December 31, 2006

Jewish Presence in the Occupied Territories.

There are around 230,000 Jews living in around 120 settlements in the West Bank. Settlements are independent residential blocks within Palestine that are exclusively inhabited by Jews. These blocks have their own administrations to attend to all the services like schools, hospitals etc. They often have jurisdiction over an area outside the strict boundaries of the settlements themselves.

These settlements receive massive financial support from the Israeli government. This support takes various forms: direct subsidies, infrastructure (roads, houses etc), tax breaks, security, to name a few. According to a detailed new study by Haaretz this support cost the government more than 45 billion NIS (New Israeli Sheqel) since 1967. All of it for actions which are illegal according to international law.

Around the mid-90s the Israeli government committed not to build any more settlements in the territories. This is about the time a new form of Jewish presence in the West Bank, outposts, began to take shape.

Ouposts are collections of trailer establishments. These are typically formed when a few Jewish families arrive by trailers to occupy a spot of land in the West Bank. More and more people begin to join them and they form a mini-settlement. These outposts are often built close to already existing settlements. In time, these outposts hope to grow into full settlements or merge with a nearby settlement. But the most crucial difference is that the outposts are illegal under Israeli law. There are about 100 outposts in the West Bank now.

Israeli law explicitly prohibits any sort of government support for these outposts. Yet such support existed since 1996 and continues to this day. Indeed, there has been a surge in construction of these in the recent years. Many of the damning facts are brought to light by the dedicated work of Israeli peace group Peace Now. But the incredible thing is that these things are evident even from various government reports. As this Haaretz editorial explains there have been many reports which confirm growth of outposts in the last few years and illegal government support for that growth.

For instance, this story in Haaretz cites various government reports to conclude that there have been more than 200 new trailers in the West Bank since June (Peace Now disputes this high number!). A report by government attorney Talya Sasson in March 2005 revealed that many government departments secretly supported the construction of outposts. The report says that housing ministry supplied mobile homes, defense ministry approved the locations, education ministry paid for teachers and roads leading to outposts were built with taxpayer money. More details here.

Needless to say, all this construction takes place in Palestinian land, often owned by private individuals. It is not surprising that this has led to a violent confrontation.


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