UN: ISRAELI SETTLEMENT ENTERPRISE CONTINUES UNABATED
The establishment and expansion of settlements in Palestine by Israel continues despite the fact that it is prohibited under international law.
By Kanaga Raja
The report by the High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet is one of several reports pertaining to Israel that was presented on 18 March during the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council (25 February-22 March 2019).
According to the report, the establishment and expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by Israel amount to the transfer by Israel, prohibited under international humanitarian law, of its population into the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
"The transfer of an occupying Power's population to a territory it occupies amounts to a war crime that may engage the individual criminal responsibility of those involved," it said.
It noted that several international bodies have confirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan, including the International Court of Justice, the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
On the basis of her findings, the High Commissioner recommended that the Israeli authorities, in compliance with relevant UN resolutions including Security Council resolutions 497 (1981) and 2334 (2016), halt immediately and reverse all settlement development and related activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including occupied East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan, including through the discontinuation of support for initiatives of private settler organizations, aimed at the seizure of Palestinian properties and the forced eviction of their residents.
According to the High Commissioner's report, during the period under review, planning for settlements continued, while the actual commencement of construction decreased.
Conditions and acts contributing to a coercive environment, including demolitions and forced evictions, remained a serious concern and acts of settler violence reached the highest level since 2015.
Advancement of plans for settlement construction continued at a high rate, with plans for 6,300 housing units advanced for construction in Area C and East Jerusalem, following some 10,000 housing units in the previous reporting period.
Included in the plans for this reporting period were some 5,300 housing units in Area C, about 2,300 of them reaching final stages of approval. In East Jerusalem, some 1,000 housing units were advanced, about 200 of which reached the final stage of approval.
Tenders were issued by the State for 3,500 units in Area C settlements, compared with 3,200 during the previous period. In East Jerusalem, one tender was announced for 600 units in Ramat Shlomo - the first tender announced in East Jerusalem settlements in over two years.
According to the report, official data on settlement construction starts in Area C indicate a decline compared with the previous reporting period.
During the reporting period, one outpost was legalized and there were no declarations of State land. Settlers established seven new outposts, three in the southern West Bank and four in the central West Bank, compared with five established in the previous reporting period.
According to a media investigation published during the reporting period, the World Zionist Organization, a non-State entity which receives funding from the Israeli State, provided dozens of loans over two decades to fund the establishment of 26 unauthorized outposts and other illegal structures in authorized settlements across the West Bank.
The report also pointed to several incidents of consolidation of settlements. For instance, on 14 October 2018, the Government of Israel allocated NIS 21.6 million for the construction of 31 settlement housing units in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron, Hebron H2.
The new construction will replace an Israeli military base called Plugat Hamitkanim located on a Palestinian bus station off Shohada Street. This will be the first time Israeli settlements are built in H2 in 16 years.
On 31 October 2018, the Minister of Defence ordered other plans for a new settlement compound in H2 as an expansion of the Avraham Avinu settlement to move ahead.
On 16 October 2018, the Israeli authorities inaugurated the Tel Rumeida archaeological site in H2.
According to Peace Now, the archaeological excavations undertaken by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the University of Ariel settlement at the site are used to promote an exclusively Jewish narrative of the city's history.
As in East Jerusalem, tourism development in H2 is one of the tools used to change the character of Palestinian neighbourhoods and ensure continued settlement expansion.
On 9 October 2018, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected two petitions submitted by an Israeli NGO against the establishment of the Amihai settlement (the settlement established for inhabitants of the Amona outpost evacuated in 2017) partly on private Palestinian land.
While the Court did not rule on whether the establishment of the settlement had been illegal in the first place, it did consider the petitioners' claim that the State had not provided adequate notice of the Blue Line task force finding that their land fell within the boundaries of declared "State land", which would have allowed for a genuine opportunity to object.
It is of concern that the Court considered that the methods of publication provided, without a notice delivered to the owners, were sufficient, said the High Commissioner.
"In addition to the implied violations as regards private property, the Court's decision is a further measure to allow the establishment of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."
The report also found that during the reporting period, a number of additional legislative steps pertaining to settlements were advanced, further contributing to the de facto annexation of the West Bank.
For example, the amendment to the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, adopted on 2 January 2018, eases the process for the modification of Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, facilitating the possible inclusion of some of the largest settlements within the municipality of Jerusalem.
The extension of the jurisdiction of some Israeli authorities to the West Bank, such as the Council of Higher Education in February 2018, as well as of the Jerusalem Administrative Court in July 2018, represent additional steps blurring the distinction between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the High Commissioner.
In addition, the Attorney-General issued a directive requesting that all legislative bills systematically address the question of their applicability to settlements.
In qualifying "the complete and undivided city of Jerusalem" as the capital of Israel, the Nation State Law adopted on 19 July 2018 reaffirms the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, in violation of various Security Council resolutions.
In stating that "the State of Israel considers the development of Jewish settlement to be a national value and will act to further encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation", the law appears to justify the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, considered by Israel as part of its territory.
It remains to be seen whether this provision will be used to further justify illegal settlement expansion in the rest of the West Bank, said the High Commissioner.
Israel has also been promoting the retroactive authorization of outposts built without official approval since 2011.
So far, 13 outposts have been retroactively approved and 20 are in different stages of the approval process (out of 116 outposts).
During the reporting period, steps were taken within the Government to implement the recommendations of the committee that was set up to resolve issues of landownership related to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Created in 2017, the committee submitted its report, which includes recommendations to legalize thousands of unauthorized Israeli structures in the West Bank, including those built on private Palestinian land, in February 2018.
On 28 August 2018, the Jerusalem District Court applied Military Order No. 59 (1967) to legalize the outpost of Mitzpeh Kramim, which was built on private Palestinian land, based on the alleged good faith assumption that it was located on State land.
According to the report, this decision is the first use of the military order and seems to confirm the existence of alternatives to the controversial "Regularization Law", which aims to retroactively legalize outposts built on private Palestinian land and housing units built illegally in existing settlements.
There are hence strong concerns that this ruling would serve as a precedent to regularize more than a thousand illegal housing units within outposts and settlements, said the High Commissioner.
During the reporting period, said the report, the Government of Israel promoted a bill that would give the World Zionist Organization the authority to manage land in the West Bank.
If adopted, the bill would validate a long-standing practice of management by the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization of most of the State land in the West Bank, which has proven problematic for its lack of both transparency and governmental supervision.
IMPACT OF SETTLEMENT ACTIVITY
According to the High Commissioner's report, the publicly stated intention of the Government of Israel to relocate thousands of Palestinians residing in Area C remains a key concern, and contributes to a coercive environment.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, during the reporting period, 402 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished in the West Bank, displacing 453 people including 216 children and 111 women.
Approximately 60% of the structures demolished were in Area C and 40% in East Jerusalem. Four schools in Area C were demolished or confiscated. In Area C and East Jerusalem, 48 schools were under threat of demolition as of 31 October 2018.
Some 7,500 Palestinian Bedouins and herders, mostly refugees, belonging to 46 communities are at particular risk of forced eviction.
This includes the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar-Abu al-Helu, composed of some 180 individuals, half of whom are children.
In November 2017, the Israeli Defense Forces ordered the "removal of all properties" from specific zones in Area C inhabited by Palestinian herding communities, including Ein al-Hilwe and Um al-Jamal in the northern Jordan Valley and Jabal al-Baba in the Jerusalem Governorate. The latter falls within the area slated for the E1 settlement plan, designed to link Ma'ale Adumim with Jerusalem.
A total of 520 structures, a quarter of which are donor funded, are at risk of demolition or confiscation and 419 people, about half of them children, are at heightened risk of forcible transfer.
During the reporting period, the Bedouin community of Abu Nuwar located in the E1 settlement plan area was subject to several demolitions.
In December 2017, Israeli authorities demolished two European Union-funded classrooms in Abu Nuwar, which served 26 students.
The European Union had partly replaced the seven structures of the community primary school that were demolished in 2016. On 4 July 2018, the authorities demolished another 19 structures, displacing 51 people, including 33 children.
Such confiscations and demolitions result in violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to adequate housing and the right to education, said the report.
Furthermore, it added, demolitions carried out by the Israeli authorities in the context of discriminatory planning structures are unlawful under international law and constitute forced evictions.
"The compounded effects of these ongoing violations, along with the constant threat of additional demolitions, contribute to a coercive environment that puts the community at risk of forcible transfer," said the report.
According to the High Commissioner, settler violence adversely affects Palestinian society, violating a range of rights, including the rights to security of person, freedom of movement, an adequate standard of living, work and education.
Furthermore, settlers often use violence as part of a calculated effort to expand Israeli control beyond the settlement jurisdiction areas.
Settler presence and violence have reduced Palestinians' access to land, resulting in a de facto settlement expansion.
Settler violence is also a factor of the coercive environment that may leave some Palestinians no other choice than to leave their places of residence.
Such involuntary moves would increase the risk of forcible transfer, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime, said the High Commissioner.
In the reporting period, four Palestinians were killed by settlers in the West Bank (two in the context of alleged stabbing attacks) and 98 were injured. There were 176 incidents of property damage by settlers.
At least 7,360 Palestinian-owned fruit trees were destroyed, marking a 22% increase compared with the previous reporting period.
The average number of incidents of settler violence per month rose in 2018, representing a 57 and 175% increase compared with 2017 and 2016 respectively. Approximately 40% of the recorded incidents in the West Bank took place in the Nablus area.
Most of the physical attacks targeted farmers and herders and a number of attacks were in the presence of Israeli security forces, who did not uphold their obligations to protect the Palestinian population.
According to the report, during the reporting period, there were 37 incidents of settlers entering and/or attacking Palestinian communities, accompanied by Israeli security forces and triggering clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. These incidents resulted in two Palestinians killed and 446 injured.
The majority of these clashes occurred in communities in the Nablus Governorate. The number of clashes with Israeli forces following settlers entering Palestinian communities increased significantly this year compared with previous years.
Seven Israeli civilians were killed and 37 were injured by Palestinians in the West Bank, compared with 3 killed and 64 injured in the previous reporting period.
Settler violence in the H2 area of Hebron was a growing concern in the reporting period, with 35 incidents of attacks injuring 24 Palestinians, including 10 children.
This is a noticeable increase compared with 18 incidents and 14 injured Palestinians in the previous reporting period.
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT AND CONFISCATION OF PROPERTY
According to the report, a range of factors restrict Palestinians' access to and use of their land and property and facilitate gradual takeover of land, such as violence or threats by settlers or civilian security coordinators, settler agriculture and herding on Palestinian land and Israeli security force restrictions on access to areas near settlements.
The Israeli military began closing off Palestinian farmlands and denying Palestinian farmers access to their own lands around 2000, purportedly to maintain public order and to protect them from frictions caused by settlers in such areas.
Despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling of 2006 stating that military commanders should refrain from closing areas in a manner that prevented Palestinian inhabitants from accessing their land for their own protection, the military continues to close these farmlands, under the pretext of establishing a "coordination mechanism".
In practice, the "coordination mechanism" acts as a tool for placing restrictions on the Palestinian farmers, severely violating their rights to property, food and freedom of movement, said the report.
Palestinian farmers are forced to plant crops that do not require constant tending and are unable to maximize the economic potential of their land.
Moreover, the lack of access throughout most of the year and the absence of continuous cultivation impede the farmers' capacity to minimize potential damage caused by extreme weather, fires or vandalism.
The report noted that approximately 90 Palestinian communities own land within or near 56 Israeli settlements and settlement outposts where "prior coordination" is now required to access the land.
It said the coordination mechanism, run by the district coordination offices, is purportedly designed to allow Palestinian farmers to cultivate their lands that are located near settlements, or where settlements are built on their grounds.
"In reality, Palestinians are usually allowed to access their land only twice a year, during the harvest and ploughing seasons, for a limited and pre-set number of days."
During the reporting period, settlers established seven new outposts, six of them farms where settlers' sheep or cattle take over large areas of land and prevent Palestinians from accessing it by means of threats, attacks, fencing and cultivation.
This appears to be part of an official policy whereby the Government has encouraged takeovers of land by settlers through agricultural projects.
According to Peace Now, agricultural outposts are funded by local authorities of the settlements and the Gush Emunim settler organization.
The constraints faced by Palestinians in accessing their agricultural land put them at great risk of seeing their land declared State land and used for the expansion of settlements.
Indeed, according to the Israeli interpretation of the Ottoman land laws that are still in effect in the West Bank, cessation of cultivation for extended periods could result in loss of title to the land.
Israel uses this to unilaterally declare "State land", which has been allocated exclusively for settlements use by Israel and its citizens rather than for the benefit of the local population, as required under international law.
In effectively preventing Palestinians from accessing their land, settler violence serves as a tool for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said the High Commissioner.
The denial of Palestinians' access to land by settlers through violence or intimidation, or by the Israeli security forces to "protect" Palestinians from areas with settler and settlement presence, violates Palestinians' freedom of movement. Such a violation in turn affects other rights, such as the right to work and property.
Furthermore, official or unofficial confiscation of land and limiting access through coordination measures violate the prohibition on confiscation of private property enshrined in international humanitarian law.
The High Commissioner said in the cases presented in her present report, the Israeli security forces failed to uphold their obligation to protect the Palestinian population and property, as well as to keep public order and safety.
"Such failure allows the Israeli State and private settlers to take over more Palestinian land in the West Bank, in violation of the law of occupation."
Israeli settlements and settler violence continued to violate a range of Palestinians' human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to health and education.
Violence and harassment by settlers targeting schools often results in injuring children and teachers and disrupting classes.
This affects access to education, quality of education, student well-being, and performance and completion rates. Moreover, it results in increased school dropout rates and the decision of families to keep their children at home.
As previously documented, the Israeli security forces, in numerous instances which appear to indicate a pattern, have failed to prevent settler attacks and repeatedly failed to protect Palestinians when attacks occurred in their presence.
The report noted that during clashes between Palestinians and settlers around Burin, the Israeli security forces only targeted Palestinians with crowd dispersal methods and arrests.
Video material of several incidents during the reporting period shows Israeli security forces failing to interfere with stone-throwing settlers and, in some instances, using crowd dispersal means towards Palestinians while settlers threw stones.
As the occupying Power, Israel has the obligation to uphold public order and safety in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to protect the Palestinian population from all acts of violence. Israel also has the obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish and remedy any harm caused to Palestinians.
The report noted that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has on many occasions reported on the climate of impunity enjoyed by violent settlers, as well as those taking over private Palestinian land.
It said in a report issued in October 2018, the Israeli Ministry of Justice stated that Israeli authorities had made considerable efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank in recent years.
According to the report, between January and July 2018, the Israeli police opened 35 investigations related to settler violence against Palestinians, of which 4 led to the indictment of suspects, four were closed and the rest were still ongoing.
During the same period, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recorded 219 incidents of settler violence.
"Despite these steps, it appears that in a number of cases Israel has failed to take necessary action to investigate cases of settler violence and to prosecute perpetrators," said the High Commissioner.
SETTLEMENT ACTIVITY IN OCCUPIED SYRIAN GOLAN
The report also found that Syrian residents of the occupied Syrian Golan continued to face challenges due to discriminatory planning and zoning policies that favour illegal Israeli settlements.
These policies make it nearly impossible for Syrian residents to build, plan or expand their homes and village infrastructure.
The more than 25,000 Syrian residents live in four villages, while the estimated 23,000 Israeli settlers live in 34 Israeli settlements.
Israeli settlers and the Israeli military reportedly control 95% of the land in the occupied Syrian Golan, said the report. – Third World Network Features.
The above article is reproduced from SUNS #8869, 19 March 2019.
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