I know I complain about smh regularly, which usually doesn’t actually report on the occupied territories. However, Koutsoukis actually reported on the expansion of settlements here. He actually talks to human rights groups.

Last year, Israel’s overall population grew by 1.8 per cent – 1.6 per cent among Israeli Jews.

Yet in the same year, the settlement population grew by 5.6 per cent, and 40 per cent of new residents were Jewish immigrants.

Since Israel accepted the then US president George Bush’s 2003 “road map”, which mandated a freeze on all settlement activity, the settler population in the West Bank has swollen from 211,400 to 289,600 – an increase of 37 per cent in six years, far outstripping any natural population growth.

At the same time, Israeli planning law discriminates against Palestinians who want to expand their own towns and villages in the West Bank, on land that is supposed to be part of their future homeland.

“On this issue, yes, I would say we have an apartheid system,” said Alon Cohen-Lifshitz, a planning expert and co-author of a 170-page report titled The Prohibited Zone, which documents Israeli planning policy in the West Bank.

The report, published last month by the Israeli human rights group Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, makes clear that for the 150,000 Palestinians who live in the part of the West Bank known in the Oslo accords as Area C – 60 per cent of the total territory that comes under Israel’s direct control – Israeli policies practically prevent any new Palestinian construction.

“We have a system that deliberately allows Jewish settlers to expand West Bank settlements virtually at will, while for the 150 Palestinian villages and communities in Area C, applications to build are mostly rejected,” Mr Cohen-Lifshitz said. “On average, 13 building permits are granted each year for Palestinians.”

So Palestinians build without permission, and risk having their houses demolished by the Israeli Civil Administration.

From the beginning of 2000 to September 2007, the Israeli Civil Administration issued demolition orders for 4820 buildings established by Palestinians in Area C. Actual homes demolished amounted to 1626 buildings — 240 a year.

As Mr Cohn-Lifshitz’s report notes, these statistics mask the painful stories of families left without a roof over their heads.

Other serious consequences include residential congestion, “for example, when a family expands but is not permitted to enlarge its home. In many other cases young couples are forced to leave their village and move to other Palestinian communities in Areas A and B [of the West Bank],” the report says.

That sounds a lot like the arguments being mounted by those Israelis pleading for the continuation of “natural growth” in their West Bank settlements.

“It’s one law for the Jews, and a totally separate law for Palestinians,” Mr Cohen-Lifshitz said.

The difference in “natural growth” is that settlers in the West Bank are there to steal (often privately owned) Palestinian land, whereas Palestinians are not allowed to build homes in what is supposed to become their future state.

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