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Israel denies palestinians access to land around settlements

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Human Rights
Israel denies Palestinians access to land around settlements
Report, B’Tselem, 16 September 2008

For years, Israeli authorities have both barred Palestinian access to rings of land surrounding settlements, and have not acted to eliminate settlers’ piratical closing of lands adjacent to settlements and blocking of Palestinian access to them. Blocking access is one of the many ways used to expand settlements. In recent years, Israel has institutionalized the closing of such lands in an attempt to retroactively sanction the unauthorized placement of barriers far from the houses at the edge of the settlements.

Settlers pave patrol roads and place physical obstructions on Palestinian lands adjacent to settlements, at times with the authorities’ approval, at others not. Settlers also forcibly remove Palestinians, primarily farmers, from their lands. B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has documented cases of gunfire, threats of gunfire and killing, beatings, stone throwing, use of attack dogs, attempts to run over Palestinians, destruction of farming equipment and crops, theft of crops, killing and theft of livestock and animals used in farming, unauthorized demands to see identification cards, and theft of documents.

The authorities entrusted with enforcing the law not only fail to take sufficient action to end the violence and prosecute lawbreakers, they join them and block Palestinian access themselves. Soldiers regularly expel Palestinians from their farmland, often under the direction of settlers. Israel has also established a physical system of barriers — barbed-wire fences, patrol roads, illumination and electronic sensory devices — far from the homes at the edge of the settlements, in effect annexing large swaths of land to the settlements.

Especially blatant in this context is the "Special Security Area" (SSA) plan, in which framework Israel surrounded 12 settlements east of the Separation Barrier with rings of land that are closed as a rule to Palestinian entry. As a result of the plan, the overall area of these settlements is 2.4 times larger, having increased from 3,325 dunams (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters) to 7,793 dunams. More than half of this ring land is under private Palestinian ownership. The amount of land attached to settlements other than through the SSA plan is much larger, given there are no official limitations and less supervision of the piratical closing of land by settlers. B’Tselem estimates that such piratical closing has blocked Palestinian entry to tens of thousands of dunams, thus annexing them de facto to the settlements. Experience shows that this land grab will be perpetuated and become part of official policy to the extent that the plan is implemented at additional settlements.

Palestinian farmers seeking access to their lands must cope with a complex bureaucracy and meet a number of conditions. First and foremost, they must prove ownership of the land. They also have to "pressure" the Civil Administration time and again to set times for them to enter. Also, the defense establishment subjects Palestinian access to the good will and caprice of the settlers. On this background, many farmers give up and stop trying to gain access and to work their land.

Official spokespersons justify some of the closing of land, primarily the land closed as a result of the SSA plan, on security needs. They contend that, after Israel’s wall was built in the West Bank, settlements east of it were left exposed to violent attacks by Palestinians, and that rings of land could provide a warning area. Indeed, in 2002-2004, Palestinians killed 31 Israeli citizens and injured many others inside settlements in the West Bank. But Israel allows settlers to enter freely, without supervision, the land, which ostensibly was meant to serve as a warning area free of people, but is, in effect, closed only to Palestinians. As a result, settlers move about on the Palestinian land regularly, steal their crops, and even live on and work the land. This practice breaches both the logic of a "warning zone" and the military orders closing the area.

The land adjacent to the settlement is part of a long list of areas that Israel closes to Palestinians in the West Bank: the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, military-training areas, the settlement areas themselves, and others. Every piece of land that Israel closes to Palestinians joins those areas previously taken, and together they limit the possibilities of millions of persons, principal harm being suffered by farmers and those who rely of farming for a living. In this context, it should be recalled that the poverty level of Palestinians in the West Bank is extremely high, and that agriculture is the main sector of the Palestinian economy. Blocking access also impedes urban development and limits recreation in the form of nature hikes and enjoyment of land resources.

Blocking Palestinian access to land adjacent to settlements is the direct result, and an integral part, of the illegal settlement enterprise. This enterprise continuously violates the absolute prohibition specified in international humanitarian law on settlements in occupied territory. Consequently, Israel is obligated to evacuate the settlers and return them to sovereign Israeli soil. If the settlers are not evacuated, there are ways, which are presented in the report, to protect them in ways that will harm Palestinians to a lesser extent. But the government of Israel is obligated to evacuate them in any case, and evacuation is the only legal way to meet the security need that stands, according to official spokespersons, at the basis of the regulated closing of the land.

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B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories43 Emek Refaim St. (Second Floor), Jerusalem 93141, Tel. (02) 5617271, Fax (02) 5610756e-mail:

Access Denied: Israeli measures to deny Palestiniansaccess to land around settlements


Before the fence was built around the settlement, the settlers used to throw stonesat residents and fire into the air, sometimes close to us. This happened a fewtimes… [After the fence was built,] I saw soldiers fire into the air to frightenresidents trying to approach the fence. When my family and I tried to come near,soldiers in the lookout tower fired live ammunition into the air. Sometimes,soldiers in an army jeep pull up and force the residents to stay away.

This report deals with the blocking of Palestinian access to areas adjacent to settlements in theWest Bank by closing lands and, in effect, attaching them to the settlement. The report describesthe phenomenon, its magnitude, its particular attributes and the grave human rights violationsthat come in its wake – all in their historical, security, political, and legal context.

Two main patterns of activity are evident: 1) violence and harassment, primarily by settlers andsecurity forces, aimed at expelling Palestinians from areas close to settlements, and 2) building asecondary fence around settlements that is far from the houses at the edge of the settlement, andfrom the fence that had been built close to these houses, thus attaching a ring of land to the

(1 From the testimony of Nahid Abu ‘Abadah, a resident of Sebastia. The Shavey Shomeron settlement builta fence next to his family’s olive grove. The testimony was given to Salma a-Deba’i on 14 November 2007.Testimonies relevant to this report are available at

2settlement. Discussion of this pattern of activity will include a discussion and critique of the“special security area” plan of the Ministry of Defense.

The land adjacent to settlements has two principal features that led Israeli officials to prohibit, orrestrict, the entry of Palestinians. First, from the perspective of persons wanting to promote thesettlement enterprise, the land is useful for settlement expansion. Second, both the army andsettlers are interested in making it difficult for Palestinians to reach Israeli-populated areas in theWest Bank and in making it easier to protect of settlers from terrorist attacks.

Palestinians are prohibited, or restricted, from entering other lands in the West Bank, andBʹTselem has surveyed Israel’s policy in this regard.3 First and foremost, there is the land onwhich the settlements were built. Also, there is the land on the other side of the SeparationBarrier, roads on which only Israelis are allowed to travel, land that was expropriated to buildarmy bases or was classified as army training areas, the land in and around East Jerusalem,which was annexed, and other large sections of land, such as the Jordan Valley.4

Therefore, the blocking of access surveyed in this report is not to be viewed in isolation, but aspart of a body of prohibitions, restrictions, oppressive means, and theft of land imposed onPalestinians in the West Bank, who are under army occupation. Along with this, the closing ofland around settlements and blocking of Palestinian access to the land are not minor phenomena,2 The used of the terms “blocking access” and “closing land” relates to land adjacent to which a settlementwas built, unless otherwise noted. The closing is achieved by placement of physical barriers and othermeans.

3 See, for example, BʹTselem, Ground to a Halt: Denial of Palestinians’ Freedom of Movement in the West Bank,August 2007; BʹTselem and Bimkom, Under the Guise of Security: Routing the Separation Barrier to Enable theExpansion of Israeli Settlements in the West Bank, December 2005; BʹTselem, Forbidden Road: Israel’sDiscriminatory Road Regime in the West Bank, August 2004; BʹTselem: Land Grab: Israel’s Settlement Policy in theWest Bank, May 2002. All BʹTselem reports are available at

4 Some one-quarter of the West Bank is classified army-training area, according to the research of Dr.Zalman Shiffer and Dr. Amiram Oren of the Neeman Institute for Advanced Studies in Science andTechnolog , published in Economic National Security 2 under the title “The Economic Consequences of theUse and Control of Land Resources by the Defense Sector in Israel”. Motti Bassok, “The IDF’s Real EstatePotential – about a Million Shekels a Year,” TheMarker, 21 February 2008.

3and the resultant harm to Palestinians is great, in particular with respect to farmland, on whichmany families depend for their livelihood.

Throughout the report are descriptions how settlers and the defense establishment blockPalestinian access to land around settlements. In many cases, the closing is piratical: theauthorities know of it but turn a blind eye, or wink, and systematically fail to enforce the law.Such unauthorized closing of land – carried out by settlers, and sometimes also soldiers, in partby placing physical barriers and by violent means – has been going on for more than threedecades.

On the other hand, in recent years, Israel has formalized the closing of land by means of militaryorders. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the plan the defense establishment terms “specialsecurity areas” (SSA’s), in which context twelve settlements have been surrounded by a newfence, far from the settlements and the old fence, resulting in the settlement’s annexation of theland.

5 In these cases, the closing is explained on security grounds, the proclaimed objective beingto create a “warning area” to help protect settlers from Palestinians wanting to harm them. Othersettlements have been surrounded by a secondary fence without land being classified an SSA.Israel has declared 4,558 dunams [4 dunams = 1 acre] around the twelve settlements SSAs.Approximately half of the land is under private Palestinian ownership. The enclosed rings ofland increase the area of these settlements by a factor of 2.4. This figure does not include landbeyond the SSA that settlers grabbed unofficially, nor does it include land onto which the armyprohibits Palestinian entry for reasons unrelated to the SSA. It was recently reported that thearmy was considering declaring an SSA around another settlement, where entry has been

5 The defense establishment distinguished between an “engineering SSA,” which is demarcated by a fenceand other physical means blocking entry, and an “electronic SSA,” a technological system of visual andsensory devices that enables control of Palestinian entry, but does not physically block it. Around some ofthe settlements, there is a “combined SSA,” a system that includes physical barriers around part of thesettlement and electronic warning devices around the rest. Each of the twelve settlements mentioned herehave an engineering SSA or a combined SSA. This report does not discuss electronic SSAs except in a fewinstances.

4prohibited for some time.

6 The total area of land to which Palestinian entry is forbidden, both aspart of the SSA plan or otherwise, and which has been attached in practice to settlements, isestimated at tens of thousands of dunams.

The security threat the SSAs were intended to solve was real when the plan was formulated: in2002-2004, Palestinians killed 31 Israeli citizens, and wounded many others, inside settlements inthe West Bank. Attacks aimed at civilians are war crimes that cannot be justified, and Israel mustprotect its citizens against them. However, the protection must be carried out by lawful means,and as we shall see below, the SSA plan fails in this regard. Israel manipulates its duty to protectsettlers to justify its forbidden control of Palestinian land.

Furthermore, the plan has created an absurd situation. While Palestinian landowners wanting toreach their land to work it are required to arrange their access through demanding andprolonged coordination with the authorities, which is sometimes refused, settlers can enter thePalestinian-owned land and do as they wish. This is the situation despite Israel’s obligation toenable Palestinian landowners to access the land and to prevent settlers from entering there.

Furthermore, settler presence on the land violates the logic of a “warning area.”The various ways of blocking access are carried out in a confusing manner. For example, closingthe ring of land around the settlements by military orders does not result in settlers refrainingfrom trying to expel Palestinians from land beyond the ring of land, or Palestinians who have apermit to be on their farmland that has been classified an SSA. Similarly, on land not classified anSSA, Palestinians at times must first go to the authorities to arrange their entry, and around someof the land are physical barriers placed there by the army. In some cases, the declaration of anSSA was based on the route of barriers placed by settlers years before, and only serve toretroactively formalize the blocking of access.

BʹTselem and others have over the years shown that the government’s actions relating to land inthe Occupied Territories have been carried out in bad faith. Not infrequently, the government6 The report refers to the Ofra settlement, in Ramallah District. Amos Harel, “Amona Outpost AnnexedLand in Area B,” Ha’aretz, 9 July 2008.

5has sought to justify them on security grounds.7 This is also apparently the case in our matter.Although protection of a settlement may occasionally be legitimately raised to support somecomponents blocking access, it seems that the objective is, rather, to achieve the unlawfulexpansion of the settlements and to take control of more and more land.

In addition to surveying the taking of control of private land, the report also discusses the closingof land, including public land. The entire occupied territory of the West Bank is supposed toserve the Palestinian public: for recreation and relaxation, to provide a livelihood, to develop,and so forth. The occupier does have, by law, the right to use occupied land, including the rightto seize and expropriate privately-owned land, but only to benefit the residents of the occupiedterritory or for military needs. Closing of the land is harmful, and illegal, also with regard to landthat is not privately owned. Naturally, the closing of land results in greater harm when it isprivately owned, given that most of the land is used for farming and provides a source of income.The Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank breaches international humanitarian law and isthe basis for most human rights violations there. The State of Israel is obligated to evacuate thesettlers and resettle them in Israel. This was the point at which Land Grab, BʹTselem’s report from2002, ended, and is the point of departure of the present report.8 The constant expansion ofsettlements has caused grave and ongoing infringement, directly and indirectly, of the rights ofall West Bank Palestinians. As we shall see below, closing the land around settlements andpreventing Palestinians access to them is the direct result, and an integral part, of the illegalsettlement enterprise.

The report’s findings are based on dozens of testimonies, interviews, and local and regionalinvestigations that were made in West Bank communities, and on tours BʹTselem’s researchersmade around the settlements, on information received from state authorities, on backgrounddiscussions with defense establishment officials, and on a computerized analysis of the borders of7 See, for example: Under the Guise of Security, Chapter 1; Land Grab, Chapters 3-6; Talia Sasson, (Interim)Report on Unauthorized Outposts, March 2005, Chapter 6; HCJ 8414/05, Ahmad ‘Issa ‘Abdullah Yassin, Head ofthe Ni’lin Village Council v. Government of Israel et al., Judgment, 4 September 2007. For a recent example, seeAkiva Eldar, “Senior Officials in the Civil Administration Accused of Aiding in Taking Control of Land inthe West Bank,” Ha’aretz, 18 June 2008.8 Land Grab, p. 134 and Chapter Two.

6the closed land, as the land appears on maps attached to military orders and aerial photos. Asubstantial portion of the testimonies and examples presented in the report relate to land seizedaround the twelve settlements included in the SSA plan.

Structure of the report

The first chapter provides the history of the closing-of-land policy. Chapters two to six survey thevarious aspects and components of the harmful patterns of activity that constitute this policy:using physical obstructions to block access; settlers enforcing the prohibition on entry and thefailure of the authorities to enforce the law; turning the closing of land around settlements into anofficial, active Israeli policy; governmental authorities creating difficulties for Palestinianlandowners wanting to enter land that has been closed; granting settlers free access to the closedland contrary to the defense establishment’s “warning area” logic that supposedly underlies theSSA plan. Chapter Seven describes the harm to Palestinians resulting from Israel’s policy. Thefinal chapter presents the legal framework relating to this policy. The report ends withconclusions.- – –


The patterns of activity described in this report do not stand alone. Surrounding settlements witha ring of land that prohibits or restricts Palestinians from entering, whether by declaring the landan SSA or not, is one of many practices used for stealing land. Over the years, Israel and Israelicitizens supported by state authorities have stolen land from communities and privateindividuals in the West Bank by various methods, each with the intent to build, preserve, andexpand the settlement enterprise. As we have seen, this enterprise is utterly illegal, and thesettlements must be evacuated and the land returned to their lawful owners. In reality, and fromthe perspective of infringement of human rights, no real separation can be made between thepractices reported above and other methods used to steal land.More than 100 settlements are strewn, between Palestinian communities, throughout the WestBank. The jurisdictional area of Israeli local and regional councils exceeds more than 40 percent ofthe West Bank. The settlements are linked to Israel and to each other by a complex network of7roads earmarked almost solely for residents of the settlements. Palestinian roads, on the otherhand, are blocked by hundreds of physical obstructions and checkpoints. Israel in effectexpropriated extensive areas of land from the Palestinian public not only for settlers’ use, but forthe army and Israeli vacationers. Israel prohibits free access of West Bank Palestinians toextremely large pieces of territory: the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, the closedarea between the Separation Barrier and the Green Line, army training areas, nature reserves,and, of course, the area of the settlements themselves.The cumulative effect of the prohibitions and restrictions is grave: the vast majority of Palestinianfamilies would not consider taking a nature hike outside their town or village, and therebysubject themselves to possible settler violence, and sometimes even violence by soldiers.Expansion of Palestinian communities and agricultural and industrial development on publicland is almost impossible, inasmuch as Palestinian residential areas are detached from each otherby dozens of strips of land on which Palestinian entry is prohibited and under the direct controlof settlers or soldiers.Past experience shows that the settlement enterprise constantly wants to spread. To achieve thisobjective, throughout the occupation of the West Bank, land has been seized, sometimes underthe cloak of military needs, sometimes by declaring territory “state land,” sometimes byexpanding existing settlements, and sometimes by building outposts. Settlements continue tospread in the West Bank even during the period that Israel has declared a “freeze onconstruction,” and certainly when no such declaration has been made. The land grab described inhis report is the result of the settlement enterprise and an integral part of it. On this background,there is fear that the external borders of the rings of land that have, in effect, become attached tothe settlement’s area will be used in the future as a starting point for further expansion, piraticalor institutional. As we have seen, Palestinians are already being expelled from their land locatedoutside the fenced rings of land.The harm resulting to Palestinians by these patterns of activity is especially grave, given that theland that is closed, whether officially or without official approval, includes much privatelyownedfarm land that provided a source of livelihood for many Palestinian families. Closing theland has caused extremely great damage to these families, this in addition to the extensive harmdescribed above, in particular to the damage previously caused to these families as a result of thebuilding of the settlements, which were often built on privately-owned Palestinian land.8The defense establishment’s SSA plan, too, plays an important role in causing this harm, in that iteffectively expropriates land both from their Palestinian owners and from the Palestinian publicin general and attaches it in practice to the settlement’s land. Furthermore, the attachment has anelement of cleansing the theft and of retroactively sanctioning acts of theft by Israeli citizens, whobenefited at the crucial time from the authorities turning a blind eye, at least. We saw that, in theframework of this plan, Israel demands landowners to meet a long list of conditions to enter theirland, and forces them to undergo an exhausting and humiliating bureaucratic process to entertheir land. This approach testifies to the distorted conception that enabling entry to land is an actof compassion of an enlightened government, and not fulfillment of an obligation of theoccupying state, which is faced with the fundamental rights granted to the Palestinians who ownthe land.Recently, Deputy Minister of Defense Matan Vilnai told the Knesset plenum that, “the IDF isespecially careful to provide farmers with free access to their land.” 9 On the background of thefindings of this report, this claim appears baseless, or at least exaggerated. The blocking of accessleaves Palestinian farmers with few means to cope with the army, police, Civil Administration,and settlers, who act in concert to expand the area of settlements and reduce the area accessible toPalestinians.The infringement of Palestinians’ human rights described in this report could have beenprevented had Israel not transferred its population into the territory of the occupied West Bank,in complete violation of its obligations under international humanitarian law. These obligationswere initially included in this body of law with the purpose of preventing grave infringements ofthis kind. Every attempt to balance the rights of settlers with the rights of Palestinians that doesnot assume that Israel must first dismantle the settlements and return its population to itssovereign territory enables Israeli governments and their agents to avoid carrying out theirobligations to the residents of the occupied territory.The obligation of Israel to defend its citizens continues to apply, and applies also to civilians whowere transferred to the occupied territory. However, fulfillment of this obligation must be donelawfully, that is, by returning the settlers to Israeli territory. Clearly it is forbidden to defend its9 The comment was made in response to a parliamentary query on 18 June 2008 regarding soldiers’expulsion of Palestinian farmers from their land.9citizens by crowding and expanding settler communities. The authorities’ refusal over the yearsto eliminate settler violence amounts to encouraging it and even supporting it, and is especiallygrave on the background of the obligation to evacuate the settlers.It may be that the source of Israel’s harmful policy lies in the insensitivity that has developedover time among decision-makers regarding the severity of the infringement of fundamentalhuman rights of Palestinians. In this aspect, as regarding other issues in the occupied territory,Israel makes excessive use of the magic word “security” and reduces, more and more, Palestinianfreedoms, while the means of oppression it uses continue to multiply. This practice transmits aprofound disregard by Israeli decision-makers for the rights of Palestinians, blatant anddiscriminatory preference for the interests of Israeli settlers, and fear of a confrontation withsettlers and of enforcement of law and order on them. The authorities do not hesitate to chargePalestinians the price for protecting the settlements, and ignore their legal obligation to evacuatethem.Even given the existence of the settlements, the extensive infringement of Palestinian rightsdiscussed in this report is not a force majeure, and the government of Israel can do much toreduce it by taking the following actions.Unauthorized actions by settlers• Order the enforcement bodies – the army, police, and Civil Administration – to rigidlyenforce the law on settlers, both with respect to taking control of land withoutauthorization and in violently expelling Palestinians from land adjacent to settlements.The enforcement must be carried out both in the field and in bringing the lawbreakers tojustice, and the necessary resources must be allocated to achieve these objectives.• Instruct security bodies to dismantle fences and other physical obstructions that wereplaced without official approval.• Provide solutions to protect Palestinians in areas where the risk of settler violence ishigh.Unauthorized actions by soldiers10• Order army commanders to make it clear to soldiers that the function of the occupyingpower is to ensure proper living conditions of residents of the occupied territory, whichincludes enabling them to gain access to their land and to work it freely.• Instruct the relevant enforcement officials – commanders, the Military PoliceInvestigation Unit, and the Judge Advocate General’s Office – to prosecute soldiers whoharm Palestinians in an attempt to expel them from land adjacent to settlements.Formalized land closure• Cancel the engineering components of the SSA plan and remove secondary fences thatwere not built in the framework of the plan. Israel can prevent terrorist attacks inside thesettlements by other means, for example, by increasing the number of forces and addingelectronic-warning means.• Order the army and the Civil Administration to ensure free access of Palestinians to theirland, without no need for advance coordination.These possible modes of action are not new. Unfortunately, Israel has systematically chosen touse means that were discussed in this report, which cause much greater infringement of humanrights. In addition, even if Israel were to adopt each of the proposed actions, the ongoing andextensive infringement of Palestinians’ human rights would continue because of the veryexistence of the settlements. As stated, such harm is utterly forbidden, and as a result, Israel hasthe legal duty to evacuate the settlements. BʹTselem, therefore, repeats the demand it has made inprevious reports: in light of the infringement of human rights derived from their existence, andgiven their illegality from the start, the government of Israel must evacuate all the settlementsand return the settlers to Israeli territory.