Segregated Towns

Since 1967 the Israeli government has imposed a system of segregation and discrimination against the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, the areas known as the Occupied Territories. It has illegally established 121 settlements in the West Bank that are exclusively for Jews. These settlements are in violation of Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions which prohibits an Occupying Power from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” In addition successive Israeli governments have sanctioned the creation of 100 “unofficial outposts” of Jewish settlers in the West Bank by supporting and assisting their creation, and they have established 14 Jewish-only neighborhoods on land in East Jerusalem that was illegally annexed to Israel. Until 2005, Israel had also established illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip.

As the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem described it: “Israel created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation and discrimination, with two separate systems of law in the same territory. One system, for the settlers, de facto annexes the settlements to Israel and grants settlers the rights of citizens of a democratic state. The other is a system of military law that systematically deprives Palestinians of their rights and denies them the ability to have any real effect on shaping the policy regarding the land space in which they live and with respect to their rights. These separate systems reinforce a regime in which rights depend on the national identity of the individual. Moreover, Israel created these segregated communities on land stolen from Palestinians. Life for Jewish residents of the settlements consists of special privileges and favoritism denied to Palestinians, including special subsidies for housing and education, unequal consumption of precious water resources, a segregated road system, and the building of a Separation Wall that cuts off Palestinians from their land, their schools, their hospitals, and towns in a way that has nothing to do with Israel’s security needs. The Israeli government purposely located the settlements so that it would be impossible for Palestinians to have a contiguous and viable state of their own. Israel’s system of discrimination is designed not only to segregate Palestinians from Jews but also to encourage the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. According to the Israeli organization, Peace Now, government statistics showed that from 1996 to 2001, 82 percent of building violations in Jerusalem were in Jewish neighborhoods while 18 percent were in Palestinian areas. However, the Israeli government took enforcement actions against only 20 percent of violations in Jewish neighborhoods, compared with 80 percent in Palestinian areas. According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Israeli officials are 10 times more likely to demolish Palestinian homes due to building violations than they are to demolish Jewish homes with building violations. Numerous Palestinian villages and neighborhoods have lost population due to these measures, including one Palestinian village that declined from a population of 25,000 to 5,000 by the beginning of the 21st century.

Segregation is commonplace within Israel itself where 20 percent of the population is Palestinian. Although Israel’s High Court has recently ruled against the creation of Jewish-only communities, in practice Palestinians are barred from many Jewish-only communities. Since 1948 the Israeli government has allowed the creation or expansion of Jewish-only communities within Israel, mostly on land confiscated from Palestinians, but it has not allowed the building of a single new Arab town. In March 2011 Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law that makes it easier for rural Jewish communities to refuse Palestinians the right to live in those communities.

The government also refuses to recognize hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages that existed prior to Israel’s formation in 1948. Because they are not officially recognized, almost all of the housing in these towns is subject to demolition, and none receive services from the state, such as schools, roads, or sewer systems. More than 100,000 Palestinians or about 10 percent of Palestinian Israelis live “off the grid” as a result.


  • “Separate and Unequal,” a report by Human Rights Watch.
  • Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation by Saree Makdisi. Israel’s Occupation by Neve Gordon.
  • “Inequality Report: The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel,” by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights.
  • The Fourth Geneva Convention
  • Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948 by Meron Benvenisti
  • “Land Expropriation and Settlements,” a report by B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
  • Lords of the Land: The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar