On June 4th, 2009 United States President Barack Obama outlined his administration’s policy regarding Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine. According to Mr. Obama:
“Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”
Israel almost immediately began colonizing the West Bank and Gaza Strip after their occupation following the 1967 War. Israeli settlers started creating “Jewish only” residential areas that were heavily defended by the Israeli army. Since their conception settlements and their population have continued to grow and expand across the territories, while annexing major parts of the West Bank (Israel “withdrew” from the Gaza Strip in 2005). All settlements are under control of the Israeli government and their military administration. A viable Palestinian state is impossible to create without a full dismantlement of settlements and their population from the West Bank to the pre-1967 borders.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a clear violation of international law under both The Fourth Geneva Convention and The Hague Regulations. Article 49 of the Geneva Convention prohibits occupying powers to transfer citizens of their own state into occupied territory-while The Hague Regulations prohibit an occupying power to make any changes in the land of an occupied territory unless they are for military purposes and the benefit of the local population.
B’tselem best describes how Israeli settlements violate both protocols of International Law. According to their website,
“The establishment of settlements results in the violation of the rights of Palestinians as enshrined in international human rights law. Among other violations, the settlements infringe the right to self-determination, equality, property, an adequate standard of living, and freedom of movement.
The illegality of the settlements under international humanitarian law does not affect the status of the settlers. The settlers constitute a civilian population by any standard, and include children, who are entitled to special protection. Although some of the settlers are part of the security forces, this fact has absolutely no bearing on the status of the other residents of the settlements.”
Numerous international organizations and bodies have termed the settlements illegal, and call upon Israel to halt all settlement building. Such organizations include the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, the European Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.
Resolutions have been passed by the United Nations Security Council condemning Israel for settlements, including UN resolutions 446, 452, 465, 471 and 476. All claim Israeli settlements to have no legality and unanimously terming them all illegal under international law.
Immediately after Israel’s capture of the West Bank and Gaza Strip the United Nations Security Council called for Israel to withdraw from the territories. Condemning Israel’s actions the Security Council passed UN Resolution 242. It was adopted calling on a “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Israel has ignored the resolution and continues a military occupation in the West Bank, while keeping the Gaza Strip an open air prison while continuing settlement expansion under occupation.
Facts and Statistics
There are currently 121 official settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and 12 built on land annexed to Jerusalem. This is in addition to 100-plus unofficial outposts and thousands of acres of Palestinian land that is secured for this construction. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), in September 2009, the number of settlers living in the West Bank had reached 310,200. It was estimated that at the end of 2008 almost 194,000 persons were living in Jewish neighborhoods built on land annexed to Jerusalem. The total settler population amounts to 6.5 percent of Israel’s population (for more information, see B'tselem Annual Report, 2009)
By 2008, the settler population (excluding east Jerusalem) had grown at a much faster rate than the general population: 4.7 percent compared to 1.6 percent respectively. In 2007, the population of the settlements (excluding east Jerusalem) grew faster than Israel’s general population: 4.5 percent compared to 1.5 percent. Some 40 percent of the settlements’ population growth was comprised of Jews emigrating from Israel and abroad.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, at the close of 2009 the number of settlers in the West Bank reached 517,774, with over half of these living in the Jerusalem Governorate. Their report also shows that the number of settlers who live in Israeli settlements in Palestine increased by more than 40 times during the period 1972-2009.
Despite the illegality of the settlements, and construction has been continuing at a high rate. In 2009, there were 1,703 housing starts in West Bank settlements (ICBS). This number compares to 1,518 starts in 2006, 1,471 starts during 2007, and 2,107 starts in 2008, during which construction was expedited in the wake of the November 2007 Annapolis conference. Construction on 2,077 housing units was completed in 2009. ICBS also reported that as of December 2009, soon after the construction moratorium went into effect, a total of 2,778 housing units were in various stages of construction in West Bank settlements (for more information see http://www.fmep.org/reports/archive/vol.-20/no.-3/settlement-timeline).
Unrecognized settlements, referred to in the media as “outposts” also exist. It is impossible to pinpoint an exact number on “outposts” but estimates showcase the number at around 100 and higher. Such settlements are usually very small scale and their numbers change constantly. While they are illegal under Israeli law, the government continues to fund their construction and not a single outpost was evacuated in 2009.
Update: On November 25, 2009, the Government of Israel announced a building freeze on settlement construction and planning. The ten month moratorium on Israeli settlements ended in September 2010. The construction rate in the following year, however has allowed the settlers to close the gap created by the building freeze. The trend of the fast growing number of settlements continues into 2011, as statistics show that the construction rate of illegal settlements in the West Bank is nearly double the construction rate inside Israel (Peace Now, September 2011).When the ten month long building freeze ended in September 2010, work began on 2,598 new settlement units in the West Bank. Further, the construction of 3,700 housing units continued throughout the moratorium, on the grounds that the construction had started before November 2009. Since the end of the building freeze, the construction of 2,149 housing units have been completed (Peace Now, September 2011).
One of the most contentious issues debilitating the peace process is that of east Jerusalem. Under international law, east Jerusalem is occupied territory, which means that Israel has no right to it by virtue of having taken control of it militarily, and its operations in that area violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs). Israel has been called upon continually to adhere to international law but without effect: The 2003 Road Map for Peace stipulated that Israel was to end all settlement expansion, and the Middle East Quartet reiterated the importance of that requirement in 2009, when it condemned ongoing plans to expand settlements in east Jerusalem. The Quartet stipulated that Israel must freeze all activity "including natural growth", dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and "refrain from demolitions and evictions in east Jerusalem"[The Guardian, Friday 19 March 2010].
Nevertheless, Israel has pursued a steady strategy of attempting to drive Palestinians out and incentivize Jewish settlement in that area. Since Israel captured the city in 1967, nearly 200,000 Jews have moved to east Jerusalem. In 2010, Israel declared plans to build 1,600 new homes in the area. Peace Now reports that this brings the numbers to over 8,000 proposed homes in east Jerusalem. In May, 2010 construction began on 14 housing units in Ras al-Amud, a neighborhood comprising 14,000 Palestinians [Haaretz, May 9, 2010]. “If you look at 2009 and 2010, you understand what the trend is here. The trend is massive expansion," said Arieh King, who runs a group that buys land for Jews in east Jerusalem and other areas. He said his organization's goal is to create "Jewish continuity" from Jerusalem to settlements in the West Bank, making it harder to eventually disconnect the two [AP, May 20, 2010]. The Inter Press Service reported that “Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced that Israel would never stop construction in east Jerusalem, the section of the city that Palestinians want for the capital of their hoped-for future state” [IPS, May 14, 2010]
Israel’s announcement of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem occurred during a visit of the United States’ Vice President Joe Biden in March, 2010. Biden released the following statement:
I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel. We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them.
Settler violence is a daily occurrence against Palestinians. The majority of settler households harbor weapons and constantly harass local Palestinians by stealing privately owned land, uprooting olive trees, shooting Palestinians, and disrupting agricultural growth for Palestinian farmers. Numerous international groups have condemned violence against Palestinians by the minority settler population but their complaints have largely fallen on deaf ears.
The case of Hebron
Hebron is a city notorious for settler violence. Hebron claimed 42% of the 290 recorded settler violence incidents in 2008 across the West Bank. A minority of Israeli settlers established residency in the city center amongst a Palestinian population. According to the Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron (TIPH) there are approximately 500 Israeli settlers living in Hebron, with an additional 7,000 living in settlement suburbs. Meanwhile the city of Hebron is home to around 170,000 Palestinians. Israeli settlers in Hebron are particularly hostile, forcefully taking over Palestinian houses in the city in a bid to uproot the local population. Outbreaks of violence are a regular occurrence in the fragile city. According to TIPH:
“In April 2002 IDF took full control of the entire city. Permanent watchtowers were constructed in area H1 in 2005. Since then the Israeli army operates over the entire area in violation of the agreements.
More than 100 roadblocks, fences, walls and checkpoints are put up in the city center around the settlements and the access roads to them. This separates the Jewish settlers and the Palestinian residents. Furthermore it severely hampers the freedom of movement.
Due to the restrictions and violence surrounding the settlements as well as prolonged curfews, large areas of the old city are deserted. Several main shopping streets are closed by military order.”
The economic impact settlements are creating on the Hebron Palestinian community is severe.
Israeli Human rights groups have recorded the difficult living situations working against Palestinians. B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel found in late 2006 that more than 40% of Palestinian apartments in the City Center had been vacated and over 75% of Palestinian businesses had closed due to difficult living conditions caused by settler harassment and restrictive Israeli army policies.