Let’s Be Clear – Israel’s Long-Running Settlement Policy Constitutes a War Crime

An 'Israeli only' by-pass road that links Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, sitting below an Israeli settlement outside of Jerusalem (Photo Credit:  Edith Garwood).
An ‘Israeli only’ by-pass road that links Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, sitting below an Israeli settlement outside of Jerusalem (Photo Credit: Edith Garwood).
  • ALL Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are illegal.
  • Israel’s long-running policy of settling civilians in occupied territory amounts to a war crime.[1]

This needs to be clearly said now, without ambiguity. The United States government, as sponsor of the current ‘peace talks’ between Israel and Palestinians, must uphold rule of law and human rights. Despite the fact that the U.S. has historically taken the same position as the international community that Israeli settlements within the OPT are illegal, they have chosen to prevaricate in recent years, using words like ‘unhelpful’ or ‘illegitimate’ to describe settlement building by Israel.

This does favors for no one. Not the United States, not Palestinians, and not Israel.

[pullquote text=”Israel’s long-running policy of settling civilians in occupied territory is considered a war crime under the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).”]This equivocation does, however, help sustain the cycle of violence and perpetuate further violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip all remain under effective control of the Israeli government. The legal obligations for any occupying power are outlined in international humanitarian law (IHL), particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention. Palestinians living in the OPT are considered protected persons under the convention, which Israel has ratified.

IHL stipulates states are not to transfer their own civilians into territory they occupy, or to forcibly transfer protected persons from or within an occupied territory. States are also forbidden from destroying individual or collective property in an occupied territory, except when this is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

Under Israeli law, settlements ‘authorized’ by the government are legal while smaller, ‘unofficial’ outposts are illegal. Sometimes the Israeli government retroactively ‘legalizes’ previously unauthorized outposts. International law does not make any such distinctions; all Israeli settlements in the OPT violate the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The international community has consistently recognized that settlements contravene international law and create a situation which perpetuates a range of violations of Palestinian human rights including, but not limited to, discriminatory policies based on nationality, ethnicity and religion.

The United Nations Fact Finding Mission (FFM) on Israeli Settlements found “a multitude of the human rights of the Palestinians are violated in various forms and ways due to the existence of the settlements” and “Israel is committing serious breaches of its obligations under the right to self-determination and under humanitarian law.”

The chair of the FFM, Ms. Christine Chanet said, “In compliance with Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel must cease all settlement activities without preconditions.”

In order for the United States government to respect the rule of law during these ‘peace talks’ and truly facilitate a just and sustainable peace in the region, they must insist Israel immediately halt all construction of settlements and related infrastructure as a first step towards removing all settlers from the OPT.

[1] Israel’s long-running policy of settling civilians in occupied territory is considered a war crime under the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Article 8(2) of the Rome Statute defines “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory” as a war crime when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.