioned America’s commitment to Israel, asking: “How can we depend on you? When have you stood by us?" Deputy Minister Hotovely warned that any agreement that called for the removal of settlers from the occupied territories would lead to the collapse of the government and be opposed by most members of Likud, stating:
“Any framework agreement that talks about the 1967 lines or includes the evacuation of settlements or giving up sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem will lead to the fall of the current government… [there is no] real possibility of bridging the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians and no majority in Likud for a plan containing a division of the land.”
Coalition Chairman Levin told Shapiro that the US should support Israel unconditionally, even when it disagrees with Israel’s actions, stating: "We see our alliance with you as unconditional. When there is a true alliance, it is proved by you standing behind us, even when you think we're wrong.” Moshe Feiglin, a notorious extremist appointed as a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset by Netanyahu last year, claimed that the refusal of the US government to release Jonathan Pollard, a US citizen sentenced to life in prison in 1986 for spying for Israel, "reeked of anti-Semitism." After the meeting, Rotem and fellow Jewish Home Knesset member Orit Strock sent Shapiro a letter stating: "We are convinced you understood that we disagree on the principles you laid out for us as a basis for diplomatic negotiations, and we are determined to prevent this kind of deal.”
- On February 20, more than 21 members of the Israeli Knesset, including seven deputy ministers in the government, sent Netanyahu a letter warning against any freeze in settlement construction, as media reports claimed the US was requesting. The letter’s signatories included Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, who is a settler himself, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, Ofir Akunis, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, all of whom are members of Netanyahu's Likud party. Netanyahu’s coalition chairman Levin told Israeli Army Radio that the letter was intended to "strengthen the prime minister's policy” of expanding settlements, adding that there is a “solid bloc of MKs in the Knesset that [are] determined to preserve the settlement enterprise."
- On February 19, settler media reported that Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who is also a settler, lashed out at reports that the US was requesting a settlement freeze, saying a freeze “is a redundant, deluded idea.” Adding that Secretary Kerry had made "severe mistakes" in the ongoing peace negotiations, he continued:
"If we look 270 degrees around Israel, we can see how everything the Americans touch escapes from their hands… Thus we have Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and more. Everything is one giant failure and it is worth it for the Americans to stop and think about what they have done. Let them think about it and correct it."
Asked about reports that settlement construction had increased greatly in 2013 over the previous year, Ariel replied:
"It's not good enough, but this is still significant progress… It fills me with joy to announce it and the fact that we have just approved 296 new housing units for Beit El."
- On February 18, Deputy Knesset Speaker Feiglin issued a statement calling on the government to “implement Israeli sovereignty” over the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, known as the Temple Mount to Jews. The Noble Sanctuary is one of the holiest of sites for Jews and Muslims and has long been a flashpoint for violence as Jewish extremists have attempted to extend Israeli control over the area, including through plots to destroy the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. The statement was signed by several other members of Israel’s governing coalition including coalition Chairman Levin and Miri Regev from Netanyahu’s Likud party.
“The Knesset calls upon the Prime Minister to implement Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, to stop the discrimination there and to allow all people to ascend the Mount through any of the entry gates, regardless of religion, race, sex or nationality - in accordance with the fundamental laws of Israel."
Israeli law currently prohibits Jews from praying on the Muslim holy site to prevent conflict. Additionally, since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the June 1967 War most Israeli rabbis have prohibited Jewish worship on the site for theological reasons.
- On February 17, Naftali Bennett, who is also Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that Israel was attempting to exercise greater control over the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem. Bennett told the conference that he had already taken measures that would "ultimately influence the eastern side of Jerusalem, and that will include the Temple Mount.” He also denied that Israel was occupying the West Bank or East Jerusalem, stating: “There’s a land dispute, that’s no secret, but it’s no occupation because you can’t occupy your own home.”
- On March 13, a number of members of Israel’s Knesset, including ministers and deputy ministers from Netanyahu’s government, marched with thousands of young right wing Israelis and notorious extremists such as Rabbi Dov Lior from the settlement of Maale Adumim outside of East Jerusalem to the so-called “E1” corridor of land which if colonized by Israel would effectively sever the West Bank into two parts. Speakers demanded that Israel build settlements in E-1, something Israeli governments have resisted doing in the face of intense pressure from the US and international community. Inflammatory statements made by senior government officials included:
- Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, declared to the crowd: “We will continue to build communities in all of [Greater] Israel… We need to build in E1, and anyone who opposes this opposes the Maale Adumim [settlement] bloc becoming part of the State of Israel and shouldn’t tell tall tales…One land, one country, strong and united, with Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and Hebron.”
- Housing Minister and settler Ariel pledged that "between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there will only be one state — the state of Israel,” adding “Israel cannot give in to pressure, regardless of who it’s from. The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”
- Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, who is also a settler and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, declared, “We’re here to tell the whole world that the land is ours and we have the right to build on it.”
- Deputy Defense Minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party Danny Danon, stated: “Just as Netanyahu, in his first term [1996-1999], built in Har Homa [an East Jerusalem settlement], and then, too, the Americans applied pressure and threatened, and the Palestinians threatened, and today there are 6000 apartments there, and also kindergartens, here, too, we’ll build thousands of houses.”
- The son of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, from the Yisrael Beiteinu party, said, "I come to politics to promote and strengthen the settlement, and to remove the doubts regarding our way."
- On February 7, Housing Minister and settler Ariel told a group of leaders from the Zionist Council in Israel and the World Zionist Organization: “We will build in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank] and we will also build in [occupied East] Jerusalem, there is no way that we won't build in every part of the Land of Israel.”
- On February 6, Minister of the Economy and Religious Services Bennett blamed the US for "wrong decisions” that endangered Israel, stating: “Washington insisted on instituting elections for the Palestinians, and they elected Hamas… Washington insisted that Israel withdraw from Gaza, and in return we got tens of thousands of rockets on southern Israel, after democratically elected Hamas took over Gaza.”
- Also on February 6, Deputy Minister of Religious Services Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan of Bennett’s Jewish Home party told a group of extreme right-wing Israeli settler activists that Israel should annex the occupied West Bank, stating:
"We demand that Israeli sovereignty be applied on all of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. This is our land – we were never ashamed of it… I was born in Morocco, and everyone who made aliyah knows that the Jews simply wanted to reach the Land of Israel, and they were never told that one place is alright and the other is off bounds…”
"We were warned when we [annexed occupied East] Jerusalem, and we did it in the Golan, too – yet the state of Israel is still alive… The same thing will happen when we do it with Judea and Samaria – at first there will be various statements, but in the end they will get used to it and understand. When our determination is clear, and we project certainty in the justice of our path, everyone will accept it, because that is the world's nature.”
- On February 5, Housing Minister Ariel declared: “Everyone in the [governing] coalition agrees, including [Justice Minister Tzipi] Livni and [Finance Minister Yair] Lapid, that the major settlement blocs will remain intact, the Jordan Valley will remain part of Israel, there cannot be a right of return and Jerusalem will remain united.”
- Also on February 5, Israeli media reported that a group of right-wing nationalist rabbis had sent an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry telling him that he had declared war on god because he was pressuring Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. The letter warned Kerry to stop the negotiations "in order to avoid severe Heavenly punishment for everyone involved."
- On February 4, Bennett declared: "Our job is to turn the state into a real Jewish state…. Every day, the state is becoming more Jewish and that is a great blessing… In the end, that is the battle: Are we a regular country like Norway or Sweden or are we a Jewish state? That is our role."
- Also on February 4, Housing Minister Ariel told a conference sponsored by a far-right settler media outlet "Across the Jordan River there will be only one state, and that is the State of Israel… All this talk of two states will not succeed and will not weaken our nation. This is a nation which has survived Pharaoh, survived hardship and will also survive this."
- On February 2, Deputy Foreign Minister and settler Elkin called for Israel to build in the sensitive “E-1” area in the occupied West Bank east of East Jerusalem in response to Secretary of State Kerry’s warning that Israel faced increased international isolation and boycotts as a result of continued settlement expansion, stating:
"It is now, when we've been threatened by boycotts, that we should build more in E-1... Anyone who wants to see strong blocs of Jewish communities [in the occupied territories] must do everything within his power to promote construction in the Land of Israel. Otherwise, all the talk about consensus and strengthening the communities within the 'settlement blocs' remains only on paper… The construction of the [E-1] neighborhood is of strategic importance because it connects Maale Adumim and Jerusalem.”
PROVOCATIONS ON THE NOBLE SANCTUARY / TEMPLE MOUNT
Note: Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem and its holy sites in the June 1967 War, Jewish extremists have wanted to build a Jewish temple in place of the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif in Arabic) mosque complex in the Old City, which sits atop the ruins of two ancient Jewish temples. At first they were relatively small in number and restrained by Israeli authorities who sought to avoid the explosive reaction any damage done to the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest site in Islam and one of the most sensitive holy sites in the world, would provoke. Israeli law prohibits Jewish prayer in the Noble Sanctuary, as do the teachings of many rabbis who oppose it for theological reasons. However, in recent months and years as Israeli Jewish society has moved further to the right, an increasing number of Israelis, including government ministers and members of parliament from Netanyahu’s Likud party, have been attempting to pray in the Noble Sanctuary, and are calling for Israel to take direct control over the site, which is currently run by a joint Palestinian-Jordanian Islamic trust (waqf). There is growing concern amongst some observers about the dangers of repeated Israeli provocations on the Noble Sanctuary, particularly in the context of failed peace negotiations. The second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) against Israel’s occupation began following a provocative visit to the Noble Sanctuary by the notorious then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon after the failed Camp David negotiations.
Recent provocations include:
- On February 25, the Israeli Knesset discussed a proposed law submitted by the extremist Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Knesset from Netanyahu’s Likud party, that would put the Noble Sanctuary under direct Israeli control. No vote was taken, but unrest broke out in East Jerusalem as a result of the debate.
- On February 21, ahead of the discussion of Feiglin’s bill, a group of rabbis and heads of Jewish religious schools submitted a petition to the Knesset calling for Israel to take control of the Noble Sanctuary.
- On February 19, deputy speaker of the Knesset Feiglin toured the Noble Sanctuary for the first time after a ten-month ban imposed by Israeli police. Right-wing extremists such as Feiglin, who advocates the building of a Jewish temple in the Noble Sanctuary and paying Arabs to leave Israel and the occupied territories, frequently visit the site and attempt to pray there. Feiglin has visited the Noble Sanctuary on a monthly basis for years and has been arrested by Israeli police on numerous occasions.
- On February 17, Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett stated that Israel is attempting to exercise greater control over the Noble Sanctuary and that he had already taken measures that would "ultimately influence the eastern side of Jerusalem, and that will include the Temple Mount.”
- On February 4, Ir Amim, an Israeli NGO that focuses on settlements in Jerusalem, released a report noting that in recent weeks right-wing Jewish activists who advocate the construction of a temple in the Noble Sanctuary “have intensified their rhetoric. Such rabbis as [sic] Yisrael Ariel have called for Jews to enter the compound, citing Jewish religious laws that legitimize ‘conquering of the land.’ The report also noted that “the growing rise of temple movements—organizations and groups committed to challenging existing arrangements on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. The steady advance of these movements—and the permeation of their values into the public discourse—represents one of the most volatile issues in the Middle East conflict today.”