At times the occupation seems to be a thing of the past. Women in labor detained at checkpoints for so long that they end up giving birth there are no longer a common occurrence; there are fewer incidents of killings, violence and destruction. Israel is no longer involved in determining the scholastic curricula for Palestinian schoolchildren and Israeli troops are no longer permanently stationed in the streets and alleys of the city of Nablus. Instead, we hear reports of Palestinians building a new city in the West Bank and about Israel and the Palestinian Authority cooperating on security-related issues.
But according to a new B’Tselem position paper “nevertheless, after nearly half a century, the occupation is still going strong. A third, and even fourth, generation of Palestinians and Israelis has been born into this reality, and they know no other. The Oslo Accords, signed over two decades ago, brought about the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and with it the illusion that Israel’s impact on the lives of Palestinians would henceforth be no more than negligible. Yet, to this day, Israel is the most dominant factor influencing the daily lives of all residents of the West Bank.”
Israeli settlements are currently the major factor influencing the reality of life in the West Bank: over 300,000 Israeli citizens live in more than 200 settlements and settlement outposts throughout the West Bank, all established in contravention of international humanitarian law, some even in contravention of Israeli law. Tens of thousands of hectares of land, including pastureland and farmland, have been seized from Palestinians for the express purpose of building settlements. A significant portion of these lands has been declared state land, based on a dubious interpretation of the law; other areas have been usurped from Palestinians by force and strong-arm tactics and by actual construction that would make the settlement seem a fait accompli. In addition, settlements have been granted generous allocations of land, far exceeding their built-up areas. All lands allocated to settlements – built-up area and environs – have been designated closed military zones which Palestinians may not enter without a permit.
The impact the settlements have on Palestinians’ human rights is above and beyond the land seized for the actual settlements: additional lands were confiscated from Palestinians to build hundreds of kilometers of bypass roads for the settlers; checkpoints and other measures that restrict only Palestinian movement were set up based on the placement of settlements; much Palestinian farmland – both in and outside the settlements – has become effectively off-limits to its Palestinian owners; and the tortuous, meandering route of the Separation Barrier in the West Bank was planned primarily to keep as many settlements and large areas designated by Israel for their expansion west of the barrier, on its “Israeli side”. The current route of the barrier leads to severe violations of the rights of Palestinians living in its vicinity, some of whom have ended up trapped in enclaves. The barrier disrupts their lives, limiting their access to farmland, essential services and to friends and relatives who have remained on the other side. It also precludes any possibility for development in these areas.