Thousands of hectares of West Bank land has been annexed by Israel, beside the barrier it is building, said B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group.
According to the group, the land has been taken with the justification that it is needed to protect Israeli settlements.
Some settlements have seized up to two and a half times more land than they have been designated, by fencing it off or through intimidation, adds B’Tselem.
The settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, but it is disputed by Israel, that has settled about 450 000 people in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The West Bank barrier is a security measure intended to stop suicide bombers, argued Israel, even though Palestinians see it as a mean to grab land.
In 2004, an advisory ruling has been issued by the International Court of Justice, saying that the barrier breached international law where it is built on occupied territory and should be dismantled.
The annexion of the land has more than doubled the size of the settlements, calculated B’Tselem, and though Palestinians still own the land, they are denied any access.
It says that the unofficial closing off of land to Palestinians, around these settlements, has been going on for 30 years.
‘Special security areas’
But more recently, the Israeli military have been formalising the expansion of these settlements through what are called “special security areas”.
The overall area of the settlements has been more than doubled by this, calculated the group.
So despite privately owning half the land, Palestinians now have no access to it.
The Israeli authorities argue that these measures are only temporary and made for security, to protect against Palestinian attacks.
The security zones were needed to protect settlements, said the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in a statement to the BBC. The Israeli Supreme Court approved the use of these zones a number of times, said the IDF, adding that any building in them was illegal.
But the security argument is specious, insists B’Tselem, saying that settlers often move into the designated security buffer zone.
It makes the agreed goal of a future Palestinian state all the more difficiult to reach, says the group.