President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Mr. President and Madam Secretary,
We write to urge you to support a proposed resolution by the United Nations Security Council demanding that Israel end policies that promote the construction and maintenance of settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Within the limits of our mandate, Human Rights Watch strongly supports diplomatic measures to end violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, but takes no position on any portion of the resolution that goes beyond these issues.
The international community, with the sole exception of Israel, acknowledges the applicability in the occupied West Bank of the Fourth Geneva Convention for the protection of civilians, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into occupied territory. As a close ally of Israel and its largest foreign donor, and as a permanent member of the Security Council, the United States should use this forum, along with others, to affirm its opposition to Israel's settlement policies as a violation of international law.
Israel's settlement policies also violate international human rights prohibitions against discrimination. Human Rights Watch has documented the harsh ways that these policies discriminate against Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Our recent report, "Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories," shows that Israel operates a two-tier system for the two populations of the West Bank in the large areas where it exercises exclusive control. In both Area C and East Jerusalem, this system deliberately withholds basic services from Palestinian communities, and prevents and punishes the construction of Palestinian homes and vital infrastructure, while providing generous financial benefits and infrastructure support for Jewish settlements. These discriminatory policies apply to a range of day-to-day needs, such as the construction of schools or the provision of water, that have no legitimate security or other justification.
For example, while often making land and vital resources such as water unavailable to Palestinians, the Israeli government grants numerous incentives to settlers, including funding for housing, education, and infrastructure, including special roads.
Meanwhile, Palestinians face discriminatory burdens in terms of the expropriation of land from for settlements and their supporting infrastructure, the blocking of Palestinians from using roads and reaching agricultural lands, the denial of access to electricity and water, the rejection of building permits for houses, schools, clinics, and infrastructure, and the demolition of homes and even entire communities. In 2010 alone, Israel demolished more than 430 Palestinian homes and other structures in the West Bank, leaving almost 600 people homeless, half of them children.
These measures have imposed severe hardships on residents, including leaving them with limited access to medical care. By making some of their towns and villages virtually uninhabitable, Israel's discriminatory policies have effectively forced some Palestinian residents to leave their communities.
Such differential treatment, imposed on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin and not narrowly tailored to legitimate goals, violates the fundamental prohibition of discrimination under human rights law.
No security or other legitimate rationale can explain the vast scale of differential treatment of Palestinians. Moreover, in acts that might be considered to be addressing legitimate security concerns - such as limiting freedom of movement in areas where there is an imminent risk of violence - Israel often acts as if all Palestinians pose a security threat by virtue of their race, ethnicity, and national origin; e.g. by barring all Palestinians from "settler-only" roads, rather than narrowly tailoring restrictions to specific individuals who are shown to pose a threat. The legal prohibition of discrimination prohibits such broadly framed restrictions. In addition, Human Rights Watch is not aware of any instance in which Israel's courts have adjudicated whether any Israeli practice in the West Bank discriminated against Palestinians, although petitioners have raised such claims in a number of cases.
The United States should avoid complicity in these systematic violations of international law caused by the settlements, and should send a strong message that continued settlement expansion is deeply destructive not only to prospects for peace but to the everyday lives of Palestinians. The United States should make clear that the clear legal prohibition on settlement activity is not a matter open to renegotiation, but a foundation of the laws that the international community has determined to be essential to the protection of basic human rights.
The United States should be pressing Israel to address its unlawful and harmful policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which are devastating Palestinian communities. We urge you to support the proposed Security Council resolution that will restate the illegality of Israel's settlements and call on Israel to end such activity.