Beginning immediately after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War of 1967, settler groups began constructing illegal outposts in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) of East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza. Many of these outposts have grown into the settlements of today. While all attempts to change the demography of occupied territories is illegal under international law, settlements receive Israeli state resources and have recognized municipal governments. Outposts, on the other hand, are established by private individuals without Israeli government approval. Though Israel withdrew 8,000 settlers from Gaza in 2005, the settler population has doubled since 1993. As of 2015, 386,000 settlers are living in the West Bank and 208,000 are living in East Jerusalem. It has been the historic policy of every U.S. administration since 1967 to oppose the existence of settlements and their expansion. Affirming the position taken by the United Nations Human Rights Council, CMEP considers both state-approved settlements and renegade outposts to be illegal under international law in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and maintains that their existence and continued expansion impede efforts to establish a comprehensive peace agreement between the state of Israel and the Palestinians (see CMEP Policy Position 4).
Facts at a Glance
(Sources: Settlement Data–B’tselem (2015); Demolition Data–ICAHD (2017))
Israeli Settlements: 142
West Bank: 127
East Jerusalem: 15
Israeli Settlers: 594,000
West Bank: 386,000
East Jerusalem: 208,000
Demolition Orders Issued: 16,085 (since 1988)
Homes Demolished: 48,743 (since 1967)
Settlements by Territory
After 1967, Israel established settlements in lands captured from Egypt, including the Gaza Strip. These settlements remained in place until 2005 when the government of Israel announced a unilateral withdrawal of its settlers and military from the Gaza Strip. They dismantled 21 settlements and relocated 8,000 people back to Israel. While Palestinians in Gaza no longer face the challenge of expanding settlements, the economic impacts of the Israeli blockade and infrastructure damaged during the 2008/2009, 2012, and 2014 wars has created a humanitarian crisis.
Population growth within both Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages exacerbates tensions over the allocation of land and resources in the West Bank. Palestinian villages located in Area C of the West Bank (the areas of the West Bank that are still under full Israeli administrative and security control according to the Oslo Peace Accords) must apply to Israeli authorities for building permits. About 60 percent of all West Bank land falls under this category. Within the last decade, only 1.5 percent of these applications were approved. Consequently, almost all Palestinian new construction occurs without the required permits. Structures built without permits can be demolished by the Israeli military. The construction of the Separation Barrier and the restrictions on movement that it creates, prevents Palestinians in the West Bank from maintaining their land on the Israeli-controlled side of the wall. After laying uncultivated for three years, these lands can become Israeli state land under the Absentee Property Law of 1950.
The government of Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, a little of over a decade after the municipal governments merged in 1967. Since 1967, Israelis have established a dozen major settlements (referred to as ‘neighborhoods’ by Israeli media) within the portion of Jerusalem falling east of the 1948 Green Line. Zoning maps of East Jerusalem designate 40 percent of the city as green space, limiting the ability of Palestinian neighborhoods to expand. Today, Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who make up 60 percent of the city’s population, live in neighborhoods accounting for only 13 percent of land. The housing density in these neighborhoods is almost double that of Israeli areas. An estimated one in three Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are built without a legal permit placing 90,000 people at risk of displacement.
How Settlements Impact the Lives of Palestinians
Located southwest of Bethlehem, the village of Wadi Foquin was reestablished in 1972 after being deserted for 18 years. During the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Israeli soldiers ordered the evacuation of Palestinians from Wadi Foquin. The village was completely demolished in 1954 and remained vacant until Israel permitted the displaced villagers to return in 1972. Since then, the growing Israeli settlement of Betar Illit has competed with Wadi Foquin for resources. Cut off by checkpoints and settler-only roads, Wadi Foquin’s land has steadily shrunk since 1987. It is estimated that since 1948 the village has lost 75 percent of its farmland. Untreated wastewater from the nearby settlement discharges directly into the villagers’ farmland, creating a public health and environmental nightmare. Currently Betar Illit is home to 50,000 Israeli settlers, and development plans indicate that the settlement is anticipated to grow to 100,000 by 2020. This expansion would further reduce the land available for development in Wadi Foquin.
Friends of Wadi Foquin
“The United Methodist Church, through its General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), supports a community development project in the Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin. The church’s involvement began in 2009 with modest fundraising for beehives to help offset damage inflicted on agricultural life by the nearby Israeli settlement of Betar Illit. The project was initiated by Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif., with help from Janet Lahr Lewis, then UMC Liaison to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Trinity United Methodist Church, Berkeley Methodist United Church, other San Francisco Bay Area churches, and community members have joined the partnership since then, and a new project has been added every year. Operating under the name Friends of Wadi Foquin, the organization has worked to provide financial assistance for projects supporting the economic survival of the village, made annual visits to Wadi Foquin, and—as the village has come under increasing threat from settlement expansion—advocated for its survival on Capitol Hill. The Cal-Nevada Israel-Palestine Task Force of the United Methodist Church has also provided support for the partnership.” Learn More
Susya was a quiet, out-of-the-way Palestinian village of 350 residents in the South Hebron hills prior to the discovery of a historic Jewish synagogue nearby. Since 1983 the archaeological site has drawn Israeli settlers who wished to be near this historic place of worship. To accommodate the expansion of this settlement, the Ministry of Defense has demolished Susya three times. After each demolition the villagers have requested permits to rebuild their community, but they have always been denied. Not wanting to abandon their homes, the residents of Susya have rebuilt their community anyway. But the village lacks basic utilities and access to healthcare and education. Once again in 2016, the Israeli Ministry of Defense issued demolition orders for Susya. International intervention stalled the process, beginning a prolonged legal battle which continues to this day. Members of the United States Congress have taken an active role, asking the State Department to intervene in order to halt the impending demolition. Between July and December of 2017, eleven members of congress and ten senators sent a total of five letters of petition to the State Department and government of Israel. In November 2017, the Israeli High Court issued its final ruling against Susya. The demolition of seven of the village’s twenty structures began on February 1, 2018. The future of the remainder of the village is uncertain.
The fertile Cremisan Valley lies between the Palestinian village of Beit Jala and the Israeli settlement of Har Gilo near Bethlehem. Since 2006, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has been planning on extending the Separation Barrier across the valley. If completed, this barrier would cut off 58 Palestinian families in Beit Jala from 850 acres of farmland in the valley, as well as preventing the children of Beit Jala from attending school at the nearby Catholic monastery and convent. While the Israeli High Court overruled the IDF’s building plans in April 2015, they reversed their decision later that year in August, allowing construction to go ahead.
Churches Call for Urgent Action for Cremisan Valley [World Council of Churches, 2017]
“Despite the International Court of Justice declaring its illegality, Israel continued the construction of the wall, dispossessing dozens of Palestinian Christian families in Cremisan for the benefit of illegal settlements. ‘As leaders of a church in the Holy Land, we are fighting against all odds to prevent further displacement that would be catastrophic for our future,’ stated Bdour, who is also the director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media based in Amman, Jordan.” Read More
Land Grab in Cremisan Valley [National Catholic Recorder, 2015]
“Until now, litigation contesting these confiscations had succeeded in only two cases, the Cremisan Valley and nearby village of Battir, a UNESCO World Heritage site. An earlier ruling of the Israeli High Court had forestalled the construction of the wall through the Cremisan Valley, but on Aug. 6 the court ruled that the earlier decision applied only to the Salesian property. It will remain undivided on the Palestinian side of the wall.” Read More
CMEP letter to President Obama on Settlements
“Your administration insists that the only acceptable resolution to this conflict is a two-state solution. Yet, negotiations about territory cannot continue with integrity while one party continues absorbing the territory of the other. We urge your administration, therefore, to make clear that the U.S. views Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine not merely as “illegitimate” and “foolish,” as it has already said, but also “illegal.” Read More
Israeli Demolition Orders Against Palestinian Structures in Area C (1987-2016) [OCHA, 2016]
Interactive graphic showing demolition orders by year in each Area C West Bank municipality. Detailed information is available on the status of demolition orders in each community. View
Israeli Settlements in West Bank by Population Size
An interactive map of the West Bank showing Israeli settlements and their respective populations. View
Israeli Settlements in the West Bank by Religiosity
An interactive map of the West Bank classifying Israeli settlements according to their religiosity (Haredi, National Religious, Secular, or mixed) View
Israeli settlements grew on Obama’s watch. They may be poised for a boom on Trump’s [Washington Post, 2017]
“As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unraveling. And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate.” Read More
How Many Settlers Really Live the West Bank? [Haaretz, 2017]
“The Jewish population in the West Bank has increased by more than 330,000 people and eight settlements have been built in the West Bank over the past three decades. More than 380,000 settlers currently live in the West Bank, over 40 percent of them outside the settlement blocs, Haaretz has found.” Read More
Weekly Settlement Reports [Foundation for Middle East Peace]
Week-by-week updates on settlement construction and the activities of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Read More
Changes in Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief [Every CRS Report, 2018]
This page shows textual changes in the Congressional Research Service’s report on U.S.-Israeli relations between the two versions published in December 2017 and February 2018. Significantly, the 2018 report does not include a section on the impact of Israeli settlements on relations with the United States as the 2017 report does. Read More
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Mar. 2018]
“February has seen widespread demolitions and confiscations in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) with Israeli authorities demolishing 37 structures, displacing 44 people, including 24 children, and affecting a further 211 people…In the Naqab desert, South Israel, the unrecognized Bedouin village Al Araqib was demolished for the 125th time, and in Lod, central Israel a house was demolished displacing a family. All the incidents occurred on the grounds of lack of an Israeli-issued building permit.” Read More
Acting the Landlord: Israel’s Policy in Area C, West Bank [B’tselem, 2013]
A report on Israeli administrative policies in Area C of the West Bank with a specific focus on settlement expansion, housing demolitions, and Palestinian displacement in the South Hebron Hills, Jordan Valley, and in the vicinity of Ma’ale Adumin. Read More
Historic U.S. Policy and International Law
Fourth Geneva Convention
“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Read More
UNSCR 446 (March 22, 1979)
“Calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying power, to scrupulously abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention…And in particular not to transfer parts of its own population into the occupied Arab territories.” Read More
UNSCR 452 (July 20, 1979)
“Calls upon the government and people of Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction, and planning of settlements in Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.” Read More
UNSCR 471 (June 5, 1980)
“Calls again upon Israel to respect and comply with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention…as well as the relevant resolutions of the Security Council. Calls again upon States not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in occupied territories.” Read More
UNSCR 476 (June 30, 1980)
“Reaffirms that all legislative and administrative actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which purport to alter the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention…” Read More
Statements from U.S. Government Officials
Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has expressed varying degrees of opposition to Israeli settlement expansion, but in practice, none has taken concrete measures to ensure a cessation of building in West Bank and East Jerusalem. Read More