The walnut trees on a hillside near the neatly cropped grass of the small West Bank settlement of Enav are dying or dead. They are part of the reason Dror Etkes does not view today's 40th anniversary of Israel's victory in the Six-Day war as cause for celebration. 'The trees used to be green, but an unofficial security zone has been established by the military and the settlers that prevents Palestinians from reaching their land,' said Mr Etkes, pointing from the pickup truck he uses, along with a camera, to monitor the growth of such colonies, which contravene international law but have been backed by every Israeli government since 1967. Mr Etkes, head of the settlements watch unit for the dovish Peace Now organisation, has spent the past 51/2 years trying to chip away at what he views as the most egregious outcome of the 1967 war: the planting and expansion by Israel of settlements in the West Bank at the expense of its Palestinian inhabitants after the area's capture from Jordanian forces. Mr Etkes sees the ongoing land grab - the settlements now control 40 per cent of the West Bank and break up Palestinian areas into disjointed cantons - as a negation of the collective rights of the Palestinians and the expression of a 'state of nationalist pathology' determining the policies of his own country. Residents of the 135 officially recognised settlements, including Enav, near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem, come under Israeli civilian law, while Palestinians are subject to more restrictive military law. The Palestinians are not allowed to approach settlements or use roads that are for settlers only, curbs which Israeli authorities say are for security reasons. Born a year after the war, Mr Etkes remembers as a small child looking at the victory album of his father, who fought in a unit that captured the Golan Heights from Syria. That was part of lightning military advances on three fronts - including the West Bank - that many Israelis regarded as salvation from imminent destruction by the armies of surrounding Arab states. But two decades later, the younger Mr Etkes' own military service as a paratrooper combatting the first Palestinian uprising contained moments more disturbing than glorious. In 1967, there were no Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Today, 460,000 Israelis live in the occupied territory, including annexed East Jerusalem, compared with 2.5 million Palestinians. The settlement drive has continued through three Arab-Israeli wars (1973, 1982, 2006), two Palestinian uprisings (1987-93, 2000 to the present), the failed Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Agreement signed in 1993, the 2003 international peace blueprint, known as the roadmap, which required that Israel freeze settlement construction, and Israel's 2005 army redeployment and withdrawal from its colonies in the Gaza Strip. A few hours of being driven around the West Bank by Mr Etkes leaves no doubt that Israel is as engaged as ever in de facto annexation of the area and that religious nationalists espousing biblical claims to it remain crucial to the colonisation. Settlers marked the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day war last month on its Hebrew calendar date, reciting special prayers known as hallel to praise God for enabling Jews, through the military victory, to restore Jewish rule after 2,000 years to holy sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank's biblically resonant hilltops, where the prophets of the Old Testament expounded. 'The settlement movement in the West Bank has never not been alive and kicking,' said Mr Etkes. His manner is informal, belying the fact that he is perhaps Israel's leading authority on settlements and that much of the local diplomatic community relies on his reports. 'While settlements were being dismantled in Gaza, settlements in the West Bank were being constructed and expanded,' he said. One of Mr Etkes' stops is the Havat Yair settlement, which keeps growing even though it was never officially authorised and is therefore illegal according to both Israeli and international law. Israel was required to dismantle it according to the roadmap, but never did so. A report in 2005 by a former Israeli state prosecutor, Talia Sasson, found that state authorities were complicit in setting up and maintaining many of the approximately 100 'unauthorised' outposts. At Havat Yair the government's role is evident from the freshly paved road linking it to the more established Nofim settlement. The colony is also linked up to local settler bus services. And Havat Yair's white stone synagogue building is anything but a makeshift tent, the image conjured up by the government's use of the word 'outpost'. At another settlement, Revava, home to 850 people, Mr Etkes is stopped by a suspicious guard at the gate. He talks his way through, but knows that his time to spy on new construction is limited. He has faced threats before and has had his car stoned by settlers. 'It can get violent, you never know when it will, but it's mostly just threats,' he said. He points to inhabited houses that were still under construction during a previous visit 10 months ago. They have windows on the first floor, but those for the second floor have not been installed yet. They will be put in when the family expands, Mr Etkes says. A large hexagonal structure of grey cement blocks is under construction, perhaps a synagogue in the making. For Hanan Porat, a religious settler leader who during the Six-Day war was among the first soldiers to 'liberate' the Western Wall, a remnant of the temple destroyed in 70CE and part of Judaism's holiest site, each settlement signifies fulfilment of the biblical prophecy of the gathering of Jewish exiles from all over the world in their ancient homeland. 'The settlement enterprise means the nation of Israel has come home,' said Mr Porat, a former member of the Knesset, in a phone interview. He lives in the Kfar Etzion settlement near Bethlehem and was among the first colonists to move to the West Bank after the war. Mr Porat has nothing but disdain for Peace Now. 'Whoever does not understand this homecoming does not understand the Zionist ethos and could just as well be living somewhere else in the world,' he said of its activists. For Mr Etkes, each settlement also has tremendous significance, harkening back to his military service in the West Bank from 1987-89 and to the subsequent years of painfully grappling with those memories. Mr Etkes participated in house demolitions, mass arrests and forcing teens to climb telephone poles to take down Palestinian flags. He remembers joining in a night-time arrest of dozens of Palestinians from two villages in the northern West Bank. The soldiers took the Palestinians back to base. 'All of them were blindfolded, many of them didn't have shoes; their hands were tied behind their backs,' he said. 'About 8am I woke and went to eat. I saw a few soldiers using lighters to burn the feet of those Palestinians who were barefoot. I came up to those guys and kicked their hands and said: 'What kind of sadism is this?' 'The fact that they did this during the day, in the centre of the camp and no one intervened besides me was an expression of a rotten military. This was part of a process of barbarism.' That incident and others stuck with Mr Etkes while he lived abroad for six years after the end of his mandatory military service. He realised, he said, that he had been used as a tool for a 'stupid, immoral and unconstructive' policy. In 1997, back in Israel, he refused to serve in the West Bank as a reservist and was discharged from the army. To Mr Porat, the settlers are a security asset for all Israelis. His hope for Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the West Bank, is that in another 40 years it will be an area 'with millions of Jews, with a clear majority over the Arabs. This is not unrealistic'. The Palestinians? If they reconcile themselves to Jewish rule of the area they will be allowed to remain, he says. Mr Etkes would like to see the 40 per cent of the West Bank controlled by the settlements returned to the Palestinians. He wants his government to say clearly that the settlements are not going to be a part of the state of Israel. Capturing Palestinian-inhabited territories during the 1967 war, Mr Etkes argued, provided Israel with a real opportunity to take responsibility for its own past, namely the fact that its successful establishment in 1948 was a tragedy of displacement for the Palestinians.