In June, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank reached over 350,000 according to Israel’s Interior Ministry. 2011 was a record year for settlement population growth and almost double the number from 2000.
Settler leaders hailed the occasion and promised that the settlements will never stop expanding. Israeli Knesset member Yaakov Katz told one Israeli paper that the settlers are on pace to reach one million in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and “then the revolution will be completed.”
Chairman of the settler group Yesha Council Dani Dayan wrote an op-ed for the New York Times asking the international community to stop pushing for a two state solution and accept that “settlers are here to stay.” Instead of pressing for a settlement freeze or calling for settlements to be dismantled, Dayan proposes that countries work together to make the situation more bearable by improving and maintaining the situation on the ground.
Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran looked at the numbers skeptically. In her Settlement Watch blog she explains that the settlers are touting inflated statistics.
With the number of settlers growing rapidly, Palestinians say they are in a frustrating position. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the UK’s Independent that settlements are impeding the peace process. He criticizes the international community, especially the U.S. and EU for giving Israel “no consequences whatever” for the expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He also cites a report saying that attacks on Palestinian civilians and property by settlers have increased 150 percent this year.
The settlement population is not the only number increasing. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released its latest humanitarian report on East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza on Friday, citing statistics about the growing efforts to stop Palestinian residing in the area from developing their communities.
So far this year, the average monthly number of Palestinian-owned structures demolished increased by over 20 percent from 2011, many of which has been funded by international donors. In at least 15 incidents, Israelis seized donor-funded supplies including 12 water tanks meant for water-scarce communities. Most of these demolitions occurred in Area C, which makes up 60% of the West Bank and is completely under Israeli jurisdiction, including the settlements, surrounding security zones and roads.
This week, the Defense Ministry rejected an appeal to save eight villages in the South Hebron Hills in Area C that the Israeli government want demolished to make room for military training. Once the government turns the villages into the military training area, villagers would be able to return to tend their land and graze sheep on weekends, Jewish holidays and during two one-month periods when the soldiers do not train. The order will affect 1,500 Palestinians, many who depend on the agricultural land for their livelihoods. The residents of the village have until August 2 to submit a case for keeping the land to the Israeli high court.
There is a clear relationship between settlement expansion, demolitions and the future of the occupation. In response to the Levy report that came out earlier this month, many Israelis and members of the American-Jewish community have stated their opposition to the direction they think Israel is heading. Forty prominent U.S. Jewish leaders criticized the report in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warned him of dismissing a two-state solution. The letter tells Netanyahu to reject the recommendations because they, “place the two-state solution, and the prestige of Israel as a democratic member of the international community, in peril.”
In Thessalonians 5:11, we are called to “encourage one another and build each other up.” In that spirit, throughout the month of July CMEP is asking for your words of encouragement, persistence, and hope for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her trip to the Holy Land.
Thank you to the over 3,000 CMEP supporters who took the time to write Secretary Clinton urging her to strongly oppose the recommendations in the Levy Report!
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.