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Note: I have no special/personal/professional interest in either Israel or Palestine but due to the recent events I am digging into history to learn a bit about the context. Please do not make this question a fight about who is wrong and who is right.

When watching a few YouTube history/politics videos there were mentions of Israeli settlers getting into the land that was not part of the current "peace deal", and this created tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

What was not clear to me was why these settlers were moving there. Was that because —

  • the land was empty and nobody wanted it?
  • the land was empty, possibly in an unsettled state and they used the opportunity to be the first there?
  • or something else?
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    What's wrong with the Wikipedia explanation? Oct 14, 2023 at 18:25
  • @JohnDallman: nothing - I just did not know that it existed :) (though I should have known better, there is a Wikipedia page for everything, likewise for xkcd). Thanks!
    – WoJ
    Oct 14, 2023 at 18:28
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    Do you fathom there would be so much bloodshed in the region over "empty land nobody wanted"? Oct 14, 2023 at 18:54
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    I mean srsly theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/03/… Oct 14, 2023 at 19:20
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    In SE.History, I wrote an answer from memory of reading military books from a long time ago which, IIRC, posited that, immediately after the 1967 and 1973 wars, Israel found it militarily expedient to have a small number of settlements as road "chokepoints" to compensate for how small the country is. In case of attacks, resistance could buy time and focus on hold those areas, rather than allowing a deep penetration armored thrust. Could not, in 2018, Google corroborating statements. You'd have to find contemporary books or newpapers. Oct 14, 2023 at 21:57

3 Answers 3

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Lifted from Wikipedia:

Strategic significance

IDF soldiers and Israeli settlers, 2009 In 1983 an Israeli government plan entitled "Master Plan and Development Plan for Settlement in Samaria and Judea" * envisaged placing a "maximally large Jewish population" in priority areas to accomplish incorporation of the West Bank in the Israeli "national system".[292] According to Ariel Sharon, strategic settlement locations would work to preclude the formation of a Palestinian state.[293]

Palestinians argue that the policy of settlements constitutes an effort to preempt or sabotage a peace treaty that includes Palestinian sovereignty, and claim that the presence of settlements harm the ability to have a viable and contiguous state.[294][295] This was also the view of the Israeli Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon in 2008, saying "the pressure to enlarge Ofra and other settlements does not stem from a housing shortage, but rather is an attempt to undermine any chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians ..."[296]

The Israel Foreign Ministry asserts that some settlements are legitimate, as they took shape when there was no operative diplomatic arrangement, and thus they did not violate any agreement.[297][298][299] Based on this, they assert that:

Prior to the signing of the Egypt–Israel peace treaty, the eruption of the First Intifada, down to the signing of the Israel–Jordan peace treaty in 1994, Israeli governments on the left and right argued that the settlements were of strategic and tactical importance. The location of the settlements was primarily chosen based on the threat of an attack by the bordering hostile countries of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt and possible routes of advance into Israeli population areas. These settlements were seen as contributing to the security of Israel at a time when peace treaties had not been signed.[300][301][302]

Now, of course Israel has peace treaties with these neighbors, except for Syria and enjoys a large regional military advantage since they stopped receiving masses of Soviet arms, so the defensive justification is not as applicable as it was in the past.

(US State Dept map showing the neighboring countries wrt West Bank)

Leaving the others reasons and adding an influential pro-settlement group in the Knesset.

Do settlements aid or weaken Israeli military security, today?

That's a complex question. It would be remiss not to note that Hamas flourished in Gaza partially thanks to the absence of Israeli oversight. But on the other hand, it seems to be have the case that, on Oct 7th, 2023, most of the IDF's attention was on the West Bank, to assist settlers - War on Rocks 4m28.

Or, Economist:

The prime minister took this policy to a new level in building his current government: a coalition with extreme religious, ultra-nationalistic parties, which stated quite openly that Israel would never enable the establishment of a Palestinian state, give equal rights to the Palestinians under a one-state solution or stop the plundering of their lands through settlement-building. This policy led to most of the Israeli army being deployed to protect Jewish settlers in the West Bank, at the expense of protecting the border around the Gaza Strip.

Add to these reasons the ethno-religious motivations - Biblical Israel - given as justification by another answer (answer which also corroborates that some people's intent is to keep out a Palestinian state - "no good can come out of enabling the Palestinians to create a state of their own") and that probably covers most of it. Oh, and speaking of that answer's claim of "empty lands", take a look at the other SE.History answer re. 1967 events.

7 Things To Know About Israeli Settlements : Parallels : NPR

  1. What does Israel say about settlements?

The settlers and their supporters cite the Jewish Bible, thousands of years of Jewish history, and Israel's need for "strategic depth" as reasons for living in the West Bank.

They also note that Israel took the territory from Jordan, which has since relinquished its claim to the West Bank. Therefore, the settlers argue, there is no legal sovereign in the territory.

Some reading about one of the settlements, Ofra, by B'Tselem, a Jewish pro-peace organization.

Ofra was established within the context of an ongoing struggle between the Gush Emunim movement, which was founded in February 1974, and the Israeli Labor government, which opposed establishment of settlements on the Samarian mountain ridge that was densely populated by Palestinians.13 Previous attempts to establish settlements in the northern West Bank had failed, as the Israeli army had removed the settlers. In light of this, Hanan Porat and Yehuda Etzion, two of the movement’s leaders, decided to try a different tactic: rather than directly confronting the government, carrying out settlement out cunningly and with no media coverage.

In 1974, the army began to construct a base on Ba’al Hatzor Mountain, northeast of Ramallah, on village lands of Silwad. In December 1974, Porat and Etzion convinced the building contractor, Zalman Barashi, who was in charge of fencing the base, to hire a group of Gush Emunim members. According to Hagai Huberman, “there was now a possibility to sneak into Samaria ‘through the back door,’ by belonging to a work group that was building the base on Ba’al Hatzor Mountain.”14 On 20 April 1975, after five months of traveling daily to Ba’al Hatzor Mountain and back, the workers from Gush Emunim did not return to Jerusalem when the day’s work was over, but remained in the abandoned houses of the Jordanian ‘Ein Yabrud army base, some three kilometers southwest of the mountain.15 The same evening, Porat met with the defense minister at the time, Shimon Peres, and asked him not to evict the settlers. Peres agreed, provided that the site be considered a “work camp” and not a “community,” and with the understanding that the state would not allocate any budget for it. In other words, “The IDF will neither help them – nor hinder them.”16

The government’s silent consent was exploited by Gush Emunim, which brought more settlers to the site and named it Ofra. In December 1975, the Defense Ministry recognized Ofra as “a workers’ camp for purposes of regional defense,” and approved connection of the buildings on the site to the electricity grid.17 Shortly afterwards, Peres visited the site and stated that, “the time has come to stop this charade about it being a work camp” and that Ofra should be given the official status of a community. These comments appear to have been made with the approval of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.18 However, official recognition of Ofra as a community was given only following the political revolution in Israel, with the ascendency of the Likud government in 1977.19

* Googling it up does find hits for the "Master Plan", but I would be cautious about assuming too much without seeing some actual evidence of said plan. Things having to do with Israel often suffer from anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including supposed Zionist blueprints that really never existed. Just because Wikipedia says it...

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Question: #1

What was not clear to me was why these settlers were moving there. Was that because

  • the land was empty and nobody wanted it?
  • the land was empty,
  • possibly in an unsettled state and they used the - opportunity to be the first there?

Not to get into all of Israel's wars but in 1967 Israel took the West bank from Jordan. The area was populated by Palestinians. Some fled their homes in fear during the Israeli invasion, hoping to return after the fighting was over. That was never permitted. Other's stayed in their homes and were pushed into concentrated settlements where they remain today. The right of Palestinians to return to their homes is a major sticking point in peace talks. Israel tightly controls the West Bank and has used that control to settle some 700,000 Israeli's on that land. Many settlers live in heavily subsidized housing. Many other Israeli settlers just build homes wherever they like in 100's of illegal settlements. The process is ongoing. This is the same playbook Israel used in 47.

Why would anyone want to live in the West Bank? There are a lot of reasons. Free land if you live in or create your own illegal settlement. Or were able to grab an existing home when they were available after 67.

The overwhelming reason Israeli's settle in the West bank today is money. The homes are new, heavily subsidized, available, and cost a fraction of what the same home would cost in greater Israel. Homes in greater Israel are hard to find.

Go West Bank: Israel Is Using the Housing Crisis to Lure Israelis Into Becoming Settlers

Question: #2

What was the rationale for Israeli settlers in the West Bank?

Answer:

Why the Israeli Government wants the West Bank

  • The West Bank is not densely populated unlike Gaza Roughly the same population as Gaza but the West Bank is 600% larger

  • It has natural resources (water) which Israel needs West bank is a major contributor of water for Israel. Israel's population is growing and as it grows scarce water becomes more and more important. Israel tightly controls the use of water in the west bank. 40% of Israel's water comes from West Bank aquifers.

Issue of Water in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

  • It's a significant area relative to Israel (+25% of Israel). At it's narrowest point Israel is only 9 miles across. This is a concern for Israel because it makes it easier for Israel to be cut in two during troubles. The West bank under occupation or being incorporated into greater Israel makes this more difficult.

  • It incorporates Jerusalem, East Jerusalem

  • It's part of historic Israel from Biblical times.
    This is a motivation by some Israeli's to one day reclaim all the lands of ancient Israel.

  • A lot of Israeli's live in the West Bank. Over 720,00 Israeli settlers live in the West bank.

Israeli Settlements

As of January 2023, there are 144 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including 12 in East Jerusalem. In addition, there are over 100 Israeli illegal outposts in the West Bank. In total, over 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem, with an additional 220,000 Jewish settlers residing in East Jerusalem.

The settlers are a stepping stone to Israel annexing it. The West Bank is very desirable land for Israel.

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The Israeli public is very diverse, so reasons behind settling empty land in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank of the Jordan river) are also quite diverse.

Those are the 2 main goals:

  1. By people who believe that no good can come out of enabling the Palestinians to create a state of their own; Ensure that the military keeps a presence in the area.

  2. By Jews who are strongly committed to protect Biblical historical sites; to ensure the preservation of historical holy sites in the region and the ability of Jews to reach them. (Mainly, The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, Joshua's Alter on Mount Ebal, Site of the Tabernacle in Shilo, etc.)

Hope to add references soon.

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    Was it empty before or after the original population was removed?
    – SJuan76
    Oct 14, 2023 at 23:31
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    @SJuan76, The Cave of the Patriarchs is in the historical Jewish Quarter of Hebron, whose Jews have been murdered by the local Arabs in 1929. Joshua's Alter is still in a rural area - but the PA is constantly destroying parts of it whenever they think that no one is looking, Shilo was empty before Jewish settlers settled there, The City of David - Silwan, was A Jewish area before they were murdered and expelled by the Jordanian army in 1948, same to Shimon Hatzadik - Sheikh Jarah. Please be specific if you have any additional settlements you wish to inquire about.
    – Jacob3
    Oct 15, 2023 at 6:24
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    @SJuan76 - There have been people living in that area of the world since before recorded history. The "original population" has long since disappeared. Better to ask about "the most recent inhabitants" or "the previous inhabitants".
    – Bobson
    Oct 15, 2023 at 9:18
  • @Bobson, The question is whether the place was empty as Jewish setlers arrived there. Not if people used to live there throughout history.
    – Jacob3
    Oct 15, 2023 at 14:09
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    Meh, there's been plenty of crap on both sides and claiming that those lands were only inhabited by Jews really really takes us for extremely gullible. Not to mention that, if you like to go down to 1948 you have the overall Nakba taken place, which is very one-sided. Or again, do you expect us to believe no Palestinians lived in Palestine in 1948? Oct 15, 2023 at 16:57

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