Reps. Castro and Escobar's Letter to Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken, and Director Haines:

The Honourable Lloyd J. Austin

Secretary

U.S. Department of Defense

Washington, DC 20301

 

The Honourable Antony Blinken

Secretary

U.S. Department of State

Washington, DC 20520  

 

The Honourable Avril Haines

Director of National Intelligence

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

McLean, VA 22102

 

Dear Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken, and Director Haines:

We write to express our deep concern regarding the U.S. Department of State’s recent comments regarding assurances from the Israeli government, under National Security Memorandum (NSM) 20, that the Israeli government is using U.S-origin weapons in full compliance with relevant U.S. and international law and is not restricting the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In the face of mounting credible and deeply troubling reports and allegations that Israel has used U.S arms in ways that violate U.S. and international law, including international humanitarian law as it relates to civilian protections and aid flow, we believe a failure to question, at minimum, the Netanyahu government’s assurances, violates the very spirit of the NSM-20 process. The NSM requires the Secretaries to report to the President if their validity has been called into question. As such, we would like to understand whether and how the State Department and Department of Defense (DoD), in collaboration with U.S. intelligence community, have been provided with the opportunity to contribute substantively in support of this, and related, policy processes.

For months, elected representatives, intergovernmental bodies, international courts, Israeli and global human rights observers – along with government officials themselves – have persistently expressed grave concerns regarding the actions of the Netanyahu government. These include its conduct throughout the war in Gaza, its policies regarding civilian harm and military targeting,  unauthorized expansion of settlements and settler violence in the West Bank and potential use of U.S. arms by settlers in additional to limitations on humanitarian aid supported by the US. We are concerned that some of Israel's actions may not be consistent with international humanitarian law, which the United States has an interest in consistently upholding.

On March 23, over 20 major nongovernmental organizations issued a statement noting that “the humanitarian response in Gaza, including U.S. funded humanitarian assistance, has been consistently and arbitrarily denied, restricted, and impeded by the Israeli authorities. Bureaucratic constraints are preventing a humanitarian scale-up, on top of the conduct of the conflict. These constraints include the continued closure of vital border crossings, including crossings into northern Gaza; rejections of aid items for entry based on arbitrary, opaque and shifting justifications, including definitions of dual use; lengthy delays and unpredictable processes for the inspection of trucks; and denial of movement requests within Gaza. In addition, there have been repeated attacks on aid workers, convoys, distributions and humanitarian sites, including those submitted to the Israeli authorities as part of the humanitarian notification (“deconfliction”) process.

We remain concerned by the stark differences and gaps in the assessments being made by the State Department and White House on how Israel has not been found to be in violation of international humanitarian law, either when it comes to the conduct of the war or when it comes to the provision of humanitarian assistance, which are contradictory to those made by prominent experts and global institutions. Given the dire and catastrophic nature of this war, it is critical to ensure that the U.S. government is fully utilizing the expertise of State Department and DoD officials and legal experts, accounting important intelligence community assessments and data, in thoroughly assessing Israel’s actions in Gaza. Non-political experts’ substantive analysis is vital to ensuring the accuracy and credibility of any and all of the assessments under NSM-20, as well as in the arms transfer review process and security assistance obligation process. As such, we are seeking to understand whether, and how, legal experts and other officials within the State Department and DoD have been formally or informally tasked to examine these issues, and more specifically:

  1. Which agencies conducted or been directed to conduct any assessment of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, including whether the use of U.S.-origin weapons has been in accordance with U.S. best practices, or international law, or has violated any human rights? If so, what were the results of that assessment? Will the results of the assessment be incorporated into the first reports to Congress as required by the NSM on May 8th?
  2. Has the U.S. Intelligence Community been tasked with supporting the development of the Congressional Reports required under National Security Memorandum-20 (NSM-20)? If so, what were the results of that assessment? Will the results of the assessment be incorporated into the first reports to Congress as required by the NSM on May 8th?
  3. Has the Office of DoD General Counsel conducted, or been directed to conduct, any general assessment of whether Israel’s conduct in Gaza since October 7th complies with international humanitarian law or other aspects of international law? Will the results of the assessment be incorporated into the first reports to Congress as required by the NSM on May 8th?
  4. Has the Office of the Legal Adviser conducted, or been directed to conduct, any general assessment of whether Israel’s conduct in Gaza since October 7th complies with international humanitarian law or other aspects of international law?   If so, will the results of the assessment be incorporated into the first reports to Congress as required by the NSM on May 8th?
  5. Has the Office of the Legal Adviser conducted, or been directed to conduct, any substantive assessment in support of a decision on the authorization of a Foreign Military Sales case or issuance of a Direct Commercial Sales license to Israel, since October 7th, of whether Israel’s conduct in Gaza complies with U.S. law, international humanitarian law or other aspects of international law, or of whether the transfer of an armament may violate U.S. commitments, or any international convention or treaty to which the U.S. is a party, or the spirit of the Arms Trade Treaty, to which the U.S. is a signatory?   If so, will the results of this assessment be included on May 8th?
  6. Has the Office of the Legal Adviser conducted, or been directed to conduct, any assessment of whether Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act (22 USC  2378-1) has been or should be triggered by Israel’s restriction of U.S.-funded humanitarian assistance to, or in, Gaza? If so, will the results be incorporated in the May 8th assessment?
  7. As a part of the assessment of the assurances provided by Israel subject to NSM-20, was the Office of the Legal Adviser in the Department of State requested to provide, or did it otherwise provide any substantive analysis of the credibility of the assurances? If so, will the results be incorporated in the May 8th assessment?

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Given its urgency, we kindly request a response to these questions by May 1, 2024.  

 

Hadar Susskind on Haaretz Podcast (April 9, 2024)

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Statement by Americans for Peace Now on House Resolution 1117

April 10, 2024 - Americans for Peace Now (APN) strongly opposes House Resolution 1117 which claims to oppose efforts to “place one-sided pressure on Israel with respect to Gaza.”

House Republicans are again using straw-man arguments to make a show of support for the Netanyahu government. The Hamas attack on October 7 was horrific and there is and can be no rationale to defend it. And Israel is and was entitled to self-defense. Neither President Biden nor anyone in the administration has ever suggested otherwise.

The Biden Administration’s decision to abstain on the UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and the return of all hostages was both politically sensible and an expression of important American values. In the midst of a growing famine and with tens of thousands of civilians dead, the UN resolution was a reasonable attempt to restrain the Netanyahu government from continuing to pursue a war with no meaningful defined goals and no benefit to Israeli security.

APN’s President and CEO Hadar Susskind said: “House Republicans can continue to throw meaningless tantrums on behalf of their political ally, Prime Minister Netanyahu. Or they can observe that Biden Administration pressure has provided for the opening of the Erez crossing, the immediate transfer of more humanitarian aid and possibly a step toward the cessation of large-scale hostilities. I remind them that the goal of all people should be ending the war and moving toward a real peace. We suggest they work with their Democratic colleagues to do whatever it takes to bring this war to a close, and begin working on long-term political solutions that sideline Hamas and resolve the conflict.”

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Legislative Round-Up- April 5, 2024

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

1. Bills, Resolutions
2. Letters
3. Hearings & Markups
4. Selected Media & Press releases/Statements

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Naomi Paiss

Naomi Paiss
Interim Director of Communications
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               .
Naomi Paiss is serving as Interim Communications Director for APN.  She retired in 2022 after more than 40 years running  public affairs  and communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the New Israel Fund, the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence,  the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and other organizations.

Based in both DC and Jerusalem, Naomi rejoined the working world to help APN through a period of transition and to participate in the serious issues now confronting both Israel and the U.S.  

 

 

News from APN- Ori Nir Retires

After 18 years at APN, our VP for Public Affairs Ori Nir is retiring. Born and raised in Jerusalem, before landing at APN Ori led a storied career as a journalist primarily focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He covered Palestinian affairs at Ha’aretz in the early days of the Intifada and through the implementation of the first phases of the Oslo Accords. As the Washington correspondent for both Ha’aretz and the Forward, he focused on US Mideast policy. Ori is widely known as a go-to expert on issues of Middle East peace and conflict, not only because of his vast knowledge and experience and his fluency in both Hebrew and Arabic, but because of his enormous sense of compassion and understanding for all involved.

Ori was an innovator and a storyteller at APN, bringing the organization into the podcast era with PeaceCast. His mellifluous voice and probing questions have made our podcast a must-not-miss week after week. His op-eds – appearing in numerous outlets including Ha'aretz and the New York Times– were filled not only with important information but also deeply personal stories. Those of you who traveled with Ori to Israel and Palestine over the years had the experience of learning from him every step of the way. While our communications and public affairs work will continue to grow and change, we will miss Ori deeply. He is one of those rare people you get to work with who is completely and utterly irreplaceable.

We’re sending Ori off b'hatzlacha, bil tawfiq, and good luck for the next stage of his journey.

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What the Killing of World Central Kitchen Workers Should Mean for US Aid to Israel

By Madeleine Cereghino- Director of Government Relations

The tragic and avoidable killing of seven World Central Kitchen workers on Monday has underscored the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the significant obstacles faced by relief efforts due to the actions of the Israeli government. While the IDF and Prime Minister Netanyahu have offered apologies for the airstrikes, labeling them as mistakes made by commanders in the field, José Andrés (the founder of World Central Kitchen) has asserted that the relief workers were deliberately targeted by the Israeli military.

President Biden has issued his strongest condemnation of Israel's conduct since the start of the war, including calling Israel’s failure to safeguard civilians and aid workers "a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult” and saying that” Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians."

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Legislative Round-Up- March 29, 2024

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

1. Bills, Resolutions
2. Letters
3. Hearings & Markups
4. Selected Media & Press releases/Statements

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Six Months Later... Multi-Front Stalemate (Hard Questions, Tough Answers- April 1, 2024)

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Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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Transcript- An Unprecedented Year for Settlement Expansion- with Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran

Hadar Susskind 1:19

Hello, everybody, and welcome to this APN webinar. For those of you just joining in, I'm Hadar Susskind, I'm the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. Thank you for joining us today. I have here with me two of my esteemed colleagues, our Director of Government Relations here at APN, Madeleine Cereghino -hello, Madeline. Wave at the crowd. And our special guest today: many of you, of course, know Hagit Ofran, who is the co-director of Shalom Achshav's Settlement Watch program. And in a moment, we will hear more from Hagit and then from Madeline as well. Before we do that, just quick housekeeping notes. I want to remind everyone that this is recorded. And we will be sharing the recording, as well as using the audio to make a podcast episode and sharing the transcript as well. So if you want to share it with folks later, or come back and listen again because it's so fun, you will have that opportunity. We will get to a Q&A period. When the time comes, I ask that you use the Q&A button, the function at the bottom of your screen, and type in your questions. Try to keep them short and try to please keep them focused on the topic of our conversation today. We will get to as many of them as we possibly can. If there are questions that we don't manage to get to today, we will share them with Hagit and we will happily answer them however we can. So with that, again, hello and welcome everybody. We're here today specifically to talk about the 2023 Settlement Watch report that Shalom Achshav recently released. It is really the most comprehensive and deepest document about settlement activity and settlement growth in the year.

This past year, you know, by any standard, the findings were terrible and disturbing. Again, even considering Netanyahu's far right settler-led government. Obviously, most eyes globally have been focused on Gaza and what's happening there, but the conditions in the West Bank and the continued growth and construction of new settlements has been unparalleled and frankly horrific. But you are not here to hear me talk about it, you are here to hear Hagit talk about it. So with that I will say, Hagit, hello. Thank you again for joining us. And please tell us more about the report and tell us more about what is happening in the West Bank.

 

Hagit Ofran 3:58

Thank you very much. Thank you for arranging this and having me. As a settlement watch person, I've been very, very busy in recent days, weeks, months. It is all the time developing. New things are happening. It's hard to follow. But we are doing our best. And when we did this summary for 2023, it was really a record year for so many things in settlements. Of course, the approval of plans and the promotion of new units in West Bank settlements - it's a score year since we started to follow that. A number of new outposts were established in one year - it was 26 new outposts that we counted. And already since the end of 2023, there are another five or six new outposts already. And there were 26 last year, so it's a record year. The approval of outposts - 15 outposts went through at least one stage of approval. And the promotion of the development of roads is also dramatic. So yeah, a lot of things are going on right now on the ground in the West Bank. 

 

Hadar Susskind 5:58

Thanks. Madeleine, you want to kick us off?

 

Madeleine Cereghino 6:03

Yeah. Thank you so much. So obviously, things are terrible, as you mentioned. Can you talk a little bit more about the factors that are contributing to this rise in, you know, the establishment of outposts and the advancement of construction plans? And particularly has anything, in your estimation, changed post- October 7?

 

Hagit Ofran 6:23

Yeah. I think the main powers to do all those changes on the ground are the government powers. We have the most right wing government that we've ever had, and specifically, the coalition of Netanyahu - now he's so dependent on Ben Gvir and Smotrich who are far far right. Mr. Smotrich specifically, he's a settler, he's very talented in understanding how things work, and he had a big plan. And he knows what he wanted to accomplish. And he managed to get a lot of things that he wanted, many changes. I did not mention the change, which we call an annexation, or the year of annexation that took place during this year. And it was changes in the way the government is managing settlements. Officially, as you know, it's occupied territories, and it's not supposed to be managed by the government of Israel. International law sets the norms for how to manage occupied territories, and it should be done by the military. And the military should consider the interests of the population, in our case, of the Palestinians. However, what Smotrich has done was - and it's not Smotrich, it's the government, but he is leading this - he managed to civilize the management of settlements. Meaning, that is, many many aspects of the administration of settlements are now reporting directly to him, to the minister. And the people who are in charge of it are not officers in the military, they are civil servants of the Israeli government. Legally they need to consider the interests of the Israelis. And you can say, well, it was always the government that pulled the strings and decided what's going on in the West Bank. This is true, and the military would do what the government asked it to do. However, now that you have those people who are in charge of settlements, and they are political people, reporting to Smotrich, including the Legal Adviser, this is a change on the ground that we are starting to see. And I'm sure if it will not change soon, we will see more of those changes on the ground in the near future.

 

Hadar Susskind 9:54

So that goes right, actually, into what I was going to ask you, which is a legality question. We know, you know, under international law, settlements are all illegal. But even under Israeli law, there are, you know, illegal outposts. So now, because of what you're just saying, I've got a two part question. So the first part is, you know, what's the criteria the government uses to decide how to legalize those, because obviously often they are retroactively legalized. But it goes into, I think, exactly what you were just talking about. Because that difference between having the military administer the settlement enterprise, versus having the government do it isn't just a bureaucratic difference, right, it's a legal difference. Because under international law, it is the military occupation that has the responsibility for what happens there. So in fact, I mean, legally, you said it, in some ways it is an act of annexation to now have the civilian government administering that role.

 

Hagit Ofran 10:58

Exactly, Hadar. We're seeing, along the years, the incremental annexation of the West Bank. And it's, I think, now it moved a big step forward, you know, taking down some of the last places or focal points where you could have some kind of restraint over the wishes of the settlers or the government or the Israelis, in terms of the administrating of the West Bank and the settlements. So it is dramatic. And I think legally, we are all so interested in what's going on in the international court in the Hague, but there is also the previous legal file against Israel in the ICC. And there we are in big trouble. I mean, settlements are illegal, as you said. And now, we are even doing it in a more blatant way, I don't know how to say it. Yeah.

 

Hadar Susskind 12:30

And I want to just go back to the first part of that question about the legalizing, the retroactive legalizing? 

 

Hagit Ofran 12:36

Yes, yes, I forgot that. 

 

Hadar Susskind 12:38

I asked two questions, that's on me. 

 

Hagit Ofran 12:40

Yeah, outposts are the method that actually started when Netanyahu was elected in 1996, after Israel said, we said we are going to peace, we had the Oslo agreement, and so it's not reasonable that Israel will establish new settlements. So since then, Israel is not establishing new settlements, but it's happening by itself. It's on the ground and it's considered illegal. However, throughout the years, the government started to retroactively legalize those illegal outposts and already managed to legalize at least 23 of them or even more, I don't remember by heart. And this year, they moved forward with legalization of another 15. The legalization will include, first of all, making sure that you have some rights to the land, usually it means to make them state land. And then putting the jurisdiction, or setting the limits for the new settlement, the government's decision to establish this new settlement. And then the planning process to allow the construction. And each outpost or each settlement is being promoted in different levels right now. Today, we're just, you know, uploading our update for another outpost that is now being legalized by setting a new jurisdiction for an outpost called Achiah near Shilo settlement, at the heart of the West Bank, where they are now putting a new jurisdiction, so that after this jurisdiction is completed, they can file a plan to legalize the outpost. But I think - these phenomena, it's dramatic, it's important. I think that what is more urgent now is the relatively new phenomena of the last few years, of outposts that are actually agriculture farms, that are actually places where you have more and more attacks by those settlers against Palestinians. And in 2023, there were at least 21 Palestinian communities that were displaced from their homes following the threats and attacks by settlers, and also the pressure that they get from the Israeli army and from the authorities. And last week, I visited a Palestinian community when they were packing and running away from a settler that established a new outpost. It's near the settlement of Ma'ale Efrayim, it's in the Jordan Valley. There is a Palestinian community there, and they were packing and they were running away from this guy who came there 10 days before and established a farm and brought a few sheep. And he brought a bus, he lives in a bus there, and he threatened them and told them "if you're not leaving, by the end of this week, you will be harmed." And some of the families got the message and ran away immediately. Then a few days later came a military unit to do a search in this community, you know, go into their homes and searching for I don't know what and made them stand out in the rain for many hours. And also they had a pipeline from the nearby spring that was cut, and after they fixed it, the pipe was taken away. So they realized they don't stand a chance. And then two days before I met them, there was a Palestinian shepherd who was killed not far from them - not in the same community, but not far from them - after some argument with settlers, then the army came and shot him. The Palestinians say that he didn't do anything, he was just, you know, standing there. The army said that the soldiers felt under threat, so they shot him. So it's very, very tense. And of course, since October 7, the level of violence, the intensity of the violence against Palestinians is much, much higher. We see another very important change, which has to do with the military. Before the seventh of October, most of the settlements were guarded by one or two guards that are civilians (that are funded by the Ministry of Defense, but they're civilians, usually settlers who live there) and a bunch of settler volunteers who are ready, in case of emergency, to take guns  and go and protect the settlement. Now after what happened on the seventh of October, the attacks on localities and on houses inside Israel, of course people were terrified of what might happen in the West Bank. So the army recruited settlers to be the guards of the settlements. And now you have a unit, in each settlement, of, I don't know, maybe 10 soldiers, most of them live in the settlement or in a nearby settlement. They are reserve soldiers, so they get the uniform, they get the weapons from the IDF. But they're settlers who live there. And some of those soldiers are part of the mechanism that is pushing away Palestinians. And suddenly, Palestinians who know a settler who is harassing them when they are out in their fields, suddenly, he's coming with the uniform and weapon. And in some cases, it had to do with more harsh attacks. And suddenly, it's not the settler violence, but it's military violence. And those groups, they are now on reserve duty. So all day, they don't go to work, they are there to guard. So what do they do all day? They patrol, and then if they're bored, or if they think it's important, they will go out to patrol to the next door village, to make sure there are no threats or whatever. And you can imagine, or you can hear, what it means sometimes for the Palestinians, for their sense of security and the threats they feel. So we have more than 1000 Palestinians who fled, ran away from the threats of the settlers, and sometimes settlers in uniform. And that's a dramatic, dramatic development.

 

Madeleine Cereghino 22:14

That's horrifying, and I want to get into the issue of settler violence in a little bit. But I want to talk a little bit more about, you know, the displacement of Palestinian communities and the fragmentation of Palestinian territory, and how the construction and expansion of roads and settlements has contributed to that. And also, if you could tell us if Israel has taken any steps to mitigate the negative effects of settlement roads on Palestinian lives.

 

Hagit Ofran 22:48

What we see, from all governments of Israel in recent years, was total support of the settlers. And there are now - you know, it's hard to say how many farms or outposts already, it's around 100 of them, and outposts another 100. So there's almost 200 of such outposts. And if there was a system, or even a small political will, to block them, then it would be very easy to to block them. The military knows exactly where they are, they know exactly what they do, but they allow them to be there. And not only do they allow them to be there, they support them, they support them in so many ways. Each of the municipalities in the West Bank gets funds for something that is called "protection of state land". Now, "protection of state land" is the codename for displacing Palestinians, or kicking out Palestinians from the area. So those settlers who establish a farm, who go out to the field all the time to threaten Palestinian farmers to not come near etc. - they are supported by this project that the government is funding through the municipalities of the settlements. You have the support that is coming through direct budgets that are given to shepherds. We just completed a report that exposes that the government supported those illegal farms directly, gave money to those settlers, with more than 1.6 million shekels in the last six years, in addition to support they get through volunteers that are funded again, by the Ministry of Agriculture. So the government is supportive of this action, although officially they will tell you that it's illegal, and that it's not approved or whatever. But I like to say, settler violence is not a bug, it's a feature. It's part of the effort that the government, by the settlers, is taking to take over land in Area C, and to displace, or to kick the Palestinians out of Area C.

 

Madeleine Cereghino 26:16

Thank you. It was a two part question, so I'm sorry for bugging you on this one again, but I'd love to hear more about the way in which the roads themselves kind of carve up Area C and make life infinitely more difficult, in addition to the settlements.

 

Hagit Ofran 26:34

Yeah, so there are two kinds of roads I would like to talk about. One kind, is something that - you know, I've been monitoring settlements with Peace Now for 18 years now - I've never seen such development like I see today. It's almost every day that we see new roads that are being opened, paved - it's usually dirt roads somewhere in the hills that settlers open. And these roads are, of course, illegal. And they are dramatic, because when you have an access road, that you can get to an area fast, you can easily reach new hills and new places, and kick out farmers from it. And sometimes they're used as a kind of a border, to mark the border where Palestinians are allowed or not allowed. And of course, after you have a road open, then it's possible to bring the bus or the caravan or whatever, to build a new presence, a new farm, a new outpost. So that's one kind of development that we're seeing on the ground all the time. It's not easy to, you know, to map all of them, but we know where they are and in general, how they look. And the other kind of roads - this is more systematic and more, I think, dramatic in terms of the possibility to expand settlements - are the main roads, bypass roads that the government is developing. It started several years ago, with the government approving billions of shekels to development of main roads in the West Bank. All of them are meant to allow better commuting for settlers, because most of the settlers work in Israel, and they commute every day. And there is a limited amount of cars that the existing roads can take. And there are a lot of traffic jams in the West Bank, or at least in the roads leading to Israel from settlements. And in order to be able to develop and build more and attract more settlers, you need better roads, you need more lanes, and you need more bypass roads to bypass Palestinian villages, etc. So what we're seeing is a huge amount of money, even after the cuts that took place in the budget because of the war. We still have 3 billion shekels for roads in settlements. Just to understand, 3 billion shekels for new roads are 20% of the road budget of Israel. And, as you probably know, only 5% of Israelis live in the West Bank settlements. But they get, now, budgets of 20% of the budget of developing roads. And this is something dramatic, because when they complete those roads, the development of the settlements will almost automatically come, because it's an economy. It's natural development - when you have good roads, it's becoming a better suburb to move to. Actually, we looked at a bypass road that was opened in 2008, east of Bethlehem, it's called the Lieberman Road, leading to four settlements. And in less than 10 years, those settlements doubled. And that's what the settlers want to achieve with the current development. And unfortunately, yes - 

 

Hadar Susskind 27:57

It's not an accident. That's why they're building those roads. 

 

Hagit Ofran 30:43

No, no it's not, it's not an accident. Even, you know, on, I think it was Friday, or Thursday, that there was a terrorist attack near a settlement called Dolev. And the reaction of minister Smotrich and the Minister of Transportation Regev - they jointly announced that they are now promoting a bypass road that leads to the settlement. And it's a whole new road that is in an area where you still don't have Israeli presence in the West Bank, west of Ramallah. That will dramatically shorten the road from the settlements Dolev, Talmon and Neria to Jerusalem. And it's dramatic. If you're interested in that, we just published an update on this announcement too.

 

Hadar Susskind 32:30

Thank you Hagit. So there's so much - I have a lot of questions. But given all of my questions, I'm actually going to take one that was submitted here, which is maybe trying to look at some future options and solutions. So the question, and I'm reading it out of our Q&A, is: what would be the best strategy for reversing the current wave of settlement expansion? Would it include returning supervision of the settlements to the military, budget restrictions by the Israeli government? And then, of course, the questions about external pressure, including the US sanctions, and actually now European sanctions, that we're seeing being placed on, at the moment, it's particularly violent settlers. And part of that, and I'm obviously referencing President Biden's executive order from last month. You know, tell us a little bit about - do you think the impact of that is being felt in the settlements yet? And yeah, I'll stop there.

 

Hagit Ofran 33:34

I think there's no real question of how can you stop settlements, because it's so simple. It's a political decision, all settlements are directly controlled by the government. It's occupied territories, it's not even like development in Israel, where you can say there are some, you know, private interests, that you cannot stop them from developing. It doesn't exist in the West Bank, it's all under direct control of the government. So as soon as there is any political will, the action is very clear. And I can, you know, start and list what you can do in order to stop settlements or even limit the development. But of course, the question is, how do you get political will to do it? And maybe remind me of this question, because I think it's important. But one thing that we see again and again in polls, and especially in recent months, is that most Israelis, they hate the violent settlers. I mean, hate meaning that they feel - they don't like it, they don't support it - it's the most far image that they can find for themselves. And I think it is important to remember that, because you think, well, you have Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a violent settler himself, as a minister, and so you imagine that they have a lot of support in Israel. But I think the violent acts, and we saw it even before October 7th, are not supported by Israelis. But before October 7th, people didn't care about it, or didn't hear about it, because it's - well, I don't want to go into all the reasons why our issue was so not interesting, not on the agenda before the seventh of October. But now it's different. Now the Palestinian issue is on the table. And it's in the discourse in Israel, and of course, in so many aspects now. But the settler violence is something that I think most Israelis, now they start to hear about it, because it also constitutes a security threat, because they are trying to set fire also in the West Bank. And we have enough, you know, in Gaza, and in the north, and we don't want to have another front in the West Bank. So even, you can hear from the military and from some security people, how the violent settlers are a threat. And here, I think that the American move of sanctions is dramatic. It is very dramatic, although, you know, it did not bring a huge backlash in Israel, and you didn't hear too much argument about it. Except from the settlers themselves that are saying - How come? We have a democratic state and how can there be an intervention? As if settlements are an internal issue of Israel. I mean, Israelis really don't understand that it's occupied territory.

 

Hadar Susskind 37:41

Or not inside of a democratic state, for that matter. But yes.

 

Hagit Ofran 37:43

Oh yeah, right, also that. And it's not funny. But I said it was dramatic. First of all, what we hear is that, for instance, Minister Smotrich, is like, putting in hours and hours of his time trying to fight or to find a solution, or how to counter those sanctions. Because it's serious, it's really a game changer in terms of what the settlers can do and what the government can do. And all, you know, the banking system can do. And I think it was a very smart move, because it's not, you know, they're not sanctioning the state of Israel, for all the bad deeds that the government is doing, and it's not punishing the whole society. But the American administration is saying with a clear, clear message that settler violence is not acceptable. And if you are a violent settler, we don't want to have any kind of connection to you, and you cannot have a bank account in America, etc, etc. And it means also that you cannot have a bank account in Israel. So I think we are yet to see all the implications of that. And I think it's very important, but I don't want us to expect that "Oh, now the government will start chasing those settlers and stop all the settlement activity." We need to, first of all, remember who is in our government and who is our prime minister, and who they think they serve, who is their base. But it might become more and more problematic for them to support it. And so I think it's something that is encouraging, although it is a very, you know, far reaching move, you know, to rule against the person, you know, without the court, etc. But it is very, very important.

 

Madeleine Cereghino 40:32

Thank you, I want to spend a little more time on those sanctions. And we have a question in the chat that kind of kicks us off about how they could be expanded without involving Congress. And kind of the impact of these sanctions. So I'll just start here and then I'll ask you a question, if you don't mind. Number one, we've already seen an expansion of these sanctions, and I think that's really exciting. But just - I'm losing track of time now, but I think in the last two weeks, I want to say? Two weeks ago, you know, the second round of sanctions was issued. And this time, instead of just targeting individuals, two farm outposts were also wrapped up in those sanctions. So the way that this executive order is crafted allows for a lot of flexibility on behalf of the administration. So it kind of extends - not the sky's the limit, but somewhere, you know, in the atmosphere is the limit here. You know, the President could, if they're willing, go so far as to sanction those who are promoting settlements, not just settlers or promoting settler violence. So, you know, if you're saying "I'd like to see another Huwara," and you're a government minister, you would, you know, possibly fall under those sanctions if the United States Government chooses to act. So it really is a nimble little thing we have now. To that, I wanted to talk a little bit about these types of efforts. I know you talked a bit about, you know, how Smotrich has been dealing with it. And I also want to talk a bit about the Pompeo doctrine and the reversal of that, which came at the end of February. But I think we've seen now a couple of different signals from the US administration that they're taking this seriously, and they're taking this increasingly seriously. So yeah, could you talk maybe a little bit more about how the reaction to the Pompeo doctrine was over in Israel? And if that, you know, you think could have any other impact? Oh, and I'm sorry, just to be clear, the Pompeo doctrine was, you know, something that Secretary of State Pompeo issued at the very end of the Trump years. It was actually after Biden was elected. And it basically said "settlements are no longer illegal in the US' eyes." So this reversal is a return to a very long standing policy on the legality of settlements.

 

Hagit Ofran 43:16

Yeah, well, I think if it were canceled, you know, on time, way before seventh of October, this would become a big argument in the Israeli media, and people would discuss - settlements are illegal, not legal, etc, and what the Americans are doing to us or whatever. But now, this passed, I think, quietly with no public attention in Israel. You know, we have so much on our heads now. Of course, security, security, security, and we have a corrupt government, and we have hostages. I mean, this really passed with no public attention at all, in terms of the internal public debate in Israel. And I think, really, it's not dramatic, it's almost a given that settlements are illegal. But in terms of, you know, the American stance on settlements, and it has to do also with, you know, other international organizations, etc., it's very important. It was really essential to go back to this basic notion that settlements are illegal and that they are bad for Israel and for the chances for any stability here.

 

Hadar Susskind 45:00

So, to follow up on that a little bit, a couple of things that we saw happen this week. So you mentioned - well, I mentioned, at the beginning, the 2023 settlement report, and then you mentioned, there's even the newer report about the Ministry of Agriculture allocating funds to those illegal farm outposts. So I want to ask you to tell folks a little bit about that report. And I'm going to connect with it. The other piece of news we saw this week was Smotrich's declaration of 8000 dunams, right, in the Jordan Valley, as state land, which is the biggest sort of land grab, I think, since the Oslo Accords. 

 

Hagit Ofran 45:41

Yeah. 

 

Hadar Susskind 45:43

Yeah. And so again, you know, we've been talking about little illegal outposts that happen here, how this is happening, a settler takes this action. But both of these are not actions by individual settlers, or some, you know, rogue body. Both of these are government actions, right? The Department of Agriculture has been, or the Ministry of Agriculture has been funding these illegal outposts, and we're seeing this massive land grab. Tell us a little bit about both, if you will, and also, do you think that there is, you know, a particular reason that they're doing this now as opposed to before or why? Or do you think we just, you know, found out about it more now?

 

Hagit Ofran 46:23

Yeah well, in terms of the Ministry of Agriculture assistance to those outposts, this is something that is ongoing at least for six years, that we know, and we only found out now. The pretext for that is that the government, or the Ministry of Agriculture, wants to encourage the preservation of open spaces, open areas, through grazing of land, and it has some ecological and environmental reasoning. And so if you have a flock, I don't know, of cows or sheep, and you graze it in open areas, and you have enough heads of sheep, or whatever, you might get some amount of money for doing that, for grazing open areas. And this is something that is happening inside Israel. But what we found is that these funds are also going to individual farms, or farmers, in the West Bank, including, for instance, a person called Neria Ben- Pazi, who got a few dozens of 1000s of shekels from the Ministry of Agriculture. And he is now sanctioned, and his farm is also sanctioned now by the Americans. This means, of course, that this year, he cannot receive funding from the government unless the government would want to risk our money with sanctions. So I believe that he's not going to get this direct support, they might find ways to bypass it, but not directly.

 

Hadar Susskind 48:41

Hagit, can you just - sorry to interrupt, but can you speak to that for a second, about the material support? Right, why the government can't fund him because he has been sanctioned.

 

Hagit Ofran 48:50

Well that's - I believe you know better, I mean, the system of this sanction. So you can explain it.

 

Hadar Susskind 48:58

Alright, so I'll add in a sentence. So just to make that clear, you know, when the US government has implemented the sanctions on the individuals or on the outposts, any other individual or body that is funding them, right, then could be subject to being sanctioned themselves because of what's referred to as material support, because they are supporting the sanctioned individual. You usually hear that phrase, material support, thrown around when people are talking about people who are funding Hamas or Hezbollah or terror organizations. But it's the same idea - if an individual or institution has been sanctioned, if you then fund that individual, you yourself run the risk of sanctions, which is, again -that's really the power and the broad reach of what those sanctions can do. So okay, back to you.

 

Hagit Ofran 49:52

Yeah, so it's just another example of how the government really supports this, it's not a fringe idea. And it's not by accident that you have so many of those outposts all around the West Bank taking over hundreds of thousands of dunams in recent years. It's all backed by the government directly, and of course, indirectly, through many mechanisms that we only understand part of, I believe. And as for your second question about declaration of state land. Declaration of state land is a tool that Israel has been using in order to take over Palestinian lands in the West Bank through a very draconian interpretation of the Ottoman law, saying that if land is not cultivated for several years, then it becomes public property, what is called in Israel "state land." And this way, during the 80s, the government surveyed the lands in the West Bank and declared, on thousands of dunams, said now it's not private anymore, it's now our land, or government land or public land. And by the way, public land is supposed to be allocated to the public, and the public in the West Bank happens to be Palestinian. However, the occupying power, also known as Israel, is not allocating those lands to Palestinians. Only less than a quarter of a percent of the lands that were allocated were allocated for Palestinians, and most of it was allocated for them so that they will move to another place to allow the expansion of a settlement. So it's really a means of taking over Palestinian land. And when Itzhak Rabin was elected in 1992, he stopped that, and the declaration of state law stopped until 1998, when Netanyahu was the prime minister and they started, you know, every year, not even every year, to declare here and there some lands as state lands. And what we see this year, in 2024, is already a record in that we had two declarations of around 10,000 dunams almost. And in total, we have already 40,000 dunams that were declared and taken over by the government since Rabin, since Netanyahu renewed that. So, yeah, we see all the means are ongoing or renewing under this government in order to take over the West Bank.

 

Madeleine Cereghino 53:23

Thank you. We have a couple questions in the chat that I want to get to, and I know we're short on time. So I'm just gonna go ahead and answer one before I ask you the other question. We had a question about the extent that settlements, either roads or otherwise, are funded with American money. And then the question about whether or not, if that is the case, why doesn't Biden cut off money? So one, no, settlement construction is not funded by US tax dollars. However, as we were kind of getting to - as Hagit and Hadar were getting to with the conversation around the executive order a bit, there are, you know, nonprofits and other charitable groups that raise money for settlements in the United States. And supposedly, you know, say one of those settlements is considered to be, you know, under sanctions, right, and is, you know, a launchpad for violent settlers. Then, yeah, then they could end up finding themselves sanctioned as well. So that hasn't happened yet, that has not been determined and there have been no, you know, sanctions against settlements that are funded by the United States from what I understand - or by Americans' money, from what understand - but that is, you know, within the realm of possibility, should the President choose to take it that way. Okay, then we have a question about the statistics and demographics, I should say, of Israelis living in the settlements. 5% of Israelis live in settlements from what you said, Hagit - it seems like a small number given all the incidents and negativity of the issue. Can you elaborate on that number as a percentage of Israeli demographic statistics and the future growth trends, given typically high birth rates for Orthodox citizens and follow up there? Is it documented anywhere in the current government where it stands or panders as to metrics and whether or not more outposts are going to be authorized per year, as we look ahead?

 

Hagit Ofran 55:34

The growth in the settlement population is higher, the growth rate is higher than in Israel. However, it's slowing down. And it's interesting, like I think 10 years ago, it would be three or three and a half or 4%, every year, and now it's around two, two and a half or something like that. And that's important to remember, that although the government is putting a lot of efforts to bring settlers and to make it more impossible to undo, it's not that the Israeli public is standing in line in order to go there. It has become less and less the average Israeli kind of settlers that used to be in the past. Now, it's mostly ideologically motivated settlers. And there are enough of them, but it's still not the masses. So we can be a little, you know, hopeful from the fact that it's not much, much bigger than what the settler movement would wish. But again, if you are able to build good roads, and to build a suburb, close to Jerusalem, where I can, in the money that I spend for two rooms in the city, I can have five rooms and a garden 10 minutes drive from my work, then Israelis might move there. And that's why they still have growth in settlements. And of course, there are also the ultra Orthodox cities, settlements that are growing all the time. So that's for the statistics. Maybe it's a good way of saying that we're not doomed here. And although it seems very hard to undo the settlements, I think, still, I get encouraged by the fact that still today, the majority of Israelis, they don't support the settlements as such. I mean, it is more that they don't care for them. And therefore, when we are able to get to a reality, where there is a peace agreement, where there is an arrangement, that will be the time where the majority of Israelis will say we support it - or will say we always supported it. And I think we're not doomed here, but we have to push very strongly in order to get to that moment. And I think the seventh of October with all this horrible, horrible situation and the thousands and thousands of Palestinians that are killed and thousands of Israelis that are killed, it's also an opportunity, because our issue is back on the table. Israelis cannot ignore it anymore. And we are getting to the moment of choice, and there is actually only one reasonable choice. I mean, there is the Ben-Gvir choice, the saying, okay, kick out all the Palestinians. But this is not where most Israelis are at. And I believe that it's not going to happen maybe tomorrow morning, but this is now the time not to give up and to put our utmost efforts to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians into a process that would lead to this two state reality, or two state solution that will bring us peace. And I believe it's possible.

 

Hadar Susskind 1:00:08

Thank you Hagit, thank you for joining us today, thank you for all of the work that you are doing. Thank you for ending it on that note, which I appreciate. By the way, tomorrow morning would be fine with me for the record. But even if it is not tomorrow morning, we will all continue to work, continue to work for this. Thank you, Madeline. And thank you everybody for joining us and we will see you all soon. Bye.

 

Madeleine Cereghino 1:00:34

Thank you.

 

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