The Illegality of Settlements
Soon after Israel’s occupation of the Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem in 1967, it began to build illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The UN has consistently re-affirmed the illegality of these settlements, most recently in Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016. It is a violation of international law for a State to transfer its population to territory it occupies and is considered a war crime. To meet its international obligations, Israel must stop building settlements, reverse any settlement developments and make full reparations. Yet Israel supports settlements unconditionally through the delivery of public services, the encouragement of economic activities and retroactive approval of unauthorized structures and outposts. There is a long-standing international consensus that Israeli settlement activity is illegal and an obstacle to achieving a peaceful solution.
Currently there are over 600,000 illegal settlers on Palestinian land. There are 400,000 in the occupied West Bank and 200,000 in occupied East Jerusalem. During 2016, 1195 new settlement units were built. Since the Oslo peace accords of 1993 were signed and Israel professed its commitment to a establishing a Palestinian State, the number of illegal Israeli settlers has increased by 270,000 under Israeli government sponsorship. It amounts to colonizing land that is supposed to form a future Palestinian State. Settlements now make up over 60% of Area C, the area of the West Bank which remains under Israeli control. Since Benjamin Netanyahu took office there has been 25% increase in the building of illegal settlements and during his third term of office 460 settlement units have been built every month.
Occupied East Jerusalem
Following their illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, Israel began a project of illegal settlement expansion in order to continue their judaisation of the city, a project still being carried out today (July 2017).
According to the UN Human Rights Council as of the end of 2015, over 208,000 illegal Israeli settlers were living in the Jerusalem area. By surrounding the city of Jerusalem with illegal settlements, Israel intends to isolate it from the West Bank, causing a fragmentation of Palestinian land with hundreds years of contiguity. This fragmentation purposefully renders the establishment of a Palestinian state very difficult.
According to the Palestine Information Centre, the Israeli Planning and Building Committee is expected to have approved the construction of 6,000 settlement units in East Jerusalem by the end of July 2017.
Legalization of ‘Outposts’
Besides the illegal settlements which are openly sponsored by the Israeli government, unauthorized settlement construction by settler groups is widespread. Over 100 unauthorized outposts and thousands of housing units in existing settlements have been erected. The Israeli government continues to give tacit agreement to these outposts by giving retroactive approval of them, encouraging further illegal activity by settler groups. These measures allow Israel to circumvent laws and avoid international scrutiny. Thus new contiguous areas of settlement blocks and road infrastructure take more Palestinian land and establish Israeli control over it.
National Parks and Archaeological Sites
Archaeological excavations, the creation of national parks and the development of tourist activities is another calculated strategy Israel uses to confiscate and establish control over Palestinian land.
East Jerusalem is particularly affected in this way. A prime example is the Kedem Compound in the Palestinian area of Silwan. The settler organisation Elad has been actively promoting and making plans to expand the Compound to make it into a major tourist site, simultaneously occupying Palestinian homes and forcibly evicting their owners. Such strategies are used in all areas of occupied West Bank.
Impact of Settlements- Demolition of Palestinian Property and Forced Evictions
As Israel encroaches on more Palestinian land through its aggressive settlement policy, Palestinians are forcibly evicted from their homes and land. This has dramatically increased in the last two years. In 2016, Israel demolished 546 Palestinian homes and other structures, including 79 in occupied East Jerusalem resulting in the displacement of 796 Palestinians. Facts suggest there are close links between the rate of settlement expansion and demolitions and forcible evictions.
Impact of Settlements – Settler Violence
Settler violence against Palestinians is on the increase. Between June 2015 and May 2016, there were 175 incidents of settler violence resulting in the injury of Palestinians and damage to their property. A very few of these cases are ever investigated and even fewer see the perpetrators of the violence brought to justice. This has created a culture of impunity among these settler groups who often hold very extreme ideological views. This lead to fatal consequences in July 2015 when settlers perpetrated an arson attack in the middle of night on a Palestinian home in Duma as the family slept. Only six year old Ahmed survived his mother, father and eighteenth month old brother who were burnt to death.
Impact of Settlements – Freedom of Movement
Freedom of movement of Palestinians is curtailed by many aspects of Israeli occupation including checkpoints, the apartheid wall, the refusal to issue permits to Palestinians to travel even for essential medical treatment. Settlements also restrict Palestinian mobility. Access to land surrounding settlements is restricted to Israelis only with additional buffer zones around them and the settler-only roads with a high military presence of the Israeli occupying forces. Palestinian farmers require permission to access their land near these zones. The mobility of children is affected as they face threatening situations as they travel to and from school crossing military zones and facing harassment by settlers.
Impact of Settlements - Economic
The impact on the Palestinian economy, as result of the occupation, has been estimated as £2.6 billion. Illegal settlements contribute to this greatly. Farmers are restricted from farming their land, which is arbitarily confiscated. Settlers attack farmers and their crops, burning olive trees and another fruit trees. Also the severe restriction of movement makes it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to travel to places of employment and secure an income.
The Israeli enterprise of illegal settlement building must stop if Israel is truly committed to peace.