—   The sharp point of dissent   —

Section: Middle East
14 August 2005

Fuming for Israel: the Case of Alan Dershowitz

10. Settlements and settlers

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Since the presence of the illegal Israeli settlements constructed in the occupied territories is one of the most substantive issues in the Israel/Palestine conflict, Dershowitz feels compelled to contribute a page (literally) to the question: 'Is settlement in the West Bank and Gaza a major barrier to peace?'[1] His answer is as follows: 'The Arabs and Palestinians refused to make peace before there was a single settlement, and the Palestinians refused to make peace when Ehud Barak offered to end the settlements.' I find the logic behind the first claim intriguing. From the premise that I am having a feud with my neighbour, it does not follow that I therefore might as well take over a section of his garden against his objections. Leaving aside the illegality and immorality of such a course of action, its contribution to deepening the feud is obvious. As for the second claim, it has already been substantially discussed: Dershowitz's phraseology of 'ending the settlements' is well-chosen since it disguises the fact that the settlements were intended to remain, and it was presumed that only their expansion would 'end' (a likely story, given Barak's track record of settlement-building while in office).

'Moreover', Dershowitz tells us, 'when Egypt offered to make peace, the Sinai settlements were not a barrier; they were immediately uprooted.' In fact, the illegal settlement of Yamit was uprooted because even Begin knew that there was simply no contest between the needs of a handful of settlers and the glittering prize of neutralising Israel's most formidable military opponent with a peace treaty, which would allow him to continue expansion of settlements elsewhere. Israeli writer Amnon Kapeliouk notes that '[t]o restore Sinai to Egypt in order to have a free hand in the West Bank and Gaza: such was the precise objective of the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Menachem Begin when he signed the Camp David Accords.' Moreover, Begin did so 'not without declaring with insistence that a Palestinian state will never see the light of day in "Judea and Samaria".'[2] In fact, the negotiations which eventually led to the removal of Yamit broke down at one point in 1978 because
Israel threw a huge monkey wrench into the works by stepping up settlement activity on the West Bank. President Carter claimed that at Camp David Begin had promised him that the settlement freeze would continue until the negotiations on Palestinian autonomy were completed. Begin retorted that he had promised only a freeze during the three months allocated for negotiating the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and that the freeze did not preclude the "thickening" of existing settlements. In the middle of November, the talks broke down, and the two sides packed their bags and returned home.[3]
Afterwards, Begin put the formal pacification of Egypt to excellent use, for '[i]n the months following the treaty it became clear that Begin had no intention of relinquishing control over the West Bank and Gaza strip. The continuation and indeed increase of Israeli settlement activity confirmed this.'[4] Begin then went on to formally annex the Golan Heights in 1981 and commit the Lebanon outrage in 1982, beginning an occupation that was to last eighteen years. So in the light of all this, Dershowitz's claim that Israel always ends settlement activity the moment peace looms large is somewhat hard to credit.

The history

Although settlement-building began immediately after the conquests of 1967 (recall the hasty submission of the Allon plan to the Israeli cabinet), in the first decade it was merely a trickle compared to the flood which has characterized recent years. In the beginning, settlement efforts had largely concentrated on the 'Judaisation' of Arab east Jerusalem: by the time Begin came to power in 1977, Labour governments had expanded the city's suburbs to accommodate 50,000 settlers. Though settlements were significantly accelerated following Begin's accession, and both Likud governments had spent up to $1bn dollars on them by 1984[5], we learn from Hirst that by 1982, 'a mere 21,000 settlers had moved into the West Bank and Gaza.' However: '[i]n 1990, the figure stood at 76,000.'[6] When east Jerusalem is included, the 1990 total for the West Bank alone comes to 140,000.[7] This accelerated growth was to increase right through the Oslo years from 1993-2000. During a period in which Israel was supposedly adhering to its peace obligations and preparing for the birth of a Palestinian state, the construction and expansion of settlements in this putative about-to-be state continued at an unprecedented rate, and in tandem with a sequence of 'renegotiations of renegotiations' which whittled down the already nugatory promises of Oslo even further. Thus, from Nur Masalha we learn that
In 1995 the Rabin government allocated $330 million for the completion of bypass roads connecting Jewish settlements to each other and to Israel proper. Moreover, in September 1994, Rabin had given the go-ahead for the construction of about seven hundred new homes in Giva'at Tal, part of Alfei Menashe settlement, situated three kilometres inside the West Bank. In the spring of 1995 the same government approved the construction of eight thousand new housing units in the settlement of Ma'ale Adumin, located at the centre of the West Bank and halfway between Jerusalem and Jericho. ... Moreover, the Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha'ir revealed on 13 October 1995 that Prime Minister Rabin had instructed the minister of housing to expropriate Arab land in order to expand the city of Jerusalem to the east, to unite it with Ma'ale Adumin.[8]
Thus, by the close of 1995, the settler population of the West Bank had risen to 150,000, and anything up to 170,000 settlers had surrounded east Jerusalem.[9] According to Mouin Rabbani's summary of the post-Oslo colonization process, '[b]etween September 1993 and 2000, the total settler population (excluding east Jerusalem and its environs) had increased from 110,000 to 195,000, a staggering 77 percent. ... Land expropriations have also continued apace, amounting to 40,178 dunams in 1999 alone.'[10] Note that completion of the amoeba-like encirclement of Arab east Jerusalem is a cherished goal of both Labor and Likud, and as I write this, Ariel Sharon has just given approval in March 2005 for the construction of 3500 new homes in the suburb of Ma'ale Adumin, accompanied by the usual hollow bleatings of disapproval from Washington.

The international consensus

All of these settlements are illegal under international law and in violation of UN resolutions. To place the matter in context, Part 4, Section I, Article 147 of the 4th Geneva Convention (which chiefly concerns itself with the protection of the rights of civilians under occupation) states that
Grave breaches to which the preceding Article [concerning obligations to bring to justice persons in violation of the Convention] relates shall be those involving any of the following acts, if committed against persons or property protected by the present Convention: ...[inter alia] extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.
To place the Oslo agreements and the 1967 annexation of east Jerusalem in the same context, Part 3, Section III, Article 47 of the Convention elucidates that:
Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention... by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory. [my italics]
UN resolution 465, passed in March 1980, states that the Security Council,
... Deploring the decision of the Government of Israel to officially support Israeli settlement in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, ... 5. Determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East ...
Israel apparently took this admonishment from the international community seriously, for it responded four months later by passing the 'Jerusalem law' which formally claimed dominion over all of the city (including Arab east Jerusalem), thus prompting yet another addition to Israel's collection of international condemnations (the UN responded by passing resolution 478, bitterly denouncing the move). As human rights attorney Allegra Pacheco has pointed out: '[u]nder the [Geneva] convention, a military occupation is temporary and at its termination the occupier must withdraw completely from the territory. The occupier does not acquire any sovereignty rights to the land or resources as a result of its occupation.'[11] So when Dershowitz quotes Sharon trotting out the old chestnut of making 'painful concessions' by dismantling some settlements, he knows this is a brazen lie. A long-overdue adherence to international norms and conventions, coupled with the cessation of army-enforced expansionism is not a 'painful concession'. It is a moral and legal duty, and is no less than what Israel itself could justifiably demand from any other nation. Pace Dershowitz's claim that the settlements are not an impediment to peace, the UN has explicitly ruled that they are 'a serious obstruction' to achieving just such a peace for both sides.

The Settlers

What effect do the settlements have on the population of the occupied territories? I have already mentioned the network of bypass roads which corrals Palestinians into increasingly shrinking bantustans and restricts their movements, sometimes for days on end. We have also seen that the settler population requires a significant military presence in the occupied territories that grows larger and more intrusive as the settlements themselves continue to grow. The notorious February 1994 Hebron massacre, in which New York doctor Baruch Goldstein walked into a mosque and machine-gunned to death 29 people, was merely the high-watermark of a general culture of aggression and intimidation orchestrated by settlers infused with Messianic ideologies. Amnesty International reports that:
Settlers have consistently been allowed to attack Palestinians with impunity. In most instances the violence of settlers against Palestinians is carried out by attacking (breaking glass, burning or occupying) houses or shops; frequently it is directed at people. In most cases such attacks appear to be random, directed indiscriminately at any Palestinian or Palestinian property nearby. On many occasions settler violence during the present Intifada has come in response to Palestinian attacks on a settler. If the IDF are present they normally fail to intervene; sometimes soldiers may attempt to intervene but they are not stationed in sufficient force to protect the Palestinian population. If the attack is in response to a Palestinian attack, soldiers may express approval. The IDF do not have the right to arrest settlers. ...[12]
The cruel irony of that last point is that the same soldiers who cannot arrest Jewish settlers can have Palestinians tried in an Israeli military court. A settler committing a crime in occupied Palestine, however, is tried in an Israeli civilian court. Speaking of which, the same AI report notes that '[s]ince the beginning of the Intifada at least ten Palestinians have been killed by settlers. In none of these cases has any settler been brought to justice.'[13] This is hardly astonishing, given the reports of collaboration between armed settlers and the Israeli security forces. Members of a joint mission of the International Federation of Human Rights and Médecins du Monde to the West Bank during April/May 2002 'were able to see for themselves that armed settlers were present at checkpoints', thus lending credence to prior reports from foreign diplomats that armed settlers were 'sometimes carrying out inspections themselves at checkpoints ... and showed themselves to be particularly aggressive.'[14] Note too, that this is hardly a new development:
After 1977, with the encouragement of successive Likud governments, the militant settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip effectively organized themselves into a private and highly motivated army. In 1979, at the behest of the Army Chief of Staff, General Raphael Eitan, the settlers were integrated into reserve units responsible for patrolling the streets of local Arab towns and villages. With weapons, ammunition and training readily available and a sympathetic political climate created by superhawks Chief of Staff Eitan and Likud Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, attacks on Arab civilians and Arab property became commonplace. From 1980 and through 1984, the Israeli press reported more than 380 attacks against individual Arabs, in which 23 were killed, 191 injured, and 38 abducted. Hundreds more attacks were directed at Arab property, including cars, homes and shops. Forty-one attacks on Muslim and Christian institutions were also recorded.[15]
The nexus between fanatic-Messianic settler movements such as Gush Emunim and the Likud has never been in any doubt: in the past, the coalition has not been averse to openly seeking support from far-right Knesset members or even parties (the Shas, for example) who are beholden to the interests of the settlers. What of the quotidian life of unprotected Palestinians who live with these protected settlers among them?

In 2000, Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif visited Jerusalem and the West Bank for the first time. Her observations, quoted here at length, give us a glimpse into the nature of daily life under occupation. In the old city of al-Khalil, for example, she found that the presence of a few hundred settlers had required that '[f]orty thousand people live here under curfew. Twelve thousand children cannot go to school. Fifteen mosques are closed.' Her guide informs her that the settlers have simply taken over people's houses:
If you could go into the center you would see families camped by their homes, refusing to leave, and the settlers throw rubbish on them and beat them up. They're not even proper settlers; they are religious students mostly from the United States, volunteering to come for one or two years to do their religious duty by being here.[16]
The next day, Soueif visits Albert Agazerian, a history lecturer at Birzeit University.
Madeline, his wife, insists on giving me a jar of olives. Her family has always got their olives from a particular field near Nablus. Now the farmers are fighting not only the [road] closures, she says, but the settlers, who set fire to the olive groves or take chainsaws to the trees. "The farmers," she tells me, "slip out on Friday night and gather their own harvest while the settlers keep the sabbath." It's as though they have to steal their own crop.[17]
Three days later, Soueif pays a visit to a settler living in a Psagot, a settlement built on a hilltop overlooking Ramallah, where she learns that
Water, the main resource under government control, is divided between the Arab population and the Israeli settlers: each settler is allocated 1,450 cubic metres of water per year. Each Palestinian is allowed to use eight-three cubic metres. Electricity is regularly shut down in the Palestinian towns while the settlements are lit up.[18]
On and on it goes. Yet Dershowitz tells us that 'I do not believe that [settlements] are the real barrier to peace. The real barrier has been the unwillingness of many Palestinians, and many Palestinian terrorist groups and nations, to accept the existence of ...'.[19] I think by now we know this song.

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1 Dershowitz, p. 176
2 Quoted in Henry Cattan, The Palestine Question; Croom Helm, Kent, 1988, p. 145
3 Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, Penguin, London, 2000, p. 379
4 Kirsten E. Schulze, The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Longman: London & New York, 1999, p. 58
5 Nur Masalha, Imperial Israel and the Palestinians, Pluto Press, London, 2000, p. 74
6 David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, (Third Edition), Nation Books, New York, 2003, p. 24
7 See Masalha, p. 74
8 Masalha, p. 227
9 Alain Gresh and Dominique Vidal, The New A-Z of the Middle East, I. B. Tauris, London, 2004, p. 279; Hirst, p. 24
10 Mouin Rabbani, 'A Smorgasbord of Failure: Oslo and the Al-Aqsa Intifada', in Roane Carey (Ed.), The New Intifada, Verso, New York, 2001, p. 76
11 Allehgra Pacheco, 'Flouting Convention: The Oslo Agreements' in Carey (Ed.), p. 189
12 Reporters without Borders (Eds.), Israel/Palestine: The Black Book, Pluto Press, London, 2003, p. 22
13 Amnesty International, 'Broken lives - a year of intifada', AI Index: MDE 15/083/2001, November 2001, p. 39 (Excerpted in Reporters with Borders, p. 23)
14 'Operation Defensive Shield - Nablus Joint Investigative Mission Médecins du Monde - FIDH West Bank - 28 April 5 May 2002', (Excerpted in Reporters without Borders (Eds.), p. 92)
15 Masalha, p. 121
16 Ahdaf Soueif, 'Under the Gun: A Palestinian Journey', in Carey (Ed.), p. 50-51
17 Ibid, p. 53
18 Ibid, p. 64
19 Dershowitz, p. 176-177