In October 1979 the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the eviction of the illegal settlement of Elon Moreh in the West Bank. Basing its decision on the Hague Convention of 1907, the Court ruled that the land was private, belonged to Palestinians and could only be expropriated for military benefits; Elon Moreh was a civilian settlement.
At the time, some saw this ruling as the beginning of the end of settlements, or at least a measure that would go towards curbing their existence. Before this ruling, even private land was taken with impunity.
Unfortunately, though, they have mushroomed since then across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The Hague Convention means that settlements can be justified with proof that there is a military necessity for the settlement, and essentially leaves state land open to exploitation.
In fact, finding loopholes in legislation seems to be the Israeli government’s favourite game. This week it attempted to wriggle out of a petition administered to the High Court of Justice by the Volunteers for Human Rights Organisation Yesh Din. It questioned why demolition orders for construction in Beit El, again on private land, had not been carried out.
The petition revealed that the state is currently fighting the High Court of Justice to permit construction, both new and existing, of a total of 44 settlements on private Palestinian land. These settlements, built for civil reasons, are constructed on land whose dispossession orders were based on land expropriated for military use pre-1979: Ariel, Beit El, Efrat, Kiryat Arba, to name but a few.
The farcical excuse the state has found this time, intended to win the court’s consent to continue construction, is that the Elon Mareh ruling “does not prevent exploiting the potential of these communities” and that it was necessary “to preserve the interest that was the basis of [the settlements’] founding and to prevent their atrophy.”
What will prevent their demise and exploit their potential, the government explains, is creating homes in Beit El for the people who were evicted from Ulpana Hill, another illegal settlement.
Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal yet continue to grow. Article 49 of the Geneva Convention states: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territories it occupies.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN bodies and the International Court of Justice, support that this applies to the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. Israel is a party to the Geneva Conventions, despite the government’s insistence that the conventions do not apply to Palestine, and is duty bound to act within their principles.
But it doesn’t. Instead it claims that the defence minister “is prepared to pay the Palestinian owners of the land suitable usage fees” regarding the 44 settlements. As if they are acting according to Palestinian’s best interests!
Since 1967, settlements have expanded under every Israeli Prime Minister. The state has built roads to connect them (another human rights violation, as only illegal Jewish settlers can travel on these roads) and offer incentives in the form of cheap housing to families in exchange for populating their houses. What message does this give to the world when instead of being held accountable for international crimes against humanity the Israeli government is endorsing them?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.