This report consists of a series of case studies that compare Israel’s different treatment of Jewish settlements to nearby Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It describes the two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates for the two populations in areas in the West Bank under its exclusive control, which provide preferential services, development, and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians. The report highlights Israeli practices the only discernable purposes of which appear to be promoting life in the settlements while in many instances stifling growth in Palestinian communities and even forcibly displacing Palestinian residents. Such different treatment, on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin and not narrowly tailored to meet security or other justifiable goals, violates the fundamental prohibition against discrimination under human rights law.
It is widely acknowledged that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, violate international humanitarian law, which prohibits the occupying power from transferring its civilian population into the territories it occupies; Israel appears to be the only country to contest that its settlements are illegal. Human Rights Watch continues to agree with the nearly universal position that Israel should cease its violation of international humanitarian law by removing its citizens from the West Bank. This report focuses on the less-discussed discriminatory aspect of Israeli settlement policies, and analyzes serious and ongoing violations of other rights in that context.
The case studies in this report show that discriminatory Israeli policies control many aspects of the day-to-day life of Palestinians who live in areas under exclusive Israeli control and that those policies often have no conceivable security justification. For example, Jubbet al-Dhib is a 160-person Palestinian village to the southeast of Bethlehem that is often accessible only by foot because its only connection to a paved road is a rough, 1.5 kilometer-long dirt track. Children from Jubbet al-Dhib must walk to schools in other villages several kilometers away because their own village has no school. Jubbet al-Dhib lacks electricity despite numerous requests to be connected to the Israeli electric grid, which Israeli authorities have rejected; Israeli authorities also rejected an internationally donor-funded project that would have provided the village with solar-powered streetlights. Any meat or milk in the village must be eaten the same day due to lack of refrigeration; residents often resort to eating preserved foods instead. Villagers depend for light on candles, kerosene lanterns, and, when they can afford to fill it with gasoline, a small generator.
Approximately 350 meters away is the Jewish community of Sde Bar. It has a paved access road for its population of around 50 people and is connected to Jerusalem by a new, multi-million dollar highway—the “Lieberman Road”—which bypasses Palestinian cities, towns, and villages like Jubbet al-Dhib. Sde Bar operates a high school, but Jubbet al-Dhib students are ineligible to attend; for Palestinians, settlements are closed military areas that may be entered only with special military permits. Residents of Sde Bar have the amenities common to any Israeli town, such as refrigerators and electric lights, which Jubbet al-Dhib villagers can see from their homes at night.
Both Jubbet al-Dhib and Sde Bar fall within “Area C” – land that was designated under the 1995 Oslo interim peace agreement to fall under Israeli civil and military control. But while Israel grants Sde Bar residents access to roads, electricity, and funds for housing development, it deprives residents of Jubbet al-Dhib of similar amenities. Since Sde Bar’s founding in 1997, Israel has invested millions of dollars in nearby Jewish settlements like Tekoa and Nokdim to build homes, schools, community centers, health clinics, and swimming pools. The same is not true for Jubbet al-Dhib, which dates to 1929. Development and infrastructure there are at a standstill, strictly prohibited by Israeli authorities who prevent villagers from building new houses or expanding those they already have.
Israel has human rights obligations towards all persons under its control, including those in territory it occupies, as has been stated by the International Court of Justice and other international bodies. Israel denies that its human rights obligations apply to Palestinians in the West Bank, except for East Jerusalem, which it considers part of Israel. It argues against the applicability of human rights law based on an interpretation that restricts its applicability to the territory of a state and not to occupied territories, and on the argument that the law of occupation applies to the West Bank to the exclusion of human rights law. The International Court of Justice as well as several UN human rights committees have rejected this interpretation, on the basis of the text of the relevant human rights treaties, which define their applicability based on the degree of a government’s control over a person rather than on a state’s borders, and on the principle that human rights law and the law of occupation, as written and interpreted, are not mutually exclusive but complementary obligations that may both apply to populations under a government’s effective control. International law does not require Israel to treat Palestinian residents of the West Bank as though they were Israeli citizens; for example, non-citizens do not have the right to vote. However, the rights of Israeli citizens—including settlers—do not include the right to benefit from discriminatory treatment that violates the rights of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territory.
Israel’s differential treatment in law, regulations, and administrative practice directly affect the roughly 490,000 Jewish settlers and 420,000 Palestinians in areas under its exclusive control in the West Bank (including in Area C and East Jerusalem). In addition, the implications of Israel’s discriminatory policies are far broader, affecting many of the roughly 2.4 million Palestinians living in the cities and towns in the occupied West Bank (known as Areas A and B) where Israel has ceded most civil responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority. That is because Area C contains substantial amounts of water resources, grazing and agricultural land, and the land reserves required for developing cities, towns, and infrastructure. It is also the only contiguous area in the West Bank, effectively isolating the cities and towns (which fall outside Area C) into disconnected enclaves. As a result, Israel effectively controls movement and access between Palestinian population centers. Palestinians must cross checkpoints to travel through Area C and need permits to build infrastructure that would connect to cities, towns, and villages (including roads, water and sewage pipes, and electricity towers). It is often impossible for Palestinian cities, towns, and villages that have outgrown municipal lands to expand into Area C, where Israel strictly controls Palestinian construction.
To the extent that Israel, which remains ultimately responsible for persons in the territories it occupies, has conferred powers on the Palestinian Authority (PA) in certain areas, the PA also has human rights responsibilities.
Since 1967, when it seized the West Bank from Jordan during hostilities—and under a variety of governments, since the right-wing Likud party first came to power in 1977—Israel has expropriated land from Palestinians for Jewish-Israeli settlements and their supporting infrastructure, denied Palestinians building permits and demolished “illegal” Palestinian construction (i.e., Palestinian construction that the Israeli government chose not to authorize), prevented Palestinian villages from upgrading or building homes, schools, health clinics, wells, and water cisterns, blocked Palestinians from accessing roads and agricultural lands, failed to provide electricity, sewage, water, and other utilities to Palestinian communities, and rejected their applications for such services. Such measures have not only limited the expansion of Palestinian villages, but imposed severe hardships for residents, including forcing children to walk long distances for school, and leaving residents with limited access to medical care, which can often be accessed only by crossing multiple checkpoints, because there are no Palestinian general hospitals in Area C. Road blocks, checkpoints, and substandard roads delay ambulances and people seeking medical care, in addition to the costs they impose on the Palestinian economy. Since Palestinians need special military permits to enter settlements, usually as laborers, medical services there are effectively unavailable to them. In some cases, Israel’s discriminatory policies have forcibly displaced Palestinians from their communities.
Such policies have not been applied to Jewish settlements. Notwithstanding Israel’s evacuation of settlers from Gaza and four West Bank settlements in 2005, and its evacuation of a handful of “outposts” (unauthorized settlements), settlements have expanded in size—growing from approximately 241,500 inhabitants in 1992 to roughly 490,000 inhabitants in 2010 (including East Jerusalem). Settlers enjoy continuing government subsidies, including funding for housing, education, and infrastructure such as special roads.
In most cases where Israel has acknowledged differential treatment of Palestinians—such as barring them from accessing “settler-only” roads and subjecting them to 505 roadblocks and checkpoints within the West Bank (as of June 2010)—it has asserted that the measures are necessary to protect Jewish settlers and other Israelis who are subject to periodic attacks by Palestinian armed groups, particularly during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, from 2000 to around 2006.
But no security or other legitimate rationale can explain many instances of differential treatment of Palestinians, such as permit denials that effectively prohibit Palestinians from building or repairing homes, schools, roads, and water tanks; repairing a home does not under any stretch of the imagination constitute a security threat. In cases where Israel has justified policies that harm Palestinians on the grounds of security (whether that of residents of Israel or of settlers), it has often done so based on policies that define all Palestinians as a security threat by virtue of their race and national origin, rather than on policies that are narrowly tailored to well-defined security interests. A government’s differential treatment of different populations can sometimes be justified, but only to the extent that it serves a legitimate purpose and is narrowly tailored to have the least harmful impact possible.
In some cases, the harm caused to Palestinians by Israel’s discriminatory policies has been vastly disproportionate to the stated goal and has been carried out despite less harmful alternatives. For example, the Israeli military requires many Palestinians to obtain military “coordination” in order to access their olive groves and other agricultural lands where those lands are located near settlements. Such a policy purportedly protects settlers from potential attacks, as well as protecting Palestinians from settler attacks, but in practice, the Israeli military prohibits (by refusing to “coordinate” access) Palestinian villagers from accessing their lands for almost the entire year. Residents of Al Janiya, a Palestinian village near the settlement of Talmon, cannot adequately cultivate their lands during the roughly two weeks per year that they have "coordinated" access to them, with the result that agricultural yields have declined sharply and their livelihoods have been harmed. The Israeli military has not attempted to alleviate this near-permanent exclusion of Palestinians from their lands by increasing the amount of time they are given access or by imposing restrictions on the settlers to enhance Palestinian access, effectively forcing Palestinians to bear the entire burden of ensuring settlers’ security.
Israel’s desire to protect settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and citizens within Israel from the threat of attack by Palestinian armed groups does not justify policies that have nothing to do with security or that discriminate against all Palestinians as if they were all security threats.
Discriminatory practices also often violate Israel’s obligations towards Palestinians under the law of occupation. As the occupying power in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel is obliged to ensure the welfare of the occupied population and to limit its actions according to the law of occupation as set forth in international humanitarian law. In some cases, Israeli policies have made Palestinian communities virtually uninhabitable and effectively forced residents to leave. According to a survey of households in Area C and East Jerusalem in June 2009, some 31 percent of Palestinian residents had been displaced since 2000. The unnecessary and effectively forcible transfer of the occupied population by the occupying power to other parts of the territory, by unlawfully demolishing homes or by other measures that make it impossible to remain in a given community, is a serious violation of Israel’s obligations under the law of occupation. Israel’s confiscation of land and natural resources for the benefit of settlements exceeds its authority as an occupying power, as does its demolition of Palestinian homes and other property in any case except for urgent military necessity.
Israel’s highest court has ruled that certain measures imposed against Palestinian citizens of Israel were illegal because they were discriminatory. The court has also ruled that certain Israeli military measures in the West Bank, including bans on Palestinian drivers using certain roads and the route of certain parts of Israel’s separation barrier, have “disproportionately” harmed Palestinians when weighed against the benefit to settlers and other Israelis. However, Human Rights Watch is not aware that the courts have adjudicated on the merits of the question of whether any Israeli practice in the West Bank discriminated against Palestinians, although petitioners have raised such claims in a number of cases.
In the cases that Human Rights Watch has examined, there appears to be no legal justification for Israel’s differential treatment of Palestinians, which breaches Israel’s obligations under international law, violating the prohibition against discrimination as well as a host of associated rights, including the right to freedom of movement, the right to a home, and the right to health.
This report is not a comprehensive overview of all instances of discrimination between settlers and Palestinians or a complete survey of all of the policies and practices that have resulted in the forcible displacement of Palestinians. Rather, it addresses a representative sample of discriminatory policies, laws, and regulations that privilege Jewish settlers to the detriment of Palestinians. As noted, Israel contests the illegality of its settlements. Quite apart from that isolated position, Israel should nonetheless immediately cease these discriminatory policies, and allow Palestinians to build and develop their land, travel and move freely, with equitable access to water, electricity, and basic infrastructure, except to the extent that limits are justified by narrowly-tailored security needs.
Israel’s allies—above all the United States—should strongly encourage the Israeli government to abide by its obligations and should themselves ensure that they are not contributing to or complicit in the violations of international law caused by the settlements, such as the discriminatory human rights violations that are the focus of this report. Foreign governments that are export markets for settlement products should thus not provide incentives such as preferential tariff treatment for those products, particularly in cases where ongoing discriminatory rights violations against Palestinians have contributed to the production of goods – for example, agricultural crops exported from settlements that use water from Israeli-drilled wells that have dried up nearby Palestinian wells, limiting Palestinians’ ability to continue cultivating their own agricultural lands and even gaining access to drinking water.
The United States should consider suspending financing to Israel in an amount equivalent to the costs of the Israeli government’s spending in support of settlements and the discriminatory policies documented in this report, since the US’s $2.75 billion in annual military aid to Israel substantially offsets these costs.
Foreign governments also should ensure that laws and regulations granting tax exemptions for private, charitable donations or charitable organizations that support settlements are consistent with governmental obligations to ensure respect for international law, including human rights prohibitions against discrimination. For example, numerous US-registered tax-exempt organizations fund settlements that were established through discriminatory means of land confiscation, planning and construction, that exclude Palestinians from any similar benefits, and continue to violate the human rights of Palestinian residents of the West Bank through ongoing expansion and land confiscation, continued restrictions on freedom of movement, and other practices. The US Congress should request the General Accounting Office to prepare a report on the amounts and end-uses of tax-exempt funding flows to settlements, and the lawfulness of tax-exemptions for such support according to the US’s international obligations.
Israeli and multinational corporations and their subsidiaries profit from settlements in a variety of ways, including by receiving, producing, exporting, or marketing settlement agricultural and industrial goods, and by financing or constructing settlement buildings and infrastructure. Companies have directly contributed to discriminatory rights violations against Palestinians, for example through business activities based on lands that were unlawfully confiscated from Palestinians without compensation for the benefit of settlers, or activities that consume natural resources like water or rock quarries to which Israeli policies provide settlement industries preferential access, while denying equitable access to Palestinians. These businesses also benefit from Israeli governmental subsidies, tax abatements, and discriminatory access to infrastructure, permits, and export channels; Palestinian businesses deprived of equitable access to these government-provided benefits are sometimes as a result unable to compete against settlement-based companies in Palestinian, Israeli, or foreign markets.
Companies that benefit directly from discrimination should urgently and impartially review the impact of their activities on Palestinians’ human rights and identify and implement plans to prevent and mitigate these violations, in accordance with their corporate codes of ethics and with international standards, such as the “Ruggie framework” developed by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on business and human rights, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines for multinational enterprises, which require businesses to respect the human rights of those affected by their activities. In cases where companies’ involvement in activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is found to contribute to serious violations of international law, including prohibitions against discrimination, companies should, in consultation with affected settlers and Palestinians, end such operations.
This report focuses on East Jerusalem and on “Area C,” the latter an administrative area that derives from the temporary agreement (known as “Oslo 2”) signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in September 1995, which created and granted limited autonomy to the Palestinian Authority (PA) ahead of an as-yet unreached final status agreement. Oslo 2 divided the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) into three administrative areas—A, B, and C. As modified by subsequent agreements, Area A, which includes Palestinian cities and covers approximately 18 percent of the land of the West Bank, was transferred to the civil and military control of the PA. Israel retains military control over Area B, which covers 22 percent of the territory, including most of the built-up areas of the Palestinian villages, but transferred civil control to the PA. Israel retained full control of security, planning, and building in the remaining 60 percent of the West Bank (some 340,000 hectares of land), known as Area C, which includes Israeli settlements, main roads, and smaller Palestinian villages and agricultural lands . Most Palestinians live in Areas A and B. Some four percent live in Area C.
The rationale for the division was, in part, that the agreement granted the PA control of the majority of the Palestinian population, while leaving sparsely populated but extensive areas under Israeli control.
Israel controls civil matters related to planning and construction and access to utilities and other services in Area C. It has granted Jewish-only settlements control of roughly 70 percent of the area (or 42.8 percent of the West Bank, including settlements’ built-up areas and land reserves), and offers settlers sizable subsidies to move, build, and invest there. Israel effectively allows Palestinians to build or improve their homes and agricultural lands in only one percent of Area C, by designating lands there according to several categories, all of which restrict Palestinians’ ability to use them. In addition to areas controlled by settlers, Israel has designated roughly 18 to 20 percent of the West Bank closed military zones (often designated as firing zones that overlap with the large land areas designated as the territory of settlement regional councils) and 10 percent as nature reserves, where Palestinian and Israeli land use is prohibited. Only Palestinians with special permits may enter the settlements, usually for work such as construction, cleaning, or agriculture.
The PA is responsible under the 1995 Oslo accords for providing services to all Palestinian villages in the West Bank, including education and health services to communities in Area C. Under those agreements, Israel was to retain its military control but progressively to transfer its civil authority over Area C to the PA by 1999. Israel transferred small amounts of Area B to Area A, and of Area C to Area B, in 1999 and 2000 following agreements at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, before the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 2000, but continues to maintain its absolute authority over Area C. The Civil Administration—the Israel military authority that governs civilian matters in the West Bank— and the IDF must approve any construction in Area C, from small-scale renovations and connections, to utilities, to the construction of homes, schools, and hospitals.
Israel’s complete control over all construction in Area C has made it difficult for the PA to fulfill its limited educational and health responsibilities there. A survey conducted in 2009 by United Nations agencies found that the PA faced “difficulties in obtaining building permits” from the Israeli Civil Administration for building or expanding schools and health clinics, which “significantly impedes the fulfillment of this responsibility.” As a result, Palestinians have generally been forced to fend for themselves in obtaining these services.
The Israeli Interior Ministry recognizes as official “communities” 121 settlements established in the West Bank after Israel occupied the territory in 1967. Israel considers as “neighborhoods” of Jerusalem 12 other settlements located in the part of the West Bank that Israel annexed to the Jerusalem municipality. Since the mid-1990s, Israel largely stopped officially recognizing new settlements, leading to the establishment of an additional 100 “unrecognized” settlements, usually referred to as “outposts.”
Israel continues to expand and invest in the existing settlements. In addition to providing infrastructure to settlements and unrecognized outposts alike—such as connections to the road network and electricity grid, water supply, schools and hospitals, and devoting significant security expenditure in the form of IDF forces obliged to guard them—Israeli policies have provided a wide variety of financial incentives to Jews willing to live in settlements. A study by the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz in 2003 found that government funding to settlements amounted to US$1.4 billion annually (NIS 5.5 billion), including US$526 million in security costs to protect settlers.
In East Jerusalem, which Israel unilaterally annexed from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War (it remains occupied territory under international law), Israel exerts full governmental control over 190,000 Israeli and roughly 270,000 Palestinian residents. This report documents that Israel has sponsored the development of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, even in houses from which Palestinian residents are evicted, while strictly limiting Palestinian building and development, including by demolishing homes. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem pay taxes but receive far fewer services than do residents of predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem.
Many Jews move to settlements due to their national-religious views; they believe that the West Bank is part of the historical, ancient land of Israel given to Jews by God. However, many ultra-orthodox and secular Jewish settlers move to the settlements primarily for economic reasons, such as the low cost of housing. Large government subsidies undoubtedly contribute to the high levels of immigration to settlements; in 2006, according to Israeli statistics, 20 percent of the population increase in the settlements resulted from migration from inside Israel (including new immigrants from other countries) rather than “natural growth,” a term the Israeli government uses to justify settlement construction. In 2007, 37 percent of settlement growth was due to such migration.
In addition to receiving support from the Israeli government, settlements receive support from private foreign donors, including Jewish and Christian individuals and non-profit organizations (NGOs) in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. Donations to non-profit groups in foreign countries that fund Jewish settlements in the West Bank are often tax-deductible, including in the US. Charities have funded many aspects of settlements, including synagogues, water networks, vocational training for troubled settler youth, rifle scopes, thermal imaging systems, and other security equipment.
Settlers also benefit from Israeli government subsidies that attract investment and produce agricultural and industrial products, including for export to overseas markets. Several multinational corporations have invested, usually through their subsidiaries, in settlement “industrial zones,” which receive massive subsidies and tax abatements from the Israeli government.
Construction Permits, Zoning, and Demolitions
Israel exercises complete control over planning procedures and construction in Area C of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Although the PA controls planning and construction in Areas A and B, in many cases these cover only the areas of Palestinian cities and towns that were already built-up in 1995, when the Oslo agreement was signed; over the past 15 years, Israel’s complete control over Area C has significantly affected residents of these cities and towns, particularly in cases where Israel has refused to approve Palestinian requests to build new homes beyond the limit of the built-up area, as necessary to accommodate the expanding population. For the 150,000 Palestinians whose villages lie partly or entirely inside Area C, Israel’s control over planning and construction has had severe consequences. Israeli authorities rarely permit residential construction intended to benefit Palestinians, who are effectively prevented from building outside built-up areas that in many cases are already over-crowded, and that amount to only one percent of Area C. Israel altered the Jordanian planning laws in place in the West Bank so as to exclude Palestinians from any participation in the planning process. As a result, only 18 of the 150 Palestinian communities in Area C have any plans, of which 16 were drafted by Israeli military authorities and which allow building in only very limited areas. In contrast, Israeli military orders have created a separate track for settlers, who participate in planning their own communities.
Palestinian homes and buildings that are not constructed in accordance with an approved Israeli plan are not eligible for building permits and are subject to demolition. When Palestinians construct, repair, or renovate homes, mosques, schools, medical clinics, animal pens, electricity poles, water pipes, wells, and cisterns without prior Israeli authorization—which is often impossible to obtain—the Israeli Civil Administration distributes “stop work” orders and may then authorize demolition. From 2000 to 2007, Israeli authorities rejected more than 94 percent of Palestinian building permit requests in Area C; according to government statistics, for every building permit application granted to Palestinians by the Israeli authorities during this period, 18 Palestinian structures were demolished and demolition orders were issued for 55 more. The UN reported in 2009 that Israeli authorities had delayed granting permits or had ordered the demolition of at least 25 schools in Area C with over 6,000 students.
In contrast, in several cases where Jewish settlers have built buildings, roads, and other infrastructure—and entire settlement outposts—without necessary permits, Israeli authorities did not demolish the buildings, but retroactively approved their construction. An Israeli governmental report in 2005 identified more than 100 settlement outposts that had been built illegally, without the required permits; a few have been demolished–after which settlers often rebuilt them–but virtually the same number of outposts remains today.
In several cases documented in this report, Israeli settlements and outposts continued to expand near Palestinian communities, which some residents were effectively forced to leave due to Israeli planning restrictions that prevented them from remaining in homes they had occupied for years or from building homes to accommodate expanding families. Repeated Israeli demolitions have permanently displaced Palestinian families from communities in the West Bank on the grounds that the communities are located inside “closed military zones,” which the communities pre-dated and which the Israeli military imposed despite the availability of large, uninhabited areas of land nearby and in other areas of the Jordan Valley.
Israel also applies discriminatory policies to housing in East Jerusalem, which unlike the rest of the West Bank it considers to be part of Israel. Israeli zoning laws reserve some 25 percent of the land in East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements, while zoning only 13 percent of the land for Palestinian construction, according to UN figures. In some Palestinian neighborhoods, as a result, Israel has issued no construction permits since 1967, and has demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and buildings on the grounds that they were built illegally. According to the UN, Israeli authorities destroyed 730 Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem from 2000 to the end of 2009 due to lack of building permits. In contrast, Israeli authorities have in several cases failed to implement court orders to seal or demolish unlawful construction by settlers in East Jerusalem. In 2004, for example, 85 percent of recorded building violations in Jerusalem were located in the western part of the city, yet 91 percent of all administrative demolitions orders were for buildings in East Jerusalem, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), an Israeli human rights organization.
Israeli authorities have also repeatedly refused to approve town plans submitted on behalf of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem neighborhoods. In the neighborhood of al-Bustan, municipal authorities rejected local residents’ plans but commissioned and approved a plan that would have razed 88 Palestinian homes to create a “garden” park area adjoining the “City of David,” a settler-run tourist and archaeological site nearby (under international pressure, the municipality revised the plan, which will now destroy between 20 and 40 homes and allow displaced Palestinians to move into the remaining structures already occupied by other families.) El Ad, the settler group operating the archaeological site, has built a settlement that includes several Palestinian homes it obtained on the basis of Israel’s “absentee property” law, which strips ownership rights from Palestinians who were not physically present in East Jerusalem on the date Israel occupied the area in 1967. El Ad has caused property damage and collapses by tunneling and conducting unapproved excavations underneath Palestinian homes.
In 2009, the Jerusalem municipality adopted a master plan (“Jerusalem Outline Plan 2000”) intended "to guide and outline the city's development in the next decades," that embraced the goal of “maintain[ing] a ratio of 70% Jews and 30% Arabs” in the city. The plan’s introduction acknowledged that the “goal is not attainable—the demographic ratio was already 65:35 in 2008—and that a 60:40 demographic ratio of Jews to Arabs would emerge by 2020. The plan identified “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city” by improving services and affordable housing for Jews as a “main policy goal.” According to the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, which focuses on Jerusalem issues, based on current demographic trends the plan would create a massive projected housing shortage that would affect 150,000 Palestinians by 2030. Israeli authorities have not invoked a security rationale for the political goal of altering the demographic balance in Jerusalem, which does not justify the different treatment of the populations in Jerusalem.
Seen in their totality, Israeli plans aim to alter the demographic balance in Jerusalem as a whole by lowering the number of the city’s Palestinian residents (including Christians as well as Muslims). Israeli authorities cancelled the Jerusalem residency permits of some 4,500 Palestinians in 2008 alone; the interior ministry allows only those Palestinians whom it determines have their “center of life” in Jerusalem to retain their residency permits. (Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have special residency permits, which are distinct from Israeli citizenship or from PA identity cards held by other residents of the West Bank.)
The government’s housing and construction policies in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) violate the state’s obligation not to discriminate in policies relating to housing, and have led to home demolitions that amount to arbitrary violations of the rights to a home, to housing, and to property; they also violate prohibitions against forced displacement of a population under occupation. Further, as an occupying power, Israel is prohibited from altering the legislation of the occupied territories, including planning laws, and from destroying property except as needed to maintain orderly governance of the territory and for military necessity. Rather than issuing demolition orders against schools, Israel is obliged to “facilitate the proper working” of educational institutions. Israel’s human rights obligations require it to destroy homes only as a last resort and to provide alternative housing at least equivalent to that which it destroyed. Unless and until an agreement is reached that respects the rights of the persons forcibly displaced without due process, Israel is obligated to pay them compensation and allow them to return to their lands.
Freedom of Movement
Israel has imposed an extensive network of movement restrictions on Palestinians, including checkpoints, roadblocks, and the separation barrier, in many cases solely or primarily for the benefit of settlers. As a result, large sections of the West Bank remain barred to Palestinians except those with special permits or residency in those areas. This segregation of territory limits the movement of Palestinians and effectively isolates them in residential pockets from which entry and exit is restricted and can be extremely difficult.
In contrast, settlers enjoy virtually unfettered freedom of moment, with easy access to roads, built for them at considerable expense, that bypass Palestinian populated areas and connect settlements to the Israeli road network, other settlements, and major metropolitan areas inside Israel. In some cases, Palestinians are not only barred from these roads, but are effectively cut off from their lands and other villages and cities. According to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, as of August 2009, Palestinian vehicles were completely prohibited from traveling on 105 kilometers of West Bank roads, and only permitted vehicles, VIP card holders, and ambulances could travel on another 180 kilometers of roads. The primary road construction projects that Israel has undertaken for the benefit of West Bank Palestinians are “fabric of life roads”—usually underpasses beneath settler bypass roads that allow Palestinians to move between enclaves.
Settlers also typically enjoy easy passage through checkpoints, or travel on roads without any checkpoints, whereas Palestinian travel is inhibited by more than 500 earth mounds, checkpoints, and roadblocks, as well as by the separation barrier. According to numerous media, UN, and NGO reports, Israeli soldiers often fail to open the checkpoints and gates in the separation barrier that they are manning, or subject Palestinians to arbitrary and humiliating treatment. Israeli restrictions on movement have led to the “gradual funneling of Palestinian traffic onto a secondary road network,” the UN reported in June 2010.
The World Bank noted that movement restrictions on Palestinians contributed to a 60 percent decline in per capita GDP from 1999 to 2008, and argued that “a fundamental reassessment of closure, and a restoration of the presumption of movement, as embodied in the many agreements between [Israel] and the Palestinian Authority,” was necessary to allow “the Palestinian private sector be able to recover and fuel sustainable growth.”
In many West Bank areas, Israeli authorities allow Jewish settlers to travel freely but require Palestinians to present permits, usually for security reasons, which are often difficult to obtain. This is particularly salient in the areas of the West Bank that lie to the west (i.e., on the “Israeli side”) of the separation barrier. Israel began to construct the barrier during the second intifada for the stated purpose of preventing Palestinians from entering Israel to carry out suicide bombings or other attacks; however, 85 percent of the wall’s route falls inside the West Bank. A report by the Israeli NGO Bimkom found that the barrier’s path “almost totally ignores the daily needs of the Palestinian population” and is “focused almost exclusively on the desire to maintain the fabric of life of Israeli settlers.” Israelis may enter and exit these areas—including East Jerusalem—freely, without passing through checkpoints or presenting identification. An estimated 7,800 Palestinians live in these “seam zone” areas where the barrier has been completed (not including East Jerusalem) and an unknown number of others own agricultural lands there.
Palestinians may enter the seam zone only with special permits from the Israeli military, which must be renewed and are granted only to persons who can prove “permanent residence” in the area. The UN found in November 2006 that Israeli military authorities had denied 60 percent of Palestinian applicants permits to access land they owned in these “seam zone” areas. Palestinians may enter the seam zone through fewer than half of the 67 special gates that are spaced at intervals in the 425 kilometers of the separation barrier’s 709-kilometer route constructed to date, and that are often open only seasonally or for limited hours each day (this report does not consider in detail unlawful restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by Israel’s separation barrier, which have been reported extensively).
Palestinians wishing to enter Jewish settlements, usually for work purposes, also must obtain individual permits from an IDF commander, according to a military order that declares settlements to be closed military zones only to Palestinians. In cases of agricultural settlements, Israeli authorities allow settlers to transport agricultural goods directly and freely from the settlement to locations in Israel, from where they are often exported abroad. Palestinian farmers must unload and re-load their produce at checkpoints inside the West Bank, and when they cross checkpoints into Israel. The delay and labor involved raises costs, and may damage the products.
The Israeli government argues that its restriction of the freedom of West Bank Palestinians’ freedom of movement is justified on security grounds. For instance, the Israeli rights group HaMoked petitioned against the “seam zone” policy, which requires Palestinians to obtain special permits to access their lands in areas of the West Bank located between the Israeli separation barrier and the 1949 armistice line (the “green line”), while Israelis and foreigners visiting Israel need no such permits. In its response to the petition, the state argued:
… it is contended that the declaration on closing area and the accompanying orders constitute systematic discrimination…. This contention ignores the fact that the said declaration and orders were issued after Palestinian residents from the region carried out dozens and hundreds of deadly terrorist attacks on a purely racist bias against Israel and Israelis; thus, substantive security reasons required a distinction be made between Palestinians and other persons who move about in the territory.
However, the Israeli policies in question restrict the movement of all Palestinians, rather than being targeted to particular persons deemed to present security risks. Further, these policies as implemented often require Palestinians to bear the entire burden of security, their own as well as the settlers’; for example, the IDF requires Palestinians who own agricultural lands near settlements to obtain the IDF’s agreement to “coordinate” visits to these lands, ostensibly to prevent settlers from attacking Palestinians, and only grants such coordination during a few weeks per year.
In two cases where the Israeli military barred Palestinians from using the roads due to Palestinian attacks that killed Israeli drivers during the second intifada, the Israeli high court has recently ordered the re-opening of “settler-only” roads. In other cases, Israeli courts ordered the military to re-route sections of the separation barrier. In such cases, the court’s rulings have been based on findings that the burden imposed on Palestinians was “disproportionate” to the security or other benefits to settlers. However, whereas the high court has directly addressed discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel, it has failed to address the discriminatory nature of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank, with the result that its rulings have addressed the impact of the implementation of policies that treat all Palestinians as security risks, but not the discriminatory nature of the policies themselves (see “Israeli jurisprudence on discrimination,” below). In addition, in several cases, the Israeli military has failed to implement court decisions requiring it to reduce harms affecting thousands of Palestinians, even years after the verdicts were delivered.
As the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted in 2007, Israeli policies “targeting a particular national or ethnic group, especially through the wall, checkpoints, restricted roads, and permit system, have … had a highly detrimental impact on the enjoyment of human rights by Palestinians, in particular their rights to freedom of movement, family life, work, education, and health.”
Water has long been a scarce resource in the semi-arid region, and is under increased threat of over-extraction; a symbol of the pressure on regional water resources is the fact that the level of the Dead Sea is dropping by one meter per year. Israeli authorities have controlled West Bank water resources since they seized the land from Jordan in 1967, and continue to control completely all Palestinian access to water resources in the West Bank, including in Areas A, B and C. Israel provides Jewish settlers with access to water for domestic and agricultural use that it denies Palestinians. This policy has benefited the Jewish settler economy while damaging that of Palestinians, whose agricultural sector has lost up to 110,800 jobs compared to its potential with adequate access to water resources, according to the World Bank.
Jewish settlements—which use a significant proportion of the water to produce agricultural goods for export by a government-run private export company, Agrexco—are serviced by wells in the West Bank (largely in the Jordan Valley), and by the Israeli national water network (Mekorot), which itself extracts water flowing from aquifers lying beneath the occupied West Bank. Even many unauthorized settlement outposts are connected to the national water network. In general, Israeli subsidies for settlers, including those for settlement agriculture products, help offset costs of water and other utilities.
Average Israeli per capita consumption of water—including water consumption by settlers—is 4.3 times that of Palestinians in the occupied territories (including Gaza), according to the World Health Organization. In the Jordan Valley, an estimated 9,000 settlers in Israeli agricultural settlements use one-quarter the total amount of water consumed by the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank, some 2.5 million people.
Over-extraction of water by Israel has caused a drop in the water table in the West Bank, which contributed to a 4 percent decrease in the total amount of water Palestinians extracted from 1995 to 2007, even as the Palestinian population increased by as much as 50 percent, according to the World Bank. According to UN estimates, some 60,000 Palestinians currently living in Area C lack any access to running water and must pay high prices – up to one-sixth of their income – to bring in water tankers, which in turn require special permits from the Israeli authorities.
In 1995, according to the Oslo accords, Israel granted the PA a role in developing and regulating the use of some water resources in the West Bank, by creating a joint Israeli-PA water commission with equal representation for both sides, which must approve West Bank water projects. However, the commission’s history indicates that in reality Israel and the PA are not equal partners. As of April 2009, the World Bank reported the commission had approved all but one Israeli-proposed projects in the West Bank, but only half of the projects (by dollar value) proposed by the PA for the benefit of Palestinians, of which only one-third had been implemented or begun implementation.
One reason for the unequal approval of projects is that Israel often proposes infrastructure projects that will provide water to Palestinian communities only if pipes are first laid to service Israeli settlements. Fewer projects are implemented than approved because, in addition to approval by the joint water commission, Palestinian water projects in Area C must also be approved by the Israeli Civil Administration, which often cites security grounds for refusing requests, such as ruling that Palestinian wells would be drilled in areas considered too close to settlements. Moreover, the majority of Palestinian projects that have been approved involve improvements to water networks rather than drilling new wells or increasing the amount of water available to those networks; as noted, total Palestinian water consumption has decreased over the past decade even as the population has grown.
Israeli planning restrictions and military orders have forced Palestinians in Area C to spend up to one-sixth of their income to purchase water at significant expense from small, portable water tankers; water restrictions have severely affected Palestinian Bedouin communities, many of which have no reliable access to water sources. In one case discussed in this report, Israeli authorities cut water pipes leading from a spring to a Palestinian farm in the northern Jordan Valley, which now has no access to water other than via expensive tankers. The spring now supplies water for a nearby settlement through pipes that run through the farmer’s land, which he cannot touch.
The creation of water infrastructure to service Jewish settlers, and the diversion of water resources away from Palestinians, is discriminatory. Israel’s unequal provision of access to water resources is unjustified by any reasonable security concern or other necessity (severe water shortages affecting tens of thousands of Palestinians, notably in Area C, also violates Israel’s obligations as an occupying power to ensure the welfare of the occupied population).
Its policy of exploiting the occupied territory’s natural resources to benefit its own citizens violates its obligations under customary international law to alter such laws and policies in the occupied territory only where doing so benefits the local population, does not permanently deplete resources, or is required by reasons of strict military necessity (to the knowledge of Human Rights Watch, Israel has not invoked the justification of military necessity regarding its exploitation of natural resources in the West Bank, and recently ordered a temporary halt to quarrying activities by Israeli and multinational companies in the West Bank after a petition filed by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights NGO.) The effects of Israel’s discriminatory restrictions on access to water, including prohibitions on well drilling, access to the Jordan River, and the destruction of water pipes, tanks, and cisterns, have been so severe that they have forcibly displaced residents of several Palestinian communities, which also amounts to a serious violation of the prohibition against involuntarily transferring residents of an occupied territory from their homes.
Palestinians interviewed for this report stated that Israeli authorities had confiscated their lands without compensation and transferred their ownership to settlements, or protected and supported settlers who had taken their lands without official authorization or recognition. The law of occupation permits the confiscation of private property only in cases of urgent military necessity. Human rights law permits confiscation of property only where it is non-discriminatory and proportionate to justifiable need, and where fair compensation is paid; the instances documented in this report fail to meet these criteria.
Israel has confiscated West Bank land through a variety of means. For example, it has designated 26.7 percent of the West Bank “state lands,” based on laws and procedures that make it extremely difficult for Palestinian residents to prove their ownership of an area, even when they have resided there for generations. Other Israeli laws and practices have made it virtually impossible for Palestinians to register ownership on their own initiative (which they attempt most often in response to attempts to expropriate their land). Israeli plans and maps that in some cases provide the legal basis for confiscation or demolition orders are written only in Hebrew and stored inside a settlement, which, as with other settlements, Palestinians need a special military permit to enter.
At the same time, Israeli authorities have transferred confiscated lands to the control of settlers. As noted, Israel has granted 70 percent of Area C to settlements and confiscated large areas to build road networks for settlers. No Palestinian land use is allowed in areas controlled by settlements, in closed military zones, in nature reserves, or in areas not zoned for Palestinian construction.
Even where Israel recognizes Palestinian land rights, owners may be unable to exercise them: for instance, in numerous cases where Palestinian-owned olive groves lie near a settlement, Palestinians are able to access them for only brief periods twice or three times a year, requiring Israeli military coordination and escorts. Israeli NGOs have also found, based on government documents, that numerous Israeli settlements have been partly built on privately owned Palestinian property, violating Israeli and international law.
The legal bases for land confiscation, the processes by which Israel confiscated lands, and the difficulty involved in appealing the confiscations are described in the “Background” section below. Many of Israel’s numerous alterations, through military orders, of applicable land laws and regulations in the West Bank violate the limitation of its authority as an occupying power to alter local laws except as necessary to maintain and restore order. Israel’s unjustified confiscation and transfer of property from Palestinians to settlers—the basis for demolitions and other measures that create forced displacement—is discriminatory and violates the prohibition on confiscation of property, except for reasons of military necessity.
With the exception of settlements in East Jerusalem, where Israel has applied its civil law, Palestinians are virtually excluded from living in settlements by the requirement that they obtain renewable permits from the Israeli military to enter settlements; Human Rights Watch is not aware of cases of Palestinians applying for or the military granting permits allowing them to purchase homes in settlements.
World Bank, The Economic Effects of Restricted Access to Land in the West Bank, October 21, 2008, p. 4.
See OCHA, The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Infrastructure in the West Bank, 2007, Chapter 2; B’Tselem, Land Grab: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank, May 2002, p. 50.
 Violent attacks by Palestinian armed groups killed 202 Israeli civilians in the West Bank between 2000 and August 31, 2010. During the same period, Israeli settlers killed 43 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Israeli security forces killed 1823 Palestinian civilians there, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Save the Children UK, “Fact Sheet: Jordan Valley,” October 2009, http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/en/docs/English_Jordan_Valley_Fact_Sheet_and_Citations.pdf p. 2 (accessed July 21, 2010). The survey found that Palestinian residents in Area C in the West Bank had been temporarily or permanently displaced primarily as a result of Israeli home demolitions, military orders, and other policies preventing development.
See “Israeli Jurisprudence and Discrimination,” below. Israeli courts have not addressed the legality of the settlements under the law of occupation since 1979, or addressed whether security measures intended to protect settlers that harm Palestinians are legitimate alternatives to removing settlers to within Israel proper.
 Later Israeli-Palestinian agreements (the Wye agreement, 1998; the Sharm el-Sheikh memorandum, 1999) slightly altered the Oslo agreements’ administrative division of the West Bank.
 The Israeli NGO Bimkom notes that the 1998 Wye agreement effectively increased the size of Area C—over which Palestinians have no planning control—to 63 percent of the West Bank. The Wye agreement prohibited “new construction” in three percent of the total area of the West Bank designated as “green areas and/or nature reserves.”
As noted above, the Oslo agreements and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian agreements do not affect Israel’s obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law.
In July 2010, for example, an Israeli soldier reportedly prevented a Palestinian man who lived in Azzun Atme, a Palestinian village south of Qalqilya, from carrying two kilograms of meat and a 50-kilogram sack of flour through a checkpoint controlling the only access to his home, on the grounds that these amounts exceeded allowable limits for personal consumption, although no such limits have been published. Ma’an News Agency, “’No comment’ on arbitrary treatment,” June 16, 2010.
State’s response to petitioners, HCJ 9961/03 (case pending), available at http://www.hamoked.org/items/3827_eng.pdf (accessed November 20, 2010).
For example: Yehudit Karp, a former deputy attorney general, notified the Ministry of Justice on February 7, 2010 of 12 recent court rulings the government has refused to implement, including three cases relating to Palestinians in the West Bank (HCJ 1748/06, ordering the state to remove a cement railing constructed near a road in South Mt. Hebron that severely impeded Palestinian movement; HCJ 8414/05, ordering the state to re-route the separation barrier around the village of Bil’in; HCJ 2732/05, invalidating part of the barrier’s route near the settlement of Tzufin north; the ministry’s letter in response is available at http://www.news1.co.il/uploadFiles/109020411968232.doc, accessed November 12, 2010). The Supreme Court in October 2010 criticized the State's failure to evacuate or halt construction on six illegal West Bank outposts, which the court had already ruled against in response to petition filed by Peace Now in 2007. Aviad Glickman, “Court chides state over West Bank outposts,” Ynet News, October 19, 2010, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3971965,00.html (accessed November 10, 2010). The state has failed to stop construction or survey land ownership at the Derekh Ha'avot outpost in Gush Etzion despite state promises to do so in 2004 in response to a petition submitted by Palestinian residents of the nearby village of El Khader, who claim to own the land, and Peace Now. Akiva Eldar, “Border Control / Minister of contempt,” Haaretz, October 19, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/border-control-minister-of-contempt-1.319916 (accessed November 11, 2010).
Israel’s use of water resources originating in the West Bank includes substantial runoff from the Western and Northeastern aquifers into areas inside Israel; Palestinians are barred from using more than a small fraction of the resources of these aquifers before they flow into Israel. The joint Israeli-PA water commission does not have authority over such water resources when extracted inside Israel.