Israel Approves Construction of New Settlement Building in Silwan

Hours after Israel’s Jerusalem municipality cancelled plans to vote on approving construction of hundreds of new Israeli settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem, Jerusalem’s city planning commission approved a plan to build a three-story building for Jewish settlers in the neighborhood of Batan al-Hawa, in the heart of the occupied Palestinian village of Silwan, just south of the Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israeli Border Police in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem

Israeli Border Police in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem (Photo: B’Tselem)

On Wednesday, December 28, the Jerusalem municipality cancelled a vote to approve settler units to avoid further strain on diplomatic relations with the US, as US Secretary of State John Kerry was set to give a speech addressing his vision for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and  United Nations Security Council resolution 2334 which last week reaffirmed that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law.

In the days following the passage of the resolution 2334, reports emerged that Israel’s Local Planning and Building Committee in Jerusalem municipality was expected to approve thousands of housing units in occupied East Jerusalem for illegal settlements. However, later reports said the coming plans would have been just for the approval of 492 building permits in Ramot and Ramat Shlomo.

Members of the Jerusalem committee told Israeli television Wednesday that the cancellation of the vote came at the request of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, out of fear the approval of the new settlements would have given Kerry “ammunition before the speech.” However, just ahead of Kerry’s speech, a vote on the Silwan project took place. The TV report also said that the Jerusalem municipality denied Netanyahu had called for the earlier vote on the units in Ramot and Ramat Shlomo to be put off.

The Silwan settlement project was introduced by the Israeli pro-settlement nonprofit organization Ateret Cohanim, and its approval was been postponed many times in the past due to political pressure, according to Haaretz. The plan will permit Ateret Cohanim to construct a new building located near the site of controversial Beit Yonathan, which was sold to Ateret Cohanim by the custodian of absentee properties, without a tender. Ateret Cohanim focuses on “Judaizing” East Jerusalem through a Jewish reclamation project working to expand illegal settlements and facilitate Jewish takeover of Palestinian properties across the Green Line into Palestinian territory.

B’Tselem has carried out a survey to map the processes underway in Batan al-Hawa, a neighborhood currently undergoing the most extensive dispossession proceedings in East Jerusalem in recent years. Nine of the roughly 50 parcels in the neighborhood have already been transferred by Israeli authorities to the Ateret Cohanim association, and settlers have moved into five of them. At the moment, eviction claims filed by the settler association over the past two years are pending against 81 Palestinian families who have been living in the neighborhood for decades. These families all live in Parcel 96 which covers an area of 26 dunams (about 2/3 of an acre) in the center of the neighborhood. In addition, the Jerusalem Municipality has fined two other families, who live in Parcel No. 84, and issued demolition orders for parts of their homes on the grounds that they had encroached on land that belongs to Ateret Cohanim – even though the settler association began steps toward taking possession of the properties only in 2001.

Ateret Cohanim already has possession of six buildings in the neighborhood, containing 27 housing units, most of which had been home to Palestinian families who have already been dispossessed. This dispossession of neighborhood residents is organized state violence in pursuit of an unlawful end – the forcible transfer of protected persons from their homes in an occupied territory. Needless to say, Israel’s courts have given the seal of approval to every aspect of this reality.

Related: B’Tselem survey maps “Judaization” of the neighborhood of Batan al-Hawa, East Jerusalem