Why we should end trade with Israeli settlements

By EA Sandra. Sandra recently returned to the UK after serving as an EA with EAPPI in Israel and occupied Palestine.

Over half a million Israelis live in settlements in occupied Palestine and East Jerusalem.

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Source: Bloomberg

The word “settlement” might imply small, and indeed some are tiny, although even these seem threatening to the Palestinians living close by. Some however are large with over 60,000 people living in them.

These settlements, which are heavily subsidised by the Israeli government, are expanding and being linked together. As a result, any future Palestine would not have control over much of its territory, making it unviable as a state . The current attempts at forcible evictions of Bedouin peoples and the demolition of the entire Palestinian village of Susiya are all linked to this settlement expansion policy.

The picture below shows how the settlements expand by adding portacabins.

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New portacabins forming around the outside of an existing settlement with the aim of expanding it [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

Settlements have also been allocated areas of up to 5km outside of their built-up sections. These areas have been declared closed military zones by military orders and are off limits to Palestinians, except by special permit. In total, the settlements and the areas under the jurisdiction of the regional settlement councils cover 63% of Area C (which is under full Israeli control) and Palestinians are prohibited from construction or development in these areas. Unlike the restrictive planning policy in place for Palestinian communities, Israeli settlements enjoy full representation in the planning process, connection to advanced infrastructure and a less strict attitude to construction without permits.

Despite international objections, the settlements continue to expand. A recent decision by the Israeli government to approve 1,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank was condemned by the UK.

Although the West Bank is not part of Israel’s sovereign territory, the settlements and the settlers in it are generally subject to Israeli civil law. As a result, the settlers enjoy all the rights of citizens in a democratic state, just as Israeli citizens living within the Green Line (the internationally agreed border) do. Meanwhile, Palestinians in Area C live under military law and are thereby systematically deprived of their rights and cannot affect policymaking where they live.

Two examples of this can be found in reports from Defence of Children International on the effect of the settlements and settler violence on children, and from the IMEU on settler violence.

All sorts of ironies also occur between the settlements and their Palestinian neighbours. The following photo shows the settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah. In 1970, the private Palestinian land of al-Bireh and Dura al-Qar was seized by military order for a military outpost. In 1977 Israeli settlers developed a civilian settlement there, on the “temporarily” requisitioned land. Beit El now has over 6,000 Israeli inhabitants and enjoys running water all the time.

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The illegal Israeli settlement of Beit El with 6,000 residents [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

The next photo is of the Al Jalazun refugee camp across the road. The camp and the Palestinian villages nearby have running water around two days a week. This camp, established in 1949, has over 14,000 inhabitants.

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Al Jalazan refugee camp – home to 14,000 Palestinians – near the Israeli settlement [Photo: EAPPI/S.Horne]

A resident of the Palestinian village of Jifna said, “the water comes from Palestinian land but we have to buy it back from Israel, and even then we only have running water – if we are lucky – for two days a week”.

International law regards these settlements as illegal. UN Security Council Resolution 446 refers to the Fourth Geneva Convention as the applicable international legal instrument, and calls upon Israel to desist from transferring its own population into the occupied territories or changing their demographic makeup.

So we have a situation of illegality. The settlements creating “facts on the ground”, and making the possibility of a two-state solution increasingly remote, and a military occupying force using its power against the people of the occupied land.

We also have heavily subsidised goods produced in the settlements.

That is why we should, at least, try to end trade with these settlements. It is something we can actually do.

Writing recently in the Israeli paper Haaretz, the journalist Jack Khoury said, “Avoiding West Bank settlement goods isn’t boycott – it’s the law. According to international law – by which the State of Israel was established and recognised – the settlements are stolen lands, which is a war crime, and abetting war criminals, such as by financing them, is a crime too”.

So we can agree with Jack, and start our own efforts to not buy settlement goods. But this alone will not end the trade with settlements, only governments can do this.

The UK government has issued advice to businesses on the issue and the EU has a policy to differentiate between trading with Israel and trading with the settlements.

But neither, so far, enforces a policy to end trade with the settlements. We can put pressure on our elected representatives to bring about this change in policy and also to demand they ensure that UK or Irish businesses do not trade with the settlements.

Let’s do it!

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The EIRIS Foundation has recently launched a database on companies doing business in occupied lands, including the settlements in occupied Palestine. You can search the database here.