What is the issue with Israeli settlements?

Originally published online by The Knowledge, Plymouth University’s student newspaper, on the 14th March 2014: http://theknowledgeplymouth.co.uk/what-is-the-issue-with-israeli-settlements/

Recently, I was lucky enough to go on the International Relations fieldtrip to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The trip saw us spend ten days predominantly in the West Bank as we learnt about the latest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how these issues were affecting the local population. In my opinion, there was one issue that seems to be particularly salient in the crisis, and that is of Israeli settlements being built in the West Bank.

Israeli settlements, or communities depending on how you view the political situation, have been under construction in the West Bank since it was occupied by Israel in 1967, and are now home to at least 350,000 Israelis. Furthermore, these settlements – linked to each other by roads which may only be used by Israelis, and not Palestinians – are considered to be illegal under international law, as Israel has built them on what is considered to be occupied land. Therefore, we knew of the controversy surrounding the settlements before we had even left for Israel.

As such, we were lucky enough to be given a tour of one Israeli settlement by activist, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein. Indeed, Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement that has city status, is found just 4 miles away from Jerusalem. It has a population of around 40,000 people, and is thus one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank. When driving around, it is clear that Ma’ale Adumim is a nice place to live in. It is modern with a friendly environment, and life seems to be quite laid back.

However, beyond the modern suburban feel is the true story about how these settlements are being built. Indeed, many Palestinians are now being forced off of their land, in order to make way for Israeli settlements. After visiting Ma’ale Adumim, we visited a nearby Palestinian Bedouin, whose home had been demolished by the Israeli Army (pictured). Indeed, his home had been knocked down due to being in the ‘E1 Area’, an area between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem that the Israeli government has earmarked for expansion. Furthermore, there are many other Palestinians whose homes are being knocked down in a similar fashion in order to make way for Israeli settlements.

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One has to ask, is it fair to be knocking down Palestinian homes? One Israeli settler that we had spoken to, in the settlement of Efrat, admitted that it was unfair that Palestinians were being displaced, but then went on to state that it was a necessary evil in order to guarantee Israeli security. Indeed, it is argued that an increased Jewish presence in the West Bank would reduce the chances of terrorist activity that being carried out there. Additionally, there is also the argument that Israel is more than entitled to build on the West Bank, as its claim to the land is biblical.

On the other hand, Palestinians – who are understandably frustrated with the current situation – will also be concerned that Israel is planning further settlement building – for example, at Ma’ale Adumim, in order to link it with Jerusalem – thus dividing the West Bank and making it even more difficult for Palestinians to find self-determination. Indeed, construction within the ‘E1 Area’ would cut the West Bank off almost completely from East Jerusalem, and would make access to Jerusalem even harder for Palestinians to come by.

Indeed, this article has not even scratched the surface and is far too brief to capture the entire situation of settlements in the West Bank. However, whatever your view of Israeli politics, it could be argued that the Palestinian crisis will not be solved without firstly addressing the settlement issue.

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