Unauthorized Settlement Surges in Occupied West Bank, Advocacy Group Says

Under the cover of the war in Gaza, Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank have carried out a “surge” of unauthorized moves to expand their footprint in the territory, according to a report by Peace Now, an Israeli advocacy group that opposes settlements and tracks their progress.

Peace Now’s settlement watch team said it had recorded the establishment of nine new so-called wildcat settlement outposts, not authorized by the Israeli government, which appear to be mostly made up of temporary structures. The team also said it documented the creation of more than a dozen new dirt paths and roads.

In addition, the report found, settlers have been fencing off open areas in the part of the West Bank that is under complete Israeli control in order to block access to Palestinian herders. Several of the outposts and roads are on privately owned Palestinian land, the report said, in violation of Israeli law.

The activities add fuel to what are already unusually high tensions in the West Bank, where violence and Israeli military raids have spiraled over the past year. Palestinian militias have carried out shooting attacks against Israelis; frequent raids by the Israeli military have produced thousands of arrests and have often turned deadly; and extremist Jewish settlers have rampaged through Palestinian villages, setting fire to property.

While the settler actions documented by Peace Now are not approved by Israel, the far-right coalition that took power in December 2022 supports settlement expansion, and includes extremist settlers who want to annex some or all of the West Bank. Israel has in the past retroactively authorized settlements it had previously seen as illegal.

Most countries view all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be a violation of international law. Israel captured those areas from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians see that land as part of a future independent state, made steadily less viable by settler expansion.

“The three months of war in Gaza are being exploited by settlers to establish facts on the ground,” Peace Now said in a statement, citing what it described as a “permissive military and political environment” that allowed land seizure to go “almost unchecked, with minimal adherence to the law.”