From 1967 to the end of 2017, more than 200 Israeli settlements were established in the West Bank. They include:
– 131 settlements officially recognized by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior
– About 110 settlements built without official authorization but with governmental support and assistance (known as “illegal outposts”);
Several settlement enclaves inside the city of Hebron
– 11 neighbourhoods in the areas of the West Bank that Israel annexed to the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem in 1967, and several settlement enclaves within Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.
Another 16 settlements that had been established in the Gaza Strip, and four in the northern West Bank, were dismantled in 2005 as part of the Disengagement Plan.
More than 620,000 Israeli citizens currently reside in settlements. Of these, about 209,270 live in the parts of the West Bank that Israel annexed to the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem (according to Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research figures from late 2016), and 413,400 live throughout the rest of the West Bank (according to Central Bureau of Statistics figures from late 2017).
At present, settlements cover 538,130 dunams – almost 10% of the West Bank. Their regional councils control another 1,650,370 dunams, including vast open areas that have not been attached to any particular settlement. This brings the total area under the direct control of settlements to 40% of the West Bank, and 63% of Area C.
Along with this governmental land grab, settlers have exploited the forced separation between Palestinians and their land to build houses, outposts and roads, sow fields and groves, graze livestock and take over natural water sources – all outside the vast areas already allocated to the settlements. This is attended by routine violence against Palestinians. These actions play a major role in the implementation of Israel’s policy in the West Bank by complementing official measures. The settlers’ apparently independent actions serve as a privatized system for taking over land, allowing Israel to establish and expand entire settlement blocs through an unofficial sidetrack while formally disavowing these actions.
The settlements are the single most important factor in shaping life in the West Bank. Their destructive impact on the human rights of Palestinians extends far beyond the hundreds of thousands of dunams [1 dunam = 1,000 sq. meters], including farmland and grazing areas, that Israel appropriated from Palestinians in order to build them. More land has been expropriated to pave hundreds of kilometers of roads for settler use only; roadblocks, checkpoints, and other measures that limit Palestinian movement only have been erected based on the location of settlements; Palestinian landowners have been effectively denied access to much of their farmland, both within settlements and outside them; and the winding route of the Separation Barrier, which severely violates the rights of Palestinians living near it, was established inside the West Bank in order to leave as many settlements as possible – and large tracts of land for expanding them – on the western side of the barrier.
The existence of settlements also leads to the violation of many human rights of Palestinians, including the rights to property, equality, an adequate standard of living and freedom of movement. In addition, the radical changes that Israel has made to the map of the West Bank preclude any real possibility of establishing an independent, viable Palestinian state in fulfilment of the right to self-determination. Although the West Bank is not part of Israel’s sovereign territory, Israeli has applied most of its domestic laws to the settlements and their residents. As a result, the settlers enjoy almost all the same privileges as citizens living within Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians continue to live under martial law and are thereby systematically deprived of their rights and denied the ability to have any real impact on policymaking with respect to the territory in which they live. In creating this reality, Israel has formed a regime in which a person’s rights depend on his or her national identity.
The establishment of the settlements contravenes international humanitarian law (IHL), which states that an occupying power may not relocate its own citizens to the occupied territory or make permanent changes to that territory, unless these are needed for imperative military needs, in the narrow sense of the term, or undertaken for the benefit of the local population.