Israel seizes record amount of Palestinian land, settlements rapidly expand

It’s only four months into 2024 but Israel has already declared a record amount of land in the occupied West Bank as state-owned, sparking fears of a significant expansion of illegal settlement constructions.

Data from the NGO Kerem Navot reveals that over 2,700 acres in the West Bank have been declared state-owned in the first quarter of 2024, with the largest area in the Jordan Valley. 

According to Peace Now NGO, this surpasses the previous record of 1,285 acres set in 1999.

Categorising land as state-owned often leads to the creation of settlements. Under international law, settlement construction in an occupied territory is illegal.

Meanwhile, a separate exclusive in the Guardian revealed a dramatic acceleration of settlement construction in East Jerusalem. 

Planning documents show the Israeli government has approved or advanced over 20 projects totalling thousands of housing units since the Gaza war began six months ago.

Ministries and government offices are behind the largest and most controversial projects, sometimes partnering with right-wing nationalist groups with a history of evicting Palestinians from their homes.

This rapid push for settlements will likely further strain Israel’s relationship with the Biden administration. The US, along with the EU and UK, recently imposed sanctions on individual settlers in the West Bank in response to escalating violence.

“As can be expected from this government, there has been a sharp increase in the past year in the public resources invested in the looting of thousands more dunams scattered in several areas deep in the West Bank, as well as promoting the possibility of construction on the thousands of dunams that previous governments looted for the past decades, although most of them have not yet been used,” said Dror Etkes of Kerem Navot, according to Haaretz.

An estimated 700,000 Israeli settlers currently reside in roughly 300 settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, all built on land captured in the 1967 war.

Illegal settlement expansion

In March, the UN’s human rights chief condemned Israel’s plans to build thousands more homes for settlers in the occupied West Bank and said it risked eliminating any possibility of a Palestinian state.

Volker Türk deplored Israel’s latest actions, saying the drastic acceleration in settlement construction is exacerbating entrenched patterns of oppression, violence and discrimination against Palestinians.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, Türk stated that the establishment and ongoing expansion of settlements amount to the transfer of Israel’s population into territories it occupies, which amounts to a war crime under international law.

The size of existing Israeli settlements has expanded markedly, says the report. It documents a record 24,300 new illegal Israeli housing units approved in the West Bank in the year to October 2023 – the highest since monitoring began in 2017.

The report found that the policies of Israel’s government appear aligned with the goals of the settler movement to expand long-term Israeli control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem and integrate these occupied territories into Israel itself.

“They also run counter to the views of a broad range of States laid out during hearings just two weeks ago at the International Court of Justice,” Türk said during the report’s release, referring to recent hearings examining the legal consequences of Israeli actions in the occupied territories.

Settler violence 

The report also highlights the dramatic increase in the intensity and scale of violence by Israeli settlers and security forces against Palestinians since 7 October 2023, which has accelerated the displacement of Palestinians from their lands.

Latest UN figures show that since then, there have been over 600 settler attacks against Palestinians, leading to the displacement of more than 1,200 people as a direct result of settler violence. 

The UN Human Rights Office has recorded nine Palestinians killed by settlers, 396 killed by Israeli security forces, and two killed by either Israeli security forces or settlers.

A further 592 people, including 282 children, have been displaced from homes demolished by Israel for lack of building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

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