Settlement Building and Land Issues

Page last updated 20 May 2020


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…”


10. Israel’s stranglehold on Area C, September 2018

 Ahmad El-Atrash writes in Al Shabaka, “Israel’s efforts to tighten its grip on the West Bank have been unprecedented since the current Israeli cabinet formed in  2015. Last year, for instance, witnessed the highest number of tenders for Israeli settlement construction, with more than 3,100 government proposals issued for building housing units. Yet such a situation is nothing new. Five decades of Israeli occupation – particularly since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 – have allowed Israel to continue its colonization of Palestinian land while rendering Palestinian development truncated, distorted, and even mythological. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Area C. This Israel-controlled area according to the Oslo framework makes up more than 60 percent of the West Bank. Israel has developed it in particular for its own purposes, namely through the construction of settlements and military infrastructure.”

” In the face of Israel’s policy of expansion in the West Bank, Palestinians view their own development as a means of resistance. However, they have not been able to realize an effective development program to challenge Israel. And no wonder: Development under occupation is all but impossible. Yet Palestinians can work collaboratively toward meeting their current needs without undermining their rights, including the right to development of a future Palestinian state. This commentary examines how Palestinians can capitalize on and further resistance to the present-day geopolitics of development through a focus on Area C. It traces the history of the area, examines ways in which Palestinian development is denied for the benefit of Israeli settlers, and offers ways for Palestinians to advocate for development projects that would serve them for generations to come.” (more)


11. How Israel uses flocks of sheep to take over Palestinian land

A Jewish settler from the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Yair chases the flock and threatens the shepherds of Gwawis. He is holding an M16 rifle, issued to him by the Israeli army, as part of his paid job as a security coordinator. The law states that he is not allowed to take any action outside the settlements’ borders, September 18, 2012.

Amira Haas writes in Haaretz (the entire article is printed below) 13 October 2013

The letter below, which was originally sent by email, was received by Haaretz on Wednesday – but without the writer’s address. It opens: “Residents of Alon, we are happy to share with you the temporary takeover of land for a Hebrew flock of sheep near the settlement for a period of about three months.” The letter was signed “Srulik, the settlement’s secretary.” Apparently this is Srulik Hirsch and the settlement’s website hasn’t updated the secretary’s name. Alon is an offshoot of Kfar Adumim, another settlement.”

When I called to ask about the letter, Srulik answered immediately: “I know nothing about it.” He asked who gave me the information and said “I don’t know who passed something on to you and what he passed on to you.” He said he’d call later after he had confirmed the details.

So here are the details, as they appear in the letter. Authentic or not, the details correspond to the way at least 10 other outposts throughout the West Bank have been built around a flock of sheep. Young people lead the flock, amid a family or two with children, with the considerable help of government agencies behind the scenes.

The details confirm what has been concluded in the past. These aren’t private initiatives by eccentrics. A flock is an expensive thing – around 1,650 shekels ($455) a sheep – and there are several hundred sheep in each flock.

The letter – even if not penned by “Srulik” – explains well the rationale behind the shepherds’ outposts: Grab as much Palestinian land as possible as fast as possible (and much more than by building houses). After all, the Hebrew flocks of sheep in the West Bank are a synonym for terrorizing anyone who’s a non-Hebrew shepherd or farmer.

The letter says further down: “In accordance with the desire to keep in the council’s jurisdiction the state land around the settlement and in Gush Adumim, and in continuing the farming activity developing the area (the olive groves and flock of sheep grazing at Mishor Adumim), another flock has been set up that will graze from Alon Road east to Mitzpeh Yericho, on the border of Wadi Qelt, and up to Route 1. All this is part of the desire to create a contiguity of settlements from Mishor Adumim to Mitzpeh Yericho.

Since the flock already exists and all the permits for the pen’s final location have not been obtained, we have asked for a temporary permit to place the flock east of the settlement (in the [military] academy’s future location). This is a temporary solution for only three months in which the flock will graze and get used to the place. We point out that a grazing permit has been obtained from the legal authorities and the Civil Administration. The entire flock numbers some 200 sheep, in addition to two Jewish families with children who will live in trucks on wheels [sic], with youths who will look after the flock.

To maintain the families and the flock, basic infrastructure work will be carried out – a road, water and the like. Boaz Ido and Zambish [Ze’ev Hever] of Amana [the settling agency of the Gush Emunim settler movement] were partners to carrying out the idea, financing the enterprise and implementing it. To receive further details and submit additional, updated details, you are all invited to a discussion evening on the subject with Boaz Ido in the library on Wednesday October 17 at 9 (please come on time).

The program is in coordination with and has the approval of the settlement’s security coordinator, Yishai. The settlement’s secretariat, Srulik the settlement secretary.”

Again, Srulik says he doesn’t know about this. Boaz Ido didn’t answer the phone or the text message I sent him. By the way, he’s is the owner of a commercial outpost filled with illegal structures near Alon called Eretz Bereshit.

I tried to find out what a grazing permit is and if the flock at Alon had been granted one. I was told that the Civil Administration doesn’t have a department that grants grazing permits, and that the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division grants grazing permits in the West Bank. The division’s job is to set up rural communities to strengthen the periphery of the State of Israel, above all in the West Bank outside the borders of the State of Israel.

In 2015, the Knesset stipulated by law that the division is Israel’s official settlement agency. It is supervised by the Agriculture Ministry, headed by Minister Uri Ariel, a settler from Kfar Adumim, who already at the end of the ‘70s hatched a plan to expand the settlements in the Khan al-Ahmar (Ma’aleh Adumim) area by evicting all the local Bedouin communities.

There is no grazing permit from the Civil Administration, but there is certainly an approved plan for an “academy” some 120 meters (394 feet) from Alon’s built-up area. A plywood bulletin board with two printed pages on it – one in Hebrew and one in Arabic – was there Thursday, stuck in the heart of the emptiness and rocks east of the settlement.

The pages are still white, a sign they were put up recently. They’re signed by architect Natalia Averbuch, chairwoman of the subcommittee for settlement at the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Council, Judea and Samaria Region. The pages are not dated. In the notice, Averbuch announces the validity of the academy plan, which the Supreme Planning Council itself approved on August 2.

From council meetings that took place earlier, it turns out that this is a structure for a pre-military academy, which already exists, in mobile structures in Alon. Once the academy is taken out of the settlement, more room will be made for additional housing units while widening the settlement’s perimeter.

Construction will be coordinated with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The topography isn’t easy, it was noted in the discussion. It was also noted that this is a private institution, while the lot was intended for public structures. But apparently this hurdle was overcome.

prefabricated outpost homes under construction

Deliberate intent to mislead

On the Finance Ministry’s planning-administration website, where the details of the construction plan beyond the Green Line appear transparently, it says the plot is in the area of the village of Anata. But the plan by architect Uriel Rosenheim of Jerusalem says the landowner is “the custodian of abandoned government property in the Judea and Samaria area.” According to the plan, the developer is the World Zionist Organization – the Settlement Division.

I sent a question to the Settlement Division; when the answer comes, we’ll publish it. I didn’t write to Ze’ev Hever of Amana, or to Yishai, the security coordinator.

The costs can be estimated from those of another outpost, Havat Pnei Kedem, which aspires to expand to 400 sheep. As its website testifies, with commendable transparency, the project costs some 800,000 shekels, including fencing, an all-terrain vehicle, a week’s work with the vehicle, a guard at night and a security-camera system.

It also says the settlers are acting “with the full cooperation of the Gush Etztion Regional Council and Zionist Organization. Together with the Agriculture Ministry and professional and business consultants, we have crafted a business plan for raising a flock of 400 sheep.”

So why is there no transparency about Alon’s planned shepherds’ outpost?

Since no one has responded to me, everything is guesswork; for example, that the letter is merely a hologram of similar existing outposts. So as not to repeat the mistakes of outposts that were set up on private Palestinian land, leading to problems and legal proceedings, outposts of recent years were built on public Palestinian land, which, with deliberate intent to mislead, is called in Israel state land. The state’s institutions abet the construction in every way while turning a blind eye.

Take, for example, two shepherds’ outposts in the northern Jordan Valley. Similar to the outpost described in the letter, they consist of sheep, young people and Jewish families with children. One outpost is located east of an older outpost that has been sanitized, Givat Salit. The other is located in the Um Zuqa nature reserve. The Civil Administration said they were both unauthorized and that demolition orders had been issued for them.

More than two years have passed and the two outposts are thriving; they are connected to the electricity, water and road networks. “The young people and Jewish families,” armed, walk with the flocks in a very wide area, intimidating Palestinian farmers and shepherds in the region, so much so they’re afraid to graze their flocks and cultivate their land.

Between Alon and Mitzpeh Jericho there are Bedouin shepherds’ communities. One is the Jahalin al-Hilu at Khan al-Ahmar. According to persistent rumors, the community’s structures will be destroyed and its residents will be evicted to the landfill site next week. The settlements of Kfar Adumin and Alon were the first to demand that the High Court of Justice order this demolition, and the justices abided.”


12. This is Jerusalem; Violence and Dispossession in al-‘Esawiyah

B’tselem report, May 2020

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of al-‘Esawiyah has been making headlines over the past year, ever since the Israel Police started an ongoing campaign of abuse and collective punishment against its residents. As part of the operation, underway to varying degrees since
April 2019, police forces enter the Palestinian neighborhood daily for no reason, clash with residents, carry out arrests (especially of minors), harass locals, conduct unnecessary searches of their belongings and issue traffic reports en masse on ridiculous grounds. This police campaign is just one aspect of the policy Israel has implemented in al-‘Esawiyah since annexing parts of it in 1967.


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