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Israeli Settlement Expansions Could Amount to War Crimes, U.N. Human Rights Chief Says

WorldIsraeli Settlement Expansions Could Amount to War Crimes, U.N. Human Rights Chief Says

The United Nations human rights chief on Friday condemned Israeli plans to build more than 3,000 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, warning that settlement expansion amounts to a war crime.

The Israeli government has shrugged off criticism from the United States and others to move ahead with its building plans, which come as tensions have soared in the West Bank since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel prompted all-out war in Gaza.

“The West Bank is already in crisis,” the U.N.’s rights chief, Volker Türk, said, “yet, settler violence and settlement-related violations have reached shocking new levels, and risk eliminating any practical possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian state.”

Roughly 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli military rules over roughly 2.7 million Palestinians. Much of the Israeli right believes Israel should control the West Bank in perpetuity, while Palestinians see the area as integral to their aspirations for an independent state.

Mr. Türk’s comments accompanied a report released by his office that said the expansion of settlements and a dramatic rise in associated violence and discrimination against Palestinians, particularly since Oct. 7, “have taken the West Bank to the brink of catastrophe.”

Settler violence had already reached record levels in 2023, with 835 incidents recorded before the Oct. 7 attack. Since then, settler violence has skyrocketed, the U.N. said, with another 603 settler attacks reported.

The U.N. reported nine Palestinians killed by settlers using firearms and 396 killed by Israeli security forces, with two other Palestinian deaths that could not be attributed.

More than 1,200 Palestinian herders had been forced from their homes as a direct result of settler violence and close to 600 Palestinians, the U.N. reported.

Israel’s latest plan to build 3,476 new settler homes follows construction of 23,000 new homes in the 12 months that ended in October, the U.N. human rights office reported, representing the fastest rate of expansion since monitoring started in 2017.

The expansion represents a transfer of Israel’s population to occupied territory, which is prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime, the U.N. said.

The policies of Israel’s current government appear aligned to an unprecedented extent with the goals of its settler movement to expand long-term control over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and to steadily integrate this occupied territory into Israel, the U.N. said.

It cited the appointment of Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli finance minister and a settler, as an “additional minister” in the defense ministry with widespread powers over the West Bank, including over the designation of land, planning and property demolitions. Israel had recorded 468,000 Jewish Israelis in the West Bank at the end of 2022, the report noted and, in May 2023, Mr. Smotrich presented a two-year plan to attract another half-million Israelis to move there.


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