Israel urged to stop settlement expansion in East Jerusalem

Amnesty International is reiterating its call on the Israeli government to cease constructing or expanding illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) after a plan to build 1,600 new Israeli settler homes in East Jerusalem was officially approved.The plan which, if implemented, will expand the Ramat Shlomo settlement, currently home to around 18,000 settlers, was announced on Wednesday. “Israel’s policy on settlements is not only unlawful, it also impacts severely on the human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by the constructions taking place occupied Palestinian land,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.”The Israeli government must immediately end plans to expand existing settlements or build new ones, as a first step towards completely removing unlawful Israeli settlements from the occupied territories.”The construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory violates international humanitarian law, which prohibits population transfers by an occupying power into lands that it occupies. Palestinians in the West Bank, who are subject to military law rather than Israeli civilian law which governs Israeli settlers, are not allowed to enter Israeli settlements or to use settlers’ roads, and face severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. Settlers also receive substantial financial and other benefits from the Israeli government, and are allowed to exploit land and natural resources that belong to the Palestinian population.The unlawful appropriation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and “bypass” roads connecting the settlements, and of crucial resources such as water, has had a devastating impact on the local Palestinian population.Some 135 officially recognized Israeli settlements and 99 settlement “outposts” – officially unauthorized settlements that are nevertheless state-sponsored and funded by government ministries – have been established in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in violation of international law and in defiance of UN resolutions, since Israeli forces began their occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967. Today there are more than 450,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, of whom almost 200,000 live in settlements in and around East Jerusalem. As Israeli settlements and “bypass” roads have continued to multiply and spread throughout the West Bank, so have the roads and areas prohibited to Palestinians, making it difficult for Palestinians to travel between their own communities.Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are subject to tight restrictions on their housing and infrastructure.  Homes, public buildings and other structures belonging to Palestinians are frequently said by the Israeli authorities to be “illegal” and as such are liable to be demolished at any time.  In 2009 alone, the Israeli authorities demolished more than 270 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, resulting in the displacement of over 600 people, more than half of whom were children.