Letter from Six Organizations to the New York Times Regarding Israeli Settlements

October 31st, 2005

Dear Mr. Rosenthal:

In May 2005 a number of the undersigned groups sent the New York Times editors two letters requesting clarification of the Times editors position on the legality of Israeli settlements in light of the broad international consensus on the illegality of all Israeli settlements. We are writing to renew our inquiry, in response to the publication of the Times’ October 22, 2005 editorial, “For Abbas, Time to Act”


The October 22 editorial asserts that: "Mr. Bush demanded that Israel remove illegal settlements and stop settlement expansion in the West Bank.” In fact, President Bush said, "Israel must remove unauthorized posts and stop settlement expansion." This mischaracterization of President Bush’s words should be corrected by the New York Times.

The Israeli government calls some newer settlements that have not been “approved” by the Israeli government “outposts”, and also refers to them as “illegal outposts”. In labeling some “outposts” “illegal”, the Israeli government attempts to contrast “outposts” with the other Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories which it asserts are legal. In calling “illegal settlements” what President Bush called “unauthorized posts”, the Times editorial page has adopted Israeli government positions, and implied that the other Israeli settlements that house more than 400,000 settlers do not violate international law. In doing so, the Times has contradicted a broad international consensus firmly based in international law which affirms that all Israeli settlements violate international law. 

As you know, the Geneva Conventions outline the responsibilities of an occupying power.  Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a party, states are prohibited from transferring civilians from the occupying power's territory into the occupied territory, and from creating permanent changes in the occupied territory that are not for the benefit of the occupied population.  In an unguarded moment Israel Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon said last year that the Palestinians are living under “occupation”. The Israeli government has also gone to great lengths to assert (incorrectly) that the Gaza Strip is no longer under Israeli military occupation. This assertion amounts to implicit recognition that Israel has been an occupying power, and that therefore the Geneva Conventions and their prohibition on transferring civilians into occupied land apply.

Moreover, as is now generally noted in New York Times news articles, there is broad international consensus that that all Israeli settlements in the West Bank – which includes East Jerusalem - violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and are, therefore, illegal according to international law.  This position has been affirmed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 465, the International Court of Justice, the world's highest legal body, and by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the respected Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem.  Not only did the
US government repeatedly affirm this position throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Israeli Supreme Court has acknowledged de facto its validity by ruling that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are under "belligerent occupation." (See documentation below). 

By calling only some Israeli outposts “illegal”, the New York Times editorial page has implied that it recognizes as legal the other Israeli settlements in the
West Bank and East Jerusalem. We expect the New York Times editorial pages to correct its mischaracterization of President Bush’s statement and to clarify its position on the illegality of Israeli settlements. We fully expect the Times to side with international law.


Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (www.fair.org)

Jewish Voice for Peace (www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org)
Palestine Media Watch (www.pmwatch.org)

Partners for Peace (www.partnersforpeace.org)
Tikkun (

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (www.endtheoccupation.org)

Supporting Documentation on the Illegality of All Israeli Settlements

A.  The International Court of Justice, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the
Occupied Palestinian Territory

78.  The territories situated between the Green Line (see paragraph 72 above) and the former eastern boundary of
Palestine under the Mandate were occupied by Israel in 1967 during the armed conflict between Israel and Jordan. Under customary international law, these were therefore occupied territories in which Israel had the status of occupying Power. Subsequent events in these territories, as described in paragraphs 75 to 77 above, have done nothing to alter this situation. All these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying Power.

120.  The Court concludes that the Israeli settlements in the
Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.

B.  Human Rights
Watch, Israel: Bush Should Lay Down the Law on Settlements, April 11, 2005

Israel's policy of encouraging, financing, establishing, and expanding Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories violates two main principles of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a party, states are prohibited from transferring civilians from the occupying power's territory into the occupied territory, and from creating permanent changes in the occupied territory that are not for the benefit of the occupied population. 

is not only violating international law in expanding its settlements, but also its
commitments under the “road map” to freeze them,” said Whitson. “
must evacuate
its settlements in the
West Bank and East Jerusalem
in order to uphold its responsibilities
as an occupying power.”

C.  Amnesty International, Israel/Occupied Territories, Removing Unlawful Settlements in the
Occupied Territories: Time to Act, March 23, 2005

However, the evacuation of some 8,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip and from some very sparsely populated settlements in the West Bank must not be allowed to be used by Israel as an opportunity to expand other settlements in the West Bank, where some 400,000 Israelis live in violation of international law.

The international community has long recognized the unlawfulness of the Israeli settlements in the
Occupied Territories. UN Security Council Resolution 465 (of 1 March 1980) called on Israel "... to dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem".

However, the international community failed to take any measure to implement this resolution. Most Israeli settlements in the
Occupied Territories were built after this resolution was passed, with the greatest expansion having taken place in the past decade. The establishment and expansion of settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank is continuing on a daily basis, contrary to Israel's commitment under the UN-sponsored 2003 Roadmap peace plan. This week the Israeli government confirmed its plan to build 3,500 new settlement houses in the East Jerusalem area of the West Bank

As well as violating international humanitarian law per se, the implementation of
Israel's settlement policy in the Occupied Territories violates fundamental human rights provisions, including the prohibition of discrimination.

D.  B'Tselem, Land Expropriation and Settlements


Since 1967,
Israel has established in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip 152 settlements that have been recognized by the Interior Ministry. In addition, dozens of outposts of varying size have been established. Some of these outposts are settlements for all intents and purposes, but the Interior Ministry has not recognized them as such....

In that the very establishment of the settlements is illegal, and in light of the human rights
violations resulting from the existence of the settlements, B’Tselem demands that

evacuate the settlements. The action must be done in a way that respects the settlers’ human rights, including the payment of compensation.

East Jerusalem, B'Tselem

East Jerusalem is occupied territory. Therefore, it is subject, as is the rest of the West Bank, to the provisions of international humanitarian law that relate to occupied territory. The annexation of East Jerusalem breaches international law, which prohibits unilateral
annexation. For this reason, the international community, including the
United States, does not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem

E.  The United States Government

”Our position on settlements, I think, has been very consistent, very clear. The secretary
expressed it not too long ago.  He said settlement activity has severely undermined
Palestinian trust and hope, preempts and prejudges the outcome of negotiations, and in
doing so, cripples chances for real peace and prosperity.  The
has long opposed settlement activity and, consistent with the report of the Mitchell Committee, settlement activity must stop.”  Mr. Richard Boucher, U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing -- November 25, 2002

"U.S. Policy toward the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is
unequivocal and has long been a matter of public record. We consider it to be contrary to
international law and an impediment to the successful conclusion of the Middle East peace process, Article 49, paragraph 6, of the Fourth Geneva Convention is, in my judgment, and has been in judgment of each of the legal advisors of the State Department for many, many years, to be. . .that [settlements] are illegal and that [the Convention] applies to the territories.” Secretary of State Cyrus Vance before House Committee. on Foreign Affairs -- March 21, 1980

”Substantial resettlement of the Israeli civilian population in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under the convention and cannot be considered to have prejudged the outcome of future negotiations between the parties on the locations of the borders of states by the Middle East. Indeed, the presence of these settlements is seen by my government as an obstacle to the success of the negotiations for a just and final peace between
Israel and its neighbors.” William Scranton, US Ambassador to the United Nations, UN Security Council -- March 23, 1976

F.  The Israeli Supreme Court, as Cited by the PLO Negotiation Affairs Department


As early as 1979, the Israeli Supreme Court stated: “This is a situation of belligerency and the status of [
Israel] with respect to the occupied territory is that of an Occupying Power.”[9]  In 2002, the Israeli Supreme Court held yet again that the West Bank and Gaza Strip “are subject to a belligerent occupation by the State of Israel.”g   In June, 2004, the Israeli Supreme Court reaffirmed that “since 1967, Israel has been holding [the West Bank] in belligerent occupation.”[11]

[9] 606 Il. H.C. 78, Ayub, et al. v. Minister of Defense, et al. (The Beth Case); 610 Il. H.C. 78, Matawa et al. v. Minister of Defense, et al. (The Bekaot Case), reprinted in Antoine Bouvier and Marco Sassoli, How Does Law Protect in War? Cases, Documents and Teaching Materials on Contemporary Practice in International Humanitarian Law, International Committee of the Red Cross, pps. 812-817, Geneva, 1999, hereinafter “ICRC 1999.”

[10] Adjuri v. IDF Commander, 7015 Il. H.C. 02, 7019 Il. H.C. 02 (2002). 

[11] Beit Sourik Village Council v. Commander of the IDF Forces in the West Bank, 2056 Il. H.C. 04 at   1 (2004).