During our Mid Term Orientation, held during the first week of November, our EAPPI group had the opportunity to visit Efrat, an Israeli settlement located a 15-20 minute drive south of Jerusalem. Given it’s close proximity to Jerusalem, 65% of the residents commute there daily for employment. Long time resident of the community, Bob Lang, toured us around the settlement and spoke with our group.
Construction on the city of Efrat, home to approximately 9000 people, started in the 1980’s. It is governed by a mayor and city council. Most services are available to residents locally, including schools and medical clinics. The streets are paved. Houses looked well cared for, and there were beautiful ornamental trees and a variety of flowers blooming around the city. To the casual observer, Efrat appears to be an average middle class residential community, much like those found in western societies elsewhere in the world. That is until you remember that Efrat is located in the occupied Palestinian Territory, on land that was occupied by Israel following the 1967 war.
Mr Lang was welcoming to our group. It was interesting to see the settlement and to hear his perspective. He explained that he believes that “Jews have the right to live here” given that “it has been holy land for Jewish people for the past 4000 years.” Speaking of the Israeli/Palestinian situation, he said “we need to find ways to cooperate to live together in peace.” Then he went on to say that he believes “the area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean should be one Jewish democratic state.” The area he was referring to encompasses the current state of Israel and the entire occupied Palestinian Territory, including the West Bank and Gaza. I couldn’t help but agree with his desire for peace. However, finding ways to “cooperate to live together in peace” sounds difficult when the position that he articulated is so clear about its desire to dominate the other.
There are a number of settlements dotting the tops of the South Hebron Hills. Many of them have outposts attached, smaller extensions of the original settlement consisting of temporary trailers that will eventually be replaced by permanent homes. The Palestinians maintain that these settlements are built on Palestinian land. In relation to the Palestinian villages around, the settlements appear to be much more prosperous, with ready access to water. Much of our work involves providing protective presence for the Palestinian villagers from the settlers, and many of the stories we hear from them involve harassment at the hands of settlers. Palestinian villagers have experienced settler violence (physical beatings, as well as the intentional destruction of crops, livestock, tents and water facilities and confiscation of land and livestock). We have witnessed public demonstrations opposing settler violence, where the army has “protected” the armed settlers from unarmed Palestinians.
In a recent report published by the United Nations, details of the settlement issue in the West Bank were given, with particular reference to the herding population (many of whom live in the South Hebron Hills).
”There are over 220 settlements and outposts in the West Bank inhabited by half a million Israelis, whose municipal areas cover almost 10% of the West Bank. Many settlements were built on prime agricultural land confiscated from Palestinians, or over key water resources such as the Western Aquifer basin, springs and wells. Over the last decades, this phenomenon has dramatically impacted herding communities who have in many cases lost access to their main sources of water and grazing land as well as seen their traditional herding routes being cut, progressively forcing them to rely on bought fodder and tanked water to maintain their livestock.
Moreover, herding communities located near settlements in remote areas have been particularly affected by settler violence which started in the 80s. In 2010, OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) reported over 300 incidents leading to property damages or casualties in the West Bank, which have been characterized by the absence of accountability of the perpetrators: most victims simply refuse to lodge a complaint due to fear of reprisals or mistrust in the Israeli system, whereas the vast majority of the files opened against Israeli settlers are regularly closed by the police without prosecution.” (taken from West Bank Area C Herder’s Fact Sheet 2010, published by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA), dated 14 June 2011) and found at http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/9B8154497A585D36852578AF0052258
The same report comments on the illegality of the Israeli settlements:
“International Law: The 1949 Geneva Convention prohibits the occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies (Art. 49, GCIV). There is no distinction in international law between settlements and outposts, and as such, all settlements in the West Bank are illegal.” http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/9B8154497A585D36852578AF00522589
The Swedish international development organization “Diakonia” has done extensive work on creating reader friendly interpretations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). In commenting on the position of the UN and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), they state: “The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has in a number of resolutions declared the settlements a violation of international law and called on Israel to dismantle them. The Security Council has also declared the annexation of Jerusalem null and void. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated that the settlements in the oPt are in breach of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” In regards to the ICJ, “The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its Advisory Opinion of July 2004 found that the construction of the Wall in the West Bank, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law. In the analysis leading to this conclusion, the Court also reiterated… the status of the oPt as an occupied territory, and the illegality of Israeli settlements built therein.”
Furthermore, “Settlements violate international humanitarian law (IHL) by their very existence. A fundamental idea in the law of occupation is that occupation is only a temporary state and that the occupational power therefore cannot make permanent changes in the occupied territory. This principle resonates in many of the concrete rules of the Hague and Geneva law.” http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=858
“Under IHL, all types of settlements are equally illegal. IHL does not make any distinction between a settlement founded with the support of the government and unauthorised outposts. The occupying power is equally responsible for both types of settlements since it is responsible for upholding law and order in the occupied territory.
The United Nations Security Council has expressed that the Fourth Geneva Convention is applicable to the oPt and called upon Israel not to transfer its own civilian population into the occupied territory nor to take any other action that would result in changing the legal status, geographical nature or demographic composition of the occupied territory.”
“Serious violations of international humanitarian law are considered war crimes under customary law . Violations are considered serious if they endanger protected persons or breach important values . The ICRC points out the serious nature of population transfer into occupied territory, “because of the possible consequences for the population of the territory concerned from a humanitarian point of view”
“Transfer by an occupying power of its own civilian population into occupied territory is a breach of IHL according to the Geneva Convention and also a grave breach according to the First Additional Protocol . Transfer by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the occupied territory is also listed as a war crime under Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=858
While Israel defends it’s position, (see http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=858 for details), it is clear that the United Nations Security Council and the International Court of Justice have found these settlements to contravene the 4th Geneva Convention, several UN resolutions and other significant parts of IHL. In the eyes of the world these settlements are illegal.
UNRWA succinctly documented the detrimental effects of these settlements on the Palestinian people in the report mentioned earlier in this posting. As EA’s, we clearly see these effects lived out on the lives of the South Hebron Hills villagers – effects that contribute significantly to the grinding poverty they endure on a daily basis.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom