PLO Executive Committee
Department of Culture and Information
August 31, 2014
PLO Executive Committee member, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, strongly denounced Israel’s announcement to confiscate 1,000 acres (3,811 dunams) of Palestinian land from the towns of Surif, Husan, al-Jabaa and Bethlehem and said:
“Today’s announcement clearly represents Israel’s deliberate intent to wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land and to willfully impose a de facto one- state solution.”
“Under the cover of its latest campaign of aggression and terror in Gaza, Israel pursued a stepped-up campaign of violence, settlement expansion and home demolition. Since mid-June, 32 Palestinians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) were killed, roughly 1,397 Palestinians were injured, 1,472 new settlement units were announced, about 1,753 Palestinians were detained, and at least 50 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished. It is evident that Israel is single-handedly sabotaging any chances for peace and the two-state solution.”
“The Israeli government has proven once again that it is not a partner for peace nor a member of the international community that respects the global rule of law or consensus. Israel must face legal, political and economic sanctions for its violations of international law in Palestine. Impunity, criminality and lawlessness are the sure path to war, not peace,” concluded Dr. Ashrawi.
The Israeli leadership’s recent, criminal decision to expropriate more than 3000 dunums (almost 1000 acres) of Palestinian land, represents the largest Israeli land grab in the Occupied State of Palestine in three decades. The leadership intends to build a new settlement-city called Gvaot [Gva’ot] on the lands of five Palestinian villages in Western Bethlehem, known by Israel as the “Gush Etzion bloc”, an occupied area that Israel aims to illegally annex. This move is further proof of Israel’s relentless policy of destroying the prospects for a negotiated peace and an independent Palestinian state, living side by side the State of Israel in peace and security. Such moves are emboldened by the culture of impunity granted to Israel by the international community.
THE ILLEGAL SETTLEMENT OF “GVAOT”
The illegal settlement of Gvaot was established in 1984 as a military base. It was later transferred to a Yeshiva (Jewish Religious School) and currently is inhabited by 16 families. The recent Israeli confiscation would allow for the illegal settlements to grow to the size of a “city.” It aims at linking the illegal settlement with the Green Line, grabbing more Palestinian land so as to facilitate future annexation.
THE “GUSH ETZION” AREA
The area that Israel refers to as “Gush Etzion” is a network of Israeli settlements located mainly on the western side of Bethlehem linked by Israeli settler bypass roads. It goes from Beit Jala (Har Gilo settlement) in the north to Beit Ummar (Migdal Oz settlement). It takes occupied Palestinian lands from the districts of Bethlehem and Hebron and sits on more than 72 km.2 It is promoted by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism as “picturesque rolling hills adorned with grape arbors and olive groves,” including various settlement business, mainly wineries.
The largest settlements in the Western Bethlehem area are Betar Illit with a population close to 50,000 settlers (population in 1995 was 5,500 settlers) and Efrat (around 10,000 settlers, compared to the 3,500 after the Oslo Agreement was signed). There is an extension of Etzion called by Israel “East Etzion”, including the settlements of Tekoa, Nokdim and Kfar Eldad, in the eastern side of Bethlehem.
The “eastern section” also includes Israeli control of the “Herodion area” one of the most important heritage sites in Palestine, administered by the Israeli Parks Authority. Some of the prominent settlers in the area are the Moldovan-born Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman (Tekoa settlement), and the Ukrainian-born Chairman of the Foreign Relations Commission of the Israeli Parliament, Zeev Elkin (Kfar Eldad), and former Israeli Parliament speaker, Yuli Edelstein (Neve Daniel).
WESTERN BETHLEHEM AREA
There are 10 Palestinian villages in the Western Bethlehem Area. The largest of these are Al Wallaja, Battir, Husan, Nahhalin and Wadi Fukin, which are home to over 20,000 people. The area is known as the bread basket of Bethlehem (formerly of Jerusalem) and is known for its ancient agricultural terraces, olive groves and irrigation systems. Last June, the Battir Area (including the Makhrour Valley in Beit Jala and Al Khader) was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by the State of Palestine at UNESCO. According to Israeli plans, all this area will be separated from the rest of Bethlehem after the annexation Wall is completed, obstructing Palestinian access to its lands, jobs, hospitals, schools, universities, heritage and religious sites, as well as to commerce.
PALESTINIAN POSITION ON “SETTLEMENT BLOCS”
Israel created the term “settlement bloc” to refer to a fixed area unilaterally defined by Israel, representing all the illegal settlements in that area and the land and infrastructure in between. The use of this terminology is deliberate, and is meant to facilitate the colonization of more land and to thwart the emergence of a genuinely independent and contiguous Palestinian state, making a negotiated outcome implausible. It is important to note that there is no difference between Israeli settlement blocs and other Israeli settlements. Any attempt to legitimize settlement blocs would would contravene international law and the principles of third-state responsibility.
Israeli settlers terrorize Palestinians. The “Gush Etzion” area, due to its strategic location (between Jerusalem and Hebron) continues to be one of the most attractive areas for ideological settlers. Daily attacks and harassment are committed against Palestinians under the permissive presence of Israeli Forces. Examples of such acts include the stoning of Palestinian cars or blocking roads for Palestinian traffic. They also include the harassment of Palestinian farmers (including cutting trees and burning groves), which is often aimed at stealing Palestinian lands for the establishment of settlement outposts.
THE ILLEGALITY OF ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS
Settlements are illegal under international law. The Rome Statute assigns individual criminal liability for the following crimes, amongst many others implicated in Israel’s settlement policy: “the transfer, directly or indirectly, of the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory”, “the annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof”, “the appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”, and “apartheid”. Settlements are also violative of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people as defined under customary international law and core human rights treaties.
Many UN resolutions reaffirm the illegality of Israeli settlements in all the territory of the Occupied State of Palestine, including East Jerusalem. Some of these include Security Council Resolutions 446 (settlements as serious obstruction to peace, violation of IV Geneva Convention), 476 (settlements “have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”), 452 (cease settlement construction), 465 (calls upon member states not to assist Israel in settlement plans) and 476 (calling Israeli policies to change Jerusalem’s status as “null and void”). Nevertheless, Israeli settlements continue to appear and to grow with impunity.
For a response by UK and US governments, see: