Israeli settlements continue to expand in West Bank, Gaz

In 1967, Israel built the first settlements in East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. In recent years, those settlements are only expanding.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency in December 2010, there were 327,750 Israelis in 121 settlements in the West Bank and 192,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem.

“Today when you go, it’s unreal what you see,” said former Campus Ministry Coordinator Max Carter. “The infrastructure that connects all the settlements to each other, bypass roads. You have to have a certain license plate to go on them. The Palestinian roads go under the bypass roads in tunnels.

“(It’s) a far more effective restriction on Palestinian movement than even the wall.”

The United Nations has said that the settlements, Israeli communities located in the historically Palestinian and Syrian territories, violate the Fourth Geneva Convention even though Israel has declared the settlements territories.

According to the Human Rights Watch, this is partially due to the human rights violations in the region, including murder and executions. The settlements are also militarily protected.

“Usually the settlements are hated and they have very, very heavy security,” said junior Yazan Khalaf. “No one can go in. Not really anybody can go out. It’s really protected. The military protects it.”

The Israeli government continues to allow settlements for a variety of rationales, like the belief they rightfully seized the land in the Six-Day War. Many citizens believe they are entitled to this land, too, because it was given to the Israelites in biblical times.

Another reason is the economic incentive. Although the settlements have damaged the Palestinian economy, it is great for the Israeli one.

“It provides free access to land, and natural resources, some of which may be scarce at times,” said Associate Professor and Chair of English Diya Abdo in an email interview. “Not only does it provide the aforementioned resources, but it also gives its economy access to cheap labor, the Palestinians.

“Because Palestinians are not citizens of the state, despite being under Israeli rule and paying taxes to the Israeli government, they are not entitled to the same pay as Israelis nor the same labor rights.”

President Benjamin Netanyahu and his administration also cite security as one of their reasons for the settlements, exacerbated by the fact that Israel is surrounded by countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“You continuously hear the security argument, that they don’t want a hostile entity right next to the state of Israel,” said Carter.

The political situation in Israel cannot be ignored either. In Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, several parties vie for control and to choose prime minister.

“The Netanyahu government is now controlled essentially by the right-wing of the various parties,” said Carter. “The Israel Home Party, for example, advocates for transferring the Arabs out. Not just from the West Bank but from Israel itself.

“There’s never been a majority party rule in Israel. It’s always a coalition. If he loses his right-wing parties, he’s out. He has to toss them bones from time to time.”

As for the people who move into the settlements, they do so for a variety of reasons.

“Usually it’s right-wing people,” said Khalaf. “It’s either really right-wing people or people looking for cheap housing because the government subsidizes it.”

Other governments and government organizations also play a role, like the United States, for example. Many in the Trump administration support Israel.

“Who is one of (Trump’s) most trusted advisors?” said Carter. “Jared Kushner. Who’s another one? (Steve) Bannon. Who, though anti-Semitic, there is no contradiction between anti-Semites between being anti-Semitic and supporting Israel. And then you’ve got this ambassador, David Freedman, who makes huge contributions to the settlement enterprise and is a huge supporter of settlements.”

The U.N. has taken a stand against settlements. However, there is little they can do in practice.

“The U.N. continues to condemn and deplore on paper, (but) Palestinians have long lost their hope and trust in such organizations due to their lack of influence on Israel,” said Abdo.

Students can get involved with the issue through the trip to Israel and Palestine Guilford leads in the summer or by attending Students for Justice in Palestine meetings and events on campus.