Scope and aims of israeli Zionist regime's colonial settlement project

  December 14, 2023   Read time 10 min
Scope and aims of israeli Zionist regime's colonial settlement project
Afshin Zeinizadeh, researcher in the Palestinian issues explains how the Zionist policy of occupation works through the expansion of the illegal settlement construction.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, the Zionist regime commenced the establishment of Jewish settlements in the territories it had occupied, commonly known as Israeli settlements. In certain areas that remain under the occupation of this regime, the construction of settlements persists and has even seen expansion. The creation of settlements is regarded as a pivotal policy for the consolidation and development of the occupied territories by this regime.

History and method of Israeli settlement construction

Following the Six-Day War, Israel assumed control over the western bank areas of the Jordan River, which encompassed East Jerusalem (previously under Jordanian administration since 1949), the Gaza Strip (under Egyptian control since 1949), the Sinai Desert from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. This occupation entailed the enforcement of military laws in these regions and initially served military objectives and presence.

Over time, Israel, for various reasons, started the construction and establishment of Jewish settlements in these occupied areas. In early September 1967, the cabinet of Levi Eshkol gradually embraced the settlement policy. The foundation for settlement construction in the West Bank was known as the “Allon Plan,” named after its creator, Yigal Allon, who served as the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister at that time (1967-1977). This plan aimed to annex significant portions of the occupied territories of Israel, particularly East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley (Lustick).

Settlement construction based on the Allon Plan continued under the Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet as well. Numerous settlements were initially formed as “Nahal” outposts, established by specialized units of the Israel War Forces sharing the same name. Initially, these outposts were former military bases repurposed for military use through military orders. Over time, through land confiscation, the development of essential infrastructure, and the settlement of non-military residents, they evolved into fully established settlements (Berger).

For example, the land for the Kiryat Arba settlement was initially seized exclusively for military purposes. However, it subsequently became apparent that the plan was strategically crafted for the benefit of the settlement residents.

The methods employed for land appropriation in the 1970s for settlement construction included occupation under the guise of ostensibly military purposes and the spraying pesticide on lands (Aderet). The Likud government, under the leadership of Menachem Begin, openly endorsed settlement construction policies. Even Ariel Sharon declared in 1977 that there was a plan to settle two million Jews in the West Bank by the year 2000 and lifted the ban on Israel purchasing occupied lands (Bidwell 442).

A notable aspect of settlements is that their construction is typically undertaken by non-governmental contractors. Since 1967, the World Zionist Organization (WZO), formerly the Jewish Agency, ostensibly a non-governmental organization but financially supported by the government of Israel, has been tasked with executing plans and constructing settlements. The objective of this approach is to avoid direct involvement of Israeli political entities in the construction of non-military settlements.

For example, the “Drobles Plan,” presented in 1978 by Matityahu Drobles, the former director of the Jewish Agency and a former member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), aimed at a large-scale settlement in the West Bank. Its purpose extended beyond mere settlement; it sought to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state under the guise of security within the framework of settlement. Consequently, the settlement policy is practically carried out and implemented by non-governmental contractors. It is crucial to note that all settlements must obtain the necessary approvals from the engineering unit of the Israel War Forces for construction.

The Settlement Division is the department tasked with executing construction projects within the World Zionist Organization (WZO). It functions under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture in Israel. In 2009, the Benjamin Netanyahu cabinet made the decision to subject all settlement construction activities to the approval of the Israeli Prime Minister and the Minister of War. Since 2011, these activities have been directly overseen by the Prime Minister's Office, in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, emphasizing the particular importance attached to settlement construction.

Reasons for Israeli settlement construction

Israeli settlements are established and developed for various reasons, including:

1) Reclaiming lost territories from the 1948 War: Important settlements like “Gush Etzion” between Jerusalem and Hebron were established for this purpose.

2) Expansion of defense and security facilities: Drawing inspiration from the Allon Plan, Israeli settlements strategically positioned in areas like the Jordan Valley were established to bolster defense facilities and serve as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations.

3) Increasing Jewish ownership of “Holy Lands”: Jewish immigrants with ideological motivations seek to maximize Jewish control over lands referenced in religious texts, as evidenced by settlements like “Kiryat Arba” near Hebron.

4) Providing housing for new immigrants: Many new Jewish immigrants in Israel find housing through settlements.

5) Providing strategic centers: Israel faces constraints in strategic centers because of its proximity to crucial areas, making the establishment of residential settlements in occupied areas a defensive imperative. This helps to enhance strategic prowess against potential threats.

6) Preventing the establishment of an independent Palestinian State: The pattern and dispersion of settlements practically hinder the creation of a cohesive and unified independent Palestinian state.

7) Utilizing water and natural resources in these areas: Since the establishment of settlements, Israel has claimed access to various natural and water resources in these regions under the pretext of meeting the infrastructure needs of the settlements.

8) Altering the Jewish-Palestinian population ratio: While Palestinians still constitute the majority in the West Bank, the rapid growth of the Jewish population in these regions reflects Israel's efforts to alter the existing demographic composition.

Geography of Israeli settlement areas

The settlements established in the Sinai Desert were evacuated and demolished in 1982 following the peace agreement with Egypt in 1979. Additionally, 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip were evacuated in 2005 after Israel's withdrawal, though some were reconstructed on the West Bank. From 2005 to the present, these settlements are exclusively situated on the West Bank, and some are in the Golan Heights.

Israel has initiated the construction of settlements in portions of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which were under Jordanian administration from 1949 to 1967. The construction of settlements in the Golan Heights should also be noted. Israel claimed complete control over these lands in 1967 and 1981 for unilateral annexation, but these annexations are not officially recognized by most international observers and the original inhabitants who still reside in these areas. Since 1981, the Golan Heights are governed by the law with the same title (Golan Heights Law).

Demographics of Israeli settlements

As of January 2023, there are 144 Jewish settlements on the West Bank, with 12 settlements situated exclusively in East Jerusalem. Overall, more than 500,000 Israelis live in settlements on the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, while the residents of East Jerusalem settlements number over 220,000. Additionally, in the Golan Heights, over 20,000 settlers reside in 32 settlements. The estimated Palestinian population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem exceeds 2.74 million individuals. The daily lives and movement of Palestinians face impediments due to hundreds of illegal checkpoints throughout the West Bank, purportedly established to ensure the security of settlers.

Aspects of Israeli settlements

From the standpoint of international law, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights are deemed illegal. In accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power is prohibited from transferring or deporting parts or the entire population to the territories it occupies (Playfair 396; Albin 150; Judicial Protection 72). UN Security Council Resolution 446, aligning with this convention, urges Israel to abstain from transferring its population to these areas or altering their demographic structure. Furthermore, the principal judicial bodies of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice have explicitly ruled settlement construction as illegal.

Nevertheless, the stance of the Israeli officials is that these settlements are legal under international law, as Israel does not recognize the Fourth Geneva Convention. Despite designating these areas as military zones, Israel applies civil laws to settlers within its borders, extending civil and citizenship rights to them. This contrasts with the situation for Palestinians, as these laws are not similarly applied to them. For instance, numerous settlements are constructed on lands privately owned by Palestinians, and the acquisition of these lands frequently involves military confiscation — a practice not employed for privately owned lands within Israel.

The violation of human rights against Palestinians in these areas is quite apparent. Primary roads and thoroughfares in the West Bank, crucial for connecting settlements, are closed and off-limits to Palestinians, frequently serving as barriers between villages and Palestinian lands (Barahona 42). Numerous incidents of Palestinians being killed by settlers have taken place, pointing to a significant level of violence perpetrated by Israeli residents against Palestinians (Barahona 98-99).

Moreover, a considerable number of effluents from Israeli industrial centers and factories in the West Bank flows through Palestinian residential and agricultural areas, contaminating their living spaces and lands. Some of these wastewater discharges also pollute their water sources.

The significance of the settlement policy can be viewed as a multifaceted strategy for Israel. In addition to the mentioned reasons and dimensions, this policy yields other benefits for the regime. Since its inception, settlement policy has been pursued by all governments, albeit with fluctuations in intensity. Security consistently occupies a distinctive place in Israel's strategies and policies. Therefore, one of the most substantial impacts of settlement construction is Israel's security and military presence in areas housing Israeli settlements.

While these settlements are portrayed as residential and non-military, Israel, ostensibly to ensure the security of settlers, maintains a robust military presence in these regions, allowing for control and dominance over Palestinians. Additionally, the designation of the region as a military zone makes it feasible to deal with Palestinians based on military law. Many human rights violations against Palestinians, such as administrative detention, massacres, restrictions on movement, and frequent inspections, occur under security pretexts and justifications.

Settlement construction systematically and discreetly erodes the Palestinian identity in these areas. The Zionist regime suppresses and eliminates the possibility of forming intellectual circles or ideologies that could foster consensus against Israel by closely monitoring Palestinian students and various groups. Consequently, the formation of Palestinian organizations and resistance cores is effectively neutralized. Palestinians are continually monitored in their daily lives and online activities by this regime through the use of technological surveillance tools. Additionally, this policy hampers the economic growth and development of these areas for Palestinians, to the extent that many Palestinians, faced with high unemployment rates in the West Bank, perceive no solution other than working in Israeli factories for their livelihood.

In his most recent reference to the crime of Zionist settlements and the analysis of the regime’s attacks on Gaza, Imam Khamenei mentioned:

These tragedies that have taken place during the last 50 days are a summation of the crimes that the Zionist regime has been committing in Palestine for 75 years. What it has done now is that it has compressed its actions. Otherwise, it has been doing all these things throughout these years: Massacring people, driving them out of their homes, and destroying the homes [of the Palestinians]. Where have the settlements been built? Where have the Zionist settlements been built? It destroyed people's homes, destroyed Palestinian farmland, and built Zionist settlements.

In conclusion, the significance of the settlement policy lies in its role as a covert form of occupation. This policy has consistently played a pivotal role in Zionists strategies and plans, encompassing the annexation of the West Bank, the disruption of the peace process for Palestinians, the normalization of relations with other countries, and the development of Israeli immigration policies. Discontinuing this policy would disrupt many of the aforementioned aspects and benefits for Israelis.

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