Inside the lives of Israeli settlers

January 31, 2013

A new U.N. Human Rights Council report says that the 520,000 Israeli settlers living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank displace Palestinians, destroy their crops and subject them to violence.

The report argues that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prevents an occupying power from transferring its own population into occupied territory.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the report was "counterproductive."

"The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions," the ministry said in a statement. "The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that."

The report urges Israel  to "cease all settlement activities without preconditions” and begin the withdrawal of all settlers.

Settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been expanding rapidly in recent years -- there are now 250 distinct settlements -- and the settler movement gained some momentum in Israel's recent elections. As my colleague Max Fisher explained, "centrist parties, which favor pursuing a two-state solution, saw surprising success in the exit polls. But  to a lesser degree, so did the rising star of the settler movement, a religious nationalist party called Jewish Home."

VICE recently published an in-depth series of documentary videos about the lives of the settlers. It's somewhat skewed against Israel, but the interviews provide an interesting look at the settler population.

Broadly speaking, they seem driven by almost a sense of duty to set up outposts in what is considered Palestinian territory, despite the potential safety risks. (One clip shows entire families learning how to shoot in case of an attack.)

Particularly interesting is one segment featuring two teen settlers, who are building their own house in Havat Gilad, an outpost in the West Bank that was destroyed by the Israeli army in 2011 and then gradually rebuilt.

"Are you fearful for your own safety living out here?" the reporter asks one boy, Simcha, suggesting that their Palestinian neighbors might one day seek retribution.

"I don't feel like I'm afraid. I have God. You get used to it," he says.

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