Land and settlements
“No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” (Article 17-2)
From the Fourth Geneva Convention:
“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” (Article 49)
Land takeover is the central issue
The central issue facing the Palestinians – other issues surround and follow from it – is the takeover of Palestinian land to build Israeli settlements, combined with pressure on Palestinians to move away. This is clearly against international law and it is a cruel process for Palestinians.
Racism, inequality and apartheid
The word for these settlements in French is ‘colonies’ which perhaps explains better than the cosy English word what these well-resourced villages and towns are. Built in with the settlements is a systematic racism that goes beyond inequality – it is apartheid. This is clear in the takeover and control of the land, the separated housing, the differentiated access to resources, even the separate roads for settlers and for Palestinians and the different laws that govern them. The inequality is clear when Palestinians cannot be given permits to build but the Israeli settler movement is given encouragement and benefits to expand the settlements. Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are not open to the local Palestinians or to the refugees who want to return. These are built by one people on the land of another people and with the view that the local people should not enter except (with special permits) to work; that they should never live there and that they really do not count.
The expansion of settlements
Takeover of the land
In 1967, the West Bank and Gaza – the parts of Palestine that had not become Israel 19 years previously – were taken under Israeli military occupation. The Israelis annexed East Jerusalem, began the take-over of West Bank land and via the energetic settlers’ movement (well-funded by Zionist groups in Europe and America) to build new villages and towns, and, using Israeli government subsidies, began to people the settlements.
Palestinian land was taken over in different ways. Some was declared as closed military areas – no-go areas for Palestinians. The historical ‘amiri’ land was declared state land and kept for Israeli use. In some places, land was declared as ‘environmental areas’ so that Palestinians were forbidden to build, but then later taken over as the site of new Israeli towns. In the 1970s, the Israeli government had an organised policy of confiscation of Palestinian lands for settlements in the West Bank and Gaza – hence the Palestinian protests that are remembered each year in Land Day (30th March) – and once the settlements are established, further land is taken for roads, rubbish, military protection around them and so on.
The settlers’ movement has continued to push for expansion and there has not been a time since 1967 that it has stopped building. There have been big jumps in settlements when the Israelis felt safe to do so, such as the period after the Camp David accords in 1978, and then again after the Oslo accords in 1993, since when they have been steadily building over huge areas of ‘Area C’ which was left in Israeli control.
There are settlements inside East Jerusalem, some in houses where Palestinian people have been pushed or threatened to leave, and some new build above and between Palestinian homes. There are settlements across the hills all over the West Bank, making life very hard for the Palestinians who live near to them. There were settlements too in Gaza until 2005 when Israel withdrew these settlements to the hills of the West Bank.
By now, Israel has taken over about 60% of the West Bank from the Palestinians. The number of Israeli settlers in and in the West Bank is around 640,000. The settlers’ movement with its restless push to take more is sometimes represented as ‘bad boys’ but it has been Israeli governments both Labour and Likud have consistently the settlements which are an integral part of the Israeli occupation.
The settlements and resources
The settlements with their running water, swimming pools and green lawns stand in real contrast to the Palestinian villages around them where water is a problem. The settlements are using the local water, but with different rules (made by Israel) about the depth and type of well and pump that they can use. They are given access to so much of the local water supply that in some areas the local Palestinians are having to buy their water back from the settlements. Partly as a result of the diversion of the water supply, there are real water problems in the Palestinian towns – times that households do not have enough water in their tanks. Each settler has access to around six times as much water as the Palestinians.
An important area of settlement for the Israelis and dispossession of the Palestinians is the Jordan Valley, which is a wonderful agricultural resource that Palestinians have called their “food basket” and traditionally depended on for vegetables and fruit. In 1967, the Israelis declared most of that area a closed military area, drained the fresh water Lake Al-Hola that fed it (again for the use of the settlements) and built huge farming settlements which produce projects that they not only use but export.
The settlements with over half a million people produce a lot of waste, and there are also industrial settlements with big and quite polluting factories. Waste from the people and the factories runs into Palestinian lands, filling valleys with strange-coloured water (eg near Salfit), sewage (many valleys, much agricultural land (Wad il-Nar) and in some cases to inhabited areas (Azzoun al-Atmeh) and waste dumps with worrying run-offs (Abu Dis, Jayous).
Palestinians and the settlements
The settlers’ dangerous behaviour
Palestinians have lost not only land but people to the settlements. The expansion of the settlements is often violent and in order to frighten Palestinians away from a particular area, violent settlers have attacked people, broken limbs, threatened, imprisoned and in some cases set fire to homes and killed people. Others (like Ali in Abu Dis, see our book) have been killed on demonstrations, or hurt by Israeli soldiers protecting settlers and settlements within towns like Hebron or Jerusalem or in the countryside.
Living near a settlement
Palestinians’ rights in their own homes are being made second to the security of settlers. Sometimes people have strong pressure on them from the Israeli authorities or from the setttlers’ movement to leave homes that are close to settlements. Some people living near a settlement – even if it is just one home – are unable to reach their own homes without a military permission and their friends are unable to visit them (Tel Rumeida, Hebron; Khalit Abed, Abu Dis; Ras Khamees, Anata..)
Settlements and imprisonment
Palestinians are prevented by Israeli checkpoints from going into settlements as a general rule though in some cases they can get permissions to work etc. But thousands of Palestinians have been taken into Israeli prisons and interrogation centres based on the settlements (Maale Adumim, Ofer, Atzion..)
At the time of writing, the settlers’ efforts to control of more land and push away the Palestinian claims are building strength again, and the Israeli government is looking favourably at the idea of annexing large parts of the West Bank formally to Israel. Look at the menu bar on the left for more information on annexation moves in July 2020 / on the case of Suwanet Salah / on the E1 project / on apartheid.