4 February 2021 – Illegal Israeli Settlement Colonization

Excellency,

The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, continues to deteriorate due to the escalating illegal policies and practices of Israel, the occupying Power.

Every day Israel proves it hasn’t abandoned its annexation plans. In every action, annexation is the driving force and ultimate goal. This is blatantly apparent in the illegal plans for the so-called “Givat Hamatos” settlement, yet another installment in Israel’s creeping annexation scheme, implemented across the nearly 54 years of this illegal occupation, by which it has swallowed up more and more Palestinian land, step by step, artificially dividing and fragmenting our land.

Israel’s colonial settlement drive in Jabal Abu Ghneim, around the Mar Elias Monastery and between Beit Safafa and Bethlehem, referred to by Israel as “Har Homa” and “Giv’at Hamatos”, in addition to the ongoing expansion of settlement infrastructure, including Jewish-only bypass roads, threatening the Cremisan Valley and Al Slayeb in Beit Jala, referred to by the occupying Power as “Gilo”, deprive Palestine of some of its most important lands, including natural resources, as part of the ongoing process of annexation aimed at surrounding Palestinian cities, towns and villages with a ring of settlements and severing the natural connection and contiguity between these areas and particularly between the sister cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

As cautioned by the Mayor of Bethlehem, Mr. Anton Salman, “such continued colonial-settlement expansion does not only separate the geography between the holy cities, it also contributes to the sabotage of our Palestinian practices and traditions, whether religious or cultural, inherited from our ancestors”. The impact is real, far-reaching and dangerous.

The illegal “Givat Hamatos” settlement will destroy the Palestinian State’s contiguity and deal a devastating blow to the two-State solution. Ask the residents of Beit Safafa and Sharafat, who have witnessed widespread dispossession and displacement due to Israel’s frenzied colonization and have lost faith in the two-State solution and the possibility of peace. Once “Givat Hamatos” is completed, towns like Beit Safafa and Sharafat will be completely isolated and surrounded by the Wall and illegal settlements, frighteningly resembling the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa. This is the reality that they, like millions of Palestinians under this illegal occupation, are living.

Back in 1997 we urged the Security Council to take action to stop the illegal settlement of Jabal Abu Ghneim/Har Homa. This was met with broad international condemnation of Israel’s plans and led to the convening by the General Assembly of its tenth emergency special session. Yet no decisive action was taken to stop the occupying Power, bringing us to the brink we are at today. Will the international community allow Israel carry on with these colonial plans between Bethlehem and Jerusalem to make a new “Jabal Abu Ghneim” without consequence, or will it act to uphold the law and salvage peace prospects? 

It is no secret why such impunity prevails. Israel persists with this illegal colonization and annexation campaign because it is cost-free, because it has never been held responsible for its flagrant violations of international law and UN resolutions. This is epitomized in the events of recent weeks where, even after Israel revealed plans for the construction of thousands more settlement units in “Givat Hammatos” and other settlements across the West Bank, the international community has been unable to move beyond condemnation and appeals for cessation to concrete action to hold the occupying Power accountable and compel a halt to these crimes.

We reiterate: whether annexation is implemented partially or totally, de facto or de jure, the international community is obliged to take serious, tangible action, as per international law and the relevant UN resolutions, including Security Council resolution 2334 (2016).

The false Israeli narrative that these settlements are a part of Israel must be firmly rejected. We recall Security Council resolution 2334, by which the Council not only demanded that Israel cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, but directly called upon States “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

Lack of respect for resolution 2334 and the absence of accountability has led to further Israeli colonization and annexation measures in our land, resulting in further dispossession, displacement and other violations of the rights of the Palestinian people. Even in this time of pandemic, the Israeli occupation has failed to demonstrate an ounce of humanity as Palestinian homes, structures, and properties continue to be demolished.

Yesterday, Israeli occupying forces demolished Khirbet Humsa in the northern Jordan Valley for the second time in the past 48 hours and for the third time in less than three months. Thirteen residential structures – home to 11 Palestinian families consisting of 74 people, 41 of them children – and five structures and tents for livestock were dismantled and confiscated and the families were forced to relocate to another area. This is forced transfer, a blatant violation of the 4th Geneva Convention, amounting to yet another war crime by Israel against the Palestinian people.

This was preceded on 24 January by the demolition of agricultural structures, including water wells, in the village of Al-Khader, south of Bethlehem, and, on 26 January, the issuance of a demolition order against a medical clinic in Zanouta, south of Al-Khalil (Hebron), again at a time of raging pandemic. The following day, Israeli occupation forces stormed Masafer Yatta, south of Al-Khalil, demolishing a mosque. That demolition was carried out less than two weeks since our last letter, which warned against the occupation’s intentions to destroy many buildings in Masafer Yatta, including the mosque and a school funded by the European Union. On 2 February, clearly not coincidentally, the area of Masafer Yatta was declared by Israel as a “firing zone” for a large-scale military training maneuver, forcing the residents from their homes and exposing the plans to seize this area.

Similarly, on 27 January, Israeli occupation forces once again stormed Khan al-Ahmar, which has been routinely targeted over the years by the Israeli military, and faces imminent destruction to clear the way for the expansion of the illegal settlements of “Ma’ale Adumim” and “Kfar Adumim”. According to OCHA, Khan al-Ahmar is “one of the 46 Bedouin communities in the central West Bank that the UN views as at risk of forcible transfer, including due to a coercive environment generated by Israeli practices and policies, including plans to move the communities from their current locations.”

All of this has been accompanied by constant settler rampages. Under the protection of Israeli soldiers, along with the backing of the Israeli government, Israeli settlers, including extremist militias, enjoy near absolute impunity. Since our last letter, settlers have caused damage to Palestinian homes, vehicles and uprooted hundreds of more trees, depriving Palestinians of their livelihoods and inflicting daily harassment, intimidation and violence on Palestinian civilians, including children, including the attempted kidnapping of an 11-year old Palestinian girl that was fortunately averted.

The fact is that the violence and criminality of the Israeli settlers is part and parcel of the illegal settlement drive. The settlers and the government work hand in glove, two sides of the same operation, aimed at colonizing and annexing our land. As Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has pointed out: “Israel benefits from the repercussions, as settler violence has gradually dispossessed Palestinians of more and more areas in the West Bank, paving the way for a state takeover of land and resources.” This is the engine for what B’tselem has rightly identified as Israel’s aim of “geographically and demographically engineering space” to ensure its control and “Jewish supremacy” in all of the land.

This policy has clearly also fueled continued oppression of the occupied population, with total disregard for Palestinian lives. Young Palestinian males continue to be disproportionately affected. On 26 January, Atallah Mohammad Rayan, 17, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers near Salfit, after occupation forces claimed he carried a knife. Eyewitnesses reported that Israeli soldiers made no attempt to provide first aid, and the child was left to bleed until succumbing to his wounds. On 31 January, a young Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli occupation forces south of Bethlehem. Eyewitnesses also reported that the young man was left to die as occupation forces prevented him from receiving emergency aid following the incident.

Here, we must again draw urgent attention to the plight of Palestinian children being held captive in Israeli jails along with thousands of other Palestinians. We highlight today the case of Amal Nakhleh, a 17 year old-boy, who was sentenced by Israeli military court to 6 months of administrative detention without charge or trial. The EU and several human rights organizations have called for release of Amal, who suffers from myasthenia gravis, a rare chronic autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness, including in the muscles used for breathing and swallowing. We reiterate the call for his immediate release and that of all Palestinian children being held by the occupying Power and for Israel’s respect for its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It is impossible in one letter to convey how pervasive, insidious and destructive this illegal occupation’s policies and practices are to our people, how severe the impact is on every aspect of life, sparing no one. Whether imposing in its illegal colonization and annexation plans or its illegal and immoral blockade of the Gaza Strip, Israel is perpetrating countless violations causing widespread Palestinian suffering and destroying the viability of the two-State solution and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace and security. The absence of accountability undoubtedly encourages these crimes as Israel continues to evade consequences, distracting the international community with its lip service to peace, while actually making it impossible to realize. Only accountability can alter this dismal equation. We thus appeal today, as we have for years, for tangible international action, including by the Security Council, to uphold the rule of law, protect civilians and salvage the prospects for a just, lasting and peaceful solution, in accordance with the relevant resolutions, before it is too late.

I should be grateful if you would arrange to have the text of the present letter made available to the members of the Security Council for their immediate, valuable consideration and also distributed as an official document of the Security Council.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Dr. Riyad Mansour

Minister, Permanent Observer