Israel’s settlement law: From occupation to annexation

By Meron Rapoport
On March 2012, Yaakov Kats, one of the extremists of the already extreme-right “National Unity” party, had a simple idea.

In order to solve the problem of settlements and outposts that had been built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank without official Israeli authorisation, a law should be enacted that would allow Israel to confiscate these lands from their owners.

In short, a law for legalising theft.

In its early stages, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked this initiative, which was perceived to be a flagrant violation of Israel’s self-declared commitment to international law.

Five years later, Katz is no longer a member of the Knesset and his party no longer exists, yet his law has lived on.

With Netanyahu’s blessing – the same prime minister who botched it before – Katz’s confiscation law passed with a comfortable majority in the Israeli parliament early this week.

Even if the Israeli High Court invalidates this confiscation law – euphemistically called “normalisation” law – the history of the legislation tells the story of the changing political map of Israel: how ideas which only a few years ago seemed radical and fringe have now moved into the mainstream.

Something old, something new

Confiscation of private Palestinian lands is, of course, not new in Israeli history. Right after the 1948 war, some four million dunams belonging to Palestinians who fled or were deported during the war were confiscated by the notorious absentee law.

One-third of the Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem annexed after the 1967 war were confiscated for the sake of building Israeli-only neighbourhoods.

Almost all of the settlements in the West Bank have been built on 90,000 hectares of land that Israel declared unilaterally as “state lands”.

The newly adopted “confiscation law” may therefore seem to be a minor evolution of this problematic tradition. Yet such a point of view misses the major political changes which have taken place in Israel in the past few years.

Since the 1967 war, Israel insisted on its ambiguous attitude towards the areas it occupies in the West Bank and Gaza.

On the one hand, it declined to annex the West Bank and Gaza, “voluntarily” applying the Fourth Geneva Convention which guarantees the protection of civilian populations under occupation. In innumerous cases in which Palestinians appealed to Israeli courts, they were allegedly treated according to this convention.

Yet at the same time, Israel refused to acknowledge that the West Bank and Gaza were occupied areas in the strict meaning of the term. This allowed it to settle hundreds of thousands of its citizens in the occupied territories, a move strictly forbidden according to the same Geneva Convention.

This ambiguity served Israel on the international level, allowing it to pretend that its control over the West Bank was open to negotiation and even portraying the settlements as temporary.

But it was even more important on the home front: it saved consecutive Israeli governments from the hard choice between annexing the West Bank and its 2.5 million Palestinians or withdrawing back to the 1967 borders.

Turning ambiguity against itself

Human rights organisations in Israel, such as Peace Now, Yesh Din and others, have tried to use this ambiguity in their favour.

As the Geneva Convention clearly and unconditionally forbids the confiscation of private property from civilians under occupation, they appealed in the name of Palestinian owners whose legally registered lands were used to build settlements.

Above all, the aim was to give these lands back to their original owners. But there was also a political motive behind these appeals: as the settlements were rightly viewed as the main obstacle for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the idea was that, through these appeals, the Israeli and international public would be reminded of the illegality of the settlements as a whole, whether built on “state lands” or on private land.

In recent years, some of these appeals were successful and settlers were evicted from private Palestinian lands and their houses were demolished.

The most recent and perhaps biggest success was in Amona, an illegal outpost built on private lands of the village of Silwad near Ramallah. After lengthy deliberations and delays, Israel’s High Court ordered the demolition of 40 houses built there and the return of the lands to their owners. The ruling was put into action last week.

‘We are not ashamed anymore’

But while these appeals and deliberations went on, the political map in Israel changed. The settlers, mainly represented by the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennet, but also by Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, gained more and more political power. Bennet’s slogan in the last 2016 elections was “we are not ashamed anymore”.

Bennet’s message was clear: we, the settlers, are not ready to put up with 50 years of ambiguity concerning the future of the West Bank. These areas belong to the Jews, and only to the Jews, and therefore the Jews cannot be considered occupiers “in their own lands”. The idea of an independent Palestinian state in these areas should be abandoned forever.

Bennet did not do very well in the 2016 elections, but in the new government formed by Netanyahu, he gained an even bigger role than before. The education ministry went to him and the even more important justice ministry went to his fellow party member Ayelet Shaked.

With the help of settlement-sympathising ministers in the Likud, the pressure to abandon the ambiguity towards the West Bank and go for some sort of annexation steadily grew.

Up until Donald Trump’s election, Netanyahu chose not to choose. He failed to take up any serious negotiations with the Palestinians, but he also refrained from changing the status quo.

The Amona circus

Yet now, things are changing. Whether it is because Netanyahu sees Trump as his saviour or whether the mounting corruption investigations against him are having an effect, it is evident that Netanyahu is losing his long time cautious approach.

The vote in the Knesset in favour of the confiscation law is a clear indication of this new direction. After the final ruling of the High Court, there was nothing that Netanyahu or Bennet could do that would have saved Amona from eviction. Even the settlers who illegally inhabited this outpost were aware of that. So its evacuation last week became a big show.

Three thousand policemen spent more than 24 hours evacuating some 40 families. Even the violent clashes between a handful of extremist settlers and the police forces in the final stages of the process seemed premeditated.

The evacuation of Amona was meant to be portrayed as the last one. Just a few days later, the passing of the confiscation law, allowing the government to confiscate private Palestinian lands on which settlements were already built was unequivocal in its pronouncement.

The political mood in Israel is moving definitively towards annexation of parts of the West Bank or even a full blown annexation. The Palestinians, according to the scenarios put forward by right-wing politicians, will have to settle for a downsized autonomy or to live as second-class residents in areas ruled directly by Israel.

Yet it is not entirely clear that we will reach full annexation anytime soon. Netanyahu is still putting on the brakes. He may understand the consequences of Israel being literally or even officially declared as an apartheid state.

But tempted by Trump or cornered by the galloping settler movement and by the criminal investigations against him, he may change course. Israel’s ambiguous occupation may turn into an unambiguous annexation.

Israeli court sentences Palestinian teen to 12 years in prison over attempted stabbing


JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — An Israeli magistrate court sentenced a Palestinian teenager on Sunday to 12 years in prison over charges of attempting to carry out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem more than a year earlier.

The head of the Jerusalem Committee for Families of Prisoners, Amjad Abu Asab, told Ma’an that Huthaifa Ishaq Taha, a 17-year-old resident of the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, was sentenced for reportedly attempting to stab an Israeli in Jerusalem in January 2016.
Abu Asab added that Taha was currently held in the Megiddo prison.
According to a Ma’an reporter, Taha was detained for his involvement in a stabbing attempt at a bus station in the illegal settlement of East Talpiyyot on Jan. 3, 2016.
The sentence was the latest to be handed down to young Palestinians, many of whom have been accused of involvement in attacks or attempted attacks in the occupied territory after a wave of political unrest began in October 2015.
Some of the harsher sentences to be handed down in the past two months have included a 22-year-old Jerusalemite sentenced to 35 years in prison for allegedly assisting in a deadly stabbing attack, 16 years in prison and a $20,929 fine for a 19-year-old Palestinian woman who was shot and injured while allegedly attempting to stab an Israeli settler, while a Palestinian youth was sentenced to 18 years in prison for allegedly throwing a rock at an Israeli vehicle that caused the death of an Israeli — representing the harshest sentence ever handed down for stone throwing.
(Source / 12.02.2017)

Father, sons, daughter-in-law kidnapped by Israeli army


A Palestinian civilian and his seven sons, along with his daughter-in-law, were kidnapped on Saturday by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) from the southern West Bank province of al-Khalil.

An Israeli army patrol and police troops, escorted by sniffer dogs and military jeeps, rolled into al-Samou’s western entrance of al-Simia, in southern al-Khalil, and wreaked havoc on civilian homes.

The assault culminated in the abduction of the Palestinian civilian Mohamed Moussa Bheis and his seven sons Moussa, Imad, Rami, Jihad, Rafat, Ali, and Raed.

The wife of one of the aforementioned sons was also kidnapped by the Israeli soldiers in the process.

The nine arrestees were all dragged to an unidentified destination.

The attack makes part of a collective punishment policy pursued by the Israeli occupation army against Palestinian anti-occupation protesters and their families.

(Source / 12.02.2017)

Trump Discusses an Alternative for Travel Ban


Iranian citizen and U.S green card holder Cyrus Khosravi (L) greets his brother, Hamidreza Khosravi (C), and niece, Dena Khosravi (R), 2, after they were detained for additional screening following their arrival to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to visit Cyrus, during a pause in U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban in SeaTac, Washington, U.S. February 6, 2017

Washington – U.S. President Donald Trump had announced that he will be considering several options in face of the judicial block of his travel ban for seven Muslim countries.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on his way to Florida, he said he was confident that he could win any legal battles. But he indicated he was also thinking about alternative strategies.

Trump’s original order, which he called a national security measure meant to head off attacks by extremist militants, barred people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, except refugees from Syria, who were banned indefinitely.

A federal judge in Seattle suspended the order last Friday after its legality was challenged by Washington state. The court said the ban violates constitutional principles. That ruling was upheld by an appeals court in San Francisco on Thursday, raising questions about Trump’s next step.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimously decided to pause the president’s executive order.

When asked by reporters about the new order and what it may contain, Trump said that it will include new security measures.

“We have very, very strong vetting. I call it extreme vetting and we’re going very strong on security. We’re going to have people coming to our country that want to be here for good reasons,” he stressed.

The President took it to Twitter announcing that he was confident that his lawyers would win the argument before the country’s highest court. In another tweet, he said: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

Trump declared that he will continue to do his best for the safety of the country, promising that he will introduce new results as of next week.

He added: “We will continue to go through the court process, and ultimately I have no doubt that we’ll win that particular case.”

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) teamed up with police forces and local authorities in several states on the Mexican border during a wide-ranged arrest campaign.

The Mexican government warned Friday of a “new reality” for its citizens living in the United States and advised them to “take precautions” following the deportation of an undocumented mother after a routine visit with U.S. immigration authorities.

ICE said most of the people targeted in homes and workplaces from Southern California to Atlanta and other cities were criminals.

Activists estimated the number of arrested illegal immigrants to be of 500.

Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, 36, of Mesa, Arizona, was taken into custody Wednesday during a routine check-in at the central Phoenix offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Over the past four years, federal immigration authorities had given her a pass to remain in the U.S. rather than deport her back to her native Mexico. But this time, the mother of two children born in the U.S., was deported to Nogales, Sonora, on Thursday.

Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying the case illustrates a new reality for the Mexican community living in the United States, facing the most severe implementation of immigration control measures.

Mexican consulates “have intensified their work of protecting fellow nationals, foreseeing more severe immigration measures to be implemented by the authorities of this country, and possible violations to constitutional precepts during such operations and problems with due process,” the statement added.

The ministry then advised the entire Mexican community to take precautions and stay in touch with nearest consulate, to get the help needed to cope with a situation of this kind.

In a related matter, Trump said he would reduce the price of the wall he wants built on the U.S. border with Mexico.

“I am reading that the great border WALL will cost more than the government originally thought, but I have not gotten involved in the … design or negotiations yet,” Trump tweeted.

“When I do, just like with the F-35 FighterJet or the Air Force One Program, price will come WAY DOWN!”, he said in another tweet.

Trump’s response came after media reports estimated the price of a wall along the entire border would cost $21.6 billion. During his presidential campaign Trump had cited a $12 billion figure.

(Source / 12.02.2017)

IOA extends administrative detention orders against 4 captive


The spokesman of Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies, Riyad al-Ashqar, revealed that the Israeli Occupation Authority (IOA) extended the administrative detention orders against four Palestinian detainees for the fifth time.

Ashqar said that Israeli authorities extended the illegal detention orders against each of Anas Qaqour, 31, from Jenin and Jamal Barham, 56, from Ramin town in Tulkarem, to three months each.

As for the two other prisoners, the IOA extended the administrative detention orders against both Shaher al-Raei, 47, from the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Maher al-Qadi, 27, from Ramallah city to four months each.

All of the four Palestinian detainees were arrested after their homes had been stormed and searched thoroughly. As ex-prisoners, they all had served long sentences in Israeli jails in previous arrests, Ashqar pointed out.

(Source / 12.02.2017)

Amnesty International Defies Assad to Open His Prisons to International Monitors

Amnesty International defied Bashar Al-Assad to open his prisons to international monitors to check on the conditions of detainees after the dictator denied that he had 13,000 people executed in Syadnaya Prison between 2011 and 2015.

Amnesty International published a shocking report on Monday called “Human Slaughterhouse” where it said victims were given death sentences after sham trials lasting less than three minutes, often on the basis of confessions extracted through torture and all commissioned by top officials.

In an interview with Yahoo News on Friday, Assad dismissed the findings of the charity’s report as “fake” and “biased.”

In response to the interview, Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther said: “In his interview Bashar al-Assad repeatedly attempts to discredit Amnesty International’s findings.”

“However, he admits he has not visited Saydnaya military prison and provides not a shred of information about the ‘true’ situation there,” Luther added.

“He acknowledges that executions take place in Syria, but fails to give any details whatsoever about the number carried out in Saydnaya or anywhere else in the country.”

Luther added: “If he has nothing to hide he must immediately grant access for international monitors to Saydnaya and all other places of detention in Syria. He must also reveal the truth about the number of executions taking place.”

“Russia, which has also publicly dismissed the findings of the report, should use its influence with the Syrian authorities to make this happen,” Luther went on.

Amnesty’s report about atrocities taking place at Saydnaya prison prompted a strong reaction from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was “horrified about what was in the report.”

Earlier this week, France called on the international community to take action to prevent impunity for these crimes. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was “sickened” by the findings of Amnesty’s report.

Amid compelling evidence that Assad’s henchmen carried out an unprecedented “policy of extermination,” Foreign Secretary Johnson said the dictator had “no future as leader.”

Amnesty said it was “inconceivable that these large-scale practices have not been authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government,” including the minister of defense and the chief of staff of the army, both of whom are authorized to act on behalf of Assad.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies / 12.02.2017)

Israeli soldiers destroy Palestinian flagstaff in Sebastiya


The Israeli occupation army on Saturday evening removed a Palestinian flagpole in Nablus’s northern town of Sebastiya, in the northern West Bank.

A PIC news correspondent said heavily-armed Israeli patrols rolled into Sebastiya and showered the area with randomly-shot spates of bullet fire and teargas canisters.

The occupation soldiers further lowered the Palestinian flag raised in the area and destroyed the mast, sparking clashes with Palestinian anti-occupation youths.

The Israeli military forces have often stormed Sebastiya’s archaeological sites and blown up the Palestinian flagpole set up in the area.

The locals raised concerns over growing Israeli attempts to hold sway over Sebastiya’s archaeological sites in favor of illegal settlement.

(Source / 12.02.2017)

Erdogan: Turkish operation in Syria will continue to Raqqa

Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army advance towards the centre of al-Bab town of Aleppo during the 171th day of the "Operation Euphrates Shield" in Aleppo, Syria on February 10, 2017 [Muhammed Nour / Anadolu Agency]

Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army advance towards the centre of al-Bab town of Aleppo during the 171th day of the “Operation Euphrates Shield” in Aleppo, Syria on February 10, 2017

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the final goal of a Turkish military incursion into Syria was not just to retake the city of al-Bab from Daesh, but to cleanse a border region including Raqqa of the terrorist group.

“The ultimate goal is to cleanse a 5,000-square-km area,” Erdogan told a news conference before his departure on an official visit to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Turkey has long advocated a “safe zone” for civilians in northern Syria cleared of Daesh militants and the Kurdish YPG militia, but says such an area would need to be policed by a no-fly zone.

Read: Assad rejects safe zones proposal

Erdogan said he had discussed this again with the United States and Russia and that Turkey was prepared to do the infrastructure work in the zone, to help prevent migration from Syria and allow those who had fled to Turkey to go home.

Raqqa should be isolated by spring – UK minister

(Source / 12.02.2017)

Report: Israeli court increases prison sentence of tortured Palestinian detainee


BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Israeli Supreme Court has added two years to the prison sentence of a Palestinian detained during Israel’s 2014 ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights said in a report on Sunday, which detailed the prisoner’s torture at the hands of Israeli prison authorities.

According to al-Mezan, last week on Feb. 7, the court decided to uphold a request by the Israeli prosecution to increase 28-year-old Jihad Khalid Abu Hadaid’s sentence from six to eight years in Israeli custody.
Abu Hadaid is a client of the al-Mezan center, who said in its statement that the prosecution had filed the extension appeal on Jan. 14, 2016, contesting the court’s initial ruling from November 2015.
The center said it condemned the extension of Abu Hadaid’s prison term, saying that the entire case against him was built on confessions extracted during torture, and as a result were inadmissible in court.
Abu Hadaid was detained on July 25, 2014, during an Israeli invasion of the al-Fukhari area of Khan Yunis amid Israel’s devastating 50-offensive on the besieged coastal enclave.
At least 250 other Palestinians were captured during the ground invasions, though there have been concerns that Israeli authorities have not been forthcoming about hundreds of Gazan men being secretly held inside Israel. Around 150 were detained on July 24, 2014 alone.
In an affidavit to al-Mezan, Abu Hadaid described the use of torture and other cruel and degrading treatment during his arrest and interrogation by Israeli security forces and authorities.
According to the report, he was beaten, forced to sit in direct sunlight for several hours, and was placed in “stress positions” on a small chair during interrogation while his hands were cuffed behind him.
Abu Hadaid also told al-Mezan he was verbally abused and kept in solitary confinement for several days. During one interrogation session, Abu Hadaid said he was told by Israeli authorities that his house would be attacked, and according to al-Mezan, his home was later hit by an Israeli airstrike.
Abu Hadaid was also prevented from meeting with a lawyer for 21 days after being detained.
“Al-Mezan asserts that the level of coercion used against Abu Hadaid results in a forced confession, which must not be used as evidence in court,” the human rights group’s report read.
“A confession obtained under means of torture, including enhanced interrogation techniques, or other forms of duress is considered a forced confession under international law. The ruling issued by the High Court is dependent on a confession by torture and, as a serious miscarriage of justice, amounts to a serious violation of international law and blatant disregard for justice principles.”
Al-Mezan said they called on the international community to “uphold its moral and legal obligations toward Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Israel and to exert pressure on Israel to respect international law, in particular the absolute prohibition on torture and ill-treatment and the principles of justice.”
Israel’s mistreatment, abuse, and torture of Palestinian prisoners has been widely documented by rights groups for years, while a recent article by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz confirmed the extent to which Shin Bet interrogators subject their prisoners to torture.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has said that up to 90 percent of Palestinians interrogated by Israel were denied legal access and held incommunicado for at least part of their interrogation, a fact that human rights groups say enables torture.
In Israel’s military court system, which has a 99 percent conviction rate, Palestinians can be held for 60 days without access to a lawyer.
(Source / 12.02.2017)

13-year-old Palestinian awaits sentencing for throwing rocks at Rachel’s Tomb


BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli police said Sunday that a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was awaiting indictment after he was detained in Aida refugee camp in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem last week for throwing stones.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said that the boy, who remained unidentified, threw stones at Rachel’s Tomb, which is located just next to the camp beyond Israel’s separation wall and next to a military base.
Al-Samri did not specify when the boy was detained. She said he was released on a conditional basis and would be indicted at a later date.
The police statement said that the boy was detained while he was holding a slingshot and wearing Kufiyeh scarf covering his face. Al-Samri included a picture purporting to show the slingshot and scarf that were seized from the 13-year-old child.
Al-Samri said that the boy also confessed to being involved “in similar events,” during his interrogation.
She added that seven other Palestinians were detained last week in Aida refugee camp on suspicion of throwing stones, Molotov cocktails, and improvised explosive devices at Rachel’s Tomb.

Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian youth late Thursday afternoon in the camp, when at least two residents were detained. 

On Wednesday, an Israeli military vehicle stormed Aida refugee camp in broad daylight, and violently detained 14-year-old Ali Jawarish while he was walking home from school, with locals saying no clashes were taking place at the time.

Footage released shortly after the incident showed soldiers aggressively throwing the boy into the back of the jeep, while witnesses told Ma’an they saw the soldiers continue to beat the boy while he was inside the vehicle.
Multiple witnesses said that no clashes were taking place and there was no rock throwing when the military vehicle suddenly careened through a narrow road in the refugee camp and stopped near a group of school children who were on their way home from school.
Al-Samri confirmed to Ma’an that the unidentified boy mentioned in her statement on Sunday was not Jawarish, but said she could not identify suspects who were minors.
The incidents came as locals in Aida have reported escalated military procedures over the past several months, creating what some residents have called a perpetual “atmosphere of fear.”
Meanwhile, right groups have widely documented the abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli forces and the harsh interrogation practices used to force their confessions, which has long been the target of criticism by the international community.
A recent article published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has confirmed the extent to which Shin Bet interrogators subject their to torture.
Ofer detention center is one of the most common sites used by Israel for the interrogation of Palestinian children, where Jawarish was reportedly being held. Last October, the  the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs reported that the “overwhelming majority” of Palestinian minors held in Israel’s Megiddo and Ofer prisons are tortured during their detention and interrogation.
Defense for Children International – Palestine has said their research showed that almost two-thirds of Palestinian children detained in the occupied West Bank by Israeli forces had endured physical violence after their arrest.
Palestinian stone throwers face harsh penalties by Israeli authorities, with Israel passing a laws in 2015allowing for up to 20 years in prison if charged with throwing stones at vehicles and a minimum of three years for the act of throwing a stone at an Israeli — legislation rights groups say was designed specifically to target Palestinians, as Israelis and settlers are rarely prosecuted under the same standards of the law.
A Palestinian youth was sentenced to 18 years in prison last month for allegedly throwing a rock at an Israeli vehicle — representing the harshest sentence ever handed down for stone throwing.
(Source / 12.02.2017)