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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Settlements Continue to Fuel the Conflict and Prevent any Possibility of Real Peace Negotiations

Today the Israeli Interior Ministry released the following report: "More than 280,000 Israelis live in the West Bank, Interior Ministry statistics released Sunday showed. The 2008 figures show that the number of residents has increased by about 10,000 from a year ago." (source) Each and every one of these settlers is breaking international law, yet Israel is not apparently planning on giving up the major settlement blocks which ARE one of the core issues in the so-called "peace initiative".

Settlements Continue to Fuel the Conflict and Prevent any Possibility of Real Peace Negotiations
Written by Ahmad Jaradat and Anahi Ayala Iacucci, Alternative Information Center (AIC)
Sunday, 20 January 2008
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Israeli Settlers in the South Hebron Region (ISM archive photo).

Peace conferences and negotiations will not be able to stop Israel’s expansion policy in the West Bank. Despite the request of the international community at the Annapolis Conference to freeze settlement activities, they continue today. Since Annapolis, the Israeli government announced its plan to expand some of the settlements in the south of the Palestinian territories, such as Har Homa, near Bethlehem, with the intention to construct another 307 new housing units.

Once again, the Israeli government makes clear that it feels no obligation to the words, promises or agreements it makes with the international community regarding the peace process with Palestinians. Many Palestinians, especially in the southern West Bank, are living the direct consequences of this policy every day. In many villages surrounded by settlements, Palestinian farmers are losing more and more land under the pressure of the settlers’ violence, often tacitly supported by a “blind eye” of the Israeli military.

In Dahiriyah (15,000 inhabitants) to the south of Hebron, as with a majority of Palestinian villages, livelihood largely depends on the land. Because land use is the main source of income, losing land means losing livelihood. For hundreds years, Palestinian farmers and shepherds in this area were the owners of the land. Now they are facing the loss of their land with the encroachment of settlers around them.

According to Jamal Abedelazeez Malcharza, a farmer living in the village, around 10 families have been forced to leave their land and to move from their homes since the settlements were built in this area. The settlers claim that this land is historically owned by them, and so they can use it to expand the settlements.

The residents of the area are not only losing land for the benefit of settlement expansion, but also for the building of private roads, called bypass road, linking all the settlements in the region together and to Israel, in order to annex these territories to the state in the near future.

The typical policy Israel uses to expand inside the West Bank, cutting villages and towns, separating people, and thus depriving the future Palestinian state of its territorial contiguity and its essential attributes of sovereignty, leaving Palestinians in such a state of cantonization and marginalization that they will be forced to move.

Since the occupation started in 1967, the Israeli authorities have refused to allow Palestinians living in this area to build new homes. For this reason, a large number of them are still living in tents and caves, and the Oslo division of the West Bank into areas A B and C has make the situation even worse.

According to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited.”

Land confiscations, or simply the creation of conditions increasing the likelihood that Palestinians will move from their land, are also a serious violation of the right of property guaranteed from the UN in the Human Rights Charter, and it is actually an indirect forcible transfer, no less grave than when Israel does it directly.

It is important to underline that the settlements themselves are a grave violation of international humanitarian law, reading Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, that state: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Despite frequent UN affirmations that the Geneva Conventions are fully applicable to all the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel has constantly denied the de jure applicability of the Conventions to Gaza and the West Bank, arguing that its presence in these territories is not an occupation. In this way, Israel tries to avoid any responsibility or any duties outlined in these documents.

The construction of bypass roads that only the settlers are allowed to use not only represents a grave violation of Palestinian liberty of movement, but it also increases the risks for people living there. They are constantly subject to the violence perpetrated by the settlers, who are known to chase after farmers with their motorcycles, throwing stones at them and shooting their goats.

One of the farmers from the Jabareen family in Dahiriyah reported that he tried several times to report the actions of the settlers to the Israeli military, but they have never intervened to stop them.

Local people have also complained about the land confiscations to the Israeli police, but they have never received any positive or concrete responses outside of vague promises that have come to nothing.

This shows, again, how the Israeli military and the police are cooperating with the settlers, and that the settlers’ actions reflect government policy.

The Israeli policy of confiscating land to build new settlements or to expand existing ones, under the assumption that they have full power and sovereignty there, is not only politically unacceptable. According to the 2003 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, Israeli settlements tend “to alter the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Proof of their political significance in altering the final outcome of the negotiations is the fact that US President, George Bush, used the settlements and the construction of the wall—which attempts to include the settlements within Israeli territory—as an excuse to claim that there are “new facts on the ground,” that prevent a full and complete return to the armistice line of 1949.

Settlement activity is a necessary element of the Zionist strategy of taking greatest amount of land and resources, to guarantee a stable Jewish majority and ensure the Jewish character of Israel.

This is the reason why settlements are one of the main issues contributing to the prolongation of this conflict. It must be recognized that any international conference or agreement, signed without acknowledgment of the illegality of settlement activity, and, without calling for their total dismantling, will not fulfil even the basic requirements of justice, and will inevitably fail in establishing any real peace.


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