Thursday, December 03, 2020

‘An unknown future’: Confronting West Bank settler colonialism

By J.J. Rhies - April 01, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Settlement Expansion] [settlement construction] [settler violence] [Human rights] [West Bank]

Part and parcel of Israeli occupation is the state’s abetment of settlements in the West Bank, a region known to Jewish settlers as Judea and Samaria. Although Israel insists the settlements are legal, global authorities say otherwise.


The United Nations Security Council, the European Union and the International Court of Justice - among other intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations - have unequivocally stated that Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and are therefore unlawful.


Notwithstanding widespread censure from the international community, Israel still encourages the development of illegal settlements, and settlers continue to illegally reside in West Bank homes.


What's more, settlements in the West Bank have seen significant expansion over the past year.


The West Bank Jewish Population Stats (WBJPS) reported that settlements increased by 3.3 percent over 2018. Just under 450,000 settlers now live in the West Bank - excluding East Jerusalem, which is home to an additional 200,000.


The settler population grew by more than 40,000 from 2017 through 2018, according to Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement organisation.  


The WBJPS’s figures have not been confirmed by Israel, but the Israel Ministry of the Interior said they looked accurate, the AP reported.


Relative to 2017, there was a 21 percent increase in settlement construction and a 28 percent increase in finished settlements during 2018.


Baruch Gordon, the Director of WBJPS, told Palestine Monitor that he expected settlement growth to accelerate.


“[O]ver the coming year and certainly the year after that, we are going to see a huge surge in the numbers,” he said.


In late March, it was announced that Israel will approve 4,500 settlement units this April, according to the Israel Broadcasting Authority.


'Hope is the only thing we have’


According to B’Tselem, an Israeli NGO which monitors human rights violations, the West Bank is becoming increasingly “fragment[ed]” as settlements sprout up across the occupied territory.


Mohanned Qafesha, a coordinator for the Hebron-based activist group Youth Against Settlements, told Palestine Monitor that Israeli military presence is virtually linked to settlements in the region and that this is a consequence of Israeli policy.


The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) “have always protected settlers,” he said. “The Israeli soldiers have worked side by side with the settlers to implement the settlers’ plan to occupy” the West Bank.


He also said that settlers and the IDF have disrupted and permanently altered everyday life for individuals and communities alike.


“It divides […] communities,” he said. In the face of settler and military occupation, Qafesha added, “hope is the only thing we have as Palestinians to keep living.”


Qafesha’s comments were echoed by Al Jazeera, which reported on a recent string of 65 incidents at a Nablus school that involved IDF or settlers.


Most of the incidents only involved IDF, who frequently stormed the school grounds, accosting students, shooting tear gas or aiming their rifles at the children. On several occasions, armed settlers from the nearby Eli settlement - which surrounds the school on all sides - marched onto the property alongside IDF.  


Abed, who has taught at the school for 12 years and withheld his last name, told Al Jazeera that the recent harassments were the worst he has ever seen there.


It is “rare that the students are actually able to stay at the school until the last period,” he said. “They are being evacuated and sent home almost every day.”


Over the course of 2018, more than 19,000 Palestinian students at school were affected by IDF harassment or violence, including “live ammunition, tear gas, and stun grenades fired into or near schools,” according to a UN statement.


The statement also said that “[n]early two-thirds of all verified interference incidents in West Bank schools took place in the last four months of 2018,” which suggests that the IDF is ramping up its presence in such locations.


Vast support for West Bank settler colonialism


Support for settlements in the occupied West Bank is widespread among Israeli politicians and Jewish religious leaders and in some influential pockets of the United States political lobby.


In the past several months, such support has become further entrenched, thereby threatening the Israel-Palestine peace process and the chance of future Palestinian statehood.


Earlier this month, Oded Revivi became the first-ever Jewish settler to receive an invitation to speak at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, which convened March 24–26, 2019.


Revivi is the Mayor of Efrat and Chief Foreign Envoy to the Yesha Council. The Yesha Council, which is a collective of Jewish settlements, has said it hopes to see the West Bank settler population reach one million in the next decade.


Revivi told The Times of Israel that his AIPAC invitation was the result of prior networking and relationship-building efforts between settlers and the powerful pro-Israel lobby in America.


“[W]e have addressed quite a lot of delegations that AIPAC brings to Israel,” he said. “I think they realized we have an added value in contributing to the discussion and the dialogue happening at the conference.”


Another Yesha official, Deputy Head Yigal Dilmoni, recently opined that West Bank settlement construction has not matched demand.


“The pace of building doesn’t come close to our needs,” he said. “There are thousands of young couples that are waiting for new homes in Judea and Samaria.”


Dilmoni’s comments were echoed by Baruch Gordon, the WBJPS director, who said that Israel was experiencing a “housing crisis.”


The solution to this crisis, Gordon said, was to “provide more housing” to “the Jewish [settler] communities in Judea and Samaria.”


Other supporters of increasing settler occupation include Israeli officials.


Last February, “dozens” of officials from the right-wing Likud party declared their support for the “Nahal” movement, which is a settlement plan to increase the Jewish settler population in the West Bank to two million.


Among the signatories were senior ministers Israel Katz and Miri Regev, as well as Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein.   


'We are tired of words’


B’Tselem Spokesperson Amit Gilutz told Palestine Monitor that the international community - including governments, NGOs and intergovernmental institutions like the UN - has not been strict enough on Israel’s long-standing development of settlements.


With the expected “surge” in new West Bank settlements - which could foment increased fragmentation of Palestinian communities, as well as more settler and IDF violence against Palestinians - some have said it is urgent for the international community to intervene immediately.


Qafesha implored governments around the world to take action in support of human rights in the West Bank.


“We don’t want [them] to condemn what’s going on in Palestine because we are tired of words and speeches and press conferences […]. We want governments to do something on the ground, which they have not done at all so far.”  


Amit Gilutz added that Israel has listened to the international community in the past when it has “set a boundary” on the state.


“We therefore call on the international community to take decisive action against Israel’s destructive policies and bring an end not only to settlement expansion, but to the occupation as a whole,” he said.



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