A new United Nations report has documented how Israeli settlements can control, and restrict access for Palestinians to, an area more than twice their designated municipal boundaries.
The report is part of December’s Humanitarian Bulletin by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), and looks specifically at “the humanitarian impact of de facto settlement expansion” in the case of Talmon-Nahliel bloc.
The official Israeli-designated municipal boundaries of Nahliel and Talmon settlements – combined population 4,400 – cover 6,200 dunums. But the area controlled by the settlements and in which Palestinian access is “severely restricted or impossible”, is almost 2.5 times larger (15,100 dunums).
According to Israeli official records, “more than half of the land” within these de facto boundaries is privately owned by Palestinians from six nearby villages: Beitillu, Ras Karkar, Al Janya, Deir Ammar, Mazra’a Al Qibliya and Kobar, home to approximately 20,000 people combined.
According to OCHA, six new residential settlements (outposts) were established on the hilltops surrounding Talmon between 1997 and 2002.
Even though “all but one were established without a building permit or formal authorization”, in recent years “the Israeli authorities have initiated multiple planning processes to retroactively make these settlements legal under Israeli law.”
These processes have included the requirement to declare large areas of privately-owned Palestinian land as ‘state land’.
In addition, “eight water springs are located within the affected area” that “were used in the past by Palestinian farmers and herders for irrigation and the watering of livestock, but have now become largely inaccessible.”
Five of those springs “have been taken over by settlers and developed as tourist sites with the support of government bodies.” In addition, a hilltop “which until the late 1990s was a popular destination for Palestinian pilgrimage” was also taken over and developed as a tourist lookout point.
Since 2008, OCHA reports, “settlers have occupied and begun cultivating, mainly as vineyards, nearly 140 dunums of land, mostly privately owned by Palestinians according to Israeli official records.” All of the above “de facto expansion” has been “facilitated by the development of an extensive road network connecting the different residential, tourist and agricultural sites.”
This road network, extending over almost 60km and including main roads paved by the Israeli authorities on private Palestinian land requisitioned for “military needs”, is “largely banned for Palestinian use.”
According to OCHA researchers, “there are nearly 11,000 dunums of cultivable land within the area controlled by Talmon-Nahliel.” If Palestinians enjoyed free access, “the cultivation of this area…would generate an output of approximately $2.3 million a year” – a “conservative estimate.”
“The establishment and continuous expansion of settlements, in contravention of international law, is a key driver of humanitarian vulnerability”, states OCHA, continuing:
“It has resulted in Palestinians being deprived of their property and sources of livelihood, restricted access to services and has given rise to a range of protection threats that trigger demand for assistance from the humanitarian community.”
OCHA is seeking to to increase understanding of “means of [settlement] expansion such as road networks and the development of agricultural and tourist sites, mostly on privately-owned Palestinian land, without formal permits, but with the acquiescence of the Israeli authorities.”