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Thirty-One New Settlement Units Approved to be Built in Hebron

In October, the Israeli government approved 31 new settlement units in Hebron. This is the first time since 2002 that settlements have been approved in Hebron. There are currently around 500 settlers living in the city, and the new units would increase the number of settlers by about 20%. The municipality of Hebron is expected to appeal the approval, saying that the permits were not issued properly because settlers were not allocated the land and had no right to request the permits. The move is seen as an Israeli response to a July decision to declare Hebron’s Old City as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site. Last week, Israeli settlers started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to build a new settlement in Hebron. The goal of the campaign was to raise 1 million shekels ($284,490) in 24 hours. They did not reach this goal, instead they raised just under 700,000 shekels in 24 hours. A group called Hebron Friends Fund has pledged to double the final amount donated. The settlement units are planned to be built on the site of an old bus station on Shuhada Street, the main street running through the heart of Hebron.

These settlement units will increase tensions in Hebron, where there is already a lot of tension and conflict between Palestinians and settlers. Shuhada Street has been closed off to Palestinians since 1994. Palestinians who still live near or on the street are subject to harassment and sometimes assault from settlers living near them. In addition to the nearly 800 settlers already living in Hebron, there are thousands of soldiers who protect them. With the addition of the new settlers, there will likely be more soldiers who are tasked with protecting them. The flux of both settlers and soldiers will further entrench Israeli control over most of Hebron.

It is unclear when building will start on these settlements, if it starts at all. The approval has to survive an appeal and the settlers will have to prove that they have ownership of the land before any construction can begin. This process can take months and could end in defeat for the settlements. Regardless of whether construction ever begins, the approval of these units is a sign that the Israeli government does not care that these settlements are illegal under international law and will continue to allow settlement expansion further and further into the West Bank.

Bedouin Community Facing Forced Transfer

Israel has ordered the evacuation of the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar, located strategically between East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. The village is home to 32 families, including 92 children of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. The tribe had originally resided in Tel Arad in the Negev desert but were expelled in the 1950’s by the Israeli military. The village has a mosque and a school that serves 150 children ages 6-15 from Khan Al-Ahmar and neighboring villages. The school was built in 2009 of mud and rubber tires by Italian NGO Terra di Vento. Funding for the school and other projects in the village has been provided over the years by Belgium, Italy and the EU.

Destruction of the village is would enable Israel to link Ma’aleh Adumim to East Jerusalem, paving the way for the settlement to incorporated into Israel. The eviction plans come at the same time as an Israeli bill to annex several Jewish-only West Bank settlements, including  Ma’aleh Adumim, into the  Jerusalem municipality. This would solidify a Jewish majority by giving 150,000 illegal israeli settlers the ability to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections.

Altogether, 12 Palestinian communities, totaling 1,400 residents, in the E1 area, east of Jerusalem are facing eviction. Removal of Palestinians in E1 and annexation of the area into Israel will divide the West Bank and separate it from Jerusalem. Previously, the evacuation of villages in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim have been met with international protest, including by the former Obama administration.

Human rights group B’tselem has said that the eviction of the entire Khan Al-Ahmar village is unprecedented. They have stated that removing the Khan Al-Ahmar school and population would be in violation the prohibition international humanitarian law on forcible population transfer. It would constitute a war crime.

Village of Susiya Facing Demolition

On November 22, the village of Susiya was informed by the Israeli State Attorney’s office that within 15 around 20 buildings, one-fifth of the buildings in the village, would be demolished. The demolition would leave about 100 people, including about 50 children without shelter as winter sets in.

In a rare move 10 prominent US Senators, including Senators Sanders, Feinstein and Warren recently sent a letter to Netanyahu demanding he not demolish buildings in Susiya or the village of Khan Al-Ahmar.

Hebron

Since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Jewish settlers have been forcibly establishing themselves in and around Hebron. Hebron is the only city in the West Bank with Israeli settlements inside the city. There are now four settlement points in Hebron’s city center: Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano, Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida. Around 500 Jewish Israeli settlers live in these settlements and around 7,000 additional settlers live in the outer Hebron settlement of Kiryat Arba. Hebron settlers are known for being the most violent and ideologically extreme of the settler movement.

In 1994 American born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the Ibrahimi mosque, killing 29 Palestinian worship and injuring 125 more. Israel responded by dividing the city, creating H1, under Palestinian Authority control, and H2, under Israeli military control. The main street, Shuhada Street, once a bustling marketplace, was closed almost entirely to Palestinians. Around 550 shops were closed by military orders. These shops remain closed and Palestinians in Hebron face a matrix of restrictions and checkpoints. There are 22 military guarded checkpoints and over 100 movement barriers. Palestinians traveling to work, to school or to buy groceries must pass through these checkpoints and around the movement barriers.

Over the past two years, settlers have been changing the names of the streets in Hebron from Arabic to Hebrew. This misleads visitors and changes the Palestinian identity of the city. It is illegal under Israeli law according to the Hebron Protocol, signed when the city was divided.

In 2012 a fence was placed in the street that runs along the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. The left side of the fence is designated for Jewish settlers and non-Muslim visitors to walk or drive. The right side of the fence, where the walkway is narrow and the pavement is broken, is for Palestinians to walk. The fence was extended in June, 2017 to enclose the Palestinian neighborhood, creating a ghetto. Families enter the neighborhood through a gate that is locked from 11pm to 6am daily or at the discretion of the soldiers on guard.

In August, 2017, Israel announced it would be giving official settlement status and an individual municipality to the Hebron settlements. This change of status marks a dramatic shift. On October 16, Israeli approved 31 new settlement housing units to be built in Hebron on Shuhada Street. If the construction goes through, it will be the first settlement construction in Hebron’s old city in 15 years. It will further increase the restrictions and violence Palestinians face.

Issa Amro

Issa Amro is an internationally-recognized Human Rights Defender from the city of Hebron in the Occupied West Bank. He is currently facing 18 charges in Israeli military court. The charges include such things as organizing an “illegal demonstration” in August 2010; allegedly spitting in the direction of a settler in 2012; insulting a soldier in March 2013 and entering a “closed military zone” in February 2016. Several of the charges against Mr. Amro had previously been investigated and dismissed. Under Israeli military orders, any political gathering of more than 10 Palestinians is considered “illegal.” Soldiers regularly declare areas to be closed military zones in order to prevent protests.

In 2010, Mr. Amro was declared Human Rights Defender of the Year in Palestine by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In 2011, Mr. Amro was a guest of the US State Department as part of its International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). In 2013 he was declared a Human Rights Defender by the European Union. His status as an EU HRD was reaffirmed in 2016. Mr. Amro has given testimony to the UN on numerous occasions. A US State Department report on human rights in Israel/Palestine for 2016 referenced the 18 charges Mr. Amro is facing. Amnesty International has called all of the charges against Mr. Amro baseless and politically motivated and stated if convicted, they will consider him a prisoner of conscience. United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territory Michael Lynks and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michael Forst, have expressed serious concern for Mr. Amro’s case.

In In June 2017, four senators sent a letter to the State Department inquiring about his case, and 32 representatives sent a separate letter urging Israel to drop the charges against him. Additional letters have also been sent by other Members of Congress.

Mr. Amro’s case is an example of Israel’s widespread targeting of human rights activists using old and exaggerated charges in a military court system. The conviction rate for Palestinians in Israeli military court is 99.7%. All Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Israeli military law, while Israeli settlers, living there illegally, are subject to Israeli civilian law.

Mr. Amro first appeared in court November 23, 2016. Mr. Amro’s attorney, Gaby Lasky, asked for 14 of the 18 charges against Mr. Amro to be dropped on the grounds that the charges are old, and in some cases previously investigated and closed. The court declined to drop or reduce any of the charges, stating that using old charges to file an indictment against Mr. Amro is acceptable because Mr. Amro continues to repeat his nonviolent practices.

Mr. Amro’s trial began on July 9, 2017 and continued on October 29. In attendance at his court appearances have been officials and representatives from the US, the UK, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the OPT, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others. Mr. Amro’s next trial date is scheduled for December 26.

What you can do:

  • Call for Israel to cease the demolition of Palestinian houses

  • Call for a freeze of all settlement expansion, especially the 31 new units in Hebron

  • Call for Israel to reverse its decision to give Hebron settlers their own municipality

  • Demand an opening of the closed streets, shops and marketplaces in Hebron

  • Send a letter to Netanyahu calling for no demolitions in Susiya

  • Demand Israel stop its attacks on Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders

  • Send officials to attend the military court trial of Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash. The next trial date is 25 December 2017

  • Support the UN release listing companies involved in or profiting from settlements

  • Stop meeting with Netanyahu until Israel ceases expansion of settlements