NEW B’Tselem report on Israel’s Settlement Policy  –   6 July 2010

B’Tselem’s By Hook and by Crook: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank report, which analyzes the mechanisms used to gain Israeli control of land in the West Bank for building the settlements, is based on official state reports and documents, among them army and Civil Administration maps, state comptroller’s reports and Brig.-Gen. Baruch Spiegel’s database.

The official data indicates that, although the built-up area of the settlements is about one percent of the land area of the West Bank, the municipal jurisdiction of the settlements and their regional councils cover more than 42 percent of the West Bank. In taking over all of these lands, the settlement enterprise has, since its inception, treated international law, local legislation, Israeli military orders, and Israeli law in an instrumental, cynical, and even criminal manner.

For years, Israel has declared that it is building settlements only on state land, and not on private Palestinian land. However, by cross-referencing Civil Administration data with aerial photos of the settlements taken in 2009, B’Tselem found that over one-fifth (21 percent) of the settlements’ built-up areas lies on land that Israel recognizes as private Palestinian land.

Some 66 percent of the settlements’ built-up areas are “state land”. Allocation of this land for settlements was only possible through a manipulative interpretation of all relevant laws in force in the West Bank.

Officially, in the framework of implementing the Road Map, Israel undertook to freeze construction in the settlements. In practice, from then until the end of 2009, the settler population grew by 28 percent, from 235,263 to 301,200 (not including East Jerusalem). The growth rate in 2008 was almost three times greater than the growth rate of Israel’s population – 5.1 percent compared with 1.8 percent. Since the beginning of the Oslo process, the number of settlers almost tripled.

An argument used to justify the construction in the settlements is that it is intended to meet the needs of natural growth of this population. However, figures of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics for 2006 show that 20 percent of the population increase in the settlements resulted from migration from inside Israel, and not from the birth rate. This figure was more than double the migration rate to Israel’s central region, in a year in which the migration rate to all other regions was negative.

The report provides updated information on the benefits and incentives Israel provides to encourage Israelis to move to the settlements. These benefits provide an immediate financial benefit to each family residing in a settlement. Most settlements are still recognized as National Priority Area A, which entitles their residents to various benefits in housing, education, industry, and agriculture.

The report also analyzes the illegality of the settlement enterprise under international humanitarian law, and the infringement of Palestinians’ human rights that result. For this reason, B’Tselem repeats its demand that the Israeli government evacuate all the settlements, in a manner that respects the settlers’ human rights, including the payment of compensation. Until then, interim measures include real freeze on new and planned construction, an end to land seizures, and cancellation of the benefits and incentives to encourage migration to the settlements.

A draft of the report was sent to the Ministry of Justice for response. The Ministry’s official in charge of human rights and ties with international organizations informed B’Tselem that the state will not respond to the report “in light of its political nature.”

DOWNLOAD REPORT 201007_By_Hook_and_by_Crook_Eng

By Hook and By Crook: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank

Some half a million Israelis are now living over the Green Line: more than 300,000 in 121 settlements and about one hundred outposts, which control 42 percent of the land area of the West Bank, and the rest in twelve neighborhoods that Israel established on land it annexed to the Jerusalem Municipality. The report analyzes the means employed by Israel to gain control of land for building the settlements. In preparing the report, B’Tselem relied on official state data and documents, among them Attorney Talia Sasson’s report on the outposts, the database produced by Brigadier General Baruch Spiegel, reports of the state comptroller, and maps of the Civil Administration.

The settlement enterprise has been characterized, since its inception, by an instrumental, cynical, and even criminal approach to international law, local legislation, Israeli military orders, and Israeli law, which has enabled the continuous pilfering of land from Palestinians in the West Bank.

The principal means Israel used for this purpose was declaration of “state land,” a mechanism that resulted in the seizure of more than 900,000 dunams of land (sixteen percent of the West Bank), with most of the declarations being made in 1979-1992. The interpretation that the State Attorney’s Office gave to the concept “state land” in the Ottoman Land Law contradicted explicit statutory provisions and judgments of the Mandatory Supreme Court. Without this distorted interpretation, Israel would not have been able to allocate such extensive areas of land for the settlements.
In addition, the settlements seized control of private Palestinian land. By cross-checking data of the Civil Administration, the settlements’ jurisdictional area, and aerial photos of the settlements taken in 2009, B’Tselem found that 21 percent of the built-up area of the settlements is land that Israel recognizes as private property, owned by Palestinians.

To encourage Israelis to move to the settlements, Israel created a mechanism for providing benefits and incentives to settlements and settlers, regardless of their economic condition, which often was financially secure. Most of the settlements in the West Bank hold the status of National Priority Area A, which entitles them to a number of benefits: in housing, by enabling settlers to purchase quality, inexpensive apartments, with an automatic grant of a subsidized mortgage; wide-ranging benefits in education, such as free education from age three, extended school days, free transportation to schools, and higher teachers’ salaries; for industry and agriculture, by grants and subsidies, and indemnification for the taxes imposed on their produce by the European Union; in taxation, by imposing taxes significantly lower than in communities inside the Green Line, and by providing larger balancing grants to the settlements, to aid in covering deficits.

Establishment of the settlements violates international humanitarian law. Israel has ignored the relevant rules of law, adopting its own interpretation, which is not accepted by almost all leading jurists around the world and by the international community.
The settlement enterprise has caused continuing, cumulative infringement of the Palestinians’ human rights, as follows:

  • the right of property, by seizing control of extensive stretches of West Bank land in favor of the settlements;
  • the right to equality and due process, by establishing separate legal systems, in which the person’s rights are based on his national origin, the settlers being subject to Israel’s legal system, which is based on human rights and democratic values, while the Palestinians are subject to the military legal system, which systematically deprives them of their rights;
  • the right to an adequate standard of living, since the settlements were intentionally established in a way that prevents urban development of Palestinian communities, and Israel’s control of the water sources prevents the development of Palestinian agriculture;
  • the right to freedom of movement, by means of the checkpoints and other obstructions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank, which are intended to protect the settlements and the settler’s traffic arteries;
  • the right to self-determination, by severing Palestinian territorial contiguity and creating dozens of enclaves that prevent the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state.

The cloak of legality that Israel has sought to give to the settlement enterprise is aimed at covering the ongoing theft of West Bank land, thereby removing the basic values of legality and justice from Israel’s system of law enforcement in the West Bank. The report exposes the system Israel has adopted as a tool to advance political objectives, enabling the systematic infringement of the Palestinians’ human rights.

The extensive geographic-spatial changes that Israel has made in the landscape of the West Bank undermine the negotiations that Israel has conducted for eighteen years with the Palestinians and breach its international obligations. The settlement enterprise, being based on discrimination against the Palestinians living in the West Bank, also weakens the pillars of the State of Israel as a democratic country and diminishes its status among the nations of the world.