Originally the term settlement described any new Jewish development in Israel, but now it usually refers to Jewish-only housing units scattered around East Jerusalem and other strategic areas throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, consecutive Israeli governments have established settlements in violation of international law. Many say that the motive behind Israel building such settlements is to colonize the Palestinian territories, in order to consolidate and secure Israeli control of the areas and prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. This colonization process is the most visible aspect of Zionism.
The settlements and the vast network of by-pass roads that join the settlements to each other and to Israel are illegally built on land confiscated from Palestinians. They seriously affect Palestinian daily life and long-term developmental prospects. The location of the settlements, within and between Palestinian population centers, and their infrastructure, is an effective method the Israeli government and army utilize to control movement and Palestinian development through fragmenting and disrupting Palestinian society.
Number of settlements
The exact number of settlements and their inhabitants is difficult to pin point. According to Peace Now, an Israeli peace organization, there are 145 official settlements in the West Bank (Israeli municipal entities recognized and registered by the Israeli Ministry of Interior) (Peace Now, September 2003). The Land Research Centers says the real number is as high as 198 settlements. (September 2003)
These settler communities have created some 130 outposts throughout the West Bank (Land Research Center, September 2003). They are located away from the main settlements, and consist mainly of caravans or tents, which may not even be inhabited. Outposts are considered illegal by the Israeli government, but are rarely dismantled.
In addition to these outposts PCBS identifies around 258 Jewish built up areas, 242 in the West Bank and 16 in Gaza. These are mainly shops, restaurants and so forth that have emerged along the bypass roads (PASSIA 2003)
Approximately 390,000 Israeli citizens or settlers live in settlements in the West Bank; more than half of the settlers, between 220,000 and 250,000, live in East Jerusalem.
In the Gaza Strip the most densely populated area in the world, where more than one million Palestinians live on 360 km2 of land 7, 500 settlers reside illegally and control 30% of the area.
Some 2.34 million dunums or 42% of the West Bank (excl. Jerusalem, no-mans land, and the Dead Sea) are currently under the jurisdiction of settlements. 96,000 dunums of these are within built-up areas while the remainder serve as future land reserves for settlement extension (PASSIA 2003)(1 dunum = 1000m2)
Since June 1967, the Israeli government has confiscated almost 80% of West Bank/Gaza territories.
Settlers constitute 8% of the total Israeli-Jewish population (in Israel) and 10% of the total West Bank population (in Gaza the settler population constitute 0.6% of the Gaza population) (PASSIA, 2002)
Most settlers have been encouraged by the Israeli government to move to the Occupied Palestinian Territories through economic subsidies, including cheap housing and mortgage grants (up to 95% of the cost). Couples signing up to move to the settlement of Givat Zeev during the next four months will receive a grant of 7,100 and a loan for the same amount. Couples moving to other settlements will receive similar largesse (The Scotsman, September 2003).
Every year, the Israeli army pays NIS 9 million in rent to settlements in the West Bank and Gaza for buildings that the army uses to house soldiers who are stationed there to protect the settlements. (Haaretz, Amos Harel, 7 August 2002 )
Settlers have killed over 60 Palestinians since September 2000 – some as young as 14-years. (Palestine Monitor September 2003)
Attacks on Palestinian property and vandalism such as the burning of fields and destruction of agricultural land are among other settler violations. Israeli soldiers often protect settlers and legal proceedings are rarely brought against them.
An extensive road network has been constructed for settlers to facilitate their easy access to and from Israel and between settlements. The roads circumvent and cut-through Palestinian towns and villages and are thus called by-pass roads by the Israelis. During the past two years, Palestinians have generally been prevented from using these roads, for Israeli security reasons.
The by-pass network divides Palestinian areas into Bantustans, separated and surrounded by military controlled roads. It prevents the expansion and development of Palestinian towns and villages and is a major disruption to Palestinian society in terms of its economy and territorial contiguity. The roads prevent many Palestinians from going the direct way to their destination, because the Palestinians can neither use them nor cross them. This is forcing the Palestinians to find alternative ways to reach destinations that were previously easily accessed.
Bypass roads are also a way of annexing Palestinian privately-owned land, by surrounding the area, making it impossible for the owner to reach.
The Israeli Defense Ministry has spent NIS 250 million on the construction of bypass roads between 2000-2003. [PASSIA 2003]
Settlements and Natural Resources
Settlements limit Palestinian access to natural resources such as water and agricultural land. Many settlements in the West Bank are strategically located to control access to main water aquifers.
There are 115 settlements located over water highly sensitive areas.
Despite international pressure and demands that settlement building stop as a first step towards resolving the ongoing conflict, the Israeli government continues to expand its settlements.
One of the Israeli standard methods of confiscating Palestinian land is to declare an area for state land or claim it for security reasons and thereby legally confiscate the land. The majority of Palestinian farmers are unable to provide the necessary documentation in order to challenge these declarations because most never resorted to official land registration.
From February 2001 when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took office, until end of June 2002, 44 new settlement sites were established in the West Bank; nine of these were established in the period from March-June 2002. (Peace Now update, 29 June 2002)
Around 60 rouge settlements or outposts were built since Sharon came took office in February 2001[Peace Now sep. 2003]
Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip violate international law. Continued settlement expansion is done in contravention of numerous UN resol-utions.