Fact Sheet: Israeli Settlements & International Law

March 24, 2015 IMEU
Fact Sheet: Israeli Settlements & International Law

Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank (Photo: Christopher Hazou)

  • Since shortly after the Israeli military occupied the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Syrian Golan Heights, in the June 1967 war, Israel has been colonizing them with Jewish settlers in violation of international law. (Israel also built settlements on Palestinian land in Gaza, which it has militarily occupied since 1967 as well. Those settlements were dismantled in 2005 as part of a unilateral Israeli plan to “freeze” peace negotiations with the Palestinians and cement control over the West Bank.)
  • All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and have been repeatedly condemned as such by the United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
  • Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." The Hague Conventions on the laws of war also forbid occupying powers from making permanent changes in the occupied territory unless it is a military necessity.
  • The United Nations Security Council has passed numerous resolutions condemning Israeli settlements as illegal, including Resolution 2334 (2016), which declared Israel’s settlement enterprise has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace [in Palestine/Israel].”
  • In its 2004 advisory opinion ruling that the wall Israel is building on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank is illegal, the International Court of Justice also declared Israeli settlements illegal, stating the “Court finds that those settlements have been established in breach of international law.”
  • For decades, successive Israeli governments have claimed that settlements are not illegal, however a formerly classified document dated September 1967 shows that the legal counsel to Israel’s Foreign Ministry at the time, Theodor Meron, advised the government of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol that “civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."
  • Under international law, Israel as an occupying power is responsible for the safety and well-being of civilians under its control, yet Israel’s government and occupying army tacitly and actively support Israeli settler violence against Palestinians. As noted by Amnesty International in April 2024, Israeli settler violence “is part of a decades long state-backed campaign to dispossess, displace and oppress Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”
  • There are upwards of 700,000 Israeli settlers (as of 2023) living illegally on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in about 350 settlements, including more than 145 official settlements and nearly 200 settlement "outposts," built without official approval but with the support of the Israeli government even though they're illegal under Israeli law as well as international law. There are also more than 25,000 Israeli settlers in 34 illegal settlements on occupied Syrian land in the Golan Heights.

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