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UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


This huge settlement will 'turn Palestinian villages into a prison'

by Gideon Levy          29 May 2015             Haaretz

Construction proceeds apace with the settlement of Leshem, creating yet one more 'settlement bloc' in the West Bank and bisecting it irrevocably.


A-Dik. 'They want to unify all the settlements into one unit, and turn the Palestinian villages between them into a vast prison, to which Israel has the key.' Photo by Alex Levac

It’s full speed ahead at Leshem, in the northwestern part of the West Bank. While some people are still amusing – or deceiving – themselves by clinging to the idea of a two-state solution, and while every desperate Palestinian approach to an international organization of any kind is branded a “unilateral move” that violates signed agreements, Israel is building another mega-settlement in the heart of the West Bank at a rapid pace. But that’s not considered a unilateral move, no way.

Dozens of cement “little boxes” are already occupied; hundreds more are under construction. While we were talking about other things, these uniform gray cubes sprang up and completed the malicious territorial continuity stretching from the coastal plain to the urban settlement of Ariel, and from there to Tapuah Junction, Ma’aleh Ephraim and the Jordan Valley – a clear, straight line that bisects the West Bank.

Another spanner in the works of the last, feeble chance of ever establishing a Palestinian state.

In a short time, when construction in this settlement is completed and another few thousand settlers move into its 600 dwellings, and when Ariel and its satellite communities are also recognized as a “settlement bloc” – unilaterally declared to lie within the Israeli consensus and as such never to be evacuated – Israel will be able to congratulate itself on a job well done: the abortion of the unborn state of Palestine.

Welcome to Leshem. One’s impression on approaching the vast building site is that a metropolis is under construction: dozens of intimidating bulldozers, Israel’s modern-day chariots, rolling across the ground on wheels and steel chains, creating an earsplitting din, raising columns of dirt and dust – digging, slashing, drilling, crushing, leveling and wounding the hill that will also become a settlement.

Leshem’s forebears protrude from the surrounding peaks: the settlements of Alei Zahav, Paduel, Ariel and the industrial zones of Barkan and Ariel West. Alongside them, hidden in their shame, are Palestinian towns and villages with the meager land that remains in their hands after most of it was plundered: Kufr a-Dik, Brukin, Deir Balut, Rafat.

Dirt roads lead to the construction site, next to which the first Leshemites are already living. Their children are already frolicking in the new playground, splashes of color in a sea of gray. When these children grow up, no one will be talking to them about a Palestinian state or about settlements. No one will ever tell them their settlement was built on stolen Palestinian land, with the aim of sabotaging the last prospect of a political solution. They will grow up in a national-religious community in homes with four exposures, advanced solar-heating systems, all superbly planned and designed, in what will be considered the center of the country, not far from the forgotten Green Line. Why, there’s Tel Aviv on the horizon, and Ben-Gurion airport, too.

All the homes of this new settlement are uniform in appearance, detached residences calculated to fulfill every Israeli’s dream. Blue-and-white flags are already flapping in the breeze next to the lots, and small- and medium-sized cars, Japanese and Korean, are parked outside the petite bourgeois residences. They will come here out of belief and ideology, but also for “quality of life.”

Leshem is being built as fast as the new highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

A bit of history: This community started out as a neighborhood of 19 villas whose construction was halted for unclear reasons – there is more than one version of what happened – and whose skeletons stood abandoned. The Israel Defense Forces trained at the site – then known as Chabad Illit, evoking the neighborhood’s initial period – during the second intifada. In 2010, when construction was renewed on the hill above the villas, it was referred to as a “neighborhood” of the Alei Zahav settlement, that is, the expansion of an already existing settlement. Thus, its establishment would not cause a ruckus, even though the “neighborhood” was actually a completely separate settlement. Everyone knows that Israel doesn’t build new settlements, it only extends existing ones.

But today the signs lead you to Leshem, not to Alei Zahav or any sort of mere neighborhood. This settlement is being built by private entrepreneurs, the road leading to it lies on privately owned Palestinian land, and though the High Court of Justice intervened momentarily, construction went on unimpeded.

Next to Leshem are the splendid antiquities of Deir Samaan, a convent dating from Roman times and throgh the Byzantine era. There aren’t many archaeological sites as impressive and as neglected as this one. It has everything: cisterns and huge mosaic floors, olive presses and flour mills, a sun clock, a trough for horses, ruins of a church and subterranean water systems, stone domes and marble pillars strewn on the ground – the remains of a wondrous ancient way of life.

Moldy green water fills the cisterns and ancient pools, and the whole site is debased by the sooty remains of barbecues, plastic bottles, empty cans of preserves and other garbage left by people who love this land.

The property adjacent to the construction site, including the archaeological ruins, belonged to Fars a-Dik. A lecturer in political science at American University in Jenin, he’s 35, single and works for an NGO involved in developing public-health policy. He lives in Kufr a-Dik, the neighboring village, population 6,000, most of whose lands were plundered and declared state land in order to create Leshem, even though Kufr a-Dik was then left with no land on which to build. About 100 families have already left the village for Ramallah.

Fars a-Dik had a small olive grove of 25 dunams (6.25 acres), which his father planted 35 years ago. In 1996, the state expropriated part of the family’s land and declared it an archaeological site, namely Deir Samaan. The son now has a monstrous construction site next to what’s left of his grove, and his trees are covered with layers of dust and construction waste. White olive trees are what’s left, offering no olives to pick.

His land is surrounded on all sides by settlements, and once Leshem is fully populated it’s unlikely that he’ll be allowed access to his land. A-Dik knows this. Leshem also separates him from another plot of land that belongs to his family. He hardly ever goes there, because of the great distance he has to traverse to reach it. Farmers from a neighboring village are working that land for him.

A-Dik likens the construction of Leshem to a finger that Israel is poking into the heart of the West Bank in order to break it apart.

“The Israelis want to unify all the settlements in the area into one unit,” he says, “and turn the Palestinian villages between them into a vast prison, to which Israel has the key. If Israel wants, it will open up and allow us access to our land, and if not, it won’t. It’s more likely that it won’t. Kufr a-Dik will turn from a village into a camp, because there’s nowhere left to build in it. When [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas talk about a territorial swap, it’s my land they’re talking about.”

But a-Dik knows that even the talk about land swaps is now no more than idle prattle.

He has a friend in England who recently visited him in his village, for the first time in five years. He couldn’t believe his eyes.


Settlements threaten Palestine’s historic sites

Violations carried out by Israeli settlers are destroying historic sites in Palestine in what many see as an attempt to bury Palestinian historic and cultural heritage.

by   Ahmad Melhem  Posted May 3, 2015   Palestine Pulse
TranslatorCynthia Mila
A room, which is part of an archaeological site, is seen in the Jewish settler neighborhood of Tel Rumeida, in the divided city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, Jan. 19, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Settlers from the Leshem settlement in the northern West Bank took over the archaeological village of Deir Samaan on April 12. The Leshem settlement, constructed in 2013, is located west of Salfit governorate. Targeting archaeological landmarks and stealing their contents is part of the policy adopted by Israel following the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Violations carried out by Israeli settlers are destroying historic sites in Palestine in what many see as an attempt to bury Palestinian historic and cultural heritage.

Author Ahmad MelhemPosted May 3, 2015
TranslatorCynthia Milan

Saleh Tawafsha, general director of the Ministry of Tourism’s Department of Antiquities Protection, told Al-Monitor, “Deir Samaan is an archaeological landmark that dates back to the Roman period. It consists of several monuments such as residential buildings, a church and mosaic floors. Since 1967, Israel has been fiercely attacking these archaeological sites. It has established several settlements like the Shilo settlement, built over 'Khirbet Ceylon,' a Canaanite city and archaeological site, north of Ramallah, as well as the Leshem settlement that encircles Deir Samaan.”

Khaled Maali, a researcher in settlement affairs who is closely following the situation in Deir Samaan, told Al-Monitor, “The settlers are digging around the archaeological site and changing its features. They set up buildings near it and created roads to access the site, which the settlement borders.”

The village of al-Walaja, located southwest of Jerusalem and inside the Green Line, has also been exposed to a targeted campaign set up by occupation authorities. The campaign aims to seize the land and relics and build touristic sites and a public park. Al-Walaja is exceptionally scenic and has 18 natural water sources. 

The appeal of this village, whose territory extends into the West Bank, is the presence of those 18 springs. This includes Ain al-Haniyeh, a spring that is located at the armistice demarcation line, or the virtual separation agreed upon by Israel and Arab countries following the 1948 war. The village is subjected to Israeli drilling, exploration and theft of artifacts. Israel ratified a decision to create a garden called Refaim that spreads over 5,700 acres of the village and 1,200 acres of the territories occupied in 1967.

Al-Walaja Mayor Abd al-Rahman Abu al-Teen told Al-Monitor, “Ain al-Haniyeh has arches, buildings and Byzantine mosaic floors, but the occupation authorities are preparing to implement a plan to establish a public park there. Al-Walaja is around 5,000 years old, and the occupation authorities are currently controlling it.”

Tawafsha said that the occupation authorities announced the establishment of 12 public parks on archaeological landmarks in the West Bank, including in the village of al-Walaja and on Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, between which Nablus is located. This represents “an Israeli piracy and assault that violated international law and norms, which prohibit tampering with the monuments of the occupied territories.”

The division of the West Bank under the Oslo Accord into three zones (A, B, C) contributed to Israel's control over archaeological sites and the looting of landmarks that are not supervised by Palestinians, especially in Area C, which is completely under Israel’s control and represents 60% of the West Bank, as well as the apartheid wall, which allowed for the seizure and destruction of dozens of archaeological sites.

Mohammad Jaradat, coordinator of archaeological data at the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, told Al-Monitor that according to the national list, which is to be published by the ministry once the parliament ratifies a new law on tourism and touristic sites, “There are approximately 7,000 archaeological sites in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, 53% of which are located in Area C and in which Palestinians are forbidden to conduct exploration, restoration and development.” Meanwhile, Israel has turned some of these landmarks into touristic sites, such as the caves of Qumran, north of the Dead Sea and “Khirbet Susiya” (“Susya”) in the city of Hebron, while settlers or artifact thieves steal from other sites. In addition, certain landmarks are given a religious character based on biblical narratives, according to Jaradat. This applies to Mount Ebal, where the altar of Joshua is said to be, and the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque (Rachel's Tomb) in Hebron.

Israel resorts to biblical tales, like the exodus from Egypt and the journey to Palestine, for instance, and changes the names of archaeological Canaanite, Byzantine and Islamic sites to biblical names. Israel also claims that the tomb of Joseph at Nablus holds the relics of the Prophet Joseph.

“The settlers are setting up buildings close to the archaeological sites, toward which they are creeping up, in an attempt to control them in order to claim that they have a historical right over the Palestinian territories, where there are about 223 archaeological sites within the settlements in the West Bank, some subjected to total destruction — such as the Um al-Jamal site — and others partially destroyed to make way for the construction of settlements. This is in addition to the 1,100 archaeological landmarks ruined and destroyed by the erection of the wall,” said Jaradat.

“The settlers are taking control of the archaeological sites, which they believe to be linked to the biblical references, which they use as propaganda, and they take this as a pretext for them to build settlements and take over the land,” he added

Palestinians are facing several problems as a result of the Israeli looting of the Palestinian archaeological landmarks. Tawafsha explained that the main obstacles to Palestine’s management of tourist sites are represented by “Israel denying the Palestinian authorities access to archaeological sites located in Area C or behind the wall, which impedes providing the necessary protection from artifact thieves, and the monitoring of violations in order to submit them to international organizations, especially UNESCO, in addition to turning archaeological landmarks into touristic sites.”

“The issue of archaeological sites is linked to the negotiations regarding borders and territories with Israel. Although we are not allowed access to these landmarks, which are being drained by Israel, the settlers and artifact traders, we call on UNESCO, of which we became a member, to pay attention to what is happening to our archaeological sites,” said Jaradat.

Regarding Israel's narrative of the archaeological sites, director of tourism and antiquities in the Islamic Waqf in Al-Aqsa Mosque, Yousef Natsheh, told Al-Monitor, “Israel is exploiting these landmarks to serve its political objectives. Israeli institutions and departments collude to prove the biblical narrative about archaeological sites and support active right-wing associations, such as Elad association, to implement one-sided projects to marginalize the Palestinian-Arab side of the story and confirm the Zionist narrative.”

Natsheh pointed out that Israel is earmarking significant budgets and conducting studies so as to control the archaeological sites, give them a Jewish character and separate them from their Arab surroundings, as happened in the Moroccan Quarter, the Holy Basin and the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

In light of the peace process falling flat and the continuation of Israel's control over the land, the Palestinian leadership relies on its membership in UNESCO in order to expose the Israeli violations. This was seen in practice in 2010 when UNESCO condemned Israel's adding the Cave of the Patriarchs (also known as the Ibrahimi Mosque) in Hebron and the Rachel's Tomb (Bilal bin Rabah Mosque) in Bethlehem to the national heritage sites of Israel and considered it a violation of international law and UNESCO and UN resolutions. Despite the violations, though, UNESCO voted on giving the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and its pilgrimage route World Heritage status in June 2012, thus protecting the said site.

In light of the persistent Israeli violations on archaeological sites, thousands of human and historical relics of ancient civilizations that were, thousands of years ago, upon the land of Palestine are now threatened with extinction, destruction or conversion.

Ahmad Melhem is a Palestinian journalist and photographer based in Ramallah for Al-Watan News, he writes for a number of Arabic outlets.

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