One of the most hot-button issues within the Palestine discussion is the Israeli settlements that dominate the landscape of the West Bank. It’s nearly impossible to listen to or take part in any conversation about Palestine without these settlements being mentioned at the very least. But what do you know about these settlements? What do they look like? They are widely considered illegal by the international community, but why? Beyond their legality, what’s the issue with these settlements that exist on the land? It is imperative for supporters of Palestine to have a firm grasp on this subject considering both its gravity and prevalence.
What are the settlements in question?
The definition is quite simple. Israeli settlements are communities in which Israeli (and exclusively Jewish) citizens live, built on land occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War; or al-Naksa as it’s known to the Palestinians. Beginning shortly after the war, the settler movement has inhabited some 230 communities in the West Bank with over 400,000 Israeli citizens. Additionally, another 300,000 Israeli citizens live in 12 neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which was also occupied by Israel in 1967. Settlements range from small outposts consisting of a few trailers, to full cities like Ariel and Beitar Illit and everything in between.
Are Israeli settlements really illegal?
Yes. And don’t take it from me, it is the overwhelming consensus of the international community. In fact, the BBC reported in 2008 that every country in the world agrees about the settlements’ illegality except Israel. The US has since reversed its stance, joining Israel in that very short list. Okay. What law does it break, you may ask? It actually does not take complicated legal gymnastics to expose the illicit nature of these settlements. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention is the piece of international law used by the United Nations in multiple resolutions condemning Israel for its settlement of the occupied Palestinian territories. It states, “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” There is no arguing the fact that Israel occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making the transfer of Israeli citizens to these locations a breach of Article 49. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted in December 2016 with a vote of 14-0 reinforces this world view, calling the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law, and demands that Israel halt the activity and adhere to the Fourth Geneva Convention. While this doesn’t force any tangible changes on the ground, it may influence how the International Criminal Court handles any cases involving the matter.
So, what’s the big deal?
Most people reading this won’t be asking this question, or so I’d hope. But there may be some, and I’d be remiss to not explain the effects of the settlement movement on Palestinians. To begin, we must all understand that the land on which these settlements are built does not legally belong to Israel; this inherently means that they are built on stolen land. The land may once have been a Palestinian olive grove, a field or worse yet, a village. Palestinian rights are not recognized when the construction or expansion of a settlement lands on their property. Once the settlement exists, the problems don’t magically disappear. For example, they are serviced with water stolen from Palestinian water sources. All of this creates an atmosphere of volatility and tension, with dispossessed Palestinians and entitled Israeli settlers living side by side. One group having their livelihood torn from their hands and the second group annoyed that the first is standing in the way of their colonial dreams. This annoyance often manifests in violence; Israeli settlers are known to burn Palestinian olive groves, fire weapons, steal homes (as is the case in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah), and in some cases even commit murder. Not only do Israeli settlers steal land and livelihood from the Palestinians, but they make what little the dispossessed have left incredibly difficult to tolerate.
Settlements = Occupation = De Facto Annexation
In conclusion, it should be apparent to all why we as Palestinians and supporters are staunchly opposed to the settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At its core, it’s an illegal land grab; a movement undoubtedly used to swallow up the West Bank one bite at a time, thereby cornering the Palestinians into smaller and smaller enclaves. Evidently, the fallout is increased violence, as settlers fight for more colonial cake while Palestinians fight for their right to exist. Settlements have no legal basis in international law and the world knows it. Consider this my meager call to the international community to buck up, call Israel out, and pressure the state to change its destructive habit of stealing land from the people it legally belongs to: the ever-resilient Palestinian people.
About the Author: Dylan Ferris
Dylan found the story of Palestine as a young adult, and quickly became passionate about learning and educating others of its history and current events. His exhaustive research has only left him with a hunger for more knowledge and more opportunities to share. A Canadian born and raised, he's been called a Palestinian by heart and couldn't be more proud to be that.
Check Dylan Out! @palipeacepodcast