Whether for strategic, economic or ideological reasons successive Israeli governments have backed building and settlement expansion in the occupied territories.
Immediately after victory in the Six Day War in 1967 construction began in the areas annexed by Israel, such as the Golan heights.
The initial aim was to create a buffer zone. During the first decade, Labour governments encouraged rural settlements to protect Israel. But colonisation was and still is deeply rooted in Zionist ideology, particularly in the West Bank, which settlers prefer to call by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria.
Israeli historian Idith Zertal said: “After the 1967 War, the Six Days War, the settlements were, I could say, almost kidnapped by the Zionist religious group or movement in Israel in creating the settlements beyond the Green Line, beyond the international border.”
The Green Line is a reference to the demarcation lines set out in 1949 in armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbours.
The arrival of Israel’s first right wing Likud government in 1977 marked a turning point.
The expansion was sharply cranked up through an active policy of economic incentives, tax cuts and increased infrastructure.
Israel’s then Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, aimed to plant some one million settlers in the occupied West Bank, not only rural areas but also dense urban conurbations around cities.
Journalist and political columnist at Haaretz newspaper Akiva Eldar explained: “Sharon realised that ideology is not enough, you don’t need dreamers, you need doers, you need to bring people who will actually keep working in Israel and create a kind of “bedroom communities” both secular, not only orthodox, and tempt people with cheap land, with commuting services, paved roads, highways.”
Since 1967 Israel has built more than 100 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Home to almost half a million Jews, they are considered illegal under international law – Israel disputes this.