Facts on the Ground Peace Index: Volume VIII

April 04, 2014 IMEU
Facts on the Ground Peace Index: Volume VIII

(Covering Period: March 3, 2014 to April 3, 2014)

For reference see past editions here: Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V, Volume VI, and Volume VII. See also our recently released fact sheets Talking Peace While Making War: Benjamin Netanyahu & The Peace Process and Making Painful Compromises for Peace: A Comparison.

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.

 


SETTLEMENT EXPANSION & CONFISCATION OF PALESTINIAN LAND

 

  • On April 1, Israel's Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who is a settler, approved tenders for 708 new units in the settlement of Gilo, just hours after reports that a US-brokered deal to avert a breakdown in peace negotiations that included a partial slowdown in settlement construction was nearing completion. According to sources in the Housing Ministry quoted in the media, Ariel hoped to undermine the American efforts by signing the tenders that particular day, when he could have waited until the delicate negotiations being conducted by US Secretary of State John Kerry to continue talks were finished. According to Israeli and US media reports, officials in the Obama administration were furious at Ariel, who they blamed for attempting to sabotage Kerry's efforts.
  • On March 31, Palestinian officials reported that Israeli authorities had issued orders confiscating approximately 74 acres of privately owned Palestinian land in the northern occupied West Bank between the settlement of Shilo and a nearby settlement "outpost."
  • On March 23, Israeli Knesset member Stav Shaffir from the Labor party revealed that the Israeli government had transferred an extra $172 million (USD) to settlements during the winter parliamentary session, including more than $38 million to the World Zionist Organization's settlement division. Criticizing the government's prioritizing of settlement expansion and the secretive nature of its dealings, Shaffir stated: "Instead of allocating tax money equitably and justly among all Israelis, one small group [settlers] gets more than everyone under the table... Only thusly, when funds are transferred far from the public eye, can the government make believe it is working on behalf of the middle class or toward a framework agreement, and at the same time funnel huge budgets for developing the settlements."
  • On March 19, the Israeli Interior Ministry posted the minutes of a committee meeting held on February 19 in which plans for more than 2000 new settlement units were advanced.
  • Also on March 19, the municipality of Jerusalem advanced plans for 168 new settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem.
  • On March 12, Haaretz reported that Ateret Cohanim, a right-wing religious nationalist organization that works to settle Jews in Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem, had purchased a "large and strategic" building in the heart of a commercial district outside of the Old City. In an email to supporters, Ateret Cohanim explained that the building, which currently houses East Jerusalem's only full service post office and an Israeli police station, was being converted into an "education center" and housing for Jewish religious students preparing to enter the army. Noting that it was the "first acquisition of its kind, in the area, which is in the heart of the commercial Arab district of Jerusalem," and that renovations were "being done quietly under the radar," the email declared:
    "This is a call for Am Yisrael [the people of Israel] who wish to see Jerusalem remain a united city and who agree that any Jew has a right to learn and live anywhere in Jerusalem — to partake in this new project... This is a chance of a lifetime to make a difference and strengthen Jewish life in the heart of Jerusalem!"

    According to subsequent media reports, Ateret Cohanim hopes to complete the renovations by Passover on April 13.

  • On March 11, Haaretz reported on a secret deal between Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and radical settlers who had placed four mobile homes on privately owned Palestinian land south of Jerusalem in an attempt to create a new settlement "outpost." Under the deal, the settlers agreed to move the mobile homes, but only to another nearby "outpost." All Israeli settlements violate international law, however so-called outposts (nascent settlements built without official government approval) violate Israeli law as well.
  • On March 3, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reported that there was a 123% increase in settlement construction starts in the West Bank in 2013 over 2012. In comparison, during the same period, there was a mere 3.4% increase in housing starts inside Israel's internationally recognized pre-1967 borders. In response, Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now! condemned the Israeli government, stating:
    "It's official, the Netanyahu government is committed to only one thing: building settlements. It shows the lack of commitment to negotiations and other issues like the housing shortage inside Israel. The state has focused its resources on construction beyond the green line [Israel's internationally-recognized pre-1967 border]."

 


PROVOCATIVE MILITARY RAIDS & KILLINGS OF PALESTINIANS

"B'Tselem's investigation indicates that the three youths were crossing the barrier in order to pick gundelia [Arabic: 'Akub], a thistle-like edible plant annually harvested at this time of year that serves as an important source of income for local residents. The section of the Separation Barrier in this area lies within the West Bank, some 200 meters east of the Green Line, not far from the village homes. The a-Shawamrehs own farmland that is now separated from them by the barrier, and that land is where the three youths were heading to gather plants."

"The decision to mount an armed ambush at a point in the barrier known to be crossed by youths, who pose no danger whatsoever to anyone, for the purpose of harvesting plants is highly questionable. It also indicates, at the very least, extremely faulty discretion on the part of the commanders. Moreover B'Tselem's findings are markedly different from the description given by the IDF Spokesperson: the youths made no attempt at vandalism; they were crossing through a long-existing breach, and the soldiers did not carry out suspect arrest procedure, shooing at a-Shawamreh with no advance warning." 

  • On March 22, Israeli forces killed three Palestinians during a raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank. According to witnesses, Israeli forces opened fire on the home of 22-year-old Hamza Abu al-Haija, a member of Hamas Israel accused of being behind attacks on Israelis. According to local residents, following a shoot-out Israeli soldiers executed a wounded Abu al-Haija as he attempted to flee. Seventeen-year-old Mahmoud Abu Zeina and 23-year-old Yazan Jabarin, whom the Israelis also accused of being militants, were also killed in the raid. In the unrest that followed, 15 more Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, according to Palestinian sources.
  • On March 19, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 14-year-old Yousef a-Shawamreh Abu Akar south of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli army claimed soldiers opened fire because the boy and two friends were attempting to damage the West Bank barrier Israel has built which separates local Palestinians from their lands. Residents said the three boys were going to pick gundelia, an edible plant traditionally harvested by Palestinians in the area. According to a report released on March 26 by Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem entitled "Responsibility for killing 14-year-old Palestinian lies primarily with commanders who ordered armed ambush," Israeli soldiers had been lying in wait to ambush the boys. The report stated:
  • The report concluded: "By justifying the use of lethal fire in broad daylight at youths who posed no danger to any other persons, the [army's] statement conveys a cynical lack of concern for the life of a Palestinian teenager."
  • On March 14, Israeli soldiers shot and critically wounded 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Ayyash, who was struck in the head with live ammunition during a protest in the town of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron.
  • On March 11, the Israeli air force killed three members of Islamic Jihad in occupied Gaza as they fired mortars at Israeli soldiers who had invaded the besieged coastal strip. The dead men were identified as 23-year-old Ismail Abu Jouda, 24-year-old Shaer Shanab, and 33-year-old Abdel Shafi Abu Muammar.
  • Also on March 11, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 18-year-old Saji Darwish near Ramallah in the central occupied West Bank. Israeli authorities claimed that Darwish, an undergrad in media studies at Birzeit University, was throwing stones at settler cars when soldiers killed him.
  • On March 10, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 38-year-old Raed Zeiter, a Palestinian-Jordanian judge at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the occupied West Bank. The Israeli army claimed that Zeiter tried to grab the weapon of a soldier who was searching the bus he was aboard. Eyewitnesses told Zeiter's family that soldiers shot him without warrant following an argument. Zeiter was traveling to Nablus in the West Bank to collect rent money in order to pay for medical care for his four-year-old son, who passed away shortly after his father was killed. Following outrage in Jordan and complaints from the Jordanian government, Israeli officials stated their "regret" for the killing and opened a new investigation.

 


EVICTIONS & DEMOLITIONS OF PALESTINIAN HOMES & STRUCTURES

Note: Israel usually destroys Palestinian homes and other structures, 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 April 2, Israel destroyed several structures in the Jabal al-Bab neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, leaving some 20 people homeless.
  • On April 1, Israeli authorities destroyed a car wash in Salfit, and several agricultural structures and tents near Nablus in the occupied West Bank.
  • On March 28, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley repeated his condemnation of Israel's policy of destroying Palestinian homes and other structures, stating: "These actions cause unnecessary humanitarian suffering and increase tension. They also run counter to Israel's obligations under international law."
  • On March 26, Israel destroyed a building containing a mosque, medical center and apartments in occupied East Jerusalem, leaving seven people homeless, including five children.
  • On March 25, Israeli forces destroyed two buildings, including a residential dwelling, in Jericho in the occupied West Bank, leaving a family of seven, including four children, homeless.
  • On March 19, Israeli forces bulldozed the home of Badwan Salaymah in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities subsequently sent Salaymah a bill for almost $32,000 (USD) for the demolition. In May 2013, Israeli authorities destroyed two other homes owned by Salaymah.
  • On March 12, Israeli authorities destroyed a car wash, a grocery store, and a residential building in the village of al-Eizariya in occupied East Jerusalem, leaving 10 people homeless, including the blind owner of the demolished home, Suleiman Jahalin, and five children.

 


PROVOCATIVE & INFLAMMATORY STATEMENTS FROM SENIOR ISRAELI OFFICIALS

  • On April 2, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau threatened that the Palestinians would "pay a heavy price" if they went to the UN to press their case for statehood and against Israeli human rights abuses, adding that Israel should annex parts of the West Bank in response if they do.
  • On March 15, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told an interviewer for Israeli TV that PLO Chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas isn't a partner for peace, denied that Israel was occupying Palestinian land, insisted that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as part of any peace deal, and declared that there would be no end to the conflict during his generation.
  • On March 11, Prime Minister Netanyahu told members of his Likud party: "I won't bring a [peace] deal that doesn't cancel the right of return [of Palestinian refugees] and doesn't involve the Palestinians recognizing a Jewish state. These are just fundamental conditions."
  • On March 9, Netanyahu declared in a radio interview that a peace agreement will take at least another year of negotiations to achieve.
  • Also on March 9, Housing Minister Uri Ariel declared that Israel will never remove settlements and called on Israel to annex the occupied West Bank, stating: "not even one settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] will be uprooted... Israeli citizens will only be under full Israeli sovereignty. And west of the Jordan River there will only be one state and that is the state of Israel." At the same event, Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party and Minister of Religious Services and Minister of the Economy, stated:
    "...the whole Land of Israel is a single bloc. There are those who say we can build inside the settlement blocs, and others who say we may not be able to hold onto the towns outside the blocs. I have come to tell you what the Arabs already know – that the Land of Israel is one bloc... even during a period where things are sometimes unclear – but this is very clear – I want to promise that there is no confusion here. The Land of Israel goes with the Torah of Israel under the sovereignty of the State of Israel. This is the time to act. We must continue building in all corners of the Land of Israel, with determination and without being confused. We are building and we will not stop."
  • On March 8, Israel's Channel 2 broadcast an interview in which Netanyahu declared that he would never forcibly evacuate Jewish settlers, even as part of a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians.

 


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 seeking 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 April 1, dozens of right-wing Israeli Jews visited the Noble Sanctuary compound accompanied by Israeli police.
  • On March 30, the Temple Institute, a right-wing fundamentalist settler group dedicated to building a Jewish temple in the Noble Sanctuary, held its fifth annual "International Temple Mount Awareness Day" with an internet broadcast featuring the notorious extremist Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin, from Netanyahu's Likud party. In an interview prior to the broadcast, the Institute's "International Director," Rabbi Chaim Richman, told settler media: "Today we are witness to a tremendous increase... record numbers of Jews ascending the Temple Mount in purity... Especially today we see that even on a political level there are growing numbers of lawmakers and legislatures who are realizing that there's something very wrong with our accepting the status quo... More than anything, International Temple Mount Awareness Day is an indicator of the tremendous change that's going on in this generation. It's the beginning of the Temple revolution."
  • On March 23, a right-wing Israeli flew a small drone over the Noble Sanctuary taking photos, according to news reports, prompting Muslim authorities to call Israeli police who detained the man.
  • On March 21, the Feiglin-led Jewish Leadership faction of Netanyahu's Likud party circulated a newsletter featuring an article entitled "The Fear of the Jews Was Upon Them." The piece, by Brooklyn-born Rabbi Nachman Kahana, cited the Bible in calling for the expulsion of all Arabs from Greater Israel and the destruction of the Noble Sanctuary in order for the third Jewish temple to be built. Kahana is the brother of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the late founder of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach movement, both of which have been outlawed by the US and Israel as terrorist organizations. The previous newsletter, released a week earlier, featured an essay by Feiglin himself entitled "Despair, Hope, and Explosives," calling for Israel to extend "sovereignty" over the Noble Sanctuary. It also included an essay by the late, notoriously racist Kahane, in which he declared: "Mercy and pity are reserved for people who are not our enemies."
  • On March 20, unrest broke out after a group of right-wing Israeli politicians, including Deputy Knesset Speaker Feiglin, toured the Noble Sanctuary.
  • On March 19, some 90 Israeli army recruits and about 20 right-wing extremists visited the Noble Sanctuary, part of an Israeli army "orientation" tour, according to Palestinian officials.
  • On March 5, Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev, from Netanyahu's Likud party, formed a subcommittee to discuss the implementation of a government decision to allow Jews to visit the Noble Sanctuary for 3 ½ hours each day. Regev is probably best known internationally for her extreme views against African asylum seekers, whom she once called a "cancer in our body."
  • On March 20, the UN's weekly report on the protection of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories noted a recent rise in the number of visits by Israelis to the Noble Sanctuary. The report also noted that since March 2013, 120 Palestinians have been injured in unrest that resulted from such visits and from Israeli restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to worship in the Al Aqsa mosque. The report stated:
    "This week, a series of clashes over several days took place in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, following the Israeli authorities' imposition of age restrictions on the entry of Palestinian worshippers to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. Overall, 18 Palestinians were injured in these incidents. Also during the week, tensions were high due to the repeated entry of Israeli groups, escorted by Israeli forces, to the compound. In recent weeks, there have been several clashes in and around the compound in protests against the recent increase in the frequency of entries into the compound by Israeli groups, guarded by Israeli forces, as well as the recurrent imposition of age restrictions on worshippers' entry to Al Aqsa. 120 Palestinians were injured in clashes of this context since March 2013."