Illegal settlement activity, home demolition and restrictions on Palestinian access to vital resources increase despite normalization deals and the global pandemic.
Israel has been massively expanding its de facto annexation efforts in recent months, moving ahead with thousands of new settlement units in the occupied West Bank and with home demolitions there and in East Jerusalem. Despite Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s annexation plans supposedly being put on hold after Israel’s normalizing of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, de facto annexation continues as the Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction is slated to advance plans for over 4,400 Israeli homes in the West Bank this month. All of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law, and settlement construction in occupied territory constitutes a war crime.
The new construction plans represent a dramatic expansion of Israel’s settlement efforts to date. The vast majority of the new housing units are planned in “isolated” settlements, outside the large blocs already eyed for Israeli annexation under the Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” proposal. Israel’s expansion of settlements beyond these blocs signals a new confidence that it will not face consequences for actions taken in violation of international law.
Meanwhile, forcible displacement of Palestinians from their West Bank and East Jerusalem homes has sharply increased despite the global pandemic. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in September that “since the start of the pandemic, the Israeli authorities have demolished or seized, or forced people to demolish, at least 393 structures,” a 60% increase compared with the monthly average between 2017 and 2019. In August alone, Israel forced more than 200 Palestinians into homelessness, “more than in any other single month since January 2017,” according to the OCHA.
Increased home demolition activity further indicates Israel’s flagrant disregard for international law and human rights standards. “The destruction of property in an occupied territory is prohibited under international humanitarian law,” said U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McCormick in a September statement. “Moreover, the demolition of essential structures during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly worrying as it further compounds the overall situation in the West Bank.”
Also worrying are heightened restrictions on Palestinian access to farmland ahead of the autumn olive harvest. October is the start of the olive harvest season in Palestine, a vital source of income for thousands of Palestinian families. However, Israel has in recent days issued orders to close areas and land planted with Palestinian olive trees, targeting farmlands in Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus. Israeli settlers also continue to attack Palestinian olive groves; the OCHA reported that, in the two-week period between Sept. 22 and Oct. 5 alone, “Three Palestinians were injured, and dozens of olive trees damaged, in four incidents involving settlers. … Also, 80 Palestinian-owned olive trees were vandalized.”
Another impediment to access has been restrictions on Gazans seeking medical care outside the Gaza Strip. Patients needing medical treatment outside Gaza — for instance, at East Jerusalem hospitals such as Augusta Victoria Hospital — must be given permits that allow for extended periods of treatment, and family members, especially parents accompanying children, must also be granted permits to travel.
Palestinians are already suffering under a prolonged military occupation. Illegal settlement activity, unlawful demolitions and restricted access to vital farmlands and medical care exacerbate vulnerabilities and must stop immediately.
America’s allies should be held to the same standard as any other nation in the world. Tell Congress to use its leverage to hold Israel accountable to international law and stop illegal settlement activity, demolition of Palestinian homes and restrictions on Palestinian access to precious farmland and health care.
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