Israel & International Law: Settlements

March 24, 2015 IMEU
Israel & International Law: Settlements

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

For more on Israel's violations of international law, see our fact sheets on Israel's West Bank Wall and the siege and blockade of Gaza.

  • Since shortly after it began militarily occupying the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in the 1967 War, Israel has been colonizing them with Jewish settlers in violation of international law, part of an effort to cement control and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

  • Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War states: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." The Hague Convention on the laws of war also forbids occupying powers from making permanent changes in the occupied territory unless it is a military necessity.

  • Virtually the entire international community, including the United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, consider Israel’s settlement enterprise to be illegal. With the exception of the administration of President Donald Trump, official American policy has also never recognized the legality of settlements, although for political reasons US officials normally refer to them as “illegitimate” rather than illegal. 

  • In its 2004 advisory opinion that deemed the wall that Israel is building in the West Bank illegal, the International Court of Justice also found Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to be in contravention of international law.

  • Successive Israeli governments have argued that settlement building is 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."

  • Today, there are upwards of 650,000 Israeli settlers living on occupied Palestinian land in contravention of international law in more than 130 official settlements and more than 100 other unofficial settlement "outposts". Their presence, and the location of strategically placed settlements, make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state in the occupied territories all but impossible. They also cause severe hardships for Palestinians on a daily basis. Hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints and other obstacles to movement intended to benefit and privilege Jewish settlers also dot the landscape, making it difficult and dangerous for Palestinians to travel from one place to another to visit family or friends, get to school, work, the doctor, or lead a normal life. Israel has built highways for settlers to "bypass" Palestinians on their way to Israel's internationally recognized pre-1967 borders and other settlements that take more Palestinian land and further divide Palestinian communities. Violent settlers frequently attack Palestinians and their property, often while under the protection of Israeli soldiers, who do nothing to stop them and sometimes join in.

For more, see here for a general fact sheet on Israel’s West Bank settlement enterprise.