Israel’s settlement programme in the Occupied Territories has been justified both in terms of the historic and religious right of the Jewish people to the land of “Eretz Israel” and as a project for enhancing the state’s security.

Historically, settlements have been aimed at complicating, or even making impossible, any potential peace negotiations. They are designed to make the Jewish presence in the Occupied Territories a permanent reality and to prevent the transfer of the land of the Occupied Territories out of Israeli control. Settlements and bypass roads have been built around the major towns and cities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to block the expansion of these Palestinian population centres, and to inhibit unified political action on the part of the Palestinian people. Israel has constructed a ring of Jewish settlements surrounding Jerusalem, designed to separate Arab East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and to make it impossible for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of a Palestinian state following a final peace settlement. Israel has pursued its settlement programme with the express goal of making the emergence of an independent Palestinian state a virtual impossibility.

Israeli government and settlement leaders have made no secret of the political and strategic rationale behind settlement building, frequently explicitly and publicly outlining their objectives. Excerpts from a five-year plan for Jewish settlement of the West Bank published in 1980 by the settlement department of the World Zionist Organisation illustrate this:

The best and most effective way of removing every shadow of doubt about our intention to hold on to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] forever is by speeding up the settlement momentum in these territories. The purpose of settling the areas between and around the centres occupied by the minorities [Palestinians] is to reduce to the minimum the danger of an additional Arab state being established in these territories. Being cut off by Jewish settlements, the minority population will find it difficult to form a territorial and political continuity.

Similarly, Israeli political leader Ariel Sharon writes in a letter contained in a brochure for Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip, “[s]trategically, massive Jewish settlement in the Netzarim area will dissect the Strip into two parts, and connect the Negev with the sea. Settling in Netzarim is today the key to and guarantee for our continuing hold on the entire Strip, and constitutes a vital obstacle to the autonomy plan.”

According to Israeli strategic thinking, therefore, settlement building is today all the more urgent in light of the impending final peace settlement with the Palestinians. As noted by the current Israeli Minister of Finance Dan Meridor, “...[i]t is clear that if we are serious in our intention not to return to the 1967 lines, words alone will not suffice. Settlement is one of the things that determines the map of the country. Therefore, if we stop settlement in one place or another it means that we have surrendered that place.”

Israeli settlements are concentrated in three areas: 1) along the Jordan River, serving as Israel’s eastern “security border,” and separating the West Bank from Jordan, 2) along the Green Line, particularly in areas within commuting distance of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in order to alter the pre-1967 borders and to ensure the annexation of portions of these border areas in the event of a final peace settlement, and 3) surrounding major Palestinian population centres.

Neve Dekalim Settlement

The total population of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories is estimated at 150,500 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, with a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem. These settlers live in 144 settlements, most with a population not exceeding 500. Fourteen urban settlements account for 60 percent of the total settler population.


Israel militarily occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. Shortly thereafter, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon presented an internal plan to the government, known as the Allon Plan, which would serve as the Labour-led government’s guide for settlement policies in the Occupied Territories during the decade that it remained in power. The plan called for Israel’s annexation of about one-third of the West Bank, including a 12 mile wide security belt along the Jordan River and the Dead Sea; an area north of the Jericho-Jerusalem road, including the Latrun salient; much of “Greater Jerusalem” and the Judean desert; and the Gaza Strip. The Strip’s sizeable refugee population would be relocated, possibly in the West Bank, or in el-Arish, along the Sinai peninsula’s Mediterranean Coast. The densely populated areas of the Occupied Territories would form a demilitarised area in a Jordanian-Palestinian entity.

Settlements built by the Labour-led governments of 1967-77 were concentrated in the areas Allon had designated for annexation. The location of these settlements was consistent with Israel’s explicit objective of imposing Israeli sovereignty on what it has called “Greater Jerusalem” as well as approximately 40 percent of the West Bank. By the time the Labour party left office, almost 100 settlements had been established in the Occupied Territories, and almost 60,000 Jews had settled across the former border (all but approximately 7,000 of these had settled in annexed East Jerusalem).

With the Likud government’s ascent to power in 1977, the focus of Israel’s settlement program shifted and intensified. Whereas previous governments had attempted to avoid building near major Palestinian population centres, the Likud government began to build settlements around and in between Palestinian towns and cities both in order to prevent their expansion, and to cut these population centres off from one another. Roads subsequently built to these settlements by both Labour and Likud governments bypassing major Palestinian population centres have served much the same purpose.

Two main Likud proponents of Israel’s settlement programme in the Occupied Territories, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon (appointed Minister of Defence after the 1981 elections), determined that relying solely on ideologically motivated Jews to settle in the Occupied Territories would not result in a settler population large enough to meet their objectives. Thus, after the 1981 elections, they began to invest tremendous financial resources in a new strategy seeking to draw Jews to the Occupied Territories for pragmatic reasons, constructing settlements within easy commuting distance of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and offering housing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip at heavily subsidised prices. This strategy contributed to the large-scale expansion of the settler population in the Occupied Territories.

An expected influx of immigrants following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a desire to “change the facts on the ground” before US Secretary of State James Baker and the Bush administration achieved success in their push for a regional peace process in the aftermath of the Gulf War, led to a housing boom in the Occupied Territories which began in 1990 and continued until the election of Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister in 1992.


In June 1992, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin committed Israel to a freeze on the creation of new settlements in order to secure $10 billion in loan guarantees from the United States government. Among the exceptions Rabin made to this commitment was building in East Jerusalem and other settlements Israel considers essential to its security, expansion in already-existing settlements due to “natural growth,” and ten thousand settlement housing units in an advanced stage of construction at the time the ban was imposed. Rabin also took no action to halt private construction in the Occupied Territories, which continued at about 1,200-1,500 units annually during his administration.

Although the Labour administration withdrew “national priority area” status (entailing rights to various subsidies and financial incentives) from many settlements, a number continued to enjoy this status throughout the entire Labour administration. Among the areas whose privileged status the administration chose to leave largely intact was the Gaza Strip.

The population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip expanded considerably during the four years of the Labour administration. Based on information published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and according to a report issued by the Israeli Peace Now movement, the number of Jewish settlers increased by 39 percent during the Peres and Rabin administrations. More than 100 settlements increased their populations during Labour’s rule. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, while total population growth in Israel in 1994 was 2.7 percent, the growth in the settler population was over triple this figure, at 9.8 percent. Israel’s land confiscation and settlement in East Jerusalem in particular accelerated during the tenure of the Labour government. During the 1992-94 period, the settler population in the Gaza Strip experienced an almost 20 percent increase.

Rabin made a public distinction between “political” and “security” settlements, with the latter referring to those settlements he believed should be permanently annexed to Israel, namely those in the Jordan River Valley, the “Greater Jerusalem” area, and along the Green Line. “Political” settlements referred to the generally small and isolated settlements, often established under Likud governments, scattered throughout the Occupied Territories and often in the midst of Palestinian population centres. It should be noted that all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are political and are designed to permanently alter the borders dividing Israel from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The Labour government envisioned annexing and achieving exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the settlement areas along the Green Line serving as bedroom communities of Tel Aviv, the area of “Greater Jerusalem” and the densely populated settlement areas such as Ma’ale Edumim and Gush Etzion on its outskirts, a security zone along the Jordan Valley, and settlement blocs like Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. Settlement which continued under the Labour administration despite its declared ban on settlement expansion was concentrated in these areas.

From mid-1992 to the end of 1994, an “Exceptions Committee” headed by Advisor to the Minister of Security Noah Kanarti was authorised to approve building in the settlements not allowed for by the Rabin administration’s ban. The committee approved the construction of hundreds of units, including units in a number of particularly controversial settlements during its tenure. At the beginning of 1995, this committee was largely replaced by a “Ministers’ Committee,” authorised to approve the building of homes in the settlements. According to a recent report by Peace Now, this committee approved the building of 3,942 housing units in the West Bank, further accounting for the increase in the settler population witnessed under the previous Labour administration.

According to another report issued by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, published on 28 May 1996, one day before the Israeli elections, the number of Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem, who have the right to vote increased by 60 percent from their number in the previous election. According to the report, while there were 47,000 registered voters living in Jewish settlements during the 1992 elections, that number had increased to 74,000 by the 1996 elections. The number of settlers in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem, increased from 105,300 in 1992 to 146,000 by the end of May 1996 when the Labour government left office. Annual government spending on settlements and related expenditures (such as bypass roads) during the Labour government administration increased to NIS 1.4 billion ($43 million), as compared with NIS 500 million ($156 million) during the administration of the previous Israeli government from 1988-92.

As noted, private construction in the Occupied Territories continued with the approval, co-operation, and usually subsidised participation of the Israeli government during the Labour administration. The Israeli government has control over and exact information about private construction in the territories. Permits for private construction of homes must be approved by the civilian administration in the Occupied Territories and other official government bodies, and government-subsidised loans are awarded for such homes.

The government’s ban on settlement expansion also did not prevent the expropriation of thousands of dunams of Palestinian land for the building of new bypass roads allowing Israeli settlers to avoid Palestinian population centres. Since the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993, more than 80,000 dunams of Palestinian land have been expropriated for the building of bypass roads. Like the settlements themselves, these bypass roads create permanent facts on the ground, and are part of Israel’s continual activities to prejudice the final status negotiations in violation of the accords. The bypass roads, many of which are strategically placed to cut off the possibility of expansion for Palestinian towns, are designed to further the cantonization of the Occupied Territories, and to make the removal of the settlements impossible.

After the signing of the Oslo Accords (and again after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin), a movement led by Peace Now, Meretz members, and even some Labour Party members to assist settlers wishing to leave the settlements appeared to be gaining momentum. In 1993, for instance, there was a 62 percent increase in the number of Israelis leaving the Occupied Territories, with 6,800 settlers leaving in that year. In both instances, the Labour administration discouraged this movement, likely wishing to maintain the settlers’ presence in the Occupied Territories for future bargaining positions.


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud government elected in May 1996 have publicly declared their commitment to the building and expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

In its weekly meeting of 2 August 1996, the Israeli Cabinet voted unanimously to cancel restrictions on building and development in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Accordingly, Israeli Defence Minister Yitzhak Mordechai approved the setting up of 298 mobile homes in a West Bank settlement on 12 August, which was seen by many as a precursor to further expansion of the settlement. The government justified the addition of the mobile homes, the first step taken to implement the cabinet decision to lift the ban, by stating that the homes were to be used for educational purposes in anticipation of the new academic year, and should not be viewed as a measure taken toward settlement expansion.

On 9 August 1996, a plan prepared by the Israeli Ministry of Housing for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was unveiled. The ministry took action to implement the first phase of this plan by approving the sale of 3,000 housing units frozen by the previous government. These units will be able to absorb approximately 10,000 settlers. The second phase of the plan calls for the construction of buildings which have obtained the necessary permits, but whose actual construction had been suspended by the previous government. The third phase of the plan would implement the Prime Minister’s call for the building of settlement blocs along the bypass roads begun by the previous government, whose declared purpose is to guarantee the safe movement of settlers in the Occupied Territories and sustain Jewish building in the Territories. On 27 August 1996, Minister of Defence Mordechai approved a plan for the building of 900 housing units in Kiryat Sfer, just west of Ramallah; approval was subsequently granted for a further 900 units, bringing the total number of units approved for the expansion of Kiryat Sfer to 1,800. On 26 November, Netanyahu visited the second-largest settlement in the Occupied Territories, Ariel, vowing that he would continue to develop Israeli settlements.

Construction site of a new community centre in Kfar Darom. Though construction began with privately raised funds, the Netanyahu administration released money for its completion following the September 1996 clashes.

Similarly, the new Israeli government accelerated its campaign of confiscation of Palestinian land in order to build bypass roads to Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, allocating NIS 250 million for these roads for its first year of government. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) continues to increase the number of military orders issued for the expropriation of Palestinian land across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In response to the killing of an Israeli settler and her son in the West Bank, the Israeli government declared on 13 December 1996 that settlements whose status as “National Priority Areas” (entailing massive housing subsidies and financial incentives for settlement residents) had been withdrawn during the Rabin administration would have that status restored.

Newspaper reports in February 1997 indicated that the Israeli Defence Ministry was sponsoring the establishment of settlements without official Israeli government approval. The Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post reported that a Defence Ministry plan had already led to the takeover of a hilltop military outpost in the northern West Bank by yeshiva students from a military preparatory college with the intent to turn it into a civilian settlement. The plan reportedly calls for military outposts in the Occupied Territories to be taken over as civilian settlements by youth movements and is aimed at instilling motivation in Israeli youth and encouraging “youth to take part in national and security missions and to strengthen their value of settlement.”

Finally, during the spring of 1997, the Israeli government began its controversial East Jerusalem settlement project on the hill known as Har Homa in Hebrew and Jabal Abu Ghuneim in Arabic. In late February 1997, the Israeli government approved the construction of approximately 2,500 units at the site. The 1,850 dunam site was expropriated by the Shamir government in 1991, and is ultimately slated to hold 6,500 units housing approximately 32,000 settlers, along with hotels and commercial buildings. The project has been strongly opposed by Palestinians as it would constitute the last in the ring of settlements which circles East Jerusalem, cutting off the city from the rest of the West Bank. It is perceived to be an attempt to pre-empt the final status negotiations which are to take place regarding the ultimate status of the city.

The project has been strongly condemned by the international community and has brought the peace process to a months-long standstill. United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning the construction were prevented by U.S. vetoes on 6 and 21 March 1997. On 13 March, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the planned construction in East Jerusalem by an overwhelming vote of 130-2 (and two abstentions), with only the U.S. and Israel voting against the resolution. On 25 April, after an emergency session (the first such session held since 1982), the U.N. General Assembly condemned Israel for the Har Homa project for a second time, and demanded an immediate halt to its construction. The vote was 134-3 (and 11 abstentions), with the U.S., Israel, and Micronesia voting against.

Despite the public rhetoric of the Netanyahu administration and the almost daily press reports concerning settlement expansion, the extent to which the plans for Israeli settlement expansion would actually be implemented on the ground was initially unclear. Most current construction in the Occupied Territories is actually taking place on projects approved by the Labour administration, mostly in the Jerusalem area or along the Green Line.

However, throughout the spring of this year, information has become available which gives a clearer picture of the Netanyahu government’s plans for the Occupied Territories. PCHR has learned that the Netanyahu administration has released funds for construction in the Gaza Strip’s extremely controversial Kfar Darom. Two reports issued by Peace Now in the first week of June charged that massive construction taking place in the West Bank was proof that Prime Minister Netanyahu was intent on bringing about a total collapse of the peace talks.

This Israeli government, through the Minister of Defence, has issued final approval for over 2,200 new residential units. The largest block of approvals is for 1,800 units at Kiryat Sfer, an ultra-orthodox settlement. In addition, the Netanyahu government has issued intermediate approval for nearly 3,000 units and preliminary approval (the third step of a five-step process) for over 4,000 units, including large expansions in the Greater Jerusalem area. Finally, as mentioned above, the Israeli government issued final approval for the settlement at Har Homa, where 6,500 residential units are to be built. Counting approvals, either final or preliminary, and the 3,000 West Bank units “unfrozen” in the fall of 1996, this government is thus responsible for putting almost 19,000 residential units in the pipeline or on the market for sale.

A group of 120 empty units in Neve Dekalim whose sale has officially been unfrozen by the Netanyahu administration. The municipal government of Gush Katif must officially wait for prices to be supplied by the government and for the government to build infrastructure before the houses can be inhabited. However, the municipal government has approved and assisted squatters (by inter alia, supplying water and electricity) who wished to move into the houses before receiving government authorisation.

This construction is clearly being carried out as part of a final push at changing the facts on the ground in advance of final status negotiations. That this is the case was made even more evident by news reports issued in May 1997 concerning high vacancy rates in many settlements in the Occupied Territories, even as a massive effort to construct additional units was taking place. In May 1997, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz published details of a survey carried out by the U.S. government in the Occupied Territories which reportedly found that 26 percent of housing units in West Bank settlements and 56 percent of housing units in the Gaza settlements were vacant. According to information released in March 1997 by Peace Now, even the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics records a 40 percent vacancy rate in Gaza and a 12 percent rate in the settlements overall.

Policy statements issued by the Netanyahu administration indicate that it will probably not begin a campaign to establish new civilian outposts in the Occupied Territories, and that it is more likely to expand existing settlements. However, with the change in administration, the signal has gone out to settlement leaders that the Israeli government is unlikely to respond directly to unilateral action on the part of settlers. Settlers have already established at least two new settlements on their own, and caravan placements near Ofra and Mizpe Yeriho also appear to represent new settlements. In May, settlers at Yitzhar, yet another West Bank site, re-built unauthorised structures torn down by the Israeli authorities. The failure of the Netanyahu government to respond to this direct challenge to its authority over settlement expansion is likely to inspire the creation of still further settlements in the Occupied Territories.

Although settlement leaders frequently express their frustration with what they have called the slow pace of settlement expansion under the Netanyahu administration to the media, it is clear that the relationship between settlers and the Israeli government has changed dramatically under the new Israeli administration. Asked to discuss the differences between the previous Labour administration and the Likud government, Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza spokeswoman Yehudit Tayar stated,

You can’t compare the two. During the last two years we were not in a dialogue with the government...We were ignored...The Prime Minister [Netanyahu] -- when he ran for office committed himself to represent all of the nation of Israel. Of course we’re frustrated, but you can’t compare the situation on the ground...We’re going to see a defrosting and the end of the choking phase...We have to exert constructive pressure...[But] we’re part of [Netanyahu’s] national picture.”


According to U.S. government assessments, Israel spent $437 million on settlements in fiscal year 1993, $311.8 million in 1994, $303 million in 1995, and $307 million in 1996. Private sector investment in housing and industry is not included in these sums.

A significant portion of these budgets is directed toward Israeli government financial incentives for settlements in the Occupied Territories, which continue to draw settlers across the Green Line. First implemented under the post-1977 Likud government, these incentives were created when it became clear that ideological or religious motivations alone would fail to attract the numbers of Israelis necessary to fully implement Israel’s settlement programme. Housing subsidies were the primary tool with which the government sought to pull Israelis to the Occupied Territories, and tended to attract young couples who would not otherwise have been able to afford their own homes and who were able to settle in settlement blocs within easy commuting distance to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The amount of financial incentives available in a particular settlement (as determined by the development priority status it is awarded) is inversely related to a settlement’s proximity to one of Israel’s major metropolitan centres and its desirability as a settlement destination. Although Rabin withdrew top priority status from many settlements during his administration, he left this status largely intact for those regions which he envisioned annexing in a final peace settlement. Prime Minister Netanyahu restored national priority status to all settlements in the Occupied Territories.

In addition to housing subsidies, incentives to settlement expansion include income tax reductions for resident and even non-resident Jewish workers in the Occupied Territories, low-interest loans, subsidies for water, electricity, and personal telephone services, grants to cover moving expenses, and security provision by the IDF.

A house in the West Bank is on average two to three times cheaper than a comparable home in Israel. All settlers in the Occupied Territories have long received a 7 percent income tax reduction (this continued under the Rabin administration), while settlers living in settlements classified with “A” status may receive up to 20 percent reductions in their income tax. Settlers living in settlements classified as “A” and “B” priority settlements receive $20,000 grants toward their mortgages (many of which are only $35,000-$50,000 to begin with) after five years. The Israel Lands Authority sells settlers rights to plots of land expropriated from Palestinian landowners at 5 percent of their assessed value.

Teachers receive salary increases ranging up to 80 percent and subsidised transportation to the Occupied Territories if commuting from Israel. Municipal and Regional Councils located in the Occupied Territories receive a 5 percent increase in government assistance to their budgets. Educational services are reported to be far superior in settlements than in Israel, with smaller class sizes, better school facilities, and subsidised bus transport.

Sixty percent of employed adults in the settlements are employed in the public sector, as compared to 33 percent in Israel. Numerous religious institutes have been established in the settlements to employ settlers, while the education ministry is another top employment provider for settlers. In 1995, the number of government positions per capita in the settlements was 60 percent higher than in Israel proper, with 2,650 government positions available for the 147,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and 70,000 government positions available for the 5.5 million Israelis living on the other side of the Green Line. Religious councils, supported by public funds, employed settlers at a rate 60 percent higher than in Israel.

This massive subsidisation of the settlements has been carried out at the expense of all Israelis. One publication, “Everything you didn’t want to know about settlement on the West Bank,” noted that Israeli taxpayers pay between $120,000 and $150,000 for each settler to move to the West Bank, an amount three times that received by families moving to development towns in Israel. In 1994, settlers, who constitute 2.4 percent of the population of Israel, received 12 percent of Israel’s domestic budget.

Due to the political motivations for government spending in the Occupied Territories, financial support for the settlements is often wasteful. Prime Minister Rabin noted in September 1992, “The government of Israel in the last year, this year, and next year will need to buy 42,000 housing units for which there is no buyer...It will cost 8 billion shekels [$3.3 billion], and we don’t even know when it will be possible to use them in an effective way.” Rural settlements in isolated locations must be supplied with roads, water, electricity, telephone service, schools, health clinics, etc., and are even more burdensome on the Israeli taxpayer.

Government financial and administrative support is also provided for industrial and agricultural development in the Occupied Territories. Industrial development is encouraged by, inter alia, government subsidisation of project development, provision of highly subsidised or free land for industrial projects in the Occupied Territories, and benefits and tax holidays for investors. According to Meron Benvenisti’s West Bank Data Project, for instance, industries in the Occupied Territories received a 40 percent grant for the purchase of equipment. Government support has led to the establishment of ten industrial parks with more than 250 factories in the Occupied Territories. Three centres for research and development, primarily funded by the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Industry, have been established in the Occupied Territories.

Government agronomists are provided to advise settlers engaging in agriculture, and the government provides agricultural land at subsidised prices to settlers. Settlers building greenhouses in the Occupied Territories receive 40 percent of the cost of construction from the government. Government subsidies and investment incentives for industrial and agricultural development in the settlements have adversely affected local Palestinian industry and agriculture, which have found it difficult to compete with these heavily subsidised sectors.

Historically, the vast majority of Israeli housing in the Occupied Territories is the result of public construction undertaken by government entities. After implementing the ban on new settlement building in 1992, Rabin took the government out of the housing construction market, and construction in settlements was turned over to the private sector. Private sector construction, however, is still very much controlled by the Israeli government. Decisions to build are made by the Israeli government, which also allocates “state land” for construction. Proposals are put out for bid by the Israeli Ministry of Housing, and are then undertaken by private contractors.

Thus, published government expenditures and declarations are a misleading indicator of government spending and support for the settlements. Private construction companies purchase land rights from the Israeli government at artificially low prices, so that the government provides a subsidy to both private contractors and settler purchasers. The Israeli government continues to heavily subsidise housing built in this manner, providing public services for these settlers such as roads, schools, clinics, water, electricity, telephones, security, and subsidisation for agricultural and industrial development. Private construction assisted the Labour administration in circumventing its own declared policy and continuing the large-scale expansion of the settler population.

In addition to Israeli government funds, financing for the settlements is raised through private donations. Some of the $1 billion in private tax-deductible donations made annually by American citizens to Jewish charities is directed to the building and expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.


According to a report submitted by the PNA Ministry of Information to President Arafat, since 1967, Israel has confiscated almost 3 million dunams from the total area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (a total area of 6 million dunams). Furthermore, the report stated that 300,000 dunams of land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were confiscated in the three years following the signing of the Oslo accords in September 1993. Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories is confiscated not only for housing units in Jewish settlements, but also for bypass roads, “green zones,” industrial zones, and for military purposes.

Land for Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories has been acquired through a variety of methods, the most effective of which have been the seizure of land for “military purposes” or because it has been declared “absentee property” or “state land” (see below). Land over which Israel assumed control from the Jordanian government following the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 and Palestinian land purchased privately by Jews has also been directed for use in Israeli settlements.

Until 1980, Israel justified its programme of land acquisition in the Occupied Territories primarily on Article 52 of the Hague Convention, which allows an occupying force to requisition lands temporarily for the needs of the army of occupation. The Israeli military authorities played a critical role in the early acquisition of land for Jewish settlement, acquiring large amounts of land for “security needs,” and subsequently turning over much of it for use for Jewish civilian settlements.

The legality of this process was challenged in 1979, when the Israeli Supreme Court considered a Palestinian petition concerning land which had been expropriated for security reasons and subsequently turned over for civilian settlement. The Palestinian landowners who brought the case argued that the establishment of a civilian settlement at Beit El, located near the town of Ramallah in the West Bank, indicated that there was not a continued military need for the land. The military government countered that the land should be retained, stating:

The establishment of the settlement in the area of Beit El camp is not only not inconsistent with, but actually serves military need as part of the Government’s concept of security, which bases the security system inter alia on Jewish settlements...In times of peace and tranquillity these settlements mainly serve the need for ‘presence’ and control in vital areas, for maintaining observation and the like. Their importance increases particularly in wartime, when regular military forces are generally moved from their bases for operational needs, and the said settlements form the principal elements of ‘presence’ and security control in the areas in which they are located.

The Supreme Court accepted the Israeli government’s argument that the function of civilian settlements was essentially military, and dismissed the Palestinian claim. The court apparently did not view the permanent nature of Israeli settlements to be inconsistent with Article 52’s requirement that land be requisitioned only temporarily by the occupation army.

A second landmark Israeli Supreme Court case, challenging the legality of a settlement in the northern West Bank known as Elon Moreh, was brought in 1979. The Court’s ruling in this case led to a major shift in Israeli methods of land expropriation.

In accordance with the proven success of justifying settlement construction in terms of security, the Israeli government argued that Elon Moreh would promote Israeli security and was therefore a legal settlement. This argument was undermined by the testimony of several military figures that the settlement of Elon Moreh did not, in fact, serve any security purpose. Rather, these experts argued, the settlement might actually compromise Israeli security in time of war, as troops would have to be committed to protect its civilian residents.

Ironically, the government’s argument was also countered by the settlers themselves, who informed the court that their primary purpose in establishing the settlement was not to promote the security of the state of Israel, but to assert a territorial claim to the West Bank. Forced to determine that Elon Moreh did not in fact serve Israeli military need, the Court ruled the settlement illegal. Its ruling, based on Article 52 of the Hague Regulations, indicated that private Palestinian-owned land in the Occupied Territories could not be confiscated without a viable security justification.

In the wake of the Court’s decision, which had demonstrated the legal vulnerability of settlements established upon land expropriated for military purposes, Israeli authorities began to employ a new and highly effective strategy for land confiscation. This new strategy, based on obscure laws dating from the Ottoman period regarding “state land,” may best be characterised as one of legalised theft. In May 1980, the Israeli cabinet agreed that all unregistered and uncultivated lands in the Occupied Territories would henceforth be declared to be state land and thus to be subject to seizure and use for Israeli settlements. State land is supervised by the Custodian of Government and Abandoned Property, and is routinely signed over to bodies such as the World Zionist Organisation, the Israeli Ministry of Housing, and to individual building contractors for use in Israeli settlements.

The burden of proving ownership of land declared to be state land falls upon the Palestinian landowner, and Israel has sought to use the lack of specific legal documentation of land ownership in the Occupied Territories to maximum advantage. A project to register land in the West Bank begun by the British and continued under the Jordanians had succeeded in registering only one-third of the land in the territory before an Israeli military order issued shortly after the occupation in 1967 ordered an end to the project. The seizure of so-called state land has led to the confiscation of land belonging to countless Palestinian farmers or herders who, though long-recognised as landowners (whether by custom or contract), do not possess the documentation required by Israeli authorities. A survey of the West Bank taken after the Elon Moreh decision by the Israeli government determined that the status of 1,500,000 dunams, or 26 percent of the West Bank, was “uncertain,” and thus eligible for designation as state land. According to settlement expert Khalil Tufakji, approximately 1,700,000 dunams have since been appropriated in this manner.

In addition to the two primary strategies described above (turning over land seized for military purposes to civilian settlements, and, subsequently, confiscating Palestinian-owned land determined by Israeli authorities to be state land), land has been acquired for Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories through several other methods. An Israeli military order issued shortly after the occupation in 1967 gave the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, through the Israel Lands Authority, the power to confiscate all land and property belonging to Palestinian absentees, and to expel occupants who the custodian determined had no right to occupy the land upon which they were living. Absentees were defined as those who left the West Bank before, on, or after 7 June 1967. Under the leadership of Menachem Begin, the Israeli government issued a directive to consider all Palestinian property-owners living anywhere but on the land itself (whether in other Arab countries or in America or Europe) absentees. An estimated 430,000 dunams of West Bank land was acquired in this manner.

The Israeli government approved the private purchase of West Bank land in September 1979. While some Jewish purchases of Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, are legitimate (often involving sums reaching into the millions of dollars), such purchases are often made under dubious circumstances. Some have been made using forged or incomplete documents, and in other cases Palestinian landowners have signed documents through deception or under threat of force. International Jewish agencies such as the Jewish National Fund (the main governmental instrument for land purchases) have raised money for Jewish land purchases in the Occupied Territories. The Jewish National Fund receives a significant portion of its funding through tax-deductible donations from American citizens.

A further 150,000 dunams were confiscated “in the public interest” from Palestinians for use for the construction of roads, parks, schools, etc., serving the settlers, while 250,000 dunams have been declared “green areas,” or natural reserves, commonly allocated to Jewish settlements.

Master plans for settlements are often ambitious, and much larger than the actual area upon which building has taken place. Through this method, the Israeli authorities are able to issue land confiscation orders years before Palestinian landowners are actually forced to vacate their property due to settlement expansion, thus avoiding publicity and political controversy at the time the orders are issued. The master plan for the largest Israeli settlement, Ma’ale Adumim, just east of Jerusalem, is as big as Tel Aviv; Ariel, the second largest settlement, has only constructed on 40 percent of the land allocated to it in its master plan.

Settlements have also been built and expanded through the actions of the settlers themselves. Many settlements to which the Israeli government has subsequently committed funding and political and military protection were originally established by groups of religious-nationalist settlers without official government authorisation. Settlers frequently expand a settlement or establish a new one by setting up a group of caravans on a hilltop near an existing settlement and declaring this outpost to be a new neighbourhood of the nearby settlement. Similarly, settlers have expanded settlements by building a road near their settlement, declaring it a “security road,” and taking possession of the territory between the settlement and the new road.


It is estimated that Israel gets one-third of its annual water supply from aquifers located in West Bank territory. Some of these acquifers straddle the Green Line, and Israel has massively built settlements in these areas in order to secure this territory and its valuable water resources for the state of Israel in any final peace settlement. In the West Bank, Israeli authorities have drilled more than 40 deep-bore wells and pump 45 million cubic meters per year from West Bank acquifers for the use of Israeli settlers -- equal to almost 50 percent of the total water consumption of the Palestinian population in the West Bank. In Gaza, 35 wells are located in Israeli settlements, and settlements pump some six million cubic metres. Per capita annual water consumption among Israeli settlers in Gaza amounts to 1,000 cubic meters, compared with 172 cubic meters per Palestinian.

Palestinians have charged water diversion has been carried out not only to supply Israel and the Israeli settlements, but also in a deliberate attempt to thwart the success of Palestinian agricultural endeavours and thereby encourage Palestinian farmers to abandon their land and make it available for further settlement expansion.


Israel has acted to ensure the de facto elimination of the border separating the Occupied Territories from Israel through a variety of means. Its actions have enabled the residents of many Israeli settlements to avoid confronting the reality of Israel’s settlement programme and the effects it has had on the Palestinian population at whose expense it has been implemented. An extensive system of bypass roads allows settlers to circumvent Palestinian towns and villages; political and legal systems in the settlements are integrated with those operating in Israel; and supermarkets, commercial centres, police stations, hotels, industrial zones, and public bus service serve peaceful, suburban communities.

The clearest illustration of Israel’s efforts to eliminate the border between Israel and the Occupied Territories is its programme of settlement building along either side of the Green Line. Settlements along the Green Line in the West Bank have been constructed within commuting distance of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In order to further integrate the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Israel is building a 400-km. network of bypass roads linking Jewish settlements with Israeli metropolitan centres. According to informed sources, 30,000 dunams have so far been confiscated for 28 bypass roads. Thirteen additional roads are reported to be in the final proposal stage. Bypass roads enable settlers to circumvent Palestinian towns, increasing the security of the settlers and thus encouraging the expansion of settlements. These roads also encourage expansion by cutting commuting distances between major Israeli metropolitan centres and settlements. Some of these roads are reserved for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers; on others, Palestinian travel is permitted but enforcement conditions vary from day to day, discouraging Palestinians from using the roads.

The political and legal system serving the Israeli settlements has also been thoroughly integrated with Israel’s. Separate political and legal regimes have been set up for Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian population, in what observers have characterised as “a form of legal apartheid.” While Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were for years forced to deal with the Israeli military authorities in these matters, settlers are served by their own regional councils and court systems.

In 1979, the settlements in the Occupied Territories were incorporated into a system of regional councils, consistent with the local government system in Israel, whose jurisdiction was based on Israeli municipal and district law. There are currently 21 regional and municipal councils in the Occupied Territories (seven regional councils, thirteen municipalities, and one city). The size of the community determines whether a settlement will belong to a regional council or whether it will become a municipality.

Israeli military authorities have issued military orders containing the texts of various Israeli laws verbatim to apply to Jewish settlers, thereby applying Israeli law to the settlers in the Occupied Territories and creating a dual legal system in the Occupied Territories. Similarly, Israeli military authorities issue military orders applying only to the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories and not to Jewish settlers.

For most legal purposes, Israeli settlers are considered by Israeli law to be residents of Israel and to be subject to Israeli law and courts. Criminal cases against settlers are prosecuted in Israeli courts, in settlement courts, or in very rare cases in Israeli military courts. In theory, local Palestinian courts have jurisdiction over all persons in the Occupied Territories in cases of civil wrongs, but in practice Palestinians are unable to initiate legal proceedings against Jewish settlers. Israeli municipal and rabbinical courts also operate in the Occupied Territories.


Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories are motivated by a number of factors, including ideological, religious, nationalistic, and financial.

Religious-nationalist settlers are driven by their belief that the Jewish people have a historic and religious right to the land which comprises the Occupied Territories. The West Bank, known by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria in Israel, holds significance for religious Jews as the land of ancient Israel.

Right-wing rabbis have held that Jewish law prohibits the surrender of any part of “Eretz Israel,” and often express their displeasure at the presence of the Palestinian population on “Jewish land.” For example, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, chairman of the Committee of Rabbis of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District, has stated that “there can be no dispute that it would be ideal if the entire Land of Israel could be settled exclusively by Jews.”

This same Committee issued an appeal more than a year before the Oslo agreement stating, “‘[i]t has already been ruled by our rabbi, Tzui Yehuda Kook of blessed memory, that any decision, Jewish or non-Jewish, to rob us of any part of our land can have no validity because the Will of God will prevail.’ Any expectation of making peace with Palestinians, who were referred to as ‘animals in human shape,’ is ‘a delusion inspired by Satan.’”

In a letter in a brochure advertising for Netzarim settlement, another rabbi states, “as the non-Jews covet our country, we must strengthen our grip on her. Purchasing land or houses in the Land of Israel is a religious commandment for all Israel, so that the Holy Land will not sink into the hands of the unclean.”

Religious-nationalist settlers make their homes in “Eretz Israel” in order to prevent the transfer of any of the territory of the Occupied Territories to an alternative authority and to ensure the eventual annexation and incorporation of those territories into the state of Israel. Gush Emunim, or the Bloc of the Faithful, is perhaps the most well-known movement representing these settlers. Formed in 1974, it is composed primarily of religious Jews who advocate a religious Zionism which holds that Israel’s conquest of the Occupied Territories demonstrates that the messianic era has begun, and that Israel’s retention of these territories will hasten the coming of the messiah. Gush Emunim, whose power increased significantly with the election of the Likud government in 1977, acts as a settler lobby, pressuring for the establishment and expansion of settlements in the Occupied Territories. Among the ways in which the movement has carried this out is through the recruitment of new settlers and the establishment of settlements without governmental authorisation.

Religious-nationalist settlers tend to conceive of Israel’s settlement programme as a war for the land, a zero-sum game in which they must build on and hold land before Palestinians are able to do the same. Settlers protest against Palestinian building near boundaries of settlements and against Palestinian planting of agricultural land in the Occupied Territories, perceiving these actions to be strategic moves undertaken to thwart further land confiscation for settlement expansion. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers over land in the Occupied Territories are common.

The Israeli government acts with similar strategic concerns. For example, in July 1996, the Israel Lands Administration, newly placed under the authority of the Minister of National Infrastructure Ariel Sharon, instructed settlements to use state lands for forestation or industrial areas in order to “reduce as much as possible the amount of state land to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.”

However, a significant number of the settlers currently residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip moved there not for religious or nationalistic reasons, but due to government-mandated financial incentives for settlement in the Occupied Territories, and other economic considerations. Cheap housing and relatively short commutes to either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem have attracted a large number of settlers who see themselves as “Quality of Lifers.” They generally live in settlements near Jerusalem or along the Green Line. In a survey of Israeli settlers in the West Bank published in January 1996, 38 percent of those polled stated that they had moved to the West Bank for economic reasons, 34 percent for religious or ideological reasons, 1 percent for security reasons, and the rest for family and social reasons.

Other information gathered by the survey demonstrated that most West Bank settlers have been well educated and have an above-average income. The median age of the settler population is 19.7 years (compared with a median national age of 26.7 years). Seventy percent of settlers in the West Bank were born in Israel, while 10 percent came from Asian and African countries, six percent from the former Soviet Union, and 10 percent from Europe and North America. About 40 percent are Sephardi, and 39 percent are Ashkenazi. Of those surveyed, 21 percent had Israeli-born parents.

About 45 percent of the settlers define themselves as Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jews, 20 percent as “traditional,” and 34 percent as secular Jews. While 49 percent of settlers surveyed work in the West Bank, 51 percent commuted to work inside Israel. About 20 percent of West Bank settlers also owned houses in Israel.


Acts of violence and intimidation against Palestinians carried out by settlers in the Occupied Territories are commonplace. With virtual impunity, Israeli settlers conduct illegal patrols, sabotage and set fire to Palestinian vehicles, destroy Palestinian property and crops, enter Palestinian villages for the purpose of intimidating and harassing the local population, unilaterally block roads, fire at Palestinians without just cause, and carry out vigilante attacks to avenge killings of other Jewish settlers.

Most settlers serve in either the reserves or the regular armed forces in the Occupied Territories, and are issued with weapons such as M-16s, Uzis, and sniper rifles by the IDF. Settlers are required to perform their annual military reserve duty in the area in which they live under the District Defence Regulations established in 1973, which has had the effect of legitimising settler harassment and intimidation of Palestinians living in areas surrounding these settlements. Under Military Order 898, issued in March 1981, settlers are empowered to arrest Palestinians and to require Palestinians suspected of violating a military order to present their identification cards. Settlers have also been organised into their own regional defence network, comprised of military units in settlements under settler command which are provided with weapons, training, and equipment. The IDF co-ordinates with settler units in the Occupied Territories.

Jewish settler violence against residents of the Occupied Territories has a long history. In June 1980, an underground network of Jewish extremists known as the Jewish Underground in the Territories, or the Jewish Terror Group, which included members of Gush Emunim and IDF reserve officers, dynamited the cars of three West Bank mayors. Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus lost both of his legs and Mayor Karim Khalaf of Ramallah was seriously wounded by these attacks. The settlers also killed several students in an attack on the Hebron Islamic college in July 1983, plotted to place bombs in buses in East Jerusalem, and planned to blow up the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The existence of the network was discovered in May 1984. Another Jewish terror organisation, known as TNT, planted bombs in churches and mosques in Jerusalem and opened fire on a Palestinian bus. The organisation appeared to have connections to Rabbi Kahane’s extremist Kach Party.

Settler violence against Palestinians continues unabated in the post-Oslo era. On 25 February 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a resident of Kiryat Arba settlement outside Hebron, opened fire on Muslims at prayer in the al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Palestinians. More recently, on 27 October 1996, Nahum Korman, an Israeli settler and security chief of a neighbouring settlement, entered the West Bank village of Husan and beat 10-year-old Hilmi Shushah to death. According to eyewitness accounts, Korman kicked Shushah on the side of his head, and after Shushah fell to the ground, stepped on his neck, beat him with the butt of his rifle, and repeatedly smashed his head against a wall and the door of a jeep. Korman suspected Shushah of having thrown stones. The attack was one in a series of settler attacks in the West Bank at the time, and was suspected by some to be part of an organised campaign by settlers to scuttle the negotiations over Hebron redeployment.

Two months later, on 1 January 1997, a 22-year-old off-duty soldier and settler opened fire in a crowded open market in Hebron, wounding eight Palestinians, two seriously. The settler, an Orthodox Jew called Noam Friedman, stated, “I am not insane...I wanted to kill Arabs. Hebron is ours forever and I wanted to prevent redeployment from Hebron.” In an interview broadcast in Hebrew on Israeli television, he said that he did not have regrets for the attack and that it was for the good of Israel.

Authorities have generally been lax in holding violent offenders responsible for their actions and in attempting to control Jewish vigilantism in the Occupied Territories. In the rare cases in which Jewish settlers charged with carrying out violent attacks on Palestinians reach the court system, light sentences or dismissals generally result.

In order to investigate the issue of settler violence against Palestinians and the enforcement of law in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government established a commission of inquiry in April 1981. The results of the inquiry, called the Karp Report, showed that in many cases incidents in which settlers had attacked Palestinians were not brought to trial and cases were dropped after cursory investigations. In an examination of 70 files of police investigations, the commission found that 53 of them had come to a standstill. It concluded that police failed to adequately investigate incidents in which Jewish settlers had been accused of harassing and intimidating the local population and that investigations were deliberately conducted slowly and inefficiently. The commission also determined that Israeli settlers systematically refused to cooperate with police investigations.

Similarly, a report published by the Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem in 1994 determined that in most of the cases B’tselem investigated, “opening fire was unjustified and illegal, manifesting an excessive response to stone-throwing or other Palestinian activity, or comprising ‘punitive’ action by the settlers.”

B’tselem also found that “[t]he IDF has continuously failed to enforce the law on the settlers and to safeguard the life, person, and property of Palestinians during repeated attacks by Jewish settlers. The army’s attitude toward these manifestations of violence fluctuates between ‘voluntary non-intervention’ and active forms of co-operation.” It concluded that the findings of the Karp Report regarding police handling of offences by Israeli civilians against Palestinians continued to remain valid; in many such cases no investigation of any kind was conducted, and those investigations that did take place rarely resulted in the filing of any criminal charges.

While settlers in the Occupied Territories are able to carry out violent crimes without fear of prosecution, Palestinians who commit crimes against Israeli civilians often receive sentences drastically disproportionate to the gravity of their crime. The West Bank Data Base Project, for example, found that settlers and soldiers convicted of killing Palestinians were often given sentences of six to 12 months, while Palestinians received sentences of eight to ten years for throwing gasoline bombs at Israeli vehicles. Palestinians courts are not permitted to try settlers who have committed crimes against Palestinians.

Wide publicity was given at the time to testimony concerning army restrictions on treatment of settlers heard by the official commission of inquiry established by the Israeli government after the Hebron massacre. Soldiers in Hebron told the committee that they had received orders prohibiting them from firing at settlers under any circumstances, even if settlers were shooting at Palestinians.

Prime Minister Rabin took only superficial action in the wake of the massacre at the Ibrahimi mosque, choosing not to act decisively to prevent a repetition of such violence. He instituted measures barring certain settlers from specified locations in the Occupied Territories, placed five members of the extremist Kach party under administrative detention, and confiscated government-issued weapons and personal gun permits from less than 100 settlers.

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