‘Engine of occupation’: UN experts slam Israeli settlement plans

Onging construction in the Jewish settlement of Kochav Yaakov, near Ramallah (Ahmad Gharabli - AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  November 3, 2021

UN human rights experts, on Wednesday, condemned Israel’s plan to build thousands of new housing units in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli settlements are “the engine of the occupation” and their illegality is “one of the most widely accepted issues in modern international law,” read a statement by Michael Lynk, special Rapporteur on Human Rights in occupied Palestinian territories and Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing.

“The Israeli settlements are a presumptive war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and should be treated as such by the international community,” they said, adding that the UN has “repeatedly … demanded that Israel cease its settlement expansion and remove its settlements.”

“The very raison d’être of the Israeli settlements in occupied territory—the creation of demographic facts on the ground to solidify a permanent presence, a consolidation of alien political control and an unlawful claim of sovereignty—tramples upon the fundamental precepts of humanitarian and human rights law,” read the statement.

The strong condemnation comes as the Israeli government has recently approved plans for more than 1,700 new housing units in the illegal Givat Hamatos and Pisgat Ze’ev settlements.

It is also pushing forward with plans for 9,000 new units in Atarot, some 3,400 more in the E1 area just east of Jerusalem, and around 3,000 in a number of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, the statement said.

In addition, reports indicate that the Israeli government plans to retroactively legalize several illegal settlements.

The UN experts pointed out that close to 700,000 Israeli settlers live in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“The Israeli settlements are the engine of the occupation. They are responsible for a wide range of human rights violations against the Palestinians, including land confiscation, resource alienation, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, mounting settler violence and racial and ethnic discrimination,” the UN experts said.

“Most seriously, the purpose of settler implantation—rupturing the relationship between a native people and its territory—is the denial of the right to self-determination, which is at the very core of modern human rights law.”

The experts welcomed the criticism of Israel’s plans “by leading actors in the international community in recent weeks, including by the United States and the European Union.”

“However, criticism without consequences means little in these circumstances. Israel has paid a minuscule cost over the past five decades for building its 300 settlements and defying international law,” they added.