This week, Israel’s double standard regarding settlers and Palestinians was on full display. On July 22, Peace Now released a bombshell reportexposing how new illegal settler outposts have mushroomed across the West Bank in recent years, mostly with direct or tacit government support. The same day, Israeli authorities began to demolish Palestinian homes deemed illegal in an East Jerusalem neighbourhood. Quite a contrast to their laissez-faire attitude towards settlers.
The Peace Now report reveals that 32 new outposts were established since 2012, most of them after President Donald Trump was elected. All but one are located deep within the West Bank in areas that Israel would likely have to withdraw from in the framework of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. Thus the outposts are another way in which settlers create “facts on the ground” to impede an eventual two-state solution.
The outposts are on state land. However, construction on state land requires an authorized master plan and permits, which none of the outposts have obtained. Yet the Netanyahu government has turned a blind eye, allowing them to remain in place. In fact, the government is working to retroactively legalize outposts and has already “regularized” many.
In a protest action, Peace Now activists hung signs saying “illegal outpost” outside a number of these places in the occupied territories. Responding to settler complaints, police took some activists into custody for questioning.
The result of much research by Peace Now’s Settlement Watch program, the report has been cited by media outlets such as Ha’aretz, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Types of outposts
Most of the new outposts are agricultural and are part of an insidious method to take over large stretches of land quickly, with relatively low investment. For example: settlers obtain a temporary permit for a large new area to graze their flocks, designate families to watch the flocks, add basic infrastructure for those families, and presto: an outpost. In addition the settlers often take it upon themselves to disrupt the Palestinians living or grazing their own flocks in the area.
Three of the new outposts are educational institutions, which require nothing more than some staff and students to lay claim to land. Several newly designated tourist sites serve the same purpose.
Shabtay Bendet, head of Settlement Watch is quoted in Ha’aretz as saying: “… more and more illegal outposts are being established at full pace in the depths of the West Bank. The law enforcement authorities ignore the theft of land and legalize that which is illegal, without government approval as required and without public discussion of the matter.”
According to Bendet, the government allows the establishment of the outposts “with the clear intention of thwarting a future agreement, and the aspiration to force on the Israeli public a messianic vision that most of the public opposes.”
The Israeli authorities aren’t so shy about demolishing Palestinian homes. On Monday, July 22, the army and police began razing 12 buildings that house Palestinians in an East Jerusalem neighbourhood because the structures are deemed too close to the separation barrier that runs through the city. The buildings set to be destroyed have some 100 apartments, 20 of which are occupied, with the rest under construction.
The separation barrier, begun in 2003 to protect Israel from terrorist actions, went around the Palestinian village of Sur Baher, but some West Bank land ended up on the Israeli side. That land, called Wadi al-Hummus, is the site of the contested buildings. Legally it is still part of the West Bank and under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli forces said the Wadi al-Hummus homes were constructed without permit and, being so close to the barrier, pose a security threat.
Many of the Wadi al-Hummus buildings were erected over the last decade or so and are mostly occupied by young couples and families from Sur Baher. The construction permits were issued by the PA’s planning ministry. However, seven years ago, the Israel Defense Forces Central Command issued an injunction banning construction of buildings within 250 meters of the separation barrier.
Locals say the order was not publicized and they had no knowledge of it, and that in any case, it is the PA that has planning authorization in the area.
Activists are concerned that these demolitions set a precedent for thousands of other Palestinian homes in communities near the separation barrier, effectively annulling the legal protection enjoyed by areas under PA control.
The EU, the UN and France condemned the demolitions saying they are a violation of international law and undermine the two-state solution.