Settlement Building and Land Issues

Page last updated 27 Sep 2016


A key issue of the Occupation and the conflict as a whole is Israel’s policy of building settlements, which are deemed illegal under international law. The settlements are built on confiscated or stolen Palestinian land, the original inhabitants forcibly displaced, and the land used as a strategic ‘outpost’ to justify the course of the Wall, often depriving the remaining Palestinians in the area of vital resources and further segregating the two populations.

The definitive account of the settlement project is a long book by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, entitled LORDS OF THE LAND: The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007. It was, sadly, never widely available in Britain but you can get a flavour of it from short reviews by Adam LeBor in the Over the Line (New York Times, Oct 2007) or by Henry Siegman’s Grab more hills, expand the territory (London Review of Books, Apr 2008).

There is virtual unanimity, including the US government, in regarding the entire settlement enterprise as illegal. The basis for this is Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49

Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.

Nevertheless, the Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand. Such evacuations may not involve the displacement of protected persons outside the bounds of the occupied territory except when for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement. Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.

The Occupying Power undertaking such transfers or evacuations shall ensure, to the greatest practicable extent, that proper accommodation is provided to receive the protected persons, that the removals are effected in satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition, and that members of the same family are not separated.

The Protecting Power shall be informed of any transfers and evacuations as soon as they have taken place.

The Occupying Power shall not detain protected persons in an area particularly exposed to the dangers of war unless the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.

The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.




Organisations, Articles, Reports and Analyses

1. Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories
Foundation for Middle East Peace, bimonthly

These reports provide regular updates on settlement activity as well as comprehensive statistics about the settlements. See their table: Comprehensive Settlement Population 1972-2011

1b. International Court of Justice – Advisory Opinion on Israel’s Construction of Separation Wall In Occupied Territory, Foundation for Middle East Peace, 9 July 2004


2. Peace Now’s Settlement Watch in Israel produces important material tracking the changes in the settlements and outposts over time.


3. The Global Policy Forum gives a succinct and clear explanation of the land and settlement issues of the conflict. In addition the site has a vast collection of maps and articles dating from 2013 and earlier.


4. Start with an outpost, the rest follows
By Yossi Gurvitz, written for Yesh Din, +972, 22 Apr 2015

“At the core of Israel’s settlement outpost system lies the systemic violation of Palestinian human rights”. A good up-to-date article on the settlement process.


5. Land Grab: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank
Comprehensive report by B’tselem – The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, May 2002

‘Settlements are built on 1.7% of West Bank land and control 41.9%’


6. 1967
By Gadi Algazi (Trans by Daphna Levit), Occupation Magazine, originally published in MiTzad Sheni, Jun 2007.

A comprehensive overview of the settlement project: “In hindsight, it is easy to recognize that the Israeli occupation is essentially a colonial project enacted under the auspices of a military occupation. The occupation provides ideal conditions for the process of dispossession and settlement…”


7. Peace Now: Official Data proves that Settlement are built on Private Palestinian Land
By Dror Etkes and Hagit Ofran, Peace Now, 14 Mar 2007

This report, based on information received from the Civil Administration as the result of a court order, shows that over 32 percent of settlement land is in fact privately-held Palestinian land. An earlier Peace Now Report One offense begets another published in November 2006 and based on leaked information, had put the figure closer to 40 percent.

Peace Now concludes (in its March 2007, follow up report): “The most important and fundamental point was and still is: even according to official data provided by the Civil Administration, most of the settlements are situated upon privately-owned Palestinian land, and a large part of the lands of the settlements are Palestinian-owned.  Contrary to the official claims of the State of Israel, and in contravention of its undertaking before the Supreme Court (HCJ Alon Moreh 1979), the State of Israel continues to establish settlements on privately-owned Palestinian land.”

This analysis has now been supplemented by the work of Regavim, a right-wing organisation. As part of its mission to “preserve national lands” it wants to expropriate Palestinian lands in return for reparation payments. According to Ha’aretz (3 May 2015), it had recently reported to the Knesset that some 2,026 structures in the West Bank were built on privately-owned Palestinian land.


8. Methods of Confiscation – methods used by Israel in order to take over Palestinian lands
Peace Now, June 2009

A useful summary of the processes of dispossession, viz:

1. Declaration of state land
2. Confiscation for public needs
3. Initial registration
4. Seizure for military needs
5. Absentee lands


9. Explained: Israeli Settlements
Memo video, 2016

A useful introduction by Ben White, in a 3.5 minute explainer video on Israeli settlements.

In addition we have posted dozens and dozens of articles in our weekly postings over the years. Here are a few:

State discounts lure Israelis to live in settlements, JfJfP 8 Jan 2015
About three quarters of illegal settlements are defined by the Israeli state as “national priority areas” and therefore eligible for heavy discounts (house prices in Israel proper are rising steeply). Many move there for the affordable prices – but become political by defending their right to live in such subsidised settlements.

Dead weight of unproductive settlements, JfJfP 22 Jun 2014
In an unusually sharp article Jodi Rudoren pricks the bubble of Israeli boasting about its surgingly successful, hi-tech, free market economy. The settlements are hugely unproductive – and actual details of the settlements’ economy are a ‘state secret’. Richard Silverstein asks “how long can Israel afford to carry this albatross around its neck before it realizes the huge bird will cause it to drown like shipwrecked sailors of old?”

Financial fiddle to fund settlements, JfJfP 13 Nov 2013
Over a period of 33 years the Israeli state, via its Settlement Division has handed hundreds of millions of pounds/dollars to settlers in the West Bank. This vast sum of money is given in the form of loans with a full understanding that most of it will never be repaid.

Settlements, not cool apps, are Israel’s greatest project, JfJfP 18 Jun 2013
Ari Shavit and Rachel Shabi both note the scale of settlement building, the only driving force in this Israeli government, and point out that it kills off a two-state solution and international goodwill – if not the future of the Jewish state itself. For the more land Israel claims, the less of a stable and cohesive political entity it is.

EU’s role in sustaining illegal settlements, JfJfP 30 Oct 2012
22 NGOs, Christian and secular, have taken up what EU institutions have flunked: a campaign to press the EC and EU members to practise their policies on the illegality of Israel’s settlements and what they produce. CAABU media release plus excerpt from the report Trading Away Peace.

Panel tells Netanyahu West Bank not occupied land so all settlements are legal, JfJfP 9 Jul 2012
A panel headed by retired Supreme Court judge Edmond Levy, appointed by PM Netanyahu to provide a legal opinion on settlements, has obliged him by affirming the West Bank is not occupied territory and thus settlements break no laws. This contradicts both international legal judgments and Israel’s own Sasson report of 2005. Right-wing bodies have welcomed the Levy report and urged its rapid implementation.

Hey presto! Now it’s kosher: tricks that make settlements ‘legal’, JfJfP 3 May 2012
Although in international law all settlements in the oPt are illegal, the Israeli government has had rules which define some settlement building as outside its own laws. Now, with the appointment of the Levy Committee, it has found a way to circumvent these laws. The committee has (April 24) approved three new settlements. Statement from Peace Now (1), report Ramzy Baroud (2) and letter from ACRI (3)

State complicity in east Jerusalem settlements, JfJfP 7 Nov 2010
An Ha’aretz investigation shows the state used a controversial law to transfer East Jerusalem assets to the rightist organisations Elad and Ateret Cohanim without a tender, and at very low prices. Nir Hasson reports…

Are West Bank Settlements Illegal?, JfJfP 4 Jan 2010
According to Rightwing Zionist Lawyers, No; According to Every Other Legal Expert In the World, Yes. In his dissenting opinion to the 2004 decision of the International Criminal Court against Israel’s “Separation Wall” Judge Thomas Buergenthal wrote: Paragraph 6 of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention also does not […]

Amos Elon’s Warning on Israel’s Settlements, JfJfP 30 May 2009
Amos Elon, the Israeli journalist and historian, has died.
Robert Mackey says of Amos Elon’s seminal article “Israelis & Palestinians: What Went Wrong?” published in The New York Review of Books in 2002: “Mr. Elon’s rich, textured, concise overview of the century of struggle in the Middle East that followed Herzl’s death is worth reading in its entirety, but it is not hard to discern from it what this historian of Israel saw as the biggest mistake made by modern Israeli governments: the settlements on occupied Palestinian territory…”


Contents of this section


a) Maps of the occupation
b) Occupation and the Fourth Geneva Convention

Israel’s human rights violations – an introduction
Settlement building and land issues
Restrictions on movement
House demolitions, forced displacement, denial of residency rights
The Wall
The Green Line
The economics of the occupation

c) Gaza under occupation
d) Living under occupation

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