The U.S. Must Hold Americans Settling the West Bank Accountable

A new study finds that roughly 60,000 American nationals live in illegally occupied West Bank settlements and outposts, the first time such a figure has been assembled. Of the overall settler population in the West Bank, Americans claim 15 percent of the estimated 400,000 individuals living in there illegally (not including East Jerusalem). The study’s author, Oxford University scholar Sara Yael Hirschhorn, found the results surprising, characterizing American settlers as a “strikingly over-represented” group among the West Bank settlers.

Though Hirschhorn’s study is the first to pin a figure on the number of Americans taking up residence in the West Bank, as surprising as it may be, this general phenomenon was an open secret, at best. However, now that the cat is formally out of the bag, is the U.S. government obligated to take some sort of action? If so, how?

In 1993 the Oslo Peace Accords were established, undoubtedly one of the most important diplomatic steps taken to resolve decades of conflict between the Israeli government and the Palestinians. While the Accords did not mandate a two-state solution, they set a path for its eventual realization. Included among the key concessions made by Israel for this agreement was the removal of its military from cities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Oslo Peace Accords were never meant to be the final word as it left a variety of grievances on either side unaddressed. Originally, the Accords were only meant as a more or less temporary measure until another, more comprehensive treaty could be cemented. Unfortunately, these ambitions have only grown seemingly more improbable since 1993. Of course, this can be blamed on a variety of complex reasons, not the least of which include the continuing rise of hardliners on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides that comes with a resistance to compromise.

Arguably, one of the biggest reasons for the Oslo Peace Accords’ breakdown, however, is Israel’s open defiance of international law in the form of its illegal settlements. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states an “occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.”

The qualifier here, being “occupying” power — so does Israel qualify? According to multiple United Nations bodies, the International Court of Justice and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Israel does indeed meet such criteria for its continued presence in the West Bank. It’s also worth acknowledging that the Israeli push to continue expansion was more than likely a contributing factor to last year’s unrest and violence.

What’s more, the Israeli government has made no effort to hide its disdain for Article 49 and the Oslo Peace Accords by continuing to aggressively expand illegal West Bank settlements. The Obama Administration and U.S. State Department have made their disapproval of the settlements plain, with the latter recently condemning Israel’s plans for 300 new illegal homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

With it now clear that American nationals make up a sizable portion of these defiant West Bank settlers, it’s time for the U.S. government to put its money where its mouth is on this issue. These 60,000 American nationals must be held legally accountable by their government.

If nothing else, those who enable these illegal settlements — a number of which are tax-exempt evangelical organizations based in the United States — can no longer get a free pass. As the New York Times discovered in 2010, 40 U.S.-based groups have processed over $200 million in donations over the prior 10 years.

In a sense, the U.S. government and U.S. taxpayers are helping subsidize the breaking of international law and, more broadly speaking, working against a peaceful two-state solution. The U.S. Treasury Department has a duty to scrutinize these groups and their tax-exempt status — those promoting the breakdown of peace between Israel and Palestine are a threat to advancing regional stability. It is now the U.S. government’s responsibility to stop looking the other way as U.S. nationals openly defy international law.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Wilson44691

105 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran1 years ago

noted

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Christine Ko
.1 years ago

Noted with thanks.

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Kamia T.
Kamia T1 years ago

Sorry, but the U.S. need to QUIT BUTTING INTO the affairs of any of the Middle Eastern countries. Period. If people move there, then they take into their own hands their future. We have far too many fish to fry here.

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Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Brian F. wrote,
"...The only solution I can see is for the UN to find another country for Israel to call it's home, that doesn't have a large indigenous population that must be displaced to allow a Jewish state. Of course this would be very difficult because most of the world's land has been taken, but I see no other plausible alternative, except endless war and conflict. "

I agree. Unfortunately, what with human overpopulation, just about every area that is habitable is inhabited. Wouldn't it be nice if people of good will, such as you and Adina, could come up with and implement a solution on the issue of Israel and Palestine?

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Georgina Elizab McAlliste
.2 years ago

There is something very far wrong here, and must be looked into seriously...I mean very very seriously.

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Adina Rosenthal
Adina Rosenthal2 years ago

cont.

My only concern, and I believe many Jews share this concern, is that we will lose access to our holy sites if there is a Palestinian state. This happened just before and after establishment of the State of Israel. Jews were killed or thrown out of cities that are holy to us. Jews also were denied access to holy sites until 1967 – including the Western Wall in Jordanian held Jerusalem (by the way, why didn’t Jordan establish a Palestinian State?). It will take a leap of faith to believe that this will not happen again.

There can be a peaceful resolution with two states. Palestinians should have their own country and rule of law. But having their own country does not mean that they should throw Jews out, any more than we should transfer Arabs out of Israel. I strongly agree with you that Jewish settlements should not be expanded until the Palestinian State is established.

I really have to get back to work. (-: It is the Jewish New Year on Sunday. Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year.

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Adina Rosenthal
Adina Rosenthal2 years ago

Good morning Brian. I woke up this morning, saw your comment, and smiled. We have the same goal!

The settlements. If you ask many Israelis (Jewish, Moslem, Christian, etc.) you will get a mixed response. Jewish extremists disgust the majority of Israelis, and our soldiers are often “at war” with those who break the law (against Palestinians, and those who build unauthorized settlement outposts). Some extremists are the Americans mentioned in this article. The Israeli courts prosecute them… should the Americans do so as well? That is a good question, and the reason that I read this article.

I would like to note, however, that there are Jewish settlements living in peace and cooperation with nearby Palestinian villages. Palestinians work in settlements, and settlers buy from Palestinian markets. You don’t hear about those, because peace is not newsworthy. Unfortunate.

If you look at the population of Arabs (Christian and Moslem) and Jews in the West Bank and Jerusalem, you will see uninterrupted presence of all. That makes sense, especially in cities like Hebron and Jerusalem that are holy to all three religions. I worked with a Jewish woman whose family was in Jerusalem for 7 generations. She told me that everyone got along well for the most part – she played with Arabs and Jews. What is the point here? We can and do get along fine, except for extreme elements and outsiders who want to stir things up for political/economic gain.

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Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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