In recent months Benjamin Netanyahu has spent time in the interview chair repeating to the American public that settlements are not responsible for the continuation of the conflict. In turn, the U.S. State Department has merely squeaked that they were “disappointed” when the first of many new settlements tenders were announced during the start of direct peace negotiations last summer. When the AP’s Matt Lee hammered spokesperson Marie Harf, she refused to concur that the new construction was harmful to prospects of peace.
In fact, the built-up areas of the settlements themselves are not a major cause of Israeli expansion into the West Bank: they constitute only two to four percent of the occupied territories. Still Israel maintains a direct hold over around 80 percent of the West Bank and one-third of Palestinians farmers can no longer access their fields.
A report published the Israeli NGO Kerem Navot [PDF] explains “that behind the widespread takeover of land throughout the West Bank for agricultural purposes stands a distinctive territorial rationale: in comparison with the construction of buildings in the West Bank settlements, staking a claim to agricultural areas requires few resources and little time.” In the hills near Nablus there are settler olive orchards and vineyards, and most of these, Kerem Navot points out, are planted in land grabbed outside of an Israeli state order by the civilians themselves. Similarly in the Jordan valley, settlers comprise just under ten percent of the population, but 50 percent of the entire region is cultivated by their crops.
The report, “Israeli Settler agriculture as a Means of Land takeover in the. West Bank,” outlines:
“Today, over 93,000 dunam of Israeli agricultural activity takes place in between the military posts, civilian outposts, settlements, and bypass roads in the West Bank. This area is much larger area than the actual built-up area of the settlements and outposts (which constitute about 60,000 dunam, not including the Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem). Moreover, the most rapid growth in agricultural areas is occurring around settlements that were originally established as suburban communities and where no substantial agricultural activity took place in the past”
The report also details settlers farming in Area B of the West Bank, which is illegal under Israeli law. And Christian Zionist volunteers are making possible the rapid expansion of settler-controlled fields. Hayoval, an organization founded by the Wallers, a messianic American family who have adopted the dress of modern Orthodox Jews after trading their corporate suburban life for Amish living, brings in hundreds to reinforce outposts in the South Hebron Hills. This fall the group organized 300 farm hands. Joshua Waller, one of the eleven children of the founders according to an email exchange with Texans for Israel, produced this music video to explain their fervor.