The report of the first new Israeli settlement in the West Bank being approved in recent days may sound strange. Have no new settlements sprung up during this time? Has there been no expansion of the settlements since then? And how does this affect nearby village residents? I thought I’d try to clear some of these things out.
Since 1991, the Israeli government has not set up any new planned settlements in the West Bank. However, the Israeli government has enabled the settlement movement to advance – at a rapid pace – in other ways. Firstly, housing units in large settlement blocs are habitually approved, continuously extending the outer limits of built-up settlements. Secondly, so called settlement outposts, spontaneously built without Israeli legal approval, are largely ignored in terms of building and planning law enforcement, and encouraged through government provision of water, electricity, infrastructure, security, and tax breaks. Thirdly, illegally built (according to Israeli law. Note that all settlement construction is illegal according to international law) settlement outposts have been retroactively legalised. According to Peace Now, the settler population on the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) has risen from 94,000 in 1991 to 385,900 in 2015 (explore more data HERE).
On the 30th March, the Israeli cabinet decided to both retroactively legalise three settlement outposts: Palgei Mayim, Givat Harel, and Adei Ad. It was also decided to approve the building of a new settlement, referred to as Geulat Zion (Read more here), located east of Shilo settlement. The Geulat Zion hilltop is located east of the hilltop referred to as ‘Shvut Rachel East’, which was designated as a relocation site for the residents of Amona, an outpost from which they got evicted in February 2017 (Read more here). While the evicted Amona residents refused to move to the Shvut Rachel East hilltop, the Netanyahu government still decided to approve new settlement building on this site (98 housing units). The retroactive legalisation of the three outposts, and the approval of new settlements eastwards, further established the string of Israeli settlements that cut right through the northern West Bank. This string stretches from Ariel settlement in the west, where the Israeli separation barrier cuts deep into the West Bank, to the Jordan Valley in the east, which wholly consists of Area C land for near-exclusive use by Israeli settlers.
The Palestinian Villages
I have visited most most of the area surrounding Shilo and its near-contiguous thread of eastward outposts. These have been some of the consequences of settlement presence and expansion, according to village residents and contacts whom I have met:
- Qaryut village, directly north of Shilo settlement has gotten its main connecting road to the major Route 60 cut off, because of increased use by Shilo settlers of farming land close to Qaryut. Losing this main connection significantly increases commuting times and travel costs for the residents. Furthermore, the significant loss of access to olive groves close to this farming land has had significant negative economic consequences for the people of Qaryut. The residents of the village previously held weekly non-violent marches where they would walk to the closed-off road to pray.
- Khirbet Sara is a tiny village, consisting only of one family, with the lands surrounding the village belonging to residents of Qaryut. Now, Khirbet Sara is cornered by Shilo and Shvut Rachel. According to the villagers, there exist few problems related to violence. However, from Shvut Rachel’s elevated position, sewage water is effectively leaked or dumped down towards the olive groves of Khirbet Sara.
- East of Shvut Rachel is where the new settlement Geulat Zion is planned for construction. Straight north of this point is the location of the Ahiya settlement outpost. Ahiya is closely located east of the Palestinian village of Jalud. A few homes, located in the eastward outskirts of Jalud (and mostly in the so-called Area C) has experienced significant problems with violence perpetrated by the Ahiya residents. A few years ago, the east Jalud families put up bars over their windows, after a four-year-old had been hit in the head by stones thrown into a family’s house. When I visited the location, late 2015, the residents had just received demolition orders for their houses (Read more here). According to the residents, they had experienced increased pressure by Israeli authorities to leave the area after the establishment of the Ahiya outpost about 10 years ago.
- Next to Ahiya are the outposts of Esh Kodesh and Adei Ad, the residents of which have often been associated with violent ideology and so-called price tag attacks.
Notably, most consequences of settlement expansion do not concern violence and are not dramatic. But settlements and their outposts have real and daily consequences for nearby villages. Most often and most apparent this regards the loss of farming land, access to infrastructure and water, obstacles to accessing education. These factors increase living costs, decreases residents’ incomes, and seriously inhibits potential future economic development.
Apart from the consequences of legalising and expanding the Palgei Mayim, Givat Harel, Adei Ad and Geulat Zion settlements on the livelihoods of Palestinians in the vicinity, the area in question is one of those tight knots to untie in a potential future implementation of a two-state solution. Unlike most of the large settlements close to or along the ‘Green Line’, which would most likely be drawn-in to Israeli territory as part of a negotiated border agreement, these settlements cut through the northern Palestinian territory from West to the East. The recent policy decision by the Netanyahu government further legitimises and entrenches the part of the settlement movement often associated with violence, strong ideology, and resentment towards the laws of its own government, moves which are politically costly and logistically challenging to reverse in the future, to say the least.
Peace Now: Israeli Cabinet Approves New Settlement http://peacenow.org.il/en/israeli-cabinet-approves-new-settlement
Peace Now: Geulat Zion: Another New Settlement http://peacenow.org.il/en/geulat-zion-another-new-settlement
Följeslagarprogrammet, Erik Svanberg: Ett rivningsbeslut (Swedish) http://foljeslagarprogrammet.se/reserapport/om-ett-rivningsbeslut/