Since 1967, Israel has settled the West Bank. Whether through the actions of small groups of Israeli Jews, official organs of the Israeli state, or the organized institutions of the settler movement, more than 500,000*** plus Israelis now live in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. During the last twenty years, years filled with talk of the peace process, the settlement population outside East Jerusalem has tripled.
As the overall settlement project has grown, it has done so in the face of opposition from specific organizations in Israeli society and political and legal efforts to stop the growth. What is one to make of this opposition? Has it been consequential? The questions have renewed prominence as the Israeli government in recent days enforced a legal ruling regarding Ulpana, a part of the Beit El settlement, to empty some Israeli Jewish residents living in homes on private Palestinian land.
On the one hand, in Ulpana, the settlers were simply moved elsewhere in the settlement. In the pictures here, you see one moving truck getting their stuff from the old home and another moving it to brand-new homes built nearby (and still part of exactly the same settlement).
On the other hand, the fact they they were moved at all and that the court held firm on the theft of private Palestinian land is also worth mentioning. Although the overall trajectory of growth continues in terms of people who have moved to the West Bank, the anti-settlement movement has thrown some sand into the engine. So even as one way to think about a fight over “unauthorized” outposts like Migron or situations like Ulpana is that it is a victory for settlers (diverts attention from removing the core settlements), it might also be true that such efforts draw away some pro-settler energy that might otherwise mean even greater expansion. Both sides sap the energy of the other; the key is to monitor where the line has been drawn and whether, over time, one side can shift closer to its objectives.
Moreover, at a time when the Israeli Jewish public is not focused on the occupation or the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it prevents the issue from totally disappearing from consciousness. In my next post, I’ll continue with this topic by talking about The Big Idea.
***Side note: is 500,000+ settlers a lot? What if one only includes the 330,000 who live in the West Bank outside East Jerusalem? With an Israeli population of over 7.5 million (2009), settlers are 4-5%. But they get a lot of attention due to the importance of settlements to the peace process, extensive media coverage of the settlement issue, and great success in the political arena, including significant representation in the party of the current prime minister, the Likud Party, and in the Knesset as a whole.