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From the field

Army and Civil Administration data: One-fifth of settlements’ built-up area is private Palestinian land

Today (6 July 2010), B'Tselem is publishing By Hook and by Crook: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank. The 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.”