Recently, Yesh Din published its position on the European Union guidelines intended to limit the funding of settlements. We support these guidelines as a first step; we believe that insofar as their aim is to prevent the use of EU funds to serve the Israeli settlement project in the West Bank, they manifest an element of the basic obligation incumbent on the EU – as established in international law and treaties – to refrain from assisting in the violation of human rights in this area. You can read the full document here.
Why? For a very prosaic reason: after 45 years of the existence of Israeli settlements, we can say unequivocally that settlements – whether they are so-called legal (note: only in Israel) or illegal (even to Israel) outposts – are a form of gross violation of the law, and of the human rights of the Palestinians.
The overarching goal of the settlements is to takeover as large a part as possible of the West Bank, with an emphasis on Area C. This is the goal promoted by all Israeli governments, almost without exception. This creeping, de facto annexation leaves the Palestinians devoid of citizenship and basic human rights.
The propaganda spread by some of the Israelis who have moved to the West Bank with the encouragement of successive Israeli governments – an act about which there is near total consensus by the world’s jurists that it constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – often tries to depict an idyllic coexistence, with settlers living as “good neighbors” alongside the Palestinians. This, to put it mildly, is not how Palestinians see things.
As amply demonstrated by our report, The Road to Dispossession, which analyzed the illegal outpost of Adei Ad as a microcosm of the settlement enterprise, the blatant goal of outposts and settlements is the dispossession of Palestinians from their land. This process takes place by means of a variety of methods. When an outpost is created, Palestinians automatically lose access to the land – often Palestinian agricultural fields – on which the outpost is situated. The barred area gradually grows with the inevitable expansion of the outpost.
Beyond the area occupied by the outpost proper, a cordon of land serves as the outpost’s security perimeter. This land is not officially under the control of the outpost, but Palestinians may not enter it “for security reasons” (the army has at times even admitted that it cannot defend the Palestinians from Israeli civilians). Under certain circumstances, Palestinian landowners may access these areas for short periods of time – typically only twice a year, during the plowing and harvesting seasons. An immediate result of this is severe harm to the livelihoods of Palestinian farmers and entire communities. Meanwhile, the Israeli civilians who have displaced the Palestinians are not barred entry to these areas, so that time after time Palestinians complain that their crops have been vandalized or stolen. Often, Palestinians entering their land are exposed to severe violence on the part of Israeli civilians. Thus far, the IDF has demonstrated dereliction of its basic duty as an occupying force – to defend the protected persons, the Palestinians living in the occupied territory.
The outpost’s sphere of influence reaches an additional, third cordon of land, namely that which is often the scene of violent criminality. These are the regions farther away from the settlements or outposts, to which the IDF does not limit Palestinian access. They are supposed to be areas where Israeli civilians do not hold any sway. Even so, they carry out attacks there against Palestinians or their property on an almost daily basis, while the army and the police distinguish themselves by closing their eyes and abandoning their duty to protect the occupied population. In a shocking percentage of cases (84%), police investigations of crimes committed against Palestinians end in failure. Thirty years after the “Karp Report,” which first found that in practice, the law is not enforced on Israelis in the West Bank, the situation has not improved, and in fact may have worsened.
And if the authorities turn a blind eye when violence occurs, when it comes to plundering the land it’s even worse: almost full cooperation with the violators. Every year, during the olive harvest, Israeli violence against Palestinian agriculture peaks; this violence takes the form of burning and cutting down trees, vandalizing agricultural land and violently assaulting the harvesters. The ineptitude of the Israeli authorities in defending Palestinians from such attacks, which for many means a direct assault on their ability to make a living, is worse than usual.
Even though this blog routinely mocks the Samaria and Judea [West Bank] District Police(JSDP), the problem runs deeper. The SJDP has been delegated the authority to act in the West Bank based on an order by the military commander. The duty of law enforcement is firstly the responsibility of the IDF. But here it faces an institutional problem: soldiers are not the right tool for law enforcement. Their job is to defeat enemy forces. Anyone who demands that they defend civilians they consider to be an enemy of their own people is setting them up for failure. Prior to the First Intifada, a large number of police officers in the West Bank were Palestinians who served in the Israeli National Police; they resigned en masse when the Intifada broke out. The result, right now, is the policing of one ethnic group by another. As almost any historical example will show, this leads not only to hatred by the occupied towards the occupier, but also on the part of the occupier toward the occupied; hatred accompanied with contempt and the need to humiliate the occupied in order to demonstrate the superiority of the occupier. The resulting effect on the human rights of the occupied is self-evident.
Hence, an occupation is supposed to be temporary; yet the occupation of the West Bank is anything but. The result is a profound harm to the right to equality – so profound, in fact, that many Israelis do not even understand the concept. A Palestinian child does not have the same rights as an Israeli child. A Jewish boy, if arrested, would be accompanied by a parent or guardian, and if put on trial at all, would be tried in an Israeli civilian court, accompanied by the attendant rights. He would be interrogated, if at all, by a specialized youth interrogator. A Palestinian child, even if suspected of only minor offenses, is liable to be kidnapped from his home at nighttime by armed and masked soldiers; to being taken, bound and hooded, to a hostile interrogation, often violent, by a person who has no training as a youth interrogator, and — contrary to Israeli law – without the presence of an adult known to him. He would be exposed to longer detention before being brought before a judge – and the judge would be a military officer, serving a military court. At the end of his interrogation, he would be asked to sign a statement in a language unknown to him, and then, to choose between a plea bargain, which means certain conviction, and arrest until the end of the proceedings – an arrest period that may be longer than the maximum sentence for the offense of which he is accused.
In the West bank, there are now roads closed to Palestinians; there are whole areas taken from them contrary to international law, which they may not enter, rendering Palestinian lives a nightmare. The entire military mission in the West Bank has in effect distorted itself to fit the needs of the settlers. If in the past, the main mission was defense against a possible invasion from the East, then the fabled “eastern front” ceased to exist in 1991, with the defeat of Iraq in the First Gulf War. This reality, already noted as highly problematic for Palestinians 20 years after the start of the occupation, in Israeli author David Grossman’s 1987 book “The Yellow Time,” only became worse with the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to have made their lives better.
The fact that the settlement project has become, like a thief in the night, the largest and quietest national project of Israel; the fact that it is a black hole, rarely mentioned in public, which harms anything it draws towards it – these are the problems of Israeli citizens. But the fact that this project of theft cannot exist except by violating almost every Palestinian’s human rights, from their right to be protected from violence and their right to safety and welfare, to their rights to property, freedom of movement and equality and human dignity – this fact ought to disturb every person who supports respect for human rights.
And therefore, given that the EU guidelines are a partial movement toward practical elucidation of the illegitimacy of the settlements, we support them.