An opinion piece written last week by Dani Dayan, a leader of an association of Israeli settlers, has sparked controversy over whether – as Dayan claims – Israeli settlers have a moral right to live in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). What has been missing so far from the discussion is the human rights perspective on the issue that Amnesty International considers most important.
Dayan insists in his column that “Israel’s Settlers Are Here to Stay” and argues that instead of trying to find a two-state solution, American diplomats should accept the status quo and “maintain the current reality on the ground.”
His argument, however, leaves out one significant fact — the establishment of settlements in the OPT violates international humanitarian law and also constitutes a serious violation of the prohibition on discrimination. The presence of settlements has led to mass violations of human rights of the local Palestinian population including, but not limited to, policies involving access to water, restrictions on movement, land confiscation and home demolitions.
Here’s the human rights perspective:
* The highest legal bodies have repeatedly ruled settlements to be illegal. The International Court of Justice, UN General Assembly and UN Security Council have long recognized the illegality of the Israeli settlements in the OPT. For example, UN Security Council resolution 465 of March 1, 1980:
“…Determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention….
Strongly deplores the continuation and persistence of Israel in pursuing those policies and calls upon the Government and people of Israel to rescind those measures, to dismantle the existing settlements and in particularly to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem…”
Similarly, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the December 2001 Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention have reaffirmed that Israeli settlements in the OPT violate international humanitarian law. Even the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled, “… Judea and Samaria areas are held by the State of Israel in belligerent occupation.”
* Discrimination on grounds of nationality, ethnicity and religion is the dominant feature of Israel’s settlement policy. Israeli settlements in the OPT are for Jews only and Israeli settlers are governed by Israeli law, whereas Palestinians are governed by less protective military orders and tried by military courts. Israeli settlers receive Israeli benefits and services and enjoy freedom of movement whereas Palestinians are forbidden to enter settlements unless they obtain special permit (only rarely obtained and only as workers – not as visitors) and to use bypass roads built for settlers on seized Palestinian land.
Prohibiting discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights enshrined in treaties to which Israel is a State Party, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Israel has ratified these treaties and is obliged to uphold them.
Israel should have never transferred its civilian population into the OPT and now must remedy these violations by taking concrete measures to evacuate the settlers. Given that successive Israeli governments have consistently encouraged Israeli civilians to move to the OPT, the Israeli authorities should provide compensation to the Israeli settlers who are evacuated and assist them to resettle in Israel.
The international community, particularly the United States — which has been the most significant enabler of Israeli policies — must ensure that Israel complies with international law. Evacuation of settlers is nothing more than the rule of law.
Edith Garwood, country specialist on Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories/Palestinian Authority for Amnesty International USA, contributed to this post.