The Institute for Middle East Understanding has compiled a “Facts on the Ground Peace Index” to track Israeli actions on the ground since new talks were announced over the summer. For Volume I see here. For Volume II see here. For Volume III, click here. For Volume IV, see here. And for Volume V, click here.
Covering Period: January 2, 2014 to February 2, 2014
- On January 22, the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] approved plans for 256 houses in the small settlement of Nofei Prat east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, significantly increasing its population. Five more housing units were also approved for the huge settlement of Ariel in the West Bank.
- On January 21, the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria published plans for 381 new settler houses in Givat Ze’ev, a settlement northwest of Jerusalem in the West Bank. In response, settlement watchdog group Peace Now condemned the plans, with spokesman Lior Amihai stating that it was proof that the Israeli government is “not serious about the two-state solution and that its actions are contradictory with the negotiations.”
- Also on January 21, settler organization Elad submitted plans to municipal authorities for a “visitor center” for the controversial Israeli archeological site and theme park known as the City of David (which Elad runs) in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Two months previously, Elad submitted plans for a second, larger project on the site. Critics accuse the Israeli government and Elad of exploiting the City of David for political purposes and to expand the Jewish settler population in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, which lies just outside the walls of the Old City. According to Peace Now, if built, the two proposed projects would “greatly alter the area, and will likely fuel greater conflict.”
- On January 19, Haaretz newspaper reported that so-called settlement “outposts” (nascent settlements built without official approval but often with tacit government support), have received millions of dollars in state funding – despite the fact that outposts violate Israeli law as well as international law. According to the report, the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, a West Bank settler group funded by the government, allocated $14.6 million (USD) over a five-year period to several outposts inside and outside of its jurisdiction, even though “such actions are expressly prohibited,” as Haaretz noted. The council has jurisdiction over the Jewish settlements around Ramallah and the approximately 50,000 settlers who live there.
- On January 16, media reports stated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was insisting in negotiations that a fourth so-called settlement “bloc,” Beit El, would become part of Israel under any peace agreement. Settlement blocs encompass a far greater amount of land than the currently existing settlement buildings within them cover, and are strategically located to divide Palestinian population centers from one another and to sever the West Bank into easily controlled cantons. Beit El is located near Ramallah in the central West Bank. Israel had previously demanded the blocs of Ariel, Gush Etzion and Maale Adumim also become part of Israel. In addition, earlier in the month, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu had told members of his cabinet that he wouldn’t remove settlements from areas that he described as “important to the Jewish people,’ such as Hebron and Beit El, which lie outside settlement blocs.
- On January 10, the Israeli government announced plans for 1076 new settlement units in several settlements in occupied East Jerusalem (including Ramat Shlomo, Ramot, and Psgat Zeev), and another 801 in the occupied West Bank (including Efrat and Ariel). In response, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his “alarm,” stating: “Such activity is not only illegal but also an obstacle to peace.” The announcement came just a few days after US Secretary of State John Kerry departed the region after a visit intended to shore up faltering peace talks.
- On January 9, Haaretz reported that the Israeli government was spending an estimated $2 million (USD) on an archeological dig in Hebron in the occupied West Bank that critics allege is a cover for the expansion of the tiny settlement of Tel Rumeida, home to some of the most radical settlers in the occupied territories. The secretary general of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, accused the Israeli government of playing with fire in the sensitive city, stating: “It’s expanding the settlement under the guise of archaeological digs… Under [Secretary of State John] Kerry’s nose the defense minister is allowing the settlers to expand and change the status quo in the most explosive spot in the West Bank.”
- On January 5, the Israeli government published tenders for 272 settlement units in two isolated settlements in the West Bank, far outside the so-called settlement blocs that Israel has said it intends to keep under any peace agreement.
- On January 2, hours before US Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to arrive to give a boost to peace negotiations, a group of Israeli parliamentarians, including government ministers such as Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Deputy Foreign Minister (and settler) Zeev Elkin, governing coalition chairman Yariv Levin, and Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Eli Ben-Dahan, attended a ceremony inaugurating a new section in a small settlement in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, declaring that Israel will never relinquish control of the area. Sa’ar called for the Israeli military to remain in the Jordan Valley “for all eternity.”
PROVOCATIVE MILITARY RAIDS & KILLINGS OF PALESTINANS
- On January 29, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 22-year-old Mohammed Mahmoud Mubarak north of the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. According to the Israeli army, soldiers killed him after he opened fire on them with a machine gun. According to Palestinian eyewitnesses and his family, however, Mubarak was unarmed and working on a USAID project doing road repairs when soldiers began to harass him before opening fire and killing him. Witnesses also said that Israeli forces prevented an ambulance from reaching the wounded man.
- On January 24, Israeli soldiers besieging Gaza shot and killed 20-year-old Bilal Samer Oweidah during a demonstration by Palestinians near the boundary fence between Israel and Gaza. A 19-year-old man was also shot in the leg and wounded.
- On January 22, an Israeli airstrike killed two Palestinians in Gaza, 21-year-old Islamic Jihad member Ahmed Zaanin, who Israel accused of being responsible for firing rockets into southern Israel, and his cousin, Mohammed Zaanin.
- Also on January 22, Israeli forces raided the campus of Al-Quds University in Abu Dis outside of Jerusalem, firing tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at students and staff in the resulting unrest, injuring more than 100 people according to reports.
- On January 10, Israeli soldiers shot and wounded four Palestinians with live ammunitionduring protests in the Jalazone refugee camp outside of Ramallah in the West Bank. In December, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the back and killed by an Israeli sniper in Jalazone in an incident that human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch expressed serious concern over. A HRW investigation found in that case the victim didn’t pose “any threat to life that would justify such a killing.”
- On January 3, Adnan Abu Khater died after being shot by Israeli soldiers in Gaza the day before. According to the Israeli army, the unarmed 16-year-old was damaging the Israeli fence that surrounds the besieged coastal territory when soldiers shot him.
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 documented by the United Nations and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, it’s nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain construction permits in areas under Israeli control. Meanwhile, the expansion of Jewish communities is encouraged in all parts of Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank.
- On January 31, UN Humanitarian Coordinator James W. Rawley issued a statementexpressing concern over the destruction the previous day of 36 Palestinian structures in the Jordan Valley town of Ein al Hilwe in the occupied West Bank. The demolitions by the Israeli army left 66 Palestinians homeless, including 36 children. The statement read in part:
“I am deeply concerned about the ongoing displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in Area C, particularly along the Jordan Valley where the number of structures demolished more than doubled in the last year.This activity not only deprives Palestinians of access to shelter and basic services, it also runs counter to international law… The destruction of Palestinian-owned property and forced eviction of Palestinians must be brought to an immediate halt until Palestinians have access to a fair planning and zoning regime that meets their needs.”
Rawley’s statement also noted:
The number of Palestinians in the occupied territories displaced by Israel rose 25% in 2013, with more than 1100 displaced in the West Bank.
Since the beginning of 2014, over 100 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished in the occupied territories, forcibly displacing more than 180 Palestinians, including almost 100 children.
- On January 27, Israeli forces destroyed four residential structures, including multiple-apartment buildings, in the Beit Hanina and Al Isawiya neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem, displacing19 people, including 11 children. According to the UN, two of the displaced families were reportedly evicted forcibly from their homes without being given sufficient time to evacuate their belongings. The third family affected was displaced for the second time in less than year, their previous home in the same location having been demolished in February 2013.
- On January 15, Israeli authorities handed out a series of demolition orders in the town of Sair in the southern occupied West Bank, threatening to leave 50 people homeless. The residents were given until February 15 to leave their homes.
- On January 8, Israeli authorities destroyed 17 Palestinian-owned residential and other structures in and around the cities of Jericho and Nablus, resulting in the displacement of 33 people, over half of them children.
- On January 5, Israeli authorities delivered a series of demolition orders against Palestinian structures in the highly sensitive East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, including homes, shops, storage facilities and an athletic field.
- On January 16, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory (OCHA) reported that the number of Palestinian structures in the Jordan Valley destroyed by Israel and the number of Palestinians subsequently displaced more than doubled in 2013 over the previous year. In 2013, Israel destroyed 393 Palestinian structures in the Jordan Valley, displacing 575 people, up from 192 structures demolished and 279 Palestinians displaced in 2012.
PROVOCATIVE & INFLAMMATORY STATEMENTS FROM SENIOR ISRAELI OFFICIALS
- On February 2, following remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry warning of a growing international boycott movement against Israel if a peace agreement isn’t reached, several senior government ministers lashed out at Kerry, including the leader of the Jewish Home party, Minister of the Economy, and Minister of Religious Services, Naftali Bennett, who wrote on his Facebook page: “Friends, let us be clear to all of the advice givers: Never has a nation abandoned their land because of economic threats. We are no different… Only security will bring economic stability, not a terrorist state next to Ben-Gurion Airport… We expect our friends around the world to stand beside us, against anti-Semitic boycott efforts targeting Israel, and not for them to be their amplifier.” Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz calledKerry’s warning “offensive, unreasonable and unacceptable,” adding, “It is impossible to expect Israel to negotiate with a gun to its head.” Parliamentarian Tzipi Hotovely, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, claimed: “Kerry’s unprecedented threats of a boycott are an attempt to terrorize Israel.”
- On January 30, Knesset member Motti Yogev of the Jewish Home party, which sits in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, stated that Secretary of State Kerry’s actions may have “anti-Semitic undertones,” explaining in an interview with Israeli army radio: “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is acting under Kerry’s obsessive pressure, which may have anti-Semitic undertones… Kerry is not here to reach a compromise. He wants to decrease the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel and create a Palestinian state.”
- Also on January 30, a number of prominent politicians from Israel’s governing coalition, including senior ministers, attended a protest at the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem against the US-led peace negotiations and Secretary of State Kerry. Due to diplomatic sensitivities, no political speeches were given by the ministers present, including Housing Minister and settler Uri Ariel, who helped organize the event. However, in a thinly-veiled allusion to the Obama administration, Ariel said in a television interview that the thousands of people in attendance had come to pray for the people of Israel, to “strengthen the government and its leader, so that they can stand up to the various pressures coming from across the sea.” Prior the rally, Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan told The Jerusalem Post: “We cannot agree to any deal that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state and the expulsion of Jews from their homes.” Many present decried what they termed “Kerry’s edicts.” The politicians present mingled with notorious, racist extremists such as rabbis Dov Lior and Shmuel Eliyahu, who were amongst the rabbis who led prayers at the rally.
- On January 21, Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz accused Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman and Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas of being “the number one leader in injecting anti-Semitic and anti-Israel poison.”
- On January 28, the leader of the Jewish Home party, Minister of the Economy, and Minister of Religious Services, Naftali Bennett, argued against removing settlers and relinquishing the occupied territories, warning a conference in Tel Aviv: “Our forefathers and ancestors and our descendants will never forgive an Israeli leader who gives away our land and divides our capital.” He also stated: “Why can’t Palestinians rule over Jews? Because they’ll kill them… Why should Jews live in Tel Aviv with Israeli sovereignty and in Eli and Hebron under Palestinian sovereignty? Open up the Book of Genesis and form an opinion. I demand that this idea be removed from the agenda.”
- On January 24, Prime Minister Netanyahu told a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Summit, that he had no intention of removing any Israeli settlers from the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, telling reporters: “I do not intend to evacuate any settlements or uproot a single Israeli.” Following criticism from right-wing allies and supporters who feared Netanyahu intended to leave settlers inside a Palestinian state, Netanyahu’s office replied by explaining that his statement was “designed to expose the true face of the Palestinian Authority” who he expected would reject the idea of having Jewish settlers inside a Palestinian state.
- On January 15, Israeli media reported that behind closed doors Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had been telling associates that Secretary of State Kerry’s push for peace was motivated by “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor,” and that he wished Kerry would “win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace,” stating:
“[Mahmoud Abbas] is alive and well thanks to us… The moment we leave Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] he is finished. In reality, there have been no negotiations between us and the Palestinians for all these months – but rather between us and the Americans. The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.
“The American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it’s written on… It contains no peace and no security… American Secretary of State John Kerry, who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor, cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians.”
Following a media uproar and condemnation from the US State Department, the Defense Ministry issued an apology on Ya’alon’s behalf, however on January 16, Ya’alon again criticized the US, telling an audience in Jerusalem that the US and Europe have a “misguided understanding” of the Middle East and “do not understand its processes.” According to other media reports, Ya’alon had been badmouthing Kerry to reporters and diplomats for weeks. In response to the controversy, a group of more than 350 prominent Israeli rabbis signed a letter of support for Ya’alon, which read in part: “At long last there is a cabinet minister who demonstrated what true Jewish leadership is – a man who had the courage to advocate the truth that is stated in the Code of Jewish Law… that any withdrawal from Jewish territory leads to bloodshed.”
- Ahead of a visit to the region by Secretary of State Kerry in mid-January 2014, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon wrote on his Facebook page: “Kerry will be arriving in Israel this week, I’ve already stopped counting the number of times, in order to continue to force an agreement on us. But there will be no compromises.”
- On January 14, the leader of the Jewish Home party, Minister of the Economy, and Minister of Religious Services, Naftali Bennett, denounced PA President Mahmoud Abbas as “no different than [his predecessor] Yasser Arafat,” and again called on Israel to annex the approximately 60% of the West Bank classified as Area C under the Oslo Accords, where most Israeli settlers live.
- On January 8, Foreign Minister and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman,said that his party would only support a peace agreement if there were territory and population transfers of Israeli Arabs into a future Palestinian state, stating there is no reason that Palestinian citizens of Israel “should not join their brethren under full Palestinian sovereignty and become citizens of the future Palestinian state that they want so badly.”
- On January 7, Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and Jewish Home party leader Bennett told a conference in Tel Aviv that his party wouldn’t be part of a government that relinquished the occupied territories for a Palestinian state, stating:
“No more word games: the 1967 lines mean dividing Jerusalem and giving up the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Old City. In what way will our history remember a leader that agrees to give up Jerusalem? We won’t sit in such a government.”
“We will never agree to give up a unified Jerusalem… we will never accept an agreement based on the 1967 lines… They tell us there is an occupation and that it’s immoral as Jews. Let me tell you this – we are not occupiers in our land.”
- On January 2, a group of government ministers and parliamentarians attended a ceremony inaugurating a new neighborhood in a small settlement in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank. At the ceremony, Deputy Foreign Minister and settler Zeev Elkin told the local settlers: “You will stay here forever, and there will always be Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley.” Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar declared:
“There is a message we’re sending, and it’s that there is a consensus among the Israeli public that our presence here in the Jordan Valley is not a temporary one… Our statement is clear. The Jordan Valley is Israeli and the Jordan Valley will stay Israeli. Our eastern border must be the Jordan River.”