Israeli settlers are living illegally in the occupied West Bank, with around 700,000 living there. Since Israel’s Gaza bombing campaign, settler attacks against Palestinians have doubled from three to eight incidents a day, according to the United Nations. This surge has forced hundreds of Palestinians to flee their homes, amidst the Israeli bombardment of Gaza that has killed over 9,500 people.

Who are Settlers?

Settlers are Israeli citizens living on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Over 700,000 settlers, or 10% of Israel’s population, live in 150 settlements and 128 outposts. Settlements are authorized by the Israeli government, while outposts are built without. Some settlers move to the occupied territories for religious reasons, while others are drawn by lower living costs and government incentives. Ultraorthodox Jews make up one-third of all settlers.

According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Israeli Jews living in the West Bank believe settlements improve national security by restricting Palestinian movement and undermining the viability of a Palestinian state. However, some Israeli left argue that settlement expansion harms the two-state solution and Israel’s peace prospects.

When settlements started?

Israel began building settlements in the occupied West Bank after capturing the region in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Etzion Bloc in Hebron was the first settlement, now housing 40,000 people. Other settlements include Kfar Etzion, which houses 1,000 people, and Modiā€™in Illit, which has 82,000 settlers, mostly ultraorthodox Jews.

Over 40% of the occupied West Bank land is controlled by settlements, which, along with a network of checkpoints for Palestinians, effectively separate Palestinian parts of the West Bank from each other, making a future contiguous state nearly impossible.

The first Jewish settlement in Palestine dates back to the early 20th century when Jews faced discrimination, religious persecution, and pogroms in Europe.

Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, was established in 1909 as a settlement near Jaffa. The mass Jewish migration to Palestine led to an Arab uprising, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948, known as the Nakba.

Does government back settlers?

The Israeli government has funded and built settlements for Jews in the West Bank, providing 20 million shekels ($5m) a year to monitor and restrict Palestinian construction in Area C, which covers over 60% of the West Bank. However, on April 4, Israeli authorities requested a double increase to 40 million shekels ($10m) in the state budget.

The Israeli army has been using a hotline called War Room C to report Palestinian construction in Area C, several Israeli laws allow settlers to seize Palestinian land. Israel has designated 26% of the West Bank’s territory as “state land,” allowing settlements and has used legal methods to expropriate Palestinian property for public purposes like roads, settlements, and parks.

Following the 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel stopped building new settlements, but existing ones continued to grow. The West Bank and East Jerusalem settlement population reached 700,000 in September 2017. In 2017, Israel announced the start of new settlements.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has bolstered settlement expansions since 1996, while Israeli nongovernmental organizations evict Palestinians from their land using loopholes in land laws. Israeli authorities seize and demolish Palestinian properties due to lack of Israeli-issued building permits and land documents, but international rights groups claim acquiring such permits is nearly impossible.

Are settlements legal?

Settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international laws, violating the Fourth Geneva Convention. Activists argue that these settlements are enclaves of Israeli sovereignty, fragmenting the West Bank and creating a future Palestinian state resembling South Africa’s former Bantustans.

The United Nations has condemned settlements, with a 2016 resolution stating they had no legal validity. However, the US, Israel’s closest ally, has provided diplomatic cover, using its veto power at the UN to protect Israel from diplomatic censure. Israel authorizes and encourages settlements but has retrospectively legalized several outposts.

Over 9,000 settlers withdrew from Gaza in 2005, as part of a disengagement plan by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

How Israel controls West Bank?

Israel has constructed a 700km Separation Barrier through the West Bank, restricting the movement of over 3 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The barrier is deemed security-related and requires Palestinian farmers to apply for permits to access their land. Permits can be renewed repeatedly and denied or revoked without explanation.

Area C, which covers 60% of the occupied West Bank, is under Israeli control. Over 700 road obstacles, including 140 checkpoints, are placed across the West Bank, affecting around 70,000 Palestinians with Israeli work permits. Palestinians cannot move freely between the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, requiring permits.

Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have deemed Israeli policies and laws used to control Palestinians as “apartheid.”

Spike of settler violence in recent weeks?

Settlers have carried out over 198 attacks in the West Bank, forcing around 1,000 Palestinians to flee their homes as Israel continues its bombardment of Gaza since October 7, 2023.

The Palestinian Authority official, Ghassan Daghlas, stated that settlers have been committing crimes in the occupied West Bank since October 7, but they seem to have been given a green light to carry out more crimes after October 7.

On October 28, a Palestinian farmer harvesting olives was shot dead by settlers in Nablus, and the Bedouin village of Wadi as-Seeq was emptied out of its 200 residents on October 12. The current violence comes as last year saw record settler violence, rising from an average of three to eight incidents a day, according to the United Nations.

In recent years, settlers have been trying to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, raising Palestinian concerns about encroachment on Islam’s third holiest site. In 2021, Israeli police stormed the mosque compound to facilitate settlers’ entry, triggering a deadly conflict.

Israeli settler violence has displaced more than 1,100 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2022, according to a UN report released in September 2023.

Source: AlJazeera, United Nations

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