4. West Bank settlements

Eyal Weizman
25 April 2002

West Bank settlements photoessay

Many different types of settlements perch atop the hills of the West Bank, providing islands of biblical identity that are also strategic vantage points. The “Community Settlement” is a new type of settlement developed in the early 1980s for the West Bank. It is in effect a closed members’ club, with a long admission process and a monitoring mechanism that regulates everything from religious observance to ideological rigour, even the form and outdoor use of homes.

Settlements function as dormitory suburbs for small groups of Israelis who travel to work in the large Israeli cities. The hilltop environment, isolated, with wide views, and hard to reach, lent itself to the development of this newly conceived utopia.

In the formal processes, which base mountain settlements on topographical conditions, the laws of erosion had been absorbed into the practice of urban design. The mountain settlement is typified by a principle of concentric arrangement, with roads laid out in rings following the topographical lines around the summit.

The ‘ideal’ arrangement for a small settlement is a circle. But in reality the particular layout of each depends on site morphology and the extent of available state land. Each is divided into equal, repetitive lots for small private redroofed homes. The public functions are generally located within the innermost ring, on the higher ground.

The community settlements create cul-de-sac envelopes, closed off to their surroundings, promoting a mythic communal coherence in a shared formal identity. It is a claustrophobic layout, expressing a social vision that facilitates the intimate management of the lives of the inhabitants.


These masterplans describe different settlement typologies. The light grey area describes the limit of the settlements, the darker grey their built fabric. Settlement masterplanning is typically influenced both by financial, political and ideological criteria, and by the constraints of topography and availability of “state land”.

The private single family house is most common in settlements. It is attractive to buyers, suits the low prices of land, and can draw in the kind of population that seeks a better quality of life. It also takes up more territory per person.

Four main types of settlements can be differentiated in the West Bank.

1. Community Settlement (e.g. Eli)

In the Community Settlement, although some aspects of communal living still remain, employment is found in nearby cities: the settlement operates more or less as a remote dormitory suburb.

The settlement layout, arranged in a garden-suburb fashion, aims to limit motor circulation within, and allows easy access to all essential services within a walking distance of no more than 250 meters.

These settlements are built in one or two construction stages, and ‘spring’ off the drawing board. They are typified by repetitive “developer-designed” single- or joint-family housing types. The parceling-out of land is equal and homogenous, with each plot being between a third and a half of a dunum.

2. “Urban” Settlement (e.g. Giv’at Ze’ev)

Urban settlements are regional centres for settlement blocs. They are higher density than smaller settlements because of the construction of apartment blocks, although each contains private, single-family homes as well.

They have a very large core of services, including economic service and employment centres for themselves as well as for the settlements around them.

3. Private Settlement (e.g. Zofim)

The growth of the metropolitan region of Gush Dan created demand that was supplied successfully in private settlements not far from the 1967 border. The private settlements are located mainly in western Samaria, near Tel Aviv and around Jerusalem. Suburban settlements, constructed on private initiative, they are composed of single-family homes or villas, on land that is mainly but not always privately sold.

The size of lots tends to be relatively large, between half a dunum and a dunum, and privately designed and constructed homes are invited.

It is hard to secure land in these areas of high demand, which makes the form of Zofim and other settlements of its type fragmented and bizarre, as they try to ‘squeeze into’ the limits of the available land.

4. Agricultural Settlement (e.g. Pazael)

The orthogonal geometry of this settlement makes it non-site-specific, typical for the agricultural settlements of lower plains of the Jordan valley.

Small agricultural lots are connected to each home, divided equally and repetitively within

Alfei Menashe

Alfei Menashe is a rather large settlement (we see only a part of it here) on the western slopes of the mountains of Samaria. In the center of the image you can see a field not built on. Often Palestinian land is 'trapped' inside settlements. Construction on these islands is not allowed – they still legally belong to the Palestinian owner, who however most often has no access to it. Also note how, on the right and top right of the settlement, pine forest meets an olive grove. Planting has become an intensely political act. Palestinians are continuously planting olive groves to secure ownership of land not built on; Israel does the same, but with fastergrowing pine trees. These kinds of trees became undeclared symbols of the two national groups' ownership claims. In both cases planting is replaced by construction when the time allows for it.

Mitzpe Yehuda

Mitzpe Yehuda is a small settlement located in the eastern slopes of the Judean desert, close enough to Jerusalem for its residents to commute daily to work there.

Har Homa

Har Homa is a neighborhood of Jerusalem, built in the southern occupied part of it, near Bethlehem. As you can see, its layout traces the shape of the mountain topography and creates a fortress-like arrangement that controls the areas and roads around it.

Har Adar

Har Adar is a settlement in high demand from well-to-do Jerusalem professionals. It was built in two phases and is still in demand, a fact that explains the continuous construction there.

Har Adar—new plots

Many settlements are made up of relatively uniform prefabricated units. But Har Adar is a “private settlement”, its homes constructed on the “bnebet'ha” (build your own home) system: residents design and construct their own villa on relatively large plots of land.

Har Adar—developed plots

Note how the olive orchards (planted by Palestinians) on the top right of the image closely demarcate the settlement border, and how a pine forest (planted by Israelis) in the bottom of the first image on this page demarcates it from the other direction. The politics of olive groves and pine trees is explained above, in the caption to Alfei Menashe.


Eli is a community settlement built in the vicinity of Ramallah. Its layouts form a bra-like arrangement typical for the morphology of two close mountain summits. See the masterplan for Eli above.


Note how the central functions of the settlement (kindergarten, synagogue, assembly hall) are arranged within its formal core protected within the circular arrangement. On the top right is the shopping center; on the bottom left, the new extension to the settlement, made up of temporary homes (caravans). Here, too, the Palestinians have planted olive orchards all the way to the settlement’s edge in an effort to limit its expansion. (Cultivated land cannot be expropriated on the West Bank.)

Ma’ale Edumim

Ma’ale Edumim is the biggest settlement in the West Bank, located on the Jerusalem-Jericho road. Planned by the “acclaimed” office of Thomas Leitersdorf in the late 1970s, it recently won the prize for “best-designed city in Israel”. Its population is just over 20,000. Measured by the extent of land within its boundaries, Ma’ale Edumim is the largest city in Israel, larger then Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. This extensity captures as much land as possible, in order to fortify Jerusalem from the east.


These images show Jewish and Palestinian settlements in close proximity. The fence between Matan-Yarhiv and Habla in the centre of the image above is the Green Line - the 1967 border. Paradoxically, Habla, the Palestinian settlement on the left, is within pre-1967 Israel; Matan- Yarhiv is to the east of the Green Line. The differences are immediately apparent between the organic spread of the Arab village and the planned layout of the Jewish settlement.


Psagot is located on a hill overlooking the city of Ramallah. From it, the Israeli army shot anti-tank missiles at the vehicle of Palestinian activists traveling along the main road leading to Ramallah (to the left of the first image).

Note how the Palestinian settlement is located at the foot of the hill and along the roads, while Jewish settlements are always laid out in a cul-de sac arrangement.

Index to the Politics of verticality

  1. Introduction
  2. Maps
  3. Hills and valleys of the West Bank
  4. West Bank settlements
  5. Optical urbanism
  6. The paradox of double vision
  7. From water to shit
  8. Excavating sacredness
  9. Jerusalem
  10. Roads — over and under
  11. Control in the air
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