By Hook and By Crook: Israeli Settlement Policy in the West Bank

July 2010, Summary

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.