This is me driving in what I think is one of the most bizarre places in the world. I just crossed over from Israel into the West Bank. If you look at a map of where I am right now, you will see a jumbled mess of of Palestinian towns shown here in green, and Israeli settlements, which are blue. Many people think of this territory as Palestine. But of the 3 million people living out here, almost twenty percent of them are Jewish Israeli citizens. The Israelis living out here are called settlers. They live in the West Bank but are citizens of Israel. As I drive I’m looking at effectively two different nations, woven into each other through decades of conflict, I visited 15 settlements all over the West Bank, talking to the people who have decided to pack up and move to middle of this disputed land. We’ll meet them in coming videos. But first let’s look at the maps that explain how the West Bank got to looking like this. So let’s first go back to 1948, when the map looks a lot different.
Back then, all this land was controlled by Great Britain. Due to growing tension between Jews and Arabs, the UN worked with the Britain to split the land into two states, one for Jews, Israel, and one for Arabs, Palestine. The Jews accepted the plan and declared independence. But the Arab states in the region saw this plan as just more European colonialism. They didn’t accept the plan and declared war with Israel. Israel won the war, pushing well past the borders of the UN plan. During the peace negotiations, a ceasefire line was drawn in green ink. It became known as the green line. It wasn’t a border, just a ceasefire line with this being the state of Israel, and this section being controlled by Jordan, who had taken control of it during the war they just fought. The Jordanians named this newly-seized land the West Bank because it was West of the Jordan River. The fragile ceasefire remained until 1967 when Israel fought another war with its Arab neighbors.
Israel wasn’t looking to take over land in the war, but In just six days of fighting, it blew past the Green Line and seized a whole swath of land, including the entire West Bank. Suddenly Israel had a decision to make: do they make the West Bank a part of Israel and give the 1.1 million Arabs living there Israeli citizenship and voting rights? Do they give back the land to their enemy Jordan or else let the people create their own Palestinian state? This became a major debate in Israeli politics. Many Israelis saw this war they just won not only as a military victory but a religious sign that the Jews were meant to return to the the place where a huge amount of Jewish ancient history happened, the hills of ancient Judea and Samaria, which was basically the entire West Bank. So while the government was debating what to do, Israeli civilians began moving into the West Bank without any permission from the government.
They just starting setting up homes, establishing a Jewish presence in this region. Suddenly, any debate about what to do with the West Bank had to take this growing number of Israeli civilians into consideration. This is how the the settler movement was born. The rest of the world did not approve of this. As the settler presence grew, the UN issued a resolution saying that the settlements had “…no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” Two different narratives emerged here: One said Jewish civilians were moving onto mostly empty plots of land that they had captured in a war and that had deep historical and spiritual significance to them. The other side, which is the side most of the world took, said that these settlers were colonizing land to expand their nation. The settler project was widely seen as apart of an illegal occupation of the West Bank.
In spite of international condemnation, the number of settlers grew quickly. Over the next few decades, more and more factions of the Israeli government began to support the settler movement, allocating public resources and granting permits for building. The Israeli housing ministry and military began developing plans for how to build up the West Bank. They built roads throughout the entire region, allowing for easy access between settlements and mainland Israel. More and more building permits were given out and new planned communities began popping up all over the West Bank. The settlements slowly shifted from a fringe group of motivated civilians to an institutionalized part of Israeli society, totally supported by the state. Here are the Palestinian towns in the West Bank. As settler activity surged in the 80s and 90s, watch how the settlements weave around these towns.
Palestinians didn’t like this encroachment. They began protesting, sometimes with extreme violence. Between the violence and the condemnation from the international community of the settlements, the situation became unsustainable. So in the mid 90s American president Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords, agreements that established Palestinian government and split the West Bank into 3 sections. Area A gave Palestinians total control over security and government. This makes up about 18% of the West Bank but most of the palestinian population centers. This gave the Palestinian government self rule for the first time. Area B was designated for Palestinian government control while retaining Israeli security control, meaning the Israeli military remains very present.
Area B is about 22% of the West Bank. Area C Remained completely under Israeli military and government control. This is where all the settlements are. It is about 60% of the West Bank. So this is how we ended up with this mess of a map. Israelis can easily come and go to mainland Israel through really nice roads that go straight to settlements. They call these “flyovers” because they bypass Palestinian villages and give easy access from one settlement to another, although not every settlement has a flyover road like this. Palestinians can drive on almost all roads in the West Bank but their movement it often more difficult, having to stop at checkpoints or have their car inspected by a soldier. But perhaps the biggest difficulty faced by palestinians is how restricted their economy is due to this carved up land.
Area C contains the majority of the West Banks agricultural land, as well as water and mineral resources. Palestinians companies are severely restricted in accessing these resources which takes a huge hit on their economy. So with these three sections agreed upon by both sides, the settlements continued to grow within Area C. But in 2005 something happened that would ignite even more passion for the settler movement., Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to remove 8,500 settlers from the Gaza strip, another disputed area. Seeing Israelis being evicted, their homes demolished, left a huge mark on the country, especially the settlers. They immediately redoubled their efforts to settle the West Bank. The numbers continued to grow. Most people who think about resolution to this conflict propose a two state solution, meaning giving the Palestinians a state somewhere in the West Bank region.
But if you look at this map you can see what it’s getting harder and harder to do that. The settlers living in Area C of the West Bank are not living in tents or Caravans. They are living in developed communities with schools, hospitals and even a university. In the next video I will go inside the settlements and talk to the people living there..